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28 Dec 2009

7th Day Adventure: Bowl Spectacular II

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub

The first week or so of the bowl season began with a series of upsets and continued on with some intriguing games. Our second batch of games starts with a potential offensive explosion and continues with a lot of good defenses -- Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Tennessee -- taking the reins. Join us for a walkthrough of what to expect between now and New Year's Eve.

This Week's Games

(Teams are listed according to BCS rankings.)

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Texas A&M (+7) vs. Georgia (Monday, Dec. 28, 5:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Alert the scoreboard operator in Shreveport -- this game matches the No. 70 (UGA) and No. 104 (A&M) scoring defenses in the nation. The new defensive coordinator in Athens -- whoever he may be, several coaches have already passed -- will have an opportunity to see his new charges try and stop the electric Aggie quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who could become a 2010 Heisman candidate. UGA's awful 2008 pass rush improved this year with 28 sacks, led by sophomore defensive end Justin Houston, an impact rusher in passing situations (7.5 sacks). The back seven has been poor, so getting to the slippery Johnson will be paramount. The return to health of wide receiver A.J. Green will help the Bulldogs keep pace, as will the emergence of freshman running back Washaun Ealey. Senior quarterback Joe Cox was hit or miss in '09 -- he completed only 55.9 percent of his passes, but his eight yards per attempt was 19th among qualifying passers.

The Picks -- Rob: Georgia | FEI: Georgia | S&P+: A&M

EagleBank Bowl: UCLA (-4.5) vs. Temple (Tuesday, Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Is there a less traditional bowl pairing this season than this Pac-10 vs. MAC clash? The Bruins were officially the last team into the postseason dance, having to wait an extra week for Army (!) to fall short of bowl eligibility, which secured their vacation trip from sunny southern California to wintry D.C. They'll meet the upstart of all upstarts in the Owls, winner of nine games against FBS opponents, three fewer than they totaled in the previous six years combined. Comparing Al Golden to Rick Neuheisel on wins alone isn't exactly fair, of course -- UCLA faced six FEI top-30 teams to Temple's one in 2009. Nevertheless, a victory for either team would be only its second of the year over an opponent with at least six wins. Watch for the Owls' James Nixon on kick returns. He ranks eighth nationally in yards per return and kick coverage has been a problem area for the Bruins.

The Picks -- Rob: Temple | FEI: Temple | S&P+: Temple

Champs Sports Bowl: No. 15 Miami (-3) vs. No. 25 Wisconsin (Tuesday, Dec. 29, 8:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)

This game in the Magic Kingdom pits one of the more entertaining teams to watch against one of the dullest. Miami averaged 31.7 points per game, led by the electric, if erratic, quarterback Jacory Harris. Wisconsin ran it 539 times, more than all but four non-option teams, led by the rhino-like charges of RB John Clay. Defensively, the two squads were almost identical -- The U giving up 268 points; The W giving up 269. The Canes are setting up for next season, when its revamped roster from the past couple of years should pay dividends. Wisconsin rebounded nicely from getting massacred by Florida State in last year's CSB. Whichever team establishes its offensive will on the other side will emerge with the Champs Sports Trophy, which presumably comes in sizes S-XXL.

The Picks -- Rob: Miami (LOCK) | FEI: Miami | S&P+: Wisconsin

Roady's Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green (-2) vs. Idaho (Wednesday, Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Sure, Idaho must be thrilled to be returning to a bowl game for the first time in 11 years. But did the destination have to be Boise? The Vandals have dropped 191 points in their last three games on the blue turf, though, mercifully, Boise State won't be on the other sideline in this game. Bowling Green also got smoked by the Broncos this fall, so at least the teams will have something to talk about at the banquet. Idaho's defense has been abused by virtually everyone this year (35.5 points per game), ranking No. 119 in defensive FEI. Falcons quarterback Tyler Sheehan (305 yards per game) has to be licking his chops, facing the Vandals' No. 117 S&P+ defense against the pass.

The Picks -- Rob: BGSU | FEI: BGSU | S&P+: BGSU

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: No. 20 Arizona (-2) vs. No. 22 Nebraska (Wednesday, Dec. 30, 8:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)

During the last three weeks, Ndamukong Suh has gone from shamefully overlooked superstar to improbable household name. Deservedly so -- Suh led the Cornhuskers to a No. 2 national rank in fewest points allowed per game (11.2) and an across-the-board top-10 unit in FEI and S&P+ defensive measures. Arizona's been a bit more anonymous, finishing in the thick of the Pac-10 upper crust, but never demonstrating much national credibility or consistency. The strongest section of either team's resume might be found in their narrow losses to good teams -- Virginia Tech and Texas for Nebraska, Iowa and Oregon for Arizona. In order for Arizona to win, they'll have to create short-field opportunities. The Cornhuskers gave up only six touchdowns this year on 120 drives that began at or inside the opponent's 30-yard line.

