This is historic territory for ‘Bama. The Crimson Tide have played in a semi-final game in each of the four years that the ‘new’ college football playoff has existed. This will make five for five.
They lost the first one to the Ohio St Buckeyes and the legend of 12 Gauge. Since then they have surrendered 0, 7 and 6 points in the last three years respectively. 2018 sets up to be a slightly different, one would think.
The line for this game opened Alabama -13.5, with a total of 79. There is no way Alabama is giving up a touchdown or less with a total of 79 hanging out there. Those numbers have since ticked up a bit, in both cases. ‘Bama is now -14 and the total now sits at 81.
One of the ways to start breaking down a game between two teams who didn’t play a single common opponent is to try and figure out how each team performed in comparison with how they ‘should’ have performed given their schedule. It looks like this:
Both Alabama and Oklahoma averaged over 47 points per game on offense. What is different is that the Crimson Tide gave up only 14 points on average, while the Sooners gave up 32. This means Oklahoma was giving up about 3 points more than could be expected given their schedule while Alabama was giving up 13 points LESS than could be expected — an historic defense. Both teams obviously scored far more than could be expected.
What this means is that the spread should have bee about Alabama -15 (pretty spot on) and the total should have been about 87 (things are obviously headed that way).
Yards Per Play
When you break down the teams based on yards per play though, you get a vastly different picture of what the spread should be.
Oklahoma matches up well here and if the spread was created using these metrics, it should be closer to a field goal, not two touchdowns. This probably speaks volumes for how many points the ‘Bama defense help set up with turnovers and short fields (Alabama was 13th in the nation in turnover margin per game).
Offense vs Defense
Being as there is no commonality between the potential spread based on relative performance and yards per play, lets look at some other stats.
When comparing efficiency, on either offense or defenese, at either the key areas of third down or in the red zone, Oklahoma doesn’t come out looking that dominant. ‘Bama can keep up with the Sooners at converting on third down and ‘Bama is obviously better at preventing its opponents from converting, either on third down or in the red zone. The one place where it looks like Oklahoma can keep up is in the red zone, on offense, where they convert almost 89% of the time. Is that enough to keep Oklahoma competitive?
Digging into any kind of stat that isn’t offensive efficiency doesn’t do any favours for Oklahoma. ‘Bama is better at protecting the quarterback, better at tackling behind the line of scrimmage, better at stopping their opponent and is even able to keep up with Oklahoma when it comes to explosiveness — the one thing you think would set Oklahoma apart (Ok #1, ‘Bama #2).
Listen, motivation shouldn’t be an issue here. This is a semi-final for the college football playoff. What observers should be aware of is that despite motivation, when teams from the Big 12 have made it here they have been found wanting. Oklahoma has made the semi-finals twice and lost both times, last year to Georgia in the Rose Bowl and three years in Miami to Clemson. Is that a product of meeting up with superior talent? Superior defenses? Or just a couple of tight losses in a small size?
There is no doubt Alabama will be ready. Regardless of whether it is Tua or Jalen Hurts under centre, coach Nick Saban will have had almost a month to prepare and in those situations, there are not too many people who can match wits with the Tide coach.
Oklahoma managed to score over 50 points in a full half of their games this year. The relative performance breakdown for these teams predicts about 87 points. Oklahoma has the #1 most explosive offense in college football and they convert in the red zone almost 90% of the time. The Sooners are going to score. The question is, can they score more than ‘Bama? Alabama mostly put up their offense in three quarters this year and spent most of the fourth quarters trying to protect big leads and preserve players. Being that Alabama has the second most explosive offense, converts on third down just as often as the Sooners, can score in the red zone and is projected to score about 50 points, the clear look for this game is the over.
Alabama should win, whether they can contain Oklahoma and cover fourteen points is certainly a question.