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4-Down Territory: Championship Games & A Look at Conference Strength & Analysis of Power Football

This is the final week before the College Football Playoff is determined and conventional wisdom tells us that three of the playoff slots are already set with Georgia, Michigan and TCU locked in. Whether that remains the case or not we’ll see.

But before we get into the specific games it is a good time to note some of the data points that illustrate the relative strengths of each conference. A lot of people like to talk about non-conference records, but a number of teams play FCS teams and that skews the record. To that end we’re strictly going to discuss the records against the other Power-5 teams (and we include Notre Dame in that group).

Let’s start by looking at each non-conference’s record against Power-5 teams. We’ll also look at what percentage of the total non-conference games were played against Power-5 teams.

Non-Conference Games vs Power 5 Teams

Record % of Non -Conference Games Vs Power-5 Teams

The SEC 10-5 26.7%

The Pac 12 6-6 30.6%

The Big 12 5-5 33.0%

The Big Ten 5-6 26.2%

The ACC 8-14 37.5%

Clearly the SEC outperformed the other conferences in those games. However, you can see that the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 were more aggressive in their non-conference scheduling than the Big 10 and the SEC.

But before you are too critical of the Big 10, keep in mind that Big 10 teams play 9 conference games. The Big 12, Pac 12 and Big Ten all play 9 conference games. That extra conference game is one more Power-5 game each year than teams in the ACC or the SEC play each year. So counting the conference games and the non-conference schedule, which conferences play the most Power-5 games each year?

Percentage of total Games Vs Power-5 Teams

The Pac 12 83.3%

The Big 12 83.3%

The Big 10 80.9%

The ACC 78.6%

The SEC 75.6%

When you add this all up, you realize why the Pac 12 has the best representation of any conference in the College Football Playoff rankings with 6 teams among the Top 17. The SEC has 6 teams among the Top 25, while the ACC has 4 teams, and both the Big 10 and Big 12 have 3 ranked teams.

First Down: FRIDAY: Pac-12 Title Game: #11 Utah (9-3) vs #4 USC (11-1) in Las Vegas 8:00 Fox: The task sheet to make the playoff for USC is simple, win and you’re in. But it is a tall task in the first of three featured rematches. This is a re-match of a thriller which Utah won at home on a 2-point conversion. In that one the teams combined for 1100+ yards of offense. USC QB Caleb Williams has raised his game to an astonishing level that has him heading the NYC next week. While USC’s defense has given up yardage this year they are a nation’s-best (and astonishing) +23 in turnover margin for the year. In that game Utah only committed one turnover. To change that, USC will need to pressure Utah QB Cameron Rising. In the first game Utah’s offensive line did not allow a sack and yielded just 1 tackle for loss. That kept them on schedule offensively which kept the pressure on USC’s defense. USC will have to reverse that to win this one……AAC Title Game: #22 UCF (9-3) at #18 Tulane (10-2) 4:00 ABC: This is another rematch just a few weeks ago UCF went into Tulane and won 38-31. In that game UCF jumped to an early lead and never trailed. UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee had a big day on the ground. That mirrors a season in which he has 2195 passing yards and 848 rushing yards. Tulane is playing solid defense allowing just under 20 points per game and holding opponents passing game in check. They will need to force UCF to lean on their pass game where they may be more prone to make mistakes. The winner gets a New Year's Six bowl game.

Second Down: Big 12 Title Game: #10 Kansas State (9-3) vs #3 TCU (12-0) in Arlington, TX 12:00 ABC: Some argue that TCU should be in win or lose. TCU would rather not find out the hard way. This is another title game rematch of a wild finish earlier this year. Kansas State led TCU 28-10 in their previous meeting just before the half. TCU outscored them 28-0 over the final 30 minutes and 20 seconds of the game for the win. TCU QB Max Duggan is one of the best players no one is discussing for the Heisman. He has over 3000 yards passing, 29 TDs and just 3 interceptions plus 294 yards rushing and another 5 TDS on the ground. TCU’s defense has played better the past few weeks and that may give them the edge in this one. They will have to play well now that Kansas State is averaging 42 points a game since quarterback Will Howard took over following their loss to Texas.

Third Down: ACC Title Game: #9 Clemson (10-2) vs #23 UNC (9-3) in Charlotte 8:00 ABC: This one has certainly lost some luster from a few weeks ago when it looked like it was going to be a top-10 match-up that might have given Clemson enough juice to make the playoffs. The Quarterbacks will be the focal point here. Clemson is sticking with DJ Uiagalelei despite his occasionally uneven play and UNC QB Drake Maye is coming off what may be his two worst games of the year. The big worry for UNC will be protecting the quarterback. Both Georgia Tech and NC State’s defense harassed him—Tech had 6 sacks and NC State had 2 and Mayes’ completion rate really slumped. Clemson’s front seven on defense are a real strength and that will be problematic……SEC Title Game: #14 LSU (9-3) vs #1 Georgia (12-0) in Atlanta 4:00 CBS: With Georgia playing what is essentially a home game as a heavy favorite here, is there any chance the Tigers can pull the upset? Two things have to happen to have a shot. LSU Quarterback Jayden Daniels has to play at the level he reached against Alabama, but Georgia’s defense right now is a much bigger test. On defense, if LSU repeats the defensive performance that allowed Texas A&M to pound out 38 points and 274 yards on the ground this will get ugly. Georgia’s approach is run the ball, utilize a strong play-action pass game and control the game. That may be a theme going forward in the SEC. Both Georgia in the SEC and Michigan in the Big Ten are playing power football and have taken control of their respective conferences.

Fourth Down: Big Ten Title Game Purdue (8-4) vs #2 Michigan (12-0) in Indianapolis 8:00 Fox: This is the first time an Indiana team has made the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. Michigan, like Georgia, seems to already have their ticket punched to the playoff. And after the longest Big Ten Title drought in school history--going from 2004 through 2020—they are on the verge of a 2nd-straight title. Purdue seems overmatched in this one, but can they hang in there? A couple of things to consider here. First, Purdue has a top-40 run defense and is only yielding 128 yards per game. Michigan may take their same approach to the Ohio State game and start with play-action and some deep passes to get Purdue’s defense backed up. Michigan should be able to run the ball with or without Blake Corum as they showed last week with Donovan Edwards topping the 200-yard mark on the ground. Secondly, on offense Purdue is capable of moving the ball. They racked up 420+ yards against a strong Penn State defense. Protecting Aidan O’Connell will be vital if Purdue is to have a chance and that will require getting some run game going and some screens to running backs and wide receivers. But before we go, let's take a quick look at what has changed at Michigan the past three years since their 2-4 record in the Covid-shortened season of 2020.

2020 2021 2022

Runs Per Game 29 41 44

Time Of Possession 25:37 31:22 34:31

Offensive Plays Per Game 64 69 70

Defensive Plays Per Game 78 67 60

The thing about running the ball and controlling the clock, is that it keeps your defense off the field. It makes for less fatigue, less injuries and better stamina and consistency down the stretch. The change has been dramatic these past three years and as Big Ten teams look to overtake Michigan they can start by looking at how Michigan’s running attack has made their defense better. That is the very definition of complimentary football.


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