Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Dec 2007

Seventh Day Adventure/ FEI Bowl Mash-Up

by Brian Fremeau and Russell Levine

Are you ready for some football? Are you ready for a Big Ten-MAC bowl rematch? How about a game named after a pizza chain's Web site?


The SDA Podcast

Welcome to the landscape of the pre-New Year's weekend bowls. There are a few gems hidden within, but mostly these games just serve as the warm-up act for the better action to come. To help me sort through the carnage this week, I'm joined by Brian Fremeau, creator of the Fremeau Efficiency Index college ratings system that runs each week here on FO.

Brian was kind enough to provide the written portion of this week's preview -- a Herculean task with 15 games to cover -- and to join me on this week's podcast.

Programming Note

My old host having "lost" one of my podcasts, I have upgraded to a new hosting solution. If you subscribed to the SDA podcast via iTunes or your RSS reader, you will need to re-subscribe to the new feed. Just hit the "subscribe" link below the podcast player. A new iTunes link will be provided as soon as I'm back up in the iTunes store.

All of the old content has been moved over to the new host if you want to go back and listen to anything you might have missed.


The FEI Bowl Preview

The number in parentheses for each school is their FEI rating. We also spend some time here discussing length of drives. Long-field drives are those that begin anywhere from a team's own 1-yard line to their own 30; mid-field drives are those that begin anywhere from their own 31 to the opponents' 45; and short-field drives begin anywhere from the opponents' 44 to the end zone.

Poinsettia Bowl (at San Diego)
Utah (No. 36 FEI) (-8) vs. Navy (No. 66), Dec. 20, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Navy's triple-option offense is one of the most efficient in the country, but will face its toughest test of the season against Utah's stifling defense. That unit helped the Utes dominate their opposition in field position this year, a stat that could be the key to this game. Navy almost never punts; converting on fourth down limits game possessions, which is to their advantage, but pinning Utah deep in their territory may be more disruptive since the Utes faced fewer long-field possessions than almost any other team.

New Orleans Bowl
(No. 83) Florida Atlantic (-3) vs. (No. 101) Memphis, Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2

FAU and Memphis notched a grand total of two combined victories over FEI top-75 teams this season, and the winner here won't be adding much to its resume. If the game turns out to be a dogfight, Memphis has a bit more experience, winning several nail-biters and playing nearly 70 percent of its season snaps in games hinging on one possession. FAU's tougher schedule didn't provide any big victories, but the out-of-conference tests probably helped them navigate an improved Sun Belt this year.

Papajohns.com Bowl (at Birmingham, Ala.)
Southern Miss (No. 69) (+11) vs. Cincinnati (No. 11), Dec. 22, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2

One of the biggest mismatches of the bowl season features a Bearcats team that played consistently well against solid conference and non-conference competition, particularly in the early going. Cincinnati played 41 percent of its season possessions with at least a two-score lead, the sixth-best rate in the nation. Southern Miss fared weakly in its only major competition to date, losses to Tennessee and Boise State.

New Mexico Bowl (at Albuquerque, N.M.)
Nevada (No. 87) (+3) vs. New Mexico (No. 65), Dec. 22, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Nevada came up just short against conference foes Hawaii and Boise State, but didn't beat a single team ranked in the FEI Top-90 and lost to No. 119 San Jose State. The Lobos knocked off an underrated Arizona team and won more decisively than the Wolfpack did in games against shared opposition. The key possessions of the game will be Nevada's long-field drives; they were one of the most efficient long-field offenses in the country, while the Lobos were one of the best defenses in those situations.

Las Vegas Bowl
BYU (No. 16) (-6.5) vs. UCLA (No. 23), Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Bruins were one of the most schizophrenic teams all season, at least partly due to a devastating series of injuries suffered on offense. They face BYU, ranked at 17 in the BCS standings, in a rematch, but this game may play out entirely differently than the 10-point UCLA victory back in Week 2. Both teams feature an efficient defense, but the Cougars have been particularly stout in protecting mid- and short-field opponent drives, neither of which are strengths for the Bruin offense.

Hawaii Bowl (at Honolulu)
Boise State (No. 46) (-10.5) vs. East Carolina (No. 73), Dec. 23, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

This isn't last year's Broncos and they probably won't need to execute a halfback-option, hook-and-lateral, statue-of-liberty play to knock off ECU. Here's hoping they give it a shot anyway. BSU's offense has played very well this year, helped tremendously by their excellent field position. The Broncos started nearly 60 percent of their possessions in mid- and short-field position situations, the highest rate in the nation. East Carolina is also used to a shorter field, but has done less with it.

