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College Football Bowl Preview Part 2: Sizing Up the Big 6 Bowls 3

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. Read the rest of this entry →

Breaking Down the Odds: SEC and Big Ten Bowl Games 2

Posted on December 10, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Derrick Henry had a huge game earlier this season against Wisconsin. Can he have similar success against Michigan State?

Derrick Henry had a huge game earlier this season against Wisconsin. Can he have similar success against Michigan State?

The Big Ten and the SEC are about as close to rivals as two leagues can be. The bowl season always offers several high-profile matchups, mostly on New Year’s Day, where the conferences match up. They’re easily the leagues with the most television exposure, with the Big Ten Network being owned by Fox and the SEC Network owned by ESPN. But until last season, their rivalry was about as hard-fought as the battle between a hammer and the nail.

Over a four-year period, the SEC’s bowl record validated its reputation as the best conference in the country. The SEC has a 26-14 record while the Big Ten is at 14-21 in that same timeframe, due in large part to the consistent New Year’s Day beatdowns the SEC delivered.

But last season marked a change. The overall performances were close to even, with the SEC going 7-5 and the Big Ten clocking in at 6-5. In the head-to-head matchups, Wisconsin beat Auburn and most important was the high-profile victory of Ohio State over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff semi-final.

It wasn’t the whole story—Missouri also beat Minnesota and Tennessee coasted past Iowa. But the two biggest stories of last year’s college football postseason were Ohio State’s national title and the collapse of the SEC West. In addition to Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all laid an egg in their bowl matchups. The defeats were a big blow to SEC prestige and an offseason where Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh was the most significant development added to the positive buzz moving around the Big Ten.

The SEC reclaimed some mojo in non-conference play this season when Alabama handled Wisconsin, but the real test begins now. Each conference has put ten teams in bowl games and they’ll play head-to-head in five of those, including another Playoff matchup when Alabama meets Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

I want to walk through some of the factors my staff and I at WinningEdge.com are looking at with each game, both the head-to-head conference matchups as well as ones they’ll play against other leagues. But before beginning, I want to remind everyone of an adage that many in football handicapping subscribe by—it’s that the pointspread matters less in the bowl season than any other time of year.

The reason is that underdogs often end up winning outright—disinterested favorites are common and Las Vegas can misfire in pricing teams from disparate parts of the country with few common opponents. I mostly agree with this line of thinking and believe the focus of football betting should be picking the outright winner. For those of you who are in bowl pools where you’re required to pick every game against the number, that’s a good thing to keep in mind.

But for those of you who wager these games individually, be careful not to oversimplify. The spread still matters, even if not as decisively as in the regular season and knowing how to pick your spots—how to narrow the card down to which games to bet and how many units to invest still have to be settled by the number. I’ll be constantly evaluating how these conferences and others match up throughout the bowl season before making final gameday decisions. Read the rest of this entry →

MSU vs. OSU: Two Bad Bets Collide Saturday in Columbus 1

Posted on November 19, 2015 by Jim Hurley
The 2015 season has been filled with smiles on the field, but challenges off for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The 2015 season has been filled with smiles on the field, but challenges off for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State and Michigan State are indisputably successful on the football field. The record is a combined 19-1 as they prepare for their Saturday showdown in Columbus (3:30 PM ET, ABC) and it would be a perfect 20-0 if not for a terrible officiating blunder that cost Michigan State a win at Nebraska. But the Spartans and Buckeyes haven’t been so good to their backers at the betting window—a combined 7-13 against the spread (ATS).

Michigan State is the slightly bigger offender, going 3-7 ATS to Ohio State’s 4-6. But for Saturday’s game that can be cancelled out by the fact the Buckeyes have been atrocious bet at home, failing to cover in five of six home games.

It might sound harsh to call this game a battle of the overrateds, but ATS numbers like that make it difficult to dispute. The spread reflects how the teams are ‘rated’ by opinion that is informed (though not infallible) and coldly objective and these two haven’t measured up.

Maybe expectations were unreasonably high—when you see Ohio State (-13) against a team one point away from being undefeated themselves, it’s enough to make you wonder if these programs simply haven’t been bet past the capacity of any normal college football team to deliver. It happened to Alabama and Florida State last year, who covered a combined five spreads in the 2014 regular season, and it’s happening in Columbus and East Lansing in 2015.

Figuring out the reasons why are going to be crucial, because even beyond Saturday, both are going to play in significant games that will be fun to watch—meaning they’ll be fun to bet. Ohio State has its trip to Michigan. Michigan State has a less-marquee, though still very interesting game with Penn State. The odds say either the Buckeyes or Spartans will be in the Big Ten Championship Game and then we could have one of them in the College Football Playoff and the other in the Rose Bowl. Read the rest of this entry →

What Did We Learn About the Big Ten in College Football Week One? 2

Posted on September 10, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Was the performance by Braxton Miller and Ohio State a preview of what to expect throughout 2015?

Was the performance by Braxton Miller and Ohio State a preview of what to expect throughout 2015?

It was towards the tail-end of Ohio State’s 42-24 Labor Day Night win at Virginia Tech that ESPN put up a graphic showing the rest of the Buckeyes’ schedule and the % chance they had of losing each individual game the rest of the season. The worst rating that got was a 77% chance of winning against Michigan State.

