By the numbers, #2 ranked Alabama looks like a much stronger football team than top ranked LSU.
If you look at the naked “Value over Average” numbers, meaning each team’s yards gained and allowed versus the yards gained and allowed by their opponents against the rest of their opponents’ FBS schedules, Alabama’s offense has gained +35.4% more yards than average, and its defense has allowed -62.2% less than average, for a cumulative total of +97.6%. By comparison, LSU’s offense has gained only +8.8% more yards than average, and its defense has allowed only -25.5% less than average, for a cumulative total of only +34.3%.
Now, that gap in production is somewhat misleading, because my VOA system needs an additional layer of numbers to make it truly a comparison of apples to apples. Specifically, I would need to add to each team’s cumulative total the cumulative average VOA of the team’s opponents. But that would take a lot of work, and I’m not willing to put in that much time.
But even with such an improvement its hard to see how Alabama wouldn’t still come out as the far superior team. Alabama’s VOA production advantage is +62.4%. An added Opponent VOA layer wouldn’t come close to making up that stagger.
The two teams have played schedules of similar strength. Alabama’s opponents have gained 5.19 yards per play versus the rest of their schedules, while allowing 5.02 yards per play. That’s a positive gap of +0.17 yards. LSU’s opponents have gained 5.81 yards per play versus the rest of their schedules, while allowing 5.08 yards per play, for a positive gap of +0.73 yards. Thus, any additional “opponent strength” adjustment would tilt in LSU’s favor, but not enough to make up for the difference in production outlined above.
Still, there is reason to believe the production gap overstates the comparative strength of each school. For instance, against their common opponents — Florida and Tennessee — the two teams performed pretty similarly. Alabama gained 6.0 yards per play and allowed 3.7 yards per play. LSU gained 6.4 yards per play and allowed 4.6 yards per play. Those numbers suggest LSU’s offense might be better than their VOA numbers, or at least slightly better than Alabama’s offense. At the same time, the numbers also suggest Alabama does indeed have a much better defense.
Thus, I think the lower ranked Crimson Tide of Alabama looks like the much better team. And with the game being played in Alabama, I think the Tide will roll to an easy victory over the Louisiana State Tigers.