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College Football Conference Championship Weekend Mega Breakdown Preview

Before we start, I wanted to define a few of the advanced stats I’ve been using in these previews. The best stats I have found when analyzing this beautiful sport have come by Bill Connelly, who writes for SB Nation. You can find the glossary/Q&A for all of his stats he uses here and here, but here is a spark notes of the main stats I predominantly use.

Success Rate: How successful/efficient are you as a team in staying on track to move the chains. A successful play is defined as getting at least 50% of the necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down.

IsoPPP: Isolating points per play on only successful plays. This statistic aims to look at how consistently successful you are and when you are successful how explosive are you?

Standard Downs: 1st down, 2nd-and-8 or less, 3rd-and-5 or less, 4th-and-5 or less

Passing Downs: 2nd-and-8 or more, 3rd-and-5 or more, 4th-and-5 or more.

Adjusted Line Yards: A statistic that separates the strength of the offensive line and the ability of the RB. Just because you have a great RB doesn’t mean you have a great line.

Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted rate of a sack rate, which is sacks divided by (sacks plus passes).

If you have any questions about these stats, shoot me a DM/Tweet @JackMacCFB.

Power 5 Conference Championship Games:

Stanford Vs. USC (-3.5, O/U 58), FRIDAY 8:00 PM FOX:

The Pac-12 championship always feel weird. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game in Levi’s Stadium and felt normal. Every game I’ve ever watched there has felt just straight up weird. Why play at Levi’s Stadium when you have the Rose Bowl available to you?

Friday night’s game featuring USC and Stanford is a rematch of a game from September. USC ran all over Stanford and left the Coliseum with a 42-24 victory. There are a bunch of rematches this weekend and a theme you will notice throughout this preview is a reminder to never let the past dictate your predictions for the future. The past games can tell us a bit about how the second game will go, but so much randomness can occur in one game that thinking the same result will happen in the future is a great way to lose a lot of money this weekend. Most of these teams have at least 11 games of data points at this point in the season. It is better to look at how they are playing the past 4-5 games and over the entire season opposed to just one 60 minute sample.

All that being said, USC still has the edge in this game. Stanford’s defense has improved over the past few games, but USC will have a bunch of opportunities on Friday when Sam Darnold is on the field. USC has the 15th ranked efficiency on offense, while Stanford ranks 96th on defense.

USC loves to throw the ball, they run the ball on standard downs right around the national average and on passing downs they run the ball the 12th least in the country. That approach from Helton makes sense considering how strong the USC passing attack is, ranking 8th in passing S&P+ and 10th in success rate.Stanford’s defense has had it’s problem with the pass, ranking 54th overall and 84th in success rate.

Stanford’s offense has been better than their defense, ranking 33rd in offensive S&P+. The most impressive part of the Cardinal offense is their explosiveness. Their 8th ranked explosiveness will be their biggest advantage on USC, who ranks 72nd in defending against explosive plays. A big part of the 8th ranking for Stanford is their running game that ranks 1st in the nation in explosive plays. If USC wants to have a similar result to the one earlier in the season, they will have to keep Bryce Love from breaking one like this again:

USC does come into this game on a bye. An unusual schedule may give USC the extra edge they need. Getting a bye at this point in the season is huge for teams considering how injured most squads are. That edge grows even more knowing Stanford is coming off a game with Notre Dame.

I like USC in this game. The Trojans have become forgotten after their loss to Notre Dame in South Bend. Sam Darnold receives a lot of hate, but he is still one of the best QB’s in the nation and will be going up against a weak pass defense. USC’s edge on being more efficient than Stanford on both sides of the ball will be the ultimate factor. The extra week off will allow them to craft the proper game plan to keep Bryce Love in check.

PickUSC -3.5

Georgia vs. Auburn (-2.5, O/U 48), 3:30 PM CBS:

Auburn and Georgia’s first game came down to the difference in quarterback play. Jarrett Stidham lit the world on fire, while freshman Jake Fromm looked rattled by Auburn’s top defense. The good news for Georgia is the second game will not be anything like the first. This time around the game is at a neutral site and Georgia has a slight revenge factor. Fromm won’t be as rattled. Will all this be enough to stop the Auburn train?!?

