Look, Chad and I have recorded a lot of really stupid podcasts. If you think I’m kidding, go back and listen to our 10 minute podcast about Vanderbilt’s punters from 2013. Or the one about the Big Ten last summer.
But this one is epic. I’d like to think we did a nice job, but all credit goes to the Georgia Bulldogs. We just had excellent content to discuss. So give it a listen as we recap the Rose Bowl, preview the National Championship and talk trash about the Big Ten and UCF.
Or, just stream it below.
That’s all I got/
I want to begin all of this with a disclosure: The only games that matter are games that could impact a national championship. Period. That is my current belief as a Georgia fan. That’s why Georgia’s loss to Auburn (its first and only regular season loss and only loss to-date) doesn’t bother me anymore, but the Dawgs win over the Tigers in the SEC Championship means a great deal. I’m not picking and choosing for picking and choosing’s sake. I am picking and choosing because beating Auburn in Atlanta got Georgia into the playoff. Losing to Auburn on the Plains didn’t eliminate Georgia. Playoff-impacting games matter. That’s why Ohio State’s loss to Iowa mattered. Remove that loss and I’d be advocating for the Buckeyes to be in the playoff. That’s why Clemson’s throttling of Miami and Oklahoma’s big win over Ohio State mattered, if those were losses then Clemson and Oklahoma would be undeserving of their short-lived playoff bids. And ultimately, that’s why bowl games that aren’t part of the playoff really don’t matter. The lone exception may be the localized significance those games bring to over-achieving programs (UCF) or upstart programs who manage to actually keep their coach. I say all of this to say, I don’t read too much into bowl games. I’d love to roast Auburn (because I hate Auburn) for losing to Central Florida, but I know that game meant nothing to the Tigers. Auburn isn’t paying Gus Malzahn $49 million to care about Peach Bowls. This entire exercise is for those who think bowls do matter. I don’t. But if you do, consider this stuff.
So yeah, the Big Ten dominated a bunch of bowl games. But they probably should have. Just as the deck was stacked against the SEC in bowls, it was stacked pretty favorably for the Big Ten. The B1G benefited from favorable conference matchups (against a much weaker Pac-12 on four occasions) and favorable seeding (i.e. The Big Ten’s fourth-best team playing the SEC’s eighth-best).
With that context in mind, what did we actually learn about the Big Ten through bowl season?
- The Big Ten is definitely better than the Pac-12. Consider these intra-conference rankings and outcomes:
- B1G #8 Purdue defeated Pac-12 #6 Arizona by a score of 38-35.
- B1G #5 Michigan State defeated Pac-12 #4 Washington State by a score of 42-17.
- B1G #3 Penn State defeated Pac-12 #3 Washington by a score of 35-28.
- B1G #1 Ohio State defeated Pac-12 #1 USC by a score of 24-7.
- The Big Ten is probably better than the ACC. These outcomes are significant, but not as vast or decisive as the B1G/Pac-12 matchups.
- B1G #7 Iowa defeated ACC #7 Boston College by a score of 27-20.
- B1G #2 Wisconsin defeated ACC #2 Miami by a score of 34-24.
- The Big Ten is not better than the SEC. I give Northwestern (B1G #4) no credit for beating Kentucky (SEC #8) by one point after Kentucky’s best player was kicked out of the game. I obviously don’t give Michigan (B1G #6) any credit for blowing a large lead and losing to South Carolina (SEC #6) by a score of 26-19.
Is any of this surprising? No. Not really.
I’m a big fan of S&P+ ratings (see the full rankings here). Basically, these ratings are something of a proxy for predicting how a team would perform against an “average” opponent. For example, Alabama (the top team in the nation with a margin 0f 20.8) is a lot better than an average FBS team. Here’s how those ratings looked for the Big Ten’s Bowl Matchups.
|Bowl||B1G Team||S&P+ Margin||Opposing Team||S&P+ Margin||Big Ten Margin Benefit|
|Holiday||Michigan State||9.1||Washington State||5.4||3.7|
In layman’s terms, Iowa should beat Boston College, because Iowa is 3.8 points better than an average team and B.C. is only 1.0 points better than an average team. So the Big Ten (based on these rating) should have won every single one of these games. Alas, the Big Ten did not. That pesky South Carolina team, a team 5.8 points worse than Michigan by these margins, beat the Wolverines.
A point could actually be made that the Big Ten under-performed relative to expectation — if you believe in these numbers and you believe that bowl games matter.
