If the Best College Football Team Played the Worst NFL Team What Would the Pointspread Be?
Five Georgia players were drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. That's a historical first. So, what would happen if the University of Georgia played the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars -- which is college football #1 team versus the NFL #32 team? What would the pointspread be, and could we predict the outcome?
Note: I wrote this column a few years ago (Nov. 2018) when Alabama was the dominant team in college football. The factors and analysis remain pretty much the same.
Let’s agree — Alabama is the best college football team in the country right now.
The Tide has been college football’s premier powerhouse for the last decade. Nick Saban, Alabama’s head coach, has won nearly 90 percent of his games. He’s compiled an astonishing 142-20 career record while at Alabama. By contrast, no NFL head coach comes anywhere close to that winning percentage. The closest pro football coach to Saban’s numbers, not surprisingly, is Bill Belichick. His career W-L record of 252-120 with the New England Patriots translates into roughly a 68 percent winning percentage. No doubt, Alabama is a great program — one of the best teams in college football history.
Next, let’s examine the W-L records of three very bad NFL franchises, at the moment. We’ll look at the Raiders, Jets, and Browns, each of which appears to be headed towards a last-place finish, this season (2018). Since the Raiders have a 1-8 record, let’s start with them, at the very bottom of most power rankings.
Radio talk shows and online sports forums are often ripe with wild speculation when there’s a bad NFL team that’s really struggling. Some misguided sports fans even claim the worst pro team would have a difficult time beating a top-ranked college football program. I’ve actually heard and read these types of comments many times. The hyperbole goes, the bad pro team is so bad they would lose to the best college team.
Allow me to respond in as polite a fashion as is possible:
This claim is nonsense.
There is no way a college football team, even one as talented as Alabama, would be able to stay on the same playing field as an NFL team. A Canadian Football League team or an Arena Football League team, even though they’re also professionals, might be closer in skill to the college program. That might make for a competitive matchup. But any one of the NFL’s 32 teams is far superior to anything on the college gridiron. The disparity isn’t even close.
Why is there such a vast difference exist between the pro and college ranks? Here are some of the primary reasons:
No college team can match the inherent advantages of even the worst NFL team based on any of the ten parameters listed above. A bad pro team would trounce any one of the greatest college teams in history. And, the score wouldn’t be close. It would be a rout on the level of when a top Division 1 school plays versus a Division II school. Typically, those fiascos are decided by seven or eight touchdowns. They’re pretty much over at kickoff.
So, what would the pointspread be on a game between college and pro teams? To estimate, we must establish a few guidelines. First, let’s agree the pro team will play all-out to win for the full 60 minutes. We presume the NFL team won’t tank, nor rest its starting players. Let’s also agree that both teams are fully healthy. Finally, let’s agree the game is held on a neutral playing site. Given these conditions, what would the pointspreads be?
I’d make the following lines on the Alabama Crimson Tide versus the following NFL teams:
Oakland -34.5 vs. Alabama
NY Jets -34.5 vs. Alabama
Cleveland -36 vs. Alabama
Note that I’d make Cleveland slightly more of a betting favorite than either the Raiders or Jets because the Browns are better than the other two teams (at least at this moment). They also field a better defense that plays with some consistency.
Here’s another hypothetical: What would the pointspread be if Alabama played the NFL’s best team? Let’s include either the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, or New England Patriots in this equation. We might also include the Pittsburgh Steelers. Each of these five pro teams is somewhat similar in talent. Each offense has an explosive offense, scores lots of points, and is guided by an outstanding quarterback. All the coaches are experienced and highly-respected. The defenses might not be as good as some other teams statistically speaking, but each is a serious Super Bowl contender.
Based on these thoughts, I’d post the following lines:
New Orleans -47.5 vs. Alabama
LA Rams -49 vs. Alabama
Kansas City -47 vs. Alabama
New England -44.5 vs. Alabama
Pittsburgh -44 vs. Alabama
The reason I’d make the LA Rams higher than any of the other four top teams against a college opponent is as follows: The Rams feature a solid rushing attack. They also have a better defense. So, Alabama would likely have a tough time scoring many points. Give Rams’ Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips one full week to come up with a game plan, and it’s quite possible his Rams would shut out the Tide, or hold them to a very low score. I’d put Alabama’s team scoring total at 12.5 for the game, which means any of the NFL team would probably score somewhere in the mid-50s.
One interesting historical footnote to the pointspread speculation lies in the old College All-Star Game, which used to be played annually prior to the start of football season. In that game, the defending NFL champion played a charity game against all the top draft picks from college headed to the NFL that year. So, there was some parity in that all players were professionals. The game was played in Chicago between the years 1934-1976. I even remember watching a few games on television during the 1970s.
Interestingly, in the 42 College All-Star Games that were played, the pros won 31 times, the All-Stars won 9 times, and two were ties — giving the collegians a .238 winning percentage. However, it should be noted most NFL teams played backups during the entire game. Even third-stringers with little playing time dominated the college teams. Moreover, athletes weren’t conditioned as well many years ago, as they are today. There probably wasn’t much difference between college and pro players in the 1940s ’50s and ’60s. Those differences are monumental today.
The College All-Star game was discontinued in 1976 because rookie players began making more money and they feared injuries could derail their careers. The game was also played on a horrible astroturf field at the old Soldier Field, which only exacerbated the danger and even likelihood of injuries.
Finally, what would the pointspread be if NFL starters weren’t allowed to play? In other words, what if all the NFL teams had to play their backups? This would certainly change the numbers based on the pro teams’ lack of continuity. The backup units don’t play much together in real-game conditions, aside from a few pre-season opportunities. Some NFL teams have decent backup quarterbacks with experience. Others have backups who haven’t taken a snap since they were in college. There would be several question marks about the continuity and condition of NFL backup units since there’s not much of a track record on their results.
Here are my hypothetical pointspreads on the NFL’s backups and reserves playing against Alabama at full strength.:
Oakland -17.5 vs. Alabama
NY Jets -19 vs. Alabama
Cleveland -20 vs. Alabama
New Orleans -24 vs. Alabama
LA Rams -24 vs. Alabama
Kansas City -24 vs. Alabama
New England -25 vs. Alabama
Pittsburgh -24 vs. Alabama
Finally, to anyone who thinks these numbers are too high, here’s a closing thought. Last Sunday, the New Orleans Saints won a road game at Cincinnati (a team with a winning record) by the score of 51-14. They beat another better-than-average team by a whopping 37 points. This example shows us what would likely happen if they played Alabama. Some games get out of hand when the losing team eventually recognizes they can’t win. So, they quit trying. It becomes so demoralizing getting beat every play that even the best athlete loses faith and surrenders to reality. One presumes the players on Alabama would become so fatigued and despondent, at some point they’d give up. This isn’t a dig at Alabama. It happens in most athletic mismatches. While the opening stage of the game might be close, any pro team would very likely roll up a large number of points in the second half when mental and physical superiority outmatches the weaker opponent.
What do you think? Care to venture a guess on any of these numbers?