Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 9:13 AM
Back as promised with stat previews for the final three conference championship games on this week's college football slate. If you're reading this early Saturday morning, and you're interested in the CUSA game that kicks off at noon ET...please check the archives for our Friday edition. We crunched the numbers in the Friday NOTEBOOK for that game because it was such an early starter.
We move now to the mid-afternoon for the LSU-Georgia battle in the SEC...
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP (in Georgia Dome)
LSU vs. Georgia
Vegas Line: LSU by 14, total of 46
Georgia will have a home crowd, but isn't getting much home field advantage here because it's not their normal site. They did play Boise State on this field to start the season. So, they will have familiarity with the environment. But, they couldn't beat Boise here, so that's a bad sign for trying to beat LSU! Note that many pundits now believe LSU would still play in the BCS Championship game even if they LOSE this matchup with Georgia. Sometimes that kind of coverage can lead to a lethargic performance from a big favorite. We'll see. LSU is so good that opponents need them to be lethargic to have a chance.
Let's run our standard indicator numbers for college football.
Offensive Rankings: LSU 61st, Georgia 35th
Defensive Rankings: LSU 2nd, Georgia 5th
Strength of Schedule: LSU 20th, Georgia 39th
It's interesting that the stats make this look like such an even game. Maybe it will play out that way. There are two issues that we think will make those rankings look a bit too optimistic from the Georgia perspective:
Georgia managed to miss LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas in the schedule rotation this year, meaning they haven't really been battle tested against the best teams in the conference. We don't think that Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule rankings in USA Today fully capture the differences between what these teams faced. LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and beat Oregon on a neutral field. That's more impressive than anything Georgia has done.
LSU has an absolutely FANTASTIC special teams unit...with returners who can go the distance on punts and kickoffs, and a punter who does a great job of pinning down opponents to help out the Tigers defense. There aren't many great stat measurements for special teams...so it can be hard to find good statistical indicators for that category. If you've watched LSU games this season (and, they've been on TV a lot!), you know what we're talking about in terms of this element. It may be worth as much as 7-10 points on the scoreboard by itself.
Be aware that Georgia is playing better lately than they were early in the season when you watched them struggle against Boise State and South Carolina. But...don't let the stat rankings overstate their upset potential here. They will need LSU to be very flat if they want to pull an upset, and probably even a little flat if they want to cover the spread.
We're working very closely with our on-site sources to gauge the mindset of LSU at the moment. That single factor by itself will probably determine who covers this game.
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP (in Charlotte)
Virginia Tech vs. Clemson
Vegas Line: Virginia Tech by 7, total of 54
This is a neutral site game. It's interesting that Virginia Tech was favored by 7 when these teams played on their home field earlier this season. Tech LOST that game badly, but is now favored by 7 on a neutral field! That's the same as being favored by 10 at home. What happened?
CLEMSON'S LAST MONTH
Clemson (-3.5) lost to Georgia Tech 31-17
Clemson (-16) beat Wake Forest 31-28
Clemson (-7.5) lost to NC State 37-13
Clemson (+3.5) lost to South Carolina 34-13
The Tigers were once on the fringe of the BCS race....and they would be favored by the Vegas numbers to be undefeated heading into the South Carolina game. Instead, they lost three of their last four games...and missed Vegas expectations by 17.5, 12.5, 31.5, and 17.5 points. That's four double digit misses...and three by more than 17 points!
Vegas opened the ACC Championship at Virginia Tech -4.5. It's moved 2.5 points...but might need to move two touchdowns more if Clemson is going to fallow this same pattern. Virginia Tech is certainly comparable to or better than Georgia Tech, NC State, and South Carolina...even if this hasn't been a vintage year.
Let's note some negatives on Virginia Tech:
Only beat North Carolina by 3 recently as 9-point favorites
Only beat Duke by 4 recently as 14-point favorites
Only 4-8 ATS on the season
The Tech team that crushed Virginia last week could name the score over Clemson. But, the one that struggled with North Carolina and Duke may find itself in low scoring struggle.
Offensive Rankings: Virginia Tech 37th, Clemson 29th
Defensive Rankings: Virginia Tech 12th, Clemson 63rd
Strength of Schedule: Virginia Tech 60th, Clemson 44th
Tech would have a slight edge above after you adjust for strength of schedule. But, Clemson's not playing anywhere near those rankings during their recent slump.
JIM HURLEY is working the Clemson angle here very closely. If the team has lost its spirit, then the line doesn't matter...and Virginia Tech is the play. If Clemson has made the right adjustments, they can certainly with this game outright given their 23-3 victory earlier this season.
BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIP (in Indianapolis)
Wisconsin vs. Michigan State
Vegas Line: Wisconsin by 9, total of 54
Michigan State won a regular season meeting between these teams at home on a last second TD pass. You know Wisconsin has been praying for a rematch so they can get some justice (in their minds) with the biggest stakes possible in the conference. Here are some key notes from that first meeting:
Wisconsin owned the point of attack, winning rushing yards-per-carry 5.4 to 3.4.
It didn't help them as much as you'd think because the Wisconsin defense let Michigan State pass very effectively. State was 22-31-0-290 passing on the night. The advantage of rush yardage comes from the lack of turnover risk. But, if the other team is throwing for 290 yards with no interceptions...then it's just two teams taking turns with the ball.
Russell Wilson threw two interceptions for Wisconsin...reminding people why he wasn't really any sort of superstar quarterback even though he was an upgrade at the position. Wilson is a true leader with maturity...but he'll have to avoid mistakes Saturday Night if he wants to lift the championship trophy over his head. Wilson makes Wisconsin multi-dimensional, but not unbeatable.
All of this suggests the turnover category will determine the Big 10 champion. Both offenses have workable options. Both defenses can disrupt, but can't dominate this particular opponent even if they can dominate much lesser opponents (which you'll see in a minute). Play clean and win.
Offensive Rankings: Wisconsin 12th, Michigan State 64th
Defensive Rankings: Wisconsin 7th, Michigan State 3rd
Strength of Schedule: Wisconsin 64th, Michigan State 55th
The Big Ten wasn't exactly overflowing with powerful offenses this year, so many of the defenses have eye-popping rankings. We'll have to see how legitimate those are come bowl time. Wisconsin has the clear edge statistically on offense...and the ability to move on the ground should assist them in the turnover category on a neutral field. Will it be enough to cover a line this high?
JIM HURLEY'S top selections from CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY are available right here at the website for credit card purchase. Be sure to also check out this week's TV Triple Crown, which may feature games like Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Texas-Baylor, and BYU-Hawaii. Call 1-800-323-4453 if you want to work out a package for the rest of football, or create a combination package with football and basketball.
Speaking of basketball, we have a huge schedule today in that sport as well. Among the highlights:
North Carolina at Kentucky on CBS (possible championship preview!)
Purdue at Xavier on ESPNU
Gonzaga at Illinois on ESPN2
Arkansas at Connecticut on ESPN
Marquette at Wisconsin on the Big 10 Network
Texas at UCLA on Fox Sports
South Florida at Kansas on ESPN2
Pittsburgh at Tennessee on ESPN
This may be one of the most exciting college basketball Saturdays of the whole 2011-12 season!
This is not a day to spend at the mall...or on your couch. DON'T SIT ON THE SIDELINES, GET IN THE GAME!