Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Dec 2016

SDA: 2016-17 Bowl Spectacular Part I

by Ian Boyd

Our bowl season extravaganza begins! As is Football Outsiders tradition, we'll be previewing and presenting advanced stats for every college football bowl game, starting with the first week of games that run from December 17 up through Christmas Eve. Many of these games are basically just background fodder while we're all hanging out with our relatives, or distractions on the television sets at the mall while doing holiday shopping. Some of these games are pretty compelling, though, and could provide some good football for the true addicts.

Here's a glimpse of what we're looking at in week one. All times are listed as Eastern.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico (-7) vs. Texas-San Antonio -- December 17, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall New Mexico Texas-San Antonio
F/+ 81 86
When New Mexico has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 32 58
S&P+ 28 89
IsoPPP+ 38 58
Rushing S&P+ 18 49
Passing S&P+ 105 79
When Texas-San Antonio has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 113 87
S&P+ 120 98
IsoPPP+ 122 109
Rushing S&P+ 68 108
Passing S&P+ 120 101

Texas-San Antonio is an up and coming program making a good living on the plethora of Texas talent and the improving quality of central Texas high school football. The Roadrunners drew some attention by playing a beat-up Texas A&M squad competitively late in the year, and for freshman wide receiver Josh Stewart, a 6-foot-4 College Station kid who punished the Aggies for a lack of offer with a stunning touchdown catch. They'll mostly be looking to run the ball on New Mexico's defense and hoping to keep the Lobos from controlling things with their own run game.

New Mexico is a triple-option team, but they run the classic philosophy out of a modern pistol formation that can make them difficult to prepare for. The advantage here for UTSA is that they get extra practices to study and nail down how to defend the Lobos' unique offense rather than facing it immediately before and after something more complicated.

S&P+ Outright Pick: New Mexico

Las Vegas Bowl: Houston (-3) vs. San Diego State -- December 17, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Houston San Diego State
F/+ 20 50
When Houston has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 40 34
S&P+ 54 33
IsoPPP+ 61 22
Rushing S&P+ 91 5
Passing S&P+ 43 53
When San Diego State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 17 76
S&P+ 22 72
IsoPPP+ 20 68
Rushing S&P+ 4 71
Passing S&P+ 29 83

One of the best parts about the bowl season is the "styles make fights" element that comes about from matching up teams on other ends of the country. San Diego State won the Mountain West Conference with an old school, I-formation brand of football that had to win out over similar teams such as the Wyoming Cowboys. Meanwhile, Houston finished near the top of the American Athletic Conference, where spread tactics like those in which they specialize are more commonplace.

Donnel Pumphrey was one of two 2,000-yard rushers in college football this year, but his backup Rashaad Penny is just 5 yards short of 1,000, and he should get there if the Aztecs have a solid game in this contest. Quarterback Christian Chapman did a good job of avoiding too many mistakes (just five interceptions on the year) and taking what defenses gave him as they sought to swarm the run game. His ability to navigate the Cougars' pass rush will likely be a deciding point in this game, as Houston won't sit back and play base run defense all day but will attack.

For Houston, this is the final game for senior quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., who has gone 27-7 as the quarterback for the Cougars and had nearly 4,000 total yards and 31 total touchdowns this season. This will be his chance to finish his college career with a bang, so look for the dynamic playmaker to get as many as 20 carries running the ball.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Houston

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo (-1) -- December 17, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Appalachian State Toledo
F/+ 42 32
When Appalachian State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 50 67
S&P+ 56 70
IsoPPP+ 23 96
Rushing S&P+ 23 78
Passing S&P+ 29 61
When Toledo has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 21 4
S&P+ 24 18
IsoPPP+ 21 12
Rushing S&P+ 42 48
Passing S&P+ 14 7

The last time this many eyes were on Appalachian State was when they were narrowly losing an overtime contest to Tennessee early in the season. Since that time, they have put together a really strong season, with a potent combination of upper percentile offense and defense. The Toledo Rockets are in Year 1 without former head coach Matt Campbell (now with Iowa State), and they managed to keep up their strong offense but have slipped defensively.