Motor City Bowl (at Detroit)
Purdue (No. 56) (-8.5) vs. Central Michigan (No. 86), Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

As if there aren't enough Big Ten/MAC showdowns throughout the year, this game actually features the Boilermakers and Chippewas in a rematch of a game that Purdue won handily during their strong start to the season. CMU's defense was exposed in a big way all year, particularly against quality competition; the Chippewas gave up a total of 167 points in three games against BCS conference teams. If Purdue is motivated enough, this game should look a lot like the first.

Holiday Bowl (at San Diego)
Arizona State (No. 13) (+2.5) vs. Texas (No. 35), Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Sun Devils struggled in their Thanksgiving spotlight game against USC, but led by a good offense and even better defense, they racked up a very good record in a very good Pac-10. Texas, on the other hand, danced along the precipice of disaster on multiple occasions and very rarely looked like a contender. Arizona State's strength in defending the middle of the field matches up well with an above-average Longhorns offense.

Champs Sports Bowl (at Orlando)
Boston College (No. 19) (-4) vs. Michigan State (No. 27), Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Eagles flirted with a possible BCS championship destiny at one point this season, but dropped off down the stretch. Still, a 2-1 record against Virginia Tech and Clemson trumps the Spartans' top victories. Matt Ryan's one-time Heisman candidacy was built on a rain-soaked comeback victory, but Boston College started strong this year by getting an early lead and holding teams at bay. This one will be competitive if MSU can tip the field position in their favor as they did frequently this season, forcing on average two more long-field drives per game for their opponents than they faced themselves.

Texas Bowl (at Houston)
TCU (No. 49) (-4) vs. Houston (No. 77), Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET, NFL Network

Houston's offense was efficient this year, but not particularly so against quality competition, and their defense struggled to keep opponents under 30 points. TCU's strength is in its defense, though its 1-4 record in one-possession games speaks volumes about the Horned Frogs' disappointing season. TCU played with the third best field position advantage in the country.

Emerald Bowl (at San Francisco)
Maryland (No. 43) (+5.5) vs. Oregon State (No. 21), Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Beavers emerged from a tough Pac-10 conference with a solid record and decent resume, thanks largely to their efficient defense down the stretch. The Terrapins mixed in pretty good wins with some pretty bad losses, winning two straight against FBS competition on only one occasion all season. Maryland opponents faced only seven short-field drives this year, sixth-fewest in the country.

Meineke Car Care Bowl (at Charlotte, N.C.)
Connecticut (No. 32) (+3) vs. Wake Forest (No. 41), Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Demon Deacons emerged out of nowhere last season, and the Huskies played that part well in 2007, sharing the Big East crown. Both teams were humbled by the best competition in their respective conferences, both lost 17-16 to Virginia, and both teams are led by their efficient defenses, so don't expect an East Regional Final score between these hoops-first schools.

Liberty Bowl (at Memphis)
Central Florida (No. 50) (-3) vs. Mississippi State (No. 48), Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

In what promises to be one of the most competitive games of the bowl season, the Bulldogs' tough defense will try to shut down the nation's leading rusher, UCF's Kevin Smith. The competition faced by these two teams couldn't have been more different, nor were the games themselves. Mississippi State nimbly navigated the SEC East, leading by two or more scores in only 10 percent of its possessions (second to last among bowl teams). Central Florida dominated most of its Conference USA season, leading by two or more scores in more than 40 percent of its possessions, seventh most in the nation.

Alamo Bowl (at San Antonio)
Penn State (No. 34) (-5.5) vs. Texas A&M (No. 70), Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Nittany Lions didn't show up against Ohio State, but were competitive in every other game this season; outside of the Buckeye game, Penn State found itself trailing by two scores on only two possessions all year. By contrast, the Aggies were two scores down on 52 possessions, finding themselves on the wrong end of lopsided games against Oklahoma (forgivable), Texas Tech (unforgivable), and Miami (ditto). The A&M team that took down Texas in the season finale can beat Penn State, but for the season, PSU has the edge.

Independence Bowl (at Shreveport, La.)
Alabama (No. 30) (-3.5) vs. Colorado (No. 52), Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Buffaloes took down Oklahoma and lost to Iowa State. The Crimson Tide beat Arkansas and Tennessee and lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Both lost to Florida State. But only Alabama played gamely against elite competition more than once, narrowly losing to SEC studs LSU and Georgia. Colorado is likely happier to be in the game, but will that be enough to boost their thoroughly average offense and defense?


