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Friday, November 30, 2012

Championship Week Preview, Part II

For Part I, click here.  To see what NEPA is all about, click here.

Nebraska (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (7-5)

Nebraska passing attack (82.5 NEPA; .261 NEPApp) vs. Wisconsin pass defense (40.4; .102)
Nebraska rushing attack (39.1 NEPA; .070 NEPApp) vs. Wisconsin rush defense (-66.5; -.172)
Wisconsin passing attack (62.5 NEPA; .245 NEPApp) vs. Nebraska pass defense (-45.4; -.129)
Wisconsin rushing attack (12.6 NEPA; .024 NEPApp) vs. Nebraska rush defense (-41.2; -.087)
CFBTN Projection: 29-25, Nebraska

Maybe we should be glad Ohio State cheated.  Nebraska faced both Ohio State and Wisconsin in the regular season, and their loss to OSU was far less captivating (63-38) than their win over the Badgers (30-27).  One might think we could be in for another close one.

+.182 when Nebraska passes
-.051 when Nebraska rushes
+.058 when Wisconsin passes
-.032 when Wisconsin rushes

NEPA certainly favors Nebraska in this one.  As a team, Nebraska has over 200 NEPA this season.  Wisconsin has barely 100.  Really, the game should not be as close as the first matchup turned out.  In fact, the closeness of the first matchup was likely an aberration in itself.  In that game, Nebraska gained 24 1st downs to Wisconsin's 17.  Nebraska outgained UW 440-295.  Turnovers and penalties dug Nebraska into an early hole, down 20-10 at halftime, but they came back to win with a dominant 2nd half.  That 2nd half was closer to the true talent levels of both teams.  I'm hoping this game is close, because close games are more fun.  Unfortunately, I'm predicting a Nebraska blowout.  Think of two second halves from the first matchup.  That would come out to a 40-14 score, and that's not far off from what I'm expecting.  If Wisconsin wins, they'll have the lowest winning % of a Rose Bowl participant in over 80 years.  If NEPA is any indication, that streak will survive.

Florida State (10-2) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)

Florida State passing attack (137.2 NEPA; .382 NEPApp) vs. Georgia Tech pass defense (87.7; .230)
Florida State rushing attack (68.9 NEPA; .159 NEPApp) vs. Georgia Tech rush defense (11.2; .028)
Georgia Tech passing attack (51.2 NEPA; .311 NEPApp) vs. Florida State pass defense (-27.0; -.069)
Georgia Tech rushing attack (143.3 NEPA; .208 NEPApp) vs. Florida State rush defense (-96.3; -.252)
CFBTN projection: 41-27, Florida State

If college football were a sitcom, and each conference were a character, the ACC would be the goofy, lovable, dimwitted neighbor.  Good for laughs, often even likable, but never really providing anything of substance.  The ACC is Joey Tribiani.  Whether it's competing with SEC expansion by snatching up Big East teams (which is like Jay Leno's neighbor filling his garage with Datsuns) or having your championship game outside in December in Charlotte despite having a conference team located in Miami (hey, it wouldn't do any worse than Charlotte, and at least we're used to seeing half-empty stadiums when ACC football is played in Miami), the ACC is a wonderful comedy of errors.

Nothing sums up the ACC quite like this championship game, featuring the two perfect ACC stereotype teams.  On one hand, you've got FSU - the 10 win team that wins just enough to trick you into thinking they're a national contender, only to fall flatly on their face against the 3rd best team in the SEC.  On the other, you have Georgia Tech.  Tech needs to win this game to become bowl-eligible.  Yes, Tech is going to the Orange Bowl or no bowl at all - unless they get a waiver, of course, which would be fit in perfectly:  Tech isn't representing the Coastal Division due to their play on the field, so for synchronicity's sake, having their appearance in bowl play owed to an off-the-field circumstance would be icing on the cake.

I don't mean to be too hard on the ACC, but it's just too easy.  And it's the same thing year after year.  There's a lot to like in this conference, particularly David Cutcliffe's story at Duke.  I think Clemson has some cool traditions, and Virginia Tech, FSU, and Miami have some storied programs.  See?  I can be nice.  Now, to this game:
+.306 when FSU passes
+.094 when FSU rushes
+.121 when GT passes
-.044 when GT rushes

There's really not a phase of this game where Tech has a true edge.  Tech leads the country in total rushing NEPA, but it's more a function of the total number of rushing playcalls than anything else.  Tech averages .208 NEPA per rushing play, but against which opponents have they actually managed at least .200 NEPA per rushing play in the game?
Presbyterian (.419)
Virginia (.608)
Middle Tennessee (.219)
Clemson (.247)
Boston College (.217)
Maryland (.353)
Duke (.268)
None of these teams had a strong defense even comparable to Florida State.  The Noles will have no problem moving the ball on Tech, and there's no indication that Tech can really move the ball on FSU.  The 'Noles should roll in this one.

