Sorry, I can’t help myself: Any of y’all seen Devin White? Saturday night’s broadcast of the Alabama – LSU football game was marred by the repeated references made to the suspended LSU linebacker by announcers Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson who tried their best to paint the player’s second half return as the second coming of you know who. All LSU had to do, they claimed, was survive until the second half and Mr. White would singlehandedly whip the Tide. The only time I saw Mr. White in the second half was the time he was steamrolled by Najee Harris like a possum on Louisiana back road. Where he went after that is anybody’s guess. The Alabama beat down now ranks as the worst in our nine years of grading the playing performances of ranked teams. The scoreboard didn’t tell the story but, in our grading system it was Alabama 137.87, LSU 36.95, the poorest losing grade EVER.
It’s probably time to stop complaining about Alabama’s weak schedule. The games played to-date by Alabama now rank as tougher than Clemson’s and tougher than Notre Dame’s (and far tougher than UCF’s, the team that is still trying to impersonate a National Champion). Those two likely playoff contenders have played cupcakes and will now eat cake the rest of their seasons. Meanwhile, Bama will face Mississippi State (ranked) and Georgia before blowing the doors off someone in the semi-finals. Oh, yeah, there’s also the rivalry game against the other Tigers – Auburn. So, why is it that no one ever complains about Clemson’s weak schedule?
It’s probably time to stop saying Alabama’s defense is weak. Ask Coach Ed O what he thinks of the Bama defense. In our stats—the correct stats for ranking offenses and defenses—Alabama’s defensive performance this season is second only to that of Clemson which has played easier competition.
Not surprisingly, Alabama’s offense ranks second only to Oklahoma’s but remember that the Sooners are in a conference that has outlawed defense. In fact, Oklahoma’s defense ranks dead last among the nineteen teams we’ve ranked this year. If Bama gets the Sooners in a playoff game, there’s a real chance they’ll hang a hundred on them.
Yesterday, Pat Forde wrote a very thoughtful piece for Yahoo Sports comparing this Alabama team to the greatest teams of all time. 2018 Bama compares quite favorably. Unfortunately, Mr. Forde used stale, outdated stats to make the comparison—yards per game, yards per play average points per game, margin of victory. Those are effort measures but they don’t have a deterministic effect on the outcome of football games. We use deterministic stats, the measures that determine which team scores and which prevents scores which, naturally, determines winners and losers. So, we’ll give you some team comparisons in the areas that actually matter.
Over the past nine years, top 25 teams have scored 71.9% of their points on drives that begin in their own territory. These teams average twelve possessions per game and ten of them are on drives beginning in their own territory. If a team cannot sustain a long field drive, it cannot score and therefore, it cannot win.
Alabama has scored on 55.4% of its long field possessions. The average over nine years is 40.22%. (Notre Dame is 43.43%.) Alabama averages 3.57 points each time it takes control in its own territory. The nine year average is 2.42 points per possession. (Notre Dame is 2.61.)
Nearly 70% of long field scoring drives are fueled by a play of over 25 yards—an explosive play. This year Alabama has had 60 explosive plays in nine games. The nine year average is 37 explosive plays for an entire season. (Without an explosive play, ranked teams score on only 18% of their long field possessions so explosive plays more than double point production.) (Notre Dame has made 35.)
So what stops a team from scoring? On average, 20.32% of all long field drives fail to launch because of a three-and-out. Alabama has only gone three-and-out on 11.96% of its possessions. (Notre Dame’s average is 20.2%.)
On average 18.42% of all possessions are stopped because the offense shoots itself in the foot with a major penalty, a drive-stopping sack or a turnover. Alabama’s average is just 13.04%. (Notre Dame’s average is 16.16%.) Remember that these are averages for ranked teams. Unranked teams would make these comparisons even more dramatic.
Although we don’t consider this years’ defense to be Alabama’s best, it is still far better than the nine year average for ranked teams.
- Alabama yields a long field score on 17% of its opponents’ possessions. The nine year average is 22.85%.
- Alabama yields 1.04 points per opponent possession. The nine year average is 1.32 points.
- Alabama has been susceptible to the explosive play, giving up 21 of them but the nine year average is 25.
- Alabama has forced three-and-out on 33.96% of its opponents’ possessions against an average of 29.39%.
- Alabama has forced opponent drive-stopping mistakes on 25.47% of opponent drives against an average of 23.39%.
In other words, the Alabama defense is far better than the average ranked team defense over the past nine years. I could go on and on featuring the stats that matter, but you get the idea: this Alabama team is special.
When reading ranking listings, it’s easy to imagine that the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 3 or the gap between No. 3 and No. 4 and so on. That isn’t true at all. To see the true difference between our ranked teams, you can’t merely look at the positions in the list; you have to read the GPA’s.
- Alabama is No. 1 at 103.81, an A+ on a scale of 1 to 100
- Clemson is No. 2 at 97.69, an excellent A grade
- Georgia is No. 3 with a 91.42, barely an A, and you can already see how much difference there is between the top two teams and everyone else.
- Oklahoma is No.4 at 90.08, a borderline A in some schools. No one else is better than a B in a down season.
- Michigan is No. 5 at 88.39, a solid B
- Notre Dame is No. 6 with a middle B grade of 85.62, basically an average ranked team.
Oh, oh. We have Michigan ahead of a Notre Dame team it beat and Notre Dame is not in the playoff? How can that be? The CFP Committee has ranked Notre Dame No. 3 for three reasons:
- They’re unbeaten. We don’t care about that because we know you can play poorly and still beat teams that play worse. Have a look at the Irish wins over Ball State, Vanderbilt, Pitt and Navy.
- They’ll drive great TV ratings for the playoffs.
- They beat Michigan. In the committee’s hidebound thinking that means ND is forever better than Big Blue. That’s not true. Over nine games the Wolverines have played better football against a tougher schedule and in the eight games since their opening loss to the Irish they’ve played FAR better than ND.
Full disclosure: I am not a Bama booster. I attended Wisconsin (we’re hard to watch this year) and have an affiliation with Florida via a relative who was a Dean at the school. I certainly have no quarrel with Touchdown Jesus either. I’m just saying, the numbers don’t lie.
For a complete list of ranked teams and weekend playing performance grades, visit www.nemosnumbers.com. If you want to know how the numerical grades are calculated, find a copy of Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics wherever you buy books.