The college football bowl season kicks off this Saturday afternoon. Many of you will wager on these games and even more will enter recreational pools where you have to pick every game. If you’ve looked at the early schedule, you know there’s a lot of teams only the most diehard of fans and those of us in the business of handicapping are familiar with in detail.
To redress that, I’ve compiled a little “tale of the tape” on the nine bowl games that will between December 19-23. This is by no means a complete look at each game. What it will do is give you a basic statistical snapshot of how each team looks at what it does well. Each listing includes…
*The basics of W-L record and most importantly, strength of schedule. The latter has to be a significant factor in how you weigh every other piece of data. Some of us rely on complex computer models to do it, others just keep it in the back of their mind. Just make sure you keep it in mind.
*Each team’s national ranking on offense and defense, as measured by points allowed.
*The basic stats of each team’s quarterback—their completion percentage, yards-per-attempt and TD/INT ratio.
*A notable player on the team besides the quarterback—usually an elite running back or defensive playmaker, and occasionally a wide receiver.
If you just want to enjoy the bowls on TV and in a pool, this will do it for you. If you want to bet the bowls, this is one small step to get started on handicapping the array of personnel matchups and intangibles that are involved at this great time for college football.
Arizona (-11.5) New Mexico, Saturday, December 19, 2 PM ET
QB: Lamar Jordan (53%, 8.3 YPA, 4/6), Austin Apodaca (51%, 6.5 YPA, 1/5)
Other: Dakota Cox (LB, 9.5 Tackles For Loss)
QB: Anu Solomon (63%, 7.6 YPA, 18/4)
Other: Scooby Wright (LB, one of best players in country but hindered by injuries this year)
Comment: The health of Wright, currently listed as questionable is a huge factor in this game. Also keep an eye on Solomon who’s had injury problems of his own this year. From a stylistic standpoint, this is a classic battle between a run-heavy offense in New Mexico and a pass-happy attack with Arizona and Rich Rodriguez. Note that the game is played on New Mexico’s home field and a key factor for handicappers will be weighing that—along with Arizona’s disastrous showing in last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Boise State—against the obvious strength of conference factor that works in the Wildcats favor.
Utah (-3) BYU, Saturday, December 19, 3:30 PM ET
QB: Travis Wilson (62%, 6.8 YPA, 13/10)
Other: Gionni Paul (LB, 12.5 Tackles For Loss)
QB: Tanner Mangum (62%, 7.9 YPA, 21/7)
Other: Bronso Kafusi (LB/DL goes 6’7”, 15.5 Tackles For Loss)
Comment: Take note that BYU’s strength of schedule ranks pretty low at 72nd. The Cougars played a brutal early slate with four tough games right out of the gate and it drew national attention. That’s because, as an independent, they had to frontload the schedule with teams going into conference games. If that was the last you heard of BYU, don’t be under any illusions about the overall quality of their slate. Also note that Utah’s star running back Devontae Booker missed the end of the regular season and will miss this game as well. BYU is undergoing a coaching change with Bronco Mendenhall leaving for Virginia.
San Jose State (-4) Georgia State, Saturday, December 19, 7 PM ET
San Jose State
Record/SOS: 5-7, 102nd
QB: Kenny Potter (69%, 7.5 YPA, 14/6)
Other: Tyler Ervin (RB, 1,469 yards rushing)
Record/SOS: 6-6, 122nd
QB: Nick Arbuckle (64%, 9.1 YPA, 26/11)
Other: Alonso McGee (LB, 11 Tackles For Loss)
Comment: Pretty much a contrast of styles between San Jose State running the ball behind Ervin and Georgia State playing a wide-open attack with Arbuckle, and where no running back generated even 400 yards rushing. This could get interesting if Georgia State gets a lead—could they kill the clock or could San Jose mount a comeback?
Arkansas State (-1) Louisiana Tech, Saturday, December 19, 9 PM ET
Record/SOS: 8-4, 112th
QB: Jeff Driskel (62%, 8.7 YPA, 24/8)
Other: Kenneth Dixon (RB, 971 yards rushing)
Record/SOS: 9-3, 119th
QB: Fredi Knighten (55%, 7.6 YPA, 19.7)
Other: Michael Gordon (RB, 1,065 yards rushing)
Comment: Skip Holtz is the coach at Louisiana Tech and quarterback Jeff Driskel, a Florida transfer, has put together a good run here. This game should see some points on the board with both teams having good, well-balanced offenses. And while some bowls are hurt by teams not caring, it’s highly likely that these two programs, who compete for a lot of the same recruits, will be all-out to win this one.
