Tag Archives: NCAA football

Tom Tries Again: 2013 Bowl Picks

Andre Williams of Boston College runs for short gain against USC.

Andre Williams of Boston College runs for short gain against USC.

Last year my predictions for the college football bowl games were based on careful research and statistical analysis.  The results were mediocre, which is why I’m going with wild guesses this year.

Oh, I’ll be citing some numbers in support of my delusions, but if you’re planning on wagering, you’d probably do just as well by basing your picks on which team’s mascot is cuter.  So here are my hunches about some of the more interesting games…

Las Vegas Bowl          Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)

Fresno State led the nation in passing; they averaged over 400 yards per game, and QB Derek Carr threw 48 TDs.  USC has lost their second coach this season, so I’m taking Fresno State even though the oddsmakers make the Bulldogs underdogs.

Russell Athletic Bowl           Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3)

It might surprise you that Louisville was 2nd in the country in total defense and in turnover ratio (+16).  The Cardinals’ offense was good, too — QB Teddy Bridgewater completed over 70% of his passes.  I like Louisville’s chances.

Holiday Bowl          Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Texas Tech surrendered an average of 31.2 points per game, while Arizona State ran up 41 points per game.  This one could get ugly:  ASU in a rout.

Advocare V100 Bowl           Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

The two best running backs in college football are featured in this game.  BC’s Andre Williams (see photo) gained over 2,000 yards rushing.  Ka’Deem Carey of the Wildcats averaged 156 yards per game.  Arizona’s defense is marginally better, so I give them the edge.

Sun Bowl          UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)

Which is cuter, a Bruin or a Hokie?  Who knows what either of those things are?  Since Virginia Tech has an excellent defense, I’ll go with the Hokies.

Chick-fil-A Bowl          Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)

The Aggies are heavy favorites, but I think Duke’s opportunistic defense just might deflate Johnny Football in what will likely be his final college game.

Gator Bowl          Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)

Before the season began, some of us thought Georgia could be a top-5 team.  The Bulldogs didn’t live up to expectations but should be good enough to eke out a win over the Cornhuskers.

Rose Bowl          Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)

Statistically, Michigan State has the best defense in the country, but Stanford is solid, too.  Neither team’s offense is what you would call spectacular.  Expect a low-scoring battle, with Stanford edging the Spartans.

Fiesta Bowl          Central Florida (11-1) vs. Baylor (11-1)

Let’s give Central Florida its due:  the Knights are a good team.  Baylor, however, is an outstanding team:  first in total offense (624 yards per game), first in scoring (53.3 points per game).  The Bears had over 60 points in six games this season.  They might not score that many against UCF, but Baylor wins going away.

Sugar Bowl          Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Alabama (11-1)

Alabama shouldn’t need to try a 57-yard field goal in the final second to win this one.

Orange Bowl          Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1)

Both teams averaged over 40 points per game and might do it in this game, too.  I give a slight edge to Ohio State because of their superior ground game.

Cotton Bowl          Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2)

If the Oklahoma State team that pounded Baylor (49-17) shows up, the Cowboys should win.

BCS Championship          Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1)

Hardly anyone expected Auburn to have a winning record in 2013, let alone be in the championship game.  It’s worth noting that the Tigers had 5 wins this season by 7 points or fewer.  The Seminoles are strong all around:  #2 overall in scoring (53 points per game) and #1 in scoring defense, yielding only 10.7 points per game.  Auburn’s luck runs out as Florida State claims the national championship.

Tom’s Top 25, 2013 Edition

Arizona State v USC Nov 2012This year’s college football national champion will not be a team from the Big East conference.  That would never have been a bold prediction, but I feel particularly confident that I’ll be right come next January, since the Big East no longer exists.

Some version of that league will still compete in basketball, but for football it is now calling itself the American Athletic Conference.

Here’s another reason a Big East team won’t win the championship:  A team from the Southeastern Conference will.  That has been true for the past seven seasons; last year 5 of the top 9 schools in the final rankings were from the SEC, including national champ Alabama.

