Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 2, 2012 at 8:45 PM
The New Year’s Bowls are in the books…but there’s barely any time to catch your breath because we still have the Sugar Bowl Tuesday Night matching Michigan and Virginia Tech, followed by the Orange Bowl Wednesday Night matching West Virginia and Clemson.
We have stat previews for BOTH of those games for you today in the NOTEBOOK. We’ll be devoting Wednesday and Thursday to playoff rundowns in our key indicator stats in the AFC and NFC. One day will be devoted to a “big picture” look at each conference heading into the postseason…with an eye on this weekends games as well as which teams are best suited based on the stat profiles to reach the Super Bowl.
Friday we’ll hop back to the colleges to preview AL THREE weekend games: the Cotton Bowl (Friday’s game matching Kansas State and Arkansas, the Compass Bowl (Saturday’s game matching SMU and Pittsburgh), and the Go-Daddy Bowl (Sunday’s game matching Arkansas State and Northern Illinois).
Saturday and Sunday will provide expanded previews for Wildcard Weekend in the NFL. Of course, next Monday brings the BCS Championship game matching LSU and Alabama. Just like we said…barely any time to catch your breath!
Sit down…grab your favorite beverage…and start this new set of games with us right now with a trip to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl…
SUGAR BOWL (New Orleans, LA)
MICHIGAN (10-2) VS. VIRGINIA TECH (11-2)
Vegas Line: Michigan by 2.5, total of 51
Market Moves: The earliest openers had this game near pick-em, or at Michigan -1. It was clear that the smart money preferred Michigan in a pick-em game…and the number moved up to -2 and -2.5. As we write this ahead of publication deadlines, there are already some Michigan -3’s out there. That may be the common line by the time you read this. Clear support for Michigan at anything below a field goal. Be sure you monitor game day moves if the market does get to the critical number of three. We should note that respected money wasn’t impressed with Virginia’s showing vs. Auburn last Saturday Night, or with Georgia Tech’s blown win vs. Utah in the Sun Bowl. Those are both ACC teams. And, it’s not like Wake Forest and Florida State sparkled in games they barely covered. The market may be voting against the ACC in general with that Michigan money. The total has centered at 51…with openers higher than that coming down, but any trek down to 50.5 generally getting bet back up to the solid 51.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Virginia Tech: 56th
Michigan rates the edge here thanks to playing in a deeper conference, and facing Notre Dame on the side. Virginia Tech played a very weak non-conference slate this year…and rates lower than this in our own schedule numbers. And, if the lethargic play of the ACC so far in the bowls is any indication, Tech would be even FURTHER behind in this stat than it seems at first. Let’s assume an edge for Michigan that means something as we run through the other numbers.
Michigan: 36th (90th passing, 12th rushing)
Virginia Tech: 38th (66th passing, 30th rushing)
Would you have guessed Michigan’s potent attack would have rated so closely to Virginia Tech’s? Part of what’s happened here is that Michigan has calmed down the craziness on offense under Brady Hoke. So, you’re remembering some wild games from LAST year that aren’t really part of how Michigan plays any more. They do a better job of running clock now, which reduces the opportunities to pile up monster yardage in blowouts. Solid offense. And, in our view, a better coached offense than last year in terms of what matters the most. Tech fades a bit when you factor in strength of schedule. So, we’ll give Michigan the edge on this side of the ball.
Michigan: 17th (17th passing, 34th rushing)
Virginia Tech: 14th (39th passing, 16th rushing)
Wow, almost a dead heat here as well. Tech grading out well is no surprise because Frank Beamer coaches smash mouth football…and he always finds good athletes to put on defense. Michigan has made tremendous strides from last year’s joke of a defense. Remember how many TV pundits kept saying you shouldn’t blame the coaches for that bad defense? Well, Michigan cleaned house coaching wise and look at what happened. There are bad defensive coordinators in this sport. You need to find out from handicappers who they are because ESPN just isn’t going to tell you! Again here, after you adjust for strength of schedule…Michigan gets the edge.
