I decided to take a look at the yards per play numbers for the major national title contenders because yards per play is a nice, basic number to take into account the strength of an offense or defense and it normalizes for offensive and defensive tempo in the same way that yards per possession stats do in basketball. (The one difference is that yards per possession in basketball takes turnovers into account, whereas yards per play stats in football do not.) To do this analysis properly, I would need to index the numbers against the offensive and defensive averages of the teams' opponents, but for the time being, here are the results:
Ohio State - 6.19 ypp on offense, 4.4 ypp on defense, margin of 1.79
Michigan - 5.6 ypp on offense, 3.91 ypp on defense, margin of 1.69
USC - 5.89 ypp on offense, 4.58 ypp on defense, margin of 1.31
Arkansas - 6.67 ypp on offense, 4.51 ypp on defense, margin of 2.16
Florida - 6.25 ypp on offense, 4.59 ypp on defense, margin of 1.66
Notre Dame - 5.72 ypp on offense, 5.32 ypp on defense, margin of 0.4
Rutgers - 5.34 ypp on offense, 3.96 ypp on defense, margin of 1.38
A few thoughts on these numbers:
In addition to all the other factors that make this weekend's tilt exciting, Ohio State and Michigan look to be two very evenly-matched teams, especially when you take into account that Michigan puts the brakes on its own offense when leading more than your average college football power. (An unprovable assertion, I know, but I've watched a lot of football and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that no one employs the Milton Berle approach more than Michigan.) Michigan is a little better on defense, Ohio State is a little better on offense, and they both have wild card returners who can alter the balance of the game.
I might have been a little harsh on Rutgers in my dismissal of their merits after they beat Louisville, as their defensive numbers are outstanding. Admittedly, they haven't played a murderer's row of offenses, but they're the kind of team that is often unappreciated: a team reliant on a terrific defense. Then again, they're also a team from the NYC media market, which means that nothing they do will be unappreciated.
Notre Dame has no business being in the national title discussion. Against a relatively unimposing schedule (forgive me for not being tingly about a team whose biggest win was over Georgia Tech), their defensive numbers are signficantly worse than those of any other national title contender and their offensive numbers are not nearly enough to make up for the shortcoming. USC should bury Notre Dame, especially if the USC team of Saturday night that can run the ball and play defense is the USC team that shows up on November 25. Furthermore, if Notre Dame did make the title game, they would either be there against a team that beat them by 26 in South Bend or in place of that team with the same record.
Arkansas's numbers are very impressive, but I'll have to see what indexing for their quality of opponent will do to them.
Despite looking pretty pedestrian over the past two weeks, Florida's numbers match up nicely with those of Michigan and Ohio State and they've played a tougher schedule than either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines. If the Gators win out, they'd be a deserving participant in Glendale.