Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. Does anyone in the NFC South have any pass rushers? Well, the Bucs might, but they still need more players to catch the ball.
26 Dec 2008
by Brian Fremeau and Russell Levine
Christmas was very good to my bowl breakdown partner, FO's Brian Fremeau.
His Notre Dame Fighting Irish broke a bowl losing streak that dated back to the first Clinton administration. They beat Hawaii despite carrying the burden of the double-Edelstein curse. And his FEI picks were a robust 6-1 in Week 1 of bowl season. With Notre Dame flying home with the Hawaii Bowl trophy, Brian would like you to know that there are now 54 different teams (and counting) to have won a bowl game since Oklahoma last won one in 2005.
Brian is back this week, as he will be throughout the bowls, to offer his thoughts on each of the games. The writeups below are his, and he's also the guest on this week's podcast.
Apart from the TCU-Boise State Poinsettia Bowl, last week didn't offer a lot of headliner-type games. What it did offer was a lot of well-played, competitive games. We should only be so lucky come BCS season.
The marquee matchups are still a week off, but this week's 10-game slate -- with an average spread of just over four points per contest -- will hopefully offer another batch of close contests. It will certainly gives us a better idea of how some of the BCS conferences stack up, particularly the ACC, which is involved in five of the games, with four coming against teams from the Big East, Pac-10, and Big Ten.
Eight Central Michigan games were decided by a touchdown or less this season, more than any other team in college football. The Chippewas were 5-3 in those games, and won two others by only ten points. But led by Dan LeFevour, CMU's offense averaged almost 40 points per game against defenses as poorly rated as Florida Atlantic's this year. FAU did not defeat an opponent ranked higher than No. 95 by FEI, and its six losses came by an average non-garbage-time margin of 27-7. The Owls aren't particularly great at anything, except perhaps committing penalties -- they are tagged 74 yards per game on average, fourth most in the country.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Central Michigan | RUSSELL: Central Michigan
Is North Carolina really as good as FEI thinks it is? Since the middle of October, UNC has been ranked in the FEI top 10 every week even though the Tar Heels finished the year 3-3 to fall to a tie for third place in the ACC Coastal division. What they did do very well this year was hold opponents on average 14 percent below their typical offensive efficiency. They added five non-offensive touchdowns, and they controlled field position at the sixth best rate in the nation. West Virginia found its offensive rhythm only sporadically in 2008, running all over decent Connecticut and Auburn defenses while struggling to move the ball against Pittsburgh and South Florida. The Mountaineers have shown up big in bowl games recently, but the program's peak might be in its rearview mirror.
THE PICKS -- FEI: North Carolina | RUSSELL: North Carolina
Like West Virginia, Wisconsin's season was mostly disappointing. A fall-from-ahead loss to a weak Michigan team in late September greased the wheels for a precipitous slide from a top-10 perch to Big Ten also-ran. Narrow losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were coupled with narrow escapes over Fresno State and Minnesota, the only bowl-bound teams defeated by the Badgers. Florida State went 4-4 against FEI top-40 teams (Wisconsin was 0-4), and was particularly impressive offensively this season when they weren't facing a steel curtain. Against Boston College, Wake Forest and Florida (top-10 FEI defenses), FSU totaled 35 non-garbage points; against its other seven opponents, the Seminoles averaged 35 points per game.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Florida State | RUSSELL: Florida State
The Hurricanes played the nation's toughest schedule according to FEI, and held the explosive Florida Gators to their lowest scoring output of the year, but they also gave up more total non-garbage points than they scored this season. California's defense led the way this season in Berkley, holding offenses to the 11th-lowest raw efficiency in the country overall. But it was inconsistent at times, giving up chunks of yardage and points to Stanford, Arizona, Michigan State and Oregon State. Miami has a strong field goal unit, making 19 of 21 kicks on the year, but they connected six time on drives that stalled at or inside the opponent's 7-yard line. They'll need to punch those kinds of drives into the end zone to beat the Bears.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Miami | RUSSELL: California
Louisiana Tech is the worst bowl team of 2008 according to FEI, winning three of its final four games to become eligible. Those three wins were all over teams ranked in 100s by FEI and only one was by more than a single possession. Northern Illinois' overall record isn't much more impressive, but they did play seven opponents rated higher than Louisiana Tech's second-best foe. The key to the game will be field position. Louisiana Tech led the nation in that category, mostly because of its strong punt return team. Punt coverage also happens to be a weak spot for NIU. If the field position is balanced, however, NIU is stronger offensively and defensively by a hefty margin.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Northern Illinois (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Northern Illinois
Through the first eight weeks of this season, a bowl game berth for either of these teams seemed improbable if not impossible. At that point, North Carolina State (1-5) and Rutgers (2-5) were both ranked in the 70s by FEI along with teams like Kansas State and Miami of Ohio -- teams that continued to struggle and ultimately fired their head coaches. The Scarlet Knights and Wolfpack poured in a combined nine wins in ten games since that point, including blowout victories over FEI No. 6 North Carolina (by N.C. State) and No. 13 Pittsburgh (by Rutgers) to cruise into bowl season as two of the hottest teams in the country. Their combined average adjusted game efficiency over those ten games is 0.375 -- better than the combined average AGE over the same stretch as four of the BCS bowl match-ups: USC/Penn State (0.314), Texas/Ohio State (0.299), Alabama/Utah (0.168), and Virginia Tech/Cincinnati (0.170).