The Picks -- Rob: Nebraska | FEI: Arizona | S&P+: Nebraska

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (-4) vs. Air Force (Thursday, Dec. 31, 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Air Force made the ghost of General LeMay weep by running the ball 62 times per game, tops in the nation. The Cougars made enemy defensive backs weep by chucking it 54 times per game, likewise tops in the nation. Therefore, the Armed Forces Bowl sets up as an intriguing war game between competing philosophies -- infantry charge against carpet bombing. Last year, the flyboys got the last laugh, winning in this same bowl game 34-28. Ironically, it was Houston quarterback Case Keenum's two running touchdowns that made the difference. One clue to how the rematch should turn out -- Houston was first in the nation in scoring; Air Force was 57th. For the future F-117 and Stealth Bomber pilots to pull the upset, they will have to take advantage of Houston's porous rush defense (allowing 213 yards per game) with running backs Jared Tew and Asher Clark. The Falcons have never won at Amon Carter Stadium in Ft. Worth, host of the AFB, and will presumably be facing a pro-Cougars crowd.

The Picks -- Rob: Houston | FEI: Houston | S&P+: Air Force

Brut Sun Bowl: Oklahoma (-8) vs. No. 21 Stanford (Thursday, Dec. 31, 2:00 p.m. EST, CBS)

Their coaches were rumored for every job from Notre Dame to Kansas to Florida (for five seconds) to the pros. Their best quarterbacks (Andrew "Don't Call Me Oliver" Luck, Sam Bradford) won't be playing. Their best players (Toby Gerhart, Gerald McCoy) will soon be jumping to the NFL. The Sun Bowl is why picking bowl games is a fool's errand. After three straight Big 12 titles, will Oklahoma care about playing in the Sun Bowl? And how will senior Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard play in his final game, stepping in for injured freshman Luck? Here's what we know for sure: The most intriguing matchup the Sun Bowl presents is Gerhart and Stanford's eighth-ranked rushing offense taking on McCoy and Oklahoma's fifth-ranked rushing defense. If the Cardinal can't get going on the ground, the Sooners and quarterback Landry Jones should generate enough offense to win, no matter what kind of protection Jones gets from an offensive line still healing from eleventy billion injuries.

The Picks -- Rob: Stanford | FEI: Stanford | S&P+: Oklahoma (LOCK)

Texas Bowl: Navy (+6.5) vs. Missouri (Thursday, Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Forty-nine years and one day since the last time these two teams met, the Midshipmen and Tigers are set to rumble in a sold-out Reliant Stadium. Missouri seems to hold the advantage in most categories, but then again so did Notre Dame and Ohio State. Despite losses to Temple and Hawaii, Navy tends to save its best performances for its biggest opponents, and an upset of the Tigers would surprise nobody. Two matchups, however, could wreck Navy's plans: (1) Navy's 83rd-ranked S&P+ pass defense has given no indication that they can slow down a Missouri passing game that has been next to automatic this season when Blaine Gabbert has been healthy, and (2) the Navy offense is not built to take advantage of Missouri's biggest weakness -- passing downs pass defense. If the Middies can't pass when they have to, then it will be the 1961 Orange Bowl all over again (a 21-14 Navy loss).

The Picks -- Rob: Navy | FEI: Navy (LOCK) | S&P+: Missouri

Insight Bowl: Minnesota (-2.5) vs. Iowa State (Thursday, Dec. 31, 6:00 p.m. EST, NFL Network)

Two teams most fans didn't know were actually bowl eligible, playing on a network a good portion of the country doesn't get. A cynic would point out that most of the players in this game won't ever see another opportunity to be seen on the NFL Network, but instead we'll just mention that these two cold-weather schools should have pretty good representation in the warm-weather climate of Arizona, and they are rather evenly matched. What Iowa State's defense lacks in play-to-play consistency, they make up for in the big play department -- they have forced 20 fumbles this season (and believe it or not, all 20 did not happen in the Nebraska game), and turnovers and decent special teams have led to a Field Position Advantage ranking much higher than their overall production would suggest. In the end, this game could be decided by the fact that, amid these teams' rather unimpressive rankings, Minnesota's defense has been the statistically best unit on the field. They rank 20th in the country in standard downs defense, and a large number of passing downs could put Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud in an awkward (and probably untenable) position.

