Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Dec 2014

2014-2015 SDA Bowl Spectacular Part II

by Chad Peltier

The post-Christmas bowl games offer an exciting group of interesting matchups, many of them between ranked teams that fall near each other in the F/+ tables. Nebraska-USC, Georgia-Louisville, Oklahoma-Clemson, and Notre Dame-LSU are the headline games for the rest of 2014, but there are plenty of other quality contests to tide you over until New Year's Day.

This is also a notable chance for the Big Ten to earn some respect. Every single Big Ten team that made it to bowl season is an underdog, but Rutgers, Nebraska, and Maryland all have a shot at the upset according to the F/+ projections. Can the Big Ten storm back after a dismal start to the bowl season?

We're actually getting this up a little late, with the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl in the fourth quarter as we were going to press. Sorry about the delay. For the record, The F/+ outright pick was a Louisiana Tech win.

Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers (+3.5) vs. North Carolina -- 4:30 p.m. Friday December 26 (ESPN)

The Scarlet Knights and Tar Heels have similar records (7-5 and 6-6) and almost identical F/+ rankings (73rd and 74th), but there's a decidedly different mood surrounding each program heading in to the Quick Lane Bowl. The Tar Heels have somewhat underachieved; despite upsets over both Duke and Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels also allowed 70 points to East Carolina and lost to North Carolina State in the final game of the season. Meanwhile, Rutgers entered its first season in the Big Ten with little to no expectations, but managed to upset Michigan and win its final game over new rival Maryland.

Overall Rutgers North Carolina
Record 7-5 6-6
Overall F/+ 73 74
Field Position Advantage 105 37
Offensive F/+ 60 29
Defensive F/+ 78 108
When Rutgers has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 46 105
FEI 67 111
Rushing S&P+ 56 86
Passing S&P+ 10 102
When North Carolina has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 90 53
FEI 77 16
Rushing S&P+ 83 35
Passing S&P+ 90 29

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams is the primary star for the Tar Heels, guiding the offense (and Passing S&P+) to a top-30 ranking -- right in line with preseason projections. Williams should find plenty of opportunities to either run or pass against a porous Rutgers defense that is one of the country's worst teams (122nd) at defending explosive plays. Williams is also an effective runner, leading the team with 737 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, and the 17th-best (for quarterbacks) 5.4 Highlight Yards per Opportunity. North Carolina also has an underrated but top-30 offensive line in terms of Adjusted Sack Rate, likely giving Williams plenty of time to find receivers Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins.

The Scarlet Knights have largely risen and fallen with quarterback Gary Nova's play this season. When Nova is on his game -- like when he threw for 404 yards against Michigan -- the Scarlet Knights can be extremely explosive, but he can also be prone to turnover-fests like his five-interception game against Penn State. Of course, 39 percent of Nova's passing yards went to receiver Leonte Carroo, who averaged 11.6 yards per target and received 28 percent of the team's overall targets. Carroo, second in the Big Ten in receiving, was also ninth in the country in terms of RYPR, the Football Outsiders measure of a receivers' importance to his team. North Carolina's challenge will be in disrupting Nova, forcing turnovers, and limiting Carroo. The Rutgers' 27th-ranked offensive line in Adjusted Sack Rate gives the Scarlet Knights some insurance there, while North Carolina is ranked just 91st in Havoc Rate, so it's tough to really predict a bad game from Nova.

Outright F/+ Pick: Rutgers

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State (+2.5) vs. Central Florida -- 8 p.m. Friday December 26 (ESPN)

Overall NC State Central Florida
Record 7-5 9-3
Overall F/+ 49 52
Field Position Advantage 77 58
Offensive F/+ 40 68
Defensive F/+ 70 35
When NC State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 31 37
FEI 41 35
Rushing S&P+ 9 73
Passing S&P+ 58 73
When Central Florida has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 72 64 td>
FEI 69 71
Rushing S&P+ 98 82
Passing S&P+ 62 44

Once again, a bowl game features two teams sitting within five spots of each other in the F/+ rankings, in 49th North Carolina State and 52nd Central Florida. The Wolfpack are one of the most efficient rushing teams in the country, while the Knights have found Blake Bortles' successor in quarterback Justin Holman.

Central Florida's main strength is their defense, where they rank eighth in scoring defense in the country. Interestingly, their Rushing and Passing S&P+ rankings are much lower than their Defensive F/+, S&P+, or FEI overall rankings -- the defense's Success Rate, IsoPPP, and Havoc Rate are all top top-25, and they are ranked in the top ten of five of the eight FEI metrics.

