Tuesday & Wednesday Bowl Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

STAT PREVIEWS FOR CHAMPS SPORTS, INSIGHT, EAGLE BANK, TEXAS & ALAMO BOWLS

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

No time to rest in this busy week. We have stat previews for you in the Tuesday and Wednesday bowls in this edition of the NOTEBOOK. Wednesdays have been reserved for NFL stat summaries in recent weeks. We'll stick with that schedule again...so we've pushed the Wednesday bowls into this report. Plus, there's an early start Wednesday so it can't hurt to give you that information early!

We'll resume with our college bowl coverage Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY going on during one of the most important football weeks of the season!

We'll take the games in schedule order. The data you see in each nutshell summary are national rankings in total offense and total defense, the number of offensive plays per game so you can adjust for tempo, and the strength of schedule as rated by the USA Today computers.

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL
WEST VIRGINIA (9-3) vs. NC STATE (8-4)

West Virginia: 64th offense, 3rd defense, 70.3 plays, 73rd schedule
NC State: 40th offense, 35th defense, 77.1 plays, 45th schedule
ATS Records: West Virginia 7-4-1, NC State 9-3
Vegas Line: West Virginia by 2.5, total of 48.5

Notebook: Our numbers show NC State as the better side. They have more balance, and they played a tougher schedule. West Virginia's defense is obviously terrific, but that was helped by playing in the very slow (tempo-wise) Big East...where it's easy to create illusions on defense because there are fewer snaps. Note that Louisville ranked 12th in the nation defensively heading into the Southern Miss game, yet allowed almost 400 yards and only forced one turnover while watching 28 points go up on the board. West Virginia is good...but they don't really have the 3rd best defense in the nation.

We'll be talking with our sources about the mindset of these teams entering the week. Both had shots at division or league championships but fell short. The team that wants it worse is going to win and cover. JIM HURLEY will find out who that is! If motivation is a wash, then NC State will probably get some consideration from us thanks to that edge in strength of schedule.

It's been awhile since we've seen a very fast team show up in a bowl preview. Very few teams make it to 80 possessions per game. You know Tulsa plays fast. NC State is about as fast as Tulsa. So, we're have a true battle of the tempo's in this bowl. Whoever forces their style on the other is likely to have a meaningful edge. That will also drive the total too. NC State's style will trigger an Over. West Virginia may run clock for an Under if things are going well for them in the second half.

INSIGHT BOWL
MISSOURI (10-2) vs. IOWA (7-5)

Missouri: 45th offense, 42nd defense, 70.3 plays, 26th schedule
Iowa: 61st offense, 15th defense, 62.3 plays, 52nd schedule
ATS Records: Missouri 7-5, Iowa 5-6-1
Vegas Line: Missouri by 3, total of 47

Notebook: Iowa is another team that's created some illusions about defense because of a slow pace. They prefer to run clock when they can, resulting in just 62 offensive plays per game. Yes, that obviously means their offense is better than 61st at a normal tempo. But, it's not explosive, particularly vs. quality. How good is Missouri? Our numbers say pretty good. If you adjust for strength of schedule, they move into the top 40 on both sides of the ball.

You regulars know we haven't been fans of Kirk Frerentz over the years. We do appreciate what he's been able to do in bowls. You don't want to ask him to consistently cover as a favorite in the regular season because he'll find a way to almost blow the game outright (or to go all the way and blow it). Give him a month to prepare though, and he's usually going to disrupt your plans.

Our concern here with Iowa is all the off-field shenanigans that were going on. This isn't a team that ended the season well, or seems particularly excited about continuing. Missouri wants to make up for a bad bowl last year vs. Navy. If we hear that Iowa isn't geared up for the game...Missouri could end up being a very big play for us. If Iowa is ready though...we won't ignore Frerentz's bowl history.

EAGLE BANK BOWL
EAST CAROLINA (6-6) vs. MARYLAND (8-4)

E. Carolina: 22nd offense, 120th defense, 75.6 plays, 62nd schedule
Maryland: 85th offense, 46th defense, 63.5 plays, 60th schedule
ATS Records: East Carolina 6-6, Maryland 8-4
Vegas Line: Maryland by 7.5, total of 68

Notebook: What's going to happen when a horrible offense plays a horrible defense?! Maryland has troubles moving the ball vs. anyone who knows what they're doing. East Carolina might allow touchdowns to a team on crutches. Note that these teams played very even schedules. East Carolina challenges themselves in non-conference action historically, while Maryland usually takes it easy. That counter-acted the conference strengths...and gave us meaningful rankings. EC averages around 70th...Maryland is in the mid 60's. Tough for us to justify a line of a full TD in that light. But, Maryland may be fired up for Ralph Friedgen's final game. Our game day release will be strongly influenced by what our sources say about the Terps mindset after his firing.

