Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Dec 2015

SDA: Bowl Season Begins

by Chad Peltier

Bowl season officially begins on December 19 with a slate of bowls with seemingly revolving sponsors. Sure, these don't feature marquee matchups for the most part -- some of the teams don't even have winning records! -- but there are more than few high-flying offenses and we should get plenty of #MACtion and #FunBelt excitement. Some of the most entertaining bowls last season were the Bahamas Bowl, with its high-scoring, last-second comebacks and Hail Marys, and the infamous 2014 Miami Beach Bowl between BYU and Memphis. Hopefully We will avoid any brawling this year. Eight of these bowls between the December 19 and 26 have point spreads lower than a touchdown, so expect some close, exciting contests before the big games of national significance pop up after Christmas.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Arizona (-10) vs. New Mexico -- December 19, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

It has been a disappointing year for Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats. From losing one of theit best defensive players in Scooby Wright for most of the season to Rodriguez flirting with other jobs (like South Carolina), there's reason to think that the Wildcats probably don't want to be opening the bowl season, much less against New Mexico. But what this matchup lacks in star power, it makes up for in probable explosiveness, as this appears to be an exciting game for big offensive plays.

Overall Arizona New Mexico
F/+ 85 98
When Arizona has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 37 103
FEI 32 89
Success Rate 50 73
IsoPPP 28 110
Rushing S&P+ 48 91
Passing S&P+ 61 113
When New Mexico has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 109 97
FEI 99 77
Success Rate 93 100
IsoPPP 88 18
Rushing S&P+ 66 95
Passing S&P+ 123 104

New Mexico and Arizona rank 88th or worse in IsoPPP defense. Arizona especially should produce on passing downs, where it ranks 16th compared to New Mexico's 116th-ranked passing downs S&P+ defense (and eighth to 119th in passing downs IsoPPP!). However, when the Wildcats aren't hitting big passes to Cayleb Jones (14.2 yards per catch), they will need to switch something up in pass protection, as New Mexico has a big advantage at getting to the quarterback, ranking 27th in standard downs sack rate to Arizona's 86th. But New Mexico also has a large advantage in generating explosive plays as well, ranking 14th on standard downs and 26th on passing downs to Arizona's 51st and 122nd in IsoPPP defense. There's good reason to think that the Wildcats and Lobos will just trade big scores because of two poor defenses. The Wildcats may be explosive, but they are far from efficient, ranking 122nd in passing downs success rate, with leading passer Lamar Jordan only throwing for 935 yards (53.2 percent completion rate), leading rusher Jhurell Pressley averaging a 32.1 percent opportunity rate, and leading receiver Dameon Gamblin totaling just 391 receiving yards. It'll have to be big plays or nothing in this defense-less bowl game.
F/+ Outright Pick: Arizona

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Utah (-3) vs. BYU -- December 19, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall BYU Utah
F/+ 34 28
When BYU has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 42 20
FEI 32 9
Success Rate 55 51
IsoPPP 42 13
Rushing S&P+ 63 4
Passing S&P+ 33 28
When Utah has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 35 54
FEI 44 82
Success Rate 46 49
IsoPPP 40 126
Rushing S&P+ 77 71
Passing S&P+ 45 88

The stars have truly aligned for this matchup to happen. Not only do we get a Holy War in the postseason, but it's happening in Sin City. Motivations could be all over the place. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced he had accepted a (lateral?) move to Virginia and that the Las Vegas Bowl would be his final game. Utah seemed destined for a bigger matchup for most of the season, including potentially the playoff, before sputtering in three losses in five games -- and losing their star running back Devontae Booker.

The big matchup here pits Tanner Mangum and the BYU passing offense versus the 28th-ranked Utah passing S&P+ defense. Mangum, a former blue-chip recruit before he went on his mission, leads the 33rd-ranked passing S&P+ offense and threw for the third-most yards of any freshman quarterback. Utah's defense has been stout, particularly preventing explosive pass plays (seventh in passing downs IsoPPP). But BYU should be able to take advantage with shorter, high-percentage passes as Utah is just 94th in passing downs success rate. Both the Utes and Cougars are efficient in the red zone, as the Cougars are tenth in finishing drives while the Utes defense is 16th. This will be critical, as BYU might be able to drive down the field, but will struggle with explosive touchdowns -- so the balance will be in how efficient the Cougars are in the red zone.