The Wolfpack offense is ranked in the top ten for Rushing S&P+, led by the triple-headed-monster of Jacoby Brissett, Shadrach Thornton, and Matt Dayes. Thornton isn't necessarily the most explosive back, but is one of the most efficient runners in the country, ranking seventh in overall Opportunity Rate. Brissett's Opportunity Rate is even higher at nearly 61 percent, ranking fourth among quarterbacks in that category. Of course, the high Opportunity Rate for both is built on the offensive line, which is a top-ten run blocking offense (third in overall Opportunity Rate and ninth in Adjusted Line Yards). Central Florida's defensive line is ranked 32nd in Adjusted Line Yards and 23rd in Havoc Rate as well, so whoever wins the battle in the trenches while the Wolfpack are on offense has a good shot to win the game.

The Wolfpack defense is worse than average in most categories, but they seem to be a highly variable defense, ranking in the top 20 in First Down Rate (nearly 42 percent of opponent drives end in a three-and-out), but are second-worst in Methodical Drives. The Wolfpack tend to either force a three-and-out or allow a touchdown. The Knights don't need to be explosive -- and they're not built to be -- but they do need to stay on the field long enough to give their defense a rest.

Outright F/+ Pick: North Carolina State

Military Bowl: Cincinnati (-2.5) vs. Virginia Tech -- 1 p.m. Saturday December 27 (ESPN)

Overall Cincinnati Virginia Tech
Record 9-3 6-6
Overall F/+ 46 32
Field Position Advantage 75 97
Offensive F/+ 25 91
Defensive F/+ 88 4
When Cincinnati has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 26 10
FEI 25 2
Rushing S&P+ 47 13
Passing S&P+ 14 2
When Virginia Tech has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 69 89
FEI 97 91
Rushing S&P+ 92 104
Passing S&P+ 82 82

The Military Bowl features one of the top overall matchups of bowl season: Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel against the second-ranked Hokies passing defense. It was a disappointing season overall for the Hokies, who limped to a 6-6 record after their stunning upset win over Ohio State in Week 2. Cincinnati seeks their tenth win of the season, but if you are predicting the Military Bowl based on performance versus common opponents, then the Hokies have the edge: Cincinnati lost 50-28 to the explosive Buckeyes.

The Hokies offense rests on inconsistent Michael Brewer because of the lack of a Hokies run game. As good as the Hokies defense vs. Bearcats offense matchup looks to be, the opposite matchup features units ranked 88th and 91st in Defensive and Offensive F/+. Without a complementary running game, the offense's production rests on Brewer, who oscillated between a 13-of-20, 80-yard passing performance against Miami and a 31-of-48, 345-yard game with no interceptions against Boston College.

But the real draw is when the Bearcats offense takes the field. Kiel has been prolific and has three receivers -- Mekale McKay, Shaq Washington, and Chris Moore -- who rank in the top 100 for college receivers in RYPR. The Bearcats pass early and often on offense, passing on 47 percent of standard downs and ranking 118th in Passing Downs Run Percentage. The Hokies pass defense is second in the country, forcing three-and-outs on 45 percent of opponent drives and playing the second-most difficult schedule in the country. Bud Foster's unit is built on an aggressive secondary that is fifth in DB Havoc and red zone success, where they only allow touchdowns on 44 percent of opponent opportunities. Of course, the defensive line is no slouch either, ranking seventh in Adjusted Line Yards and first in Adjusted Sack Rate. However, the one weak spot for the Hokies is that they are susceptible to big plays. Ranking 101st in Defensive IsoPPP, the Hokies will have to handle Kiel and his big play receivers.

Outright F/+ Pick: Virginia Tech

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (-7.5) vs. Duke -- 2 p.m. Saturday December 27 (CBS)

Overall Duke Arizona State
Record 9-3 9-3
Overall F/+ 28 26
Field Position Advantage 10 21
Offensive F/+ 47 35
Defensive F/+ 44 29
When Duke has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 58 32
FEI 42 24
Rushing S&P+ 42 53
Passing S&P+ 80 32
When Arizona State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 67 45
FEI 27 24
Rushing S&P+ 109 77
Passing S&P+ 64 37

The Hyundai Sun Bowl selected two teams that are similar in a lot of ways: two groups of Devils that ended the season 9-3 and closely ranked in the mid-20s in the overall F/+ regular season rankings. The Military Bowl is also the only bowl game to feature two top-25 Field Position Advantage teams. Arizona ended the season with a loss to rival Arizona despite recording a big early-season win over Southern Cal. Duke ended the season with a loss to rival North Carolina despite recording a big early-season win over Georgia Tech. The only major difference is that the two teams are on opposite coasts.

