All predictions are based on team rankings before bowl season.
Nevada versus Arizona. New Mexico Bowl, Saturday, December 15.
Arizona (26) will beat Nevada (73) by 12.4 at a neutral site. Nevada has a 25% chance of beating Arizona.
The 35th ranked Nevada offense will enjoy an advantage against the mediocre Arizona defense, ranked 53rd. It’s a bit surprising that defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who coached the West Virginia defense under Rich Rodriguez, hasn’t done better with this squad. However, the 10th ranked Arizona offense should have their way with the 93rd ranked Nevada defense, a squad that gave up 48 points to Air Force.
Toledo versus Utah State. Idaho Potato Bowl, Saturday, December 15.
Utah State (12) will beat Toledo (59) by 14.0 at a neutral site. Toledo has a 22% chance of beating Utah State.
Utah State has been the most underrated team in college football this season. If not for a 2 and 3 point loss to Wisconsin and BYU respectively, the Aggies would rightfully have an argument for a BCS bowl bid. Look for their 34th ranked offense to overwhelm a bad Toledo defense ranked 107th. When Toledo has the ball, they will face the 10th ranked defense in the nation. This squad held Wisconsin to 3.86 yards per play, although this was quite early in the season. Our game predictions using yards per play give Utah State a 24.3 point edge. That’s probably too much, but it will most likely be a lopsided affair. One should also consider that Utah State will be more acclimated to the altitude in Idaho than the midwest Toledo team.
Brigham Young versus San Diego State. Poinsetta Bowl, Thursday, December 20.
Brigham Young (21) will beat San Diego State (45) by 6.7 at a neutral site. San Diego State has a 35% chance of beating Brigham Young.
San Diego State is average on both sides of the ball, ranked 53rd in both offense and defense. BYU has poor offense (84th) but almost elite defense (15th). Brigham Young should score enough points to pull out the victory. When San Diego State has the ball, they should run the ball with their 21st ranked rush attack instead of throw the ball with their 86th ranked pass attack. San Diego State gets props for beating Boise State on the smurf turf, but they should fall short against BYU.
Ball State versus UCF. Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, Friday, December 21.
UCF (54) will beat Ball State (66) by 3.9 at a neutral site. Ball State has a 41% chance of beating UCF.
When UCF’s 50th ranked offense takes the field, they face a terrible Ball State defense ranked 109th. They gave up a higher than average number of yards per play against every opponent expect Miami of Ohio. It hasn’t really showed up on the scoreboard, but expect that to change against UCF. The line, which favors UCF by 7, is larger than our predicted margin of victory because of this defense. UCF also enjoys a small edge with their 51st ranked defense against Ball State’s 85th ranked offense. In general, our numbers do not like MAC teams.
East Carolina versus Louisiana Lafayette. New Orleans Bowl, Saturday, December 22.
Louisiana Lafayette (52) will beat East Carolina (90) by 12.0 at a neutral site. East Carolina has a 25% chance of beating Louisiana Lafayette.
Louisiana Lafayette needed a last second field goal to beat San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl last year. This year shouldn’t be as dramatic against East Carolina. Louisiana Lafayette has the 8th best offense in the nation. This squad gained 5.04 yards per play against Florida’s top ranked defense in taking the Gators down to the wire. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ offense faces East Carolina’s 91st ranked defense, and it shouldn’t be much of a contest. When East Carolina’s 62nd ranked offense takes the field, they face the 95th worst defense. Expect a lot of points. However, a point spread of 6 for Louisiana Lafayette is probably too small.
Washington versus Boise State. MAACO Bowl, Saturday, December 22.
Boise State (29) will beat Washington (37) by 2.6 at a neutral site. Washington has a 44% chance of beating Boise State.
Boise State was overrated this year based on their reputation over the last few years. In reality, this team enjoyed a +18 turnover margin this year, a sign of good luck. In their match up against Washington, the defenses will both have the advantage. Washington’s 36th ranked defense, led by former Boise State coordinator Justin Wilcox, will face Boise State’s 67th ranked offense. Despite using a run first pro style offense, the Broncos simply don’t run the ball well, ranked 80th in our adjusted yards per attempt. (They were also 80th last year when they had Doug Martin.) Washington’s 70th ranked offense faces Boise State’s 24th ranked defense. Their pass offense led by QB Keith Price is probably better than 83rd, but injuries have decimated their offensive line this year.
