Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
20 Dec 2007
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?
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
|(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")|
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Brian F. Says||Russell Says|
|Poinsettia Bowl (at San Diego)|
|New Orleans Bowl|
|Florida Atlantic||-3||Memphis||Florida Atlantic||Memphis|
|Papajohns.com Bowl (at Birmingham, Ala.)|
|New Mexico Bowl (at Albuquerque, N.M.)|
|Nevada||+3||New Mexico||New Mexico||Nevada|
|Las Vegas Bowl|
|Boise State||-10.5||East Carolina||Boise State||Boise State|
|Motor City Bowl (at Detroit)|
|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)|
|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.)|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
42 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2007, 2:13am by lionsbob