Ohio State vs Notre Dame Preview

We all know that New Years Day is one filled with painful hangovers and great college football.  This year is no exception as two of the best teams not in the playoffs face of in Arizona.

Number 7 Ohio State and Number 8 Notre Dame will showdown in the desert in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, exactly ten years to the date since both teams stepped on the same field. A lot has changed since then, both have changed coaches (Ohio State did twice) and made appearances in the Championship game.  One thing is certain, we won’t see Laura Quinn with the infamous split jersey this time.

Both teams bolster a high-powered spread offense which will be looking to solve their equally talented defensive counterparts. Both teams are stacked with NFL level talent and the programs will likely produce a slew of first round draft picks like Joey Bosa and Ronnie Stanley come April.

Notre Dame Quarterback Deshone Kizer (an Ohio bred athlete) may have been one of the best stories in college football this season, taking over the for the injured Malik Zaire early in the season.   Behind his 2600 passing yards and 19 TDs, Kizer led the Irish to a 10-2 record.  Both losses were heartbreakers as the Fighting Irish lost by two points to both Clemson and Stanford.

It will be interesting to see what type of gameplan Coach Brian Kelly will employ to combat the vicious front seven of the Buckeyes.  Ohio State Defensive End Joey Bosa is someone whose impact goes deeper than the box score.  Bosa has drawn the double team for much of the season and may not get the sacks and tackle for loss stats that he’s accustomed to.  He has made up for it this year by  disrupting the quarterback’s rhythm, adding knockdowns and QB hurries to his stat sheet. Kizer will have to look to alleviate some of the pressure by utilizing screens and draws often.

After coming off the best game the Buckeyes have played all season, a 42-13 rout of arch rival Michigan.  The Buckeyes look to have finally woken up from their offensive doldrums.  Urban Meyer will most likely give Quarterback J.T. Barrett and Tailback Ezekiel Elliot a similar style of gameplan to oust their border state foes .   I expect to see an increased amount of passes from Barrett, who hasn’t had the type of season he had last year as a freshman.

Kelly said earlier this month that he feels the Irish are facing the best team in country and have prepared as such.  Of course it is normal to talk up an opponents overall performance   Meyer had similar words for the Irish, saying great things about their front seven led by linebacker Jaylon Smith.  This game has every bit of potential to come down to wire much likely Notre Dame’s losses did and OSU’s lone loss against Michigan State.

Final Score: 31-28 Ohio State.  In the end, Elliot and the Buckeyes are able to make just one more big play than the Fighting Irish as the Senior Class of the Buckeyes notch a record 50th win on the big stage.

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Ohio State vs Michigan Preview

By: Quentin Ison

“The Game” will begin another storied chapter tomorrow at Noon in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Traveling from Columbus and coming off a disappointing loss, is the Buckeyes who enter the game at 10-1. The Wolverines are perhaps one botched play away from playoff consideration but find themselves still alive in the Big Ten East Division with a 9-2 record.
The long-awaited showdown between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh has finally come to center stage. Harbaugh and the Wolverines will be looking to end a drought against their arch-rivals, a game they haven’t won since 2011. The Wolverines are perhaps the best equipped they have been in the past decade to knock of the Buckeyes. The stellar defensive play and the emergence of Quarterback Jake Rudock have been the main stories this year. Harbaugh and Meyer’s team need a bit of help from Penn State to play undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Conference Championship game.
The Buckeyes enter the game with many of the same questions that have surrounded them all season. When will the offense show up? Outside of standout tailback Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State has struggled to muster the offensive firepower that led them to a National Championship last season. It will be imperative for Elliot to run well and create opportunities for Quarterback J.T. Barrett and the play action to keep the tenacious Michigan secondary led by Jabrill Peppers and Jordan Davis off-balance.
There is no doubt that there will be plenty of energy flying around come kickoff at “The Big House”. Michigan may have the edge in terms of momentum, but in a game that means more than anything to both, records don’t matter. I expect this to be agrueling, physical game. (Sounds a bit like a Woody vs. Bo game, doesn’t it?). I have a gut feeling this game will come down to field position and turnovers. I do know one thing; this game is going to be very fun to watch.
In the end, I expect the Buckeyes to rise to the occasion. Elliot finds his grooves and the Buckeyes are able to escape the clutches of the “Big House” with their pride intact.
Ohio State 28 – Michigan 24

Ohio State vs Michigan State Preview

The 10-0 Ohio State Buckeyes and the 9-1 Michigan State Spartans have both been inconsistent throughout the year.  On Saturday, both teams will need to be on their A Game if either of the two plan on making the College Football Playoff.  The Buckeyes are riding a 23 game winning streak dating back to last season, but have been largely untested to thus point.  Their first “theoretical exam” will be administered at 330 this Saturday.