Despite the similarities, the Sun Devils have the narrow edge in most statistical categories, especially on defense. The Blue Devils run a fairly pass-heavy offense despite ranking 80th in Passing S&P+, and that plays right in to the Sun Devils' hands. However, the Sun Devils will need to worry about receiver Jamison Crowder, who is on the hunt for a few ACC and school receiving records in his final game. Crowder is rated as the 43rd most important receiver to his team according to RYPR, catching 60 percent of targets and averaging more than 12 yards per reception.

Crowder's Sun Devils counterpart is receiver Jaelen Strong, who ranks 19th on the RYPR top 100. Strong has a lower catch rate (54 percent), but has an even higher Target Rate (more than one-third of all passes) and average yards per reception (14.2). Unlike the Blue Devils, the Sun Devils have a second skill-position star in running back D.J. Foster, who not only ranks 47th in Running Back Opportunity Rate, but is almost a deadlier receiving threat out of the backfield. Foster is second in running back RYPR, with 59 catches for 646 total yards (averaging nearly 11 yards per catch and five receptions per game). In fact, the Sun Devils run game is lacking at 77th seemingly due to an offensive line that is 82nd in Adjusted Line Yards and 117th in Adjusted Sack Rate. The Sun Devils pass on 46 percent of standard downs, so Strong, Foster, and sophomore receiver Cameron Smith should see plenty of targets, but this may be one instance where Foster gets more than his typical 15 carries: the Duke defensive line is 123rd in Adjusted Line Yards, while the run defense is a lacking 109th.

Outright F/+ Pick: Arizona State

Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami (-3.5) vs. South Carolina -- 3:30 p.m. Saturday December 27 (ESPN)

Overall Miami South Carolina
Record 6-6 6-6
Overall F/+ 24 56
Field Position Advantage 99 76
Offensive F/+ 17 9
Defensive F/+ 34 117
When Miami has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 28 100
FEI 17 124
Rushing S&P+ 55 117
Passing S&P+ 19 85
When South Carolina has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 27 25
FEI 38 6
Rushing S&P+ 34 15
Passing S&P+ 7 21

It has been a tough year for both of these storied programs. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks were maybe the most underperforming team in the country this year, with preseason projections of an SEC East title, but the Gamecocks were lucky to become bowl eligible after ugly losses to Texas A&M, Clemson, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Miami also limped to a 6-6 record, including a three-game losing streak to ACC opponents despite a slew of outstanding individual players. Miami's freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya established himself as the quarterback of the future, while running back Duke Johnson put together a 1,520-yard season in his first completely-healthy year of eligibility. The Duck Commander Independence Bowl is a fight for a winning record and some semblance of momentum after two disappointing seasons.

Miami has the upper hand in almost every offensive metric. While the Hurricanes and Gamecocks both sport top-25 F/+ offenses, the Gamecocks defense reached abysmal levels (13th in total defense in the SEC) after losing Jadeveon Clowney to the NFL. The Gamecocks defense struggled to get off the field (fourth to last in Defensive FEI), were also bad on a per-play basis (118th in Success Rate), and were unable to pressure opposing quarterbacks or create negative plays (123rd in Havoc Rate). Whether the Hurricanes lean more on Johnson or Kaaya, they certainly have the skill players to exploit a weak Gamecocks defense.

However, the Gamecocks defense is potent as well, particularly in drive efficiency and Rushing S&P+. The Gamecocks use running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds fairly evenly (though Davis is the 35th-ranked running back in Opportunity Rate), and quarterback Dylan Thompson has had a prolific senior season, passing for 3,280 yards and 7.9 yards per attempt. The Hurricanes are best equipped to stop wide receiver Pharaoh Cooper and the explosive passing game, ranking seventh in Passing S&P+ and 13th in IsoPPP. The Gamecocks defense likely has a worse chance of getting the occasional stop than the Hurricanes defense, so the burden will lie on Thompson and Cooper to turn the Independence Bowl into a shootout (which would be fitting for the Duck Commander Bowl, I guess).

