BCS Championship Game Prediction

Trying to get past the knee-jerk analysis of “Ohio State is slow, hasn”t played anybody, has sat around too long, etc.”, I”ve been poking around season stats and other things to get a handle on what to expect in the BCS Championship Game. And there are some good stats to back up Ohio State”s chances. Each team has won 11 games. Ohio State has lost once, LSU twice. LSU is stronger on offense (20th in total offense, 12th in scoring offense) than Ohio State (58th in total offense, 36th in scoring offense). Ohio State is a solid No. 1 in total and scoring defense; LSU No. 3 in total defense and No. 21 in scoring defense (LSU would be tied for 5th in scoring defense without OT points being counted).

On those counts, I think the edge has to go to LSU. With the defense healthy, LSU will be stronger than their season ranking, and LSU clearly out-performs Ohio State on offense.

I will say this, though. Ohio State dominated its competition, while LSU struggled in a number of games.

I like to look at how teams perform against their competition relative to the opposing teams” other games. Scoring 40 points against a team that gives up 50 on average, for example, isn”t that great. Neither is holding a team to 6 points if they average 3.

And this is where Ohio State is really, really strong defensively.

In seven of its games, Ohio State held opponents to 25% or fewer points than those teams scored in their other games. And Ohio State didn”t allow any opponent to score more on them than they averaged in their other games (Illinois was the only team to get more than 54% of their average and got 97% of their average against the Buckeyes). All told, the Buckeyes allowed 36% as many points as their opponents averaged in other games.

The Tigers, on the other hand, let both Alabama and Ole Miss score more than their average and had just three games where they held opponents below 35% of their average. On average, LSU allowed 56% as many points as their opponents averaged.

I don”t, therefore, poo-poo the Buckeye defense. It hasn”t been sufficiently tested, but it has clearly been dominant.

If you look at the two teams” scoring averages and points allowed, Ohio State has the advantage, with past performance suggesting they will hold LSU to 13.17 points (36% of LSU”s OT-discounted scoring average of 36.4 points per game). LSU would be expected to give Ohio State 17.93 points (56% of Ohio State”s 32-point average). That doesn”t add up to a win for LSU.

Offensively, LSU shows a very similar dominance. In all but two of its 13 games (discounting overtime points), the Tigers scored more points than their opponents” average allowed. And seven times LSU scored 150% or more of the average. Ohio State beat its opponents” average just seven times and scored 150% of the average five times.

Plug in similar formulas and past performance suggests LSU scoring 16.01 points (150% of the 10.7 points per game Ohio State allows) and Ohio State scoring 21.18 points (127% of the 16.7 OT-discounted points LSU allows). Again, that”s not in LSU”s favor.

But those stats don”t tell the whole story. As has been mentioned quite often, Ohio State has played a weak schedule, while LSU has played in the SEC (read: tough schedule) as well as going out of conference with Virginia Tech. And LSU played the second half of the season with a gimpy All-American anchoring the defense.

LSU beat two teams sitting in the top 10 of Sagarin ratings before bowl season and a total of four in the top 20. Ohio State”s best win was over Michigan, 27th in Sagarin ratings. Two of LSU”s wins came over teams rated below 100 by Sagarin; Ohio State claimed four wins over sub-100 teams. The average Sagarin rating for LSU”s opponents is 50.5 and the average of Ohio State”s opponents is 67.2.

Sagarin puts LSU”s strength of schedule at 21 and Ohio State at 62.

Against a much weaker schedule and one fewer game, Ohio State came out a good ways above LSU in defense and a good ways behind LSU in offense. But you just can”t ignore Youngstown State, Akron, Minnesota and Kent State when judging Ohio State”s season.

So I see things this way – Ohio State is very good defensively, and LSU will have to gameplan to their weaknesses and execute well. The Tigers have had five weeks to put together an offensive plan for this game, and they know what to expect from the Buckeyes. I think that”s very much to LSU”s advantage: strong offense that can throw a bunch of looks at you and knows what it”s up against.

On the other hand, Ohio State has to prepare for a defense LSU hasn”t used since the Auburn game. Glenn Dorsey”s injury at the hands of Auburn”s oh-so-innocent offensive line changed how the Tigers played defense. And Ohio State can”t like what it sees in the pre-chop-block defense. The only team to put up good numbers before the Auburn game was Florida, and Ohio State doesn”t have a Tebow. What they have is a more traditional offense like those rolled out by Mississippi State (45-0), Virginia Tech (48-7) and Kentucky – which LSU lost to in holding traditional QB Andre Woodson to a season-low 219 yards (in regulation) and Kentucky to season-low 250 yards of offense (in regulation).

I like both LSU”s chances of doing better offensively than Ohio State”s other opponents and the Tigers chances of shutting down Ohio State”s mediocre offense. It”ll take a strong gameplan and good execution (hold down the penalties and turnovers, guys), and whenever Leslie is prowling the sidelines that prospect makes me nervous.

But I like our chances. LSU 24, Ohio State 10

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