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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 10:55 AM

Our series of bowl previews continues with Saturday action in college football. Note that we already covered the earliest kickoff...Texas A&M vs. our Friday report to give you plenty of time to prepare for that one. We pick up the previews with Saturday afternoon's Sun Bowl...

SUN BOWL (El Paso, TX)
Vegas Line: Georgia Tech by 2.5, total of 49.5
Market Moves: The earliest lines saw Georgia Tech open at -4 and -3.5. Stragglers opened at Georgia Tech -3 because only Utah money was hitting the board. Since then, MORE Utah money has hit the board and brought the line down to just 2.5. You regulars know it takes a lot of money to move off a key number like three. And, it's very telling when there's no buy-back on the favorite at -2.5. Professional wagerers like Utah here. The total has dropped recently from 50 down to 49.5.

Utah: 40th
Georgia Tech: 68th

Clear edge for Utah, though it's important to note that the Pac 12 lost its first three bowl games and failed to cover, while the ACC covered two of its first three appearances. It could turn out that these teams have played very similar schedules in terms of overall strength. We should mention again that we use Jeff Sagarin's data from the USA Today for this category every year.

Utah: 110th (91st passing, 81st rushing)
Georgia Tech: 17th (112th passing, 3rd rushing)

Georgia Tech runs the option, which allows them to pile up rushing yardage and total yardage vs. opponents who can't stop it. They're usually not as dangerous as the full season stats suggest when playing quality. Handicappers must determine where Utah fits on the quality scale. The Utes offense was just abysmal this year. A stunning fall from their glory days under past coaches. Injuries were a factor. But, it's also tougher to look good over a full season when you've jumped up to a better conference. Getting fired up to face a Pac 12 team in a bowl isn't the same as having to face Pac 12 teams every week. 

Utah: 31st (90th passing, 7th rushing)
Georgia Tech: 44th (28th passing, 70th rushing)

This is why Utah is getting support from the market. Their rush defense was one of the best in the country. If Utah can take away the Tech option, then we're going to have a low scoring grinder game that Utah is definitely capable of winning. Teams not familiar with seeing the option much can have trouble with it though, even if they're good against the run normally.

ADDING IT ALL UP: Two keys for us here...Utah's defense vs. the option...and general motivation for the game. An ACC team may feel like a fish out of water in El Paso, Texas. Utah may be a bit disappointed because they began the season as a contender for the Pac 12 South. They weren't expecting a 7-5 season and a minor bowl. We're working closely with our sources to gauge motivation. And, our in-house handicappers have been watching a lot of videotape of Utah's run defense.


UCLA (6-7) VS. ILLINOIS (6-6)
Vegas Line: Illinois by 2.5, total of 47
Market Moves: The line keeps hopping from -2.5 to -3 for Illinois, meaning that wagerers are betting their preferences at a favorable line. Vegas will take a big hit if the final margin lands on three because nobody will lose! Not a lot of passion for either side, as sharps look to be betting for value. Nothing happening as of press time on the total.

UCLA: 14th
Illinois: 48th

UCLA did challenge themselves outside of league play with the likes of Houston and Texas. They get the nod here, even if it turns out the Pac 12 has been a little overrated by the Sagarin computers (jury is still out on that one). Note that both teams are dealing with coaching changes, as both failed to live up to preseason expectations against their respectable schedules.

UCLA: 63rd (81st passing, 29th rushing)
Illinois: 86th (91st passing, 42nd rushing)

UCLA struck the naked eye as worse than that. They definitely had some games that were completely inept on this side of the ball, but had stretches in others where the running game was able to do some damage. Illinois was a huge disappointment on this side of the ball after showing some promise last year with a young quarterback. Clearly both teams prefer to run the ball. That might make this game go quick for a bowl.

UCLA: 91st (70th passing, 95th rushing)
Illinois: 7th (4th passing, 42nd rushing)

Did you realize Illinois had such a great defense? Some of this the dearth of offensive talent in the Big 10 this year. There were a lot of shaky offenses. But, Illinois shut down those shaky offenses cold, particularly in the air. Huge edge for Illinois in this stat even after you adjust for schedule strengths. This is why they're favored in the state of California against a California team.

ADDING IT ALL UP: Coaching drama often trumps the stats in bowl games. Sometimes players rally for a departing coach or for an interim leader. Sometimes the intensity just isn't there. Here, we have that with BOTH teams! What we hear from our sources will determine our play here. We will consider the Under based on the stat indicators and the fact that this game is being played on a grass baseball field, which often discourages scoring.