Fresno State versus SMU. Hawaii Bowl, Monday, December 24.
Fresno State (22) will beat SMU (82) by 17.0 at a neutral site. SMU has a 18% chance of beating Fresno State.
Fresno State should have an easy time with SMU, a 6-6 team in our worst ranked conference (Conference USA). Fresno State’s 46th ranked offense should score plenty of points against SMU’s 69th ranked defense. SMU’s offense has done pretty poorly this year considering coach June Jones is known as a spread offense guru. SMU’s offense is ranked 101st (111th in passing) and faces a stiff test in Fresno State’s 17th ranked defense. A point spread of 12 in favor of Fresno State seems too small. However, June Jones and SMU did shock Nevada by a 45-10 score in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl.
Western Kentucky versus Central Michigan. Little Caesar’s Bowl, Wednesday, December 26.
Western Kentucky (70) will beat Central Michigan (107) by 11.4 at a neutral site. Central Michigan has a 26% chance of beating Western Kentucky.
The key match up is Western Kentucky’s 63rd ranked offense against Central Michigan’s 115th ranked defense. The Hilltoppers should have a significant edge here and score lots of points. When Central Michigan has the ball, their 49th ranked offense should be evenly matched with Western Kentucky’s 41st ranked defense. But the point spread of 5.5 in favor of Western Kentucky seems too small against the 108th ranked team overall. Again, our numbers don’t like MAC teams. Central Michigan was 6-6 with one win against an FCS school. Also, Western Kentucky will have an interim coach after Willie Taggert left for South Florida.
San Jose State versus Bowling Green. Military Bowl, Thursday, December 27.
San Jose State (23) will beat Bowling Green (64) by 11.3 at a neutral site. Bowling Green has a 26% chance of beating San Jose State.
San Jose State made unbelievable strides this season under coach Mike MacIntyre. When the Spartans took Stanford to the wire the opening weekend of the season, many Stanford fans were worried. It turns out that San Jose State was pretty good, and MacIntyre is now the coach at Colorado. San Jose State’s offense excels at throwing the ball, 5th best in the nation. They will air out against Bowling Green’s 31st ranked pass defense. When Bowling Green has the ball, their 97th ranked offense faces San Jose State 60th ranked defense. The Spartans enjoy a clear advantage on both sides of the ball and should win by double digits.
Cincinnati versus Duke. Belk Bowl, Thursday, December 27.
Cincinnati (38) will beat Duke (93) by 15.3 at a neutral site. Duke has a 20% chance of beating Cincinnati.
Despite going 6-6 in a BCS conference, Duke is a lowly 93rd in our team rankings. They got destroyed by good teams and only beat a bad Wake Forest team by 7. However, Cincinnati was our best team in the much maligned Big East. Their 29th ranked offense, led by quarterback Munchie Legaux, should overwhelm Duke’s 108th ranked defense. Cincinnati should be able to throw the ball all night against an injury depleted secondary. When Duke has the ball, they have a pretty even match up with their 67th ranked offense against Cincinnati’s 55th ranked defense. But they won’t score enough points to keep up with Cincinnati.
Baylor versus UCLA. Holiday Bowl, Thursday, December 27.
Baylor (17) will beat UCLA (19) by 0.7 at a neutral site. UCLA has a 48% chance of beating Baylor.
Get ready for some offense in this game. Baylor’s offense hasn’t lost a step with Nick Florence’s replacing Robert Griffin III at quarterback. Coach Art Briles has the nation’s 2nd best offense, and they should put up points against UCLA’s 43rd ranked defense. UCLA has a very good, balanced offense led by freshman QB Brett Hundley and throat slashing RB Jonathan Franklin. Their running game racked up 8.42 yards per carry against an elite Stanford defense in the Pac-12 championship game. However, Baylor’s defense has come a long way since West Virginia QB Geno Smith lit them up early in the season, throwing for 656 yards (45-41). Their 59th ranked defense gets just enough stops for Baylor to prevail.
Ohio versus Louisiana Monroe, Independence Bowl, Friday, December 28.
Louisiana Monroe (62) will beat Ohio (78) by 5.3 at a neutral site. Ohio has a 38% chance of beating Louisiana Monroe.