Utah's offense was solid, but unspectacular. The defense and field position created the Utes' season, along with Booker. With Booker's absence, the Utah offense can't be trusted. BYU has an advantage in nearly every statistical matchup when the Utes are on offense, with particular advantages on passing downs and generating sacks. This is the final game of Travis Wilson's career and he might be the Utes' leading rusher in this one.
F/+ Outright Pick: Utah

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State (-8) vs. Ohio -- December 19, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Ohio Appalachian State
F/+ 76 45
When Ohio has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 69 48
FEI 70 34
Success Rate 73 48
IsoPPP 82 15
Rushing S&P+ 87 47
Passing S&P+ 57 60
When Appalachian State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 66 43
FEI 54 42
Success Rate 28 19
IsoPPP 80 9
Rushing S&P+ 67 29
Passing S&P+ 48 16

This is the first year of the Mountaineers' bowl eligibility at the FBS level after making the transition up to the Sun Belt from the FCS, but they are already a favorite over Ohio. Appalachian State appears to have advantages in most offensive and defensive areas, especially when it comes to the Mountaineers' explosiveness, ability to finish drives, and pass rush.

On offense, the Mountaineers are led by Marcus Cox and quarterback Taylor Lamb, but four backs have more than 400 rushing yards and a rushing success rate of at least 41.6 percent. This strong rushing attack is both explosive (ninth in IsoPPP) and efficient in the red zone (third at points per trips inside the 40), and is a very poor matchup for an Ohio defense that is 80th in IsoPPP and 101st in finishing drives. That suggests there will be a lot of big plays and high efficiency in the red zone. The Bobcats' biggest advantage might be their excellent field position on defense (11th to the Mountaineers' 63rd), where they will hope to make the Mountaineers string together long drives. It doesn't get much better for the Bobcats on offense, where their offensive line is liable to give up sacks to the Mountaineers, who are tenth in standard downs sack rate and 17th in passing downs sack rate. Appalachian State hasn't been great overall against the pass (77th), but a strong pass rush should make up for most deficiencies.
F/+ Outright Pick: Appalachian State

Cure Bowl: San Jose State (-3.5) vs. Georgia State -- December 19, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)

Overall San Jose State Georgia State
F/+ 96 87
When San Jose State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 83 96
FEI 63 71
Success Rate 26 77
IsoPPP 95 22
Rushing S&P+ 53 38
Passing S&P+ 73 88
When Georgia State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 97 68
FEI 116 73
Success Rate 89 65
IsoPPP 42 16
Rushing S&P+ 111 125
Passing S&P+ 55 42

Unlike Appalachian State's move to the Sun Belt and FBS level, Georgia's State's transition hasn't been quite so easy. The Mountaineers had a history of championship-level play and Wolverine-slaying before their move, but the Georgia State program didn't even begin until 2010. Prior to the 2015 season, Georgia State had just a single win at the FBS level, so their six-win season and inaugural bowl appearance is quite an accomplishment. San Jose State is favored by just 3.5 points and is actually one of the few 5-7 teams to sneak in to a bowl game.

Neither team has much of a defense, with Georgia State ranking 71st in defensive FEI and San Jose State at 116th. This is a bigger problem for the Spartans, as Georgia State at least has an explosive offense. Georgia State has an effective Air Raid, with quarterback Nick Arbuckle throwing for 4,160 yards this season. The passing offense is notably explosive on standard downs (fifth in standard downs IsoPPP), and more efficient than explosive on passing downs (13th in success rate to 102nd in IsoPPP). The issue is that they have been almost entirely one-dimensional, ranking 106th and 109th in passing and standard downs line yards per carry. The San Jose State defense can easily make Georgia State one-dimensional, and then hope to force turnovers (though neither team has a positive turnover margin).