This Week's Picks

(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Brian F. Says Russell Says
Poinsettia Bowl (at San Diego)
Utah -8 Navy Utah Utah
New Orleans Bowl
Florida Atlantic -3 Memphis Florida Atlantic Memphis
Papajohns.com Bowl (at Birmingham, Ala.)
Southern Miss +11 Cincinnati Cincinnati* Cincinnati*
New Mexico Bowl (at Albuquerque, N.M.)
Nevada +3 New Mexico New Mexico Nevada
Las Vegas Bowl
BYU -6.5 UCLA UCLA BYU
Hawaii Bowl
Boise State -10.5 East Carolina Boise State Boise State
Motor City Bowl (at Detroit)
Purdue -8.5 Central Michigan Purdue Purdue
Holiday Bowl (at San Diego)
Arizona State +2.5 Texas Arizona State Arizona State
Champs Sports Bowl (at Orlando)
Boston College -4 Michigan State Boston College Michigan State
Texas Bowl (at Houston)
TCU -4 Houston TCU TCU
Emerald Bowl (at San Francisco)
Maryland +5.5 Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State
Meineke Car Care Bowl (at Charlotte, N.C.)
Connecticut +3 Wake Forest Connecticut Wake Forest
Liberty Bowl (at Memphis)
Central Florida -3 Mississippi State Mississippi State Mississippi State
Alamo Bowl (at San Antonio)
Penn State -5.5 Texas A&M Penn State Texas A&M
Independence Bowl (at Shreveport, La.)
Alabama -3.5 Colorado Alabama Colorado
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
Guest: Orson 4-4-0 (0-1-0)    
Guests Composite     53-54-5 (2-10-1)
Russell 4-4-0 (0-1-0) 51-56-5 (6-6-2)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau and Russell Levine on 20 Dec 2007

42 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2007, 2:13am by lionsbob

Comments

1
by The Broilermaster (not verified) :: Thu, 12/20/2007 - 7:35pm

Maybe only one or two decent match-ups.

Bowls FTL.

2
by Kevin 11 (not verified) :: Thu, 12/20/2007 - 8:55pm

#1- Yeah...right.

What sane person would want to see a week's worth of mostly unique matchups that have less than a TD spread?

Bring on the bowls. It's the most wonderful week of the year.

3
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 12/20/2007 - 9:15pm

Anyone interested in doing a college fantasy league for the bowl games? I'm not quite sure how it would work, but it probably be more like Loser League (with everyone able to take the same players) rather than a typical draft.

4
by Rocco (not verified) :: Thu, 12/20/2007 - 9:36pm

Hmm, after a year of playing the fight song of the guest, Russ skips that part for a ND grad. All a coincidence, I'm sure. :)

Agree on the awesomeness of the Lou Holtz pep talks.

5
by mm (not verified) :: Thu, 12/20/2007 - 10:03pm

one correction--Mississippi State plays in the SEC West, not the East

6
by Russell Levine :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 12:06am

Rocco: I was wondering if someone would catch that.

I left it out because I had to re-do the entire thing once, it was past 1 a.m., and I was falling asleep .....

AND because it was the ND fight song.

7
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 12:43am

Am I to assume this is to be the open thread for said bowl games as well?

After having an atrocious D all season navy has held Utah to just 7 in the first half and has the lead. And then there was a bizarre shot of the officials explaining...something to the new Navy coach.

I'm pumped for the New Orleans Bowl because I live near Memphis and FAU is my mom's alma mater but I can see where nobody else would be. I don't know if I'll be watching any of the other bowls this week or not.

8
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 1:11am

NAVT TD!!! Up 17-7 now.

I am openly rooting against Utah thanks to their shenanigans against Wyoming BTW.

9
by perplexed (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 1:20am

What happened to Appalachian State....?

10
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 1:21am

The Navy D is playing orders of magnitude better than it did in the regular season BTW. They allowed 36.5 points per game. Tonight? Seven so far in the 3rd.

11
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 2:45am

And of course as soon as I type that they promptly give up 4 TDs to Utah in a quarter and a half and lose 35-32 when they recover an onsides kick with 55 seconds left and STUPIDLY try to pass when in college they had almost an eternity and only needed a FG to tie. BLEH!!! Classless Utah survives :(

Seriously, they have the ball, already in Utah territory, down only 3, WITH timeouts, clock stops on a first down, the most run heavy team in the nation, and they pass twice and get picked off. Ridiculous.