Sports Illustrated had an article this fall touting Ohio as the next Boise State. In reality, they’re the 6th best team in the MAC conference. Moreover, the MAC continues to decline this bowl season, with Toledo and Ball State losing badly. The most recent rankings have Louisiana Monroe by 6.3, which is very close to the line of 7. Expect QB Kolton Browning and their 56th ranked offense to have a significant edge over Ohio’s 95th ranked defense. Louisiana Monroe will have a slight edge on defense as well.
Virginia Tech versus Rutgers, Russell Athletic Bowl, Friday, December 28.
Rutgers (55) will beat Virginia Tech (71) by 4.5 at a neutral site. Virginia Tech has a 40% chance of beating Rutgers.
This team ranking probably fail in this game. The randomness of turnovers can affect the team rankings, and Rutgers enjoyed a +9 turnover margin this season while Virginia Tech suffered a -4. In reality, these teams have good defenses (26th for Rutgers, 21st for Virginia Tech) that should control the game. Virginia Tech offense (73rd) should give them a slight edge over Rutgers (83rd on offense). Our predictions based on yards per play say Tech by 2.9, which is pretty close to the line at 2. Of course, a turnover could easily tip the game for Rutgers.
Minnesota versus Texas Tech, Meineke Car Care Bowl, Friday, December 28.
Texas Tech (44) will beat Minnesota (76) by 9.5 at a neutral site. Minnesota has a 30% chance of beating Texas Tech.
Our numbers do not like Big Ten this year, and that’s not good news for 6-6 Minnesota. Moreover, Baylor just had a big win over UCLA last night, which makes Texas Tech’s 7 point loss to Baylor seems not so bad. The most current team rankings give Texas Tech a 11.2 point edge. The better match up in this game is Texas Tech’s 25th ranked offense against Minnesota’s 32nd ranked defense. The Red Raiders like to throw the ball with QB Seth Doege. On the other side, Minnesota’s anemic offense (105th) will face a resurgent Texas Tech defense (37th). Also, the team rankings could have Texas Tech underrated, as they had a -12 turnover margin this season. Our predictions by yards per play give Tech a 16 point edge.
Rice versus Air Force, Armed Forces Bowl, Saturday, December 29.
Air Force (86) will beat Rice (89) by 0.2 at a neutral site. Rice has a 50% chance of beating Air Force.
This is a pretty interesting game. The team rankings prediction of Air Force by 0.2 is from before the Bowl season started. After Fresno State, a team that beat Air Force by 33, got thumped by a poor SMU team, the prediction has changed to Rice by 1.7. As a Rice alum, I should be happy about that. But as a football analytics guys, the deeper statistics just don’t like Rice or Conference USA teams. Rice has the 118th ranked defense, and they’re going to have problems stopping the triple option rushing attack of Air Force, the 48th best rush offense. Rice’s 99th ranked offense should score some points against Air Force’s 96th ranked defense, but it won’t be enough to win the game. The predictions from yards per games give a 8.5 point win for Air Force. The margin of victory won’t be that high, but the odds should favor Air Force in this game.
West Virginia versus Syracuse, Pinstripe Bowl, Saturday, December 29.
West Virginia (42) will beat Syracuse (53) by 2.8 at a neutral site. Syracuse has a 44% chance of beating West Virginia.
There should be a lot of points in this game. West Virginia and QB Geno Smith come in with the 20th ranked offense, and they will throw early and often against Syracuse’s 65th ranked pass defense. The match ups are more interesting when Syracuse has the ball. Led by senior QB Ryan Nassib, their 9th ranked passing attack should shred West Virginia’s 122nd ranked pass defense. However, West Virginia has the 7th best rush defense. If Syracuse builds a big lead, they will have problems eating up the clock with their 68th ranked rush offense. Overall, this should be a pretty interesting game that slightly favors West Virginia.
Navy versus Arizona State, Fight Hunger Bowl, Saturday, December 29.
Arizona State (25) will beat Navy (83) by 15.8 at a neutral site. Navy has a 19% chance of beating Arizona State.
Arizona State’s 47th ranked offense will enjoy a big advantage over Navy’s 81st ranked defense. However, Navy’s offense will decide this game. The Midshipmen primarily run the ball with their triple option offense. And rush defense just happens to be Arizona State’s weakness on defense. They have the 71st ranked rush defense but the 2nd ranked pass defense. Defensive end Will Sutton and company excel at the pass rush (11% sack rate leads the nation) but struggle against the run. Navy can keep this game close by grinding out long touchdown drives on the ground.
