Published on August 27, 2019 by Connor Wolf  

The 2019 College Football Playoff consisted of four incredibly talented teams that consistently proved themselves worthy of playing for a championship all season long. These teams consisted of the number one seed Alabama Rolling Tide, number two seed Clemson Tigers, number three seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and number four seed Oklahoma Sooners. In the semifinals, Alabama edged out Oklahoma in an offensive shootout, winning 45-34. In the other semifinal, Clemson took care of business handing Notre Dame a 30-3 loss. In the National Championship game, once again, Clemson was dominant. They defeated Alabama 44-16 to bring Clemson its third national championship, and its second in three years.

As previously mentioned, these teams played outstanding football all season. Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame all entered the playoffs with undefeated records. Alabama and Clemson at 13-0 and Notre Dame at 12-0. Oklahoma was the only team to make the playoffs with a loss on its record, coming in at 12-1. These teams made the CFP because of their superior playing over the regular season. So what, if anything, did these teams have in common over the season? Is there a common factor between these teams that leads to success in college football?

This article will break down and compare the final four teams from the CFP on both offense and defense in search of common characteristics between the teams. It will also determine which side of the ball is more important to focus on in college football.

Offensive Stats

The table below shows some offensive statistics for the CFP Final Four teams.

Offensive Stats Graph

As we can see from the statistics above, each one of the final four teams was a strong offensive force all season. Specifically, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Clemson all ranked in the top six in the nation in offensive yards per game, with Notre Dame coming in at 32nd. Likewise, the same three teams all finished in the top four in the nation in points per game, with Notre Dame falling in at 42nd. Oklahoma had by far the most dominating offense all season long, leading the nation in both yards and points per game. Clemson was explosive placing third in yards per game and fourth in points, while Alabama was extremely efficient taking sixth in yards and fourth in points. Clearly, a powerful offense seems necessary for success in college football. However, according to these stats, Notre Dame seems like a bit of an outlier to have made the final four. Maybe there is more than one way to get there.

Defensive Stats

The table below shows some defensive statistics for the CFP Final Four teams.

Defensive Stats Graph

As seen above, although these teams were not as dominant on the defensive end as the offensive end, it was still pretty tough to move the ball on these opponents. Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame all ranked in the top ten in the nation in opponent points per game last season. Clemson had the strongest all-around defense placing fourth in yards allowed per game and second in points allowed. Alabama was also top ten in both categories, ranking 10th in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed. Although Notre Dame falls to 22nd in yards allowed, they were tough to score on, landing at ninth in points allowed. Oklahoma was clearly carried by their superior offense, as they are a heavy outlier on the defensive end, falling to 108th in yards allowed and 96th in points allowed.

Offense or Defense

From analyzing the statistics given, I do not see a clear side of the ball that seems more crucial to making the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma made the final four by purely dominating on offense, while Notre Dame made the playoffs led by a strong defense. If we look one step further, however, I believe that we find evidence that a balanced team wins in the CFP. Alabama and Clemson, the two most balanced teams, made the national championship game last season. Clemson, who ranked top four in the nation in points per game, points allowed per game, yards per game, and yards allowed per game, was crowned National Champion for a reason. They were the most dominant football team on both sides of the ball all year long last season.


About the Author

Connor just completed his sophomore year at Purdue University, where he is pursuing a double major in actuarial sciences and applied statistics, with a minor in management. He has had a passion for both sports and statistics since a very young age, and enjoys discovering all the new information statistics can give us about sports.