We may look at the Over here if the weather isn't going to be a negative. East Carolina plays shootouts with everyone (75 and above represents a fast tempo). We won't ask for points in questionable weather though because Maryland may use its offense to run clock given the slower tempo they prefer.

TEXAS BOWL
ILLINOIS (6-6) vs. BAYLOR (7-5)

Illinois: 57th offense, 38th defense, 69.2 plays, 46th schedule
Baylor: 12th offense, 98th defense, 72.3 plays, 34th schedule
ATS Records: Illinois 8-4, Baylor 5-7
Vegas Line: Baylor by 1, total of 62

Notebook: The strength of schedules rankings suggest both teams are probably better than you realize. Both should be excited about going to a bowl. We would have liked either as a motivated underdog against a bigger name opponent. Too bad they had to play each other.

The ATS numbers show that Illinois has been the more underrated team during the season. That may well be the case again here. Are nutshell stats sure don't make it clear why Baylor would be favored. We won't make a decision until we hear from our sources. If they don't spot anything dramatic, Illinois is in position to get a small nod.

We'll think about the total given those tempo's. Illinois is faster than many of the other Northern teams. Baylor isn't a true run-and-shoot team because they're below 75. But...the total of 62 may not be fully capturing the potential for a fast pace in good scoring conditions here.

ALAMO BOWL
OKLAHOMA STATE (10-2) vs. ARIZONA (7-5)

Oklahoma State: 1st offense, 90th defense, 76.8 plays, 40th schedule
Arizona: 23rd offense, 37th defense, 72.6 plays, 11th schedule
ATS Records: Oklahoma State 9-3, Arizona 6-6
Vegas Line: Oklahoma State by 6, total of 65.5

Notebook: As has happened in the past, we think the USA Today has greatly overrated the Pac 10 again this year, which means they're strength of schedules are out of whack. Our skepticism has been well served as a general rule. There weren't many big highlights last year for the Pac 10 in the bowls either. So, we'll try to remember to post that warning every time the conference takes the field.

Taken without adjustment, Arizona would look to be the MUCH better choice here. They'd grade out around 30th in the country when you average the rankings. Oklahoma State would grade out 45th. Given what we know about the teams, we may have to reverse the strengths of schedule numbers to approximate the Vegas line.

You have to respect a team that's 9-3 against the spread, because it's hard to cover 75% of the time in a market that usually adjusts quickly. But, we know that Big 12 schools are often flat for the Alamo Bowl, particularly those who were dreaming bigger dreams. Arizona is in bounce-back mode after a bad loss to Nebraska last year. If our sources confirm those general directions, we may be on the dog here even though we don't trust the SOS data.

Those are the previews for Tuesday and Wednesday. Let's run Sunday night's boxscore before calling it a day...

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 34, TOLEDO 32
Total Yardage: Florida International 308, Toledo 436
Rushing Yards: Florida International 168, Toledo 305
Passing Stats: Florida International 16-28-1-140, Toledo 15-27-3-131
Turnovers: Florida International 1, Toledo 4
Halftime Score: Florida International 7, Toledo 21
Vegas Line: Florida International by 2, total of 58

Notebook: FIU looked dead in the water at halftime. But, a kickoff return TD, some TD's off turnovers and a blocked punt, then a fourth down conversion with a hook and lateral put them in position to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Heck, from the jaws of a blowout defeat! Toledo won total yardage and rushing yardage big. If not for the turnovers, this would have been a great showing for the MAC. Instead, it's more evidence that nobody outside of Northern Illinois knew what they were doing this year. These leagues will meet again when Middle Tennessee of the Sun Belt plays Miami of Ohio from the MAC between Ohio State/Arkansas and LSU/Texas A&M next week. A travesty! But, a game sharp handicappers will hopefully be able to profit from.

Back tomorrow with our NFL summaries. More previews will run Thursday and Friday. You regulars know we can't post JIM HURLEY'S official selections here in the NOTEBOOK. That information is for paying customers. You can purchase game day releases here at the website with your credit card a few hours before kickoff (we'll have some earlier than normal posting times this week with all of the afternoon starts).  Or, sign up for the whole BOWL BONANZA at an affordable price, then keep cashing your tickets all the way through Auburn-Oregon.

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