Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 8:26 PM
The holiday football schedule took a day off for Christmas. The bowls resume Wednesday Night with the Little Caesar’s Bowl matching Central Michigan and Western Kentucky. The schedule REALLY kicks into gear starting Thursday. Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY here in the NOTEBOOK for pre-game preview using indicator stats that have worked well for us on these pages over the years.
LITTLE CAESAR’S BOWL (Detroit)
WESTERN KENTUCKY (7-5) vs. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (6-6)
Vegas Line: Western Kentucky by 6, total of 58
Market Moves: Western Kentucky opened around -6, but was bet down to as low as -5 in the build-up to the bowl. Support has come in once again for the favorite though since two of Central Michigan’s cohorts from the MAC have played poorly in the postseason. Toledo lost to Utah State 41-15. Ball State lost to Central Florida 38-17. Both scores were as bad as they sounded in the boxscore stats. Many bettors are holding those losses against Central Michigan, even if they don’t know much about Western Kentucky. Note that Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt won it’s bowl game against East Carolina.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Western Kentucky: 104th
Central Michigan: 121st
Both of these teams played very soft schedules by national standards. If you’re one of those on the anti-MAC bandwagon, you’ll want to know that Central Michigan had worse records than Toledo and Ball State while playing a softer schedule.
Ball State 9-3 vs. the 79th ranked schedule
Toledo 9-3 vs. the 106th ranked schedule
Central Michigan 6-6 vs. the 121st ranked schedule
Now, this doesn’t mean that Western Kentucky is in the same class as Utah State and Central Florida. But, the Hilltoppers will be facing a poor team from a bad conference though…and it’s a borderline scandal that a team as bad as Central Michigan gets to play in a bowl while a good team like Louisiana Tech has to sit at home. The edge to this point does go to the favorite, as Western has a better record vs. a tougher schedule….and it’s possible that the Sagarin computer ratings at USA Today has overrated the MAC schedules given how poorly Toledo and Ball State have shown.
Western Kentucky: 70th (41st rushing, 93rd passing)
Central Michigan: 67th (76th rushing, 53rd passing)
Very tight here. Central Michigan is slightly better overall, while playing the slightly easier schedule. That comes out in the wash. Two mediocre offenses who would likely struggle badly if they played in real conferences.
Western Kentucky: 22nd (33rd rushing, 31st passing)
Central Michigan: 94th (97th rushing, 77th passing)
Big edge here to Western Kentucky, which is why the market is favoring them to a meaningful degree in this game. We wouldn’t suggest that Western would be a top 25 defense if they played in a major conference. But, that’s a great job for a Sun Belt team. Central Michigan’s defense was ABYSMAL because they posted poor numbers vs. a very easy schedule. Let’s note here that superior defenses have been doing well so far in the postseason. Those with the better defensive ranking, even not adjusting for strength of schedule, are 4-3 straight in the early bowls (and it would have been 5-2 if Nevada hadn’t blown a big late lead in a game they covered anyway). Those with advantages of at least 30 spots in this key indicator stat are 3-1 ATS, with covers going to Nevada, Utah State, and BYU, while the only loss was by Fresno State this past Monday.
ADDING IT ALL UP
To this point, the key indicators and early bowl results are pointing to Western Kentucky at this spread. The Sun Belt is undefeated straight up and ATS. The MAC is winless straight up and ATS. Western Kentucky has the better defense, and the better team. JIM HURLEY has been handicapping bowls for decades though. He knows that Central Michigan will draw a decent home crowd in Detroit. He knows that favorites tend to get too high on themselves in these early bowls (which nailed Fresno State the other night). And, he knows that Louisiana Lafayette was lucky to cover as the superior team in its game with East Carolina. The Sun Belt may have cashed a ticket…but Lafayette didn’t necessarily inspire the kind of “blowout” confidence you want in this spread range.
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We have some room to get caught up with our boxscore reviews. Let’s crunch the numbers from Monday Night’s Hawaii Bowl…
HAWAII BOWL: SMU 43, FRESNO STATE 10
Total Yardage: Fresno State 346, SMU 381
Rushing Stats: Fresno State -16, SMU 169
Passing Stats: Fresno State 33-55-2-362, SMU 14-28-2-212
Turnovers: Fresno State 4, SMU 2
The yardage is a little misleading because SMU was dominant early in the game, before Fresno had a extended garbage time. Fresno would move the ball for a bit, then turn it over. The losers only touchdown came on a short field after an interception return against Garrett Gilbert. Of course, SMU had two defensive touchdowns to create some easy points themselves! This was basically a 27-6 type rout that blew up a bit because of the six turnovers. Great job by the big dog. You’ll recall that SMU did the same thing on this field as an even bigger underdog against Nevada a few years ago. Disappointing finish to the season for Fresno State. The Mountain West is now 1-3 straight up and ATS through four bowl appearances.
MOUNTAIN WEST IN BOWLS
Nevada lost, but covered vs. Arizona
San Diego State lost both straight up and ATS to BYU
Boise State won, but failed to cover vs. Washington
Fresno State lost both straight up and ATS to SMU
Nevada really should have won the New Mexico Bowl. But, this is still a pretty disappointing campaign for that league. Fresno State was supposed to be enjoying a breakout season under an impressive new head coach. They were caught flat-footed here.
We’ll be back with you tomorrow to preview Thursday’s bowl tripleheader. Here’s an expanded look at the schedule coming up the next few days…
Military Bowl: San Jose State vs. Bowling Green
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati at Duke
Holiday Bowl: Baylor vs. UCLA
That Baylor/UCLA game should be quite a track meet, with the current Vegas total sitting around 80. Can Duke win a bowl game in its home state (the game will be played in Charlotte). Business is starting to pick up!
Independence Bowl: Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Minnesota at Texas Tech
Another MAC vs. Sun Belt game in the opener. Think about that as you watch the Little Caesar’s Bowl Wednesday Night. Texas Tech has lost their head coach and suspended a few players. Will that create another upset scenario for a big underdog?
Armed Forces Bowl: Rice vs. Air Force
Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy vs. Arizona State
Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse
Alamo Bowl: Oregon State vs. Texas
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU vs. Michigan State
The major conferences start to increase their presence, as West Virginia, Texas, and TCU of the Big 12 will provide an early idea of how that league is likely to perform in the bowls.
NFC East Championship: Dallas at Washington (moved to prime time on NBC)
And, all that leads up to a New Year’s Eve GRAND SLAM and the annual NEW YEAR’S DAY EXTRAVAGANZA!
Don’t make a move in bowl action UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!