San Jose State's best shot is to counter an explosive passing game with a strong run game. Georgia State has almost no pass rush (dead last in standard downs sack rate) and a poor run defense (80th in standard downs line yards per carry, and 98th in standard downs success rate). Tyler Ervin has racked up nearly 1,500 yards this year mostly through quantity, as he has had 264 rushing attempts this season but with just a 37.9 percent opportunity rate.
F/+ Outright Pick: Georgia State

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana Tech (-1) vs. Arkansas State -- December 19, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Arkansas State Louisiana Tech
F/+ 71 64
When Arkansas State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 70 78
FEI 58 36
Success Rate 40 53
IsoPPP 58 73
Rushing S&P+ 31 29
Passing S&P+ 82 94
When Louisiana Tech has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 77 32
FEI 33 45
Success Rate 12 14
IsoPPP 120 35
Rushing S&P+ 72 54
Passing S&P+ 31 46

If you have not been following the 9-3 Arkansas State Red Wolves or the 8-4 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, you have been missing out, as the two are expected to have one of the closest early bowl games (Tech is favored by a point). The Louisiana Tech offense is efficient and explosive, especially on standard downs, while the Arkansas State defense looks ready to shut down the Tech run game and win the field position battles on the both sides of the ball.

The Red Wolves defense is far from perfect. They are one of the worst in the country allowing explosive plays (120th in IsoPPP) and they tend to allow opponents to get touchdowns in the red zone (averaging five points per opponent scoring opportunity). But they do get stuffs (35th in stuff rate) and limit opponents' run games (35th in adjusted line yards) effectively. That has been a part of the reason why Arkansas State ranks second and ninth overall in field position on both sides of the ball. However, Louisiana Tech may not care if Arkansas State forces them to be one-dimensional, as they are already 115th in standard downs run rate, passing as often as they run. Louisiana Tech has a big advantage when it comes to creating big plays on standard downs, ranking 33rd in standard downs IsoPPP to Arkansas State at 124th defensively. If we see big plays from Louisiana Tech, then Arkansas State would need to certainly take advantage of its better field position and scoring opportunities.
F/+ Outright Pick: Louisiana Tech

Miami Beach Bowl: Western Kentucky (-3.5) vs. South Florida -- December 21, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Western Kentucky South Florida
F/+ 14 40
When Western Kentucky has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 5 39
FEI 1 38
Success Rate 1 34
IsoPPP 11 66
Rushing S&P+ 26 49
Passing S&P+ 4 47
When South Florida has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 53 53
FEI 62 43
Success Rate 61 38
IsoPPP 87 20
Rushing S&P+ 55 19
Passing S&P+ 80 49

This might be the Willie Taggert Bowl, as the South Florida head coach left Western Kentucky for his current job, but the real fun in this one will be watching these two offenses go at each other. To be clear, the South Florida offense, ranked 43rd in offensive FEI, is nowhere near the level of Western Kentucky's top overall FEI offense. NFL prospect quarterback Brandon Doughty has the Hilltoppers throwing the ball on more than 53 percent of standard downs, and he has produced close to 4,600 yards and 8.8 yards per attempt. The South Florida defense certainly isn't bad, but the 47th-ranked passing S&P+ defense will struggle to consistently stop an offense that is fourth overall in third downs S&P+, fourth in passing success rate, and fifth in passing downs explosiveness. No matter what defense you put against the Hilltoppers, they will likely light it up.

But South Florida's offense is respectable as well. It's a top-25 unit in both rushing S&P+ and field position, and 34th in overall IsoPPP explosiveness. Quinton Flowers has had a respectable year throwing the ball, but the bigger threat is the Bulls on the ground, where both leading running back Marlon Mack and Flowers average more than 6 yards per carry and a 44.6 percent opportunity rate. Flowers is likely to cross the thousand-yard mark in the bowl game. Western Kentucky isn't bad defensively, but it's a stretch to say they're anything better than mediocre, ranking 55th in rushing S&P+ and 80th in passing S&P+. The Bulls will almost assuredly need to score often to keep pace with the Hilltoppers, and the big challenge will be maintaining a high drive efficiency and taking advantage of the scoring opportunities they create.
F/+ Outright Pick: Western Kentucky

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State (-6.5) vs. Akron -- December 22, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Akron Utah State
F/+ 84 55
When Akron has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 107 31
FEI 86 41
Success Rate 99 27
IsoPPP 68 53
Rushing S&P+ 113 19
Passing S&P+ 70 29
When Utah State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 40 63
FEI 42 51
Success Rate 20 103
IsoPPP 11 29
Rushing S&P+ 9 101
Passing S&P+ 40 78

The famous Boise State blue field welcomes Akron and Utah State this postseason -- but it is not likely to see very much scoring. The Zips have the 107th-ranked S&P+ offense and the Aggies are at 63rd, and both teams also have top-40 defenses. It's worse for both teams in obvious passing situations, as they are 117th and 92nd respectively in passing downs offense.

