Believe it or not, I get this.
But who is playing better ball right now, Alabama or Georgia?
“The only question I have about both teams is their schedule,” Danielson said. “The SEC East is just a hot mess. If you look at Georgia’s schedule closely, you got Notre Dame and who else?
“The same for Alabama.”
Yeah, he makes his point rather inartfully — that Notre Dame win is kind of a big deal, Gary — but he’s saying that he doesn’t have enough to judge either team on because he likes to rely on a difficult schedule to make evaluations. Saying that he doesn’t have the kind of data he needs to validate a team fully isn’t the same thing as saying a team isn’t good because it hasn’t played a quality schedule, a call I’ve seen plenty of pundits make.
That being said, because the selection committee has made strength of schedule a factor in its determinations, it can’t be ignored. And that’s where things get a wee bit interesting.
Start with Sagarin. He has Alabama number one and Georgia at three, despite fairly meh strength of schedule numbers. Both are closer to Washington and Wisconsin in that regard than to Clemson, Notre Dame and Penn State. What’s made the difference is that neither of the SEC schools have lost and both have gone through their schedules convincingly, a point Brian Fremeau confirms.
On Tuesday night, for instance, I posted the total point differential teams have accumulated against opponents ranked in the latest CFP committee top 25 rankings. Notre Dame stands head and shoulders above every other team by this measure, having racked up a +75-point margin in four games against currently ranked playoff teams (a one-point loss to Georgia, a 35-point win over USC, a 20-point win over Michigan State, and a 21-point win over North Carolina State). The next best cumulative margin (+29) belongs to both Georgia (in two games) and Clemson (in three games). Alabama is further down the list at +14, a single 24-10 victory over LSU.
Cumulative scoring margin will naturally favor a team that has more opportunities, whereas average scoring margin will tell a different one. Notre Dame has a +18.8 points per game margin against the CFP top 25; Georgia is at +14.5; Alabama is at +14.0; and Clemson is at +9.7. That’s still a selective list, of course, since all games against the subset of teams are given equal footing whether the opponents were in the top five or barely ranked in the top 25. And games against opponents that might be good but are just outside the CFP top-25 subset are ignored altogether. Both the cumulative and per-game data sets tell a story, but neither one does a great job of telling the entire, more complex story of the season to date.
One of the drivers that led me to run the numbers on cumulative scoring margin in the first place was an exploration of dominance. The playoff selection committee has used “game control” language in describing how teams have impressed or not impressed in the past, and that language has stuck with me. Our colleagues at ESPN maintain a metric they call Game Control
, defined as the chance an average top-25 team would control games from start to end the way the given team did, given the schedule. They don’t further define what control of games from start to end necessarily means, but it likely has something to do with the in-game win probabilities a given team has over the course of its games.
Another way to evaluate how a team maintains control in a given game is to simply calculate how often it takes a lead, maintains a lead, and grows a lead in a given game. Victory, even by a narrow margin, is the primary goal for every team, but teams are more likely to be consistently victorious if they rarely trail, and frequently play with a multiple-score lead.
Alabama leads the nation in average scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by 26.0 points per game in non-garbage time. The Crimson Tide have had the lead on their opponent on 86.7 percent of their non-garbage possessions, also best in the nation. They have only trailed on 1.1 percent of their non-garbage possessions. They have never trailed by more than a single score this year. They have led by at least three scores (17-point margin or better) on 35.0 percent of non-garbage possessions, and by four scores (25-point margin or better) on 14.4 percent of non-garbage possessions. They’ve epitomized consistent dominance unlike any other team this season.
Contrast the Crimson Tide with another undefeated team, the Miami Hurricanes. Miami’s average margin of victory this year is 10.9 points per game in non-garbage time. They have trailed their opponent on 22.8 percent of their non-garbage possessions this season. They have led by 17 or more points on only 2.8 percent of non-garbage possessions, and haven’t led by 25 or more points at all this year in non-garbage time (or at all, for that matter, against FBS competition).
All of this is likely to be something of a moot point, anyway. ESPN’s FPI ranks Georgia’s remaining SOS at ninth and Alabama’s 32nd. Beyond that, assuming they’ll face off against each other in the SECCG, their schedule strengths will be boosted further.
Nothing much to see here, in other words. Besides, both teams look pretty damned good to me.