Outright F/+ Pick: Miami

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (-2.5) vs. Penn State -- 4:30 p.m. Saturday December 27 (ESPN)

Overall Boston College Penn State
Record 7-5 6-6
Overall F/+ 29 54
Field Position Advantage 60 92
Offensive F/+ 22 104
Defensive F/+ 45 10
When Boston College has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 33 15
FEI 18 9
Rushing S&P+ 25 3
Passing S&P+ 32 9
When Penn State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 36 91
FEI 46 106
Rushing S&P+ 32 106
Passing S&P+ 41 83

The Nittany Lions return to a bowl game for the first time since their 2012 suspension and now fight for a winning record against a Boston College team that is not only top-30 in the F/+ rankings, but lost by a combined ten points to Clemson, Florida State, and Colorado State. The strength of the team was undoubtedly in the quarterback run game, where Florida quarterback transfer Tyler Murphy led the team with 1,079 rushing yards and the 25th-ranked Rushing S&P+ offense. Penn State's offense, on the other hand, took a nosedive after former head coach Bill O'Brien left for the NFL, plummeting to 104th overall. Gifted quarterback Christian Hackenberg still has all of the athletic ability shown in his freshman year, but looked disjointed running James Franklin's new offense. With both defenses likely having the upper hand, look for a low-scoring New Era Pinstripe Bowl this year.

The draw for the Pinstripe Bowl will be whether Tyler Murphy and running back Jon Hilliman can still run on the third-best rushing defense in the country. Penn State held Ohio State's J.T. Barrett to just 3.8 yards per carry and 74 yards passing, so they certainly are built to defend running quarterbacks. The Nittany Lions play excellent bend-but-don't-break defense (12th in opponent red zone touchdown percentage), limiting explosive plays (third in IsoPPP) and creating negative plays with their front seven (third in Havoc Rate). Boston College will lean on its offensive line, which is effective run blocking, but is a liability in pass protection (113th in Adjusted Sack Rate). With Penn State's front seven and their consistent pressure, that looks like a matchup favoring the Nittany Lions. That is especially true if Penn State decides to sell out against the run to make the Eagles one-dimensional. Tyler Murphy had nearly as many rushing yards (1,079) as passing yards (1,526) and almost threw as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (11).

The Eagles are certainly stronger on offense than they are on defense, but their defense is still a top-50 unit as well -- and Penn State's offense would have needed a complete bowl-prep facelift to not resemble the 104th-ranked squad from the regular season. Penn State's woes start on the line, where they rank 115th in Adjusted Line Yards and 108th in Adjusted Sack Rate. The Boston College front seven isn't particularly known for its ability to make negative plays (41st in Havoc Rate), but there is nonetheless a large margin between the Nittany Lions and Eagles.

Outright F/+ Pick: Boston College

National University Holiday Bowl: Nebraska (+7) vs. USC -- 8 p.m. Saturday December 27 (ESPN)

Overall Nebraska USC
Record 9-3 8-4
Overall F/+ 27 22
Field Position Advantage 6 32
Offensive F/+ 39 28
Defensive F/+ 41 28
When Nebraska has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 29 34
FEI 30 22
Rushing S&P+ 21 57
Passing S&P+ 34 29
When USC has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 41 49
FEI 39 28
Rushing S&P+ 84 84
Passing S&P+ 17 43

The National University Holiday Bowl has one of the more interesting matchups this season between top-30 F/+ teams and traditional powerhouses Nebraska and Southern Cal. Each team has had its share of highs and lows this season -- Nebraska taking down Miami, USC knocking off Stanford, Arizona, and Notre Dame -- but the teams enter bowl season in radically different places. For Nebraska, the hope is to start the rebuilding process off on the right foot as Mike Riley comes in to replace Bo Pelini. Late-season losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin are fresh in the Huskers' minds, so a bowl win would help change the program's momentum. USC may have lost to UCLA on November 22, but head coach Steve Sarkisian's first year was a success: the Trojans lost three games by less than a touchdown.

Both teams are all about star power. For Nebraska, it's running back Ameer Abdullah, who is ranked 19th in Opportunity Rate (44.1 percent) and 15th in Highlight Yards per Opportunity (7.1). The senior ran for more than 200 yards four times this season and had his best yards per carry average (6.4) of his career.

For USC, quarterback Cody Kessler quietly threw for 3,505 yards while only throwing four interceptions, giving him one of the best pass-to-interception ratios in the country. Kessler distributed the ball to a mix of young and veteran talent, including receivers Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith and running back Buck Allen.

The Trojans have plenty of skill-position talent, but NCAA sanctions have limited USC's depth, particularly in the trenches. The Trojans rank just 60th in Adjusted Line Yards and 50th in Adjusted Sack Rate along the offensive line, and 113th in Adjusted Sack Rate along the defensive line. That's despite future first-rounder Leonard Williams playing on the defensive line. The Trojans and Huskers stack up well against one another, but the Huskers' best shot might come from just running right at the defensive line and simply wearing down a limited rotation with Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong bearing the load. What will be interesting to watch is whether Kessler will be able to pass on what is currently a top-20 pass defense. Despite Kessler's productivity, the Trojan passing offense is just the 43rd-most efficient unit, while the Huskers have limited opposing Big Ten quarterbacks in what has been a run-dominated Big Ten.