12
by Jorge (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 3:36am

Did Navy have any timeouts left? 55 seconds is an eternity if you pass (pretty easy to either get an incomplete, sideline completion and step out of bounds, or deep pass down the middle for a first down)...running the ball is pretty much guaranteed to eat up at least 20 seconds if you don't get a first down or out of bounds.

13
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 12/21/2007 - 3:41am

They had one timeout left and could not gain 10 yards on 4 plays before the TD pass and onside kick. Utah was killing the run game in the 2nd half

14
by Russell Levine :: Sat, 12/22/2007 - 6:42pm

Hey, that's a tidy 0-3 start to my bowl picks. Awesome!

15
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/22/2007 - 9:38pm

I'm assuming Russell was picking against the spread, because he's 2-2 straight up so far (I'm assuming Nevada loses).

16
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Sat, 12/22/2007 - 11:17pm

I thought they blew the call on that fumble in the Utah-Navy game. Pylon = end zone = touchback. oh well.

I can't wait for Purdue to sleepwalk against Central Michigan. There's still time for a couple more troublemakers to get themselves kicked off the team.

ugh. At least the men's basketball team is playing well ... er, I mean the women's team ... um ... go Red Wings!

17
by Rocco (not verified) :: Sat, 12/22/2007 - 11:40pm

BYU just showed why you take a knee to end the half. Instead they tried to run, resulting in a fumble inside their own 10. UCLA scores a TD.

18
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Sun, 12/23/2007 - 12:39am

I went to the Papajohns.com Bowl, it was as fun as you think it would be.

19
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sun, 12/23/2007 - 5:45am

Re: 17
Amazing, wasn't it?! BYU wasn't going to score within 17 seconds, heck they had a silly run play called... the game is 17-6 at that point and most likely over. Instead UCLA nearly pulls out the upset...

20
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 2:05am

Did anyone else see the 4th quarter of Boise-ECU? Unbelievable, even by this year's college football standards. ECU pulls a Joe Pisarcik--and goes on to WIN.

21
by Brian Fremeau :: Mon, 12/24/2007 - 1:14pm

Boise State also had a 1st half 50-yard Hail Mary pass fall right into and out of its receiver's hands, and a perfectly executed onside kick in the 3rd quarter ruled as illegal touching - it wasn't reviewed and it might have been illegal, but there was no one within ten yards of the BSU player who recovered it.

22
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Wed, 12/26/2007 - 5:23pm

This thread died before it had a chance to get started. If I'm reading the above picks correctly (and remembering the scores), I think Russell is 0-6 going into tonight's MAC-Big Ten clash.

23
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 12:07am

He is 3-3 going into the tonights game (and soon to be 4-3 I would assume)

24
by Russell Levine :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 4:20am

Nope, that's an actual 0-7 record ATS. Like Ohio State last year, I blame the layoff.

Seriously, do you know how hard it is to go 0-7, especially in games like this where I was essentially making random guesses? Or to go 0-7 because four teams you picked won, but didn't cover?

As if I needed any more evidence, this is why I don't gamble!

25
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2007 - 11:19pm

Oh my.

Arizona State is getting destroyed. Their QB makes a terrible, awful, backwards pass, to nobody, with half the Texas players running to recover it.

The ball bounces near the sideline, and there are 8 members of the Texas sideline on the field near it. One of them reaches out and it's hard to tell, but not sure whether or not someone touches it (I don't think they did, but regardless, members of a coaching staff are not allowed on the field of play when the ball is live).

Texas recovers, but now you have the oddity of a member of the Texas coaching staff "touching" the ball - the referees call a penalty against Texas for unsportsmanlike conduct, reverse the recovery, and give ASU the ball half the distance from the previous spot, first down. Then they remove the first down, and make it 4th down.

Why was it still 4th down? I would think a penalty of that type should be automatic first down - ASU scored a touchdown on the next play so it's moot, but wow.

26
by Rocco (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 12:34am

And unless Arizona State pulls off the comeback, Russell is staring at 0-8. Quite an impressive squadoosh for Mr. Levine. That's what you get for disrespecting ND and not playing their fight song on the podcast.

27
by Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 12:54am

I realize this thread is dead, but I'm watching the Holiday Bowl and Bobby Carpenter, ASU's QB, is just TERRIBLE. He's inaccurate, he makes hideous decisions and he doesn't protect the ball.