So is there any hope for either team to get on the scoreboard? It's likely to come from two areas, and unfortunately for the Zips, both favor Utah State. First, the Aggies are 29th in overall IsoPPP despite their overall mediocre offensive numbers. That hasn't translated to bulk production -- quarterback Kent Myers has thrown for just 1,470 yards, and running back Devante Mays has run for just 842 -- but they have performed decently given their opportunities. Mays averages 5.7 highlight yards per opportunity while Myers averages 7.5 yards in the same category. Second, Utah State plays excellent field position football, fielding a top-20 offense in terms of average starting field position. The best thing to say in Akron's favor is that its defense shuts down explosive runs (fourth in rushing IsoPPP) and generates a lot of stuffs (25th in defensive stuff rate), and the defense as a whole (25th in defensive S&P+) is respectable enough to keep it low scoring for both sides. The Zips also have a much better turnover margin, sitting at +8 to the Aggies at -1.
F/+ Outright Pick: Utah State

Boca Raton Bowl: Temple (-1) vs. Toledo -- December 22, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Toledo Temple
F/+ 24 35
When Toledo has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 44 14
FEI 41 17
Success Rate 64 10
IsoPPP 26 97
Rushing S&P+ 49 31
Passing S&P+ 66 16
When Temple has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 24 76
FEI 12 74
Success Rate 41 92
IsoPPP 28 40
Rushing S&P+ 11 94
Passing S&P+ 33 72

One of the great things about bowl season is that northern schools get an all-expenses-paid trip to a usually sunny and warm location in the middle of winter. That is exactly what Temple and Toledo have won themselves in this year's Boca Raton bowl. It has been a banner year for Temple, playing (and losing narrowly) to Notre Dame in prime time, and sitting in the top-25 with a double-digit-win season. The Rockets have flown under the radar relative to the Owls, but field a surprisingly good defense and an exciting running back duo of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson.

We know a lot about Temple's defense, but less about the Toledo defense, which is one of the best on standard downs in the country (13th overall in standard downs defensive S&P+). No team is better at stopping the run on standard downs, and few are better at stopping big plays (third in standard downs IsoPPP). So what happens on passing downs? Temple is likely to have a huge advantage on offense on passing downs, as the Toledo defense struggles to pressure opposing quarterbacks (110th in passing downs sack rate) and regresses to 42nd overall in passing downs S&P+. That should give underrated passer P.J. Walker a decent advantage on obvious passing downs.

Toledo is led by the triumvirate of quarterback Phillip Ely and running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson. While the run game as a whole isn't very efficient, particularly on passing downs (ranking 108th in passing downs adjusted line yards), the offensive line is one of the best in pass protection, only allowing four sacks on the season. That time in the pocket will be necessary, as Toledo should try for big plays against a Temple defense that is typically very good most of the time (10th in defensive efficiency) but 97th in overall IsoPPP. Big plays are the Owls' undoing, which just so happens to be what the 27th-ranked IsoPPP Toledo offense specializes in. Terry Swanson in particular averages nearly 8 highlight yards per opportunity.
F/+ Outright Pick:Toledo

San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State (-8) vs. Northern Illinois -- December 23, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Boise State Northern Illinois
F/+ 51 60
When Boise State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 57 60
FEI 62 29
Success Rate 44 64
IsoPPP 50 21
Rushing S&P+ 76 64
Passing S&P+ 75 62
When Northern Illinois has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 51 77
FEI 25 79
Success Rate 8 76
IsoPPP 126 77
Rushing S&P+ 15 93
Passing S&P+ 58 52

Both of these Group of 5 powerhouses disappointed this season. Northern Illinois had two losing streaks, including three in a row to Ohio schools -- first Ohio State, followed by Ohio University and Bowling Green. Boise State had one of the clearest paths to an undefeated season and a soon-to-be star in freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, but suffered multiple upsets, including a blowout loss to Utah State. So what can we expect from the Poinsettia Bowl from these two teams that likely just want to begin preparation for bigger things next season?

