Alabama vs. Jaguars (11/5/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, November 5 at 9:00 PM ET

Last week’s blog was so well received that I will be doing something similar this week, including updating the undefeated odds for each of the (still) remaining undefeated college football teams in the BCS, which you can see below. Before that, I would like to make a quick announcement regarding basketball (btw, the NBA started a week ago) and address the concept of college teams playing professional teams – a topic brought to the spotlight last week by South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who mentioned on the Dan Patrick Show that he thought Alabama would be favored over NFL teams on a neutral field.

Basketball Free Trial: With college basketball starting on Friday (125 Division I games take place that day alone, including several on air craft carriers around the world) and our NBA pick information off to a hot 17-4 ATS and O/U start with the highlighted, "normal" picks that have 57%+ confidence to cover (as of two weeks ago, all sports now use the same data weighting logic that we added to improve college football this season), we will offer a free trial to anyone who comes to the site to check out our college basketball and NBA pick information from 11/9 – 11/15 (including the 24 hours of college basketball on 11/13). All games will be broken down with straight-up, over/under and against-the-spread confidence and  play value recommendations, to go along with access to the Customizable Predictalator (with Parlay Calculator), Play Analyzer and Injury information daily at 4:00 pm ET or two hours before the first game (whichever comes first).

Simulating College Football vs. the NFL:

The concept is quite simple and the answer does not have to be arbitrary. Would this season’s Alabama football team win outright over any NFL team in a neutral environment? And if the game were to occur, what would be the expected margin? In short, the answers are “it’s not likely” and “about 23.5 points on average.”

These questions, usually reserved for media filler (or is it “gobble gobble, turkey gobble”?) and barroom conversation, are not as outlandish or purely speculative as they may sound. We can come up with answers in a pretty easy, straight-forward way.

Under the premise of this question as originally proposed by Dan Patrick to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier (and then discussed by just about everyone else in the country since then), the game is not nearly as close as Spurrier seems to propose.

Since the start of the 2011 college football season, Alabama has been the top team in our College Football Power Rankings every single week (including after a loss at home against LSU last year). Since the start of 2011 NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been ranked last in our NFL Power Rankings in all but two weeks (and they will find themselves there again tomorrow). On a neutral field, with equal time to prepare and playing under NFL rules, Jacksonville would win 94.2% of the time and by an average score of 33.1-8.7 – a blowout where Alabama does not even score double digits in the average game. For context, the most likely straight-up victory of the NFL season thus far came in the Jacksonville @ Green Bay game, where the Packers were 84.3% likely to win over the Jaguars. Jacksonville @ Houston will likely top that number, as will Kansas City @ Denver if the game means anything to the Broncos, but neither will likely exceed 90% straight-up confidence or a 20 point expected margin.

As we discussed when simulating the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team against the Washington Wizards, we can simulate the expected outcomes of such an occurrence. I will continue to borrow from that article to explain. There is a way to as accurately as possible handle this debate. Every offseason for every sport for which we project professional games, I spend a great deal of time utilizing objective information to project what a player will look like at the next level given what he has done before. We published such results in great depth for the NFL Draft this offseason. So, what I usually do in February, March and April for football, I moved up a couple months to specifically analyze how Alabama’s players would look if projected into the NFL right now. Then, that roster was simulated against the current Jaguars roster (with Maurice Jones-Drew, Daryl Smith, Dwight Lowery and others all assumed to be out) 50,000 times under the assumptions above.

Unlike in the basketball game referenced above, it’s not particularly close. In basketball, it is much easier for one very talented, transcendent athlete with adequate size to play well enough for his team to compete against just about anyone. That’s not as feasible in football where 22 players remain on the field at any given time. Furthermore, the average age of the Washington Wizards starting five was only 24, meaning that there was not much of an age or experience difference between the pro team and the college team.

2011 Alabama vs. 2012 Alabama:

Breaking down 2012 Alabama against anyone is like doing the same thing with the 2002 Miami Hurricanes against all other college football teams in history or the 2012 Team USA against the 1992 Dream Team. The fact that the previous iteration of each team was so good shed light on the talent on each roster, but the previous iterations (2001 Miami and 2008 Redeem Team) were both better.

In 2002, Miami started future NFL standouts Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow II, Vernon Carey, D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor (among others – plus Frank Gore and Vince Wilfork came off the bench). Great. In 2001, they had all those guys plus Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph (among others). The 2002 team was really, really good (I went to the University of Cincinnati and grew up in Wisconsin – I’m not going to comment on the national championship game after that season). The 2001 team is the greatest of all time.