So how would Big Ten vs. SEC matchups work on this scale? And which conference is better? Here’s a look:
|Rank||B1G Team||S&P+ Margin||SEC Team||S&P+ Margin||Advantage|
The Southeastern Conference would win nine total matchups based on S&P+ Ratings. Yes, this includes top-heavy advantages as the ratings do have Bama over Ohio State (the scores are cut-off for rounding) and Georgia over Penn State. What’s interesting, however, is that the narrative of the “top-heavy SEC” falls apart pretty quickly when the SEC wins each of the bottom-five matchups and seven of the bottom nine.
Where this is most telling is the cumulative impact of a stronger conference. Below is a graph showing the differential between the Big Ten’s S&P+ Ratings and the SEC’s S&P+ Ratings over time as additional teams are added. So, the first point on the lines is just the total margin of each conference’s top team. The second point is the margin of the first and second teams. The third represents each conference’s top three teams. The final point represents all fourteen teams from each conference.
The line that dies off faster is the top-heavy conference. That’s the Big Ten.
But look, it’s a tough narrative to sell if you’re the Big Ten. You don’t have a team in the National Championship (let alone two) or even in the playoff. So, you have to say the SEC is top-heavy, which it is (winning the top two matchups here). It just sucks that the SEC isn’t as bottom-heavy as the Big Ten either. The Big Ten has three teams (Rutgers, Maryland and Illinois) that are worse than any SEC team.
But congrats on winning lots of bowl games. I remember bowl games.
That’s all I got/
In writing about Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield, I kept coming back to comparisons of the Sooners and the Missouri Tigers. So here are some interesting perspectives with regards to how both teams played against Georgia.
Oklahoma’s offense was actually incredibly similar in terms of efficiency to that of Mizzou. Georgia held the ball for almost 40 minutes against Missouri (vs. 27 against Oklahoma), so the Tigers didn’t get as many shots as the Sooners, but consider this:
|Georgia Opponent||Total Plays||Total Points||Yards Per Play||Points Per Play|
We could normalize the data above to account of overtime, but the more well-rounded normalization should occur for time of possession. After all, given that both teams were largely similar in yards per play and points per play (with Mizzou scoring more efficiently and OU gaining more efficiently), the biggest X-factors seems to be time of possession.
Oklahoma held the ball for 1,978 seconds (32 minutes, 58 seconds vs. Georgia). Mizzou only held the ball for 1,224 seconds (20 minutes and 24 seconds). We can’t really blame this gap on Missouri’s offense, because, again, it performed about as efficiently as Oklahoma on a per-play basis. So, what would have happened if Mizzou could have held the ball as long as Oklahoma?
- 28 points scored becomes 45.25 points.
- 312 yards becomes 504.
How’s that comparison?
|Georgia Opponent||Yards in 32:58||Points in 32:58 Offensive Points|
Obviously, it’s hard to compare anything involving time of possession if overtime is included, because that’s unclocked time. And it’s hard to say that one offense could sustain a high level of efficiency over the long-haul if it were given 60% more time of possession. But the point is this: The Oklahoma vs. Missouri offensive comparisons aren’t insane.
That’s all I got/
I want to lead this off with three comments:
- Baker Mayfield deservedly won the Heisman Trophy by a wide margin.
- Baker Mayfield played a good game against Georgia.
- Baker Mayfield has been as fun to watch as anyone in college football for the past three years.
With that out of the way, Baker Mayfield didn’t look like a Heisman winner against Georgia in the Rose Bowl. He wasn’t even the best quarterback Georgia faced this year.
Mayfield won the Heisman because he was the quarterback of a Playoff-bound, major conference championship team, and he put up video-game statistics. It’s hard to argue with his statistical line through the year’s first 13 games. Here’s what an average Baker Mayfield game looked like before Monday:
- 20 of 28 passing (71% complete)
- 334 passing yards (11.76 yards per attempt)
- 3.2 TD passes to zero interceptions (Mayfield threw one about every three games on average)
- 6.5 carries for 28 yards on the ground (plus a rushing TD every 2.5 games or so).
That’s crazy stuff. Completing more than 70% of his passes, accounting for almost 360 yards of offense and four scores per game while posting a passer rating of 203.75. That’s Heisman stuff. Can’t dispute that.
But what did he do against Georgia?
- Completion Percentage: 65.7% (below season average and fifth-worst of the year).
- Passing Yards: 287 (below season average and fifth-worst of the year).
