Saturday's Bowl Showdowns
SATURDAY'S BOWL SHOWDOWNS - TOP 5 NFL COACHES
NEW MEXICO BOWL - at Albuquerque, NM
TEMPLE (8-4) vs. WYOMING (8-4) - 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
The first of three bowl games on this calendar day and - yes, you got it - all of 'em involve non-BCS conference teams but that don't make 'em bad as Mid-American Conference club Temple bucks heads with Mountain West Conference crew Wyoming.
Underdog Wyoming shoots for the stars here with freshman QB Brent Smith at the helm and note he sported an 18-to-8 TD/INT ratio this past season and only some foul-weather games in November kept him from expanding his stats that also include 2,495 yards passing and a zippy 60.5 completion percentage rate. If the winds are not howling too much here, than Smith will cut it loose for 40-or-so passes.
Meanwhile, Temple RB Bernard Pierce (1,381 yards rushing and 25 ground scores) says he's healthy for this clash after assorted shoulder woes and here he is challenging a Wyoming defense that allowed 230.1 yards rushing per game to rank 'em sixth-worst among FBS teams.
Spread Notes - Temple is an electric 8-4 ATS (against the spread) this season and note the Owls are 16-11 spreadwise as betting favorites while dating back to late in the 2008 season. Wyoming enters this bowl clash at 7-5 ATS overall this season and the Cowboys are 17-8-1 ATS as underdog sides in the coach Dave Christensen Era that began in 2009.
IDAHO POTATO BOWL - at Boise, ID
OHIO (9-4) vs. UTAH STATE (7-5) - 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This is the shortest pointspread on the board for this bowl-opening day as Utah State's listed as a 2 ½-point choice at press time and Aggies RB Robert Turbin (1,416 yards rushing and 19 ground TDs) may be the country's best back you've never heard of this year. If Turbin (10th in the country in yards per game at 118) can motor his way around Ohio's smallish defense, than this Western Athletic Conference crew could have a proverbial field day against the MAC guys.
Note that already this ranks as a what-could-have-been-type season for the U-State Aggies who lost four games by a TD or less including that gut-wrenching 42-38 loss at 23 ½-point fav Auburn ... remember?
Look for the Ohio Bobcats - now appearing in a bowl game for a school-record third consecutive season - to ask QB Tyler Tettleton for a well-balanced performance here. Tettleton - whose dad is one-time Detroit Tigers star Mickey Tettleton - threw for 3,086 yards with 26 TDs and rushed for another 627 yards and 9 scores this season. Expect Tettleton to tuck it and run on many third-and-short yardage plays.
Spread Notes - Utah State split its 12 pointspread verdicts this 2011 campaign but did you know the Aggies are 9-2 versus the vig in non-league affairs dating back to the start of the 2009 season (and that includes non-WAC covers this season against Auburn and BYU)? On the flip side, Ohio is 6-7 ATS this season and the Bobcats are a collective 14-6-1 ATS as pups the past three-plus seasons.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
UL-LAFAYETTE (8-4) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (8-4) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
If there is a player-to-watch here than no doubt it's San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman who rushed for 1,656 yards (a 5.8 yards-per-carry average) with 19 TDs while finishing third in the nation while averaging 138 rushing yards a game. Still, even if Hillman thrives here against Sun Belt Conference member UL-Lafayette, than senior QB Ryan Lindley (2,740 yards passing with 20 TDs and 8 INTs this year) likely will have to make some clutch plays in the passing game - note State's scored 31-or-more points in four of its last five games.
Look for ULL Ragin' Cajuns QB Blaine Gautier (2,488 yards passing with 20 TDs and 5 INTs) to come out chuckin'. Gautier helped his team "cash" eight times in a dozen board tries and note that he completes nearly 64 percent of his passes. The Cajuns will look to get the ball into the hands of junior WR Javone Lawson who caught 54 balls worth 899 yards and 6 TDs ... the dude's electric!
Spread Notes - Did you know that UL-Lafayette has covered 12 of its last 17 games while dating back to late last season? The Ragin' Cajuns went a perfect 7-and-oh against the odds whenever taking points this year. San Diego State's 5-7 spreadwise this season but note the Aztecs have notched spread wins in eight of their last 10 season finale games.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win big-time in NFL Week 15 and than don't forget the College Football Bowl Games this Saturday with three tilts all televised on ESPN: That's The New Mexico Bowl (2 p.m. ET), the Idaho Potato Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET) and the New Orleans Bowl (9 p.m. ET) and we'll have quick-hitter previews on all these games in an upcoming Jim Sez column. Plus there is plenty of College Basketball action and the NBA (as if you didn't already know!) gets tipped off on Christmas Day - so make sure you're part of all the winning action straight through New Year's!
