Hot & Not Playoff – Part 2

Part 1

Who's Hot and Who's Not

Collge Football Playoff Edition – Part 2

And so it continues, as there are more statistical categories that I believe have been historically relevant in producing a CFB Playoff winner, and if you have already gone through Part 1 (insert link here) of my breakdown, there is still more to come. No need to labor with the introduction because of it, so let's keep on plugging away:

*All numbers are pulled from regular season data only (including conference championship games) for the CFB Playoff teams that particular season

Takeaways Per Game

2019: LSU: 1.7; Ohio State: 1.9; Clemson: 2.2; Oklahoma: 0.7

Past numbers with champion in Bold

2018: Alabama: 1.7; Clemson: 1.5; Notre Dame: 1.7; Oklahoma: 0.8
2017: Clemson: 1.4; Oklahoma: 1.3; Georgia: 1.4; Alabama: 1.5
2016: Alabama: 1.8; Clemson: 1.8; Ohio State: 2.1; Washington: 2.4
2015: Clemson: 1.9; Alabama: 1.8; Michigan State: 2.2; Oklahoma: 2.2
2014: Alabama: 1.5; Oregon: 2.0; Florida State: 2.0; Ohio State: 2.2

Point #1: No team with a Takeaways per game number of 2.0 or greater has made the Title game in the last four years

Negative for: Clemson

More fuel for the fire of Dabo Swinney's rhetoric train here, as on the surface being the best at taking the ball away from your opponent is always a positive. But that hasn't been the case recently in the CFB Playoff as it appears some 'regression to the mean' shows up at the worst time for these teams. There have only been four teams of the past 16 to even have a shot at overcoming this fact, so sample size isn't exactly great, but these are the facts and recent history isn't on Clemson's side here. Swinney does like speaking about “the first time since...” so here's another thing you can have at in that regard.

Point #2: No team with a Takeaways per game number below 1.4 has ever made the Title Game

Negative for: Oklahoma

This far through the piece and the Oklahoma Sooners have yet to really show up on the positive or negative side of anything so far, but they break that goose egg with a negative trend here. Sure, there could be some positive regression to the mean for Oklahoma in the semi-finals, and they'll need it as hefty 'dogs vs LSU.

Winning the turnover battle by multiple possessions may be the only way the Sooners get by a powerhouse like LSU later this month, and it's really only been this same Oklahoma Sooners program that qualifies in this particular role. But history does have a way of repeating itself, and given that the Sooners have forced a grand total of one turnover in their two semi-finals defeats the past two years, turning over LSU this season won't be easy.

Giveaways Per Game

2019: LSU: 0.9; Ohio State: 1.1; Clemson: 1.2; Oklahoma: 1.5

Past numbers with champion in Bold

2018: Alabama: 0.9; Clemson: 1.3; Notre Dame: 1.2; Oklahoma: 1.0
2017: Clemson: 1.2; Oklahoma: 0.9; Georgia: 1.0; Alabama: 0.5
2016: Alabama: 1.5; Clemson: 2.0; Ohio State: 0.8; Washington: 0.9
2015: Clemson: 1.9; Alabama: 1.4; Michigan State: 0.9; Oklahoma: 1.3
2014: Alabama: 1.4; Oregon: 0.6; Florida State: 2.2; Ohio State: 1.5

Point #1: Team with the worst Giveaway per game margin has made the Title game in three of the past four years

Positive for: Oklahoma

Ended the last section with the first negative for Oklahoma, so how about a “positive” for the Sooners here. They come into the 2019 CFB Playoff with the most giveaways per game on average of the four teams, and oddly enough that's done well for “teams” in the past.

I put teams in quotations because it's actually been just one program who's accounted for all the success these teams that are loosest with the football have had in the Playoff – Clemson. So there you go Dabo Swinney, a positive for your 2019 team crew in that you enter the playoff for the first time you've been involved in it without the worst giveaway per game margin (or tied) of everyone involved.

But it's hard to think that this is nothing more then dumb luck at times, especially with Clemson accounting for all of those Title game appearances. The Tigers have been a dominant force in the college football landscape for years now, and they have shown they can overcome their mistakes time and time again. Not so sure Oklahoma is as capable to do so, but a historical positive is a historical positive right?

Point #2: Three out of the five Playoffs have seen the team with the lowest Giveaway margin make it to the Title game; However, only one team with a sub-1.0 margin has won it all – 2017 Alabama

Positive for: LSU
Negative for: LSU

Based on that historical fact, LSU fans may be able to have a Happy New Year, but will feel already done with 2020 by the middle of January.

Protecting the football is always one of the best paths for success for any team, and there is nobody better at it in this year's playoff then the LSU Tigers. But whether or not it becomes the pressure of the moment in the Title game, along with being up against another phenomenal team, going the distance rarely seems to happen for the squads that rank the best here.

The 2017 Alabama team was the only one to take it the distance in that regard, and if you remember that 2017 title game, there were some extenuating circumstances. For one, the Tide went up against a familiar conference foe in Georgia, one that was beating them for essentially the entire game before crumbling late.

A LSU foe in this year's title game could end up falling to a similar fate, but Ohio State and Clemson both have guys on their roster who have felt the CFB Playoff pressure before. What that means (if anything) is hard to quantify, but it never hurts to have that knowledge floating around in the back of your mind.