Texas versus Oregon State, Alamo Bowl, Saturday, December 29.
Oregon State (13) will beat Texas (24) by 5.0 at a neutral site. Texas has a 39% chance of beating Oregon State.
Texas and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had a dominant, 8th ranked defense last season. Despite high expectations for this year, the defense has plummeted to 65th this season. If their talent doesn’t decide to show up in San Antonio, Oregon State’s 17th ranked offense should score lots of points. On offense, Texas will rely on banged up QB David Ash. He made monumental improvements in his accuracy this season to lead Texas to the 19th ranked pass offense. However, a rib injury really seemed to affect him against TCU. He’ll be the starter against Oregon State and should put up some points. However, the odds suggest Oregon State will survive with the win.
TCU versus Michigan State, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Saturday, December 29.
TCU (31) will beat Michigan State (40) by 1.8 at a neutral site. Michigan State has a 46% chance of beating TCU.
The defenses will dominate this game. Despite their struggles this season, Michigan State still has an elite defense, ranked 8th. TCU and freshman QB Trevone Boykin bring in the 50th ranked offense and will struggle to put up points. On Michigan State’s offense, running back Le’Veon Bell gets all the headlines. However, he only gets 4.7 yards per carry, less than the 5.13 FBS average this year. Michigan State has the 83rd ranked rush offense and will struggle to run against TCU’s 8th ranked rush defense. The match up doesn’t get any better when QB Andrew Maxwell throws the ball, as State’s 88th ranked pass offense faces TCU’s 20th ranked pass defense. The Horned Frogs have the slight edge in this defensive battle.
North Carolina State versus Vanderbilt, Music City Bowl, Monday, December 31.
Vanderbilt (39) will beat North Carolina State (69) by 7.7 at a neutral site. North Carolina State has a 33% chance of beating Vanderbilt.
Not surprisingly, the SEC team from the South will enjoy the advantage on both sides of the ball. When Vanderbilt has the ball, they will have the biggest advantage throwing the ball with QB Jordan Rodgers. Their 20th ranked pass offense will face NC State’s 67th ranked pass defense. Vanderbilt will find running the ball harder. When State has the ball, their 91st ranked offense will struggle against an almost elite 16th ranked defense from Vanderbilt. Our predictions based on yards per play give Vanderbilt a 10.3 point edge in this game.
USC versus Georgia Tech, Sun Bowl, Monday, December 31.
USC (14) will beat Georgia Tech (63) by 14.7 at a neutral site. Georgia Tech has a 21% chance of beating USC.
There are two reasons that 14.7 points might be too many for USC. First, QB Matt Barkley will not play, so USC will most likely not play up to their 7th ranking on offense. Back up QB Max Wittek will start, and hopefully USC will not ask him to throw deep on almost every play like he did against Notre Dame. Still, they face a weak Georgia Tech defense, ranked 80th in the nation. On offense, Georgia Tech runs the ball with their triple option attack. USC is worse at rush defense (44th) than pass defense (19th). Georgia Tech can stay in this game by grinding out long touchdown drives.
Iowa State versus Tulsa, Liberty Bowl, Monday, December 31.
Iowa State (41) will beat Tulsa (57) by 4.1 at a neutral site. Tulsa has a 41% chance of beating Iowa State.
Not sure what to make of this game. The team rankings favor Iowa State. The yards per play rankings favor Tulsa by 2.7. The line has moved from Tulsa by 3 to Iowa State by 1. Iowa State did beat Tulsa at home earlier this year 38-23. In breaking down these teams, both defenses are marginally better than the offenses. When Iowa State has the ball, they should run the ball with their 54th ranked rush offense against Tulsa’s 43rd ranked rush defense. But Tulsa’s pass defense will have an edge. When Tulsa has the ball, they should throw the ball with their 69th ranked pass offense against Iowa State’s 63rd ranked defense. Iowa State’s rush defense is strong (32nd). Expect a close game.
LSU versus Clemson, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Monday, December 31.
LSU (9) will beat Clemson (27) by 7.9 at a neutral site. Clemson has a 33% chance of beating LSU.
