Champs, Alamo, Armed Forces Bowl Stat Previews

STAT PREVIEWS FOR THURSDAY BOWLS PLUS EARLY FRIDAY KICKOFF

Most of our coverage here in the NOTEBOOK over the next few days will feature stat previews for upcoming bowls. That won't be true on Sunday of course for the final day of NFL action. But, the pro finale will be sandwiched by bowl previews beginning with Notre Dame/Florida State that starts later today...then going all the way past the New Year's Bowls and into the early BCS slate.

The fun starts today with the two Thursday bowls PLUS the earlier kickoff Friday (Tulsa vs. BYU, which starts at noon ET, 9 a.m. in Las Vegas). Friday's edition of the NOTEBOOK will cover the other three Friday games, plus the earliest Saturday kickoff that matches Texas A&M and Northwestern. We want to make sure everyone has enough time to digest the keys in those early kicks...so we're moving them up a bit in the preview process.

That gives us three games to discuss right now...let's jump right in.

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL (Orlando, FL)
NOTRE DAME (8-4) VS. FLORIDA STATE (8-4)
Vegas Line: Florida State by 3, total of 46
Market Moves: As we go to press, the bulk of smart money interest has been on the Under. The total opened at 48 or 47.5 in most places. But, expectations for a defensive struggle have brought that down to 46. On the game line, most places have been standing pat on FSU by the whole way. A few of the earliest openers had FSU at -2.5...but that was immediately bet up to the key number. We expect this to be one of the heaviest bet games by the public in the early bowls because it's one of the few truly marquee matchups. The money may split out evenly because both teams have big followings.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Notre Dame: 24th
Florida State: 67th

A quick reminder that we use Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings from USA Today when posting strength of schedule rankings. Notre Dame didn't play a brutal schedule, but it turned out to be pretty tough when Michigan and Michigan State fared so well in Big 10 play...and then USC turned out to be a surprise national power in a probation year. As we run through the yardage rankings, remember to give Notre Dame some bonus credit because they accumulated those stats against the tougher slate.

OFFENSE
Notre Dame: 35th (33rd passing, 51st rushing)
Florida State: 74th (34th passing, 99th rushing)

Big edges for the Irish here. They grade out much better even without a strength of schedule boost. Florida State's offense just hasn't recovered from the Bobby Bowden fade out. He kept forcing an old style into a modern game. FSU isn't back yet where they need to be, even though they're still recruiting athletes. We do want to note though that Brian Kelly teams tend to run up the stats vs. their weakest foes, but then struggle vs. quality. Remember what happened when his Cincinnati team ran into Florida in the Sugar Bowl? Remember what happened not too long ago when Notre Dame was outclassed at home by USC? The raw math probably overstates their case here.

DEFENSE
Notre Dame: 34th (33rd passing, 57th rushing)
Florida State: 6th (19th passing, 2nd rushing)

Florida State had a strong year because of defense. We will give them the nod here even after adjusting for strength of schedule. The key to this matchup could well be how well Notre Dame's offense adjusts to the speed and athleticism of the FSU defense.

ADDING IT ALL UP: Even though the game is in Orlando, we're not going to give FSU too much credit for home crowd. Notre Dame tends to travel well, and they have fans all over the country. Turf conditions often play a role in this game...and we've been studying that closely in our preliminary handicapping efforts. That's why it pays to have sources everywhere! The money coming in on the Under may be telling you something about that very issue. You regulars know we can't post our official selections here in the NOTEBOOK. We do have something special planned for clients in this game.

ALAMO BOWL (San Antonio, TX)
WASHINGTON (7-5) VS. BAYLOR (9-3)
Vegas Line: Baylor by 9.5, total of 78.5
Market Moves: The very earliest openers showed Baylor at -10. We've been sitting on Baylor -9.5 for quite some time since then. And, any time you see a game "lock in" a half a point below a key number...that's telling you something. In this case, it's telling you that professional wagerers like the underdog. If they liked Baylor, they would have jumped all over the 9.5. That total may have grabbed your attention. The earliest postings had 75...but that was pounded to the Over right away. Most stores opened at 78...and the game has been shuttling back and forth from 78 to 78.5 (with an occasional 79) since then. That's a high total...but these are shootout teams playing indoors on a fast track.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Washington: 25th
Baylor: 8th

We're watching the Big 12 closely. We mentioned early in the process that we're concerned Sagarin has overrated the Big 12. But, given Missouri's dominance over North Carolina in the first conference appearance, that may not be true! Today's previews were written before the Texas-California game in the Holiday Bowl because of publication deadlines. So, make a mental adjustment off any influence from that game too. We'll call the schedules about even...but 11th hour decision-making in the office may give Baylor more credit here.