- Yards Per Attempt: 8.2 (below season average and worst performance of the year).
- Passing TDs: 2 (below season average and tied for his worst performance of the year).
- INTs: 1 (above season average and one of just five games with a pick).
- Other Yards of Offense: 3 (below his season average and his fifth-worst performance of the year).
In total, Mayfield accounted for 290 yards of offense, three touchdowns and one turnover. Only two teams held him to fewer yards. One was TCU in a second matchup with Oklahoma. The other was Kansas, when the outcome was never in question.
Most tellingly, Mayfield was held to 6.04 yards per offensive attempt (meaning: total offense divided by pass attempts, rush attempts and receptions). During the 13 games of his Heisman campaign he averaged 10.24 yards per offensive attempt. Prior to the Rose Bowl, he was never held below 7.5 yards per offensive attempt.
Honestly, Mayfield’s performance was not as strong as Drew Lock’s showing against Georgia. The Missouri signal-caller accounted for 268 total yards of offense on just 27 attempts for an average of 9.93 yards per play. Both Lock and Mayfield threw a single interception, but Lock accounted for more total touchdowns (four vs. Mayfield’s three).
He’s a hell of a competitor, but Georgia’s defense made Baker look like a prep chef. And he made himself look like a a clown with his “It’s Over” antics.
That’s all I got/
There’s not going to be a lot of wordsmithing here. I love Georgia’s defense. Everyone knows that. But, they started slow. And as I observed earlier today, I do think the Georgia offense was the strength of the team on Monday. But was Georgia’s offense as awful as the SEC-haters want it to seem?
I say, “no.”
For starters, the fact that Georgia was able to adjust and respond defensively is a crucial component of that sentiment. It started rough.
But from a mere statistic perspective, Georgia played pretty darn well defensively. In fact, I would assert that the “big numbers” from Oklahoma were as much a byproduct of Georgia’s frantic offensive pace as anything. To dig in on that a bit more, let’s look at Oklahoma’s offensive performance against Georgia, against other opponents and on average. [Quick programming note: My final Rose Bowl recap will specifically address Baker Mayfield’s performance. This is not that article.]
Ultimately, this matters for abundantly obvious reasons. Oklahoma scored 48 total points through regulation and two overtimes, but “only” 41 of those points came on offense. Remember, Oklahoma broke Georgia’s back late in regulation with a long fumble return for a touchdown. That had nothing to do with Oklahoma’s offense or Georgia’s defense.
So, Georgia allowed 41 total points to Oklahoma’s offense. For the year, Oklahoma averaged 43.85 offensive points per contest. So, Georgia was better than average by that measure. Further, 41 points allowed would tie for the sixth-best offensive performance against Oklahoma this year.
Total Offensive Touchdowns Allowed
Georgia had a number of field-goal stands against Oklahoma. Given that, Georgia’s defense looked even better on a touchdown-only measure. Georgia allowed five Sooner touchdowns on offense; Oklahoma was averaging 5.77. This was the fifth-best performance against Oklahoma in 14 total contests this year.
Oklahoma threw for 289 passing yards. This was well below the Sooners’ season average of 364.15 and was the fourth-best defensive performance against OU this year.
This was the lone blemish on Georgia’s defensive record on Monday (or, at least the most discernible). Georgia allowed the Sooners to run for a total of 242 rushing yards. Prior to this game, Oklahoma was averaging 215.92 yards per contest. Only three OU opponents allowed more rushing yards.
In total, 531 yards allowed seems abysmal. But in the context of Oklahoma’s season average of 580.08, it’s a little easier to swallow. Oklahoma also had opportunities in overtime but remained largely bottled up. This was the sixth-best performance of the year against the Sooners high-powered offense.
I mentioned the game’s pace, and the numbers — respectable as they actually are — get much better on a per-play basis.
- Oklahoma managed just 8.03 yards per pass attempt. This was the Sooners’ lowest total of the year and obviously below the season average of 11.95.
- The Sooner ground attack was stronger than some expected, but Oklahoma picked up fewer yards per rush attempt (5.38) versus Georgia than it averaged in its other 13 games (5.60).
- In total, Oklahoma averaged just 6.56 yards per play in the Rose Bowl. In 13 other contests, Oklahoma averaged 8.4 yards per play. No team was better against Oklahoma by this measure than Georgia.
All in all, Georgia’s defense did enough to take Oklahoma off its game (in terms of efficiency, at least), and that did show through in Baker Mayfield’s performance – coming in my next recap.