College Football Playoffs, By the Numbers

Oregon College Football; Marcus Mariotta

College Football Playoff By The Numbers

If exceeding expectations were a mark of a champion, Oregon would be in the top spot heading into the College Football Playoff. Even while being the gambling favorite in every game they played this season, the Ducks finished with a 9-4 record against the spread.

A slow start to the year was overshadowed by eight straight covers heading into the playoff semifinals. Now, led by the nation’s best player in Marcus Mariota, Oregon has the feel of a championship contender.

Compare Oregon’s achievements to its competitor, Florida State. The Seminoles, who finished 13-0, managed to lose 10 of their 13 matchups against the spread. They too were favored in every game this season and continually failed to cover week after week.

This is why, with the dregs of the Noles’ regular-season schedule in the rearview mirror, FSU enters the playoff as a 9.5 point underdog to Oregon.

While both Florida State and Oregon allowed a respectable number of points per game (23.0 and 22.5 respectively), FSU eked out victories and the Ducks poured it on, drubbing opponents with the number two offense and third-best scoring offense in the nation.

Where the Seminoles should really be worried is on change of possessions. The Ducks had the third-best turnover margin, while FSU finished the year with a negative margin and ranked outside the top 80.

The numbers, much like the spread, favor Oregon in this game.


In the other national semifinal, the numbers are similar even if the team outlooks are not.

Alabama enters as the top seed in the country with a 12-1 record and having been favored by at least 5.5 points in every game this season, including the one coming up on its schedule. However, Bama went just 5-8 against the spread this season, partially due to overinflated beliefs of its talent from fans around the country. The betting public routinely raised the lines in Crimson Tide games because squares love picking favorites, and no name is a bigger draw than Alabama.

Ohio State, while not far behind in record or standings, has dropped precipitously under the national spotlight. The Buckeyes also completed a 12-1 season and were actually a more respectable 8-5 this year ATS.

However, they enter the playoff semifinal as a 9.5 point underdog because, besides playing with a third-string quarterback, the shine on Ohio State has dimmed in recent years. Being ineligible from postseason play when Urban Meyer first came to town was a huge factor, as was the perceived slide of the Big Ten conference compared with the SEC.

Nevertheless, Ohio State on the field is a peer of Alabama. The Buckeyes were the better offensive team (fourth nationally compared to eighth) and the better scoring team as well (fourth to 17th).

Alabama, per usual, has the edge on the defensive side, where the Crimson Tide allowed the fourth-fewest points per game in the country, and OSU barely squeaked into the top 25.

While the spread is heavily in favor of Alabama, this may be yet another case of the Tide being overvalued as the matchup is closer than the line would lead you to believe.