The SEC will again show little brother ACC its dominance. Clemson has the 19th best offense, but LSU has an elite defense, ranked 4th in the nation. Clemson will do better throwing than running against LSU. When LSU has the ball, their 34th ranked offense will face Clemson’s 90th ranked defense. With the development of QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU should be able to put up points against Clemson. The yards per play rankings give LSU an almost two touchdown edge. I have no idea why the line favors LSU by only 5.5.
Mississippi State versus Northwestern, Gator Bowl, Tuesday, January 1.
Northwestern (36) will beat Mississippi State (50) by 3.1 at a neutral site. Mississippi State has a 43% chance of beating Northwestern
This is the only game in which the team rankings favor a Big Ten team. However, a deeper analysis reveals a different story. The rankings by yards per play actually favor Mississippi State by 8.7. The best spread is probably somewhere between Northwestern by 3 and Mississippi State by 9. In our offense defense breakdown, the SEC team has the edge on both sides of the ball. When Northwestern has the ball, their 62nd ranked offense faces Mississippi State’s 43rd ranked defense. The Wildcats will be better off running the ball with running back Venric Mark. When Mississippi State has the ball, their 32nd ranked offense faces Northwestern’s 51st ranked defense. The Bulldogs will have more success throwing the ball with QB Tyler Russell. The odds should slightly favor Mississippi State in this game.
Purdue versus Oklahoma State, Heart of Dallas Bowl, Tuesday, January 1.
Oklahoma State (16) will beat Purdue (58) by 11.7 at a neutral site. Purdue has a 26% chance of beating Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State had a fantastic season in 2011 in which they almost bumped Alabama for a spot in the national title game. But it wasn’t all QB Brandon Weedon and WR Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys defense forced 44 turnovers last season, by far the most in the nation. Much ink was spilled on how defensive coordinator Bill Young preaches turnover creation in practice. But turnover creation is random. Oklahoma State’s defense forced only 17 turnovers this year, a below average total. As a result, Oklahoma State is a much better team than their 16th position in our team rankings imply. Instead of a 11.7 point victory, our yards per play rankings predict a 19.9 point win.
All of this is bad news for a Purdue team with an interim head coach. Their 67th ranked defense might get overwhelmed by Oklahoma State’s 3rd ranked offense. And don’t believe this garbage that Oklahoma State’s defense isn’t that good because they give up lots of yards. Their offense scores so often that they face more plays than the typical defense. By adjusting their yards per play for schedule strength, Oklahoma State’s defense is 18th best, bad news for Purdue’s 72nd ranked offense.
South Carolina versus Michigan, Outback Bowl, Tuesday, January 1.
South Carolina (10) will beat Michigan (28) by 7.2 at a neutral site. Michigan has a 34% chance of beating South Carolina.
Michigan was on the wrong side of turnover luck this season. They had a -8 turnover margin for the season, a year after they recovered 80% of available fumbles to power a +7 turnover margin. (Defenses typically recover half of all fumbles.) Hence, they’re a better team than their team rank of 28th suggests. The yards per play rankings give both teams 50 percent odds of winning this game.
The offense defense breakdown seems to confirm this. Michigan’s 20th ranked offense is a bit of mystery because of the elbow injury to QB Denard Robinson. Since he got hurt against Nebraska, his presence in the game means Michigan is running the ball. Devin Gardner will start at QB and face South Carolina’s 7th ranked defense. I’m excited about the battle between Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan and South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney.
When South Carolina has the ball, their 52nd ranked offense takes on Michigan’s 19th ranked defense. They will find it tough to run against Michigan, so the game will come down to whether the quarterback, either Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson, can make plays. The Gamecocks pass offense (55th) isn’t great, but they face a Michigan pass defense (58th) that lost CB JT Floyd for this game. The outcome will depend on which QB makes more plays against tough defenses. Call this game a toss up.
Georgia versus Nebraska, Capital One Bowl, Tuesday, January 1.
Georgia (6) will beat Nebraska (32) by 11.0 at a neutral site. Nebraska has a 27% chance of beating Georgia
When Nebraska has the ball, their 13th ranked offense should put up points against Georgia’s 26th ranked defense. The Cornhuskers should have a bigger advantage rushing than passing. When Georgia has the ball, their 6th ranked offense faces Nebraska’s 34th ranked defense, a unit that got demoralized by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game. Georgia is a clear favorite to win, and the margin of victory will depend on the efficiency of their offense.