Alabama (11-1) vs. Georgia (11-1)

Alabama passing attack (132.5 NEPA; .482 NEPApp) vs. Georgia pass defense (23.8; .081)
Alabama rushing attack (75.1 NEPA; .160 NEPApp) vs. Georgia rush defense (-69.8; -.136)
Georgia passing attack (161.5 NEPA; .500 NEPApp) vs. Alabama pass defense (-18.1; -.057)
Georgia rushing attack (27.2 NEPA; .061 NEPApp) vs. Alabama rush defense (-107.3; -.276)
CFBTN projection: 28-21, Alabama

Let's start with the combined numbers:
+.282 when Alabama passes
+.012 when Alabama rushes
+.222 when Georgia passes
-.108 when Georgia rushes

NEPA clearly favors Alabama, and there's really nothing interesting about talking about how Alabama could win.  If Alabama wins, it will be the same way they always do - better defense, efficient, mistake-free offense.  We know the script by now.

NEPA makes it clear exactly where Georgia's best chances lie - with Aaron Murray.  The last team to post a positive rushing NEPA for a single game against Alabama was, remarkably, Georgia Southern in 2011.  Georgia's freshman tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, or "Gurshall", has been fun to watch this year and have at times been brilliant, but the offensive line just isn't the road grading unit two true freshmen really require to be effective.  Georgia's backs get yardage, but they're not necessarily efficient in their consumption of yardage.  Don't get me wrong - the positive number clearly indicates that they're an above average pair.  I'm just pointing out that it will take a Herculean effort to move the ball on the ground against Alabama.  Perhaps these Freshmen are up to the task.  If so, they'll be the first in a long time.

As I see Bama's rush defense as virtually impenetrable, I think Georgia's chances lie with Murray and the defense.  Murray has been sub-par twice this year, against Florida and South Carolina.  The Florida game is forgivable - no QB looks good against the Gators, especially over the last 6 or so weeks.  That defense is playing at an incredible level, and Murray's performance against Florida was actually on par with what we've seen against the Gators since.  The South Carolina game was a complete and utter meltdown for Murray, but that could prove to be an aberration - Georgia was giving away the snap count on nearly every play, which explains why Georgia's OL was whipped on a routine basis (that lack of attention to detail has long been a frustration among Georgia fans with the current coaching staff).  If Georgia doesn't give away those snap counts, would they have won the game?  Probably not.  The defense was without several key players and performed poorly, and who's to say South Carolina even needed the advantage?  It's an unanswerable question, I think.  Still, for better or worse, Georgia must stick with Murray in this game.  LSU and Texas A&M have laid out the blueprint for moving the ball against Alabama, and the blueprint says you beat Bama through the air.  Is Murray up to the task?  We'll find out Saturday.

Georgia's second hope lies with the defense.  Above, when I combined the NEPApps for each situation, I used year-long statistics.  However, even casual observers of Georgia's defense have noted drastically different levels of play this season.  In October the defense fell into a general state of malaise.  Over a three game stretch against Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky, the UGA defense allowed 29.9 NEPA at a .144 per play clip.  After the Kentucky game, S Shawn Williams had had enough, and publicly called out his teammates.  Now, let me say that I'm not a big believer in bulletin board material or emotional speeches making a difference on the field.  Notre Dame didn't win last week because Max Wittek promised a win, and I think the Gators would have won the championship in 2008 with or without Tim Tebow's speech.  Occasionally, though, I think teams need wake-up calls, and Williams' seemed to work for Georgia.  Since his remarks, Georgia has improved by exactly .300 NEPA per play, down to -.156 per play on defense since.  If we use Georgia's post-Kentucky game defensive stats (-.042 NEPApp passing & -.207 NEPApp rushing), and merge those with Alabama's offensive stats, we get the following:

+.220 when Alabama passes
-.024 when Alabama rushes

That makes this game much, much more interesting.  Perhaps I shouldn't have drawn a line coinciding with player comments.  I really don't know.  But the data is there if you are interested, and if you use that data, Alabama's rushing advantage is weakened while Georgia actually has the passing advantage.  Like I said, very interesting.  If Georgia isn't overly stubborn with the run early, and lets Aaron Murray attack this defense - and really, if Zach Mettenberger can, I see no reason that Murray can't - while the defense continues its strong play, I think Georgia can match Bama for 4 quarters.  At that, it'll likely come down to a big play, a turnover, or special teams.

NEPA suggests Bama in a close one, and so does CFBTN's projections, along with most pundits across the country.  That being said, I'm not personally making a prediction for this one.  


Brent Blackwell compiles the NEPA rankings for cfbtn.com.  Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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