The Rockets have a very balanced offense with running back Kareem Hunt, who ran for 1,355 yards and eight touchdowns, along with quarterback Logan Woodside, who had 3,882 passing yards and a 43-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Appalachian State is all about running backs Jalin Moore (1,367 yards) and Marcus Cox (872 yards), whom they feature behind a renowned, veteran offensive line that specializes in executing outside zone. App State will be hoping to control this game with a combination of their run game and solid defense, which will hopefully keep Toledo's quarterback on the bench and out of rhythm. If they can't do that, then Woodside gives Toledo a very good chance in this one.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Appalachian State

AutoNation Cure Bowl: Central Florida (-6) vs. Arkansas State -- December 17, 5:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

Overall Central Florida Arkansas State
F/+ 63 82
When Central Florida has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 107 22
S&P+ 110 40
IsoPPP+ 115 26
Rushing S&P+ 120 36
Passing S&P+ 100 22
When Arkansas State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 12 82
S&P+ 32 109
IsoPPP+ 41 86
Rushing S&P+ 86 105
Passing S&P+ 15 75

This is our first defensive struggle of the bowl season, between a pair of surprisingly good mid-major defenses. Central Florida hired Scott Frost from Florida to install the explosive Oregon spread-option offense, but the defensive coach Frost brought with him from Oregon (Erick Chinander) ended up striking gold with the talent on that side of the ball for the Knights. On offense, UCF has been taking their lumps while developing freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton, who ended the season on something of a low note but still seems to represent the future for the program.

Arkansas State had a fun season in which they lost every single out-of-conference game but went 7-1 in the Sun Belt, leading to a 7-5 overall finish but a second consecutive conference championship. The Red Wolves are similarly geared around defense, but they have a lot of talent on offense that was starting to come together down the stretch. Quarterback Justice Hansen transferred from Oklahoma, while top outside receivers Kendall Sanders and Cameron Echols-Luper arrived from Texas and TCU, respectively. For fans of major Midwest programs that may be hunting for head coaches in the not-too-distant future, Scott Frost is one to watch, as he originally played at Nebraska and is a rising star who got out of Oregon before things went south.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Central Florida

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi (-3.5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette -- December 17, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Southern Mississippi Louisiana-Lafayette
F/+ 76 101
When Southern Mississippi has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 79 50
S&P+ 80 78
IsoPPP+ 88 77
Rushing S&P+ 111 30
Passing S&P+ 70 109
When Louisiana-Lafayette has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 49 112
S&P+ 86 121
IsoPPP+ 107 104
Rushing S&P+ 71 88
Passing S&P+ 74 98

Neither of these teams was particularly good this year, but the advantages lie with Southern Miss for not being quite as bad on defense as UL-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns have one good thing going for them this season: Elijah McGuire, who averages 4.8 yards per carry and has accounted for 1,028 yards this season. Quarterback Anthony Jennings transferred here after losing the starting job at LSU and has been turnover-prone and largely ineffectual.

Southern Miss has been a bit better this year, and was a second tier team in Conference USA this year. Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens is the big difference between these programs in this game, and his two-game absence late in the year was when the Golden Eagles picked up two of their four losses. He should be ready to go in this one and elevate them over Jennings and the Ragin' Cajuns.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Southern Miss

Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Tulsa (-11.5) -- December 19, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Central Michigan Tulsa
F/+ 89 44
When Central Michigan has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 88 62
S&P+ 74 67
IsoPPP+ 85 68
Rushing S&P+ 109 59
Passing S&P+ 80 37
When Tulsa has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 77 23
S&P+ 75 30
IsoPPP+ 78 36
Rushing S&P+ 74 39
Passing S&P+ 65 35

Central Michigan's big breakthrough game this year was a win on the road against Oklahoma State that made the Cowboys look like a lost team, even if their disastrous defeat came on a Hail Mary that officials later admitted should not have counted because the clock should have run out. In that game, the Chippewas showed an impressive ability to hold up against a spread passing offense, which they'll have to repeat in order to have a chance against Tulsa.