Wisconsin versus Stanford, Rose Bowl, Tuesday, January 1.
Stanford (8) will beat Wisconsin (18) by 6.5 at a neutral site. Wisconsin has a 36% chance of beating Stanford.
Stanford’s offense was terrible the first part of the season. With the loss of offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin to the NFL, they couldn’t run the ball as well as in previous years. Moreover, coach David Shaw insisted on replacing QB Andrew Luck with Josh Nunes, who completed 53% of his passes. The offense only played better when freshman QB Kevin Hogan took over against Colorado. In our rankings that adjust yards per play for schedule strength, Stanford moved from 69th before Hogan to 39th after he took over. They face an excellent Wisconsin defense, ranked 10th. The Badger defense is marginally worse at rush defense (27th) than pass defense (12th).
Wisconsin’s offense also got off to a terrible start. Their offensive line, a traditional strength, played so poorly in their first two games that position coach Mike Markuson got fired. However, they finished the season by rushing for 10.78 yards per carry against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game. In a Rose Bowl preview for SI.com, we looked at their rushing performance after adjusting for strength of the opposing rush defense. Two points stand out. First, they had both their best and worst performance against Nebraska this year, two outliers in their entire season. Second, while they excelled in the Big Ten title game, the rush offense was average in the two previous games against Ohio State and Penn State. Still, they improved over the course of the season.
At quarterback, Wisconsin has started 3 different players this year. While Curt Phillips will start the Rose Bowl, freshman Joel Stave is available after recovering from a broken collarbone. The number clearly favor Stave. While Phillips threw for 5.6 yards per attempt in Wisconsin’s last 4 games, Stave averaged 7.91 yards per attempt before his injury. Wisconsin athletic director and interim coach Barry Alvarez should play Stave, especially since Stanford has the top rated pass defense in the nation. Overall, Wisconsin’s 38th ranked offense faces Stanford’s 5th ranked defense. The Badgers will find it easier to run the ball than throw against the pressure of a front seven that sacked the QB on 9.2% of pass plays this year, 5th best in the nation.
Northern Illinois versus Florida State, Orange Bowl, Tuesday, January 1.
Florida State (20) will beat Northern Illinois (35) by 4.6 at a neutral site. Northern Illinois has a 40% chance of beating Florida State.
When Northern Illinois has the ball, their 42nd ranked offense faces Florida State’s elite, 5th ranked defense. The Huskies will have more success with their rush offense, especially when QB Jordan Lynch runs the ball. When Florida State has the ball, their 15th ranked offense faces Northern Illinois’s 35th ranked defense. The yards per play rankings predict a 10.3 point win for Florida State. The line favors Florida State by 14.5.
Louisville versus Florida, Sugar Bowl, Wednesday, January 2.
Florida (4) will beat Louisville (56) by 17.7 at a neutral site. Louisville has a 17% chance of beating Florida.
Louisville does not deserve to be in a BCS bowl game. They will only stay in this game if Florida throws the ball too many times. The Gators have the 115th ranked pass offense and should stick to their rush offense, ranked 15th. Louisville’s rush defense is poor at 82nd. When Louisville has the ball, their 36th ranked offense faces the nation’s best defense. Do not expect too many points form the Cardinals, even if QB Teddy Bridgewater is back at full health.
Oregon versus Kansas State, Fiesta Bowl, Thursday, January 3.
Oregon (1) will beat Kansas State (5) by 8.5 at a neutral site. Kansas State has a 32% chance of beating Oregon.
Most people are expecting a shoot out between these two teams. Those people underestimate the strength of Oregon’s defense. Our rankings that place Oregon 11th counts only drives in which the starters played. Early in the season, head coach Chip Kelly would sit the starters as early as the second quarter when the Ducks had a large lead. Moreover, Oregon had a rash of injuries on the defensive line late in the season. Except for DT Wade Keliikipi, they are all healthy now. Expect Oregon to slow down Kansas State’s 19th ranked offense.
On offense, Oregon likes to run the ball with their up tempo attack. Their top ranked rush offense should find some holes against Kansas State’s 37th ranked rush defense. The Wildcats need to slow down the running game and make QB Marcus Mariota beat them with his arm. The yards per play rankings favor Oregon by 11.2, and they might win by even more with an effective rush attack.
Texas A&M versus Oklahoma, Cotton Bowl, Friday, January 4.
