Friday, January 04, 2008

Bowl Appetit

International Bowl
Rutgers -11 Ball State

Here's a fun little trivia question to try on your friends before this game: Which team, Rutgers or Ball State, has more bowl appearances? The answer: Neither. This is the 4th bowl appearance for both teams, and the 3rd in a row for Rutgers. If Rutgers is properly motivated, this game should not be very competitive, but it is still worth a look to see one of the best quarterbacks you've never heard of, Nate Davis of Ball State.

After a freshman year in which he tossed 18 touchdown passes and just 8 interceptions while compiling a quarterback rating of 146.65, Nate Davis maintained the status quo, throwing for more touchdowns (27), fewer interceptions (6) and a nearly identical quarterback rating (141.18). Plus after totalling negative yardage on the ground in 2006 (-48) and no touchdowns, Davis rushed for 197 yards and 5 touchdowns. His great play helped the Cardinals average 432 yards per game (30th in the nation). But, the Cardinals finished only 7-5 (5-2 in the MAC) thanks to their defense, or lack thereof. The Cardinals gave up 419 yards per game (87th in the nation), and if not for the the offensive unit's stinginess with the football (only 10 turnovers all season--tops in the nation), the defense would have looked much worse on the scoreboard (allowed 26.3 points per game--56th in the nation).

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights followed up their Cinderella performance with a mediocre year, but at 7-5, are much better than most Scarlet Knight incarnations. In fact, statistically, the Knights are much better than their 7-5 record. Even when we remove the stats from their joke of a non-conference schedule (Navy and Maryland were the only teams they played with a pulse), they still have the 3rd best yardage differential in the Big East (behind only West Virginia and South Florida). What happened to the Scarlet Knights between 2006 and 2007? Our old pal regression is mostly responsible for the decline in wins. In 2006, the Knights lived a pretty charmed life. They were 3-1 in one-score games, including a season-opening 21-16 victory against a very bad North Carolina team (3-9 record). In 2007, they were 2-2 in one-score games. That's not a terrible winning percentage, but it does represent a decline from 2006. However, the main area where the Knights suffered an ill-fated regression to the mean was in turnover margin. In 2006, the Knights had a turnover margin of +11, thanks mainly to the fact that they recovered 2/3rds of their opponents' fumbles (an area of luck, not skill). In 2007, their turnover margin was -6, thanks mainly to the fact that they lost 12 of their 14 fumbles on the season (again, luck, not skill).

Against teams from outside the BCS conferences in 2007, Rutgers beat Buffalo by 35, Navy by 17, Norfolk State by 59, and Army by 35. Ball State held up pretty well against BCS competition, losing by a single point to Nebraska (albeit a bad Nebraska team), by 11 to Illinois, and by 18 to Indiana (both bowl squads). Still, if Rutgers is motivated, Ray Rice and Co. should slash through the Ball State defense and make this a laugher by the middle of the 3rd quarter.

The Pick: Rutgers will cover the 11 point spread.

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