While the Golden Hurricanes returned third-year starting quarterback Dane Evans, this year their run game finally took off and produced a pair of 1,000-yard running backs in James Flanders and D'Angelo Brewer. Their offensive scheme, the "veer and shoot," is all about smashing the ball between the tackles from spread sets while mixing in abnormally large quantities of vertical passing attempts. To stand a chance in this game, Central Michigan will have to take away the deep throws without getting gashed up front by this potent run game. A "load up the box and make them one-dimensional" approach would be playing into Tulsa's hands with their senior quarterback and aggressive play-action system.

Another confounding factor in this game is Tulsa's improving defense. No doubt head coach Phil Montgomery won't be here too much longer, so fans of southern programs that may be in the coaching hunt may find this bowl game interesting.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Tulsa

Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis vs. Western Kentucky (-4.5) -- December 20, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Memphis Western Kentucky
F/+ 35 17
When Memphis has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 26 39
S&P+ 37 35
IsoPPP+ 31 39
Rushing S&P+ 52 2
Passing S&P+ 36 88
When Western Kentucky has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 65 9
S&P+ 60 9
IsoPPP+ 76 2
Rushing S&P+ 95 13
Passing S&P+ 58 4

This has been labeled as one of the more likely shootouts and possibly one of the most exciting games of the college bowl season. On one side you have the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, coached by Bobby Petrino disciple Jeff Brohm up until the end of the year, when he departed for the Purdue Boilermakers job. However, the Hilltoppers still have much of his staff to run the same offensive system and the same firepower that blew away so many Conference USA opponents when they were averaging 46 points per game over the course of the season. This is a balanced offense keyed by quarterback Mike White, who threw for more than 4,000 yards at 10.43 yards per pass and added 34 touchdowns and six interceptions. They were also able to run the ball for 6.8 yards per carry with running back Anthony Wales, who finished with more than 1,000 yards and another 24 touchdowns. Star receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris each went over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdown receptions as well in this explosive attack.

For their own part, Memphis has been pretty vulnerable to offenses this good, but wide receiver Anthony Miller has been good in his own right, while transfer quarterback Riley Ferguson was really coming on down the stretch and shredded Houston for 409 passing yards and four touchdowns. If Western Kentucky allows this to be a high-paced shootout, then it could be anyone's game, and while the Hilltoppers have been solid on defense, their pass defense is the weakest link. Hopefully it'll be a "who has the ball last?" kind of game that proves to be the cream of the crop for the early bowls.

S&P Outright Pick: Western Kentucky

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (-9) vs. Wyoming -- December 21, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall BYU Wyoming
F/+ 30 57
When BYU has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 65 51
S&P+ 60 104
IsoPPP+ 79 106
Rushing S&P+ 26 81
Passing S&P+ 91 68
When Wyoming has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 23 49
S&P+ 26 39
IsoPPP+ 32 40
Rushing S&P+ 14 37
Passing S&P+ 82 41

BYU's new head coach Kalani Sitake inherited a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball from previous coach Bronco Mendenhall, and he has known exactly what to do with it, building another very solid BYU defense. That defense led the way to a respectable 8-4 season against a schedule that included some fairly tough opponents such as Utah, West Virginia, Boise State, and Mississippi State. The Cougars were mostly built around a two-man run game combo of quarterback Taysom Hill (603 rushing yards) and running back Jamaal Williams (1,165 rushing yards) but they were not particularly efficient in any other facet of offense.

Their opponent in this game is the Wyoming Cowboys, who have a physical identity as an I-formation, "power-coast" kind of offense of the sort that BYU is aspiring to grow into in the future under Sitake. This was a breakthrough season for the Cowboys after a rough first two years under head coach Craig Bohl, and their rise was keyed by their own two-man run game featuring quarterback Josh Allen (485 rushing yards) and running back Brian Hill (1,767 rushing yards). At 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, Allen hearkens to Craig Bohl's star quarterback at North Dakota State, Carson Wentz. He can stand in the pocket and throw the ball down the field, but he's also enough of an athlete to get involved in their power run game.

