Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 5:19 PM
The long awaited day is finally here…one day later than usual because the New Year’s Bowls were moved back to January second this year! We hope everyone’s recovered from their New Year’s Even hangovers. Let’s jump right into our SIX showcase bowl previews…
TICKET CITY BOWL (Dallas, TX)
PENN STATE (9-3) VS. HOUSTON (12-1)
Vegas Line: Houston by 7, total of 56.5
Market Moves: The earliest openers had Houston as high as -8 or -7.5…and early money hit Penn State so hard that the line came down to 5.5 or 6. But, when news broke of the altercation at a Nittany Lions practice that saw the quarterback socked in the jaw by a wide receiver…the money started coming back in on Houston. We’re going to press a little early for this report to make sure everyone has plenty of time to study the numbers for the earliest kicks. As we write this Houston is sitting right on -7. The total has dropped from the earliest openers of 59 or 58 all the way down to 56.5 on the assumption that Penn State’s defense and style will slow down Houston’s preferred frantic pace.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Penn State: 35th
Big edge to Penn State here, who played Alabama and bowl bound Temple in pre-conference action. Houston was in the weak Conference USA…though they did face bowl bound UCLA in their season opener. Let’s note again in this first game that we use Jeff Sagargin’s pre-bowl strength of schedule rankings in our NOTEBOOK previews every year.
Penn State: 95th (95th passing, 56th rushing)
Houston: 1st (1st passing, 62nd rushing)
Big extremes here, as Houston blows and goes as well as anybody, while Penn State plods along with seemingly little clue how to run an offense unless they’re overpowering a soft opponent. It’s interesting though that adjusting for strength of schedule helps equalize, as Penn State’s 72 spots better on the ladder with the schedule…and 94 spots worse on offense. Edge to Houston…but mid-major fast break teams often have a lot of air in the numbers that disappears when they step up in class.
Penn State: 10th (5th passing, 48th rushing)
Houston: 63rd (47th passing, 78th rushing)
Clearly dominating edges here for Penn State once you adjust for strength of schedule. What’s most interesting to us is that the 5th rated pass defense will get to face the 1st ranked pass offense. Now, we’ve mentioned before that the Big 10 didn’t have a lot of great quarterbacks this year. So, Penn State’s more vulnerable to an aerial tack than their ranking would suggest. Still, a fascinating battle in this element of play. On the other side of the field…Houston’s soft run defense (78th vs. a weak schedule) may have trouble forcing Penn State off the field.
ADDING IT ALL UP: You already know about the unfortunate set of circumstances surrounding the Penn State program at the moment. It’s very difficult to judge from a distance how that will influence this game. That might help Houston out a lot. And, this game is being played in Dallas, which gives the Cougars a home state crowd. We understand why Houston is favored all things considered. If the distractions don’t amount to much…this is the kind of game where we’d back the run-minded defensive dog plus the points in past years. We’ll see what our sources have to say before making a final decision.
OUTBACK BOWL (Tampa, FL)
MICHIGAN STATE (10-3) VS. GEORGIA (10-3)
Vegas Line: Georgia by 3.5, total of 50
Market Moves: Georgia opened below a field goal at the earliest numbers…and even the stragglers generally had them at -3 up front. So, we’ve seen Georgia money move off the field goal to -3.5, which is a clear market indicator. By the time you read this, more will be known by the market about how the SEC and Big 10 are faring in the postseason. Right now, everyone remembers how the SEC obliterated the Big 10 last year on this day. And, Georgia did play well down the stretch even if they weren’t able to hang with LSU for four full quarters in the SEC championship game.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Michigan State: 41st
Good schedules for both teams, with Georgia getting the nod because they’re from the superior conference. We won’t have to make drastic mental adjustments as we run through the numbers.
Michigan State: 60th (43rd passing, 75th rushing)
Georgia: 39th (50th passing, 40th rushing)
Edge to Georgia, even though you don’t think of them as being a consistent offensive juggernaut. They do grade out as the stronger side even before strength of schedule is factored in. It’s important to remember that Michigan State sputtered this year more than many analysts realized. That ranking of 75th on the ground is particularly surprising given how you normally think of Michigan State.
Michigan State: 5th (12th passing, 12th rushing)
Georgia: 3rd (8th passing, 10th rushing)
Wow…great defensive numbers here considering the schedules these teams played. Yes, they did play in smash mouth leagues rather than fast break leagues. Still, you don’t rank top 10 in this stat against good schedules unless you really know what you’re doing.
