Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 9:41 PM
Three bowls are in the books, and three more are set to go in the next few days as the annual BOWL BONANZA starts to pick up steam before really hitting full speed right after Christmas. We’re going to use today’s spot on the NOTEBOOK calendar to preview the games scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Nights. There’s also a bowl this week in Saturday Night. We’ll crunch those numbers in a special Saturday report that will also highlight the top NFL game of the day (this week’s NFL Sunday is on a Saturday!)
There have been plenty of thrills so far, as Saturday’s Tripleheader easily topped last year for suspense and drama. Two of the three games were decided in the last 15 seconds. Underdogs won two of the three games straight up….even if it was just barely!
Let’s hope Saturday’s thrillers set a tone for the action we’ll be seeing this week…
BEEF O’BRADY BOWL (St. Petersburg, Florida)
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (8-4) VS. MARSHALL (6-6)
Vegas Line: Florida International by 4, total of 48
Market Moves: General sentiment has been on underdog Marshall, as earlier lines were as high as four-and-a-half and five for the favorite. Note that this isn’t a home field for FIU, but they will have a home crowd in the same manner that Louisiana Lafayette did in the Super Dome. That means, a mostly empty stadium…but the noise that does exist will be for FIU! Not a lot of passion in early betting…but Marshall is receiving what support is there. Totals players liked the Under at earlier lines of 50 and 49.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
The real tough schedules will show up later in the calendar. We’re still dealing mostly with lesser teams in bad conferences. Marshall’s slate actually grades out as very tough by early bowl standards. They’ve faced the toughest slate of anyone we’ve discussed so far…and only Arizona State of the Pac 10 will top them in today’s material. So, as you look through the stats in this matchup…remember that Marshall was facing a much tougher schedule. That will help explain why early money has gone their way.
FIU: 80th (69th passing, 70th rushing)
Marshall: 101st (74th passing, 92nd rushing)
About even once you adjust for strength of schedule. Remember, we have to make a HUGE mental adjustment here because FIU’s schedule was so weak. One could reasonably argue that Marshall has the better offense of the two considering the 70 spot difference in the schedule rankings. Similar styles, with both teams showing general balance, but not excellence in any one area.
FIU: 33rd (64th passing, 24th rushing)
Marshall: 87th (100th passing, 61st rushing)
FIU did grade out well in this stat nationally, but wouldn’t be seen as a real defensive power if they played in a real conference. That rushing ranking shows toughness up front. You might recall that Temple graded out well in the defensive rushing area against a similarly weak schedule…and they were the classier side in the New Mexico Bowl. Utah State and Ohio graded out well in rush defense too for that matter, and both were tough in the red zone until the very last gasp. We’re willing to give FIU some credit here in terms of point of attack possibilities.
ADDING IT ALL UP: We’re expecting an emotional effort from FIU in front of a friendly crowd. The Sun Belt has shown well in recent bowls…and Lafayette got things started of well Saturday Night. That being said, FIU is a pricey favorite rather than a disrespected underdog…which may change the motivational dynamic quite a bit. Teams of this caliber just can’t afford to get overconfident. We’ll check with our on-site sources before making a final call.
POINSETTIA BOWL (San Diego, CA)
LOUISIANA TECH (8-4) VS. TCU (10-2)
Vegas Line: TCU by 10, total of 55.5
Market Moves: Clear support for the dog at the openers. Different stores went up with numbers ranging from TCU by 11 to TCU by 12. Everyone’s settled down at TCU by 10 as we go to press a little bit in advance of the game. TCU is the first really good team we’ve seen so far in bowl action. But, Louisiana Tech can walk and chew gum. They should have defeated Houston earlier this season, and they also lost heartbreakers to Southern Miss and Mississippi State. That’s a pretty loaded 8-4 with those kinds of losses! This is a battle of the WAC champ and the Mountain West champ…early money has been on the dog in this battle of champions.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
La. Tech: 78th
We haven’t mentioned yet that we’re using the strength of schedule numbers from Jeff Sagarin at USA Today once again this year. His methodology shows these teams playing very even schedules. Tech scheduled tough out of conference but then took advantage of a watered-down WAC. TCU lost to Baylor early in the season, but then won on the road at Boise State in the game that won them the crown.
La. Tech: 49th (45th passing, 68th rushing)
TCU: 28th (60th passing, 20th rushing)
With even schedule strengths, the stats don’t need much adjustment. TCU has the better offense by a meaningful degree…with an even bigger edge on the ground. We have to say though, that kind of edge doesn’t really justify a double digit spread. TCU is better, but not by a landslide.