BYU is strong enough up front to avoid Wyoming controlling the game with long, sustained drives, but they'll also need to control Wyoming's play-action passing game to avoid the upset.

S&P Outright Pick: BYU

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho vs. Colorado State (-13.5) -- December 22, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Idaho Colorado State
F/+ 100 29
When Idaho has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 69 75
S&P+ 92 58
IsoPPP+ 71 72
Rushing S&P+ 96 99
Passing S&P+ 55 43
When Colorado State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 89 14
S&P+ 94 19
IsoPPP+ 99 15
Rushing S&P+ 79 17
Passing S&P+ 110 16

This is a contest featuring a two middling defenses, one middling offense, and one great offense that should dominate the game. Head coach Mike Bobo came over from Georgia, where he was a longtime offensive coordinator for Mark Richt, and he knew exactly what to do with the players left behind by departed head coach Jim McElwain (who went to Florida). Now they're a top-20 offense and poised to blow away Idaho in the Potato Bowl.

If you find yourself watching this one, Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup is a standout player who the Rams involve in their offense more heavily than even any of their running backs. Junior quarterback Nick Stevens took the helm down the stretch and enabled Gallup to have four consecutive 100-yard receiving games to finish the year. Both will return in 2017 as seniors, so Colorado State should be a team to watch out for out west.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Colorado State

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion (-4) -- December 23, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Eastern Michigan Old Dominion
F/+ 84 69
When Eastern Michigan has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 70 60
S&P+ 63 74
IsoPPP+ 100 28
Rushing S&P+ 114 63
Passing S&P+ 58 38
When Old Dominion has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 88 28
S&P+ 105 61
IsoPPP+ 80 49
Rushing S&P+ 93 46
Passing S&P+ 99 51

The Old Dominion Monarchs had a pretty well balanced offensive attack and a sturdy pass defense that made it hard for opponents to keep up with them on the scoreboard. Perhaps the biggest question in this game is how Eastern Michigan's players will respond to getting out of southeast Michigan to spend some time in the Bahamas. Their home in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is currently a frozen tundra, so there's always the question of whether they're looking to have a nice weekend in the tropics or coming down to send a message by taking down the Monarchs.

If they emerge victorious, it may be due to the warm weather proving a more enjoyable environment for quarterback Brogan Roback to throw the ball forty or more times like he did in their 48-41 shootout victory over Ball State on the road. If they prove to be the ones that show up for a fight, perhaps they can catch Old Dominion off guard.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Old Dominion

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech (-3.5) vs. Navy -- December 23, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Louisiana Tech Navy
F/+ 51 53
When Louisiana Tech has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 18 120
S&P+ 8 110
IsoPPP+ 24 105
Rushing S&P+ 30 61
Passing S&P+ 30 121
When Navy has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 98 1
S&P+ 74 25
IsoPPP+ 28 16
Rushing S&P+ 63 3
Passing S&P+ 38 9

The challenge that a team like Navy always has in a bowl game is that their opponent has lots of time to prepare to handle the Midshipmen's unique, triple-option offense. A significant aspect to the beatings that Navy regularly dished out to opponents this season is the fact that it's hard to play disciplined defense against unorthodox blocking techniques, post-snap options, and the ever-present threat of a speed back winning the edge on a pitch and taking it to the house.

The problem for Louisiana Tech is that they aren't terribly good on defense, and even with extra time to prepare there's still very much a question of how effective their defense can be. Compounding the issue is the lack of other flexbone or other triple-option offenses on Louisiana Tech's schedule. What they can do is put up a ton of points and hope to bait Navy into trying to throw the ball to keep up. Quarterback Ryan Higgins has facilitated an explosive offense this season with more than 4,000 passing yards and two leading receivers over 1,000 yards in Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. Navy's passing defense has not been strong enough this year to protect them from such a thing.

