-- As the inaugural College Football Playoff looms, it's time to start the overanalysis ... er, I mean, analysis ... of the four combatants. Time to begin the process of measuring the four would-be national champions, head-to-head-to-head-to-head.
Exactly what factors rank most important when it comes to these comparisons is up to the person who is doing the comparing. Some might want to talk straight X's and O's. Others might want to talk game control and QBR. But when our eyes glaze over during that, it might cause us to refocus elsewhere, to the nooks and crannies of each program that will eventually add up to create the true advantages to win a team's final two games of the season.
What am I talking about? I'm not entirely sure. I'm writing this with one hand on the keyboard and the other hand on a ladle of eggnog. But as with eggnog, no one is entirely sure what will add up to the correct mixture of a College Football Playoff champion.
Here's our best guess in a too-early CFP Tale of the Tape.
Anyone who paid any attention to Alabama over the last two seasons knows that its ability to move the football received a supercharge this season, as the Tide averaged 490.5 YPG, good for a 1.3-yard advantage over high-powered archrival Auburn. Ohio State averaged an even more impressive 507.6 YPG and was one of four FBS schools to average 7-plus yards per play with 7.04. By comparison, Florida State posted 434.7 YPG, ranked 40th in the nation. So ... where's Oregon? Out ahead like the Road Runner leaving Wile E. Coyote, averaging 546.2 YPG (third in FBS), 46.3 points per game (third in FBS), and scoring 80 touchdowns (first in FBS). In fairness, Ohio State ranks just behind the Ducks in those two last categories, but Oregon's complete body of offensive work is undeniable.
Head coach's news conference scowl
Oregon's Mark Helfrich eliminated himself from this competition via his " Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota" exchange back in November. FSU's Jimbo Fisher has developed a gruffness of late, but not so long ago he was a perpetually jolly sort of guy. That brings us to old chums and rivals Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, who have already started rolling their eyes at pre-playoff questions about them being old chums and rivals. Just last week, Saban gave Paul Finebaum a few seconds of silent treatment on live TV and radio. But anyone who has ever experienced a Saban presser, just the run-of-the-mill, midseason midweek stuff like this, this and this, knows that while the answers can be good, it can get a little tense. I keep expecting that Coke bottle to explode from the air pressure around the podium.
Been there, done that
Oregon and Ohio State are certainly no strangers to the searing spotlight of big games, but it's been a while since they had to handle true national championship pressure. Meanwhile, Alabama has a roster packed with players who have BCS title rings in their lockers. But only one team was on the big stage one year ago, and it just so happens that the Seminoles' nail-biting national championship win came in the same stadium where they will start their title defense this January.
The FSU, Alabama and Ohio State helmets are all-time classics of college football history. To their credit, they (mostly) never mess with those designs, even in an alternate-uniform-crazed world. But remember who started that craze? It was Oregon. And it's always cooler to be the first than it is to be an imitator. With all four playoff schools, Nike has chosen to keep it toned-down cool, even with the flagship Ducks. I thought maybe a New Year's weekend game might bring out some sort of Times Square crystal globe design. C'mon, Phil Knight, you're slipping.
This is a two-team race, and both of those teams will be in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama ranks 11th in the nation in total defense as it surrenders 312.4 yards per game, and it sits an even more impressive fourth in scoring defense, allowing a scant 16.6 YPG. The Tide's New Year's Day opponent, Ohio State, ranks 15th in total defense (328 YPG), but slides to 23rd in scoring D (21.2 YPG). Where are the other two? Neither Oregon nor FSU cracks the top 50 in total defense and they sit 29th and 30th respectively in scoring D (22.5 and 23 YPG), and the Ducks have spent their holidays figuring out life without All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. It must be noted that the Seminoles far outrank the other three in red zone defense, allowing only 25 touchdowns in 48 opponent visits to the neighborhood of the goal line. But in the end, especially considering the varied offenses Alabama has faced throughout the season, the edge seems pretty clear.
Head coach's statue
Unless Urban Meyer has a statue of himself in the garden at home, only one of the four has one.
Roberto Aguayo. That is all.
Love Brutus. Love Chief Osceola. Love the elephant. But you know who OK'd the original version of Oregon's cartoon Duck? Walt Disney. You know whose name is on my paychecks each month? Walt Disney.
You say you're on your third quarterback? You say he's a sophomore with exactly one career start? You say we all wrote that he wasn't ready for the big stage on such short notice back in December? You say he won 59-0 and has a howitzer for an arm? And you say the sum total of film that can be watched of him at the collegiate level comes from one game ... a game in which he threw for 257 yards and three TDs and won the Big Ten championship MVP?
Advantage: Ohio State
Best player name
The leading candidates from each team are as follows: Alabama running back Altee Tenpenny, Oregon offensive lineman Andre Yruretagoyena (pronounced "ee-roo-rettah-go-AIN-ya"), FSU defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas and Ohio State tight end Chris Rock. Yes, Oregon's representative leads the team in vowel usage (no small accomplishment in Eugene), OSU's rep has a current box office hit, and the Tide's entry is literally cash money. But look at the calendar, y'all.
Alabama 3, Oregon 3, FSU 3, Ohio State 1
In the end, we give the tiebreaker to Alabama based purely on the magic of Nick Saban, who not only scowls at the media during news conferences, he does the same to fans entering Bryant-Denny Stadium and he does it in bronze. If he wins his fourth national title in six years, they might take that statue and dip it in gold. But wait ... that'd make him look like an Oregon helmet, wouldn't it?