Let’s start with Fromm, who has been unbelievably good this year. He currently has the 7th best QBR in the nation and leads the 6th best passing S&P+ offense. He did struggle against Auburn passing the ball, but that’s nothing new for teams going up against Auburn’s secondary. A key for Georgia will be to avoid second-and-longs and third-and-longs. If they do that, Fromm will be able to manage much better than he did last time around against the Tigers defense. How will they accomplish this? Step one is to run the ball more than they did on November 11th in Alabama. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel need to run the ball more than 20 times. I believe in Kirby Smart as a head coach and believe he will make the proper adjustments. Georgia, also, has a huge edge in the red zone where they have the top-ranked scoring offense inside the 20 and Auburn’s defense ranks 74th.

On defense, Georgia’s biggest problem with Auburn was their use of Kerryon Johnson. The running back gashed Georgia’s defense and allowed enough passing lanes for Jarrett Stidham to complete 70% of his passes. Kerryon continued his phenomenal November against Alabama, before injuring his shoulder. He is currently listed as probable, but even if he does play the impact of his shoulder cannot be understated. He rushed the ball 32 times in Jordan-Hare, will he be able to do that with an injured shoulder?!? My guess is no. Knowing that Kerryon Johnson will not be that much of a threat, Georgia will not have to focus too much on stopping the run and take away more passing lanes from Stidham. Auburn is going to have a much more difficult time against Georgia’s 9th ranked defense.

Georgia is going to be the play here. I’d wait until gameday to place this bet to see if you can get +3 after the public comes in. Auburn has suddenly changed from a 2.5 point favorite on a neutral site after being 2.5 point underdogs at home three weeks ago? That’s over a touchdown flip for a team that may be without their top player! This is a huge overreaction by the market. Take the value with Georgia.

PickGeorgia +2.5

Ohio State (-5.5, O/U 51) vs. Wisconsin, 8:00 PM FOX:

Remember what happened the last time Wisconsin took on Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship?

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 2.21.49 AM

Will it be 59-0 again?! I’m going to go ahead and say no, but it’s fascinating how similar the situation is for Ohio State. Coming into the 2014 game, Ohio State was on the fringe of the playoff just as they are this season. To impress the committee in 2014, they had to put a shellacking on Wisconsin, just as they have to this weekend if they hope to find themselves in the playoff for the second straight year.

Neither JT Barrett nor Alex Hornibrook will win this game individually. This game is going to come down to who is better in trenches and the resounding answer to that is Ohio State. When Wisconsin has the ball, they run the ball the 7th most on standard downs, but their rushing attack ranks just 26th in rushing S&P+. Ohio State has the best defensive line in the country and they’ve been killing teams on the ground all year, according to S&P+ they have the best rush defense in the country. After taking away the rush, all that will be left for Wisconsin is Alex Hornibrook. That is going to spell bad news for the Badgers. He ranks 40th in QBR and has thrown 13 interceptions on the season. Hornibrook isn’t going to be able to win this game without the rushing attack.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State will have themselves a similar advantage on offense. Wisconsin has one of the best defenses in the country and their rush defense is ranked 9th in S&P+, but when you dig into the stats you can see they do have their flaws that Ohio State can take advantage of. The Buckeyes rush offense ranks 2nd and 8th in adjusted line yards, a place that Wisconsin ranks 26th on defense. When it comes down to short yardage situations, OSU will have no problem moving the chains. Wisconsin ranks 61st in power success rate and 63rd in stuff rate, OSU ranks 14th and 2nd in the same metric.

Barrett’s knee does concern me a bit, but a part of me thinks if he can’t go, his backup Dwayne Haskins can deliver the same production. Ohio State is on a mission and they’ll have no difficulty covering the spread against an overrated Wisconsin team. Don’t get fooled by this one. I know the public sees an undefeated team who is ranked higher and thinks they have found a steal with taking Wisconsin and the points, but Ohio State is the superior team here.