Texas A&M (3) will beat Oklahoma (11) by 4.5 at a neutral site. Oklahoma has a 40% chance of beating Texas A&M.
This should be an awesome game between two teams with explosive offenses. Oklahoma brings the 12th ranked offense into this game against Texas A&M’s 22nd ranked defense. The Sooners should stick with throwing the ball with QB Landry Jones against the Aggie defense. When Texas A&M has the ball, QB Johnny Football bring the 5th ranked offense against Oklahoma’s 13th ranked defense. Oklahoma has really struggled to stop the run this season, ranking 72nd. This is bad news against the best rush offense. Many of these yards are QB scrambles by Johnny Manziel. In the air, the Sooners have a much better defense. However, Texas A&M should have enough offense to come out ahead in this game.
Pittsburgh versus Mississippi, BBVA Compass Bowl, Saturday, January 5.
Mississippi (34) will beat Pittsburgh (43) by 2.2 at a neutral site. Pittsburgh has a 45% chance of beating Mississippi.
First year head coach Hugh Freeze did an amazing job rescuing Mississippi from the dead this season. The Rebels will enjoy a slight edge on both sides of the ball in this game with Pittsburgh. Mississippi’s 29th ranked offense will face Pittsburgh’s 34th ranked defense. The Rebels will have more of an advantage throwing with QB Bo Wallace than rushing. When Pittsburgh has the ball, their 44th ranked offense will face Mississippi’s 24th ranked defense. Pittsburgh should stick to throwing with QB Tino Sunseri than running against Mississippi’s 20th ranked rush defense. Expect a close game that Mississippi wins.
13. Kent State versus Arkansas State, GoDaddy.com Bowl, Sunday, January 6.
Arkansas State (46) will beat Kent State (51) by 1.2 at a neutral site. Kent State has a 47% chance of beating Arkansas State.
Don’t be fooled that Kent State is ranked 25th in the BCS rankings with their 11-2 record. Arkansas State should be the slight favorite. Gus Malzahn built a good offense before he left for Auburn. Arkansas State is 42nd in offense and will enjoy a big advantage in throwing against Kent State’s defense, 89th overall. When Kent State has the ball, they will run with RB Dri Archer. Their 13th ranked rush attack should do some damage against Arkansas State’s 59th ranked defense. Archer has also been lethal in kick returns, taking 3 for touchdowns and giving Kent State the best average field position after kickoffs in the FBS. While Malzahn won’t coach Arkansas State, Darrell Hazell will coach Kent State before becoming the head coach at Purdue.
Alabama versus Notre Dame, BCS Championship Game, Monday, January 7.
Alabama (2) will beat Notre Dame (7) by 6.2 at a neutral site. Notre Dame has a 36% chance of beating Alabama.
There’s a big game on Monday night, and it’s hard to find flaws in this Alabama dynasty that head coach Nick Saban has created. In our rankings, their rush offense has actually improved to 3rd in the nation from 11th last season. Swapping first round NFL draft choice Trent Richardson for freshman T.J. Yeldon has worked out just fine for the Crimson Tide.
In digging through Alabama’s numbers, I can only find one weakness: pass protection. Despite the headlines the offensive line has received this season, Alabama has been sacked on 7.1% of pass plays, 89th in the nation. Quarterback A.J. McCarron also plays a role in this number, since he’s not the most mobile quarterback. But it’s a shocking statistic, especially since we don’t expect Nick Saban’s teams to rank 89th in any category.
This also plays to the strength of Notre Dame’s defense. They sack the quarterback on 7.5% of pass plays, 22nd in the nation. While their front seven gets more credit for allowing only two rushing touchdowns this season, they truly excel at pressuring the quarterback. This pass rush plays a big role in their 8th ranked pass defense. Over the course of the game, look for whether Notre Dame’s front seven can get enough pressure on McCarron to slow down their passing attack.
I’m also interested in how this match up will play out in the first quarter. On first downs in the opening period, Alabama has thrown for 11.0 yards per attempt, almost double their average for the season. However, they have rushed for 5.0 yards per carry, lower than their season average. Opposing defenses are looking for Alabama to run on first down. Will Notre Dame do the same, allowing McCarron to throw for big gains? On ESPN, Kirk Herbstreit just talked about how McCarron has more freedom this season to call play action on first down. Or will Notre Dame be ready for the pass on first down?