Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 at 7:00 PM
The #1 team in the nation is an UNDERDOG in the first national semifinal when the undefeated Clemson Tigers take on one-loss Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The winner will advance to the National Championship game against the survivor of Alabama-Michigan State that will be played Thursday evening in the Cotton Bowl.
So…who’s right?! The polls that have Clemson at the top of the heap? Or, the betting markets, that say Clemson is actually more than a field goal worse than Oklahoma? Can the polls be that wrong? Or, is the market once again overrating Bob Stoops before he blows another big game?
Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about Game One in the long awaited Final Four college football doubleheader!
Oklahoma: 11-1 (8-1 in the Big 12, faced #19 schedule in Sagarin)
Clemson: 13-0 (8-0 in the ACC Atlantic, faced #41 schedule in Sagarin)
Oklahoma is getting credit for playing the tougher schedule by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. But, we have to remember that some of the top teams they faced were dealing with quarterback issues on game day. There’s probably not that big a difference between the schedules when you adjust for that. Both teams are very talented. Oklahoma missed their early wake-up call for the Texas game. No controversy here…these teams earned their Final Four bids in a season without any obvious super-teams.
Oklahoma: 7.0 on offense, 4.7 on defense
Clemson: 6.4 on offense, 4.7 on defense
This is why OU is favored. They’re +2.3 yards-per-play for the season compared to just +1.7 for Clemson. If the Sooners really did play the tougher schedule…then this is a BIG advantage that justifies the Vegas line. Possibly…the Vegas line isn’t tall enough! Both teams are capable of creating exciting highlight reels. OU has the higher ceiling.
2015 Turnover Differential
Arguably the single most important statistic in terms of who’s going to cover. Oklahoma is scary good when not making mistakes. If they can keep up that pace…clean, exciting football…then it’s possible that NOBODY in the country can eat them right now. That Texas game was weeks ago…and that version of OU really isn’t relevant any more. Clemson’s too sloppy within their spread attack. You can get away with that for awhile in a weak conference. You definitely CAN’T get away with it once you’re matched up with other elites. If the teams play to these norms, Oklahoma wins by at least a touchdown.
2015 Market Performance
Oklahoma: 9-3 ATS (8-4 to the Over)
Clemson: 6-7 ATS (8-5 to the Over)
Two exciting teams…because it’s hard to go Over that often when everyone knows you play at a fast pace. These two are 16-9 to the Over anyway! The Sooners have been on a tear lately, leading to a 75% cover mark for the regular season. Clemson did get the money in the ACC Championship game against North Carolina…but is still negative for the year within the markets. Another reason OU is favored by a little more than a field goal is that oddsmakers are chasing the Sooners’ recent form.
Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield (243-354-5-3389 with 35 TDs)
Clemson: Deshaun Watson (287-413-11-3512 with 30 TDs)
Edge here to Mayfield. He has more TD passes on fewer attempts. He has a sparkling 35-5 TD/INT ratio compared to 30-11. He only threw for 123 fewer yards on 59 fewer tosses. If Mayfield and Watson had thrown the same number of passes, OU’s passer would have won the stat category easily. There’s a lot to like about both signal callers. Mayfield’s been more impressive when you adjust for context.
Current Line: Oklahoma by 3.5, total of 64
With this being a neutral field game, that’s a lot of respect for Oklahoma. The stats show they’ve pretty much earned it. They’re playing better football with a much better turnover differential. It may or may not be coming against the tougher schedule depending on how you rate that. As long as they don’t miss their wake-up call this time…the pointspread is at least justified. On the other hand, Bob Stoops has a long history of underachieving in big games. He makes poor choices. He panics. His players lose their composure just as the game is being decided.
Can this group of players overcome that longterm history? Answer that, and you’ve made your pick! In what might be a very easy cover either way. If OU makes mistakes vs. a team like Clemson, the game could get away from you quick. OU playing clean probably forces Clemson into mistakes.
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Back tomorrow with the other semifinal. Here’s what’s coming up in the NOTEBOOK…
Tomorrow: Cotton Bowl Preview (Semifinal #2)…Alabama vs. Michigan State
Sunday: NFL TV Preview…Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (moved to prime time)
Next Week: NFL Wildcard Previews!
Monday January 11: College Football Championship Preview!
All of these early BIG, JUICY WINNERS have been fun…but THE BIG BOYS are about to take the field…so you’d better hook up with THE BIGGEST NAME IN HANDICAPPING to GET ALL THE MONEY!
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