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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Bowl Mini-Previews, Round 2

Shining the crimson spotlight on those teams a bit less fortunate than the Tide this holiday season

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

All statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders, home of the F/+ Combined Ratings for college football.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) was created by Brian Fremeau; check out his website BCFToys for other goodies.
The S&P+ rating was created by Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

What the heck is all this, why should I care, and what’s with all the Pushes?

I covered this in the last round of mini-previews, as seen here.

Round 2 will get us through the bowls of Friday, December 26th.

Boca Raton Bowl :
Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2)

The Matchup
NORTHERN ILLINOIS MARSHALL THE EDGE
F/+ -3.8% (72) F/+ 20.8% (15) MARSHALL
FEI -0.036 (74) FEI 0.11 (35) MARSHALL
S&P+ 198.2 (69) S&P+ 251.1 (4) MARSHALL
OF/+ -0.3% (61) DF/+ 10.5% (17) MARSHALL
DF/+ -5.0% (85) OF/+ 8.2% (27) MARSHALL
ST F/+ 1.5% (35) ST F/+ 2.1% (25) PUSH

This may be one of the bigger mismatches of the bowl season. The last few seasons saw NIU become the other mid-major darling alongside Boise State, as the Huskies slipped neatly into the void created by the departures of Utah and TCU to major conferences. Jordan Lynch isn’t under center anymore though, and it’s now Marshall featuring the country’s preeminent mid-major QB in senior Rakeem Cato. If you go by straight F/+ numbers Marshall should have been in the mix for a big six bowl — the only reason NIU’s here is their schedule was terrible. This is a complete mismatch.

THE PICK: Marshall Thundering Herd

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl :
Navy Midshipmen (7-5) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (7-5)

The Matchup
SAN DIEGO STATE THE EDGE
F/+ -2.5% (66) 5.1% (50)
FEI -0.03 (73) 0.027 (53)
S&P+ 200.1 (64) 211.9 (41)
OF/+ -4.8% (86) -7.1% (99) PUSH
DF/+ 0.6% (60) 13.5% (12)
ST F/+ 1.7% (30) -1.3% (93) SAN DIEGO STATE

This should be a well-attended matchup, as San Diego loves the Navy and, presumably, has at least a passing affinity for San Diego State. I don’t expect it to be much of a game, however. Ken Niumatalolo has done a more than capable job following in Paul Johnson’s footsteps in Annapolis, and the Navy triple-option attack put up the 12th-ranked offense in the country according to OF/+. The Aztecs’ defense is above average (and much better than the Midshipmen’s awful group), but that’s not going to be enough to make up for their anemic offense. This should be a cakewalk for the Middies.

THE PICK: Navy Midshipmen

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl :
Central Michigan Chippewas (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5)

The Matchup
CENTRAL MICHIGAN WESTERN KENTUCKY THE EDGE
F/+ -6.0% (77) F/+ -2.3% (65) PUSH
FEI -0.069 (83) FEI -0.012 (65) WESTERN KENTUCKY
S&P+ 204.0 (58) S&P+ 207.1 (54) PUSH
OF/+ -0.8% (63) DF/+ -7.7% (102) CENTRAL MICHIGAN
DF/+ -1.9% (67) OF/+ 8.7% (24) WESTERN KENTUCKY
ST F/+ -3.3% (119) ST F/+ -3.3% (118) PUSH

A bowl game in the Bahamas!? I’m generally opposed to having so many bowls but I am totally on board with this one. I can imagine the young men on the Chippewas, likely acclimated to the Michigan’s legendarily mild winters, were probably ecstatic to find out they were going to the Bahamas — can’t imagine it was much different for the guys from Kentucy.

At any rate, the Hilltoppers have an edge in several categories (although a couple are too close to call), most notably when they have the ball. The main reason they ended up at 7-5 was a putrid defense that rated out amongst the country’s worst according to DF/+. If CMU can keep their offense going they might make things interesting, but I’m thinkin’ this one is shootout territory1 and that Western Kentucky finds a way to win.

1 | WKU has some shootout experience, as they were the only team to beat Marshall this year, by a 67-66 score in OT.

THE PICK: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Hawai’i Bowl :
Fresno State Bulldogs (6-7) vs. Rice Owls (7-5)

The Matchup
RICE FRESNO STATE THE EDGE
F/+ -13.8% (95) F/+ -15.9% (101) PUSH
FEI -0.149 (107) FEI -0.109 (93) PUSH
S&P+ 187.5 (91) S&P+ 178.8 (107) RICE
OF/+ -0.8% (65) DF/+ -8.6% (103) RICE
DF/+ -11.7% (115) OF/+ -7.9% (105) PUSH
ST F/+ -1.3% (94) ST F/+ 0.6% (53) FRESNO STATE

Yuck. No disrespect to these two teams, but honestly neither one of them deserves to be bowling with that kind of performance on the year. Fresno State doesn’t even have a winning record after they lost to Boise State to close out the Mountain West’s year. Tune in if you want to see a derpfest2, but as far as a pick is concerned I’m taking Rice because I know some good people who went to school there. Also, I think they’re the better team.