The games against their Michigan rivals have been pegged as their most important.  Michigan State is tied for second in the Big Ten Eastern Division, suffering its lone loss of the season on a controversial call in the Nebraska game. Connor Cook is nicked up for this game, so he will need to overcome more than the OSU zone to win this game.

The Ohio State offense has struggled for the most part except for Heisman Trophy candidate running back Ezekiel Elliot, who has run for 100 yards or more in his past 15 games.  Elliot plays better with more on the line.   Last season during the playoffs, Elliot turned in three straight 200 yard performances to help the Buckeyes win the title.  The Buckeyes have platooned quarterbacks for much of the season but Coach Meyer has pushed all his chips to the center of the table, relying on Quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Last season the Buckeyes traveled to East Lansing and defeated the Spartans 49-37 in what Urban Meyer referred to as the best offensive showing of the season.

If the Buckeyes plan to extend their streak of 30 consecutive wins against conference foes, they will need all hands on deck.  The Buckeyes will need to run a more balanced scheme against a stout Michigan State defense.

Final Score: Ohio State 38 Michigan State 28

Ohio State Vs. Penn State Preview

The Buckeyes enter the game against division rival Penn State undefeated and still clinging to the number one ranking by a slim margin. The two quarterback system yielded much success against Maryland last Saturday. J.T. Barret looked masterful in the red zone, but will the Buckeyes deploy the same strategy against the Nittany Lions (5-1 Overall, 2-0 Conference). The Buckeye offense scored on all six trips to the red zone against the Terrapins. On Monday, Coach Urban Meyer confirmed Cardale Jones is still the starter until proved otherwise. However, the Buckeyes will be unveiling something new when the take the field on Saturday. Perhaps taking a page out of Penn State’s “white out” book, Ohio State will sporting all black jerseys in an attempt to “black out” the Horseshoe.

The Nittany Lions lone loss was to Temple in the season opener, a debacle which led to 10 sacks of quarterback and potential top 10 NFL Draft pick, Christian Hackenberg. Ohio State will look to get pressure of the edge with NFL bound ends Joey Bosa and Aldophus Washington. Since the Temple game, Hackenberg has taken 9 sacks and hasn’t played the best of football. He has only thrown for over 60% once this season. The offense has run through the ground game, running back Akeel Lynch  has looked impressive at times but is questionable for this Saturday. If ready he can make a big impact since it is no secret the Buckeyes have struggled against the run this season. The good news is that OSU will be able to pin their ears back in passing situations and not have worry about a scrambling quarterback (something they struggled with last week).

Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliot looks primed to continue his streak of 100 yard rushing performances against Penn State’s 38th ranked run defense, which only surrenders 117 yards per game. Elliot will have to rely on his offensive line to find holes and take the pressure off Cardale Jones.

Ultimately this game comes down to whether Ohio State gets hot early or spins the wheels. If the Buckeyes score as efficiently as they did last week, the Nittany Lions will be in trouble. My prediction for the game: Ohio State 45 Penn State 17.

-Q

Note: All Stats via ESPN.com

Heisman Hopefuls: Front-runners and Breakout Stars to Watch in 2015

The most distinguished award in collegiate athletics is always heavily sought after and the subject of every players dream, to hoist the coveted stiff arming statue.  The Heisman Memorial Trophy’s winner from this season class are:

1.  Ezekiel Elliot- Junior RB 6/1

The Buckeyes stand out tailback showed that all that glitters is gold after a gaudy trio of stellar performances in the inaugural College Football Playoffs.  Elliot flexed his muscle and delivered with 220 yards against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, followed up the feat rushing for a Sugar Bowl record against the Crimson Tide and then gashed the Ducks for 246 yards in the National title game.  It is obvious that Elliot seen an increase in workload after the injury to star Quarterback J.T Barrett late in the season.  The Buckeyes leaned on the flashy back to take them to the promise land, and sure enough he was able to deliver.  His ability and unprecedented speed has pro scouts drooling.  It is very difficult for tailbacks to win the award now with the emergence of the dual threat quarterback now in the College Football, I mean Melvin Gordon almost broke Barry Sanders astonishing single season rushing record and came home empty.  So what makes me think Elliot has the tools to become the first tailback to receive the honor since Mark Ingram? His vision and elusiveness is what makes Zeke a premiere pick for the award. He has the patience to wait on a hole to open before exploiting it with break neck speed.  If Zeke runs for over 2,000 yards and 25 tds along with a few hundred receiving yards, it will be hard to turn him away at the podium come late December.