In 2012, Alabama has some future NFL standouts like Eddie Lacy, D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, Cyrus Kouandjio, Jesse Williams, Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner and Robert Lester (among others). In 2011, Alabama had contributions from each of those players as well as Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Chapman and Courtney Upshaw (among others). The 2012 team is very good. The Crimson Tide ranks in the top three in our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency rankings in passing offense, run offense, passing defense and run defense. That’s crazy good. On a neutral field, the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide would be a 4.5 point favorite over this year’s team. (The Miami comparisons from a decade ago are even eerier to me when looking at quarterbacks A.J. McCarron and Ken Dorsey in each of the seasons I just referenced.)

Last year’s Alabama squad may have been able to keep the game within 20 points against last year’s Jaguars (on average). It’s a different story this year.

Alabama’s Size:

The easy line to throw out about a hypothetical matchup like this is that the NFL team will simply be bigger, stronger, faster and smarter, particularly in the trenches. While those last three elements may be true, Alabama is bigger than Jacksonville, particularly in the trenches. Here are some starter comparisons:

Alabama Average Offensive Line: 6’5” 314 lbs.

Alabama Average Defensive Line: 6’4” 296 lbs.

Jacksonville Average Offensive Line: 6’4” 305 lbs.

Jacksonville Average Defensive Line:  6’3” 285 lbs.

Alabama Average Wide Receiver (two-deep): 6’2” 190 lbs.

Alabama Average Linebacker: 6’4” 249 lbs.

Alabama Average Defensive Back: 6’1” 201 lbs.

Jacksonville Average Wide Receiver (two-deep): 6’1” 208 lbs.

Jacksonville Average Linebacker: 6’2” 237 lbs.

Jacksonville Average Defensive Back: 6’1” 203 lbs.

Alabama vs. Jacksonville:

I expounded on the Miami comparison and the size differential (or lack thereof) above because the actual analysis is not too detailed. NFL players represent the best of the best and there are 11 players for each team on the field at all times. As good as Alabama has been recently, they are not responsible for one-thirty second of the league’s players. And even if they were, players improve over time with experience, coaching and physical maturation.

After the 2011 season, Alabama had 11 starters who could be drafted into the NFL. Eight of them were – including an impressive four in the first round. Of those eight NFL players, only four have been active for more than one game this season. Only two Alabama players – Trent Richardson and Mark Barron - from last year’s superior team are starting for their NFL teams right now. And NOT ONE of the 2012 NFL Draft picks from Alabama is playing at an above average level in the league in his rookie season.

Some other quick hitters:

Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert just completed 71% of his 38 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns against a Lions’ defense that includes ridiculously good college players like Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska, All-American), Nick Fairley (Auburn, All-American – who dominated on the interior over Alabama two years ago), Cliff Avril (Purdue, All Big Ten), Kyle Vanden Bosch (Nebraska, All Big 12), Travis Lewis (Oklahoma, All Big 12 and Freshman All-American), DeAndre Levy (Wisconsin, All Big Ten), Lawrence Jackson (USC, All-American), Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma, All-American), Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest, All-American) and Chris Houston (Arkansas, All SEC).

To the best of my research, Jacksonville’s current active roster includes 28 former first team all-conference players and 13 former first team All-Americans (at their respective collegiate levels).

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had 1,511 total passing yards on 120 of 209 passing (57.4% completions, 7.22 yards-per-attempt) before Saturday. Against BCS-AQ opponents, he was 61-for-124 for 767 yards (49.2%, 6.2). Against Alabama, Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards (68.6%, 8.5). Alabama is not invincible.

There are not any major weaknesses on this Alabama team, but I don’t see anywhere in the numbers where the Crimson Tide roster currently has a matchup advantage over any NFL roster.

Again, in 50,000 simulations Jacksonville wins 94% of the time and by an average score of 33-9.

College Football’s Undefeateds:

There are STILL currently six undefeated teams in FBS – Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Louisville and Ohio State. Notre Dame needed triple overtime to top Pitt. Alabama needed a last minute touchdown to overcome LSU. And, even though the Ducks seemed in control the entire game, Oregon’s defense looked exposed against USC. Not only did the undefeated teams stay good in Week 10, they got a little lucky as well.

