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Sports Then and Now

College Football Bowl Preview Part 2: Sizing Up the Big 6 Bowls

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Jim Hurley
The health of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook could be a big factor in their Cotton Bowl game against Alabama.

The health of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook could be a big factor in their Cotton Bowl game against Alabama.

The biggest college football games of the season are here! The six major bowl games will run on December 31-January 1, with the two biggest—the Playoff semifinals situated within the New Year’s Eve schedule. Whether you wager or simply want to watch, our job is to have you ready.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled the “Tale of The Tape”, a concise snapshot of all six games. It’s not comprehensive—if you actually plan to bet, this is a starting point not a finishing point. But it will provide the framework for an enjoyable (and profitable, if you’re so inclined) run of watching games.

Our tale of the tape 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.

Now let’s dive into the games, in sequential order…

December 31: Peach Bowl—Florida State (-7) Houston (Noon ET, ESPN)
Houston: 12-1 (Schedule ranks 99th)
Offense: 10th
Defense: 23rd
QB: Greg Ward Jr: 68% 8.5 YPA, 16/5 and also ran for over 1,000 yards)
Notable: Linebackers Elandon Roberts & Steven Taylor combined for 33 tackles for loss

Florida State: 10-2 (56th)
Offense: 41st
Defense: 5th
QB: Sean Maguire: 62%, 7.8 YPA, 11/3
Notable: Running back Dalvin Cook rushed for 1,658 yards (7.9 yards per carry)

Comment: It will be Maguire at quarterback for Florida State, with Everett Golson not making the trip to Atlanta. The balance of Houston both offensively and defensively gives them a shot at an upset, but the concern is that the offense is so heavily reliant on Ward that the excellent FSU defense may be position to dominate the football game.

December 31: Orange Bowl—Oklahoma (-3) Clemson (4 PM ET, ESPN)
Clemson: 13-0 (39th)
Offense: 15th
Defense: 19th
QB: DeShaun Watson: 70%, 8.5 YPA, 30/11
Notable: Defensive ends Shaq Lawson & Kevin Dodd have combined for 37 tackles for loss and 18 sacks

Oklahoma: 11-1 (27th)
Offense: 1st
Defense: 24th
QB: Baker Mayfield: 69%, 9.6 YPA, 35/5
Notable: Samaje Perine rushed for 1,291 yards at 6.1 per carry

Comment: Those talented Clemson defensive ends need to win their battles or it will be long day for the Tiger secondary given how hot Mayfield is. The bigger area of concern for betting Oklahoma is the question of how much those dazzling offensive numbers are a product of playing in the wide-open Big 12 and the tendency of high-stakes bowl games to be a bit more conservative.

December 31: Cotton Bowl–Alabama (-8.5) Michigan State (8 PM ET, ESPN)
Alabama: 12-1 (17th)
Offense: 31st
Defense: 3rd
QB: Jake Coker: 66%, 7.4 YPA, 17/8
Notable: Heisman Trophy winning RB Derrick Henry ran for 1,986 yards

Michigan State: 12-1 (5th)
Offense: 45th
Defense: 22nd
QB: Connor Cook: 57%, 7.9 YPA, 24/5
Notable: Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge caught 79 passes for over 1,200 yards

Comment: The health of Cook’s shoulder is the overriding factor in this game. When healthy, he is by far the superior quarterback. When banged up, as he has been at the end of this season, he’s statistically inferior to Coker. Note that if you wager this game make sure to shop prices. The line of 8.5 can also go as high as 10 depending on the sportsbook.

January 1: Fiesta Bowl—Ohio State (-5) Notre Dame (1 PM ET, ESPN)
Notre Dame: 10-2 (12th)
Offense: 29th
Defense: 36th
QB: DeShone Kizer: 63%, 8.7 YPA, 19/9
Notable: Romeo Okwara, a “tweener” who plays both linebacker and in a down stance, has nine sacks.

Ohio State: 11-1 (38th)
Offense: 27th
Defense: 2nd
QB: J.T. Barrett: 64%, 6.7 YPA, 10/3
Notable: Ezekiel Elliot rushed for 1,672 yards and 6.4 yards-per-carry

Comment: Can Notre Dame stack the box defensively and find a way to contain Elliot? That’s the formula Michigan State used to beat the Buckeyes. And if the Irish try this, can Barrett—whose yards-per-attempt is fairly low—open up the game down field?


Can Iowa stop Christian McCaffrey?

Can Iowa stop Christian McCaffrey?

January 1: Rose Bowl—Stanford (-6.5) Iowa (5 PM ET, ESPN)
Iowa: 12-1 (60th)
Offense: 46th
Defense: 13th
QB: C.J. Beathard: 61%, 7.8 YPA, 15/4
Notable: Corner Desmond King finished with eight interceptions and is the best lockdown corner in the country.

Stanford: 11-2 (14th)
Offense: 19th
Defense: 40th
QB: Kevin Hogan: 69%, 9.3 YPA, 24/7
Notable: Christian McCaffrey, the Heisman runner-up, ran for 1,847 yards at 5.8 YPC

Comment: Beathard’s health is a huge factor and his availability remains in serious question. If all else is equal though, this promises to be a terrific showdown between a talented and physical Iowa defense and an equally talented and physical Stanford offensive front, along with McCaffrey. It’s old-fashioned football and the difference could be whether or not the Cardinal can find a way to beat King for a big play—or at least avoid letting him make the killer big play on defense.

January 1: Sugar Bowl—Oklahoma State (-7) Ole Miss (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Oklahoma State: 10-2 (53rd)
Offense: 9th
Defense: 86th
QB: Mason Rudolph: 63%, 9.1 YPA, 21/9
Notable: Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah recorded 12.5 sacks

Ole Miss: 9-3 (42nd)
Offense: 11th
Defense: 38th
QB: Chad Kelly (65%, 8.8 YPA, 27/12
Notable: Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell caught 76 passes for 1,082 yards

Comment: Ogbah and his Cowboy defensive teammates need to get to Kelly. The Ole Miss quarterback is capable of exploding for a big game—or imploding if Oklahoma State can apply the pressure.

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

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