2. Trevone Boykin- Senior QB TCU 7/1

Boykin turned in a fine 2014 campaign, finishing fourth in the Heisman trophy voting.  Now with an FBS high 10 returning offensive starters, it is hard to point to a better equipped candidate in this years phenomenal class.  Boykin showed he was much more than a one trick pony last season by being a dual threat and even seeing involvement in various receiving packages.  Boykin passed for 3901 yards in a pass happy Big 12 Conference last season, but it will be crucial for him to improve upon those numbers if he hopes to take home the hardware this year.  The Horned Frogs will most likely be a top four team when the season begins and the success of the team hinges largely on Boykin’s production.  I expect for Boykin to turn the corner and continue to shred defenses with precision and superior execution. If he follows that blueprint, no one will stand in his path to claim the prize.

  1. J.T. Barrett 25/1 or Cardale Jones 16/1 QBs Ohio State

Whoever Urban Meyer chooses to take the reigns at QB this season will become a Top 5 pick to receive the award.  Both QB’s have proven themselves capable of keeping defenses honest with their running and passing abilities. Barrett started the first 12 games this past season, setting the school record for passing touchdowns in a season (34) until succumbing to a broken ankle against the Buckeye’s arch rival Michigan.  The Buckeyes then moved to their third string quarterback, Cardale Jones who led Ohio State on an illustrious title run. This dynamic Coach Meyer has is nothing short of impressive.  Barrett has proven himself to be a very accurate passer, while completing 65% of his throws.   Jones provides a different facet to the Buckeyes “juggernaut” offense with his unprecedented arm strength.    It will be a very tough decision for Coach Meyer, but whoever starts under center will be on a short leash as Ohio State has learned to live by the mantra “next man up”.

  1. Nick Chubb- Sophomore RB, Georgia 8/1

There was a silver lining after all for the Bulldogs when star tailback Todd Gurley injured his ACL early in the season.   Chubb has seen the bulk of the carries for the team and what he accomplished was nothing short of impressive.  Chubb rushed for over 1500 yards at an astonishing 7.1 yards per carry.  He also showed his versatility as a pass catcher out of the backfield amassing 213 receiving yards.  He has proven his a slippery and elusive back who, once he finds a seam is able to exploit the weakness with his great acceleration and explosiveness. The question remains, can he outperform Ezekiel Elliot while playing in a defensive minded SEC conference.  The road for Chubb to win the prize will be one of the most challenging, as he is still developing as a play-maker for the Bulldog offense.   Chubb definitely has the skill set to dazzle the voters, but perhaps the field this year is too daunting for the budding tailback.

  1. Connor Cook- Senior QB, Michigan State 20/1

Cook may have already cemented himself as one of the greatest Spartan quarterbacks in school history, a school which is not typically mentioned for their prowess on the gridiron.  However, since the Mark Dantonio regime has been in charge, the Spartans have become a perennial frontrunner within the Big Ten and a Rose Bowl victory in 2014 adds to another notch in his belt.  Cook is a prototype quarterback, 6’4” who possesses great poise in the pocket and is able to make strong accurate passes downfield.   Cook has had an impressive array of receivers over the course of his tenure,  including All-Conference wide out, Tony Lippett.  While his completion percentage over the past two seasons has been sub-60%, Cook has been able to improve drastically in the yardage category throwing for just over 3200 yards this past season ( a 500 yard improvement from the 2013 campaign).  He is responsible with the football and rarely turns it over, last year throwing a 3 to 1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (24 TDs, 8 INTs).  He is slated to be a high level draft pick who features tremendous upside and should be a joy to watch again this year.

It will surely be an interesting year in College Football, with no shortage of star-studded talent once again gracing the gridiron. All we can do now is wait until September rolls around and watch the magic unfold before our eyes.

-Quentin Ison

(Note: All stats acquired via ESPN.com gambling odds are from Bovada)

Unpopular Opinion: A.J. Green is Overrated

The consensus around the NFL is that A.J. Green is a top 5 or 6 WR. Talent-wise he very well may be, but in terms of productivity he certainly isn’t. A quick look at his stats shows that he put up 2 great season where he finished in the top 10 in receiving yards and touchdowns after his great rookie year. In 2014 he had a decent year despite missing 4 games and being hampered by a toe injury. But if you look a little deeper you’ll find that A.J. Green isn’t that efficient and it prevents Green from being one of the most valuable receivers in the league.

