• Paul Compton

Orange Bowl: Clemson vs Oklahoma

* The market has spoken, and what it has said is that Oklahoma is the second best team in the country right now, behind only Alabama. That's right where I put them, with Clemson third. Earlier in the season, after week 8, I had Clemson ranked 1st and OKLA 4th. This speaks to how both teams finished up the season, with Oklahoma playing its best ball while Clemson tapered off a bit.

* Versus preseason expectations Clemson was the bigger over-achiever of the two teams. In my preseason analysis of Clemson I said that with a healthy Watson the team had no ceiling and could make a surprise run at an undefeated season. That being said, because of their lack of a run game and the graduation attrition on defense I projected them win to just about 8 games.

* Oklahoma was a team I was high on pre-season. My projections had them winning every game with a money line converted win estimation of 9.5 games. I did recommend the Over 8.5 season wins for the Sooners. They had better injury luck than the other top teams in their conference which helped them win the Big 12.

* Looking at the statistical match ups, which is the primary basis of my handicapping, these teams are pretty close across the board. They both rank in my top 25 in all four of the main statistical categories, rush and pass offense, and rush and pass defense. Both teams have good pass offenses, and both have good pass defenses -- either team is capable of having the better day passing the ball in this game. CLEM's rush offense and OKLA's rush defense are ranked very closely, at 22nd, and 21st. This leaves us with the final, and I think, deciding match up -- Oklahoma's 17th ranked rush offense versus CLEM's 6th ranked rush defense. By pure rankings you'd think CLEM would have the rushing advantage, but that probably won't be the case because of the in-season trending numbers: Oklahoma finished on a big upward trend, tying PITT for the highest ranking in that category. The in-season trending is a simple look at the correlation of a team's performance over time. Conversely, Clemson's rush defense finished on a downward trend, tied with the 14th highest decline. Remember this about in-season trending though -- it doesn't mean that Clemson's rush defense ended the season playing as the 14th worst unit, it means that they were playing so good early in the season that when they played just a hair below average in their final 6 games that the disparity between the first half and second half numbers was the 14th worst.

* CLEM has a good defensive line, but they are not deep with almost exclusively freshman available to relieve the starting four. The same is true of 2 of their 3 backup linebackers. It looks like they got tired down the stretch. Even then, CLEM had two "best," quote unquote, rush defense games in their final 3 games. I have a system where a "best" qualifying game of rush defense or offense is earned when a team gains 0.7 yards more per carry or allows 0.7 yards less per carry than the opponent usually gains or allows. For passing, the "best" cutoff number is 1.1 yards per pass better than the opponent's usual averages. I mention these "best," and conversely, "worst," qualifying games now because I reference them a lot in my write ups and analysis.

* OKLA early in the season struggled on figuring out how to implement and execute the running game in their new Air Raid offense. I read that it wasn't until after the Texas game that they went to a zone blocking scheme. Whatever the case might have been, after that everything clicked. Over their final 7 games they averaged 300 run yards per game, and ended the season on a 6 game "best" streak.

* With Oklahoma's improved running game and Clemson's declining run defense, and even a slight edge in the passing match ups for Oklahoma -- it adds up to enough to make Oklahoma about a 10 point favorite for me. The line opened at OKLA -3 and went to -4 in a day, more or less, so early sharp action was on Oklahoma.

* If revenge counts for anything, Oklahoma has the advantage after Clemson annihilated them in their Bowl game last year.

* ESPN All-Big 12 CB Thomas for OKLA was arrested for failure to appear in court over an unpaid speeding ticket, and I'm not sure of his status for this game.

* CLEM WR Cain suspended for failing a drug test

* OKLA DT Watson inactive after sustaining a concussion in practice Monday.

Recommended investments were OKLA -3 0.5% and more with OKLA -3.5 (-105) for 0.5%. Over 62 (-129) 0.7%.