Tuesday/Wednesday Bowl Stat Previews
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STAT PREVIEWS FOR LITTLE CAESAR'S, BELK, MILITARY, AND HOLIDAY BOWLS
The bowl schedule is about to pick up in terms of intensity...so our stat reviews of the bowls will do the same right here in the NOTEBOOK! We're going to cover all four Tuesday and Wednesday games in this report. After a Wednesday edition that studies key stats from last week's NFL, we'll go back to the bowls for preview reports Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday is NFL only this week...so we'll preview the Dallas Cowboys-NY Giants game that's been moved to prime time for NBC...then it's back to the bowls on Monday for the annual New Year's extravaganza.
YES...WE'RE GOING TO BOWL YOU OVER!
As always, we'll take the games in rotation order...starting with the Tuesday afternoon kick at Ford Field in Detroit...
LITTLE CAESAR'S BOWL (Detroit, MI)
WESTERN MICHIGAN (7-5) VS. PURDUE (6-6)
Vegas Line: Purdue by 2.5, total of 60
Market Moves: There hasn't been a lot of betting action in this game. You longtime market followers know that such a phenomenon at this kind of number represents support for the underdog. Had professional wagerers liked Purdue, they would have jumped all over any line below a field goal. So, the fact that there are no moves here tells you that many big bettors aren't interested...and the ones who are interested are waiting to see if they can get the dog at +3 on game day after public betting. The total of 60 has stood pat.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
W. Michigan: 103rd
We should mention up top that we're using Jeff Sagarin's pre-bowl strength of schedule numbers from USA Today once again this season in all of our previews. Playing in the tougher conference, Purdue naturally had the more difficult schedule in this matchup. Purdue's only quality opponent in non-league play was Notre Dame, and that was a blowout loss. Purdue also lost to lowly Rice. They did make up for that later with an upset of Ohio State. Western Michigan gave themselves a tough non-conference schedule, with a win over UCONN, a close loss to Illinois, and a bigger loss to Michigan.
W. Michigan: 22nd (8th passing, 86th rushing)
Purdue: 79th (83rd passing, 39th rushing)
Western grades out with the better offense even after you adjust for strength of schedule. You can tell this is a pass-heavy team that likes to move up and down the field. Purdue used to play that way many years ago. But, now the Boilermakers are much more of a grinder team
W. Michigan: 100th (52nd passing, 107th rushing)
Purdue: 68th (36th passing, 90th rushing)
Purdue really grades out well in defense once you make a mental adjustment for strength of schedule. They rank 32 spots higher against tougher challenges! Most important to us is the matchup situation. Western Michigan loves to pass...but Purdue shows up well in that element defensively. Purdue prefers to run, and Western Michigan was absolutely horrible against the run. That's why Purdue is the neutral field favorite.
ADDING IT ALL UP: Were this game being played in September, back when Purdue was losing to Rice...maybe Western Michigan would have deserved to be the favorite. But, Purdue did get its act together down the stretch...and has some matchup advantages they should be able to exploit. The fact that the smart money isn't pounding Purdue can't be discounted though. JIM HURLEY is weighing the options here, and may decide that a play on the total is the best choice.
BELK BOWL (Charlotte, NC)
LOUISVILLE (7-5) VS. NC STATE (7-5)
Vegas Line: N.C. State by 1, total of 44.4
Market Moves: This line opened around NC State by 1 or 1.5...then moved up for awhile to -2.5 and even the random -3. But, smart money has been hitting the dog recently, driving the line back toward and past the opener at many stores. For now, the smart money isn't in love with anything at this line...but did like the dog at +2 or above. The total has come down a point from an opener of 45.5. Game day weather may inspire additional movement.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NC State: 76th
This is pretty even as far as bowl matchups go. We've been seeing much bigger splits so far as a general rule. Both are mid-level teams from conferences that didn't exactly set the world on fire this year. Given how little difference there is between teams at this stage of the bell curve...you can probably assume that "what you see is what you get" with the stat rankings below.
Louisville: 104th (79th passing, 83rd rushing)
NC State: 93rd (54th passing, 108th rushing)
Edge to NC State, though both offenses struggled badly this season. There are only about 120 teams that matter...and neither of these teams faced killer schedules. Bad offenses! The most potent element is NC State's passing game based on the numbers above. Can they do enough damage in the air without turning the ball over.
Louisville: 23rd (62nd passing, 9th rushing)
NC State: 38th (55th passing, 40th rushing)
Obviously, if the offenses are horrible, and these teams still qualified for bowls...then the strength of each must be on the defensive side of the ball. Edge to Louisville, and they played the slightly tougher schedule too...so that's a more impressive edge than NC State's on offense. It's important to look at the components though. That's why we're posting them in all of our previews this year. Louisville's weak spot was pass defense, and that lines up with NC State's strength.