The Picks -- Rob: Minnesota | FEI: Minnesota | S&P+: Minnesota

Chick-Fil-A Bowl: No. 11 Virginia Tech (-4.5) vs. Tennessee (Thursday, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

The traditional final game of the calendar year should lead nicely into the Peach Drop outside the Georgia Dome. Running and defense are what both teams do best -- neither quarterback, Tyrod Taylor of Tech or Jonathan Crompton of Tennessee, scares opponents. Indeed, win or lose, and despite his 26-touchdown season, Volunteers fans will be celebrating the end of Crompton's eligibility. Volunteers' Thorpe Award-winning safety Eric Berry returns to his native Atlanta for his collegiate swan song, but fans will surely get to see Berry ply his trade on Sundays. The Hokies defense has no single standout but held opponents to a mere 15.8 points per game, good for 11th in the nation. Both sides have thousand-yard backs, Montario Hardesty for the SEC reps and ACC Freshman of the Year Ryan Williams for the Hokies. Tech has lost twice in Atlanta already this season, to Alabama and Georgia Tech. A third will provoke Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer to channel General Sherman and burn the city down.

The Picks -- Rob: Tennessee | FEI: Va. Tech | S&P+: Va. Tech

Early Bowl Storylines

Rob Weintraub: Urban Meyer's retirement lasted about 24 hours, but in that short amount of time, Florida's two main rivals got a shot in the arm. Georgia and Tennessee are mired in mediocrity at the moment, but they now sense an opening to vault right back to the top of the SEC East, given Meyer's likely lessened intensity and the blunted edge that will surely accompany the Gators program. Both the Bulldogs and Volunteers play this week in otherwise uninspiring bowls. Now Mark Richt and Lane Kiffin can propel their teams into next season with strong performances before the new year. Before the SEC title game, UF seemed poised to dominate the East for the foreseeable future. Suddenly, question marks abound, especially with Tim Tebow finally leaving Gainesville.

Bill Connelly: Meyer's aforementioned 24-hour retirement, apparently retracted without the immediate knowledge of the family by whom he swears he is doing right, has distracted from what has really been an enjoyable first week (or so) of the bowl season. Wyoming rode a pair of true freshmen to a superb overtime comeback. Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher overcame what looked like two separate career-threatening knee injuries to, uh, dash for 201 rushing yards against Southern Miss. A ridiculous wind led to a couple of six-yard punts in a generally entertaining BYU blowout of Oregon State in Vegas. SMU proved that you can come back from the death penalty (it only takes a mere couple of decades) by destroying Nevada in Hawaii. Pitt gave North Carolina its second straight last-minute Meineke Car Care Bowl loss. Others, including Utah-Cal, USC-Boston College, and Clemson-Kentucky, have been pleasing to the eye as well. Meyer will continue to dominate the headlines this week, but let's not lose sight of the games themselves.

Brian Fremeau: How's your bowl confidence pool looking? Nevada and Fresno State were the only double-digit opening line favorites of the 2009-10 postseason. Both lost. The underdog won five of the first six games and almost every result to date has created more questions than answers about regular season team and conference results. Has the Pac-10 been as severely overrated as the uninspiring Cal and Oregon State performances may indicate? Is the Mountain West's 3-0 start further validation of TCU's national credentials, and are they about a week away from taking the WAC's Boise State behind the woodshed? There are a ton of bowl games, but with only about one a day so far, it's hard to resist making broad brush assessments after each final whistle blows. I'm looking forward to the potential for another wave of surprises.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Bowl Team Spread Team Rob FEI S&P+
Independence Texas A&M +7 Georgia Georgia Georgia A&M
EagleBank UCLA -4.5 Temple Temple Temple Temple
Champs Sports Miami -3 Wisconsin Miami* Miami Wisconsin
Humanitarian Bowling Green -2 Idaho BGSU BGSU BGSU
Holiday Arizona -2 Nebraska Nebraska Arizona Nebraska
Armed Forces Houston -4 Air Force Houston Houston Air Force
Sun Oklahoma -8 Stanford Stanford Stanford Oklahoma*
Texas Navy +6.5 Missouri Navy Navy* Missouri
Insight Minnesota -2.5 Iowa State Minnesota Minnesota Minnesota
Chick-Fil-A Virginia Tech -4.5 Tennessee Tennessee Va. Tech Va. Tech
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  First 10 Bowls
Season Total
S&P+: 6-4 (1-0) 84-63-3 (9-6-0)
FEI: 3-7 (1-0) 68-79-3 (6-9-0)
Rob: 2-8 (1-0) 58-89-3 (2-13-0)

