From the "Shakin the Southland" article I posted, and Navy's and others comments, I decided to dig a bit deeper for a comparative analysis of Ohio State and Clemson. The "Shakin" article was good in the sense that it pointed out a number of analytics and how they all favored the Buckeyes, but then basically ignored its own data and concluded Clemson will win because Ohio State plays in the Big Ten and Clemson has Brent Venables. I'm relying mostly on SP+, but also some NCAA stats. I thought about restating NCAA stats the NFL-way for further comparison between the teams (i.e., YPC excluding sack yards and YPA including sack yards), but it takes too much time and this post is long enough as it is. I wish there was a way to (or that I could) prepare a table to show more analytical detail, but I'll try and summarize it as best that I can. This will be a long post, but I hope its worth your time to read.
Clemson fans want to ignore (or even shine the turd that is) Clemson's schedule. Admittedly, Clemson did what it should have done to most every team on its horrendous schedule, it blew them out. However, using analytics to look under the hood of that schedule, and in comparison to Ohio State's schedule, IMO allows me to make some predictions about the Fiesta Bowl that I feel a high degree of confidence in making.
Clemson is the best, most talented team Ohio State will face this year. Clemson is without a doubt the best team based on SP+ that Ohio State has faced. No other team comes close. And the Clemson passing offense is by far the best. There really isn't a Big Ten comparable. SP+ ranks Clemson #4 overall (OSU is #1 in SP+). On offense, SP+ ranks OSU and Clemson 4 and 6, respectively. On defense, SP+ ranks OSU and Clemson 1 and 3, respectively. On offense, both teams are top 5 in rush YPC: Clemson #1 at 6.1 and OS #5 at 5.7. So, in the rush game, Clemson has a slight edge in YPC. Passing offense YPA is interesting: OSU #9 at 9.4 YPA, while Clemson is back at #18 at 8.6 YPA. Slight edge to OSU in YPA. On the defensive side of the ball, both teams are even stronger. In opponent YPC, OSU is #5 at 2.8 and Clemson is #8 at 3.0. Opponent YPA, OSU is #2 at 5.3 and Clemson is #1 at 5.1. So, based on this, both teams are basically equal so it will come down to Brent Venables and he's God so you can stop reading now if you'd like. But let's dig a little deeper. After all, we aren't Clemson fans.
TOP 5 DEFENSES FACED:
Ohio State's top 5 SP+ defenses faced were: 1- PSU (SP+ D 8); 2- UM (SP+ D 9); 3- Wisky (SP+ D 10); 4- MSU (SP+ D 12); and 5- NW (SP+ D 26).
Clemson's top 5 SP+ defenses faced were: 1- TAM (SP+ D 24); 2-USCar (SP+ D 29); 3- UVA (SP+ D 44); 4- UNC (SP+ D 54); and 5- Wake (SP+ D 65).
OHIO STATE FACED 4 TOP 25 SP+ DEFENSES, WHILE CLEMSON FACED ONLY 1 (AND TAM WOULD HAVE BEEN #5 ON OHIO STATE'S TOP 5). CLEMSON DID NOT FACE AN OPPOSING RUSH D THAT WAS COMPARABLE TO ANY OF THE RUSH D'S OF OHIO STATE'S TOP 5 SP+ OPPONENT DEFENSES. LIKEWISE, CLEMSON FACED ONLY 1 PASS D THAT WAS COMPARABLE TO A PASS D FACED BY OHIO STATE - TAM (6.7 YPA).
Ohio State's worst YPC vs its top 5 was 3.8 vs Wisky in the CCG, but that was still 111% of Wisky's season avg YPC. Ohio State's worst YPA vs its top 5 was also against Wisky in week 9 at 7.6, but again that was also 120% of Wisky's season avg YPA. None of the top 5 SP+ defenses that Ohio State faced held it under 100% of the opponent's season avg YPC or YPA. In fact, Ohio State gained 163% of its top 5 opponents' season avg YPC and 135% of these opponents' season avg YPA.
Clemson's worst YPC vs its top 5 was also 3.8 vs TAM, and that was 95% of TAM's season avg YPC. Wake Forest also held Clemson to 97%of Wake's average YPC. Against, it's top 5 SP+ defenses faced. Clemson's YPC were 118% of the opponent's season avg YPC (compared to Ohio State's 163% of opponent's YPC, and against much stronger rush defenses per SP+). In the passing game, only one of Clemson's opponents held Clemson under 100% of the opponent's season avg YPA: UNC held Clemson to 90% of UNC's season avg YPA (Clemson passed for 6.8 YPA while UNC's season avg was 7.5 YPA). Clemson gained 123% of its top 5 opponents' season avg YPA.