The Boise State offense was interesting in that it had no problem putting up big numbers, but wasn't the most efficient at doing so. The Broncos were 15th in average yards per game, but just 62nd in offensive FEI. Rypien threw for almost 3,000 yards, but the Broncos were just 75th in passing S&P+. The Northern Illinois defense isn't anything to write home about, but it has been very successful preventing big plays at the least, ranking 21st in IsoPPP. The Broncos don't rely on explosive passing, ranking 104th in passing downs IsoPPP, but will instead need to take advantage of good field position (30th in offensive field position to 105th from the Huskies) and be efficient on a per-play basis. Besides preventing long passes, the Huskies also do an excellent job in the red zone, holding opponents to 3.8 points per scoring opportunity, which is 12th-best in the country (the Broncos rank 88th in finishing drives). So with the Broncos getting good field position, but suffering from little explosive passing and a poor red zone offense, and facing a Huskies team that has an excellent red zone defense, that side of the ball may move the ball well but end up kicking a lot of field goals (and Boise kicker Tyler Rausa has the seventh-most attempts in the country).

The Boise State defense is much better against the run (15th) than against the pass (58th) and good on a per-play basis (eighth) and per-drive basis (25th), but really struggles with allowing big plays (126th). While Boise State's defense clearly has its defined strengths and weaknesses, the same can't be said for Northern Illinois, which ranks in the 70s in overall offensive S&P+, offensive FEI, success rate, and IsoPPP. The Broncos secondary produces a lot of big plays and plays aggressively, ranking first in defensive back havoc rate to compensate for the 91st-ranked front seven havoc rate. But that aggressiveness also lets them get burned for big plays. Quarterback Drew Hare, who averages 6.9 yards per attempt, isn't a big-play threat; nor is his running back Joel Buagnon, who averages 4.5 highlight yards per opportunity. But Hare does have a star receiver in Kenny Golladay, who has averaged 15.8 yards per catch on the way to a 1,122-receiving yard season. A Northern Illinois win likely starts with a big game from Golladay.
F/+ Outright Pick: Boise State

GoDaddy Bowl: Bowling Green (-7.5) vs. Georgia Southern -- December 23, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Georgia Southern Bowling Green
F/+ 63 18
When Georgia Southern has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 49 56
FEI 47 79
Success Rate 32 69
IsoPPP 4 29
Rushing S&P+ 11 94
Passing S&P+ 87 61
When Bowling Green has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 47 9
FEI 45 2
Success Rate 49 4
IsoPPP 46 63
Rushing S&P+ 24 2
Passing S&P+ 53 24

GoDaddy has given college football fans one of the most striking matchups of contrasting offenses they could possibly find. Georgia Southern's offense mostly looks like something that has been around for decades, while Bowling Green runs one of the most electrifying Air Raids outside of Waco. Former Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers has accepted the job at Syracuse, while Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz has moved on to Tulane.

The game itself features two star players: Georgia Southern's Matt Breida, who rushed for 1,547 yards this season, and Bowling Green's Matt Johnson, who is getting some attention from NFL Draft analysts following his 4,700-yard regular season. The Georgia Southern triple option has allowed three players to run for more than 600 yards, all averaging at least 5 yards per carry. The best, however, is Breida, who is incredibly explosive, averaging 10.9 highlight yards per opportunity, but still a 42.9 percent opportunity rate. Johnson completes nearly 69 percent of his throws with just eight interceptions and averages 7.9 yards per attempt.

We can expect a great deal of points from both squads -- not just because of these offensive stars, but because of the defenses as well. Georgia Southern's defense is respectable, particularly against the run (24th in rushing S&P+), but they are worse against the pass (53rd) and poor finishing drives on defense (90th in points per trip inside the forty, 58th in red zone S&P+ defense). Bowling Green can't claim to have a better defense, ranking 69th in success rate and 70th in run defense. The strengths and weaknesses of the defenses will allow both offenses to simply do their thing -- and for Georgia Southern, that will be to pound the ball on the ground (they are third in standard downs run rate) and try to draw out the game in to fewer possessions. In fact, the only way this game doesn't get high scoring is if Georgia Southern keeps Bowling Green off the field, since they average just 12.2 possessions per game (116th in the country) and can just run down the clock with an efficient run game.
F/+ Outright Pick: Bowling Green

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Western Michigan (-3) vs. Middle Tennessee State -- December 24, 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Middle Tennessee Western Michigan
F/+ 81 48
When Middle Tennessee has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 74 85
FEI 44 92
Success Rate 36 71
IsoPPP 48 118
Rushing S&P+ 68 99
Passing S&P+ 21 85
When Western Michigan has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 82 25
FEI 81 16
Success Rate 70 47
IsoPPP 39 10
Rushing S&P+ 83 35
Passing S&P+ 120 22

According to the advanced stats, this year's Bahamas Bowl (remember last year's game between Central Michigan and Western Kentucky, where Central Michigan was down by five touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but scored a last-second touchdown on a Hail Mary hook-and-lateral, only to miss the two-point conversion?) features just a single good unit on the field. Middle Tennessee is poor on offense (74th S&P+) and defense (82nd), while Western Michigan struggles on defense (85th), but the Western Michigan offense is a top-25 unit.

