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Do defenses really wear out over the course of a game? Do defenses benefit from long drives that give them more time to rest on the sideline? Guest columnist Ben Baldwin investigates.

26 Dec 2008

SDA/FEI Bowl Mash-Up Part II

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.

This Week's Games

Motor City Bowl (at Detroit)
Florida Atlantic (+6) vs. Central Michigan, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

The SDA Podcast



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

Meineke Car Care Bowl (at Charlotte, N.C.)
West Virginia (-1.5) vs. North Carolina, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Champs Sports Bowl (at Orlando, Fla.)
Wisconsin (+5.5) vs. Florida State, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Emerald Bowl (at San Francisco)
Miami (Fla.) (+8) vs. California, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Independence Bowl (at Shreveport, La.)
Northern Illinois (Pick 'em) vs. Louisiana Tech, Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

PapaJohns.com Bowl (at Birmingham, Ala.)
North Carolina State (+7) vs. Rutgers, Monday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Alamo Bowl (at San Antonio, Texas)
No. 25 Missouri (-12.5) vs. No. 22 Northwestern, Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

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)

Humanitarian Bowl (at Boise, Idaho)
Maryland (+2) vs. Nevada, Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Texas Bowl (at Houston)
Western Michigan (+2.5) vs. Rice, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, NFL Network

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

Holiday Bowl (at San Diego)
No. 13 Oklahoma State (-3) vs. No. 15 Oregon, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

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

Picks Table

The Picks
(* - "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
Missouri -12.5 Northwestern Northwestern Missouri*
Maryland +2 Nevada Maryland Maryland
Western Michigan +2.5 Rice Western Michigan Rice
Oklahoma State -3 Oregon Oregon Oklahoma State
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
FEI: 6-1-0 (1-0-0) 60-64-3 (7-8-1)
Russell: 3-4-0 (1-0-0) 62-62-3 (6-9-1)

Posted by: Russell Levine on 26 Dec 2008

17 comments, Last at 30 Dec 2008, 5:18pm by peachy


by QB Feagles (not verified) :: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 9:25pm

So basically if the season had started after week 6, N.C.State vs. Rutgers would have been the Orange Bowl.

cool. Should be a good one.

by joe football (not verified) :: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 10:29pm

I trust everyone had an enjoyable Christmas, but now it's time to get back to the important business of IRC football chat. The server is bendenweyr.dyndns.org, channel #fo. It was down because Fnor's cat chewed through some cables or something, but it's up now. Feel free to post an appropriate lolcat

Brief tutorial for the IRC-shy:

- Download mIRC from mIRC.com
- type /server bendenweyr.dyndns.org into the status window
- type /join #fo

by Kevin Eleven :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 9:41am

I went 3 - 4 last week. This week I'll take UNC (Butch Davis over Norm Stewart seems too easy), Wisconsin, Cal, La Tech, NCSU, Missouri, Nevada (Edelstien lock), Rice, and Okie State.

I tuned in late Christmas Eve, but saw most of Notre Dame's dismantling of Hawaii. What was the deal with the Domers having the PLAYER'S NAMES on their uniforms?

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 11:33am

Butch Davis over Norm Stewart seems too easy ...

But WVU has Pat White and Noel Devine, which means you really have to go with the 'eers anyway.

My new CuseFanInSoCal blog

by QB Feagles (not verified) :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 10:17am

I think picking N.C. State is madness, unless you think they can score 50 points. I'm not sure how their poor secondary is going to stop Rutger's aerial assault, unless they can consistently put Teel on his back.

by Salvi's Headband (not verified) :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 11:13am

Why is everyone so sure that Pat White can't play QB in the NFL? Wide Receiver? Give him a fricking chance in the preseason at least or something. It wouldn't be the first time NFL scouts got it wrong.

Also, the CAPTCHA for this site is always fricking illegible!

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 5:38pm

He hasn't thrown the ball much in college, and is kind of small for a QB. That didn't keeep him from being the best offensive player in the Big East for most of the last four years, but it may keep from being an NFL QB.

My new CuseFanInSoCal blog

by Kevin Eleven :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 11:23am

1. NCSU is getting seven points, and Tom O'Brien has an excellent record in bowls. This is NCSU's first bowl appearance in some time, so my guess is that they'll be stoked for the game.

2. I've never been impressed with Pat White's arm. He's had a great football career, and it likely ends today (unless the CFL counts).

3. If you register and remain logged in, you can skip the captcha :)

by Sid :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 9:05pm

UNC covers by a half a point. heh

by Atul (not verified) :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 10:01pm

Chad Pennington would like to have Pat White's arm

go 'eers!

by Kevin Eleven :: Sat, 12/27/2008 - 10:39pm

ESPN is trying to convince us that Randy Shannon is a good person because he suspended a few players for the Emerald Bowl.

Of course, we have no idea why the players are suspended, but they are. So it must be a good thing.

If I were a college coach I'd exploit this Moneyball style. I'd suspend the 8 - 10 players I'd be least likely to use and let my athletic department play it up.

Then I'd be a "good coach".

by Tom Gower :: Mon, 12/29/2008 - 12:22pm

I was awful last week, partly because I was trying to be contrarian. Late to the party this week, too. I won't pick the games that have already ended, so here goes:

NC State, Missouri, Maryland, Rice (Edelstein), Oklahoma State

I'll update my record later.

by witless chum :: Mon, 12/29/2008 - 3:17pm

I'll get my Mizzou/Northwestern contrarianism in quick.

The Tigers had trouble (W 52-42) with Illinois, who Northwestern knocked out 27-10. Now one of these games was played in August and the other in November, but I hope my Mizzou pick is wrong for the Big 10's sake.

by Kevin Eleven :: Mon, 12/29/2008 - 8:38pm

If Missouri brings it's "A" game, the game against Northwestern has serious blowout potential. If not for the late season letdown against Kansas, Mizzou would be on the fringe of the Top 10, and I see them as one of the best 4 loss teams in recent times.

Speaking of blowouts, I have a weird feeling that Florida is going to crush Oklahoma.

by Rocco :: Mon, 12/29/2008 - 11:19pm

So far I'd say Missouri has brought their D game. Luckily for them Northwestern isn't that great or else they'd be buried right now.

by Crosseyed and Painless (not verified) :: Tue, 12/30/2008 - 12:52am

Why do college coaches act like 45 yard field goals are lay-ups? They aren't, even for good kickers. Missouri is going to overtime because of this. With multiple timeouts, why not at least run some safe plays to try to get it closer? Maclin just ran for 9 on a reverse as I type this.

by peachy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/30/2008 - 5:18pm

I've noticed that FEI isn't big on predicting blowouts - it missed game after game against the spread during UF's hot streak, for example. But that tendency has really paid off during the bowls (perhaps because so many are fairly even matchups?)