S&P Outright Pick: Louisiana Tech

Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy (-3.5) -- December 23, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Ohio Troy
F/+ 70 54
When Ohio has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 109 19
S&P+ 108 54
IsoPPP+ 103 31
Rushing S&P+ 119 40
Passing S&P+ 97 20
When Troy has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 31 63
S&P+ 53 82
IsoPPP+ 44 75
Rushing S&P+ 29 107
Passing S&P+ 72 48

Ever since he was fired from Nebraska for a pair of non-10 win seasons, Frank Solich has been the head coach of the Ohio Bobcats. He no longer runs the I-formation, triple-option offense that powered Nebraska up until his dismissal, but now runs a spread-option offense with a similar guiding philosophy. The heart of their team this year is their defense, as their offense simply hasn't been that effective this season.

Their opponent is the Troy Trojans, a run-based team whose quarterback, Brandon Silvers, vacillates between burning teams throwing off the run or making mistakes (10 interceptions on the year). Unless he makes errors throwing the ball, the Bobcats are probably overmatched in this game.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Troy

Hawai'i Bowl: Hawai'i vs. Middle Tennessee -- December 24, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Hawai'i Middle Tennessee
F/+ 107 83
When Hawai'i has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 100 96
S&P+ 84 111
IsoPPP+ 56 67
Rushing S&P+ 58 112
Passing S&P+ 72 77
When Middle Tennessee has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 91 55
S&P+ 108 42
IsoPPP+ 92 26
Rushing S&P+ 91 16
Passing S&P+ 96 61

It took Hawai'i 13 games to reach bowl eligibility because they don't have a particularly strong team this season. Wide receiver Marcus Kemp, a 6-foot-4 senior with more than 1,000 receiving yards, is the main weapon on offense, and the Rainbow Warriors have relied on two different quarterbacks this year to deliver the ball to him.

Middle Tennessee has a strong offense by mid-major standards that will likely blow Hawai'i away. They're keyed by running back I'Tavius Mathers but have a balanced offense with wideout Richie James going over 1,000 yards receiving as well. Like the matchup between Eastern Michigan and Old Dominion in the Bahamas, this game may simply come down to whether Middle Tennessee is just looking to have a good time in the tropics, or is invested in adhering to their winning process.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Middle Tennessee

S&P+ PICKS: Bowl Week 1

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
New Mexico 7 Texas-San Antonio New Mexico New Mexico
Houston 3 San Diego State Houston Houston
Central Florida 6 Arkansas State Central Florida Central Florida
Southern Miss 3.5 Louisiana-Lafayette Southern Miss Southern Miss
Tulsa 11.5 Central Michigan Tulsa Tulsa
Western Kentucky 4.5 Memphis Western Kentucky Western Kentucky
BYU 9 Wyoming BYU BYU
Colorado State 13.5 Idaho Colorado State Colorado State
Old Dominion 4 Eastern Michigan Old Dominion Old Dominion
Louisiana Tech 3.5 Navy Louisiana Tech Louisiana Tech
Troy 3.5 Ohio Troy Troy
Hawai'i NA Middle Tennessee Middle Tennessee Middle Tennessee

S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 4-2

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 35-49

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 17 Dec 2016

4 comments, Last at 18 Dec 2016, 2:12am by Tomlin_Is_Infallible

Comments

1
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 12/16/2016 - 11:37pm

Texas-San Antonio is a college? Who knew?

2
by big10freak :: Sat, 12/17/2016 - 5:41pm

RJ can write coherent clauses. Who knew?

3
by justanothersteve :: Sat, 12/17/2016 - 8:57pm

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. That is the saddest name for a bowl I've ever heard. It should be telecast on the local cable community access channel.

4
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Sun, 12/18/2016 - 2:12am

some insane 1 hand catches today

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The standard is the standard!