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?
31 Dec 2007
by Russell Levine and Brian Fremeau
Since our first effort having worked so well -- if you don't count my picks, that is -- Brian Fremeau was kind enough to join me for another round of bowl previews on this week's podcast. He has also once again provided the written portion of the preview.
This week, we cover every remaining bowl game until the January 7 BCS national championship, which will receive its own preview next Monday.
The Seventh Day Adventure Podcast is once again listed in the iTunes store (although the old version is still listed until I can get them to pull it down). Click on the iTunes logo at right to re-subscribe that way.
This game features two teams that finished the regular season headed in entirely opposite directions, with the Bears dropping six of their last seven games and the Falcons winning six of their last seven. As demoralizing as the accumulated losses may have been for California, they were always competitive -- Cal was one of only six teams this season that never fell behind by more than two competitive possessions in any game (Ohio State, LSU, USC, Florida and Alabama were the others).
Opposing strengths clash in this contest -- Georgia Tech gave up more than 30 points once all season (31 to Georgia), and Fresno State scored more than 30 points in eight different games. A big reason for the Yellow Jackets' success this season defensively was forcing 97 opponent possessions (72 percent) to begin inside their own 30-yard line, the second highest rate in the nation. The Bulldogs were relatively efficient in long-field situations this year, but only faced such field position 60 times in 11 games.
The Sun Bowl probably isn't high on the list of most anticipated and publicized bowl games this year, but maybe it should be. It is the only game that features two teams that defeated an FEI Top-10 opponent, and the teams have as many combined FEI Top-20 wins (four) as does the BCS championship game. Both teams enjoyed a healthy field position advantage this season, USF particularly so, starting a nation-leading 26 possessions in short-field situations.
Neither of these teams escaped conference play with impressive resumes, though Kentucky's wins over LSU and Arkansas and a tougher SEC slate trumps Florida State's admirable out-of-conference schedule. With 37 players not eligible for the Seminoles, it is unclear what FSU may be capable of in this game. With its roster intact, it is unclear as to which Wildcats team will show up either, the one that took down No. 1 LSU or the one that lost by multiple possessions to South Carolina and Mississippi State.
Between these two teams there aren't many wins to praise, and the mix of losses includes heartbreakers and throttling defeats. Oklahoma State is the more explosive team offensively, but also turned in a fair share of implosions defensively. Indiana, meanwhile, is about as average as it gets, both offensively and defensively, in pretty much every drive efficiency category.
Clemson was one of only five teams this season to finish the regular season with a Top-20 unadjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, but they blew big-game opportunities against Virginia Tech and Boston College and have fallen into relative obscurity. Auburn passed one of its big-game tests on the foot of its kicker against Florida, but suffered a big loss to Georgia late in the year. They know close games better than any other team in the nation, playing 81 percent of their snaps in one-possession games.
The Volunteers turned in one of the strongest efforts of the 2007 season in their crushing defeat of Georgia in Week 6, but clunkers against Florida and Alabama tarnished that victory. The Badgers tallied a decent overall record, but flirted with disaster against two lousy teams in UNLV and Minnesota. Expect this game to be played mostly in Wisconsin territory -- Tennessee began less than 50 percent of its possessions in long fields, as did Wisconsin's opponents.
The Tigers like to spread the field and distribute the ball. The Razorbacks are at their best keeping it in Darren McFadden's hands as much as possible. Both teams scored often this year and only the Fiesta Bowl features two more efficient offenses than this game. If the teams swapped schedules, they likely would have swapped records as well -- Missouri racked up its record in the weaker Big 12 but twice failed to measure up to Oklahoma, and Arkansas won a thriller over LSU but came up short against the rest of the top teams in the SEC.
The Lloyd Carr farewell tour reaches its inevitable Orlando finale to face an offense specifically tailored to spread and shred the Wolverines. Florida is the best team not playing in a BCS game, and led by Heisman winner Tim Tebow, the Gators offense scores more efficiently than any other team in the nation. If Michigan can extend the Florida field through good special teams play, they can contend -- the Wolverines defense is one of the best at protecting a long field and helped set up short fields on 17 percent of Michigan's own possessions, the fourth best rate in the country.