Outright F/+ Pick: USC

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M (+3.5) vs. West Virginia -- 2 p.m. Monday December 29 (ESPN)

Overall Texas A&M West Virginia
Record 7-5 7-5
Overall F/+ 53 34
Field Position Advantage 71 107
Offensive F/+ 30 49
Defensive F/+ 90 25
When Texas A&M has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 23 22
FEI 36 25
Rushing S&P+ 20 17
Passing S&P+ 20 14
When West Virginia has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 80 37
FEI 91 58
Rushing S&P+ 110 62
Passing S&P+ 24 30

The Aggies and Mountaineers bring a showdown between two Air Raid disciples (Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin) to Memphis, Tennessee's AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Both teams are playing mainly for momentum heading in to the offseason. This was a transition year for the Aggies, who broke in two new quarterbacks (after deciding to move true freshman Kyle Allen ahead of Kenny Hill), while West Virginia outperformed low preseason expectations to make a bowl at all (60th and a projected 4-8 record in the Football Outsiders' College Football Almanac).

The Mountaineers drastically exceeded expectations on defense, where they rank 25th overall, including 14th in pass efficiency. The Mountaineers will need to maintain that standard against Kyle Allen, who has had two weeks of bowl prep time to fine-tune his rapport with his receivers. The freshman has had four games as a starter and thrown an interception in each one, but he has also completed more than 63 percent of his passes in the last three games and led the upset over Auburn with a season-best 277 yards and four touchdowns. The Aggies run the ball infrequently (117th in Standard Downs Run Percentage) and rely on a number of short passes (Allen averages 6.55 yards per attempt) to move the ball. While the Aggies are 94th in rushing yards per game, they are much more efficient when they do rush (20th in Rushing S&P+). Turnovers hold the Aggies back on offense, leading to a lower Offensive FEI than S&P+, and a -7 turnover margin.

Though the defense has outplayed expectations, the Mountaineers have also managed to find some stability at quarterback with a healthy Clint Trickett. The senior threw for 3,285 yards and 7.84 yards per attempt, and had to carry the load with a mediocre rushing attack that was led by former-five star running back Rushel Shell. The offensive line had plenty of question marks in the preseason, but was 24th in Adjusted Line Yards, so it's hard to pin the problem on them. The Mountaineers were much less explosive than you might expect from a Holgorsen team (76th in IsoPPP), but West Virginia's primary offensive struggle was in turnovers, much like the Aggies. The Aggies defense was far more effective against the pass than the run, highlighted by freshman sack machine Myles Garrett. However, the winner of the game will likely be the team that wins the turnover margin, since the Mountaineers were one of the few teams with a worse turnover margin than the Aggies (-15).

Outright F/+ Pick: West Virginia

Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma (-3.5) vs. Clemson -- 5:30 p.m. Monday December 29 (ESPN)

Overall Oklahoma Clemson
Record 8-4 9-3
Overall F/+ 13 14
Field Position Advantage 30 64
Offensive F/+ 10 58
Defensive F/+ 36 1
When Oklahoma has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 7 2
FEI 13 1
Rushing S&P+ 2 2
Passing S&P+ 13 1
When Clemson has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 24 48
FEI 46 63
Rushing S&P+ 20 109
Passing S&P+ 28 54

After last season's shocking two-touchdown win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, many expected Oklahoma to contend for the Playoffs and win the Big 12 with ease. However, losses to the three top teams in the Big 12 (TCU, Baylor, and Kansas State) left the Sooners outside of the Big 12 elite and facing an uncertain future. Clemson also had a disappointing September that set the tone for the season, with a season-opening loss to Georgia and a close loss to Florida State. Unlike the Sooners, Clemson has a chance to hit ten wins for the fourth straight season and send a host of senior defenders off on a high note.

Clemson and Oklahoma share more than slightly disappointing seasons: they also feature freshman offensive stars around whom they will try to build in 2015. For Clemson, that is signal-caller Deshaun Watson, a Georgia native and one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, who quickly seized the job from senior Cole Stoudt. The offense was quantifiably different when Watson was on the field, but the Tigers struggled to keep him healthy. While the Tigers offense was 58th overall and 54th in Passing S&P+, those rankings don't capture the game-to-game oscillation that occurred when Clemson switched quarterbacks. Despite a torn ACL, Watson will try and play through the Russell Athletic Bowl, likely giving Clemson a shot at ten wins. Oklahoma was far better on a per-play basis than in drive defense, so keep an eye on how the Sooners fare when Clemson is in the red zone.

