All statistics are taken from Football Study Hall or Football Outsiders unless noted. All stats are explained here, here, and at the Football Outsiders link above. I prefer to use advanced stats, so when I say a team ranks 82nd in rushing defense, I am saying they rank 82nd in Bill Connely’s S&P+ statistics relating to rushing, not 82nd in rushing yards allowed a game. As always, just tweet me (@JackMacCFB) with any questions.
All lines are from BetOnline at 11:30 PM (EST) on 12/28.
Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State (-7.5, O/U 65), 8:30 PM, ESPN:
Two historic programs going at it. What’s better than this?
I’m going to get right to the point: I LOVE Ohio State here. I respect USC as a great football team and think Sam Darnold will be a great NFL QB, but I don’t see them leaving Dallas without losing by double digits.
We’ll start with Ohio State’s advantages when they have the ball. The Buckeyes work best when they can dominate running the ball and have JT Barrett manage the game. When they ask Barrett to make plays, he struggles. Take a look at the Michigan State game. OSU ran all over Sparty and won 48-3. All of this makes sense considering Ohio State’s offensive line ranks 8th in adjusted line yards and leads the way for the 2nd best rush attack in the country. USC’s defense ranks 53rd overall in stopping the run, 91st in success rate, and 93rd in adjusted line yards. Mike Webber and JK Dobbins are going to have a FIELD day on USC’s defense. Their constant gains of 5+ yards will force USC to move more players up into the box, allowing JT Barrett to throw the ball for big gains (26th in passing IsoPPP) against USC’s 83rd ranked passing IsoPPP secondary.
On the other side of the ball, it’s a lot more of the same old song and dance. Ohio State’s defensive line is 1st in adjusted line yards and 1st against the run. USC’s offensive line is 33rd in adjusted line yards, so not that bad, but handling the Buckeyes won’t be easy for the unit that ranks 52nd in rushing.
Ohio State is going to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Urban Meyer is a better coach than Clay Helton. This advantage will show heavily with a few weeks of prep for Urban to expose USC’s weaknesses. OSU, also, has a point to prove to the CFB world and themselves. Being left out of the playoff isn’t the only thing on their mind as their 31-0 loss to Clemson hasn’t been forgotten. Urban Meyer is a master motivator and will have his team ready to go come game time. The last time OSU missed out on the playoff they were in a similar situation against Notre Dame. Some expected them to come out flat because they weren’t in the playoffs, instead they flattened Notre Dame. Also, don’t forget this is JT Barrett’s last game of his 13-year career at Ohio State, so expect a big one from him. Ohio State is the #1 rated team in the country according to S&P+ and ESPN’s FPI. USC ranks 22nd and 15th in those same rankings. Buckeyes roll.
Pick: OSU -7.5
Belk Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest (-3 (-115), O/U 66 (-115)), 1:00 PM, ESPN:
Ahhh, the Belk Bowl. The home to the worst bad beat in recent history:
And another one last year when 6 point underdog Arkansas led by 24 at halftime but went on to lose by 11 to Virginia Tech. You should always tread lightly when betting the Belk Bowl…no lead is ever safe.
Texas A&M comes into this game without the head coach who led them to yet another disappointing season. The good news for the Aggies is they have found their $75,000,000 man, Jimbo Fisher to coach them for the next decade. Fisher won’t be coaching this game, but College Station is buzzing for the first time in a while. I’m not sure how much that buzz with matter for this game, though. Texas A&M players will want to play well for Jimbo, but most of them must be waiting for this season to end.
Wake Forest had one hell of a year. A victory in this game means a second straight bowl victory and first 8-win season in program history. Dave Clawson has built a serious football program with the Deamon Decans and will have his team ready to go today. He likes to run a fast offense (rank 8th in pace) and has succeeded with that philosophy in 2017 (30th in S&P+). The Deacs rank 32nd in IsoPPP (explosive plays) and will be looking to exploit the Aggies defense that ranks 78th in the same category. The same goes for when Clawson’s team has the ball inside the 40, as they’ve scored 4.88 points inside the 40 (32nd in country) while Texas A&M has allowed 4.64 (87th in country). Clawson’s QB John Wofford is a gem that ranks 9th in QBR and leads the number 2 ranked passing offense in the country. He’ll look to exploit the Texas A&M defense that ranks 43rd in passing success rate and 80th in IsoPPP. He’ll have plenty of time behind his elite offensive line, which has the 20th best adjusted sack rate in the country.
Wake Forest is also more disciplined than Texas A&M. They rank 8th in expected turnovers and 32nd in starting field position. Texas A&M ranks 78th and 67th in those same categories. The Wake Forest defense, which has kept teams from being efficient (35th in defensive success rate+) all season, won’t be troubled by the inefficient Texas A&M offense (107th in success rate+).
Everything is pointing towards Wake Forest. They have a substantial coaching and motivational edge. The Belk Bowl is in North Carolina, just an hour or so from Wake Forest’s campus, so I expect a bunch of Wake Forest fans (yes, they exist) in the building to support their Deamon Decans.
Pick: Wake Forest -3 (-115)
Sun Bowl: NC State (-7 (-105), O/U 59.5) vs. Arizona State, 3:00 PM, CBS:
Always sad to watch a Sun Bowl without Verne Lundqvist on the call.
