CFB Playoff Angles, Trends, Predictions – Part 2

Who's Hot & Who's Not

Part 1

College Football Playoff Edition – Part 2

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

Takeaways Per Game

2020: Alabama: 1.9; Clemson: 2.1; Ohio State: 2.7; Notre Dame: 1.5

Past numbers with champion in Bold

  • 2019: LSU: 1.7; Ohio State: 1.9; Clemson: 2.2; Oklahoma: 0.7
  • 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: Only one team with a Takeaways per game number of 2.0 or greater has made the Title game in the last five years

Negative for: Clemson/Ohio State

One point we can throw out this year as one of Clemson or Ohio State will make the championship, but how credible Ohio State's turnover number being as high as it is in six games is always up for debate.

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

Negative for: None

Another one that isn't applicable this year.

Giveaways Per Game

2020: Alabama: 1.0; Clemson: 1.2; Ohio State: 1.3; Notre Dame: 0.9

Past numbers with champion in Bold

  • 2019: LSU: 0.9; Ohio State: 1.1; Clemson: 1.2; Oklahoma: 1.5
  • 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 has made the Title game in three of the past five years

Positive for: Ohio State

Ohio State has a much better chance of getting this one right this year then Oklahoma did in 2019, but all four of those numbers put up by the respective programs are very good.

Turnovers are likely to be the difference in that Clemson/Ohio State semifinal, and if Alabama commits enough of them, Notre Dame pulling off a shocker isn't outside of the cards either.

Point #2: Four out of the six Playoffs have seen the team with the lowest Giveaway margin make it to the Title game; However, only two with a sub-1.0 margin have won it all – 2017 Alabama, 2019 LSU

Positive for: Notre Dame
Negative for: Notre Dame

All of those earlier “negatives” on Alabama's chances in these playoffs get matched up with another positive for Notre Dame here. Making the finals as a 20-point underdog would be a tremendous feat for this Irish program, and we've already seen a few historical things work in their favor in some regard.

Asking them to go through two opponents like that could be worth a flyer on some of the current numbers out there, but that option of Notre Dame ML in the semifinal is there floating around again.

Notre Dame put up these numbers against similar competition to Clemson if you needed another barometer, and if it's always a no-brainer Clemson's got a shot against Alabama, why not root for the Irish if all things positive meet at once for them.

Penalties Per Game

2020: Alabama: 6.0; Clemson: 5.7; Ohio State: 6.0; Notre Dame: 4.5

Past numbers with champion in Bold

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

Can't go praising an ACC team without finding another hurdle around the next corner, as Clemson did their best to be the first to break this run a year ago.

This year it's the ACC-visitors from Notre Dame that have been the most pleasant for referees to deal with, and the Irish are also the biggest longshot to win it all.

Clemson had six penalties for 47 yards in the semifinal vs Ohio State (Ohio State 8-for-77) and then had seven penalties for 65 yards in the championship compared to LSU's 11 penalties for 118 yards.

That disparity wasn't enough for Clemson a season ago to even hang around with LSU, any miracle Notre Dame may get against the Tide is unlikely to happen twice in 10 days.

Penalty Yards Per Game

2020: Alabama: 47.5; Clemson: 52.3; Ohio State: 51.8; Notre Dame: 39.2

Past numbers with champion in Bold

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

The second part of the double whammy that got Clemson last year is attached to the big dog in Notre Dame, as another reason not to expect lightning to strike twice with Notre Dame pops up. Even getting it to strike the 1st time in the Alabama game is a big ask, so not exactly the most actionable trend this year.

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

Positive for: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State
Negative for: Notre Dame

Again, not the most helpful pattern for this season specifically, and one that in all likelihood will continue on again after LSU crept inside the number with last year's performance.

Final Tally

Positives For: Alabama (1), Clemson (4), Ohio State (2), Notre Dame (3)
Negatives For: Alabama (5), Clemson (0), Ohio State (1), Notre Dame (4)

I think the biggest thing to take away from this exercise is that backing Alabama at -160 to win it all isn't one that's going to end up in this portfolio with all those historical things working against them.

A semifinal game against Notre Dame that turns into one where it looks like the Tide are playing against junior varsity is going to bring even more chalk their way, and probably rightfully so. Remember, from the perspective of between the lines, some of those “negative” categories Alabama finds themselves in are because they produce at a high level.

These arguments do make the winner of Clemson/Ohio State #2 rather intriguing in a likely showdown with the Crimson Tide. Should the winner end up getting the Irish, the Tigers or Buckeyes will be significant chalk there in either case, so the +250 with Clemson, or +500 with Ohio State to win it all is where I'd start to look.

Any questions about the ACC's depth and talent in the entire conference have to be shuttled off to the rest of the Big 10 behind Ohio State as well. Both programs could have easily benefited from the status of their conference rather than the quality of overall football we saw from those conferences this year, but plenty of unforeseen circumstances went into it as well.

It seems like every year there is a playoff team that gets in that is the most questioned, and this year we may have two with Ohio State and Notre Dame. Ohio State is the team more capable of using that chip on their shoulder advantageously, at least in terms of likelihood to advance.

Clemson's the one with the best overall profile through this piece, but my questioning of the ACC isn't new this year and there is slightly some bias in always looking to fade Clemson (and other ACC schools) in high profile spots. Besides, if Ohio State had just a cupcake or two in Big 10 play, and Clemson's had at least a handful of them playing in the ACC, it's no wonder Ohio State's in better shape now, they knew when to lay off the sweets.

So it's back to the well with the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2020, as a Buckeyes title will prove the committee right all along for including Ohio State in this thing, as to also ensure this entire wild system in college football never gets blown up and the committee continues on as is. Probably exactly how the 2020 chapter in the history of college football deserves to be written out:

A team that didn't start playing until late-October, only went 5-0 SU in the regular season, and had the rules changed just to get into their conference championship, finished the year ranked 3rd and end up winning the national title. A 2020 ending indeed.

2020 National Champion: Ohio State Buckeyes +500