A quick look at Clemson and Alabama shows just how good both teams have been. They’re both 10-0. Clemson’s average margin of victory is 33 points. Bama’s is 35. Both have faced a few decent teams and a few not-so-good ones. So, who’s been better?
One way to check is to use relative performance, which sounds more complex than it really is.
The premise is simple: How did a team perform relative to how other teams perform against the same competition. So, for example, Alabama averaged 7.17 yards per play vs. Ole Miss this year. Is that good? Well, Ole Miss’s defense is allowing 6.28 yards/play to all other FBS teams it’s played this year, so Alabama was 14.2 percent better than average against the Rebels.
We can do this for every team both Clemson and Alabama have played and come to some conclusions. To do this, we picked two basic stats: Points per drive and yards per play. We looked at those numbers for both offense and defense.
First, let’s compare the defenses.
The blue lines above represent opponent performance against all other FBS teams, while the red lines represent performance vs. Clemson and Alabama, respectively.
Alabama’s defense has been a bit more up-and-down, but is peaking now, it would appear. Clemson’s defense was essentially average against Texas A&M, but has been excellent ever since.
Now a look at the offense.
Clemson’s offense has been a bit erratic, with some huge games and some average ones, but not dramatically below average. The early QB issues help explain some of this, but it’s worth nothing that BC did a really nice job against the Tigers.
Alabama, on the other hand, was dominant offensively pretty much all season, but Mississippi State did do a nice job of containing the Tide. Is that because Tua is nursing an injury? Because Mississippi State’s defensive front is insanely good? TBD.
Anyway, on the whole, here’s how things shape up in order of percent change from opponent averages…
Long story short, Clemson appears to have a legitimate edge on defense, and Alabama has a real edge — particularly in scoring — on offense.
Of course, the interesting part of this is, Trevor Lawrence figures to get better, and so does the Clemson offense. Meanwhile, Alabama’s defense has pitched back-to-back shutouts, albeit against bad offenses. So perhaps that Tide D is also making strides.
The long and short of it is, these are clearly dominant teams, and their relative dominance only serves to further illustrate that we should be getting a ridiculous playoff matchup in a few months.