28
by ChrisA (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 2:09pm

I think Russell decided to go winless on purpose as a tribute to his beloved Buccaneers' 1976 team. Once he is 0-14 after the Alamo Bowl I am sure he will return to his (roughly) break even ways.

29
by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 3:47pm

RE: 26

Yep. Russell is 0-8 and Brian is 3-5 through the first 8 games.

30
by Sid (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 3:49pm

RE: 27

Bobby Carpenter is the former Ohio State LB currently on the Dallas Cowboys. Rudy Carpenter plays QB for the Sun Devils. ;)

31
by Rocco (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 7:16pm

Russell's off to a good start so far- MSU is up 7-0 and actually looks like they care. The Spartans are reliable, right? right?

32
by Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 10:34pm

Why have punt returners abanonded the rule that says you should never catch a punt inside the 10? MSU just muffed a punt on the 4 that would have easily rolled into the endzone.

33
by Russell Levine :: Fri, 12/28/2007 - 11:47pm

And the Spartans get me off the schneid!

Love the '76 Bucs tribute idea. I should have thought of that excuse.

34
by Rocco (not verified) :: Sat, 12/29/2007 - 12:03am

I imagine that's a good outcome for Russ- the Spartans cover, but don't win. That way the MSU crowd can't give him grief should his Wolverines get their brains beaten in by Florida. :) I was sorta hoping Russ would still be winless by New Year's Eve- I like drama.

I haven't seen a lot of MD or Oregon State- are they usually this sloppy on offense? Turnovers galore.

35
by Russell Levine :: Sat, 12/29/2007 - 6:27pm

Don't call it a comeback ... at least not yet ... but that's four in a row.

36
by Rocco (not verified) :: Sat, 12/29/2007 - 6:44pm

Russ:

If this were baseball, your .333 average would look mighty good. Since it's football, can we call you the Mike Teel of CFB picks?

37
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/30/2007 - 2:05am

Despite Anthony Morelli being, well, Anthony Morelli, the Lions pull it out. Very odd that the two best drives the Aggies had all game both started at the one yard line. That 4th and 1 on the 1 1/2 was just plain weird. PSU defensive line is sagging, you have this fat guy you dress up as a running back, and you sprint wide?? Against THOSE linebackers?

They did let them play tonight calling only the most blatant of fouls. Though the punter getting knocked over should have been called against A&M. The guy wasn't blocked into the kicker. He just plain ran into him.

So far, the Big 10 hasn't embarrassed itself. If Purdue doesn't hand the ball over several times that game is a blowout and if MSU hadn't turned it over every other series the Spartans could/should have won their game.

38
by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 12/30/2007 - 2:35am

I think I just saw a college football game between Penn State and Texas A&M. I'm not sure, though, considering they kept flashing the scores between some teams called the "Patriots" and "Giants," though.

Why the hell did they wait until the bowl game to unveil the Daryll Clark option offense? That freaking ruled. Apparently the coaching staff can really coach an option offense.

Paterno's now one game behind Bowden, and with a huge percentage of the team suspended for the bowl game, I think there's actually a good chance Paterno might overtake Bowden next year. Wow, I never thought that would happen.

Heck, I don't know what the NCAA is going to do regarding the Florida State coaching scandal. Don't teams who've been found to have been using ineligible players (even if they didn't know they were ineligible) have their records stripped? So since that's true for virtually every game this season for Bowden/Florida State, shouldn't they get yanked?

Not being spiteful, just curious.

39
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Sun, 12/30/2007 - 3:10am

Good lord that Penn State-Texas A&M game lasted forever. A NFL game that started about 20 minutes later was almost done a half hour before it. at least it was kind of fun to watch.

Mississippi State is still a terrible offense with a great defense-winning ugly is still a win.

40
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/30/2007 - 4:44am

People are still posting here? Wow.

After those 51-48 and 41-38 games it was refreshing to see a bowl game winner score less than 30 for a change. But the Liberty Bowl was still a bit absurd. Something tells me Croom would love his team to win every game 10-3.

Seriously, if Croom thinks the Bulldogs are getting to another bowl next season with no improvement on offense he's delusional.

41
by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 12/30/2007 - 5:17am

#39: Bowl game halftimes are 35-45 minutes. NFL games are only 15.

Wouldn't seem so long if they would actually show more of the halftime show on television.

Oh, wait. I meant any.

42
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 12/31/2007 - 2:13am

Alabama re-enacted its season in one tonight, but held on to the win. I could produce a 3 page essay on the team, but will wait for that.