Pick: Ohio State -5.5

Miami Vs. Clemson (-9, O/U 46.5), 8:00 PM ABC:

Oh, what this game could’ve been. A loss to Pittsburgh and injuries to two top receivers (WR Ahmmon Richards and TE Christopher Henderson IV) on Miami has this game which once pitted two top four teams looking like a potential blowout.

Clemson is coming off their best performance all season. A 34-10 blowout of South Carolina featured an equally great offensive and defensive performance. Kelly Bryant seems to be over his ankle injury and the 3rd ranked Clemson defense will be looking for turnover chain blood on Saturday. For the regular college football fan, nine points may seem like a lot, but the line is right where it should be.

Miami’s Achilles heel Malik Rosier seems to be acting up. The QB ranks 36th in QBR and was 15-34 for just 187 yards and zero touchdown’s against Pittsburgh last week before he was benched. Clemson is looming with their 3rd ranked passing defense, who also ranks 1st in adjusted sack rate on passing downs. Miami’s offensive line ranks 65th in the same metric. Clemson’s defense excels in pretty much every aspect of football. Brent Venables defense prevents big plays and has the 5th best efficiency rank in the country. Richards and Henderson IV being out is a big blow for Miami and Rosier. I’m not sure how the passing attack, which ranks 66th in success rate, will be able to get going. This will, in turn, affect the run, a place that Clemson ranks 11th in stopping. Miami offense is going to have a long day.

Clemson’s offense is no juggernaut. Kelly Bryant has been good enough all season, but don’t think the Tigers passing attack is anywhere close to as good as they were with Deshaun Watson last year. They do, however, run the ball well, touting the 11th best rushing offense and 14th best rushing success rate. Miami’s defense ranks 47th and 45th in the same metrics. If Clemson does want to cover the spread, they’ll have to take advantage of this mismatch.

Will we see the turnover chain? It’s a high possibility. Miami ranks 1st in actual turnover rate and 24th in expected, while Clemson ranks 48th and 56th. If Miami wants to win this game, they’ll have to cause a BIG turnover inside Clemson territory. They’ll most likely have that opportunity.

Ultimately, I think Clemson will be way too much for Miami. It’s a shame we aren’t seeing a fully healthy Hurricane squad, but injuries are a part of football. Clemson wins by 10-14.

Pick: Clemson -9.5

TCU vs. Oklahoma (-7, O/U 63), 12:30 PM FOX:

Similar to Georgia’s situation, TCU comes into this game off of an 18 point loss to Oklahoma three weeks ago. Do they have the chance to pull off an upset that nobody sees coming?

The biggest change will be to limit Oklahoma’s first ranked explosive offense. This will be a problem taking into account that TCU is 10th worst against defending against explosiveness. Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma will look to have plenty of long plays and won’t be met with a lot of resistance.

TCU did limit Oklahoma to zero points in the second half of their game a few weeks ago. The game was out of reach by the time the second half started, but maybe they did figure something out about Oklahoma’s offense to slow it down. Gary Patterson is a defensive mastermind and beating him twice in one season will be a challenge. TCU, also, will have their top tackler Travin Howard and safety Niko Small in this game, two guys they did not have on November 11th. One of TCU’s problem in the first half against Oklahoma in the second week of November was missing a bunch of tackles, a problem they solved during the second half. Howard and Small playing in this one will only help them with that problem.

Oklahoma is the better team here, I am not denying that, but there may be some value on TCU. Three weeks ago, Oklahoma was a 6 point home favorite against the Horned Frogs and now they are a 7 point favorite in a neutral site game in TCU’s home state. TCU is healthier and getting 5 or so more points than they did three weeks ago when you factor in a 4 point home field advantage in Oklahoma. The public is all over Oklahoma. It’s all screaming TCU. I will not be making this an official play, but I do lean TCU here.

Pick: TCU +6

Official #JackieGambling Picks Of The WEEK:

Overall: 55-42-1, 56.7%

Last Week: 3-4

USC -3.5

Georgia +2.5

Ohio State -6

Clemson -9.5