2012-13 Bowl Game Preview: Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Northern Illinois, BYU and More

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I was able to close out the regular season on a high note, going 3-0 in week 14 to bounce back from a disappointing week 13.  While overall the regular season did not go the way that I had planned, it’s always good to close out the season strong as we shift gears heading into bowl play.

Final Regular Season Record:  58-60 -10.11 units

Due to the sanctions against Miami and North Carolina, they ACC was unable to fill all of their 8 bowl ties this year.  The Hurricanes and the Tar Heels were two of the better teams in the ACC this year, so their absence means that several of the bottom rung ACC bowl teams are actually being overseeded into their match-ups here.

That overseeding is apparent when you look at the early bowl lines, as 4 of the 6 ACC schools find themselves as early underdogs (3 of them sizeable underdogs of 6 or more) in their postseason match-ups.   Last season the ACC was an awful 2-6 straight up and 3-4-1 ATS, so their poor past performance is likely also being factored into these lines.  The ACC hasn’t had a winning record in bowl play in any of the past 6 seasons, can things be different in 2012-13?

In a similar approach to what Pez wrote, for the most part I’m going to bypass attempting to handicap motivation in the bowl games.  While I do believe that it is an absolutely critical factor, I’ve learned over the years that I just don’t have a good, clear-cut way to read the motivational tea leaves for each of these teams.  While one team may be devastated by their coach leaving for another job, a different team in the same circumstances may be hyper-focused to prove that their success isn’t all due to their former coach.  Will a team like Southern Cal (preseason #1 and now find themselves in the Sun Bowl) mail in the final game of a lost season or will they bust their asses to send a decorated senior class out in style?  For me all I can do is handicap the match-ups and assume that the off the field factors will all wash each other out.

Plays will be added here as I am able to write them up.

Bowl Record YTD:  2-0 +4.0 units

Jimmyshivers 2012-13 Bowl Plays

*** Cincinnati Bearcats -7 -110

** Vanderbilt Commodores -7 -110

** Northern Illinois Huskies +13.5 -110

** Brigham Young – San Diego St Under 48.5 -110

** Utah St Aggies -10.5 -110      W

** Nevada Wolf Pack +9.5 -110  W

more to come…


*** Cincinnati Bearcats -7 -110

It’s the first bowl trip for Duke since 1994, and while it’s a great story we have to face the facts; after upsetting North Carolina to clinch bowl eligibility at mid season, the Blue Devils got absolutely boat raced in their final 4 games (outscored 198-96) to close out at 6-6.

The biggest issue Duke faces relates to their defense, they just have a hard time getting stops against decent opposition. In each of their 6 losses Duke allowed at least 40 points and none of those games were played within a touchdown.  Duke went just 1-4 SU and ATS against top 40 offenses (measured in yards per play vs FBS opposition) and is facing a Cincy offense that ranks 25th nationally in that statistic.  I’ve backed Cincinnati several times this year, and in watching them I’ve been very impressed with their ground game (ranks 19th nationally in yards per carry) and I feel like this is a very good match-up for them; Duke ranks 105th nationally in rushing defense.  Cincinnati has had quarterback issues down the stretch which is a concern, but I feel like they’ll be able to run the ball here and take some pressure off of the passing game.

Offensively it’s a little tough to judge Duke just by looking at the statistics, they don’t really care to run the ball at all but they do use a scheme that incorporates a lot of high percentage short passes which leads to gradually moving the chains (case in point:  Duke was 11th nationally in passing attempts per game yet only 64th nationally in passing plays greater than 10 yards).   To back Cincinnati here we need to feel confident that they can prevent the  long drives that allow a thin Duke defense to recover.  Cincinnati has a very physical and alert secondary; the Bearcats rank 9th nationally in passes defended a game (6.15) as well as opponents completion% (52.7%).

I feel that Duke’s lack of downfield play makers will allow Cincinnati to really try to shrink the field by keeping their linebackers and secondary closer to the line of scrimmage  and really create some tight passing lanes.  Cincinnati has an athletic advantage on the defensive line so  if they can make Sean Renfree uncomfortable on his quick drops they may have some good opportunities to create turnovers.

Cincinnati is replacing their head coach which may call their motivation into doubt for some, but you could also make the argument that Duke is just happy to finally be in a bowl game here, and their performance down the stretch was indicative of a team who had already achieved their main goal.  Duke is the 69th ranked bowl team by my numbers, and if the match-up in the trenches is a really poor one for them.  I just don’t see Duke getting stops consistently enough to stay in it against a Bearcat team who has superior athletes all over the field. Cincinnati 38, Duke 24.

