Opening Bowl Previews
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
HUGE BOWL BONANZA GETS UNDERWAY SATURDAY WITH TRIPLEHEADER
As promised, we're back to provide our first set of stat previews for the 2010-11 college football BOWL BONANZA!
We'll discuss Saturday's tripleheader in this NOTEBOOK entry. And, over the next few weeks, we'll use this same nutshell format of key indicators to preview every single bowl on the card. In the midst of that, we'll also run boxscore summaries in hopes of finding early trends that will pay off down the road. All of this will be going during a fascinating stretch run in the NFL too. So, FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS!
Here are the key numbers we'll be looking at in the bowls this year:
WON-LOST RECORDS: To give you a quick sense of who the best teams are, and who barely snuck in to become bowl eligible. It's also a good reminder for casual fans who haven't been thinking much about college football the past two weeks. If we ask you, "what was BYU's record this year?" Based on the past several years, you're probably thinking something like 8-4. You'll see in a moment they were only 6-6.
TOTAL OFFENSE: We'll provide the national ranking for each team in total offense (yards allowed per game0. You'll be surprised this year how many big name teams fell backward in that area. The public loves to bet on reputation, and loves to get Overs in bowls. See if you can find some ways to take advantage of those errors. Teams who "used' to have good offenses are going to be overbet in the coming weeks.
TOTAL DEFENSE: We'll also look at the national ranking for each team in total defense. You regulars know how much weight we place on that element in all sports. Defense wins championships. Even when championships aren't on the line, defense wins a lot of bowl games! Be on the lookout for "defensive dogs" who are likely to make it very difficult for opposing favorites to post a lot of points.
TEMPO: For the first time ever, we're adding a reflection of tempo into our stat previews. This has become VERY important in recent years because some teams use fast-paced spread attacks that help them pile up yardage in misleading ways. That tempo also makes their defense look worse than it really is. Other slower paced teams are more dangerous than you think, they just run fewer plays in their blowouts. Each game preview will show you how many plays that offense ran per-game this season. Here's the scale you should have in your head as you study the data:
66 or lower: slow, run based team who probably had a good defense
67-70: still slow, and usually run-based
75-79: picking up the pace
80-up: run-and-gun teams, or fast-paced teams who played a lot of other fast paced teams
We'll help you make mental adjustments for the total yardage rankings by looking at how tempo may have influenced those numbers.
SCHEDULE STRENGTH: And, for additional context, we'll include the strength of schedule ratings as compiled by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today (as we do in the NFL) so you can help separate quality from the pretenders. As happens every year, some pretty bad teams earn bowl bids just because they caught some breaks against horrible schedules...or play in conferences where EVERYONE plays horrible schedules, and somebody ends up earning a bowl bid by default. We've found this is a great hidden indicator for bowl blowouts or upsets over the years.
ATS RECORDS: We don't do this to evaluate the teams, but to evaluate the market. Who have oddsmakers and bettors been slow to recognize this year? Who have they consistently overrated? You'll be surprised at how many top programs were actually underrated, and how many media darkhorses were actually overrated.
Enough of the outline. Let's talk football!
NEW MEXICO BOWL
BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
BYU: 80th offense, 33rd defense, 71.8 plays, 51st schedule
UTEP: 72nd offense, 86th defense, 65.8 plays, 129th schedule
ATS Records: BYU 7-5, UTEP 5-7
Vegas Line: BYU by 11.5, total of 50
Notebook: You might think it's odd that BYU is such a heavy favorite given that both teams were 6-6 on the year. Strength of schedule gives you some insights there. UTEP is a bowl pretender in the extreme. And, they were also a hot starter that closed the season with some losses. Oddsmakers actually opened the game at BYU -13 though, so early bettors though the full season numbers didn't justify a line near two touchdowns.
The biggest advantage is clearly on the defensive side of the ball. BYU was very respectable against an adequate schedule. UTEP ranked poorly despite playing a pathetic schedule. Neither team is particularly fast-paced. BYU wasn't getting the kind of quarterback play this year that you need for a fast tempo. UTEP surely didn't want to speed up games with that horrible defense!
