WILL CRIMSON TIDE ROLL TO ANOTHER TITLE? OR WILL BUCKEYES SHOCK IN THE SUGAR BOWL?
There has been a lot of debate in the mainstream media and handicapping circles about Thursday night’s second National Semifinal matching #1 Alabama and #4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl (please see yesterday’s NOTEBOOK entry for our preview of #2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl). The key issues seem to settle on these two factors:
*Alabama backers point to the SEC’s consistent drubbing of schools from the Midwest when championships are on the line. How can you ask a Big 10 team to stay close with the SEC champs when the SEC champs always have much better athletes and deeper rosters?!
*Ohio State backers point to the fact that it’s very hard to find true separation between these teams this year. This isn’t a vintage Alabama team on either side of the ball (the offense is more wide-open and mistake-prone, the defense doesn’t force turnovers); while Ohio State hired a former SEC coach in Urban Meyer to teach them the ways of the Southeast.
SEC fans think the line should be -14, and they’d still back ‘Bama. Dog lovers think the game is something much closer to toss-up, featuring a pointspread that’s warped by past perceptions that don’t apply any more.
Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about a game that each and every one of you will be watching New Year’s Night!
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Ohio State: 12-1 (#53 schedule in USA Today)
Alabama: 12-1 (#4 schedule in USA Today)
There’s the rub right off the bat. Alabama played a much tougher schedule according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, because the SEC is much better than the Big 10. Maybe the Big 10 will make a better case for itself earlier New Year’s Day when Wisconsin faces Auburn (another matchup between these two leagues) and Michigan State battles Baylor. Stay open-minded about the possibility that those results will foreshadow what happens in New Orleans. For now, you have to make mental adjustments for the stats below because Alabama’s were accomplished against a tougher gauntlet.
Ohio State: 7.0 on offense, 4.8 on defense
Alabama: 6.7 on offense, 4.7 on defense
Great differentials for both teams, with Ohio State at +2.2 and Alabama at +2.0. Adjust for strength of schedule, and it’s still hard to make Alabama a favorite up near double digits. This is why statheads are largely backing the underdog. That became easier when OSU backup quarterback Cardale Jones played well vs. Wisconsin. If the Buckeyes don’t lose anything with Jones calling signals, then those numbers suggest a competitive game.
Ohio State: +9
And, this is a hidden kicker that could help make things very interesting. Both offenses were similar in terms of giving the ball away. In 13 games, Alabama lost the ball 19 times, Ohio State 20. But, the Buckeyes’ defense was MUCH better at forcing miscues. Ohio State had 29 takeaways compared to just 18 for Alabama! This isn’t vintage Alabama when it comes to intimidating opponents and taking the ball away from them. They try to keep everything in front of them. That could give decision-making time to the relatively inexperienced Jones. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all for this particularly category to determine who covers. A Jones implosion in a letdown spot would help Alabama post a blowout victory margin. If he’s sharp, Ohio State has a real chance.
Ohio State: 8-5 ATS
Alabama: 5-8 ATS
Ohio State is 1-0 ATS with Jones, and it’s hard to know what that means for his second start. They were undervalued for the season, particularly in their biggest games vs. Michigan State and Wisconsin. Note that both of those games flew Over the total….and the Buckeyes ended 11-2 to the Over this season. Alabama was a disastrous 3-8 ATS for backers before covering their last two games against Auburn and Missouri. We should point out that some ‘Bama backers are point to that “peaking at the right time” angle when making their Sugar Bowl selection. (Auburn and Missouri see actioni earlier in the day, as Auburn-Wisconsin and Missouri-Minnesota are on the early afternoon slate.)
Current Line: Alabama by 9, total of 58.5
As is often the case in marquee matchups, it wouldn’t be a shock to see that blow up in either direction. The SEC has a way of humbling teams from the Midwest. Yet, this particular ‘Bama team found itself in a few dogfights this season when the offense stumbled around and the defense didn’t set up cheap points. This could be a replay of Alabama-Notre Dame from recent January memory…or a Buckeyes’ upset if the chips fall a certain way.
JIM HURLEY knows that Alabama-Ohio State is YOUR most important college football game this week. You want to end the New Year’s bonanza with a big money-maker. That will set you up beautifully for the NFL Playoffs and the college championship game matching the Rose and Sugar winners. The whole NETWORK team has been working around the clock to get you the right bet in that game and every other New Year’s matchup.
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We’ll focus on the NFL Playoffs here in the NOTEBOOK beginning Friday. Here’s this weekend’s schedule…
Friday: NFL Wildcard Preview…Baltimore at Pittsburgh Saturday night on NBC
Saturday: NFL Wildcard Preview…Cincinnati at Indianapolis Sunday on CBS
Sunday: NFL Wildcard Preview…Detroit at Dallas Sunday on FOX
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