ADDING IT ALL UP: The raw stats would suggest a pick-em game. Michigan is favored in Vegas because they look to be the better team once you adjust for context. And, frankly, where you set the line is pretty much based on how different you think the schedules were. If Virginia Tech is just a top team from a conference of pretenders, you’re going to like Michigan. If you think the market is overreacting to sluggish showings from the ACC, you’ll give Beamer-Ball series thought as a neutral site underdog.
We haven’t talked about special teams…and you have to do that in Beamer coached games. Tech isn’t quite the impact team they used to be in terms of punts and kickoffs. But, they certainly will have a chance to swing a tight game with a big play. Michigan looks to have a coach who understands the importance of preparation…which could counteract anything the Hokies are hoping to do.
ORANGE BOWL (Miami, FL)
WEST VIRGINIA (9-3) VS. CLEMSON (10-3)
Vegas Line: Clemson by 3, total of 61
Market Moves: The same anti-ACC sentiment seemed to be in play here, as an ACC favorite spent several days at -3.5 before getting bet down to -3 as we were writing this. Being the ACC champion may not mean all that much this year! And, Clemson did close the season rather poorly before finding their form in the ACC championship game. Perhaps good showings in the Big East for Cincinnati and Rutgers in bowl games is part of what’s in play too. We can say this…Clemson was getting market respect at -3.5 until the games started. Anything that sits solidly over the three for a long time is meaningful. That meaning got erased deeper into the bowls. The total has been bet way up from the earliest openers of 57 and 58…and even up a point from the more common opener of 60. There’s a clear expectation for a shootout.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
West Virginia: 65th
Here the ACC team has the tougher schedule up front…because the ACC is better than the Big East. But, West Virginia did face LSU this year…so it’s not like the Mountaineers aren’t familiar with the spotlight. Given bowl form of these two conferences, the differences may not be as big as Jeff Sagarin’s computer numbers at USA Today are suggesting. We’ll give Clemson a little credit as we run through the numbers below…but let’s do that tentatively. The nature of the schedule means you can wait to see how Virginia Tech plays Tuesday Night before making a final decision involving Clemson on Wednesday Night.
West Virginia: 18th (7th passing, 100th rushing)
Clemson: 28th (21st passing, 61st rushing)
Both teams pile up the yardage…and both do it in very similar styles. Note how each team was great in passing but much less effective on the ground in the passing/rushing breakdowns. If Clemson truly played the tougher schedule, then these are basically clone offenses. We mentioned that the market was expecting a shootout. Here’s why!
West Virginia: 27th (31st passing, 51st rushing)
Clemson: 58th (37th passing, 81st rushing)
Big edge here for West Virginia…and probably one that wouldn’t disappear after making strength of schedule adjustments. We should note that West Virginia did get to face a lot of mediocre Big East teams this year. We wouldn’t buy them as a top 30 defense if everyone in college football played truly identical schedules. West Virginia plays in a slow league with shaky quarterbacks. That said, we’ll still give them a slight edge on this side of the ball.
ADDING IT ALL UP: Generally speaking, these are the kinds of teams we’re skeptical of in bowls. We may have tried to fade either one in earlier action.
*West Virginia’s biggest win in the last month of regular season action was three points. They were minus 12 on the scoreboard over their last six games in a conference we don’t have much respect for (though one that’s covered some recent bowl spreads).
*Clemson failed to cover their last four games on the regular schedule before playing well in the ACC Championship game. Three of those performances were double digit losses to Georgia Tech, NC State, and South Carolina. Ugly.
Unfortunately, West Virginia and Clemson are playing each other and we have to pick somebody! We’ll gladly take the extra day to get all of our ducks in a row. And, it could turn out that an Over/Under play here is a better option than the team side.
As always, you can purchase our game day releases right here at the website with your credit card. Tuesday’s slate will include some great basketball in addition to Michigan-Virginia Tech in New Orleans. We’re looking at Michigan State-Wisconsin and Louisville-St. John’s in the colleges…and Atlanta-Chicago and Houston-LA Lakers in the NBA for serious play.
If you have any questions about NETWORK service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. It’s a great day to discuss rates for the rest of football…or basketball through March Madness. We’ll be transitioning soon to a basketball heavy schedule here in the NOTEBOOK once the bowls are complete. BIG JUICY BASKETBALL WINNERS are available every day from your friends at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK