Alabama (-4) 26 Texas 19
Favoring Alabama by only 4 points makes sense if you look at each team's overall performance this season, but Alabama has proven themselves against quality opponents while Texas has not, especially offensively, and I expect the Crimson Tide to win by more than the posted point spread.
Texas averaged 40.7 points per game this season, but that number is very misleading given the 11 non-offensive touchdowns that the Longhorns scored. The Texas offense is pretty good from a compensated yards per play perspective, averaging 5.8 yards per play (yppl) against teams that would allow 5.2 yppl to an average team, but that's hardly the prolific attack that their average points would lead you to believe. Texas was also relatively much better against mediocre and bad defensive teams than they were against better than average stop units, as the Longhorns racked up an average of 567 total yards at 7.1 yppl against UL Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP, UCF, Kansas, and Texas A&M -- teams that would combine to allow 5.8 yppl to an average team. That's a rating of 1.3 yppl better than average against sub-par defensive teams. Texas struggled against average or better defensive teams, averaging just 4.5 yppl against Texas Tech, Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Nebraska -- teams that would allow 4.6 yppl to an average attack. Thus, Texas was 0.1 yppl worse than average against average or better defensive teams and the better the defense faced the worse the Longhorns' compensated offensive rating was.
Alabama has a very strong defense, one which yielded just 4.3 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average defense. Texas faced two teams of that are about that caliber defensively, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Against Oklahoma the Longhorns managed just 270 total yards at 3.5 yppl and 16 points and the only reason they won that game (16-13) was because of 5 Oklahoma turnovers. Against Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game the Longhorns tallied just 202 yards at 2.7 yppl and scored just 13 points and they were also very fortunate to win that game on a last play field goal. In those two games Texas rated at 0.8 yppl worse than average offensively, averaging 3.1 yppl against the Sooners and Cornhuskers great defensive units that would combine to allow 3.9 yppl to an average team.
If I include every game for the Texas offense then my math model would project 296 total yards at 4.6 yppl, but the correlation between the level of opposing defense and the performance of the Texas offense was so strong (correlation coefficient of r=0.92) that I felt it was more predictive to use a profile analysis of the Texas offense. A profile analysis helps to find a rating for the running offense and passing offense based on performance against opponents with similar statistical characteristics of their current opponent, Alabama. I also adjust to compensate for any variance that may skew the numbers due to one or two very good or very bad game ratings. In more basic terms, I grade the Texas run offense on how they performed relatively when facing good run defenses and I grade quarterback Colt McCoy, on a relative basis, on how he performed against good pass defenses while dampening the affect of outliers (i.e. games that were much better or worse than the overall rating carry less weight). That analysis gives a rating of 0.4 yards per rushing play worse than average for the Texas rushing attack and a rating of just 0.1 yards per pass play (yppp) better than average for Colt McCoy, who averaged just 5.1 yppp against better than average pass defenses this season (those teams would allow 5.0 yppp to an average QB). Using the results of the profile analysis would lead to a projection of just 253 total yards at 3.9 yppl for Texas in this game.
While I don't expect the Texas offense to do much in this game, their outstanding defense and very good special teams (7 special teams touchdowns this season) could keep the Longhorns in this game. The Texas stop unit yielded just 3.3 yards per rushing play (yprp), 4.5 yppp and 4.0 yppl this season to an average slate of opposing offenses. The numbers are even better if you exclude the stats of the second string defense (which I do), which finished off some blowout wins. I rate the Texas defense at 1.5 yprp better than average, 1.9 yppp better than average and 1.7 yppl better than average.
The Texas defense actually rates 0.2 yppl better than the Alabama defense, but the Crimson Tide proved that they can move the ball against a good defensive unit while Texas did not. Bama gained 508 yards at 6.5 yppl against Virginia Tech, 6.7 yppl against South Carolina, 6.9 yppl against LSU, and 7.3 yppl against a Florida defense that ranks among the best in the nation even without star DE Dunlap, who didn't play for the Gators due to suspension. Alabama also had a few games in which they didn't move the ball as well, averaging 4.7 yppl at Ole' Miss (which is actually 0.5 yppl more than Mississippi's defense would normally give up at home), 4.3 yppl against Tennessee, and 4.3 yppl at Auburn. However, Alabama's offense averaged a combined 6.2 yppl against good defensive teams (which would combine to allow 4.6 yppl to an average team) and their +1.6 yppl rating in those games is actually higher than their overall rating of +1.4 yppl. The Tide also had one of their best offensive games of the year against the best defense that they faced all season in their SEC Championship Game win over Florida.
Like their offense, the Texas defense also played relatively worse against better competition, as the Longhorns were only 0.7 yppl better than average defensively against the 5 good offensive teams that they faced (teams that were at least 0.5 yppl better than average). Those teams were Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas A&M and the Longhorns allowed 5.3 yppl to those 5 teams, who would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average team. Texas only faced one really good rushing team all season and Texas A&M racked up 212 yards at 5.7 yards per rushing play against the Horns. Texas also wasn't as good defensively against better than average passers, allowing 5.6 yppp to the 7 better than average quarterbacks that they faced, who would combine to average 6.9 yppp against an average defensive team. While being 1.3 yppp better than average is very good, it is not as good as the Longhorns' overall pass defense rating of 1.9 yppp better than average, which was helped out by dominating mediocre and bad passing teams.
Based on the profile analysis for the Texas defense, which plays relatively worse against better offensive teams, the Crimson Tide offense is expected to produce 338 yards at 5.4 yppl in this game. In addition to the advantage on both sides of the ball, Alabama is also less likely to turn the ball over. Texas does have outstanding special teams, which I rate as 2 points better than Alabama's pretty mediocre special teams (aside from their excellent kicker). Overall the math favors Alabama by 7 1/2 points in this game with a total of 44 1/2 points.
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