OFFENSE
Washington: 57th (52nd passing, 67th rushing)
Baylor: 2nd (5th passing, 18th rushing)

You know that Baylor put up humongous numbers this year thanks to the arms and legs of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. You also know that Heisman Trophy winners have very spotty bowl histories! Wire services were discussing all the distractions Griffin has been dealing with lately in terms of interviews and autograph signing. He's even gone shopping in disguises to avoid crowds. These distractions could reduce Baylor's offensive edge. But, they're still clearly the more explosive side.

DEFENSE
Washington: 94th (116th passing, 55th rushing)
Baylor: 114th (112th passing, 102nd rushing)

Neither team plays much defense. There's a lot more fast break football in the Big 12 at the moment though, so that 94th ranking for Washington is pretty bad. The main reason this total is up near 80 is that neither team has much hope of slowing down the other side.

ADDING IT ALL UP: Should be a fun game to watch...and turnover differential often determines track meets because any zero possession just kills you in a race to 45 points. Our opinion will be strongly influenced by what we're hearing from sources about Baylor's preparation for this game amidst the distractions. It's possible that Wednesday's result in Cal-Texas will influence our final call as well since the same conferences are involved there in a head-to-head matchup.


ARMED FORCES BOWL (Dallas, TX; kickoff early Friday)
TULSA (8-4) VS. BYU (9-3)
Vegas Line: Tulsa by 1, total of 56
Market Moves: We've had a favorite flip in this one, as BYU opened as a very small favorite...but early action has now driven the line to Tulsa by a point. By the time you read this, the game may have moved back to pick-em. And...since this is an early Friday game rather than a late Thursday game, there's even MORE time for the market to jiggle around a bit. The total hasn't exactly been locked in stone either, with the 56 we have at press time being slightly higher than what we've seen in past days. Generally speaking, if you like Tulsa you like the Over...so it makes sense the numbers would move in tandem like that.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Tulsa: 58th
BYU: 100th

Tulsa is in the relatively weak Conference USA. But, they gave themselves a hellacious pre-conference challenge with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Boise State. That will get you battle tough pretty quick. BYU thought they had given themselves a tough early slate. But, it turned out Ole Miss, Texas, and Utah were destined to play below expectations this season. Edge here to Tulsa.

OFFENSE
Tulsa: 23rd (41st passing, 24th rushing)
BYU: 41st (56th passing, 43rd rushing)

Tulsa's like Notre Dame in that they run up big yardage vs. their worst opponents in a way that warps their national averages. BYU was much worse than this early in the season, but they finally got the right people in the right places just as their schedule softened. Tough call here all things considered. Tulsa has better numbers vs. the tougher schedule...but the pollution that's in the mix would make BYU more competitive once it was cleaned out.

DEFENSE
Tulsa: 89th (113th passing, 38th rushing)
BYU: 16th (27th passing, 20th rushing)

We have to give BYU the nod here. Even after you adjust for strength of schedule. Tulsa is an undersized finesse team that tries to win shootouts. BYU will hit you and hit you hard.

ADDING IT ALL UP: We can see why the market's been jiggling. It's tough to get a confident read in this one if you examine all the evidence. If you have preference for one kind of evidence over another....then that preference may have you stepping out in a big way. In a game like this, we trust our computer simulations once we're sure that the information coming into the office isn't suggesting any sort of team no-show. We expect both of these teams to bring high level intensity even to an early kickoff. That means our computer simulations will determine our play.

Game day releases go up a few hours before the first kickoff each and every day. Remember that Tulsa-BYU will be part of our FRIDAY package that goes up tomorrow morning (we'll preview the three remaining Friday games tomorrow). We have great rates for the rest of football including all the bowls and the NFL playoffs through the Super Bowl. Call 1-800-323-4453 for details. Don't forget to ask about the busy basketball schedule when you call.

Back tomorrow for more bowl previews. Make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

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