Remember to discuss games all weekend long on our new college football discussion board.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 28 Dec 2009

25 comments, Last at 01 Jan 2010, 3:16pm by FireOmarTomlin


by Bill Connelly :: Mon, 12/28/2009 - 10:38pm

...we go to print, and then Mike Leach goes and locks somebody in a storage closet...this has been the weirdest off-the-field month I can remember...I mean, just weird...

by WILD BILL :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 3:48am

Love your work Bill I was wondering how you take the S&P+ rankings and determine which team to pick against the spread. Does a ceratin number of S+P+ points equal a certain predicted margin of victory? Subtracting the underdogs S&P+ from the favotites then dividing that by 2.5-2.7 gave me your picks for these games. I'll try it for last weeks games, but I'm guessing it's more complicated than this. Thanks for the feedback, John

by Bill Connelly :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 10:01am

It's really not much more complicated than that. I break the S&P+ rating down to a point value, then subtract one from the other. I've already started tinkering with this method to see if there's a better way of doing things (I ended up in the 55%-60% neighborhood for the season, which is decent, but I've been 50% for most of the last two months, meaning I was really a lot more successful with the preseason projections than I was when Vegas actually figured teams out), but that's the gist of it.

by packerpalooza (not verified) :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 10:05am

What I find curious is the open hostility to Wisconsin's style of play. A recurring theme has been the negative remarks around the Badgers approach demonstrated most recently by the term "dullest".

Is this a sentiment held by all or does just one individual on the FO staff feel compelled to make these remarks? And why?

Seriously. This is legitimately strange stuff here.

And in case anyone has not bothered to do their homework Wisconsin's quarterback is in his first season starting. With several good to excellent backs, a solid offensive line and a conference with mostly pedestrian defenses why take unnecessary risks? Note that when Wisconsin's playcalling threw chance to the wind against Ohio State the results were disasterous.

by Displaced Cane :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 11:19am

Where's the "open hostility" in calling a power-running team dull? The authors don't seem to be questioning the design of the offense; instead, they're just saying it's not very exciting to watch. And it's not. Sorry.

by bird jam :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 12:05pm

Which one of you wrote the Chick-Fil-A capsule? I'd like to introduce you to some Vol fans, as writing "Volunteers fans will be celebrating the end of Crompton's eligibility" suggests that you don't seem to know any, or at least haven't spoken to one since late September or so.

Speaking as a Vol fan, we were really encouraged by the progress Crompton made this year now that he finally has some good instruction, and we are disappointed the he doesn't get another year to develop with this coaching staff. That disappointment, coupled with our complete lack of QB experience behind Crompton on the depth chart, can hardly be called a celebration of the end of Crompton 's eligibility.

by G_Man1 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 12:26pm

The Insight Bowl game capsule is also screwy. Suggesting that Iowa State would be in trouble if Austin Arnaud has throw ball suggests the writers did nothing more than check out S&P and FEI score for these game previews. Arnaud was starting to come on strong until he got hurt in the middle of the year, and then when he and his receivers got healthy finished with a good performance in their last game against Missouri. ISU runs a spread, and it would not surprise me or just about any ISU fan if they come out and voluntarily throw the ball a lot early in the game.

by Bill Connelly :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 4:17pm

I claim responsibility for this one. I was at the Missouri-ISU game, and the key phrase I need to emphasize is "has to." When Arnaud HAS TO throw, things don't usually end up very well for them. When they're keeping defenses off-balance with run and pass, they tend to do alright, but their lack of a deep threat kills them in passing downs situations. And yes, this is evident in their S&P+ splits -- they're 46th on standard downs and 75th on passing downs.

(As for the ISU-MU game, Arnaud was average at best in that game. A 0.797 Passing S&P against Mizzou isn't all that great, and aside from the end-of-first-half touchdown, they had almost no success getting the ball downfield against a defense that suffered many breakdowns downfield. If you're interested in my longer write-up of that game, go here.)

by Will :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 1:07pm

It would really help if the point spreads used were included in the game capsules.


by Bill Connelly :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 4:24pm


by packerpalooza (not verified) :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 1:08pm

Post 5:

In the few mentions of Wisconsin over the years the FO staff has has repeatedly taken swipes at Wisconsin. While I understood that earlier contributors had Michigan ties, I am still puzzled as to the origins of this strain of negativity.