2 | Much like last Saturday’s Camellia Bowl, featuring similarly poor teams in South Alabama and Bowling Green.

THE PICK: Rice Owls

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl :
Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-5)

The Matchup
LOUISIANA TECH ILLINOIS THE EDGE
F/+ 5.4% (48) F/+ -6.6% (78) LOUISIANA TECH
FEI 0.024 (56) FEI -0.056 (78) LOUISIANA TECH
S&P+ 220.1 (27) S&P+ 192.6 (80) LOUISIANA TECH
OF/+ -5.0% (88) DF/+ -5.4% (89) PUSH
DF/+ 9.8% (23) OF/+ -1.8% (67) LOUISIANA TECH
ST F/+ 0.6% (56) ST F/+ 0.5% (57) PUSH

Aaand we’ve reached our first B1G team of the bowl season in Illinois. The Illini have drawn a tough match in the Bulldogs and their sneaky-good defense. Tech might have slobbered a bit more vigorously this year if not for a frightfully bad offense3, ranked 88th in the country according to OF/+. Fortunately for them, they are dead-even with Illinois’ terrible defense, and have the edge in every other regard. The B1G will start out 0-1 after this one, so that’s worth tuning in for I guess?

3 | Which TANKED after Sonny Dykes left – went from #14 in 2012 down to #116 last year in OF/+. At least it’s getting better?

THE PICK: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Quick Lane Bowl :
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-5) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6)

The Matchup
NORTH CAROLINA RUTGERS THE EDGE
F/+ -4.5% (74) F/+ -4.4% (73) PUSH
FEI 0.013 (60) FEI -0.091 (88) NORTH CAROLINA
S&P+ 193.0 (79) S&P+ 198.6 (67) PUSH
OF/+ 7.7% (29) DF/+ -4.2% (78) NORTH CAROLINA
DF/+ -9.9% (108) OF/+ -0.3% (60) RUTGERS
ST F/+ -2.4% (110) ST F/+ 0.1% (66) RUTGERS

North Carolina North Carolina’d again this year, as Tar Heels fans had no idea which squad was going to show up which week by the end of the year. To wit:

  • August 30 — October 11: Dispatched of a cupcake and an ok SDSU team, followed by losses of 19, 15, 17, and 7 to East Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech(!)4, and Notre Dame respectively.
  • October 18 — November 20: Beat Georgia Tech(!)5, Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Duke, but split those victories up with a 27 point drubbing in Miami.
  • November 29: Suffered their worst loss of the season at home to N.C. State in a 35-7 embarrassment. Yikes.

4 | You know, the team that managed to beat Ohio Sate in Columbus and then derped it up for the rest of the year.

5 | You know, that team that almost beat FSU when they were actually playing well.

Can you say "mercurial"? As for their opponent, Rutgers has struggled in their post-Schiano B1G world, limping to another near-.500 finish under Kyle Flood. The fun part about this bowl is it’s the most evenly matched according to F/+, with merely a tenth of a percent separating these two teams in the overall rating. One thing North Carolina does do is finish drives — at least in comparison to Rutgers — and I think their strong offensive edge makes up for one of the country’s worst defenses.

THE PICK: North Carolina Tar Heels

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl :
N.C. State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. UCF Knights (9-3)

The Matchup
CENTRAL FLORIDA N.C. STATE THE EDGE
F/+ 3.9% (52) F/+ 5.2% (49) PUSH
FEI 0.026 (54) FEI 0.016 (59) PUSH
S&P+ 208.1 (51) S&P+ 208.6 (50) PUSH
OF/+ -1.9% (68) DF/+ -2.2% (70) PUSH
DF/+ 6.3% (35) OF/+ 5.8% (40) PUSH
ST F/+ -0.5% (76) ST F/+ 1.7% (31) N.C. STATE

I like this matchup! The Wolfpack have a slight edge in special teams, but outside of that this is a really tight contest down the board. N.C. State’s the slightly better rated team in F/+, but that’s mostly due to their special teams unit. In terms of S&P+ only a half a point separates the two teams. Definitely tune in for this as it should be as close on the field as it is in this chart. I suspect St. Petersburg is going to be a bit of a home atmosphere for the Knights though, and that will end up being the difference.

THE PICK: UCF Knights

ROLL TIDE