The first thing I will look is A.J. Green’s catch rate compared to the other receivers on the Bengals. The catch rate is catches/targets, or what was the QBs completion percentage when throwing his way. I have also added deep ball % to account for the fact that it is much easier to have a good catch rate if you don’t go deep very often.

2014

Name                           Catches           Targets          CR%               Deep%

A.J. Green                    69                    116                  59.5%              37.1%

Mohamad Sanu           56                    98                  57.1%              27.6%

2013

A.J. Green                    98                    178                  55.1%              29.8%

Marvin Jones               51                    80                  63.8%              23.8%

Mohamad Sanu           47                    77                   61.0%              23.4%

2012

A.J. Green                    97                    164                  59.1%              36.0%

Andrew Hawkins        51                    80                  63.8%              15.0%

The most interesting thing that pops out at me is Marvin Jones performance in 2013 compared to Green’s. Jones had a much better catch rate and was only targeted deep at a bit lower rate. The other interesting thing about Marvin Jones’ 2013 performance was that he averaged almost a whole yard more  than Green per target. That was only one year, but even though he compares favorably to the his teammates he doesn’t fare as well to the rest of the league. For example I found 10 receivers who had a better catch rate along with a higher deep target percentage. I also found out that A.J. Green finished 25th in yards per target according to advancedfootballanalytics.com by Brian Burke. This shows me that A.J. Green is not as efficient as he needs to be to call himself a top 10 WR.

So after looking A.J. Green’s efficiency I figured that the next measure I would use is WPA and EPA.  WPA and EPA stand for win probability added and expected points added. They give a way for us to translate how much of their performance translates into wins and points. Here we compare A.J Green value and compare it with the number 2 receiver on the team (in 2012 the Bengals didn’t have another receiver to compare with)

2014                           WPA               Rank   EPA                Rank

A.J. Green                 .58                   x*          16.8                 39th

Mohamad Sanu       1.39                 23rd    41.9                 26th

2013

A.J. Green                 1.09                 33rd    20.9               17th

Marvin Jones          .98                    39th    44.5                34th

2014                         WPA/G          Rank   EPA/P            Rank

A.J. Green                 .05                   x          .13                   x

Mohamad Sanu       .09                  23rd    .34                   27th

2013

A.J. Green                   .07                   35th    .11                    6th

Marvin Jones           .06                  36th    .49                   38th

*The site I use only ranks WPA up to 40 and Green wasn’t close to the .88 WPA needed to crack the list.

In 2012 Green had a decent year going 1.17 WPA and 36.4 EPA. good for 29th and 28th in the league respectively.

This time around 2014 jumps out at me. How on Earth was Sanu more valuable in general and per play than Green!?! It doesn’t make any sense to me. For the most part these stats agree with popular consensus on who the best players are, but this is just silly!  Perhaps a look at Football Outsiders stats can give us a different opinion.

The stats Football Outsiders use for WRs  (or any football player) are Defensive adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defensive adjusted Value Over Replacement (DVOA). These stats try to determine value by different measures than Advance Football Analytics, you can read about  more here ).

2014                            DYAR            Rank                DVOA             Rank

A.J. Green                    155                 29                    3.8%                38

Mohammad Sanu        99                 41                    0.0%                43

2013                            DYAR            Rank                DVOA             Rank

A.J. Green                    207                  20                    1.9%                41

Marvin Jones              279                   11                    32.4%               3

2012                            DYAR            Rank                 DVOA             Rank

A.J. Green                   215                  22                    4.1%                33

Andrew Hawkins        21                   70                   -9.2%               70

A lot of this confirms what we already know, A.J. Green is not as good as his raw stats suggest. While Football Outsiders has Green as the better receiver in 2014 he far less valuable than Jones was in 2013. (This is because he had a ridiculous fluky touchdown rate)

So why is this happening? Why are the stats telling us this? I believe these value based stats are lower than expected because A.J Green lacks the consistency other receivers in his tier supposed tier have. A.J. Green has about four games each season where he hurts the team. And in a lot of these games he’s hurting the team a lot. He has games where he has loads of targets but few receptions and fewer first downs. These types of games can quickly kill a wideouts WPA.

Another thing I noticed is that his first down per target ratio is a bit low compared to other comparable receivers. Perhaps Green stats are a bit bloated with 8 yard receptions on 3rd and 10. But overall A.J. Green is not as valuable on a per snap basis as it would seem.