Some experts thought Ohio State might have a chance to break the SEC’s streak in 2013, but that was before some of the Buckeyes’ best players got into legal troubles.  Apparently they were trying to prove that they were NFL-level criminals, but the effect is that Coach Urban Meyer and his staff will be handcuffed by the loss of a couple of potential stars.

It looks like any one of several SEC teams could win the national championship this season, but for the sake of tradition, I’m going with Alabama.  Here are my predictions, some of which may surprise you.  Some of them will surprise me, too, if they turn out to be right.

1.  Alabama          National champion 3 of the past 4 seasons, the Crimson Tide had an outstanding recruiting year, too.

2.  Stanford         The Cardinal has the country’s best offensive line, and 10 starters return on defense.

3.  Georgia          Scoring won’t be a problem for the Bulldogs; they averaged almost 40 points per game last season.

4.  Ohio State          An undefeated season didn’t earn them a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, but they should get a nice post-season trip this year.

5.  Boise State           Broncos went 11-2 a year ago and should be better this season.

6.  Oregon          Coach Chip Kelly escaped punishment be taking an NFL job, but NCAA sanctions are so light, the Ducks won’t be slowed down.

7.  Texas A&M          QB Johnny Manziel and the Aggies play Alabama at home on September 14.  The winner could be headed to the national championship.

8.  South Carolina          The Gamecocks have an outstanding defense, featuring lineman Jadeveon Clowney.  He hits so hard, you feel the impact while you’re watching on TV.

9.  Florida State          This might be a stretch, but the Seminoles have a lot of talent.  A lot.

10.  Louisville       The Cardinals will only be the champion of the American Athletic Conference in its inaugural season.  Next year Louisville jumps to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

11.  Clemson       We’ll find out early how good the Tigers are.  Clemson’s opener is against Georgia.

12.  Nebraska          The Cornhuskers have won at least 10 games in each of the last 5 seasons.

13.  Notre Dame          Starting QB Everett Golson is academically ineligible and one of his backups had previously transferred out.   Even so, this team is capable of a 10-win season.

14.  Michigan          The toughest matchups — Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State — will all be played in Ann Arbor.

15.  Florida          Gators’ defense is solid; do they have anybody who can play pitch-and-catch?

16.  Texas          Nineteen starters return; unfortunately, that includes members of a defense that had trouble making stops.

17.  UCLA          The Bruins have added an outstanding recruiting class to the foundation laid last year.

18.  Michigan State          Last year the Spartans lost 5 games by 4 points or fewer, finishing 7-6.  If they can change their luck in a couple or 3 games…

19.  Kansas State          Key players (like QB Collin Klein) have departed, but Coach Bill Snyder’s system works.

20.  Oklahoma          The Sooners struggled to stop the run; they were 89th nationally last year and problems remain on the D-line.

21. LSU          Major personnel losses are a challenge for the Tigers, and so is a tough schedule.

22.   Northwestern           Ten wins were a surprise a year ago, and the Wildcats may not get that many in 2013.  They have a lot of talent returning, though.

23.  TCU           The defense, led by All-American CB Jason Verrett, should help erase memories of a disappointing 2012 season.

24.  Baylor          This may be expecting too much from the Bears, but this team’s passing game sure is fun to watch.

25.  Miami (FL)          Coming off their self-imposed postseason ban, the Hurricanes are looking to prove themselves worthy of a late-December game.

Scientific Bowl Picks

Trojans v Sun Devils Nov 2012We 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.

Tom’s Top 25, 2012 Edition

Get ready:  It’s almost time for the resumption of college football’s historic rivalries.  Well, some of them, anyway; because of conference realignments, we also now get unfamiliar matchups like Texas vs. West Virginia (not Texas A&M).  If you’re yearning to see the old traditional battles — classics like Nebraska against Oklahoma — you can hope that both teams have mediocre seasons and fill their respective leagues’ slots in the Insight Bowl.