Oklahoma's young star is freshman running back Samaje Perine, who first saw action after Keith Ford's injury. Perine averaged 6.6 yards per carry this season and totaled an insane 1,579 yards in his first season (including nabbing the single-game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas), but he really has his offensive line to thank for those staggering numbers. The tenth-ranked offensive line in Adjusted Line Yards and the second-overall unit in Adjusted Sack Rate, the offensive line opened huge holes that allowed Perine, Alex Ross, and Ford to average 6.6, 6.6, and 5.7 yards per carry respectively. In fact, Perine ranked just 57th and 58th in Highlight Yards per Opportunity (4.5) and Opportunity Rate (36.8 percent) among running backs (when the team average Opportunity Rate was 44 percent), so the offensive line deserves a lot of the praise. The Clemson defense is one of the best in the country -- the top team in Defensive F/+ -- and limits opposing offenses with the top overall Havoc Rate and Success Rate. The key will once again be in the trenches, where the strong Sooners offensive line will battle the disruptive and veteran Clemson front seven, led by defensive end Vic Beasley.

Outright F/+ Pick: Oklahoma

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas (+6) vs. Arkansas -- 9 p.m. Monday December 29 (ESPN)

Overall Arkansas Texas
Record 6-6 6-6
Overall F/+ 20 57
Field Position Advantage 28 113
Offensive F/+ 23 94
Defensive F/+ 19 14
When Texas has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 18 18
FEI 26 15
Rushing S&P+ 18 33
Passing S&P+ 28 4
When Arkansas has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 20 66
FEI 20 104
Rushing S&P+ 7 51
Passing S&P+ 21 86

The big question for the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl is whether the Longhorns can manage any offense against the stingy Razorbacks. The Arkansas offense and Texas defense are evenly matched at 23rd and 14th respectively, but there's a large disparity between the Razorbacks' top-20 defensive unit and the Longhorns' sluggish offense under first-year head coach Charlie Strong. The Razorbacks have undergone a remarkable transformation to the point where it's hard to find a better 6-6 team in the country. In fact, the Razorbacks are ranked 20th in the F/+ after shutting out both LSU and Ole Miss and suffering narrow losses against Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State. Bret Bielema's Razorbacks lost four games by a touchdown or less and are poised for a much better record in 2015.

It is somewhat remarkable that the Longhorns are even playing in a bowl game at all, given Strong's first season as head coach and their early-season offensive losses, including starting quarterback David Ash and four offensive linemen. A bowl win is important for Strong's second year at Texas, with a host of talented seniors on the way out and a highly-anticipated recruiting class on the way in. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes may be fighting for his job after leading the 86th-ranked Passing S&P+ offense this season, including a five-turnover performance against TCU. Turnovers (the Longhorns have lost 23 on the season) and the sluggish offense play a big role in Texas' 113th-ranked Field Position Advantage. Arkansas is particularly strong against the run and in creating negative plays by the front seven (ninth in front seven Havoc Rate), particularly from senior defensive lineman Trey Flowers (13.5 tackles for loss).

The Arkansas offense features two 1,000-yard running backs in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, who power the 18th-ranked Rushing S&P+ offense. The Arkansas offensive line is actually ranked higher in pass blocking (18th) than run blocking (39th), making the dual 1,000 yard rushers (both of whom ranked in the top 11 in Opportunity Rate at roughly 48 percent) even more impressive. The Texas defense is a good match for Collins and Williams even if it is more effective against the pass than the run, as it is excellent on third down (holding opponents to just 34 percent on third down) and forcing three-and-outs (on 40 percent of opponent drives). The key for the Longhorns will be in forcing field goals -- the Longhorns have advantages in passing defense and in drive efficiency, so look for the Longhorns to win on third down and in the red zone.

Outright F/+ Pick: Arkansas

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame (+7.5) vs. LSU -- 3 p.m. Tuesday December 30 (ESPN)

Overall Notre Dame LSU
Record 7-5 8-4
Overall F/+ 36 18
Field Position Advantage 43 19
Offensive F/+ 32 48
Defensive F/+ 50 11
When Notre Dame has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 24 8
FEI 35 13
Rushing S&P+ 31 15
Passing S&P+ 17 5
When LSU has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 56 35
FEI 47 57
Rushing S&P+ 48 27
Passing S&P+ 84 49

The Music City Bowl is all about pride for the Fighting Irish and the Tigers. Neither team had a season that these storied programs will remember in the years to come, and it was often for the same reason: inconsistent quarterback play. Even though the Irish welcomed back Everett Golson this year following his season-long suspension, Golson seemed to regress from his National Championship-runner up season two years before. The Tigers lost Zach Mettenberger to the NFL, and backup Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris battled to be his replacement, but neither one was able to take command of the passing offense. The Music City Bowl is a chance for both teams to end the season on a high note, retain some pride, and develop young players for a chance at a better 2015.