In fact, this is one the biggest disparities I can find in the bowl matchups: Western Michigan's Zach Terrell leads the 15th-ranked passing IsoPPP offense and 22nd overall passing S&P+ offense against a Middle Tennessee defense that is 122nd and 120th in the same categories. Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis both gave even Ohio State's defense fits with several big catches, and the pair combined for more than 2,500 receiving yards. These two will likely produce a number of highlight reel catches for explosive scores against Middle Tennessee's defense. So for Middle Tennessee to keep it close, they'll likely need some big plays of their own. Luckily, with Western Michigan's 88th-ranked defense on passing downs, the 11th-ranked passing downs S&P+ offense can likely make some headway. The Blue Raiders should find big plays on passing downs, ranking tenth in the country against the 90th-ranked Western Michigan passing downs IsoPPP defense. So while it is tough to expect the kind of game we had last year from the Bahamas Bowl, at least there are likely to be some big plays.
F/+ Outright Pick: Western Michigan

Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State (+1) vs. Cincinnati -- December 24, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall San Diego State Cincinnati
F/+ 50 65
When San Diego State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 72 98
FEI 48 85
Success Rate 60 63
IsoPPP 54 106
Rushing S&P+ 92 120
Passing S&P+ 64 68
When Cincinnati has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 29 33
FEI 35 28
Success Rate 14 11
IsoPPP 79 66
Rushing S&P+ 10 62
Passing S&P+ 52 20

This matchup has three big reasons to watch. First, it's prime time on Christmas Eve. Second, it features some great offensive skill talent in Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel, the journeyman quarterback who has put up quality numbers (8.5 yards per passing attempt, 2,777 passing yards), and San Diego State workhorse running back Donnel Pumphrey.

Pumphrey has carried the ball nearly has many times as Derrick Henry (284 total rushes), and his backup Chase Rice has almost 200 carries himself. While the two have amassed more than 2,500 rushing yards by themselves, they still don't have one of the most efficient offenses, ranking just 92nd in rushing S&P+ and 48th in overall offensive FEI. But the pair does contribute to a strategy where wins come from excellent field position (eighth in offensive field position) and taking advantage of scoring opportunities (fifth with 5.6 average points per scoring opportunity). And given the Cincinnati defense, which ranks 106th in IsoPPP and 120th in rushing S&P+ defense, the Bearcats are probably going to need to tackle Pumphrey and Rice 50-plus times.

Finally, the matchup between the San Diego State defense and the Cincinnati offense should be a heck of a contest. San Diego State is sixth on passing downs defense (Cincinnati is 32nd) and 14th in overall success rate (Cincinnati is 11th). While Gunner Kiel has one of the deepest receiving corps in the country (six receivers have at least 400 receiving yards, and all average 11 or more yards per catch), they'll likely need to drive the whole length of the field to score, as they rank 121st in field position while San Diego State is 16th overall.
F/+ Outright Pick: San Diego State

F/+ PICKS: WEEK 13

Favorite Spread Underdog F/+ Pick F/+ vs. Spread Pick
Arizona 8 New Mexico Arizona Arizona
Utah 2.5 BYU Utah BYU
Appalachian State 7.5 Ohio Appalachian State Ohio
San Jose State 2.5 Georgia State Georgia State Georgia State
Louisiana Tech 2 Arkansas State Louisiana Tech Louisiana Tech
Western Kentucky 2.5 South Florida Western Kentucky Western Kentucky
Utah State 7 Akron Utah State Utah State
Temple 2 Toledo Toledo Toledo
Boise State 8.5 Northern Illinois Boise State Northern Illinois
Bowling Green 7.5 Georgia Southern Bowling Green Bowling Green
Western Michigan 3.5 Middle Tennessee Western Michigan Western Michigan
San Diego State 1 Cincinnati San Diego State San Diego State

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 18 Dec 2015

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