We may look like we’re just sitting in front of the TV eating snacks by the fistful, but we are actually studying science, right football fans?
To the discerning eye, good teams have chemistry. Many team names are derived from biological organisms, like bears and lions and various breeds of dogs. Physics is an especially important aspect of football; when a linebacker comes through unblocked and sacks the quarterback, we may shout “yeaahhh!” What we’re actually thinking, though, is F=ma. Force equals mass times acceleration.
In that scientific spirit, I spent hours (OK, a few minutes) examining statistical tables compiled from this past college football season to enlighten my opinions on upcoming bowl games.
One thing that got my attention is that almost all of the top teams have this trait in common: strong defense. For example, the 2012 statistical leaders in total team defense included Alabama (#1), Florida State (#2), Florida (#5), Notre Dame (#6) and LSU (#8).
While passing is a crowd-pleasing aspect of the game, it was not a crucial component for the most successful teams. In the statistical category Team Passing Offense, well down the list were Oregon (#66), Notre Dame (#75), Alabama (#84), Kansas State (#85), LSU (#90), Stanford (#92), and Florida (#114). Ohio State, a team that went undefeated, was 101st. (They are not eligible to play in a bowl game until the players give back the free tattoos they received in violation of NCAA rules.)
What we conclude, then, is that the teams with the highest success rates typically a) keep their opponents from scoring very often; and b) run the ball more than they throw it. Considering those factors, and with other statistics and guesswork mixed in, here are my predictions for some of this year’s bowl games…
Holiday Bowl Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Baylor was first nationally in total offense, and next-to-last in total defense. The Bears’ scrimmages must have been chaotic. UCLA (#20 in total offense) can score enough to win.
Alamo Bowl Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3)
Statistically, Oregon State has a slight edge in total offense, and a significant advantage on defense. Because it will be sort of a home game for Texas, though, I’m going with an unscientific hunch that the Longhorns will prevail.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)
Last year Clemson gave up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and they were presumed to be good back then, too. One team named the Tigers will win, but it won’t be Clemson.
Sun Bowl Georgia Tech (6-7!) vs. USC (7-5)
A guy on a pogo stick could gain 100+ yards rushing against USC’s defense. On the other hand, Georgia Tech’s pass defense surrendered 22 TDs. Matt Barkley might add 3 or 4 more to that total in a Trojan victory.
Rose Bowl Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Wisconsin likes to run the ball, but stopping the run is what Stanford does best — the Cardinal was #3 nationally in rushing defense. I’m picking Stanford.
Orange Bowl Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Florida State (11-2)
Sometimes statistics can be deceptive. Northern Illinois put up impressive numbers, but they did so against schools like Tennessee-Martin, Army, Buffalo and UMass. In this bowl, the Huskies will discover that Florida State is no pushover.
Sugar Bowl Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
As noted earlier, the Florida Gators are defensive beasts. Louisville represents the Big East Conference. It might be closer than that comparison would suggest, but I do think Florida will win.
Fiesta Bowl Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-0)
Kansas State averaged 40 points per game; Oregon averaged 50! This could be the most entertaining game of the bowl season; both will score often but the Ducks will win.
Cotton Bowl Texas A&M (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)
Aggie Freshman QB Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. Among other things, he averaged almost 100 yards per game rushing. Oklahoma QB Landry Jones was no slouch, though; he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 29 TDs. I’m taking the Sooners in an upset.
BCS Championship Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)
These teams led the country in scoring defense, averaging just a tick over 10 points per game. Alabama has the nation’s most statistically efficient QB in A.J. McCarron (26 TD, only 3 Int). Even though I’d like to see Notre Dame break the SEC championship monopoly, the Crimson Tide will rise, and scientists will ponder its effects on marine biology.