The national title contenders, broken down by yards per play:
* – Yeah you know me.
- Alabama’s number is just silly. The defense is as strong as always, although I am going to reserve judgment on their place historically until they have played the more challenging half of the schedule. Through seven games, the only above-average offense they have seen has been Arkansas. They are terrific at stopping opponents, but they don’t force too many turnovers or sacks. They can be thrown on,* which is going to put an awfully big onus on Jarrett Lee when LSU comes to town. However, the Alabama offense has really evolved during the Saban era, getting better each and every year. (Bama’s yards per play progression from Saban’s first year forward: 5.1, 5.5, 6.0, 7.0, and now 6.8 with an offense that is replacing a two-year starter at quarterback and three first-round picks.) Maybe it’s more the residue of great recruiting as opposed to clever scheming, but Bama is statistically right up there with teams that are more known for their offenses. Moreover, because they are run-based, they are achieving a great yards per play number with relatively low variance, which is the crown jewel of offensive production.
* – It’s interesting that the defensive strategy that should work against Alabama – committing extra defenders to squash the run – is exactly what the Alabama defense does. In other words, mimic what the Tide does on defense to stop their offense. Then again, their offense should be prepared for this approach since they see it in practice every week.
- You see what I meant earlier in the week about Clemson? They just aren’t in the same category as the other contenders on defense. The conventional wisdom is that they can win a game on defense as evidenced by the win in Blacksburg, but in retrospect, that game looks like either an outlier or a truly epic screw-up by Bryan Stinespring.
- If I could sell shares of Kansas State, I would. They make Clemson look like Alabama by comparison. They are a nice story and all with Bill Snyder bringing the program back after the Ron Prince debacle, but in no way do they belong in the national title discussion. I wouldn’t be shocked if both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State take them to the woodshed. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if Oklahoma blowing K-State out next week isn’t the third instance of the Sooner bubble getting inflated, after wins over Florida State and Texas that both turned out to be conquests of overrated opponents.
- Boise State’s number just aren’t where they would need to be to justify inclusion in the national title discussion. Plus, Wisconsin has already taken the mantle of the dominant team that plays no one. Stanford too, I suppose.
- Man, LSU’s offensive numbers do not look good in this company. I would take their special teams units over anyone else on the list and they have played a very tough schedule, but that pedestrian offense could be their undoing.
- Stanford-Oregon looks like a terrific match-up of evenly-matched teams. Thankfully, they are in the same division of the Pac 12 or else their game would just be an appetizer.
- Arkansas looks just like you would expect a mature Bobby Petrino Arkansas team to look like: a good team with a very good offense and a decent, but not great defense. One would expect this because of Petrino’s prowess as an offensive coach, combined with the facts that Arkansas does not sit in a good recruiting area and defense is more about talent than anything else. (Cue Spurrier’s maxim about scheming on offense and recruiting on defense.) Now, if you put Petrino somewhere like Texas A&M where he would have more access to fertile recruiting areas…
I don't disagree re: Clemson. We've improved a little this year (kinda, see: Maryland), but we're not where we have been the last 2-3 years under Steele. Good thing the offense can score; something we couldn't do in the past.
If you can accept this Clemson team as a likely 10-2 team that has a good chance to win the ACC, then you are likely to be happy at the end of the year. I'm just making the point that they aren't more than that. They aren't in the Bama-LSU-Oklahoma tier and they probably aren't in the Wisconsin-Stanford tier below the first tier. I'm not sure if Okie State belongs in tier two or three. They seem like a western version of Clemson.
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