Sunday, December 30, 2018

On the 2018 College Football Semifinal Results

On Notre Dame vs. Clemson

  • Not that it matters, but I still stand fully behind what I said previously about Notre Dame's defense. When healthy, I think the Irish have elite players in their starting eleven. Early in the game I don't think Notre Dame was overwhelmed physically - they were holding up in man coverage and getting pressure on Trevor Lawrence. Once Julian Love and Julian Okwara (two of their three best players) got injured, the dam broke. The point here is not to make excuses for Notre Dame - I had picked Clemson to win assuming perfect health for both teams. Clemson was clearly the better team, and they had no trouble overcoming the loss of starter Dexter Lawrence. Notre Dame should have played softer coverage when they knew they were down their top corner and pass rusher. My point is, this game didn't tell me that the Irish are total frauds. It told me that they have the high-end talent you expect from a playoff team, but they still lack playoff-caliber depth. I get that it's easier and more fun to throw nuance out the window, but if that's what you're looking for then feel free to read another blog.
  • What disappointed me the most was Notre Dame's offense. I really thought Brian Kelly would put together some play packages that would attempt to get Dexter Williams isolated on Clemson's linebackers, and give Ian Book the chance to throw quick jump balls to Notre Dame's massive wide receivers. I do not understand trying to pair a power running game with slow-developing deep routes. Both of these tactics predictably failed. Ian Book has gotten some criticism for getting happy feet in the pocket. I agree he sometimes ran a hair too early, but I wouldn't say he was fleeing completely clean pockets either. I put more blame on the coaching staff for expecting their protection to hold up for that long. Talent may have been what allowed Clemson to win, but I think coaching is why this game was a blowout.
  • Even with the injury to Love, I think you have to be impressed with Trevor Lawrence. His arm talent and ability to make progression reads are phenomenal, not just for a true freshman but for any college quarterback. But this is not new information. What I really love is how dropped dimes even when he knew he was going to take a shot, and he didn't let any of the hits rattle him going forward. I still want to see him play Alabama before putting him on the same level as Deshaun Watson, but I feel confident saying the rest of the ACC will be playing for second place over the next two seasons.
On Oklahoma vs. Alabama
  • This is going to sound condescending, but I promise it's not: I am impressed with how Oklahoma fought back after being destroyed in the first quarter. The offense was shellshocked by Alabama's defensive line talent, but by the second quarter they were giving Alabama fits. Oklahoma didn't fold the way Notre Dame did when the Irish went down 16-3.
  • That said, the outcome was never in doubt. Nick Saban knew he could move the ball at will, through either the ground or the air. He opted for running, knowing this strategy would decrease his expected margin of victory but remove almost all of the risk of losing. Tua looked pretty healthy, and I came away from this game convinced that Alabama should be a clear favorite over Clemson.
  • Oklahoma needs to overhaul it's defense. In the short term, this means hiring better defensive back coaches, and emphasizing tackling more in practice. In the long-term, this means hiring a defensive coordinator who can establish a clear identity on that side of the ball. This will let them recruit and replace players more efficiently.
On Georgia and Ohio State being left out
  • I think Georgia is one of the four best teams in the country. I don't know it, but I believe it based on the evidence we have available, but I don't see how anyone can be certain of this. Georgia lost the two toughest games on their schedule, including losing by 20 to LSU. Their best win was to Florida - and that win does look pretty good today, but I honestly think the Peach Bowl says more about how Michigan has plateaued than about how talented Florida is. Perhaps they would have beat a tough non-conference opponent if given the chance, but they didn't. And even if they are one of the four best teams, that's not enough. If the goal is to determine who the best team is, we shouldn't let Georgia in if we feel confident that they are somewhere in the 2-4 range but equally confident that they are not number 1. They had their shot against Alabama (and LSU) and didn't come through. Perhaps Georgia would emerge as the best team if we played an infinite number of games, but we can't do that - instead we can just judge by the information we have, and I don't think they're the best team, and even if they played and beat Alabama in the playoffs it wouldn't necessarily prove they are the best team. If the goal is not the four best teams, but the four teams who had the best season, I don't think anyone could argue that Georgia belonged in the top four. I would feel differently if they had beat LSU and lost a close game to a healthy Alabama, but they didn't. Look, stuff like this happens - there are many examples of teams that clearly demonstrated their primacy but also stumbled at the wrong times, much to the relief of all the other contenders. Think 2000 Miami, 2007 Georgia, 2010 Boise State, 2015 Ohio State, etc. Pete Carroll's USC teams basically made an art form out of this. We can acknowledge that teams like these were championship-worthy, while also acknowledging that it's fair to punish them for whiffing on what they knew they needed to do to actually win the championship.
  • I am willing to listen to arguments for why Ohio State should have gotten in over Oklahoma. Their win over Michigan was more impressive than anything that Oklahoma did. But I think it's disingenuous to ignore how poorly Ohio State played for first 11 games of the season. I don't care how many 5* recruits and NFL draft picks their defense has - that defense objectively did not play championship-caliber defense for the whole season. If the committee evaluated Oklahoma and Ohio State and decided that Oklahoma and was the better team, that is a judgement call - I would respectfully disagree with it, but I wouldn't find it outlandish. If the committee evaluated resumes and preferred Oklahoma, I think I would probably support it. If you want to argue for Ohio State over Notre Dame, I think it becomes a little more interesting. I do agree that Notre Dame's season should have been scrutinized more closely - they had enough close wins against mediocre teams that you can argue they should have been seeded number 4 instead of 3. But I do not think it is obvious that Ohio State is better than Notre Dame (I won't get into it in detail, but A) I don't think either team would have more than a 60% chance of beating the other, and B) I don't think Ohio State would have fared much better against Clemson), and I think Notre Dame comes out far ahead in terms of how well they actually played this season. Ohio State had two impressive wins (Michigan State and Michigan), but they were extremely unimpressive against the rest of their schedule. Ohio State's near losses to Maryland, Penn State, and Nebraska were much closer calls than any of Notre Dame's close wins. Perhaps most importantly, Notre Dame never lost to a 6-6 team by 29 points!
  • I cannot emphasize this enough, both in the context of the playoff discussion and looking ahead to the Rose Bowl: Ohio State's game against Michigan was not remotely representative of how they played the rest of the season. That was one circle-the-wagons against a team that was uniquely poorly-suited to beat Ohio State.
  • For the record, I have Ohio State and Georgia winning their bowl games comfortably. But even if they both win by 80 I will stand by everything I have written here.
  • The bottom line is that Ohio State and Georgia had every opportunity to play for the title and they didn't come through when they needed to. If they don't like it, take care of business next year. Georgia: shoot down Notre Dame's playoff case when they visit you in September, and don't blow a lead against Alabama. Ohio State: don't play such mediocre defense all year, and don't lose to an unranked team by four touchdowns.
On Michigan
  • Michigan has better players than Florida, but Dan Mullen took Jim Harbaugh's lunch money. Coming out of halftime Florida had counters for everything Michigan wanted to do, and Michigan was terrible at executing when Florida forced them to go away from their base defense. Overall, Michigan is at a crossroads. Their offense is bland and doesn't play to the quarterback's strengths, and the defense doesn't adjust well to spread teams who don't wilt against their defensive line. And I honestly hate doing this, but I do think it's fair to question the program's toughness. Over the last two seasons it seems like Michigan is great at making leads snowball, but they wilt if the other team throws a strong (counter)punch. Jim Harbaugh and his staff need to do some serious soul-searching this offseason - next year is put up or shut up if he wants this to be a program that competes for titles (or even NY6 bowl wins).