Penalties Per Game

2019: LSU: 6.2; Ohio State: 5.6; Clemson: 5.5; Oklahoma: 6.8

Past numbers with champion in Bold

2018: Alabama: 5.5; Clemson: 5.2; Notre Dame: 5.0; Oklahoma: 6.1
2017: Clemson: 5.1; Oklahoma: 6.2; Georgia: 6.7; Alabama: 5.5
2016: Alabama: 5.4; Clemson: 6.7; Ohio State: 6.2; Washington: 5.4
2015: Clemson: 5.8; Alabama: 6.6; Michigan State: 5.3; Oklahoma: 6.2
2014: Alabama: 5.0; Oregon: 8.1; Florida State: 6.6; Ohio State: 5.8

Point #1: The team with the fewest penalties per game has NEVER won the national title

Negative for: Clemson

Again, we've got past results that seem counter-intuitive to what you would believe would happen, as staying disciplined on the football field is always key to success. But this is another case where regression to the mean could be playing out here, especially on such a high profile stage, as these CFB Playoff teams that enter the tournament with the fewest amount of penalties per game just can't translate it into success.

In fact, where there has been a clear cut leader in that regard – every year but 2016 when Alabama and Washington were tied – those teams haven't even made it through to the title game. Turns out that's another negative for Dabo Swinney's Clemson team this year, as I know now that I for sure won't be getting any Christmas cards from him or fans of his program this year.

Penalty Yards Per Game

2019: LSU: 59.5; Ohio State: 53.5; Clemson: 43.6; Oklahoma: 74.1

Past numbers with champion in Bold

2018: Alabama: 48.5; Clemson: 45.6; Notre Dame: 45.5; Oklahoma: 61.5
2017: Clemson: 45.8; Oklahoma: 61.8; Georgia: 58.8; Alabama: 46.6
2016: Alabama: 41.8; Clemson: 59.2; Ohio State: 48.8; Washington: 46.1
2015: Clemson: 47.7; Alabama: 59.6; Michigan State: 43.6; Oklahoma: 61.2
2014: Alabama: 39.7; Oregon: 74.9; Florida State: 51.2; Ohio State: 50.5

Point #1: The team with the fewest penalty yards per game has NEVER won the national title

Negative for: Clemson

This statement was close to ending last year, but it's another relative anomaly when you really think about it. But again, it probably goes back to the whole regression to the mean idea, and that on the biggest stage, those little things said teams may have gotten away with more often then not every Saturday become magnified and exposed.

I'm sure Dabo Swinney and his wonderful use of various rhetoric techniques will be working over the officials every chance he gets, but the history doesn't lie here. After all, he always argues that nobody pays enough attention to the ACC and maybe he's right. Maybe that includes the officials as well who have arguably let his team get away with more then they should throughout the year.

Point #2: EVERY national champion has had between 45.6 and 59.6 penalty yards per game

Positive for: LSU and Ohio State
Negative for: Clemson and Oklahoma

Probably nothing more then a statistical anomaly or looking too much into the numbers, but when that range has been perfect in determining the eventual national champion, I'm not sure you can ignore it. Considering that this is a positive for the top two teams in this year' playoff, it's got to be considered.

Final Tally

Positives For: LSU (4); Ohio State (3); Clemson (1); Oklahoma (2)
Negatives For: LSU (1, with 1 more likely); Ohio State (2); Clemson (6); Oklahoma (2)

I know that there are plenty of ways to pick apart this piece, especially if you like a particular team already.

Knocks against it are sample size, last year's teams have nothing to do with this year's, and even you could view it as confirmation bias in some cases. But regarding the latter, I would like to say that I did not know what to expect to find when backtracking these numbers, so I don't believe there was anything I was looking to confirm going into it. Again, if you find this information valuable great, if not, that's just as good.

But after this trek back through history, the picture does seem somewhat clear in how to bet this year's playoff at least in terms of the futures market. After all, the straight up winner in all 15 CFB Playoff games we've had in history are 12-3 ATS. So pick the outright winner correct and 80% of the time the spread won't matter. Especially when the three point spread losses have come by 3.5 points (2018 semi between Alabama and Oklahoma), 0.5 points (2017 title game between Alabama and Georgia), and 1.5 points (2015 title game between Alabama and Clemson).

The two teams with more historical positives then negatives from these pieces are #1 LSU and #2 Ohio State. To me, those will be your two combatants in the national title game, and with futures prices in the +150 and +225 respectively, you take both and as long as that's the matchup, you'll come out ahead.

And given that if you've followed along with my “Upset Alerts” pieces all year long, you'll know how long my stubborn ass thought it was best to go against Ohio State week after week, there is some pain in saying this, but it is the Ohio State Buckeyes who are my pick to win it all.

Ohio State outperformed market expectations all year long – much to my chagrin – and getting bumped from #1 to #2 in the final rankings - for really doing nothing wrong other then having a slow start in the Big 10 Championship - has to be all the extra motivation they really need to make a title run.

Hopefully they ride that wave of motivation and many of the historical angles I've laid out to a title this year, beating the LSU Tigers 35-31 to win it all.

2019 National Champion: Ohio State Buckeyes