Motivation is always a key factor in these early bowl games, and in any matchup where there's a double digit spread. Favorites often have trouble getting fired up for early games, and therefore play way below their statistical norms. Underdogs smell blood, particularly if they can start the game well. We'll be working closely with our sources out West for guidance here before making a final call. What we learn will also influence any total play. UTEP's defense is so bad that they might allow BYU into the high 30's or more if weather's not an issue. But, a flat BYU might have trouble driving an Over.
If our sources don't find anything out of the ordinary, we'll have to consider the big underdog based on the success early dogs have had over the years.
N. ILLINOIS (10-3) vs. FRESNO STATE (8-4)
N. Illinois: 21st offense, 27th defense, 65.8 plays, 121st schedule
Fresno State: 71st offense, 50th defense, 65.4 plays, 82nd schedule
ATS Records: Northern Illinois 9-3-1, Fresno State 5-6-1
Vegas Line: Northern Illinois by 1, total of 59
Notebook: Northern Illinois will be led by an assistant because head coach Jerry Kill has taken over at Minnesota. Sometimes a coaching change just kills a team, particularly when the players loved the former coach and feel abandoned. Sometimes, the assistant brings a spark that fires everybody up. Here, what we learn from our sources will be vital.
In terms of the stats, we think it all comes out pretty even once you adjust for strength of schedule. Northern is capable of killing bad teams. They're not facing one here. Fresno State is much more battle tested, as the WAC was a little better than normal this year and improving Illinois came to visit in a late season non-conference game. You can see why Vegas opened the game near pick-em. But, you can also see that Vegas clearly underestimated Northern Illinois to an extreme degree this year. You don't see many 75% cover performances these days.
It's worth noting that the game is being played in Boise, Idaho. Fresno State is used to the blue turf and the surroundings. Northern Illinois might take a while to get their eyeballs adjusted.
The slow tempo from these teams could trigger an Under from us, particularly if weather is going to help. We won't make a decision on the team side until we hear from our Chicago guys what's going on with Northern. What we learn could trigger a very big release.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL
OHIO (8-4) vs. TROY (7-5)
Ohio: 94th offense, 28th defense, 59.7 plays, 124th schedule
Troy: 24th offense, 93rd defense, 76.8 plays, 149th schedule
ATS Records: Ohio 8-4, Troy 4-8
Vegas Line: Troy by 1.5, total of 58
Notebook: From frozen blue tundra to a dome on the Gulf Coast, we move to the Big Easy for the final game of Saturday's tripleheader. It's not a dream matchup in terms of big name programs. But, the game does provide some very interesting extremes:
- Troy has a good offense, while Ohio's is terrible
- Ohio has a good defense, while Troy's is terrible (think about how terrible the lesser units have to be to rank so poorly against such easy schedules!)
- Ohio is slow as molasses, posting the lowest plays-per-game average of any bowl team this year. Troy pushes tempo when they can.
- We might as well add in that Ohio was underrated by Vegas all year, posting an 8-4 mark against the spread. Troy was the exact opposite, going only 4-8 ATS while being consistently overrated by the market.
It all comes down to a line near pick-em. We'll be thinking about Troy because they had the shorter trip, and because we prefer Larry Blakeney to Frank Solich in big games where nobody's overmatched talent wise. The conservatism of Solich makes it hard for Ohio to pull away even when things are going well.
On the total, this is one of those games where the team in control with impose its tempo on the game and drive the logical Over/Under. So, you may be duplicating your bet. If you like Ohio, you basically have the Under already. If you like Troy, you're expecting points from their offense to drive the game Over. We'll often pass totals in bowl games where this is the case.
That wraps up our look at the first three bowl games of the year. We'll have our final basketball report for awhile in Saturday's NOTEBOOK to get you ready for a monster day in college hoops. It's back to football Sunday and for the foreseeable future because of the very heavy pro and college schedules.
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Enjoy the bowl games tomorrow. We posted the previews on Friday so you do-it-yourselfers could study the numbers overnight. But, don't lose sleep if you can't find a winner. JIM HURLEY ALWAYS FINDS BIG JUICY WINNERS!
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