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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Bowl Mini-Previews, Round 3

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

Jeff Hanisch-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 first round of mini-previews, as seen here.

Round 3 will get us through the bowls of Saturday, December 27th.

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman :
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ 12.7% (32) F/+ 5.6% (46) VIRGINIA TECH
FEI 0.144 (25) FEI 0.001 (62) VIRGINIA TECH
S&P+ 218.7 (30) S&P+ 210.0 (47) VIRGINIA TECH
OF/+ -5.4% (91) DF/+ -5.4% (88) PUSH
DF/+ 18.1% (4) OF/+ 8.4% (25) VIRGINIA TECH
ST F/+ 0.0% (67) ST F/+ 2.6% (17) CINCINNATI

Virginia Tech has been sort of a hard team to pin down this year. The defense is obviously legit — 4th overall in DF/+ — but their terrible offense has really held them back most of the year1. This is the only team to beat Ohio State (in Columbus no less!), but they also managed to lose to Wake Forest by a 6-3 score in TWO overtimes — what a season. Their opponent is almost perfectly average according to FEI, and possesses a defense equally woeful to the Hokies’ offense. Cincy has the edge on special teams, but the Tech defense will carry the day in this one.

1 | Cut to the Hokie fans nodding solemnly.

THE PICK: Virginia Tech Hokies

Hyundai Sun Bowl :
Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3) vs. Duke Blue Devils (9-3)

The Matchup
F/+ 13.7% (28) F/+ 15.7% (26) PUSH
FEI 0.14 (26) FEI 0.175 (16) PUSH
S&P+ 198.8 (66) S&P+ 214.1 (35) ARIZONA STATE
OF/+ 3.1% (47) DF/+ 7.9% (29) ARIZONA STATE
DF/+ 4.5% (44) OF/+ 6.6% (35) PUSH
ST F/+ 6.1% (1) ST F/+ 1.2% (41) DUKE

The organizers of the Sun Bowl must have a sense of humor, pairing up the only two "Devil" teams in FBS. Arizona State was flying high late in the season, rising all the way to #6 before faceplanting in Corvallis. With a loss two weeks later to Arizona, the Sun Devils fell all the way to El Paso, Texas2. The good news is the Blue Devils are not in the same weight class as ASU, as Duke’s #1 rated special teams unit is the main reason these two appear well-matched. If Duke gets some magic in that phase of the game this could turn interesting, but I’m comfortable calling it for the Sun Devils.

2 | Which is sometimes not a venue PAC-12 schools enjoy.

THE PICK: Arizona State Sun Devils

Duck Commander Independence Bowl :
Miami Hurricanes (6-6) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ 3.0% (56) F/+ 16.2% (24) MIAMI
FEI 0.082 (43) FEI 0.117 (33) PUSH
S&P+ 204.1 (57) S&P+ 225.1 (21) MIAMI
OF/+ 14.2% (9) DF/+ 7.0% (34) SOUTH CAROLINA
DF/+ -12.5% (117) OF/+ 10.1% (17) MIAMI
ST F/+ 1.3% (38) ST F/+ -0.9% (87) SOUTH CAROLINA

And we reach our first SEC team! South Carolina had a rather disappointing season given their expectations, and needed every bit of the 9th ranked offense in the country to make a bowl game. On a related note, they also have the distinction of fielding the worst defense of any bowl team at 117th in the country. Their opponent is much more balanced, and while the Gamecocks will put up points on Miami, the Hurricanes are a significantly better team. Miami will run away with this one.

THE PICK: Miami Hurricanes

New Era Pinstripe Bowl :
Boston College Eagles (7-5) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ 3.6% (54) F/+ 13.7% (29) BOSTON COLLEGE
FEI 0.032 (51) FEI 0.133 (28) BOSTON COLLEGE
S&P+ 215.0 (34) S&P+ 219.0 (29) PUSH
OF/+ -7.9% (104) DF/+ 4.4% (45) BOSTON COLLEGE
DF/+ 14.2% (10) OF/+ 9.2% (22) PUSH
ST F/+ -2.7% (112) ST F/+ 0.1% (65) BOSTON COLLEGE

This game is the inverse of the Independence Bowl. Penn State has the opposite problem from South Carolina, boasting the #10 defense in the country with the second-worst offense to make a bowl3. Boston College is solid down the line, and were but a field goal away from taking FSU to overtime. The Eagles are clearly the better team here.

3 | South Alabama was the worst.

THE PICK: Boston College Eagles

National University Holiday Bowl :
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) vs. USC Trojans (8-4)

The Matchup
F/+ 16.9% (22) F/+ 15.1% (27) PUSH
FEI 0.203 (13) FEI 0.13 (29) USC
S&P+ 220.1 (26) S&P+ 218.6 (31) PUSH
OF/+ 7.9% (28) DF/+ 5.4% (41) PUSH
DF/+ 8.0% (28) OF/+ 6.0% (39) PUSH
ST F/+ 1.0% (44) ST F/+ 3.7% (7) NEBRASKA

Seven Win Sark managed to get USC to 8 wins, which was good enough for Rose Bowl Lite. The Trojans are about as balanced as a team can be, ranking 28th in both OF/+ and DF/+ with essentially identical ratings. They have the edge on Nebraska all the way down the line, although only significantly so in FEI. This is a pretty close matchup on paper, but it remains to be seen which Nebraska shows up after all the hoopla with former coach Bo Pelini. Ameer Abdullah4 will be the best player on the field, and his efforts are the primary reason Nebraska fielded the #7 special teams unit in the country – the only category they have over the Trojans. If he can get going this might turn out to be interesting. I’m taking USC, but it could go either way — this is probably one you’ll want to watch.

4 | How did this guy get out of Alabama?