OUR NFL NEWS & NOTES - WE RANK THE TOP FIVE COACHING JOBS (SO FAR) THIS SEASON PLUS A FINAL ADIEU TO KC'S HALEY AND MIAMI'S SPARANO
Everyone's gonna be handing out their holiday-time hardware soon enough in the National Football League - we already know Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has his name engraved on the league's MVP award -- but who have really cranked out the best coaching jobs in the league where they play for pay?
Glad you asked!
As we head into Saturday/Sunday action here in mind-December, here's how we see it ...
MIKE McCARTHY, Green Bay Packers - Just because the defending Super Bowl champion Packers have won every game this year that they are "supposed to win" doesn't mean McCarthy should be overlooked in this Jim Sez report. The fact of the matter is the Pack is well-prepared for every outing as GB's 9-4 ATS (against the spread) en route to this sizzling 13-and-oh start. Better yet, McCarthy has made sure QB Rodgers has improved on a weekly basis - some star quarterbacks stagnate but not Rodgers who carries out all his coach's ideas on the field.
JIM HARBAUGH, San Francisco 49ers - No doubt the temptation will be to vote this first-year Niners boss-man as the 2011 NFL Coach of the Year but we claim he's gonna likely have to settle for the "silver medal". Harbaugh's enthusiasm for the position can't be beat - we'll give 'em that - and it's great that he has adapted his principles to the talent at hand. Obviously, Harbaugh would love to have a gun-slinger quarterback making big plays downfield but he's realized a grind-it-out offense and blue-collar defense is the real key to this club's success.
JOHN FOX, Denver Broncos - Just in case you had forgot who's running the show in the Mile High City, it's this first-year Broncos boss and not QB Tim Tebow. Yes, the Broncos roared back from a sallow 1-4 SU (straight-up) start to go 8-5 SU while heading into Sunday's home game against New England and Fox has worked around Tebow's unorthodox style while shaping this defense into one of the toughest in the land. Betcha didn't know the Broncos have held four of their last five opponents to 13 points or less?
KEN WHISENHUNT, Arizona Cardinals - Admittedly this one-time Super Bowl head coach (see 2008 season) is amongst our personal favorites but what a wow job he's done in the desert this year. The Redbirds - who are 6-7 SU while entering Sunday's home game against the woeful Cleveland Browns - were left for dead weeks ago with a 1-6 SU mark but Whisenhunt's stayed the course even with all kinds of roller-coaster play at quarterback as Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have gone back-and-forth under center and not always with great results.
GARY KUBIAK, Houston Texans - Count us among the folks that were shocked that this sixth-year head coach wasn't axed following last season's late-season meltdown. Good thing the AFC South club stayed with Kubiak - right, it didn't hurt matters that Wade Phillips was brought in as the defensive coordinator - but the truth is Kubiak's steered the ship neatly despite the well-chronicled quarterback injuries to starter Matt Schaub and back-up Matt Leinart and that rollicking comeback win in Cincinnati last week proved to be the coach's finest hour.
NFL NEWS & NOTES: FINAL BYE-BYE TO HALEY AND SPARANO
Okay, we gotta admit that we're not really big fans of firing NFL coaches this late in the season - if you are gonna make an in-season move that it would seem to us you do it by mid-season so that possibly your club can salvage the year - what was really to gain here earlier this week by Kansas City firing Todd Haley and Miami axing Tony Sparano with only three games left in their 2011 seasons?
No doubt we've heard the rumblings that both teams want to get an early start at examining what else is out there - but did they have to fire coaches that actually had re-energized their respective teams in recent weeks?
Guess it's Haley's fault that starting QB Matt Cassel went down with a finger injury weeks ago and guess Sparano gets zero credit for the fact the Dolphins had covered six games in a row prior to last Sunday's admittedly poor showing in the 26-10 home loss against Philadelphia.
No, you're not going to get us to sit here and tell you Haley and Sparano were the modern-day re-incarnations of Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry but the fact of the matter is these guys are playing with "short decks" and yet combined they exited their NFL stays this year with a combined pointspread mark of 13-13 ATS.
Not bad at all.
Do the Chiefs (5-8) really think naming defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as their head coach for season-ending games against 13-and-oh Green Bay, Oakland and at Denver will make a pronounced difference?
Do the Dolphins think interim Todd Bowles will remind folks of Bill Walsh in year-ending games at Buffalo, at New England and home to the New York Jets?
The truth of the matter - and we've been saying this for years now at Jim Sez - is that two-thirds of the NFL head coaches lose more games than they win and Haley and Sparano fall into that two-thirds category but at least these AFC teams should have given these gentlemen a little longer leash and the benefit of ending the year before pulling the plug on 'em - no wonder both franchises have not been relevant the past 25 years (or more)!
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