ADDING IT ALL UP: The numbers show you why Georgia is favored, and may even be hinting that the line should be higher. And, you have to assume last year meant something until the Big 10 breaks through and shows everyone otherwise. We’ll think about the Under because of those defenses. And, JIM HURLEY will be working closely with his market and on-site sources to find the right team side.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL (Orlando, FL)
NEBRASKA (9-3) VS. SOUTH CAROLINA (10-2)
Vegas Line: South Carolina by 2.5, total of 46
Market Moves: There was a mix of South Carolina -2 and -2.5’s out there as we went to press. The market has been drifting in their direction for awhile from an opener of -1. We would anticipate Nebraska money hitting with some authority if the public were to take the favorite up to -3. Don’t forget that this is also a Big 10-SEC battle. It’s Nebraska’s first bowl game as a Big 10 team. South Carolina wasn’t part of the SEC slaughters last year…but they do have SEC talent. The total has been sinking from earlier highs of 48 and 47.5 in recent days.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
South Carolina: 33rd
A dead heat, so what you see is what you get in the stat rankings that follow.
Nebraska: 59th (103rd passing, 13th rushing)
South Carolina: 75th (96th passing, 26th rushing)
Both teams are much happier on the ground than in the air. Both teams are capable of making big plays with their passing games…but they also become turnover prone when they try to do that too much. Nebraska grades out with a slight edge here
Nebraska: 36th (18th passing, 67th rushing)
South Carolina: 4th (2nd passing, 44th rushing)
South Carolina wins this category…helped a bit by the slow style of play in the SEC and the lack of trustworthy quarterbacks in the East division. Still, it’s a clear edge, and basically cancels out their statistical disadvantages on offense.
ADDING IT ALL UP: The math is showing a true toss-up. The market looks to be giving the SEC team some credit for what happened last year…and that could well be justified. Hopefully you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the SEC and Big 10 teams in the days leading up to these encounters. If not, please review those results before making any decisions!
GATOR BOWL (Jacksonville, FL)
FLORIDA (6-6) VS. OHIO STATE (6-6)
Vegas Line: Florida by 2, total of 44
Market Moves: It’s interesting how little action this game generated early on…with the market seemingly happy with 2 and 44 for the numbers. The fact that nobody jumped on Florida at less than a field goal suggests some hidden support for Ohio State. Buckeye money is just waiting to see if it can get a better line on game day. Buckeye money wasn’t interested in +2 though, or this line would have moved.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Ohio State: 29th
Not quite as even as Nebraska and South Carolina, but very even on a bowl scale that can range up into the 120’s. These teams basically played dead even schedules, so you don’t have to tinker with the stats below.
Florida: 101st (87th passing, 74th rushing)
Ohio State: 107th (117th passing, 27th rushing)
Wow…is that even possible? Both Florida AND Ohio State failed to crack the top 100 in total offense this year. These teams have fallen so far since they played for the national championship several years ago. Just plain embarrassing given the recruiting edges these teams have had over their foes in recent years. These teams are virtual clones in raw production considering the schedules. Though, Ohio State is much better on the ground, but much worse in the air.
Florida: 9th (10th passing, 40th rushing)
Ohio State: 24th (15th passing, 53rd rushing)
Interchangeable parts here…almost identical in the categories and in overall defense. Worth noting that both teams are great on pass defense, but are facing quarterbacks who can’t pass consistently well. That suggests the rushing game will determine who wins. Ohio State looks to have slightly the best of it there because their offensive edge is bigger than Florida’s defensive edge.
ADDING IT ALL UP: We’ll have to think about the Under given these styles…though both coaches have had time to get creative in a game that already has a low total for a bowl. Game day weather forecasts will help determine if we attack the total. Fitting that the prior Florida coach (Urban Meyer) will be the next Ohio State coach. These teams are locked at the hip at the moment despite the geographic distance between the schools.