If nothing else, the LSU Tigers can certainly say that they played some great defense in 2014. The passing defense was fifth in the country and led by a fierce secondary that was 13th in Havoc Rate. The Tigers were about defensive efficiency, holding opponents to an average of just 16.4 points per game (third) and maintaining the eighth-best success rate. The secondary is led by hard hitting, fast players like Jalen Collins, Tre'Davious White, and Ronald Martin. However, as good as they have been shutting down opposing passing attacks and forcing three-and-outs (43 percent of opponent drives, which is 13th in the country), they also allow big plays. The Tigers defense is 40th in Explosive Drives and 60th in IsoPPP, which could open the door for big plays from Fighting Irish offensive weapons like Will Fuller. The Irish aren't particularly explosive themselves (45th in IsoPPP), but they could certainly sacrifice efficiency for big-play potential if it means an opportunity to score on the Tigers defense. However, the primary concern for the Irish will likely be just not turning the ball over: the Irish are -4 in turnover margin this year, including 26 turnovers allowed (107th).

The LSU offense has been a mishmash of concepts and execution that was buoyed by an offensive line that was strong in run-blocking (17th in Adjusted Line Yards). The offensive line helped fuel freshman running back Leonard Fournette to 891 rushing yards and the rushing offense to 27th in Rushing S&P+. Fournette himself had extremely high expectations this season, but finished just 46th among running backs for Opportunity Rate without a supporting passing threat to balance defenses. Notre Dame will likely follow a similar script as many of the Tigers' opponents, keying on the run since there has been such inconsistent play from the quarterbacks. That is despite the weakness of the Irish pass defense, which is 84th in the country and 60th in overall Havoc Rate. The Irish are better, but still unremarkable, at stopping big plays (43rd in IsoPPP), but need to worry more about defensive efficiency and slowing the Tigers run game anyway.

Outright F/+ Pick: LSU

Belk Bowl: Louisville (+7) vs. Georgia -- 6:30 p.m. Tuesday December 30 (ESPN)

Overall Louisville Georgia
Record 9-3 9-3
Overall F/+ 16 7
Field Position Advantage 109 1
Offensive F/+ 42 8
Defensive F/+ 5 22
When Louisville has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 32 23
FEI 47 21
Rushing S&P+ 26 69
Passing S&P+ 38 11
When Georgia has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 16 13
FEI 4 10
Rushing S&P+ 23 7
Passing S&P+ 18 24

Georgia had a very interesting year, from the highs of shutting out Clemson in the second half, shutting out Missouri and Auburn for entire games, and blasting an upset-minded Arkansas on the road; to the lows of losing to barely-bowl eligible Florida and South Carolina (as well as a rare loss to in-state rival Georgia Tech). The Bulldogs have seen it all in quarterback Hutson Mason's lone year as a starter. However, Mark Richt and company likely never imagined that they would see former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham again so soon after Grantham's departure for Bobby Petrino's new staff. Grantham's defense fit right in with the experienced personnel that were left over from former head coach Charlie Strong's roster, and the Cardinals defense led the team to the fourth-best Defensive FEI rating and the fifth overall defense.

While both teams had strong defenses (it's easy to forget that Georgia shut out two SEC opponents when you picture Yellow Jackets B-backs running through the defensive line), Louisville's ball-hawking defense was the team's primary strength. The Cardinals were all about efficiency (third) and creating big plays (ninth in Havoc Rate), including tying for fourth in interceptions. However, much like an exaggerated version of LSU's defense, the weakness is in allowing explosive plays, where they rank 98th in IsoPPP. Georgia's longest pass of the year was actually thrown by the injured Todd Gurley on a flea flicker to freshman tight end Jeb Blazevich, so any explosive power will likely come from freshmen running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who were explosive enough themselves for the entire team. While receivers Malcom Mitchell and Chris Conley are reliable targets, Mitchell in particular has failed to match his early-season production since returning from a season-ending knee injury this year (Mitchell averaged 14.8 and 14.3 yards per reception in his freshman and sophomore seasons, and then 8.2 yards this year). However, this would certainly be his opportunity to let it loose after a few weeks of rest and time to prep -- even without excellent offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who recently accepted the head coaching job at Colorado State. If Richt decides to target Mitchell, Conley, and company in the passing game, quarterback Hutson Mason will need to be on the constant lookout for the nation's interception leader Gerod Holliman, who has more interceptions by himself (14) than Georgia's entire team (13).

