College Football National Championship Preview

January 9, 2021
 

College Football
National Championship Preview

January 7, 2020

 

 

 

By BRYCE ROSSLER

The opponents in next Monday's National Championship Game, Ohio State and Alabama, squared off in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals in 2014. These teams are still powerhouses, but a lot has changed since then.

Baseball Info Solutions became Sports Info Solutions and we began charting football and now basketball.

Urban Meyer retired (although rumor has it he may be unretiring to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars).

And perhaps most relevantly, both Ohio State and Alabama have produced a run of highly-effective quarterbacks.

Former Heisman finalists Dwayne Haskins and to a lesser extent, Tua Tagovailoa, are off to rough starts in the pros after being selected in the first round of the draft.

Their successors are still enjoying college life, though.

Justin Fields (10.9%) and Mac Jones (10.1%) rank first and second among Power 5 quarterbacks in TD percentage (minimum 100 passing attempts). The former will almost assuredly be taken top-five in the upcoming NFL Draft, whereas the latter is projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to early on Day 3.

Supporting cast may have something to do with that. Although Ohio State is certainly not fielding a slouch receiving corps, Alabama’s wide receivers have been otherworldly this year.

Our Total Points stat takes nearly everything that SIS tracks on a play and uses it to evaluate each player on a scale that allows you to compare them more easily. For receivers, that includes not just receptions and yardage, but yardage after the catch, broken tackles, and drops.

Heisman winner Devonta Smith recorded an FBS-leading 50 Receiving Total Points this season. Though that wasn’t quite Ja’Marr Chase’s 62 in 2019, Smith has played in two fewer games and his 9.6 Receiving Total Points per 60 Snaps outpaces Chase’s 8 Receiving Total Points per 60 Snaps from last season.

Smith’s matchup against Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade will be one to watch. Wade was regarded as a potential first-round prospect coming into this year, but didn’t have a good semifinal game. The Buckeye corner gave up 8 catches on 10 targets for 121 yards and two touchdowns. On the year, he ranks 306th among cornerbacks in Pass Coverage Points Saved per Snap.

On that note, Mac Jones' receivers rank second among Power 5 units in average yards after the catch before contact (5.5) and third in average yards after catch (8.0), a testament to the general openness of the Crimson Tide receivers. Fields' receivers, on the other hand, rank 50th in both these respective metrics (3.3, 5.3).

Meanwhile, Alabama’s rushing attack is spearheaded by Najee Harris, who ranks second in Rushing Total Points among running backs (47). He is complemented by their highly-efficient spell back, Brian Robinson, Jr., who ranks eighth in Total Points per Rush. Losing first-team All-American center Landon Dickerson in the SEC Championship game certainly hurt, but senior Chris Owens has ranked 16th in run blocking Total Points/Snap in spot action this year.

Alabama certainly seems to have a bit more firepower on offense, but its defense is not what it has been in the past. The defense ranked second in Expected Points Added saved per play (a measure of overall defensive effectiveness) among Power 5 teams between 2016 and 2019. This season, it ranks a still-respectable 13th and is starting six underclassmen on defense, with four in its front six.

This game is likely to feature a lot of firepower—just as the 2014 matchup did—and may come down to who makes key stops on defense. People are understandably expecting points to come in bunches, but Ohio State was able to limit Trevor Lawrence to one of the 10 worst passing efforts of his career from a Total Points perspective. It remains to be seen how the scoreboard will shake out, but we’re sure to see offenses play power football and try to get chunk plays down the field in the finale of what has been an unprecedented season.

 
 

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