College Bowl Games
Tue, Jan 4 6:00 PM PT
Rotation: 285, Odds: Kansas St. -5, Total: 47.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Note: This play was released to subscribers when the line was Kansas State -5 and the line has gone up a couple of points – although I still see value on the Wildcats.
Strong Opinion – Kansas State (-5) 31 Louisiana State 19
I was already going to be leaning with Kansas State at -4.5 based on the previously reported opt-outs of superstar LB Damone Clark, DT Neil Farrell, and the news that backup QB Garrett Nussmeier didn’t want to burn his redshirt by playing in this game. Then news came out revealing the LSU depth chart for this game, which had just 39 scholarship players on it and indicating that 3 of the 4 defensive back starters that ended the season so strongly would not be playing (at least they weren’t on the depth chart, which I assume means they’re not playing). And, in addition to the secondary being gutted (starters Stingley and Ricks had left the team earlier in the season), #2 tackler LB Micah Bakerville was also not listed on the depth chart for this game. Clark had 135 tackles and 15.5 total tackles for loss, so his absence alone was significant. My algorithm projects that all of the defensive attrition results in the Tigers’ defense going from 0.6 yards per play better than average to 0.3 yppl worse than average and it’s more likely that I’m underestimating the affect of those absent players.
LSU will also be down to their #4 and #5 quarterbacks with starter Max Johnson transferring and Nussmeier deciding not to play (and projected 2021 starter Myles Brennan not ready to play after missing the regular season with an injury). The Tigers’ top running back is also out, which is a negative given that Tyrion Davis-Price, who declared for the NFL draft, averaged 4.8 ypr while his two backups averaged just 4.3 ypr. The Tigers weren’t going to be able to run against a very good Kansas State run defense anyway, but I suspect they may run some Wildcat formations with a receiver or back taking direct snaps – especially if the inexperienced quarterbacks aren’t effective. Whether that will work or not is the question, but I’ll assume it won’t make a difference.
Skylar Thompson will be back at quarterback for Kansas State, after missing the regular season finale, and the rest of the Wildcats are reportedly intact.
The absent defensive players are worth 6.1 points according to my algorithm, but it could be more given how deep the Tigers will need to count on reserves in the secondary that barely played this season. The offense figures to be significantly worse too (about 4 points), as would have been the case even if Nussmeier were playing, as he completed just 51% of his 57 passes and averaged just 4.7 yards per pass play. If the backups are that bad then LSU will be even worse than projected (I project 5.4 yppp for the Tigers).
With all the adjustments my math favors Kansas State by 12.2 points with a total of 50.4 points. Kansas State is a Strong Opinion at -7 -115 or better.
Mon, Jan 10 5:00 PM PT
Rotation: 287, Odds: Alabama -2.5, Total: 52
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Georgia (-2.5/-3) 28 Alabama 24
Alabama beat Georgia 41-24 in the SEC Championship game 5 weeks ago, but there is a reason that the Bulldogs are favored – they’ve been the better team over the course of the season and one game doesn’t change that. In 2011, LSU won by 3 points at Alabama and the Crimson Tide were favored in their Championship game rematch and beat the Tigers by 21 points. That’s the only other Championship game rematch in the BCS/Playoffs era but there have been two other de facto national championship games in the last 45 years (before the BCS or playoffs) in which the two participating teams played in the regular season. In 1996, Florida lost 21-24 to Florida State in a regular season game and then won the National Championship by beating the undefeated Seminoles 52-20 as 3-point favorite in the Sugar Bowl. In 1975, Ohio State beat UCLA 41-20 in October and would have claimed the National Championship by beating the Bruins again in the Rose Bowl. They lost 10-23. Since 1975, all Bowl/Playoffs same-season revenging teams are 14-7 straight up and 13-8 ATS. So, the fact that Alabama beat Georgia in their previous meeting means nothing other than how that game alters the math model for this game.
For the math projection in this game I only used Georgia QB Stetson Bennett’s performance level in games against good pass defenses, but his great performance (10.0 yppp) against a good Michigan defense elevated his rating in such games to being 2.5 yards per pass play better than average. That’s still lower than his overall rating of +3.4 yppp (9.5 yppp against teams that would allow 6.1 yppp to an average QB), which was skewed by dominant performances against mediocre and bad defensive teams (1052 yards at 13.0 yppp against UAB, Vandy, Missouri, Charleston Southern, and Georgia Tech). Bennett should play better than he did the first time he faced Alabama, when he averaged just 6.3 yppp with 2 interceptions. The Crimson Tide defense played great in that game but their defensive pass rating against all good quarterbacks they faced this season is the same as their overall rating – so there is no evidence to suggest that they can hold Bennett below his projected 7.6 yppp again.
Alabama’s offense gained 535 yards at 7.8 yppl in the SEC Championship game against a Georgia defense that still rates as the nation’s best this season. However, it’s unlikely that Bryce Young will enjoy his receivers running for 201 yards after the catch, as was the case in that game. Young only completed 59% of his passes, which is about what was expected, and the yards after catch in that game was extreme and unlikely to be replicated. Young averaged only 5.8 yppp against Cincinnati in the semi-final game, and just 4.7 yppp against Auburn the game before his success against Georgia – which makes Young’s 9.6 yppp in SEC Championship game look even more like an outlier. In fact, Young’s performances against good pass defenses this season were mostly mediocre at best. In addition to averaging just 5.0 yppp combined against Auburn and Cincy, Young averaged only 6.1 yppp against Florida, 6.6 yppp against Texas A&M, and 6.0 yppp against LSU. Young did play well against good, but not great pass defenses of Miami, Ole’ Miss, Miss State, and Tennessee but he mostly struggled against really good pass defenses, aside from the yards after catch enhanced performance against Georgia.
I expect Georgia to blitz Young more often in this game, as Young completed 17 of 23 passes for 308 yards when the Bulldogs didn’t blitz him, compared to completing just 9 of 21 passes for 113 yards against the blitz. The coaches know those numbers, and they’ll likely make some changes in their strategy regarding the percentage of plays in which they blitz. And, not having to worry about Bama WR John Metchie (injured) will make it an easier decision to bring the heat more often.
The math favors Georgia by 4 points with a total of 52 points.