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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 12:46 PM

We wanted to get our bowl previews up a day early because the New Mexico Bowl is a relatively early kick on Saturday. We’ll crunch some numbers for you in all three Saturday matchups here in this edition of the NOTEBOOK. Saturday will be reserved for a in-depth look at the Dallas Cowboys as they get ready for a Saturday Night Special in Tampa Bay that will be nationally televised on the NFL Network.

There’s a lot to talk about with these first three bowls, so let’s jump right in…

 

NEW MEXICO BOWL (Albuquerque, NM)

TEMPLE (8-4) VS. WYOMING (8-4)

Vegas Line: Temple by 7, total of 49.5

Market Moves: Temple opened at -7.5, but underdog money came in right away. For several days, the game sat at -6.5 for the Owls…but then some favorite money moved the line to -7 just before we went to press. Considering this isn’t a game that the public would bet early, you can assume that the smart money is weighted on the underdog at +7 or better, but the favorite at -6.5 or better. The total has moved progressively upward from an opener of 46.5. That’s strong sentiment for the Over considering the public hasn’t even bet yet…and they generally prefer Overs. Note that this game is being played at the home stadium for New Mexico of the Mountain West. Wyoming is in that conference, but didn’t play in this stadium this year. Obviously they’ll have more of a local crowd given the difficulties for Temple fans getting from Philadelphia to Albuquerque.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

Temple: 121st

Wyoming: 88th

Temple of the MAC played the weaker of the two schedules even though they did take Penn State down to the wire early in the season. Wyoming played Nebraska, TCU, and Boise State…giving them the tougher slate over the full 12 games. Note that we’ll be using the pre-bowl numbers from Jeff Sagarin’s Computer Ratings at USA Today for our strength of schedule numbers again this season.

OFFENSE

Temple: 67th (117th passing, 7th rushing)

Wyoming: 46th (73rd passing, 32nd rushing)

Wyoming grades out with the better offense even though they played the tougher schedule. That should give them a chance to hang in this game as an underdog. Both teams are stronger on the ground, with Temple showing that to an extreme degree. It’s a bit odd to see Over money coming in so heavily with two ground attacks. We can assume the weather forecast is favorable…and that there’s a prediction both teams will open things up a bit more in a bowl game.

DEFENSE

Temple: 15th (19th passing, 26th rushing)

Wyoming: 99th (33rd passing, 115th rushing)

Temple grades out very well here obviously. But, it has to be said that they wouldn’t rank anywhere near this if they played in a real conference. This is not a defensive “power” by any stretch of the imagination. They do have a great defense by MAC standards. And, their run-based attack helps run clock and shorten games. The biggest thing jumping out here is that Wyoming’s run defense was abysmal…giving Temple a chance to completely own the point of attack.

ADDING IT ALL UP: Temple would seem to have a big matchup advantage with their strong running game facing a very soft Wyoming rush defense. But, Wyoming will have home crowd and a level of underdog motivation that can be very strong in some of these lesser bowls. If Temple comes in overconfident, they can lose this game outright. If Temple comes with their lunchpails and work helmets, they can grind out a decisive win and cover.

 

IDAHO POTATO BOWL (Boise, ID)

UTAH STATE (7-5) VS. OHIO (9-4)

Vegas Line: Utah State by 1.5, total of 57.5

Market Moves: Utah State opened at -3, but has gotten no support from the market. Ohio money first dropped the line down to -2.5 and -2…and it takes serious support to move Vegas off a key number like three. Just before we went to press, the line dropped even further down to Utah State by just 1.5. Clearly the smart money likes Ohio here. Not much happening on the total, in this game to be played on the fabled blue turf of Boise.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

Utah State: 94th

Ohio: 124th

You’ll recall that Utah State opened the season very impressively at Auburn, just missing an outright upset. They also just missed upsetting BYU. Ohio’s toughest opponent was Rutgers, which helped the Bobcats create a misleading won-lost record and misleading stat rankings.

OFFENSE

Utah State: 20th (96th passing, 6th rushing)

Ohio: 23rd (42nd passing, 24th rushing)

Utah State gets the better ranking despite playing the much tougher schedule. So…a big edge here for the Aggies. Let’s note again that some lesser midmajor programs can put up impressive stat rankings because of who they play rather than who they are. Neither of these teams would strike you as offensive powers if they played in a BCS conference. Utah State would put up some yardage in a shootout loss….but they wouldn’t scare a real defense (Auburn’s defense was shaky this year). Edge to Utah State, but don’t get hung up on those high national rankings.

DEFENSE

Utah State: 50th (77th passing, 35th rushing)

Ohio: 42nd (68th passing, 80th rushing)

Once you adjust for strength of schedule, you get Utah State as the better team on this side of the ball too. Let’s also note that Ohio’s soft rushing defense (ranking 80th against a crap schedule is really bad) could be in big trouble against Utah State’s ground threat. You can see why Utah State opened as a field goal favorite. The numbers make it clear that its deserved. The smart money is therefore focusing on some other factor to inspire its early Ohio action. We’re not going to talk about that here. You can rest assured that JIM HURLEY knows what’s going on…and whether or not the line move is an overreaction.

 

NEW ORLEANS BOWL (New Orleans, LA)

LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE

Vegas Line: San Diego State by 4.5, total of 58

Market Moves: San Diego State opened at -5.5, but has come down slowly to just -4.5. That makes all three dogs being supported by the smart money at the Vegas openers. The total has come down two points from an opener of 60. Note that this game is being played in the SuperDome, which means Lafayette will have a big home crowd edge.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

La. Lafayette: 123rd

SDSU: 86th

So far each game on Saturday has seen a fairly large split in schedule strength. This time its Lafayette coming in extremely untested…basically having played a MAC caliber schedule. San Diego State from the Mountain West had to deal with TCU, Boise State, and Michigan. They weren’t blown off the field in those games, but they only covered one of three.

OFFENSE

La. Lafayette: 65th (39th passing, 86th rushing)

SDSU: 36th (64th passing, 28th rushing)

Big edge here for San Diego state once you adjust for strength of schedule. We’ve now seen that for Wyoming, Utah State, and San Diego State. If you like betting on offense, those are your sides. If you like betting on defense, things are going to be a bit more complicated for you Saturday because of the strength of schedule pollution.

DEFENSE

La. Lafayette: 72nd (92nd passing, 56th rushing)

SDSU: 58th (31st passing, 81st rushing)

An edge again for the Aztecs, who would be a fairly pricey favorite if this were a home game instead of a road trip to the Gulf Coast. Good thing for Lafayette this wasn’t the Poinsettia Bowl! The numbers clearly show San Diego State earning their favored status. Handicappers have to determine how much of a role the home cooking will play for Lafayette…and how much of an emotional boost the early underdogs are going to have this year. Some seasons…the majority of early bowls go to the dogs just because the favorites aren’t all that fired up. But, we’ve seen recently that class can hold its form too when the favorites do show up.

JIM HURLEY will have his top bowl plays from this opening salvo up for you on the website a few hours before kickoff. You can also sign up for the rest of football online, or by calling the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about basketball when you call. We won’t have much room to talk about the baskets here in the NOTEBOOK now that the bowls are here. NETWORK will still be firing away every day and night on the hardwood. And, the NBA joins the fun on Xmas Day…don’t forget about that!

THE ANNUAL BOWL BONANZA BEGINS SATURDAY…BE SURE YOU’RE BOWLING FOR DOLLARS WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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