Times are tough in Tempe, Arizona right now. They hired Herm Edwards, who doesn’t know how football works anymore:
And has run everyone out of town:
Herm Edwards won’t be coaching in this game, Todd Graham will be. Yes, the head coach who was fired after the season was told “we don’t want you back, but you can still coach in the bowl game because, why not? We are going to fuck this entire program in a few weeks anyways.” I completely forgot this whole thing was happening and two days ago when I was reading about this game I was reminded of the plan for Graham and I started to laugh. A perfect example of why I love this dumb sport so much.
NC State hasn’t had a smooth offseason either. Dave Doreen was almost as good as gone, but then decided at the last moment that staying to coach NC State was just as good as going to Tennessee.
Now, both of these teams are going to finish off their season in beautiful El Paso, Texas, the city that literally nobody has ever asked to go to. NC State star Bradley Chubb will most likely sit this one out, meaning he traveled all the way to El Paso, Texas during the holidays for absolutely nothing except a few crappy gifts.
I don’t have a feel for this game. There is too much in the air. I have been a big fan of Ryan Finley all season long. He ranks 16th in QBR and leads the 12th passing attack in the country. Arizona State’s secondary matches up well, ranking 27th in the same category. ASU ranks better on special teams, but still rank 103rd in S&P+ defense.
The mood in Arizona right now seems to be that the players are not a fun of Graham leaving/Edwards coming in. For that reason, I am leaning Arizona State. They have one last game with the guy they want and will be able to stick it to administration with a big victory.
Lean: ASU +7
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Northwestern (-7.5 (-120), O/U 51) vs. Kentucky, 4:30 PM, ESPN:
Now to the portion of the preview where we look at the bowl Kentucky is in, which is attended by Kentucky fans to talk to other Kentucky fans about Kentucky basketball.
We have quite the momentum difference here. Northwestern started the season 2-3, but ended on a seven-game winning streak, while Kentucky started 5-1 and went 2-4 down the stretch. If this game was played a week after their last game, I would look more into that momentum, but the month break for these teams most likely evens out any momentum they had/didn’t have. As I talked about yesterday, sometimes this time between games is a blessing in disguise for teams that are skidding down the stretch.
Both teams feature premier RBs (Justin Jackson & Benny Snell), but both are featured in average run attacks (Northwestern is 75th & Kentucky is 58th). Kentucky runs the ball much more than Northwestern, which isn’t great news for them seeing the Northwestern ranks 20th against the run. It may be time for Kentucky to air the ball out more with Stephen Jones and the 29th ranked passing attack in the country. Northwestern ranks 79th in the same category on defense.
I see a path to victory for Kentucky here, but I do not think they are very good. Second-order wins is a stat that looks at every game individually and determines with these statistics, you would win this game x% of the time. 100 percent equals 1 win, while 65% equals .65 of a win. Second-order wins is a great stat to look at when the season ends and compare to the actual number of victories a team had. Kentucky ended the season with 7 total wins, but just 3.8 second-order wins. The 3.2 difference here is enormous (most end up between +/- .5 wins). Kentucky had a lot of luck along the way this season and is just not a great team. S&P+ has this game at -9. Pat Fitzgerald is a much better coach than Mark Stoops and has the better team. Bowls aren’t a given at Northwestern, so their motivation will be high. I lean with the nerds here.
Lean: Northwestern -7.5
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Utah State (-4 (-105), O/U 63) vs. New Mexico State, 5:30 PM, CBSSN:
This is irrelevant and I’m only mentioning it because I find it oddly hilarious, but this is the second straight game between two teams with the same mascot. Wildcats vs. Wildcats. Aggies vs. Aggies. Wild stuff.
This is New Mexico State’s first bowl game in 57 years. Fifty. Seven. Damn. Years.
The fan base is PUMPED:
This game, however, is not a great one. If you are a complete college football nerd, I guess you could watch this one, but NMSU ranks 69th in S&P+ and Utah State ranks 55th. Neither team has a standout player or has a strength that pops out to you.
NMSU is explosive, ranking 37th in IsoPPP, but Utah State is 19th in the same category on defense. Tyler Rogers is a good Sun Belt QB and has led the 46th best passing attack in terms of success rate, but Utah State has a defense that has been stopping the pass all year (38th in success rate).
Utah State has an expected turnover margin of 1.3 (53rd), while NMSU expected turnover margin is -3.5 (94th). They, also, have had substantially better starting field position all season long (29th vs. 104th). When inside the 40, Utah State has the 32nd best clip in the country of 4.87 points per trip. NMSU ranks 83rd in points allowed inside the 40.
There are matchup advantages for Utah State across the field, but there is something to be said about New Mexico State’s motivation edge, so I’ll just lean with Utah State. The first bowl game in 57 years is a hell of an achievement and I’m sure the Aggies want to cap it off with a W. All in all, this a cool story for New Mexico State.
Lean: Utah State -4
Official #JackieGambling Picks:
2017 Season: 63-47-1, 57.3%
Bowl Season: 5-4 (Leans: 5-8)
Wake Forest -3
Ohio State -7.5