The Georgia defense had several stellar outings, but was unable to stop power running teams like Georgia Tech and Florida, often because of an undersized (but speedy) defensive line. While Louisville is tilted more towards the pass (like all of Bobby Petrino's offenses) and running back Michael Dyer will miss the game following academic ineligibility, the key still might be whether Louisville can run on the 69th-ranked Rushing S&P+ defense. Georgia excelled at preventing big plays (14th), but was less effective and consistent in efficiency (67th Success Rate) and creating big plays on defense (87th in Havoc Rate), so Louisville can hope to lean on Brandon Radcliff and star receiver Devante Parker, especially if quarterback Reggie Bonnafon is unable to play following his knee injury.

Outright F/+ Pick: Georgia

Foster Farms Bowl: Maryland (+14) vs. Stanford -- 10 p.m. Tuesday December 30 (ESPN)

Overall Maryland Stanford
Record 7-5 7-5
Overall F/+ 45 23
Field Position Advantage 73 49
Offensive F/+ 54 50
Defensive F/+ 61 8
When Maryland has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 63 7
FEI 51 11
Rushing S&P+ 28 5
Passing S&P+ 61 6
When Stanford has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 48 49
FEI 66 50
Rushing S&P+ 67 84
Passing S&P+ 30 43

A 7-5 record looks a lot different depending on the program. For Maryland, in its first season as a Big Ten member, 7-5 was a great debut that included a win over Penn State. For Stanford, those five losses are a mark of underachievement, especially when the Cardinal finished 23rd overall in the F/+ rankings.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was inconsistent and the offensive line was worse than its traditional powerhouse reputation (ranking 59th in Adjusted Line Yards and 63rd in Adjusted Sack Rate), and the running game floundered without road graders leading the way. That is one of the primary reasons why Stanford only put one signature win together this season, a regular season-ending 31-10 victory over UCLA. Maryland's defense certainly isn't one to inspire much fear, raning 73rd in Havoc Rate and 67th in Rushing S&P+, but it performed fairly well in preventing big plays (40th in IsoPPP). Stanford's answer will likely be just doing what it normally did this season: hand the ball to Remound Wright, Kelsey Young, or Barry Sanders, and mix in the play-action pass from time to time.

The Maryland offense was surprisingly efficient running the ball despite having star athletes Stefon Diggs and Deon Long at receiver. Leading rusher C.J. Brown averaged just 3.8 yards per carry this season, but the offense was 28th in rushing efficiency when they did run the ball -- the Terrapins were 103rd in Standard Downs Run Percentage, rushing on just 53 percent of standard downs. The Cardinals defense is extremely well-rounded. Where the Louisville Cardinals have a high Success Rate and Havoc Rate but poor IsoPPP, the Stanford Cardinal are ninth in Success Rate, fourth in IsoPPP, and 39th in Havoc Rate. Maryland will certainly need to avoid allowing big plays to the Stanford defense, but even more they will need to take advantage of any scoring opportunities they find, as they will likely be few and far between.

Outright F/+ Pick: Stanford

F/+ Picks: Bowl Games December 26-30

Underdog Spread Favorite F/+ Pick F/+ vs. Spread Pick
Illinois 6 Louisiana Tech Louisiana Tech Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 3.5 North Carolina Rutgers Rutgers
N.C. State 2.5 Central Florida N.C. State N.C. State
Virginia Tech 2.5 Cincinnati Virginia Tech Virginia Tech
Duke 7.5 Arizona State Arizona State Duke
South Carolina 3.5 Miami Miami Miami
Penn State 2.5 Boston College Boston College Boston College
Nebraska 7 USC USC Nebraska
Texas A&M 3.5 West Virginia West Virginia West Virginia
Clemson 3.5 Oklahoma Oklahoma Clemson
Texas 6 Arkansas Arkansas Arkansas
Notre Dame 7.5 LSU LSU LSU
Louisville 7 Georgia Georgia Georgia
Maryland 14 Stanford Stanford Maryland

Record last week outright: 7-3
Record last week against the spread: 5-5
Season record outright: 92-44
Season record against the spread: 65-74

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 26 Dec 2014

3 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2014, 3:15pm by Sid

Comments

1
by dab3dab3 :: Mon, 12/29/2014 - 1:44pm

When will part 3 be posted. La tech was posted after game was over. Not criticizing, just more curious.

2
by hotpad :: Wed, 12/31/2014 - 10:50am

Would be great if Part III could be out by the first game today at 12:30 EST....It has been great analysis.....

3
by Sid :: Wed, 12/31/2014 - 3:15pm

first game at halftime now