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College Football Playoff Preview

December 27, 2019
This Saturday, the top four college football teams will battle for a spot in the College Football Playoff National Championship. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma all had incredible seasons that resulted in conference championships and combined for countless award nominations from their star players.
Using Sports Info Solutions’ advanced metrics and charting data, let’s take a brief look at each team’s success this season.


No. 1. LSU

LSU has been led this season by Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow’s second season as the starter has been one of historic improvements. His Completion Percentage has jumped by 20 points and his Yards Per Attempt has improved by 3.1 yards. Also, his Independent Quarterback Rating* (IQR) has increased from 102.4 last season to 141.6 this season, which ranks second in the country.

2019 IQR Leaders

Player School IQR
Tua Tagovailoa Alabama 146.5
Joe Burrow LSU 141.6
Jalen Hurts Oklahoma 140.3
Trevor Lawrence Clemson 139.3
Justin Fields Ohio State 137.8

Burrow wasn’t the only LSU offensive player to be recognized for his performance this season. Teammate Ja’Marr Chase (Biletnikoff) was also recognized as the best at his position. Chase was crowned the nation’s top receiver after leading the country in touchdowns and broken tackles after a reception. He also ranks fourth in Yards Per Target (14.0) and ninth in Receiving Rating (138.9), which is traditional passer rating on a receiver's targets.

No 2. Ohio State

Ohio State is led by a Heisman Trophy finalist on each side of the ball: quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young were third and fourth in the Heisman voting respectively.

Fields continued Ohio State’s recent success at the quarterback position, as he finished with an impressive 40-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He ranks ninth in the country in interception-worthy throw percentage—throws resulting in an interception or dropped interception by a defender—among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. Only 1.9% of his pass attempts were intercepted or dropped by a defender. He accomplished this despite airing it out quite a bit and having an Average Depth of Throw (ADoT) of 12.2, which ranks seventh highest in the country.

Young has been a dominant force on Ohio State’s defensive line, as he leads the nation in sacks despite being suspended for two games this season. Young also ranks tied for seventh in the country with 54 total pressures, which include hurries, QB hits, QB knockdowns, and sacks. His presence has helped Ohio State pressure opposing quarterbacks on 37% of their dropbacks, which ranks 33rd in the country, despite blitzing only 20% of the time, which ranks 103rd in the country.

No 3. Clemson

Clemson has flown under the radar this season, even though the Tigers are the defending National Champions and haven’t lost a game in two years. Some of this is due to the perception that quarterback Trevor Lawrence has had a down year. However, his 2019 season has been very similar to his 2018 season in which he was considered a phenom.

Trevor Lawrence Performance by Season

Season Catchable% EPA/Dropback ADoT INT-Worthy%
2018 83.0% 0.27 8.5 1.7%
2019 83.8% 0.28 9.3 2.6%

Lawrence has had plenty of weapons to work with again this season, including running back Travis Etienne and receiver Tee Higgins. Etienne is currently sitting at exactly 1,500 rushing yards and is leading the country with an average of 8.2 Yards Per Attempt. Higgins leads Clemson with 1,082 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. He ranks second in the country with an average of 14.6 Yards Per Target, trailing only Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.

On defense, Clemson is led by linebacker and Butkus Award winner, Isaiah Simmons. Simmons leads the team in tackles (88), sacks (7), pressures (26), and ranks tied for second in interceptions (2). If we lower the minimum pass rush snaps to 50, Simmons’ pressure percentage of 49% would rank second in the country.

No 4. Oklahoma

Like LSU and Ohio State, Oklahoma is led by a transfer at quarterback in Jalen Hurts. Hurts came to Oklahoma with a wealth of big-game experience, and has turned into one of the best college quarterbacks in coach Lincoln Riley’s offense. Hurst has benefited from throwing to elite receiver CeeDee Lamb, and the Sooners have been bolstered by an improved defense.

Among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts this season, Hurts enters the playoffs ranking first in Yards Per Attempt (11.8), fifth in TD% (10.4), seventh in Catchable Throw% (85.4%), and third in IQR (140.3). But Hurts doesn’t just hurt defenses through the air. He has also added 1,255 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns this season. Both of those numbers rank second among quarterbacks behind only Navy’s Malcolm Perry, who benefits from playing in a triple option offense.

Lamb might have lost the Biletnikoff Award to LSU’s Chase, but he’s been just as explosive this season. His 14.7 Yards Per Target and 20.8 Yards Per Reception both rank first in the country. His 649 Yards After Catch is good for sixth and his Receiver Rating of 147.6 ranks third among all wide receivers.

* Independent Quarterback Rating is Sports Info Solutions’ proprietary quarterback metric. It builds on the traditional Passer Rating formula by accounting for results that are outside of the quarterback's control – dropped passes, dropped interceptions, throwaways, etc. – to form a better benchmark of QB value.



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