ADDING IT ALL UP: In recent years, this kind of stat profile has led to Unders in bowl games. There's a bunch of media talk about teams opening things up and trying to run trick plays. But, it's tough to do that with limited offensive talent against good defenses. JIM HURLEY will check the weather forecasts and field conditions before making a final call on either the side or the total. It's possible that NETWORK will have plays on both of those in this game. We should also add that we'll be studying both teams to try and get a read on conference strengths. The ACC picture should be coming clear with North Carolina laying on Monday Night and NC State playing here. Louisville is the first of a few Big East teams who will be taking the field in coming days.
MILITARY BOWL (Washington, DC)
TOLEDO (8-4) VS. AIR FORCE (7-5)
Vegas Line: Toledo by 3, total of 70
Market Moves: Toledo has been a pretty solid -3 for quite awhile now, outside of the earliest openers that were below that. It's kind of amazing how far the military schools have fallen. Air Force and Navy have been bowl regulars for years now...and even Army broke through last year. This season, neither Army nor Navy qualified...and Air Force is a dog to TOLEDO! We have a very high total here because Toledo has been playing some wild and crazy shootouts (25 points above Louisville/NC State). Betting has been centering on the 70. Sportsbooks that go below that see Over bets...but if they go up to 71, then Under money brings the number back to 70.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Air Force: 112th
Were you expecting Toledo to have the tougher schedule? Air Force played both of the other military schools in non-conference action, and the Mountain West as a whole wasn't very impressive this year. You've already seen Wyoming get squashed by Temple. TCU won the league, but didn't cover in their bowl game against Louisiana Tech. Toledo played Boise State, Ohio State, and Syracuse in non-MAC action, which is courageous scheduling. What they learned in those losses helped them play great ball in the MAC. Their only loss in the league was to Northern Illinois.
Toledo: 8th (29th passing, 14th rushing)
Air Force: 19th (113th passing, 2nd rushing)
Toledo was just an offensive machine this year...with balance and firepower. Air Force grades out well too, but that ranking takes a hit after you adjust for strength of schedule. Toledo clearly had the better offense this season.
Toledo: 76th (109th passing, 26th rushing)
Air Force: 69th (6th passing, 112th rushing)
Toledo will get the nod from us because of our adjustments for schedule strength. And, we're very interested in that great ranking against the rush considering that Toledo faced teams like Ohio State and Boise State. In the numbers, that's a great sign for Toledo in this matchup. Let's note though that the Air Force option-based rush attack is unique in terms of how it challenges defenses who haven't seen it before.
ADDING IT ALL UP: If Toledo can deal with the Air Force option, then this one could get nasty. The Air Force defense was a huge disappointment this year...and now they're running into a mid-major juggernaut. But...if Toledo doesn't prepare well for the option, then we could have a very high scoring shootout (which we've seen a few times with MAC teams this season). JIM HURLEY is working closely with his DC sources to make the right call. Given the framework in place, this game could end up featuring one of our strongest side or total selections from all of the bowls.
HOLIDAY BOWL (San Diego, CA)
CALIFORNIA (7-5) VS. TEXAS (7-5)
Vegas Line: Texas by 3, total of 47.5
Market Moves: Most openers were above the field goal...with the earliest stores showing Texas -4, and the rest coming in line at Texas -3.5. California money has brought this game down to Texas -3 everywhere as we go to press. There wasn't any interest on Texas as a favorite from the smart money once the critical number was hit. The total has settled at 47.5 for awhile, though there were 48's out there previously.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
We've mentioned before that we believe Sagarin has overshot the Big 12 in his ratings and strength of schedule estimates this year. This week's appearances by Missouri and Texas will influence our thinking in that regard for games later this week involving Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. Our own metrics show the schedules closer...so we'll call them a wash for now.
California: 37th (39th passing, 49th rushing)
Texas: 44th (85th passing, 19th rushing)
Slight edge to California if you call their schedules even, but an edge to Texas if you accept the USA Today computers. California's passing has been inconsistent...with some big games vs. bad teams, but some very ugly affairs vs. quality. We're not as fond as either offense as those rankings might suggest. Any quarterback who plays tonight will have some questionable performances vs. good opponents on his resume.
California: 26th (42nd passing, 36th rushing)
Texas: 15th (46th passing, 11th rushing)
Strengths for either team considering the schedules they played. These are among the best defenses to take the field so far in the bowls. You probably watched both teams lose to powers on TV. Each is capable of shutting down non-powers. It will be interesting to see what happens here in "tweener-ville" as two teams who aren't quite powers...but aren't as bad as non-powers square off. Good matchup.
ADDING IT ALL UP: We have creative coaches on both sidelines, but quarterbacks who may not be able to execute that creativity. The Under will get some consideration because of those defensive rankings, particularly if the public gets Over-happy between now and post time. Early reports from our sources are showing some alignment...meaning this game could yield a very big release for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK.
Game day bowl picks can be purchased online with your credit card a few hours before kickoff of the first game. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on basketball when you call. The hoops schedule is tremendous this week.
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