But where does he rank among other receivers? That’s why I put this list of WRs who have been more valuable over the past 3 years than A.J. Green.

1. Antonio Brown- Top 10 in both EPA and WPA in the last two years. Plus has been Pro Football Focus’ top rated receiver the past two years.

2. Calvin Johnson- Struggled with injuries the last two years but was able to put up an excellent season last year and a good one this year. Oh and almost had 200 receiving yards in 2012.

3. DeMaryius Thomas- Let me be clear about this from the start. DeMaryius Thomas would be a great WR even without Peyton Manning. My evidence for that statement is that he is has been in the top 3 for WRs in YAC. (A stat that Green is particularly low in)  Plus he finished second in EP in both 2012 and 2013.

4. Dez Bryant- I can’t find an advanced stat anywhere that Dez didn’t finish in the top 5 in last year.

5. Jordy Nelson- I know he has Aaron Rodgers, but his productivity is great. He’s consistent, (top 21 in EPA and WPA in the past 3 season) and  has shown greatness. (Led league last year in EPA)

6. Anquan Boldin- First in WPA and EPA in 2013 by a wide margin. In fact Anquan Boldin created 20 more expected points in one season than Green did in his past 3. If you think it’s a fluke  check his 2012 playoff performance, it reminds you how good of a receiver he is. In my opinion the most underrated receiver in the game.

7. Brandon Marshall- Struggled last year, but was great in 2012 and 2013 despite poor quarterbacking.

8. Julio Jones- A.J .Green’s draftmate is a bit better across the board.

9.DeSean Jackson- I used to think DeSean Jackson was just an injury-prone 1 trick pony, but then I learned just how valuable he was. 3rd in EPA in 2013, 2 straight top 12 seasons in WPA, all with sub par quarterbacking.

This is the list of WRs I could find that I’m certain were more valuable than A.J. Green in the past 3 years. They aren’t that surprising except for Boldin and Jackson. In my book Green ranks around 10-12th among receivers in value over the last 3 years, (Probably top 8 in the past 4) around guys like Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, (another receiver with inflated numbers), Randall Cobb (Has better stats in a couple of measures, but small sample size and having a great QB in Aaron Rodgers prevent him from being in the top 10).

 

 

 

 

 

Fun Ideas for the Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl Football game sucks and everyone knows it. The players are out on the field are playing slow so they won’t get hurt and it’s just not fun to watch. Plus stars like Peyton Manning often sit out the game to nurse minor injuries. So instead of playing a football game no one wants to play lets look at some other fun activities our lovely NFL Pro Bowlers can take part of.

Karaoke Night: It will be a fun karaoke performance where our favorite stars will sing their favorite song. Ben Roethlisberger will perform the slightly misogynistic “Blurred Lines,” followed by Riley Cooper rapping his favorite NWA song, finished with a stirring rendition of “Young, Wild, and Free” by Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon.

Kickball game: It’d be cool because the kickers would be among the first taken in the draft, plus it’d be nice to see what Odell Beckham would do out in centerfield.

The JJ Watt Oklahoma Drill challenge: Make everyone do an Oklahoma drill against Watt, including the punters! I anticipate this to be as brutal as a Mortal Kombat fatality.

A passionate political debate: So we can hear Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger intelligently discuss what actions are best to take in regards to ISIS (because we all know now Tom Brady likes talking about ISIS). Or Antonio Cromartie and Philip Rivers discuss the women’s right to an abortion. No chance for an NFL PR disaster here, Deadspin I’m sure you’re disappointed.

Beer Pong tournament: I want to see Andrew Luck drunk. That alone would make it worth it. Plus it’d be funny to watch the team of Andy Dalton and Tony Romo never hit the final cup. Plus afterwards everyone can play the dizzy bat game for loads of laughs. And it appears Rob Gronkowski has already brought a keg! Thanks Gronk!

HELL IN A CELL! A feud 14 years in the making, between the bitterest of rivals, will finally be settled at the Pro Bowl pay per view event! PEYTON MANNING! TOM BRADY! NO RULES! INSIDE THE MONSTER KNOWN AS: THE HELL IN THE CELL!!! Come on guys you know you’d watch this, plus we have Jim and John Harbaugh in a Tables Ladders and Chairs match and Luke Kuechly vs JJ Watt in a last man standing match. (If you thought Roman Reigns/Goldberg’s Spear was strong wait til you this.)