The Red Raiders played with a two-score lead in 38 percent of their season possessions and a two-score deficit in 19 percent of its snaps. Virginia, on the other hand, kept nearly every game close, playing nearly 70 percent of its possessions in single-score games and winning seven games by a touchdown or less. If the high-flying Red Raider offense is on, watch out. When it's off (e.g., 10 points in 12 drives against Missouri), Texas Tech is nothing special.
The Trojans were playing like one of the absolute best teams in the country down the stretch this season, earning that reputation mostly on the strength of its Thanksgiving demolition of Arizona State. Of course, Texas, certainly not an elite team, accomplished the same feat and wound up in the Holiday Bowl, which somewhat weakens USC's resume. The Illini hang their hat on their Week 11 win over Ohio State, a game in which the Buckeyes were limited to only three second-half possessions. If the Illinois spread offense can move the ball against USC like the Oregon version did, this game can be very close.
There is no comparison between the resumes of these teams, making this one of the most anticipated games of the bowl season. The Warriors are undefeated, but Georgia is the best team they have played, by far, and have defeated five teams ranked higher than Hawaii. Hawaii trailed its opponents in 25 percent of its season possessions, but even with their backs against a wall, they can score from anywhere. In fact, they may be at their best with their backs against a wall; Hawaii led the nation in long-field offensive efficiency. Bizarrely, they were more efficient in long-field situations than in middle- and short-field scenarios.
The Mountaineers haven't exactly had the best month of December, losing a spot in the national championship game, their coach, and all of the respect they had earned in their throttling of East Carolina, Mississippi State, Connecticut and wins over three other Big East bowl teams. Oklahoma's last flub was in mid-November, but they were able to re-establish themselves in the Big 12 championship game. Both teams are two scores away from being undefeated and both played excellent offensively and defensively through much of the year. Will both be motivated?
How bad was the Jayhawks' schedule this year? Hawaii defeated two more FEI Top-50 teams than Kansas did. Then again, Kansas really never played poorly, turning in consistent victories against underwhelming opposition all season long. Virginia Tech failed miserably against top-ranked LSU in Week 2, but played most of their best football down the stretch. And even with the lopsided LSU score, the Hokies had the third stingiest defense in the nation, though that unit that will be tested by Kansas' prolific offense. The teams also combined for nine defensive and special teams scores this season.
Ball State tallied one of the best field position advantages in the country this year, and it was probably a good thing, too, since they were one of the worst defenses in the nation protecting middle and short fields. Rutgers' best win came narrowly against South Florida, but against common opponents Rutgers beat down both Navy and Buffalo in more impressive fashion than did Ball State.
Bowling Green played only two games against FEI Top-75 teams, lost to No. 93 and No. 96, and became bowl eligible on the strength of six wins against the FEI bottom 20. Tulsa's wins weren't much more impressive with the notable exception of a Week 3 victory over No. 16 BYU. Controlling the pace of the game will be important for both teams -- Tulsa played nearly 100 more possessions in its games this season than did Bowling Green.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Brian F. Says||Russell Says|
|Armed Forces Bowl (at Fort Worth, Texas)|
|Humanitarian Bowl (at Boise, Idaho)|
|Georgia Tech||-6||Fresno State||Georgia Tech||Fresno State|
|Sun Bowl (at El Paso, Texas)|
|Music City Bowl (at Nashville)|
|Kentucky||-10||Florida State||Florida State||Florida State|
|Insight Bowl (at Tempe, Ariz.)|
|Chick-fil-A Bowl (at Atlanta)|
|Outback Bowl (at Tampa)|
|Cotton Bowl (at Dallas)|
|Capital One Bowl (at Orlando)|
|Gator Bowl (at Jacksonville, Fla.)|
|Rose Bowl (at Pasadena, Calif.)|
|Sugar Bowl (at New Orleans)|
|Fiesta Bowl (at Glendale, Ariz.)|
|West Virginia||+7.5||Oklahoma||West Virginia||Oklahoma|
|Orange Bowl (at Miami)|
|Kansas||+3.5||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech*|
|International Bowl (at Toronto)|
|GMAC Bowl (at Mobile, Ala.)|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
|Guest: Brian F.||8-7-0||(0-1-0)|
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