Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 6, 2012 at 10:45 AM
It may seem like the bowl slate has gone on forever. And, that West Virginia-Clemson game Wednesday Night felt like it went on forever all by itself! We're down to the last three official "bowls" on the college calendar this weekend. There's one game apiece Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That will lead into the climax of the postseason Monday Night, when Alabama faces LSU in the BCS Championship game.
We're going to devote full coverage this Saturday and Sunday to the NFL playoffs. So, we thought it best to knock out all three remaining bowls for you on this report. We pick it up with Friday's Cotton Bowl at the house that Jerry Jones built down in Arlington, Texas.
COTTON BOWL (Arlington, TX)
KANSAS STATE (10-2) VS. ARKANSAS (10-2)
Vegas Line: Arkansas by 7.5, total of 63
Market Moves: This game opened way back when at Arkansas -7. Early money drove that line to -8 based on the respect the SEC usually gets in bowl games. Since that league ultimately took two of three from the Big Ten in New Year's action (and it would have been a sweep if Georgia could kick a field goal), you can see why smart money tends to respect the SEC! The line peaked at eight though, and has since come down to Kansas State +7.5 based partly on good bowl showings this year for the Big 12. You get the sense that Arkansas would get hit hard at -7...so the game is hovering a half point above that key number. The earliest totals were way up at 67....but smart money hit the Under immediate there...and later openers were down around 64. We've seen as low as 62.5 before the number settled back at 63.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Kansas State: 10th
To this point we'd have to say that the Big 12 justified the respect Jeff Sagarin had been giving them in his USA today computer ratings. So, we'll give Kansas State the edge in schedule. Though, Arkansas obviously had it very tough too playing in the brutal SEC West along with LSU and Alabama. Slight edge to Kansas State as we continue down the stat rankings.
Kansas State: 96th (109th passing, 28th rushing)
Arkansas: 26th (13th passing, 80th rushing)
Wow...huge advantage here for Arkansas even after any tweaks for schedule. The head coach loves offense, and Arkansas attacks very aggressively. They're more like a Big 12 team this year than the classical SEC grinders...so Kansas State will at least have a lot of experience dealing with that. We should note that Kansas State had a knack for playing better than their stats would suggest all year. They were more productive on offense than "96th" would have had you believe. Kansas State ranked 30th in points scored! They made the most of what they had talent-wise, playing for a very smart coach who tries to minimize mistakes and maximize drive impact. We'll conclude that Arkansas may have a big edge in yardage, but it may not translate to the scoreboard in a way you'd expect.
Kansas State: 73rd (105th passing, 39th rushing)
Arkansas: 52nd (26th passing, 80th rushing)
Fairly tight after you adjust for schedule. And, Kansas State played a lot of fast break football vs. opponents who were playing at warp speed. Arkansas faced a lot of slower teams, yet still didn't show meaningful superiority after adjustments. It's possible Kansas State actually has a slightly better defense even with the raw rankings you see. What's most interesting to us is that each defense's weakness lines up with the other strength. Arkansas loves to pass, and will face a K-State pass defense that could only hope to slow down the Big 12 powers. Kansas State has a QB who's most comfortable running the ball...and Arkansas was very weak at that.
ADDING IT ALL UP: We'll have to think about the Over given those matchups, and the fact that you know conditions will be good inside the Dallas Cowboys cathedral. Note that Arkansas has some experience playing there given their TV series with Texas A&M. To the degree there are familiarity considerations...that might be worth something. Kansas State historically travels though in terms of attendance, which will help with crowd noise. Log onto the website a few hours before kickoff to get the final word from JIM HURLEY!
COMPASS BOWL (Birmingham, AL)
SMU (7-5) VS. PITTSBURGH (6-6)
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 3.5, total of 47
Market Moves: Pittsburgh opened at -5, and the game gradually came down to a low point of -3...before bouncing off the three and settling at three and the hook. So, the market likes SMU at +4 or better but Pittsburgh at -3. Or, at the very least, that's were supporters of those teams investment-wise are stepping in. The total has been as high as 49 or 48, and has been lower than the 47 we're seeing as we write this. We've settled on the 47 pending game day weather influences.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Pittsburgh is from a BCS Conference in the Big East, so they get the nod here. And, that conference has certainly held its own in the bowls this year. Champion West Virginia looked fantastic against Clemson. Cincinnati knocked off Vanderbilt. How about Rutgers beating Iowa State from the Big 12? Surprisingly good news for the Big East this year. That's part of why this line is staying over a field goal.
SMU: 50th (22nd passing, 98th rushing)
Pittsburgh: 83rd (75th passing, 68th rushing)
Pittsburgh hired Todd Graham to fix their offense, but the team really struggled on that side of the ball. It's weird that Arizona State was so excited to hire Graham away considering what WASN'T happening for Pitt against Big East defenses this year. Pretty close to even once you adjust for strength of schedule. Both teams run spread passing attacks that don't do nearly as much as you expect them too in terms of taking control of a game. A lot of side to side stuff instead of north to the end zone.
SMU: 37th (61st passing, 30th rushing)
Pittsburgh: 40th (71st passing, 23rd rushing)
Pittsburgh takes the edge here after you tweak for strength of schedule. Both have some issues against the pass...but at least the defenses see this offensive style a lot in practice.
ADDING IT ALL UP: You can see why Pittsburgh is the favorite...but you can also see why they're not an overwhelming favorite. It could turn out that this game is a pass on Saturday for NETWORK if we really love the Wildcard games. Take care of business Saturday morning to make sure you're getting the very best from the gridiron and the basketball hardwoods.
GO DADDY BOWL (Mobile, AL)
ARKANSAS STATE (10-2) VS. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (10-3)
Vegas Line: Arkansas State by 1.5, total of 64
Market Moves: Not much passion for this one. Arkansas State opened at -1. The line did go as high as -2 in some spots, but has settled in pretty solidly here at the one-and-a-half. The total has gradually been climbing from a low of 61.5 or 62. So, to the degree there is betting interest from the Wise Guys, it's been on the total. They liked the Over at earlier numbers. Game day weather may be an influence here too in Alabama's second host site of the weekend.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Arkansas State: 126th
N. Illinois: 102nd
Both played very soft schedules because they reside in the Sun Belt and MAC. Sagarin's computer has more respect for Northern Illinois taking the whole 12 games into account. We can see anything that would dispute that with any confidence. Edge to Northern.
Arkansas State: 24th (18th passing, 52nd rushing)
N. Illinois: 10th (59th passing, 9th rushing)
Both teams lit up the scoreboard vs. their soft schedules. Northern ranks better, and played the tougher slate...so they deserve the nod here. We also generally like rushing teams over passing teams in games like this because rushing teams tend to make fewer turnovers. So far, Northern is making some sense as a small underdog. You're about to see why they're a small underdog!
Arkansas State: 20th (53rd passing, 14th rushing)
N. Illinois: 87th (77th passing, 82nd rushing)
Ugly stuff from Northern, considering they played a schedule that ranked in the 100's. Imagine how bad they'd be in a real conference. Note also that Arkansas's strength is on the ground, which is where Northern prefers to do its damage.
ADDING IT ALL UP: This probably won't be a game you pay a lot of attention to as a fan. But, there is potential here for another thriller...in what's been a long line of thrillers for the most part in recent days. Don't sleep on this game!
Back with you Saturday and Sunday to run the NFL matchups for Wildcard weekend. For information on our discounted rates for football through the Super Bowl, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. If you love the convenience of online service, BIG JUICY WINNERS are available right here at the website every day in football and basketball!