Tuesday, December 2, 2008

SEC, Big 12 on Collision Course

If everything goes according to expectations, the SEC and Big 12 Conference championship games on Saturday will decide the participants in the national championship game in Miami on Jan. 8.

That seems to be a given in the SEC, where the top-ranked team in the BCS, Alabama, will play the #4 team in the BCS, Florida. That game will be played in Atlanta starting at 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS. Whichever team wins is expected to advance to the national championship game.

In the Big 12, the team that is ranked #2 in the BCS — Oklahoma — faces the team that is currently ranked 20th in the BCS — Missouri.

If Oklahoma wins the game, the Sooners are expected to play for the national title, but Missouri will not advance to Miami if the Tigers pull off the upset. If Missouri does beat Oklahoma, it is expected that Texas will face either Alabama or Florida in the national championship game.

That game will be televised at 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC.

Here's how things look:
  • Florida vs. Alabama — This appears to be shaping up as a confrontation between the Florida offense, led by defending Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, and the Alabama defense — although Tebow's numbers aren't as spectacular as they were last year.

    In the offensive categories,

    • Florida is 61st nationally in passing yards per game. Alabama is 97th.

    • Florida is 10th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Alabama is 22nd.

    • In points per game, Florida is third in the nation, scoring slightly more than 46 points per game. Alabama is 29th with an average of about 32 points per game.

    On the defensive side of the ball,

    • The two teams are neck and neck in points allowed per game. Alabama is third in the country, giving up 11.5 points per game. Florida is fourth in the country, yielding 12.3 points per game.

    • In rushing defense, Alabama is ranked second in the nation. Florida is ranked 12th.

    • In passing defense, Florida holds a narrow lead over Alabama. Florida is 17th in the nation and Alabama is 20th.

    • In total defense, Alabama is ranked third. Florida is ranked seventh.

  • What does all that mean? Well, on offense, Florida has the edge in the significant team categories, but both teams are strong running the ball. Tebow's passing seems to have helped the Gators build a big advantage in scoring — but don't overlook Tebow's ability to score TDs on the ground, which has helped the Gators' running game become one of the 10 best in the nation.

    On defense, both teams have been successful in preventing the other team from scoring and both teams have done a good job of stopping the run and the pass. Ultimately, Alabama's pass defense may hold the key. If the defenders can stop Tebow by land and by air, Alabama should win the game — but the Crimson Tide will still need help from its offensive unit.

    It may be helpful to look at some of the individual statistics.

    Penalties, for example.

    Florida has been penalized nearly twice as often as Alabama. Some ill-timed penalties could halt crucial Florida drives or breathe new life into Alabama drives.

    Being from opposing divisions, the two teams have few opponents in common. Alabama beat three teams from the SEC East — Georgia, 41-30; Kentucky, 17-14; and Tennessee, 29-9. Florida also beat those three teams by scores of 49-10, 63-5, and 30-6, respectively.

    Florida went 2-1 in its games against the SEC West, losing to Ole Miss, 31-30, and beating Arkansas, 38-7, and LSU, 51-21. Alabama went 3-0 against those teams, 24-20, 49-14 and 27-21.

    When comparing the results of the games against those six teams, Florida clearly performed better against Georgia, Kentucky and LSU. Alabama narrowly beat the Ole Miss team that barely beat Florida. And the outcomes against Tennessee and Arkansas were roughly the same for both Alabama and Florida.

    It's a close call. I've felt all season that Alabama was the best team in the country, and I'll stick with the Crimson Tide in this game.

    But I won't be surprised if it goes into overtime.

  • Missouri vs. Oklahoma — Let's look at the same categories in the Big 12 championship game — but because the BCS rankings put OU into the championship game and left Texas out, I compare the numbers of the two combatants with the numbers put up by the Longhorns:

    In the offensive categories,

    • Oklahoma and Missouri are neck and neck in passing yardage. Oklahoma is third in the country, Missouri is fourth. (Texas, by the way, is 11th.)

    • In rushing yardage, Oklahoma is 21st in the country. Missouri is ranked 46th. (Texas is 34th.)

    • In points per game, Oklahoma leads the nation with a 53.3 average. Missouri is fourth with a 45.0 average. (Texas is sixth, averaging 43.9 points per game.)

  • In the defensive categories,

    • Missouri is 58th in the nation in points allowed per game, giving up an average of 24.7. Oklahoma is 60th, surrendering 24.8. (Texas is 21st, yielding 18.6 points per game.)

    • Oklahoma is ranked 18th in rushing defense. Missouri is ranked 24th. (Texas is third.)

    • In passing defense, Oklahoma is 99th in the nation. Missouri is nearly the worst, ranked 117th. (Texas falls in between the two at 109th.)

    • In total defense, Oklahoma ranks 66th. Missouri ranks 92nd. (Texas is 50th).

    Based on those numbers, I expect a high-scoring game between these two schools. The most important factor appears to be the passing game, On the offensive side of the ball, both schools are in the top five nationally, but both passing defenses are among the worst in the nation.

    Oklahoma's had a pretty good running game this year while Missouri's has been adequate if unspectacular. Both defenses are in the top 25 against the run so, while the running game has been a traditional component of OU's offense, I don't expect it to be the key in Saturday's game.

    Oklahoma has forced more turnovers and committed fewer than Missouri. But the Sooners have been penalized twice as often as the Tigers. If you're talking about the turnovers when the game is over, OU probably won. But if you're talking about the penalties that were committed, Missouri may have pulled off the upset.

    How did they do against common foes? Well, like the SEC championship contenders, they each played three teams from the other school's division.

    Oklahoma was 3-0 against Big 12 North foes Kansas (45-31), Kansas State (58-35) and Nebraska (62-28). Missouri was 2-1 against those teams, losing to Kansas last weekend (40-37) but beating Kansas State (41-24) and Nebraska (52-17).

    The Sooners clearly played better against Kansas and won by a wider margin against Kansas State, but the Tigers actually had a wider margin against Nebraska than Oklahoma did.

    Against the Big 12 South, Missouri was 1-2, narrowly beating Baylor (31-28) and losing to Texas (56-31) and Oklahoma State (28-23). Oklahoma also lost to Texas (45-35) but beat Baylor (49-17) and Oklahoma State (61-41).

    Both teams lost to Texas, but the final point spread was closer in the Oklahoma game. OU beat Baylor by 10 times the margin Missouri did and beat Oklahoma State while Missouri lost to OSU. Again, the edge goes to Oklahoma.

    The numbers seem to favor Oklahoma.

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