Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Bowl Preview IV

BCS National Championship Game
January 7
Alabama vs Texas
Alabama -4
The curtain goes down on the college football season on Thursday night, and for the first time since 2005, we will be guaranteed and undefeated national champion. This game has a lot of interesting factoids. For starters, the SEC will be seeking its 4th straight BCS National Title with its 3rd different university. The last non-SEC school to win the national championship? Texas of course. Mark Ingram of Alabama will attempt to become the first Heisman Trophy winner to also don a national championship ring since Matt Leinart in 2004. Colt McCoy of Texas will attempt to become only the 2nd quarterback ever to win 4 bowl games. Mack Brown and Nick Saban will be seeking to win their 2nd national title each. The winner of this game will also join Ohio State from 2002 and Boise State from this season as the only 14-0 teams in IA history. So with that out of the way, who's gonna win? In a somewhat shocking development, neither of these teams finished as the best team in their conference according to my SDPI statistic. SDPI is far from a perfect measure of team strength, but its very interesting that neither undefeated conference champion finished as the best in their league. Alabama finished second behind Florida in the SEC, but humbled the Gators in the SEC Championship Game. Texas actually finished 3rd in the Big 12, behind Oklahoma and Texas Tech. As always, Tech's numbers are inflated by the type of offense they play, but the Longhorns still finished well behind Oklahoma, a team they beat on the field. So how did these teams win their respective conferences? Alabama finished a little behind Florida in both offense (5th in the SEC) and defense (2nd in the SEC), but led the conference in turnover margin at +12. They also won both one-score conference games they played in (versus Tennessee and Auburn), and then used a fantastic gameplan to upset the Gators to earn a spot in Pasadena. Texas finished a little behind Oklahoma in both offense (5th in the Big 12) and defense (3rd in the Big 12), but they also led the league in turnover margin (+11), non-offensive touchdowns (11), and defeated Oklahoma in their only one-score game in the regular season (won despite being slightly outgained thanks to a +2 turnover margin). As you may have heard, Texas played another one-score game in the Big 12 Championship Game, narrowly edging Nebraska on a field goal as time expired. If we go by resumes, Alabama is certainly the superior team. They have beaten 3 top-15 teams (Virgina Tech, LSU, and Florida), with 2 coming at a neutral site. 9 of their 13 wins were over teams with winning records, and those 9 teams all came from BCS conferences. Texas has beaten 2 teams in the top-25 (Oklahoma State and Nebraska) with both coming either on the road or on a neutral site. I'll also give Texas credit for beating Oklahoma, a team much better than their 8-5 record would indicate. All told, Texas defeated 8 bowl teams (7 finished with winning records), but only 6 of those bowl teams hailed from BCS conferences. Still, Texas is probably a little undervalued because their last game happened to be one of the worst they have played all season, while Alabama's last game was arguably their best. Texas at +4 is a good value. Alabama is probably not as good as they showed against Florida, and conversely Texas is probably not as bad, particularly on offense, as they showed against Nebraska. If you're feeling extra lucky, try the Longhorns on the moneyline.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Bowl Preview III

We have entered the stretch run. Only 4 games remain in the 2009-10 college football season. In this preview, we'll tackle 3 of them. Look for the BCS National Championship Preview on Wednesday night.

Fiesta Bowl
January 4
TCU vs Boise State
TCU -7
The 2 best mid-major teams from 2009 duke it out in a rematch of last year's Poinsettia Bowl. One season after dominating the Mountain West, but falling in a close game to Utah, the TCU Horned Frogs once again dominated their conference brethren, in addition to defeating a pair of ACC teams in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Had things broken a little differently, the Horned Frogs could very well have become the first non-BCS team to play for the mythical national title. As it stands, the Horned Frogs will have to settle for a potential number 2 ranking at the end of the season. The Horned Frogs boasted both the best offense and best defense in the Mountain West. They were challenged only twice in a pair of road games at Clemson in the non-conference and at Air Force that they won by a combined 7 points. Boise State is also undefeated (their 3rd undefeated regular season in 4 years under coach Chris Petersen), and while they dominated the WAC, this is arguably Boise's worst defense in Petersen's tenure. While it was still the best in the WAC, the Broncos allowed 3 conference opponents to score more than 30 points and 5 to score more than 20. In 2007 and 2008, only 4 WAC opponents scored more than 30 and 5 scored more than 20 against the Boise defense. The Broncos did of course famously crush Oregon in the non-conference portion of their schedule, but they also struggled to win on the road against a bowl-less 5-7 Tulsa team. TCU seems to have by far the superior team, and the Horned Frogs are likely the best mid-major team in the BCS era. Of course, Boise State is well coached and will likely have a great game plan and a few tricks up their sleeve. A Boise win would not be a total shocker, but the smart money is on the Horned Frogs.

Orange Bowl
January 5
Georgia Tech vs Iowa
Georgia Tech -5
Before their late-season losses to Northwestern and Ohio State, the Hawkeyes were the spitting image of Ohio State circa 2002. The Hawkeyes won close game after close game thanks to their superb defense, some blocked kicks, and timely if erratic play from quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Though they failed in their lofty goal of an undefeated season and Big 10 title, the Hawkeyes still have a shot at ending their season on a high note and earning some much needed respect for the Big 10. The other top defensive teams in the conference (Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin) have all performed well in the bowl season. Ohio State held Oregon to its 2nd lowest yardage and point totals in their Rose Bowl upset. Penn State held LSU to its 2nd lowest yardage and 3rd lowest point total in their Capital One Bowl win. Wisconsin held Miami to its 2nd lowest point and yardage totals in their Champs Sports Bowl upset. Iowa boasted the 2nd best defense in all the Big 10, just a notch below Ohio State. The Georgia Tech offense was very good, but hardly elite in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets finished 4th in the league in both offense and defense on their way to victory in the ACC Championship Game. The ACC's champions have not fared well in BCS bowl games, going just 2-9 since the BCS was formed in 1998. Iowa's defense is legit, and the Hawkeyes should probably be favored. Don't be shocked if Iowa pulls the outright upset on Tuesday night.

January 6
Central Michigan vs Troy
Central Michigan -3
How bad does the MAC need this one? Since Central Michigan won the Motor City Bowl over MTSU on December 26, 2006, the MAC has lost 14 consecutive bowl games. Some have been close (Bowling Green losing on a last second 2 point conversion to Idaho in this year's Humanitarian Bowl), and some have been the antithesis of close (Bowling Green losing by 56 to Tulsa in the 2007 GMAC Bowl), but all have been losses. Can the Chippewas end that streak? They are certainly the best candidate to do so. The Chips boasted the number one offense and number two defense in the MAC as they rolled to an undefeated conference season. They also managed to upset Michigan State outside the conference and hung tough with Arizona. Troy also finished unbeaten in their conference, cruising to at least a share of their 4 straight Sun Belt title. The Trojans finished with the top-ranked offense in the Sun Belt and the 4th best defense. Central Michigan will probably end the MAC's run of futility in what should be an entertaining game, but I wouldn't bet on it.