In the past it was customary at this time of year to pick a team from the Southeastern Conference and make it the preseason favorite to win the national championship.  Since demolishing tradition is now the vogue in college football, I’m picking a team from a different conference this season — pretty wild, huh?

However, I am sticking to the tradition of posting my preseason predictions publicly, despite of a lot of encouragement to knock it off.  So here they are, along with a few random observations.  I’m confident that by the time the championship game is played a few months from now, these picks won’t all be wrong…

1.  USC          Stars like Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and T.J. McDonald feel they have unfinished business.

2.  LSU          Key games against So. Carolina and Alabama are in Tiger Stadium.

3.  Oklahoma         Averaged almost 40 points/game last year; 19 starters return

4.  Alabama          Two national championships in past 3 seasons

5.  Oregon          These Ducks don’t walk, they sprint.

6.  South Carolina          Eleven wins last year, could be even better in 2012

7.  Michigan          Season opener vs. Alabama could set tone for entire season

8.  Florida State          One of these years, high expectations for Seminoles will come true.

9.  Texas          After two sub-par seasons, Texas climbs back toward elite status.

10. Boise State          Coach Chris Peterson’s six-season record:  73-6

11. Arkansas          The big question mark is how Razorbacks respond to the coaching change following Bobby Petrino’s dismissal.

12. West Virginia           Move to Big 12 conference will provide stiffer competition

13. Wisconsin          Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball is back for his senior year.

14. Louisville          Cardinals are the best team in mediocre Big East.

15. Georgia          Easy schedule should help:  Bulldogs avoid Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.

16. Ohio State          Sanctions keep Buckeyes out of bowl game, but at least 9 wins seem possible.

17. Florida          The defense is strong; can the offense score enough points to win games?

18. Michigan State          Same as Florida (above)

19. Stanford          If you’re good enough, you don’t need Luck.

20. Oklahoma State          Finished 3rd in final polls last season, but are missing some important players from that outstanding team.

21. Nebraska          Huskers have a tough mid-season stretch with Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan in four weeks.

22. Virginia Tech          Hokies have 8 consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins.

23. Southern Methodist          Mustangs have a chance to be this year’s dark horse.

24. Georgia Tech          Opponents find it difficult to defend against Yellow Jackets’ bizarre offense.

25. TCU          Four consecutive top-15 finishes, but stepping up to Big 12 in 2012

Avert Your Eyes

If you enjoy watching college football, this year’s slate of bowl games just might cure you.

There are 35 games, which means that 70 teams will participate;  demand for good teams far exceeds supply.  Thirteen teams with break-even records — 6 wins, 6 losses — got bowl bids, and one (UCLA) actually had a losing record.  This will make for some ugly games, I’m afraid.

Florida and Ohio State faced each other in the 2007 BCS Championship game, but this year they both limp into the Gator Bowl with 6-6 records.  The Meineke Car Care Bowl matches Northwestern (6-6), a school that hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949, against Texas A&M (6-6), which fired coach Mike Sherman at the end of the season.

Mississippi State (6-6) and Wake Forest (6-6) square off in the Music City Bowl.  The Bulldogs are 73rd in the country in scoring; the Demon Deacons are 75th in total defense, so a resistible force struggles against a movable object.

Arizona State fired its coach, Dennis Erickson, and then accepted an invitation to get stomped in the MAACO Bowl.  Its opponent, Boise State, would be playing in a BCS bowl if their kicker hadn’t pushed the potential game winning field goal wide right against TCU.  The Broncos will take out their frustration on the Sun Devils, who are mainly known for amassing penalties.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl presents two schools that must be starved for attention — why else would they risk more public humiliation?  As noted above, UCLA had a losing record (6-7) but petitioned the NCAA for permission to play in Kraft’s cheesy bowl.  Illinois (6-6) does have one player who is quite good; the aptly named defensive end Whitney Mercilus led the nation in sacks.  He will probably  be merciless against the Bruins’ offensive line, which yielded 24 sacks.  This game has already set one record that will never be broken:  Both coaches (Ron Zook and Rick Neuheisel) have already been fired.