** Vanderbilt Commodores -7 -110

I feel like this game sets up nicely for Vanderbilt, getting an NC State team with an interim coach on their home field.  NCSU is going from a bowl master (Tom O’Brien 8-1-1 career ATS in bowl games) to an unproven interim coach (OC Dana Bible is calling the shots here) while  their future coach for next year is organizing practices and recruiting.  NC State will likely attempt use this game as a showcase for outgoing senior QB Mike Glennon, but I feel like they’re going to find the going tough in the passing game.  Vanderbilt has a very stingy pass defense, ranking 7th nationally in my adjusted numbers (52% completions, 5.6 ypc, 6-7 TD-INT ratio).  

NC State has been very much a feast-or-famine passing team this year, and the issue for them here is that if they don’t have consistent success throwing it, they just don’t have much of a hope to be able to move the chains running the football (my 118th ranked ground  game and114th ranked OLine).  Jordan Rogers and the Vanderbilt O aren’t very explosive, but the NCSU secondary is extremely over aggressive and frequently gets burnt for big plays.  For me this bet is as simple as taking the team with the better defense, more balanced offense, home field advantage and coaching continuity.  I played Vandy at -6 on open for 3 units, and still see it worth a small wager at the current number.  Vanderbilt 28 – NC State 17.

** Northern Illinois Huskies +13.5 -110

I just  don’t see it with Florida State right now, there isn’t enough of a difference between the ACC and the MAC to justify laying 2 TD’s with the champion of one over the other.  Not when both teams were dominant in their leagues.  NIU did lose their coach to my Wolfpack, but they instantly replaced him with a top assistant and should be able to maintain continuity through bowl practice.  What’s appealing about the Huskies here is their versatility, Jordan Lynch is obviously the key but they do a great job in spreading the ball around and getting the football to the edges of the defense.  Defensively FSU really limped into the finish (allowed 4.5 yards per play over last month of season vs 3.9 ypp all season long) even though they were playing some pretty vanilla and one-dimensional offenses.  

I’ve watched FSU a bunch this year and it’s apparent to me that mentally they don’t have that killer instinct that separates the supremely talented teams from the truly elite.  Florida State was 0-6 ATS this year as a favorite of less than 3 TD’s, and didn’t cover a single game away from home.  I’ll take nearly 2 TD’s with a very balanced and overall extremely solid NIU squad in a game we can say with certainty that they are thrilled to be here.  I personally played NIU at +14, but like this one all the way down to 10.  Florida State 27 – Northern Illinois 20.

** Brigham Young – San Diego State Under 48.5 -110

All of my statistics point to a BYU ATS victory here, but I’m extremely wary of fading bowl teams who are underdogs at home.  The safer play for me is the under here, as I really like the match-up for the defenses.  What we have here is an Aztec team who really likes running the ball (67.4% of their plays are runs, 9th nationally) going against what is an extremely strong BYU run defense that ranks 2nd nationally at stopping the run.  Defensively BYU is only allowing 59.18 plays a game, which ranks as the fewest nationally.  What BYU is really good at is preventing the big play on the ground, they’ve only allowed 3 rushing plays all year of 30 yards or greater.    For San Diego State to have the kind of consistent  success needed to move the football into scoring position against BYU, they’re going to need to either be able to find running room against a BYU defense that no one else has been able to, or get a lot more production from their passing attack than they have all year.

Defensively for San Diego State, their going against a pretty pedestrian BYU group who’s point per game averages are greatly inflated by some of their weak opposition.  In games where BYU was favored by double digits, the Cougars offense really found a groove as they scored 30, 45, 47, 52 and 50 points.  However in all other games the Cougars only topped 24 points once (a blowout victory at Georgia Tech) and only averaged 18 points per game.  BYU brings in a fairly balanced play calling scheme here that see’s them run the ball about 54% of the time (71st nationally) and they’re pretty vanilla in both attacks (ranking in the 70′s nationally in both my passing and rushing efficiency stats).

All season long BYU has used their defense to put themselves in position to win football games, and against a heavily run-based San Diego State team their superb run D will be in an excellent position to set up a field-position kind of game.  I feel like Bronco Mendenhall will be more than content than to keep the offense pretty vanilla here, especially against an Aztec defense that ranks in the top 40 in both my run and pass D efficiency rankings and only gave up 17.25 points a game in their last 4.  Brigham Young  23 – San Diego St 17

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