Sugar Bowl Preview
SOMETHING ABOUT THIS BOWL
The New Year's Day bowls may be in the rearview mirror, but there's still plenty of great college football action ahead for sports bettors! There will be at least one bowl game every day from now through the BCS Championship next Monday Night when Alabama faces Notre Dame. Tonight's featured attraction: Louisville vs. Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
We've added a few indicator categories in our previews of the marquee matchups from this point forward. Let's see what proven influences are suggesting about best expectations for Wednesday Night's game in the Big Easy...
SUGAR BOWL (New Orleans)
LOUISVILLE (10-2) vs. FLORIDA (11-1)
Vegas Line: Florida by 14, total of 45.5
Market Moves: This game has centered on the 14 as a general rule. The earliest openers of Florida -15 were bet down to -14 right away. Most stores opened on the 14. There was a period where dog money dropped the number to Louisville +13.5. But, as of press time, we're back on the minor key number of 14. The total hasn't budged indoors in the Superdome.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Big difference here, which isn't surprising with an SEC team facing a Big East team. We'll talk more about this later in the preview because we've added results vs. bowl teams into the mix. Florida played two thirds of its schedule against bowl caliber opposition, including many who are playing in marquee matchups. They didn't face Alabama...but they DID play Texas A&M, Georgia, LSU, and Florida State. You could make the case that Florida's edge here is bigger than Jeff Sagarin's numbers at USA Today would suggest because they've had so many truly big time showdowns.
Louisville: 47th (100th rushing, 24th passing)
Florida: 104th (35th rushing, 118th passing)
It's tempting to attribute Florida's poor offense to their strength of schedule. They did play some great defenses. But, this unit also struggled vs. lesser defenses too. Too many weak spots amidst the talent. Louisville ranked top 50 in the raw numbers, but that's actually disappointing considering how they started the season, and how soft their schedule was relatively speaking. Edge to Louisville. But, the edge won't manifest itself if the team can't get anything going against Florida's great defense.
Louisville: 25th (52nd rushing, 18th passing)
Florida: 5th (6th rushing, 15th passing)
You really have to make allowances here for the schedule. Florida ranked top five against a potent schedule, suggesting a truly fantastic defense. Louisville cracked the top 25, but wouldn't have against a more demanding slate. And, most disturbingly if you're a Louisville fan, the defense had trouble keeping Syracuse and Cincinnati out of the end zone in important conference games. Big edge to the Gators.
Florida's defense, like most top SEC defenses, do whatever they can to separate you from the ball. Even when LSU lost to Clemson on New Year's Eve, they won the turnover battle. These teams deny yardage AND force turnovers, which is why that brand of football has come to dominate the postseason in recent years. We also need to include strength of schedule here. Florida was +17 while playing a bunch of top quality teams. Stick them in the Big East, and we might be looking at +30 (with the worst Big East teams laying on the ground trying to tap out in by the second quarter). Put Louisville in the SEC, and they're probably close to even or worse. If the Gators show up with intensity, they're likely to win this category.
LOUISVILLE'S RESULTS VS. BOWL CALIBER OPPONENTS
Louisville (-3.5) beat North Carolina 39-34 (Carolina 8-4, but ineligible)
Louisville (-2.5) beat Pittsburgh 45-35
Louisville (-3.5) lost to Cincinnati 34-31 in overtime
Louisville (-1) lost to Syracuse 45-26
Louisville (+3) beat Rutgers 20-17
That's 3-2 straight up and ATS, which is fine for a generic team but not very good for a major conference champion appearing in a BCS bowl. Accounting for home field, Louisville was a little better than a decent ACC team, a little worse than the Cincinnati team that was lucky to get past Duke, a lot worse than Syracuse, and a little better than the Rutgers team that was helpless vs. Virginia Tech. That composite is why Louisville is such a big underdog vs. Florida. They didn't face any big time opponents. They played five relatively generic bowl caliber teams and basically earned a scoreboard split because the losing margin in Syracuse was so bad.
FLORIDA'S RESULTS VS. BOWL CALIBER OPPONENTS
Florida (-28) beat Bowling Green 27-14
Florida (-1) beat Texas A&M 20-17
Florida (+2) beat LSU 14-6
Florida (-9) beat Vanderbilt 31-17
Florida (-3.5) beat South Carolina 44-11
Florida (-6) lost to Georgia 17-9
Florida (-27.5) beat Louisiana Lafayette 27-20
Florida (+7) beat Florida State 37-26
Wow, what a killer schedule! It's important to remember that Florida's offense struggled all year. When you see totals in the 30's or 40's on the scoreboard, those were greatly boosted by either defensive scores, or field position points off defense and special teams. Still, this defense was so good, and the athletes on the field so talented, that Florida went 7-1 straight up and 5-3 ATS against a schedule that was two-thirds packed with bowl caliber opponents. Florida was battle tested against the sport's elite. Louisville was battle tested by Cincinnati and Rutgers, while getting squashed by Syracuse.
ADDING IT ALL UP
The math suggests domination by Florida...and possibly a nasty game that would remind everyone of Florida over Cincinnati when Tim Tebow's Gators faced a Big East champion on this field a few years ago. Of course, Tebow's Gators had a great offense too! If Florida is going to run away and hide here, it will probably be keyed by field position points triggered by defense and special teams.
Of course, math often takes a vacation during the bowls, particularly when big favorites are involved. Among favorites of more than a TD who didn't bring peak intensity this year in the bowls:
Cincinnati (lucky to cover anyway)
If Florida comes in overconfident and complacent, then we could see a Cinderella story take shape. SEC favorites have been shocked in this bowl in the past (remember Utah over Alabama?). A physical SEC favorite was shocked Monday Night when LSU couldn't take care of business against Clemson. Anything can happen in the bowls!
JIM HURLEY is aware of the volatility in this matchup. Either team could cover by more than two touchdowns. We could be in for a thriller, or a blowout that you can turn off by halftime. He's been working very closely with his on-site sources to get a read on Florida's mindset and Louisville's confidence. If the Gators are prepared, while the Cardinals don't believe in themselves....this game is already over now. If the Gators pull a USC and decide they're too good to focus 100% on the game, the underdog Cardinals could use an "us against the world" mentality to create a memorable evening.
You can purchase NETWORK'S Sugar Bowl selection along with Wednesday basketball right here at the website with your credit card. Don't forget about the huge basketball schedule! Among the NBA highlights are Memphis-Boston, Brooklyn-Oklahoma City, and LA Clippers-Golden State. There are busy college nights in the Big East, Big 10, Missouri Valley, and Colonial conferences.
If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Today's a great day to map out your 2013 plans for the NFL playoffs, and college hoops through March Madness.
Back with you tomorrow to preview Oregon-Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl in these same indicator categories. We'll do that again Friday for Texas A&M-Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's really happening in the world of sports.
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