Now, here are a few thoughts about the games you’ll want to see:

•  Fiesta Bowl          Stanford (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1)

Both teams feature excellent QBs in Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden.  Both teams have shaky pass defenses.  The Cowboys have a slight edge because of All-American wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

•  Cotton Bowl          Arkansas (10-2) vs. Kansas State (10-2)

Eight of Kansas State’s wins were by 7 points or less.  They’ll have trouble staying close to high-scoring Arkansas.

•  Rose Bowl          Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (11-2)

The Ducks averaged 46.2 points per game, third best in the country.  Wisconsin was fourth with 44.6 ppg.  Wisconsin plays solid defense too, but they haven’t faced the kind of speed that Oregon possesses.

•  Sugar Bowl          Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Michigan (10-2)

Both of Virginia Tech’s losses were to the same team — Clemson.  The Hokies’ defense is solid, but they’ll have to be spectacular against Michigan QB Denard Robinson.  He threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 1,000.  This will be close, but the edge goes to Michigan.

•  BCS National Championship Game        LSU (13-0) vs. Alabama (11-1)

Louisiana State allowed only 10.5 points per game, second best in the country.  You know who was best, right?  Yes, Alabama — 8.8 points per game.  I’m thinking the Crimson Tide won’t miss four field goals again as they did against LSU on November 5.  Alabama wins the rematch.

Tom’s Top 25, 2011 Edition

Once again, it’s time for college football experts to predict which team from the Southeastern Conference will win the national championship.  There are other conferences, of course, but for five straight years an SEC team has won the trophy:  Florida in 2006, followed by LSU, Florida again, Alabama, and Auburn last season.  A lot of teams from the conference are capable of winning it in 2011 — not you, Vanderbilt.

The entire Big Ten Conference should be on academic probation since they don’t seem to be able to count past 10.  Guys, with the addition of Nebraska this season (after Penn State years ago), you are now up to 12 teams!  The Big 12 Conference is also math-challenged; it has 10 teams this season, since Colorado joined Nebraska in saying goodbye.  Suggestion to the conference commissioners:  trade names!

None of the football teams in the Big East Conference are very good, but at least they are geographically located in the eastern part of the U.S. — until next year, when Texas Christian joins the league.  The Pac-12 Conference, as it is now known, is right about the number of teams it has, but seems to think that Utah and Colorado are on the west coast.

As several of you have pointed out, I am no expert.  That doesn’t stop me from making my annual preseason Top-25 predictions, though.  In fact, here they are now, along with a few random observations:

1.  Alabama (SEC)   Showdown with LSU on 11/5 is a home game for Tide

2.  Oklahoma (Big XII)

3.  Oregon (Pac-12)   Lost BCS championship by 3 points last year

4.  Boise St. (Mountain West)   QB Kellen Moore and 8 defensive starters return

5.  Louisiana St.  (SEC)  Tough road games at Oregon, Miss. St., Alabama

6.  Florida State (Atlantic Coast Conference)

7.  Stanford (Pac-12)   Cardinal has nation’s best QB, Andrew Luck

8.  Oklahoma St. (Big XII)  Lots of talent returns from 11-2 team

9.  Nebraska (Big 10)

10.  Texas A&M  (Big XII)

11.  Virginia Tech (ACC)

12.  Arkansas (SEC)

13.  TCU (Mountain West)  Defense will hold fort while offense gains experience

14.  Michigan State (Big 10)

15.  South Carolina (SEC)

16.  Wisconsin (Big 10)

17.  Notre Dame (Ind.)    Traditional basketball school shows promise in football

18.  Mississippi St. (SEC)   Another 9-win season isn’t out of the question

19.  Auburn (SEC)

20.  Ohio St.  (Big 10)   Suspended players may have to give back tattoos.

21.  Arizona State (Pac-12)   Nineteen starters return for Sun Devils

22.  West Virginia (Big East)

23.  Penn State (Big 10)   Final year of Joe Paterno’s contract

24.  Central Florida (C-USA)   Won 11 last year; can they do it again?

25.  Florida (SEC)

Four Bowl Games Worth Watching

They have finally broken my spirit.  When I first started publishing my predictions of college football bowl games in 1994, there were “only” 19 games.  That means 38 teams played, and as we all know, in any given year there are not 38 good teams.

This year there are 35 bowl games, which means that 70 teams are playing.  Seventy!  Here’s how silly it has gotten:  There are 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference; 10 of them are going to bowls.  Pittsburgh was so thrilled about getting a bid to the BBVA Compass Bowl that they fired coach Dave Wannstedt.

With all these bowls, the names are becoming redundant:  There’s the Military Bowl (Maryland vs. East Carolina) and the Armed Forces Bowl (Army vs. SMU).  Similarly, we have the Independence Bowl (Georgia Tech vs. Air Force) and the Liberty Bowl (Central Florida vs. Georgia).  For those of a compassionate nature, you might like the Humanitarian Bowl (Northern Illinois vs. Fresno State) or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Boston College vs. Nevada).

With so many obscure bowls and undeserving teams, I just can’t do it anymore.  I can’t summon the enthusiasm to analyze individual and team stats from the 2010 season.  I’d like to warn you that East Carolina’s porous defense yielded an average of 43.42 points per game, the third-worst in the country… but who has the time to do that for 70 teams?

I used to enjoy calling your attention to facts like this:  Hawaii has the top passing offense in the nation, with almost 400 yards per game.  Its opponent in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl — Tulsa — was statistically next-to-last in pass defense.  Based on info like that, I would confidently predict that Hawaii would win.  And sometimes I’d be right.

But do any of us, other than the players’ families, care that BYU (6-6) is playing University of Texas-El Paso (6-6) for the New Mexico Bowl trophy?  Or that Ohio and Troy will each get $325,000 payouts for participating in the New Orleans Bowl?  Sorry, but I’m afraid you’re on your own for picking a winner in the Holiday Bowl (Hint:  Nebraska).

What I will do, though, is point out four games that might actually be worth watching.  Let me also suggest that if you are a fan of the University of Connecticut, you won’t want to be watching when the Huskies face Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

1)  The Rose Bowl matches undefeated Texas Christian against one-loss Wisconsin.  These teams tied for 4th in scoring offense, each having generated 520 points.  TCU was the nation’s top defensive team, though, while Wisconsin was 22nd in total defense and 29th in scoring defense.  On that basis, I give the edge to the Horned Frogs.

2)  Virginia Tech was humiliated in its second game of the season, losing to James Madison (coincidentally the shortest president of the U.S. at 5’4″ tall).  Since then the Hokies have turned their season around, winning 11 straight.  In that stretch they have not faced a quarterback with the skills of Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who threw for over 3,000 yards and ran for 438 more.  It may be close, but Stanford wins the Orange Bowl.

3)  Ohio State is a slight favorite over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl and should be able to at least slow down the Razorbacks’ high-powered offense.  Buckeye QB Terrelle Pryor has been inconsistent throughout his career, but if Good Terrelle shows up, Ohio State will come out on top.

4)  The BCS championship game matches two great teams, Oregon and Auburn.  The Ducks have a slight statistical advantage, but something tells me that Cam Newton, this season’s Reggie Bush, will lead Auburn to victory.

There are some other games of at least passing interest (check out Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl if you get a chance), but these are probably the four best.  And just remember that any game — even if it’s Baylor vs. Illinois in the Texas Bowl — is worth watching if it gives you an excuse not to clean out the rain gutters.