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Postmortem Notes From The First College Football Playoff Season

by on January 15, 2015 6:15 AM

The first major college football playoff season is in the books so this week we wrap up the year.

Things we know now:

The Big Ten is better than we thought but is top heavy: The Big Ten's 6-5 record in bowl games was solid. Most notably, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin logged big bowl wins against conference Champions from the Pac 12, SEC, Big 12 and Auburn. There is a gap between those top three teams and everyone else.

In the last two years those teams are 46-6 in Big Ten play. Removing games versus each other -- the Buckeyes, Badgers and Spartans were 42-2 against the rest of the league. In Big Ten Regular season games Urban Meyer is 24-0 and OSU hasn't lost a home Big Ten game since November of 2011 when Penn State beat them. As for the Big Ten being the nation's best conference; Illinois and Iowa had bad bowl losses while the regular season included 3 MAC losses.

The SEC benefits from a weak non-conference schedule; SEC teams can and do schedule patsies. SEC teams are automatically assumed to have tougher conference schedules because of league-strength perceptions. The SEC secret this regular season was their 5-6 record against teams from the power-5 conferences (after the bowls they finished 11-11 vs Power-5 teams).

The Pac-12 may have been 2014's Best overall conference: The Pac-12 was 8-3 in regular season games and 5-2 in bowl games versus Power-5 teams (finishing 13-5). In regular season non-conference schedules the SEC and Pac-12 both played 11 power-5 teams, but the Pac-12 played only 36 non-conference regular-season versus 55 for the SEC. The Power-5 games make up just 20 percent of SEC's non-conference schedules versus over 30 percent for the PAC-12.

Pre-season rankings continue to skew opinions: South Carolina really set the stage for The SEC West's over-rating. How so? The Gamecocks entered the season ranked No. 9 before Texas A&M demolished them in the season opener. The Aggies then beat Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas, rising to No. 6 before being hammered in successive weeks by Mississippi State and Ole Miss. That combined with an Ole Miss win over Alabama ignited those two team's meteoric rise in the rankings. By season's end both South Carolina and Texas A&M were unranked while Ole Miss and Mississippi State were both soundly defeated in their bowls.

Michigan State is an established/elite program: The Spartans finished in the Top 5 for a second straight year and won 11 or more games for the fourth time in the last 5 years. Their two losses this year were to Oregon and OSU, the two teams who played for the National Championship. The past two years they've won the Rose and Cotton Bowls over The Pac 12 and Big 12 Champions. In the Big Ten East they'll be a tough out for Penn State for the Land-Grant Trophy ... which Penn State won 13 times out of the first 18 contests, from 1993-2010.

For Penn State Fans-- Something That May Surprise You:

In Crunch time -- Penn State's Offense is better than its Defense: Despite the criticism of Penn State's offense, at the end of the game and in overtime when needing a score the offense was successful 6 of 8 times for a 75 percent success rate. Conversely Penn State's defense was 2 of 9 for a 22 percent success rate in crunch time. In every overtime period opponents' offenses scored touchdowns, while UCF, Maryland, Illinois and Boston College all had late-game drives to take the lead.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Preseason Top 5 polls will likely feature these four teams: Ohio State, TCU, Michigan State and Alabama. I suspect defending National Champion Ohio State, given the large number of returning starters, not to mention returning roughly 75 percent of the 48 players listed on the depth chart should be a solid preseason number one. Add two Heisman-Candidate-worthy quarterbacks returning from injuries and the OSU competition is as crowded as the field for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination.

For the foreseeable future mobile QBs are in: All of the Top 5 and eight of the Top 11 teams in the final AP Poll, all four of the playoff teams, six of the winners of the top "New Year's Six" Bowl games (and Title Game) played with mobile quarterbacks. Mobile QBs make plays even without great talent surrounding them. Mobile QBs also force defenses to account for them in the running game meaning less man coverage and more run support zone coverages opening up passing lanes for the receivers.

The More Things Change ...

Despite The Pass and Flash Offenses, The Running game still matters; All New Year's 6 Bowl Games and the Championship game were won by the team that had more rushing yards. Baylor's inability to run kept it from holding a 41-21 lead against Michigan State.

Undefeated Power-5 Teams Will Still Get In: Florida State hurt this by getting blown out in the Rose Bowl but undefeated Power-5 conference teams will still get in.

And Finally ...

The Playoff System Trumps the BCS ... But: I don't think anyone doubts this. With apologies to a very strong TCU team, Ohio State was the nation's best team at season's end. But I still would've enjoyed seeing those two teams play next week.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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