La. Tech: 55th (96th passing, 25th rushing)
TCU: 32nd (56th passing, 29th rushing)
Same story here, with TCU showing up as the better side, but by the amount you’d expect in a game that opened with a double digit spread. Both defenses deserve credit for those strong rushing numbers against representative schedules. Tech obviously wasn’t blown off the line in their tight losses to Southern Miss and Mississippi State. You HAVE to be able to stop the run to slow down TCU…so there’s a stat indicator that helps explain why the smart money liked the underdog.
We also want to say that TCU really doesn’t have the stat qualifications of a BCS team. There was outrage when they were snubbed by the Sugar Bowl in favor of Michigan and Virginia Tech. TCU grades out as about the 30th best team against a schedule that’s slightly below the national average. Yes, the win at Boise State was great. This team did lose to Baylor and SMU…and isn’t playing near the level of last year’s Rose Bowl winner. The outrage came from people who weren’t actually seeing much of TCU on the field this year.
ADDING IT ALL UP: To this point the evidence is painting a favorable picture of the underdog. We’ll check with our sources to see if Tech is ready for the challenge. And, our Texas guys will also weigh in on whether or not TCU is angry about what they consider to be a BCS snub. Fired up TCU is capable of covering a spread of this size, particularly if they can force some early turnovers. The kids who have returned from playing in Pasadena last year against Wisconsin might have trouble getting their juices flowing for Louisiana Tech in San Diego though.
MAACO LAS VEGAS BOWL (Las Vegas, NV)
ARIZONA STATE (6-6) VS. BOISE STATE (11-1)
Vegas Line: Boise State by 14, total of 66
Market Moves: A lot of support for Boise State at openers in the range of -11.5, -12.5, and -13 depending on the sportsbooks. They’ve been bet up to -14 everywhere now. It’s worth nothing that the money stopped right at the key number of -14. Professional wagerers who liked Boise State acted quickly and got line value. They might tell you the value is now gone on the favorite. No buy back yet on Arizona State though upon reaching the key number. The total is down to 66 from openers of 68 and 67. It did get down to 65.5 in places before rising back up.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Arizona State: 31st
Boise State: 67th
Boise didn’t really challenge itself beyond Georgia in terms of non-conference action. So, they have the softer of the two schedules. We might quibble a bit with Arizona State’s schedule grading out so high. In past years, Sagarin has been too enamored of the Pac 10…often right before the conference laid a big egg in the postseason. Arizona State was in the weaker half of the conference, and fell apart in the second half of the season against that weak half. We’ll give them a slight schedule edge because of the tougher conference…but not as much as the numbers you see above would suggest.
Arizona State: 26th (10th passing, 78th rushing)
Boise State: 9th (11th passing, 40th rushing)
You know Boise State can put points on the board. Arizona State has managed to do that too even during the slump. They weren’t scoring enough to win games because the defense fell apart…but they were reaching the high 20’s consistently even during the worst of times. We’ll see some good offenses here if the weather cooperates. That’s never a sure thing in Las Vegas in late December.
Arizona State: 88th (107th passing, 59th rushing)
Boise State: 16th (25th passing, 22nd rushing)
Boise State’s really upgraded their defense in recent years. They’re big, strong, and athletic. When this team beat Oklahoma several years ago in the Fiesta Bowl…they were the classic undersized tricksters who had to outsmart you to beat you. Boise State now recruits size, and plays a very physical game…much more physical than Vegas gives them credit for. Big edge on this side of the ball, particularly if you’re looking at ASU’s collapse. This is a team that closed 0-4 straight up even though they were favored by about a TD or more in all four games…and that collapse was triggered by horrible defense.
ADDING IT ALL UP: This could get really ugly if Boise State shows up to play, and Arizona State is reeling emotionally from seeing their head coach get fired. Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham will be in charge next year…and that may not excite the players because Graham didn’t do much at Pitt this year…and then he showed his lack of loyalty to players by fleeing after a year. An ASU no-show means this is a rout. But, that ASU offense does give you a chance to come through the backdoor in a garbage time shootout. Plus, there’s always a chance Boise State shows up flat because they’re angry about getting stuck in lesser bowls way too often. This is definitely a game where motivation and intensity will determine who gets the money. JIM HURLEY will make sure his sources will pin down the right side for you.
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Back Wednesday with…our weekly review of NFL stats that should help you pick winners when Week 16 gets underway imminently. Thursday we’ll preview Tennessee-Indianapolis on the NFL Network and catch up with the complicated playoff picture. Friday we’re scheduled for an early bowl review that will isolate lessons learned and outline strategies for the rest of the way. NO TIME TO REST DURING THIS ANNUAL FOOTBALL FRENZY