There’s been plenty of talk about what that means for the College Football Playoff (e.g., that Ohio State is a lock). What I want to do is look at what this might tell us for handicapping the rest of the Big Ten, particularly with Michigan State being in the spotlight this Saturday night at home against Oregon (8 PM ET, ABC).

Put simply, is the Big Ten still prime “go-against” territory for handicappers in non-conference play? Let’s look at the record. In Week 1, the 13 Big Ten teams not located in Columbus went 7-6 ATS (against the spread). That sounds good enough—in handicapping any number over 52.4% is enough to beat the house advantage and that record clocks in at 53.8%. But digging deeper showed some problems.

Here’s a breakdown of the games in three categories—notable wins, notable losses, and games that we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from…

NOTABLE WINS

  • Northwestern (+10) Stanford 16-6
  • Illinois (-13) Kent 52-3
  • Minnesota (+16) TCU 17-23

 

NOTABLE LOSSES

  • Penn State (-6) Temple 10-27
  • Nebraska (-5) BYU 28-33—note that even had BYU’s desperation pass to win the game failed, the Cornhuskers would only have won 28-27 and thus failed to cover.
  • Indiana (-20.5) Southern Illinois 48-47
  • Purdue (+7) Marshall 31-41
  • Michigan (+5) Utah 17-24
  • Michigan State (-16.5) Western Michigan 37-24

 

WAIT AND SEE

  • Wisconsin (+12) Alabama 17-35
  • Iowa (-10) Illinois State 31-14
  • Maryland (-21.5) Richmond 50-21
  • Rutgers (-35) Norfolk State 63-13

In these “wait and see” games, the Big Ten went 3-1 against the spread. But the competition faced by Iowa, Maryland and Rutgers is not comparable to what any of these teams would face against even a midlevel opponent from a Power 5 conference. It’s not that there’s anything wrong what the three Big Ten teams did, just that we can’t take anything from it. On the flip side, it’s tough to be too hard on Wisconsin for ending up in Alabama’s way last Saturday night in Dallas. Read the rest of this entry →

College Football Classic Rewind: Spartans Knock Off Michigan in Controversial Finish 17

Posted on October 11, 2011 by A.J. Foss

When it comes to the football rivalry between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans, some observers see it as Big Brother vs. Little Brother with the Wolverines cast as the big brother and the Spartans as the little brother.

Heading into their 1990 meeting, Michigan had a confident feeling they were going to their little brother another beat down as the Wolverines entered the game as the #1 team in the country while Michigan State came in with a losing record.

The 1990 season was the first season in 21 years that Michigan did not have legendary head coach Bo Schembechler roaming the sidelines.

Gary Moeller, a Michigan assistant coach for 17 of Schembechler’s 21 years at Michigan, took over as head coach and guided the Wolverines to the #1 ranking despite a 28-24 loss to Notre Dame in the season opener.

Michigan had an offense that featured running back Jon Vaughn, the nation’s leading rusher at with 168 yards per game, sophomore quarterback Elvis Grbac, and a sophomore wide receiver named Desmond Howard, who was starting to make a name for himself in college football.

While the Wolverines came into the game as the top-ranked team in the country, the Spartans entered the game with a 1-2-1 record and were coming off a 12-7 loss to Iowa the week before.

This was the eighth season for Michigan State with head coach George Perles as head coach, who had complied a 46-33-3 record in his first seven seasons and had taken the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory following a 1987 Big Ten championship season.

However, Perles had a 2-5 record against Michigan and had been held to an average of less than seven points in the previous five meetings against the Wolverines. Read the rest of this entry →

College Football Classic Rewind: Spartans Shock Top-Ranked Buckeyes in Columbus 9

Posted on September 28, 2011 by A.J. Foss

During the mid-1990s, the Ohio State Buckeyes had some great teams go through most of the regular season undefeated only to have their arch rival, the Michigan Wolverines, spoil the Buckeyes’ dreams of a national title on three occasions.

But perhaps the Buckeyes’ most heartbreaking loss during this time period came at the hands of that other football team from Michigan.

The 1998 season was the 11th season for John Cooper as the Ohio State head coach as he had complied an 86-32-4 record during his 10 years in Columbus.

Despite his success, Cooper was not embraced by the Buckeye faithful as he had only defeated Michigan once in his first 10 meetings with the Wolverines and was 2-7 in bowl games.

But in 1998, it appeared that the stars were lining up for Cooper and Ohio State to have a magical season.

The Buckeyes began the season as the #1 team ranked in the country because of the 17 returning starters on offense and defense that included quarterback Joe Germaine, wide receiver David Boston, and linebacker Andy Kaztenmoyer.

Through the first two months of the season, Ohio State was dominant as they won their first eight games of the season by a combined score of 306-72.

As the Buckeyes entered the month of November, it appeared that their only obstacle would be arch-rival Michigan on the last game of the season in a game that would be played in Columbus.

So as Ohio State entered their home game with Michigan State on November 7, 1998, it seemed the only question was by how many points would the Buckeyes win over the Spartans.

It appeared that the Spartans were headed for another mediocre season under head coach Nick Saban, who had only gone 19-15-1 in his first three seasons in East Lansing, and were 4-4 at this point of the 1998 season.

The Spartans did have some talent such as sophomore wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who would break the Michigan State season record for receptions, and linebacker Julian Peterson, a junior college transfer from the Valley Forge Military Academy. Read the rest of this entry →

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