Wisconsin doesn't employ gimmicks to get results. It's true the Wisconsin playbook is about five pages thick. The Texas Tech craziness gets its NY Times feature for its uniqueness. Shouldn't Wisconsin receive some degree of credit for being successful "Amish" footballers in the 21st century?

I just find the FO stance odd. As in really strange.

by packerpalooza (not verified) :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 1:29pm

As a point of fact, Wisconsin averaged 209 yards on the ground and 206 in the air in 2009. How is that anything but balanced?

Wisconsin also averaged almost 33 points a game. Even in the Ohio State debacle Wisconsin had the ball for forty minutes. It was interception returns not a lack of offense that doomed that outcome.

As an alum and fan I can think of many negative adjectives to describe WI's approach, especially as it relates to their head coach who has an inflated sense of self. I just think this adjective is misplaced.

Well, dumb actually. But I am working on my people skills.....

by DoubleB :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 9:31pm

In the last 3 years, Wisconsin doesn't have a marquee win on their resume. Not one. They generally beat the teams they should beat (although there are often some struggles in there--Cal-Poly comes to mind). They generally lose to teams they should lose to. They tend to sweep the non-conference schedule (which is generally crap) and go somewhere around .500 in the Big Ten. Dull may not be the word I would use, but predictable certainly applies.

Maybe they change that tonight.

by batbatt :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 11:41pm

For only being a starter for a year, the QB for wisconsin is showing a lot of pocket presence

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 12:33am

Miami had no business being in the game. Thanks to turnovers and some odd coaching decisions the Hurricanes made it close.

What exactly was the big deal about the Miami quarterback and how did he amass those numbers with that offensive line? The WI defensive line is solid, but the pass rush tonight was well beyond their usual standards. The refs were letting guys play otherwise Miami would have been called for about a dozen holds on offense. Did a WI linebacker even make a tackle tonight? I don't think a running back got far enough to have that happen.

This game was not about Wisconsin being that good. It was about Miami being that bad. The Hurricanes are a joke ranked that high and anybody who watched that team and thought they were any good needs to reconsider their life pursuits. I am a Wisky guy through and through and WI is just a solid college team undermined by a dunderhead of a head coach.

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 12:46am

Wait, the FO guy had this game as a Miami LOCK?

That is hilarious.

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:06pm

The Bowling Green/Idaho game is certifiably insane. Attributed mostly to a complete lack of pass defense........

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:08pm

Idaho going for the win on a two point conversion? Wow.....

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:09pm


by Sid :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 2:17am

So the FEI projection would not be adjusted for Luck, right?

by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 2:09pm

Saw today's games (New Year's Eve) had some fairly dramatic differences between FEI and S&P. Might be fun to keep them in mind as we watch:

FEI has Houston 37th, and Air Force 51st
S+P has Air Force 38th and Houston 46th

FEI has Navy 40th, and Missouri 53rd
S+P has Missouri 42nd, and Navy 74th

FEI has Stanford 14th and Oklahoma 22nd
S+P has Oklahoma 6th and Stanford 44th

Mostly agreement with the other teams, though FEI has Tennessee 30th while S+P has them up at 12th.

Have you guys done an article in the past talking about the differences between the approaches? I know one looks at 140,000-plus plays, and the other at 20,000-plus possessions (as explained on their home pages). Odd with THAT much sample size to still have such disagreement if there's a "there" there regarding how teams are truly supposed to rank. Most extreme I saw in the bowl teams was Troy at 39th in S+P and 90th in FEI. The 34 spot differential in the Navy rankings seemed big until I saw Troy. Three "disagreements on favorites" in today's games where Vegas had spreads of 5, 6, and 10.

Best of luck with everyone's picks...

by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 7:54pm

That's one of the goals for the offseason. Taking some of the biggest discrepancies and checking out what might account for the differences.

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 7:35pm

I am so digging Navy putting it to Missouri.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Sat, 01/02/2010 - 9:56am

Pa(theti)c-10 destroyed so far
MWC looking great so far


Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Fri, 01/01/2010 - 3:16pm

Capital One Bowl @ the Citrus Bowl Stadium officially making Heinz Field look like a playable surface.

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.