ROSE BOWL (Pasadena, CA)
WISCONSIN (11-2) VS. OREGON (11-2)
Vegas Line: Oregon by 6, total of 72
Market Moves: The market has settled on the six after some movement in either direction. Openers lower than six were driven up. A little foray past six to Oregon -6.5 was driven back down. This will be a heavily bet public game over the holiday weekend…so dumb money may create a move. Sharps may bet any moves right back to the six. That 72 may strike you as a high total. Just remember that the high totals have been going Over this year. As long as it’s not raining, Oregon should be able to implement their preferred fast break approach. Remember that surprisingly poor turf conditions in the Oregon/Auburn game last year slowed down both teams at a different locale.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Wisconsin had a surprisingly soft schedule for a Big Ten team because the non-conference slate was abysmal. Oregon played LSU in their season opener on a neutral field…and deservedly gets the edge in this category. That means you need to make some mental adjustments as we go through the numbers.
Wisconsin: 14th (64th passing, 11th rushing)
Oregon: 5th (68th passing, 45th rushing)
Both of these teams were potent this season to an extreme degree. Oregon deserves credit for doing that against a tougher schedule…in fact, against a strong schedule! Wisconsin couldn’t always be counted on to seal the deal in close games vs. top competition though. They might be playing for the BCS crown instead of Alabama had they been able to do that.
Wisconsin: 8th (3rd passing, 46th rushing)
Oregon: 60th (85th passing, 45th rushing)
Wisconsin gets the edge here…and would keep that edge even after strength of schedule adjustments in our view. The problem is…the Big 10 wasn’t full of great quarterbacks this year, and Wisconsin managed to miss potent Michigan in the schedule rotation. Remember that the Badgers allowed 37 and 39 points to Michigan State, and 33 to Ohio State. If you take away a couple of Hail Mary’s, those are still high numbers vs. teams who aren’t nearly as good offensively as Oregon. We think Wisconsin’s defensive stat ranking is a bit of a red herring because they faced so few good quarterbacks.
ADDING IT ALL UP: It’s odd to compare the Rose Bowl to the Alamo Bowl in most seasons. But, stylistically, Wisconsin-Oregon could look a lot like Washington-Baylor, just with better overall teams on the field. The more wide-open attack ultimately won and covered that game because they just never stopped attacking and the other side ran out of gas. Wisconsin need to be smart with clock management so they can avoid fading in the fourth quarter.
FIESTA BOWL (Glendale, AZ)
STANFORD (11-1) VS. OKLAHOMA STATE (11-1)
Vegas Line: Oklahoma State by 3.5, total of 73.5
Market Moves: The market has respected Oklahoma State for weeks, while gradually losing respect for Stanford down the stretch. So, it’s not a surprise this one opened above a field goal. The fact that the sharps DIDN’T bet Stanford toward the key number of three tells you something. The total has reached as high as 75 in spots…but has settled at 73.5 or 74 for awhile now. A lot of similarities here with the Rose Bowl. The fast break favorite will try to go at full tilt. A run and short pass-based opponent will try to play keep away by moving the chains and eating clock. Note that Stanford failed to do that in a home game against Oregon during the regular season. Can they do that at a neutral site against Okie State?
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Oklahoma State: 6th
Strong schedules for both teams. Early returns in the bowls pointed to the Big 12 justifying Jeff Sagarin’s confidence in them. Be sure you look over the full Pac 12 and Big 12 postseason performances as you evaluate this game.
Stanford: 9th (24th passing, 22nd rushing)
Oklahoma State: 3rd (2nd passing, 43rd rushing)
Great offenses here, with a very balanced attack from Stanford…and a lethal array of weaponry for Oklahoma State. It could be noted that both quarterbacks have been more mistake-prone than expected in some of the biggest games. Andrew Luck had the Heisman Trophy sewn up before the season started, yet didn’t get much support at the end of the season. The Cowboys saw a conference rival win that award rather than their own signal caller.
Stanford: 25th (79th passing, 5th rushing)
Oklahoma State: 107th (102nd passing, 83rd rushing)
Ouch…Oklahoma State does get hurt here a bit by playing so many fast break games. The defense looks better than that when you run through the scores of their games. But, that kind of softness does give their opponent the chance to control flow and tempo by safely moving the chains against whatever openings present themselves. Kansas State almost beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Stanford’s offense is a lot better than K-State’s.
ADDING IT ALL UP: This has a chance to be a classic. And, either quarterback could post monster numbers. We respect the defense and rush game of Stanford…but Oklahoma State has upgraded their program so much thanks to infusions of cash that they really are the new Oklahoma. The best athletes and the deepest roster belong to the favorite.
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