Vegas Line: Vanderbilt by 1.5, total of 48.5
Market Moves: Support has generally been for the underdog Cincinnati. Most places opened at Vandy -2.5 in their home state (the earliest openers had Vandy -3). That's a cheap price for a team playing in a home area...yet the line is moving away from the key number of three rather than toward it. Not much interest yet in the total. Game day weather may influence that.

Cincinnati: 78th
Vanderbilt: 31st

Vandy plays in the brutal SEC, so they naturally win this stat. Cincinnati plays in the soft Big East, but included NC State and Tennessee on their non-conference schedule.

Cincinnati: 54th (69th passing, 37th rushing)
Vanderbilt: 97th (97th passing, 47th rushing)

These probably come close to cancelling out once you adjust for strength of schedule. That would surprise many because Cincinnati is seen as a juggernaut while Vandy often has trouble moving the ball. Stick Vandy in the Big East, and Cincinnati in the SEC, and perceptions might change dramatically. Much of the perception about Cincinnati comes from the years Brian Kelly was there rather than what was happening this past season. Forget about Cincy at its peak. The Bearcats rated 54th on offense against the 78th ranked schedule. You'll be picking on or against THAT team here.

Cincinnati: 46th (106th passing, 6th rushing)
Vanderbilt: 19th (32nd passing, 24th rushing)

Great ranking for Vandy. We don't actually believe they're quite that good. The SEC wasn't blessed with quarterback depth this year...and it's a league with a lot of running which reduces the number of plays in the book. It's the opposite of fast break football...and that means that the defenses may not be quite as good as they rank. Still, even if you adjust for that, strength of schedule would give Vandy the edge on this side of the ball.

ADDING IT ALL UP: Well, the stats plus a possible home-stat edge (a Nashville team playing in Memphis) would seem to favor Vandy, while the smart money has committed to a degree the other way. JIM HURLEY will be checking with his guys offshore and in Las Vegas for clues...and will make sure you get the right side or total here.


Vegas Line: Auburn by 3, total of 49.5
Market Moves: Auburn opened below the field goal, and got bet up to the key number. That's support for Auburn at the opener, but not necessarily at this new spot. What's important here is to remember all the other games where this DIDN'T happen! Low spreads that don't get bet toward three are telegraphing market preferences in a strong way. On the total, Over money has gradually lifted the number to 49.5 from lower entries.

Virginia: 70th
Auburn: 11th

Auburn had the misfortune of drawing the best teams from the SEC East this year, while also residing in the outstanding SEC West. Oh, they faced ACC champion Clemson in non-conference action too! Heck, Utah State played in a bowl too for that matter. Huge edge to Auburn in this category.

Virginia: 49th (63rd passing, 54th rushing)
Auburn: 105th (106th passing, 38th rushing)

Can you believe the offense that looked so great last year with Cam Newton looked so bad this year? Some of that was playing in the SEC West with the amazing defenses of Alabama and LSU. But, this is clearly a team that relied much more on Newton than was realized at the time. He turned out to be an NFL star playing in a college uniform...for a coach who may not know how to run an offense if he doesn't have an NFL star at quarterback. Once you adjust the numbers above for schedule strength...we're probably looking at even offenses. Virginia would struggle vs. the best SEC defenses, that's for sure.

Virginia: 30th (49th passing, 33rd rushing)
Auburn: 79th (44th passing, 98th rushing)

Same story here, with schedule strength bringing what looks to be a big edge down to equality. Let's give Virginia some credit here because they weren't supposed to be THIS good. They played respectable football in a respectable conference...which was supposed to be more than they were capable of this season. A quiet success story in a season that was dominated by so many "name" teams taking steps backward (like Auburn!).

Virginia has shown that they can get sky high for big games. Auburn is so erratic you just don't know what you're going to get when they take the field. The market move toward Auburn has to be respected. But, handicappers are now dealing with the full three rather than a two or a two-and-a-half, which might swing the value slightly the other way. JIM HURLEY knows you want to win the last game of he'll do his very best to find you the winner.

That wraps up our preview for Saturday's bowl games. We're back Sunday to talk NFL...with stat previews featuring our standard indicator stats for Baltimore-Cincinnati and Dallas-NY Giants in the biggest TV games of the day. Monday brings all the New Year's Bowls. Because there are a few early starts, we'll try to post our Monday edition of the bulletin by late afternoon Sunday to give you a head start.

Remember that a FULL WEEKEND OF BIG JUICY WINNERS is available from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK right here at the website. Take care of business early today for the Saturday bowls. Celebrate the arrival of the New Year RESPONSIBLY tonight. Then, come back to the website early Sunday for the day of regular season action in the NFL. This is going to be a weekend you never forget.

This is our final report for the 2011 calendar year. So...without further ado...HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM EVERYONE AT JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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