On offense, Ohio State performed better in YPC and YPA against stronger opposing defenses based on SP+ in both the run and pass game than did Clemson against weaker opposing defenses based on SP+.
TOP 5 OFFENSES FACED:
Ohio State's top 5 SP+ offenses faced were: 1- Wisky (SP+ O 10); 2- Ind (SP+ O 14); 3- PSU (SP+ O 17); 4- UM (SP+ O 19); and 5- N (SP+ o 42). 4 of Ohio State's top 5 offenses faced were top 25 SP+ offense. OSU is #5 in defense YPC (2.8) and #2 in defense YPA (5.3).
Clemson's top 5 SP+ offenses faced were: 1- UNC (SP+ O 31); 2- L'ville (SP+ O 32); 3- TAM (SP+ O 33); 4- BC (SP+ O 37); and 5- FSU (SP+ O 45). NONE OF CLEMSON'S TOP 5 OFFENSES FACED WERE IN THE TOP 25 SP+ OFFENSE. Clemson is the equal to OSU, as it is # 8 in defense YPC (3.0) and #1 in defense YPA (5.1).
Ohio State held each of its top 5 SP+ offensive opponents under 100% of their season YPA. The best performance against Ohio State was Michigan, who gained 87.5% of their season YPA avg against Ohio State (PSU also gained 87% of its YPA and Wisky gained 84% of its YPA in the CCG). Surprisingly, Nebraska was the only opponent to gain over 100% of its season avg YPC (N gained 113% of its season avg YPC). On average, Ohio State held its top 5 SP+ offense opponents to 74% of their season avg YPC. Ohio State held these opponents to 87% of their season avg YPA.
FSU, ranked #45 in SP+ offense, rushed for 121% of its season avg YPC. Clemson held its other four top 5 opponents under 100% of their season avg YPC (UNC gained 90% of its season avg YPC). Clemson's pass D has been impressive against its top 5 opponents- none have gained 100% or more of their season avg YPA against Clemson. The best performance was TAM which gained 86% of its season avg YPA vs Clemson. On average, Clemson held its top 5 SP+ offense opponents to 76.5% of their season avg YPC, and to only 61% of their season avg YPA. WHILE CLEMSON IS COMPARABLE TO OSU DEFENSE YPC AND SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER IN DEFENSE YPA, IT WAS AGAINST NO TEAM IN THE TOP 25 SP+ OFFENSE WHILE 4 OF OSU'S TOP 5 OPPONENTS ON OFFENSE WERE IN THE TOP 25 SP+ OFFENSE.
1- Ohio State holds Clemson to 75% of its season YPC or to 4.5 YPC.
2- While Clemson is a very stout run D, they just haven't played anyone comparable to the defenses that Ohio State has gained 163% of its opponents' defense YPC. Ohio State's YPC will equal or exceed its season YPC of 5.7. I'm predicting Ohio State rushes for 100% to 110% of its season avg YPC or 5.7 to 6.2 YPC.
3- Surprisingly. Clemson is #18 in passing YPA at 8.6. While Ohio State held its top 5 opponents' passing offenses to 87% of their season YPA, I just don't see that happening in this game. But I also don't see Clemson going off on our D. Granted, Ohio State faced no passing offense with anywhere near the talent of Clemson. But I think Ohio State can hold Clemson to its season avg 8.6 YPA. I wouldn't be surprised if Clemson passes for 110% of its YPA or 9.5 in this game.
4- Likewise, Clemson really clamped down on pass D by only allowing its top 5 opponents to gain 61% of their season avg YPA. Ohio State is #9 in YPA at 9.4 YPA. Louisville is comparable and slightly better at 9.8 YPA (Clemson held them to 49% of their YPA or 4.8 YPA). UNC is just below OSU at 8.6 YPA (Clemson held UNC to 61% of their YPA or 5.3 YPA). My prediction is Ohio State will equal its season avg YPA or 9.4. I think Ohio State is going to run very well, and that is going to open up opportunities down field in the pass game. I just don't see Clemson shutting down both our pass game and rush game, and they aren't going to be able to shut down our run game. Ohio State equals its season avg YPA of 9.4.
5- Ohio State also has a distinct advantage in special teams. OSU #18 in SP+ STs (1.7) and Clemson is #103 in SP+ STs (- 1.2). This advantage is worth a minimum of 3 points, probably more depending.
6- Like all other Ohio State national champions, we win this game because (a) we out rush the opponent, and (b) we are better able to control both lines of scrimmage. Ohio State will be able to do enough in the pass game to counter Clemson.
7- SP+ favors Ohio State by 6. I think it will be Ohio State 38 - Clemson 28. Brent Venables be damned.