THE PICKS -- FEI: North Carolina State | RUSSELL: Rutgers
Northwestern turned in one of the most unheralded three-loss seasons of the year, aided in no small part by a Big Ten schedule that did not include the league's best team, Penn State. Losing to Indiana and getting stomped by Ohio State didn't help, either. The Wildcats did dismantle Illinois in its finale, a team Missouri tangled with all the way back in Week 1. The Tigers' best football was on display over the early part of the season, and though its losses were mostly the result of playing against some of the nation's best teams in the Big 12, a late-season loss to Kansas (a team certainly no better than Northwestern) and the drop from national title contender to Alamo Bowl participant might give Northwestern a significant motivation edge in this game.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Northwestern | RUSSELL: Missouri (Edelstein Lock)
Maryland was the most schizophrenic team in college football. In a five-week stretch earlier this year, the Terrapins lost to Middle Tennessee, rolled over California, topped Clemson, and were obliterated by Virginia. What better place to send the crazy team than to the blue turf in Boise? Nevada had Boise State in Reno this year, a single-score loss that was arguably their best game of the season. Nevada ran up 35 non-garbage points per game, but only topped 20 points once against teams ranked in the top two-thirds of college football.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Maryland | RUSSELL: Maryland
Rice gave up more points per possession than any other bowl team this year, but their offense more than made up for it, scoring nearly 40 non-garbage points per game and totaling more touchdown passes (44) than any team other than Oklahoma. Quarterback Chase Clement had the third-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the country (41/7), behind only Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford. Western Michigan participated in the second-lowest scoring game of the year, a 7-3 victory over Temple, and topped 40 points only twice.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Western Michigan | RUSSELL: Rice
The first bowl game in San Diego was one of the best thus far, a defensive slugfest between TCU and Boise State. Oklahoma State and Oregon also promises to be competitive, but with much more scoring. The Ducks ripped off 113 non-garbage points against Arizona and Oregon State in its final two games, and the Cowboys scored in the 40s five times. Neither team was particularly exceptional defensively, though Oklahoma State did play in the more prolific Big 12 South and held Texas and Missouri somewhat in check earlier in the season. Oregon averaged 30.8 total possessions per game (15.4 per team), and Oklahoma State averaged only 24 possessions per game. If Oregon controls the pace, it may make the Cowboys play uncomfortably rushed; reciprocally, a low-possession game may frustrate the Ducks.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Oregon | RUSSELL: Oklahoma State
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Florida Atlantic||+6||Central Michigan||Central Michigan||Central Michigan|
|West Virginia||-1.5||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina|
|Wisconsin||+5.5||Florida State||Florida State||Florida State|
|Miami (Fla.)||+8||California||Miami (Fla.)||California|
|Northern Illinois||Pick 'em||Louisiana Tech||Northern Illinois*||Northern Illinois|
|North Carolina State||+7||Rutgers||North Carolina State||Rutgers|
|Western Michigan||+2.5||Rice||Western Michigan||Rice|
|Oklahoma State||-3||Oregon||Oregon||Oklahoma State|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
17 comments, Last at 30 Dec 2008, 5:18pm by peachy