As we did last week, here are the chances that each current undefeated FBS team wins all of its remaining regular season (and conference championship) games:

Alabama Crimson Tide

Games Remaining: 4 (with conference championship, though one of those games is against FCS Western Carolina)

Undefeated Chances: 78.9%

Closest Remaining Game: SEC Championship Game (December 1)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Games Remaining: 3

Undefeated Chances 51.1%

Closest Remaining Game: at USC (November 24)

Kansas State Wildcats

Games Remaining: 3

Undefeated Chances: 44.8%

Closest Remaining Game: at TCU (November 10)

Oregon Ducks

Games Remaining: 4 (including conference championship game)

Undefeated Chances: 39.4%

Closest Remaining Game: at Oregon State (November 24)

Ohio State Buckeyes

Games Remaining: 2

Undefeated Chances: 33.8%*

Closest Remaining Game: vs. Michigan (November 24)

* Assuming Denard Robinson plays for Michigan

Louisville Cardinals

Games Remaining: 3

Undefeated Chances: 23.1%

Closest Remaining Game: at Rutgers (November 29)

A few notes on the undefeated odds above:

Chances there are still six undefeated FBS teams on December 2 (after conference title games): 0.6% (or 1-in-180)

Chances Alabama, Notre Dame, Kansas State and Oregon are undefeated on December 2: 7.1% (or 1-in-14)

Chances Notre Dame, Kansas State and Oregon are undefeated on December 2: 9.02% (or 1-in-11)

Chances Oregon is undefeated and Kansas State and Notre Dame are not on December 2: 10.6% (or 1-in-9)

Chances Notre Dame is undefeated and Kansas State and Oregon are not on December 2: 17.1% (or 1-in-6)

Chances Kansas State is undefeated and Oregon and Notre Dame are not on December 2: 13.3% (or 1-in-8)

Chances that Louisville is the only undefeated FBS (BCS eligible) team on December 2: 0.8% (or 1-in-125)

Chances that Alabama is the only undefeated FBS (BCS eligible) team on December 2: 9.9% (or 1-in-10)

Chances that no FBS team is undefeated on December 2: 1.8% (or 1-in-57)

Chances that Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State all have at least one loss on December  2: 3.5% (or 1-in-29)

Atlanta Falcons

We’ll do the same thing for the Falcons who are 8-0 to start the NFL season and would currently be favored in all remaining games…

Games Remaining: 8

Undefeated Chances: 3.1%

Closest Remaining Game: at Detroit (Week 16)

Live ScoreCaster:

To highlight the technology in our free Live ScoreCaster™ app (now available for every NBA game as well), we will take the in-game technology to the next level to review three of the game-changing plays from the NFL and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently. The weekly analysis will review one play that could have resulted in a major upset, one controversial coaching decision and one play that dictated the team that covered the spread. 

John Ewing, our Manager, Research and Analytics, puts together a weekly summary of three game-changing plays – one critical decision, one play that decided the cover and one play that kept an upset from happening. The NFL GAMECHANGERS recap currently appears weekly on Monday mornings on our About Live page. If you are ever interested in the impact of a specific play from a Thursday or Sunday, Contact Us and we will try to include the play in the article.

Here is John’s recap from this week:


The Upset: Raiders vs. Buccaneers

With 2:37 left in the 4th, Oakland is trailing Tampa Bay 35-32, Raiders ball 2nd and 10 at Oakland 38. Carson Palmer throws an interception and ends the Raiders bid for a comeback win against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay’s win percentage jumps to 91.1%. Had Palmer’s pass fallen incomplete, the Raiders still would have had a 35.9% chance to complete the 18-point comeback win.

The Cover: Miami -2.5 vs. Colts

With 1:37 left in the 4th, Miami is trailing the Colts 23-20, Miami’s ball 4th and 15 at the Miami 45. Ryan Tannehill completes a pass to Daniel Thomas for 14 yards; the Dolphins come up a yard short, turnover on downs. What would have happened if the Dolphins got that extra yard?

If Daniel Thomas was able to extend for the first down Miami becomes the favorite to win the game 59.6% of the time. The game most likely would have gone to overtime. Final projected score 26-23, Dolphins cover.

The Decision: Cowboys vs. Falcons

With 1:59 left in the 2nd, Dallas leads 6-3 over Atlanta. The Cowboys elect to punt the ball on 4th and 1 instead of going for it at midfield. When Dallas punted the ball their win percentage was 58.7%, average score 17-14. If Jason Garrett decides to go for it, the Cowboys win percentage jumps to 67.5%, average score 20-15. Going for it on 4th down and converting is worth on average 2 points.