The College Football Playoff field is set: the semifinal games on December 29 will feature No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Oklahoma, and No. 2 Clemson against No. 3 Notre Dame.
All four teams have had interesting storylines at quarterback, while also dominating in other facets of the game. Using Sports Info Solutions’ advanced metrics and charting data, let’s take a brief look at each team’s success this season.
No. 1 Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa burst onto the scene in last year’s National Championship when he replaced Jalen Hurts and led the Crimson Tide over Georgia. Retaining the starting job this year, Tua has not disappointed. He ranks second in the nation in our Independent Quarterback Rating* (IQR) metric, behind the quarterback Alabama will face in the semifinal: Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.
Yet it was Hurts who played the hero in last weekend’s SEC championship victory after replacing an injured Tagovailoa. It’s worth noting that Hurts has done well himself this season, completing 50 of 67 passes and posting a 139.6 IQR—right behind Tagovailoa when considering quarterbacks who have attempted 50 or more passes in 2018.
|Best IQR Among QB with 50+ Attempts|
|Dwayne Haskins||Ohio State||131.2|
Alabama has been arguably the best team at throwing the ball deep. On 56 throws of 20-plus yards, they have completed 35 of them and scored 16 touchdowns. On a per-attempt basis, those marks are the best in college football.
The talented Jerry Jeudy has been the preferred target at wide receiver. Among receivers with at least 75 targets, he ranks third with 12.3 yards per target and fifth with a 134.9 Receiver Rating (which is traditional passer rating on targets).
No. 2 Clemson
Trevor Lawrence has excelled since taking over for Kelly Bryant at quarterback. The true freshman has picked apart man coverages; his 137.8 IQR in such situations ranks fourth behind Tagovailoa, Fromm, and Murray.
Beyond Lawrence, Clemson dominates the running game on both sides of the ball. The defense has allowed 2.1 yards per rush attempt (YPA), the best mark in the nation. With draft prospects Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence on the interior of the defensive line, the Tigers are a force up the middle. Clemson has surrendered only 1.9 yards per attempt on inside runs. Every other FBS team has allowed at least 3 YPA on such plays.
Offensively, Travis Etienne picks up the bulk of the carries and has been one of the best rushers on a per-attempt basis, averaging 8.3 YPA. Along with Memphis’ Darrell Henderson and Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary, Etienne is one of three players with more than 20 rushing touchdowns on the season.
No. 3 Notre Dame
Like Alabama and Clemson, a change at quarterback was a major storyline for the Fighting Irish. Through Week 3, Brandon Wimbush registered just a 54.0 IQR, which ranked 117th out of the 122 quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts to that point.
Since taking over the starting job, Ian Book’s 107.2 IQR ranks among the top 30 nationally. Notre Dame gained accuracy in the passing game with the transition, with Book’s 70 percent completion rate signifying a considerable improvement over Wimbush’s 53 percent rate.
Pass defense has been similarly important. The Irish pass rush leads the country in quarterback hurries, just ahead of college football’s other contenders. Defensive end Julian Okwara ranks among the top ten nationally with 39 hurries, while tackle Jerry Tillery and end Khalid Kareem have contributed 30 and 26, respectively.
|Most QB Hurries|
No. 4 Oklahoma
Leading the nation with a 147.9 IQR, Kyler Murray has been outstanding as the successor to Baker Mayfield. Murray has been particularly dynamic outside of the pocket; among signal callers with at least 25 attempts in those situations, his 146.3 IQR, 16 percent touchdown rate, and 10.4 yards per attempt all lead the country. He can also push the ball downfield with accuracy, ranking third in on-target percentage on throws of 20 or more yards.
Murray’s primary targets are Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb, who rank first and second, respectively, in yards per target (among receivers with at least 75 targets on the season).
Despite losing running back Rodney Anderson to a season-ending injury, Oklahoma’s ground game has remained solid with Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks. As a team, the Sooners are among the best at breaking tackles (ranking second with a total of 143) and rushing to the outside (ranking second with an average of 8.1 YPA).
* Independent Quarterback Rating is Sports Info Solutions’ proprietary quarterback metric. It builds on the traditional Passer Rating formula by accounting for results that are outside of the quarterback’s control – dropped passes, dropped interceptions, throwaways, etc. – to form a better benchmark of QB value.