Western Kentucky (-3) South Florida, Monday, December 21, 2:30 PM ET
Record/SOS: 11-2, 104th
QB: Brandon Doughty (72%, 9.3 YPA, 45/7)
Other: Taywan Taylor (WR, 1,356 yards receiving, 17.7 yards-per-catch)
Record/SOS: 8-4, 73rd
QB: Quinton Flowers (61%, 8.3 YPA, 21/8)
Other: Marlon Mack (RB, 1,273 yards rushing)
Comment: Look at those numbers for Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty! The Hilltoppers throw the football and can you blame them?! But before getting bedazzled, note that South Florida’s schedule strength ranks over thirty spots higher, they can run the ball, play defense and still have a respectable passing game. A big intangible factor on this game is that South Florida coach Willie Taggart first built up Western Kentucky before moving south. Does Taggart feel he has something to prove? Do the upperclassmen at Western Kentucky, recruited by Taggart, feel that way?
Utah State (-6.5) Akron, December 22, 3:30 PM ET
Record/SOS: 6-6, 88th
QB: Kent Myers (60%, 8.2 YPA, 14/3)
Other: Kyler Fackrell/Nick Vigil (these two LBs combined for 26 Tackles For Loss and 8 sacks)
Record/SOS: 7-5, 93rd
QB: Thomas Woodson (53%, 7.3 YPA, 16/10)
Other: Jatavis Brown (17 Tackles For Loss, 10 sacks)
Comment: Check the injury reports carefully because Utah State quarterback Kent Myers has a shoulder injury and his status is still up in the air. Both teams are more run-heavy in any event and there’s some terrific defensive talent on the field in this one.
Temple (-1) Toledo, December 22, 7 PM ET
Record/SOS: 9-2, 80th
QB: Phillip Ely (55%, 7.1 YPA, 21/10)
Other: Kareem Hunt (RB, 894 yards rushing)
Record/SOS: 10-3, 81st
QB: P.J. Walker (57%, 7.0 YPA, 19/7)
Other: Jahad Thomas (RB, 1,257 yards rushing)
Comment: These teams look awfully similar, right down to the near-identical strength of the schedules. Both are built on defense, both have good running games and versatile quarterbacks. It’s easy to see why the line is close to a pick-‘em, even if Temple got more media attention, thanks to ESPN’s Gameday going to Philadelphia for their game with Notre Dame.
Boise State (-8) Northern Illinois, December 23, 4:30 PM ET
Record/SOS: 8-5, 85th
QB: Ryan Graham (59%, 8.1 YPA, 6/3)
Other: Joel Bouagnon (RB, 1,270 rushing yards)
Record/SOS: 8-4, 108th
QB: Brett Rypien (63%, 7.6 YPA, 17/7)
Other: Jeremy McNichols (RB, 1,244 rushing yards)
Comment: The biggest variable in this game is the Northern Illinois quarterback situation. Ryan Graham is already the second-stringer, behind injured Drew Hare. Graham himself missed NIU’s regular season finale loss to Ohio and their loss in the MAC Championship Game to Bowling Green. The drop-off to freshman third-stringer Tommy Fiedler is significant. The other variable is whether Boise’s obvious statistical edge compensates for a weaker schedule and having to lay more than a touchdown.
Bowling Green (-7.5) Georgia Southern, December 23, 8 PM ET
Record/SOS: 8-4, 114th
QB: Kevin Ellison (44%, 6.3 YPA, 3/5)
Other: Matt Breida (RB, 1,541 yards rushing)
Record/SOS: 10-3, 69th
QB: Matt Johnson (69%, 8.8 YPA, 43/8)
Other: Travis Greene (RB, 1,219 yards rushing)
Comment: Georgia Southern is a real throwback attack. They only threw 129 passes all season! You can see by their offensive ranking that they ran it awfully well. Breida is just the best of a talented stable of running backs and this is a program that you may recall beat Florida back in 2013. Having said that, Bowling Green is extremely impressive. The MAC champs do everything well offensively and Matt Johnson is a veteran quarterback. But not only are they laying more than a touchdown, the Falcons lost their head coach, Dino Babers to Syracuse. Another one of the unique intangibles of bowl season.
Jim Hurley has been a successful public handicapper since 1985, when he began a Network that emphasized a team approach to handicapping. Hurley consults with statistical analysts, personnel experts and Vegas insiders to narrow the NFL and college cards down to the most bettable games each and every week. Visit him online at www.winningedge.com.