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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Bowl Mini-Previews, Round 4

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

Crystal LoGiudice-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 4 will get us through the bowls of Tuesday, December 30th.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl :
Texas A&M Aggies (7-5) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)

The Matchup
F/+ 12.6% (34) F/+ 3.8% (53) WEST VIRGINIA
FEI 0.098 (38) FEI 0.027 (52) WEST VIRGINIA
S&P+ 224.5 (22) S&P+ 209.2 (49) WEST VIRGINIA
OF/+ 2.8% (49) DF/+ -5.4% (90) WEST VIRGINIA
DF/+ 9.4% (25) OF/+ 7.5% (30) PUSH
ST F/+ 0.3% (59) ST F/+ 1.7% (32) TEXAS A&M

A rare postseason matchup of former Tide opponents! West Virginia ended up being a fairly solid team, with a sneaky-good defense ranked 25th in the country1 according to DF/+. Despite the presence of Biletnikoff Finalist / Uncoverable Beast Kevin White the Mountaineers fielded a fairly middling offense, certainly by Dana Holgorsen’s lofty standards. They still have a significant edge on the Aggies in most respects, however, although they may have issues stopping A&M when they have the ball. Texas A&M does have the edge on field position, thanks to the kicking exploits of Taylor Bertolet and Drew Kaser, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough.

1 | Shines a different light on those early-season struggles, doesn’t it?

THE PICK: West Virginia Mountaineers

Update: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett is apparently done playing football, effective immediately, as a result of recurring concussions. That's unfortunate for him and West Virginia but undoubtedly a good call for his quality of life — best of luck in the coaching ranks, sir. That being said, I'm going to have to change my pick to the Texas A&M Aggies, as backup QB Skyler Howard looked rather pedestrian to finish the season. Those were also two of Kevin White's least productive games. WVU's undoubtedly known for a while Trickett was done, but I don't think they're going to have enough to beat the Aggies without Trickett.

Russell Athletic Bowl :
Oklahoma Sooners (8-4) vs. Clemson Tigers (9-3)

The Matchup
F/+ 21.1% (14) F/+ 22.3% (13) PUSH
FEI 0.168 (18) FEI 0.155 (22) PUSH
S&P+ 238.8 (11) S&P+ 237.3 (12) PUSH
OF/+ -0.1% (58) DF/+ 6.3% (36) OKLAHOMA
DF/+ 23.4% (1) OF/+ 13.8% (10) PUSH
ST F/+ -2.2% (107) ST F/+ 2.2% (24) OKLAHOMA

Now THIS is going to be an interesting matchup. Clemson fielded the country’s best defense according to DF/+, which was very integral to their success on the year as they have a below-average offense and a horrid special teams unit. Oklahoma is much more balanced, pairing the #10 offense with the #36 defense and #24 special teams unit. The Sooners will struggle to move the ball on Clemson, so this game will hinge on the Tigers’ ability to put up points. That effort will be severely hampered by the absence of freshman phenom Deshaun Watson, who had season-ending knee surgery earlier this month. I think this will be a very competitive game until, well, you know2.

2 | Hint: It involves the verb "Clemson"…

THE PICK: Oklahoma Sooners

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl :
Arkansas Razorbacks (6-6) vs. Texas Longhorns (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ 3.0% (57) F/+ 18.6% (20) ARKANSAS
FEI -0.01 (64) FEI 0.171 (17) ARKANSAS
S&P+ 217.7 (32) S&P+ 230.9 (19) ARKANSAS
OF/+ -5.7% (94) DF/+ 10.3% (19) ARKANSAS
DF/+ 11.9% (14) OF/+ 8.9% (23) PUSH
ST F/+ -3.3% (117) ST F/+ -0.7% (81) ARKANSAS

It’s like 1991 all over again! This is a classic matchup from the old Southwest Conference that has been contested 77 times over the years, with Texas holding a 56-21 edge all-time. However, the records are pretty misleading here, as Arkansas is the significantly better team. The Longhorns do feature one of the best overall defenses in the country, but if they have a weakness it’s in the run game. Texas is 33rd overall in rushing DS&P+ and 54th in Adjusted Line Yards3, which is a measure of success against the run. You might recall running the ball is kind of what Arkansas likes to do. Texas has gotten better over the course of the year but so have the Razorbacks. Tune in for the nostalgia if you want, but this isn’t going to be much of a game.

3 | More on this in the New Year’s Six previews.

THE PICK: Arkansas Razorbacks

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl :
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-5) vs. LSU Tigers (8-4)

The Matchup
F/+ 19.4% (18) F/+ 11.0% (36) LSU
FEI 0.135 (27) FEI 0.079 (44) LSU
S&P+ 234.0 (17) S&P+ 213.8 (37) LSU
OF/+ 3.0% (48) DF/+ 2.9% (50) PUSH
DF/+ 14.0% (11) OF/+ 7.2% (32) LSU
ST F/+ 2.4% (19) ST F/+ 0.9% (46) LSU

The last time these two teams played was the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame rode their decided schematic advantage4 to a top-5 preseason ranking, and parlayed a weak schedule into a Sugar Bowl bid. Echoes were awoken, all of that nonsense. This was billed as a battle of the country’s best quarterbacks in JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn, which is hilarious in hindsight. Notre Dame played three decent teams that year, and they were pasted by each, culminating in a 41-14 obliteration at the hands of LSU.

4 | Charlie Weis is still available, Georgia!

At any rate, the Irish were up to the usual shenanigans this year, riding a terrible schedule to a #5 overall ranking. Then The Pick Play happened at FSU, Everett Golson became a turnover machine, and now they’re here. LSU was headed for loftier perches themselves until they lost the Alabama game in gut-wrenching fashion, followed it up with a pathetic effort at Arkansas, and now they’re here.

And wow is this not going to be pretty. While not the mismatch Texas-Arkansas is, LSU has a pretty clear edge in all phases of the game. If Golson plays well and avoids turnovers the Irish might get something going, but LSU should win this one handily. Look for something special from Leonard Fournette, as Notre Dame is a bit soft against the run.


Belk Bowl :
Georgia Bulldogs (9-3) vs. Louisville Cardinals (9-3)

The Matchup
F/+ 19.9% (16) F/+ 27.6% (7) PUSH
FEI 0.176 (15) FEI 0.256 (6) PUSH
S&P+ 232.5 (18) S&P+ 234.6 (14) PUSH
OF/+ 4.8% (42) DF/+ 10.0% (22) GEORGIA
DF/+ 16.1% (5) OF/+ 14.4% (8) PUSH
ST F/+ -0.9% (88) ST F/+ 3.2% (11) GEORGIA

Louisville’s a defensive team in their new Bridgewater-less existence, posting the 5th best defense in the country per DF/+. They are somewhat weaker against the run though, and they’re about to deal with the SEC’s best running back in Todd Gurley Nick Chubb. Louisville’s defensive talent slants a bit toward the passing game, so this is not a great matchup for them. Georgia has an edge everywhere else, and I know of at least one Dawg/Bearcat5 fan that should be pretty excited about that. You may have heard that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is replacing Coach Mac out at Colorado State, and the word is that Mark Richt will playcall during the bowl. This may be important, but Richt was a better OC than Bobo's ever been, and "hand the ball to Chubb" is a pretty easy call. That being said I expect a good game, so tune in to root against Petrino for the conference, it should be a fun one.

5 | Cincinnati hated Louisville long before Petrino showed up and disliking Louisville was a moral imperative.

THE PICK: Georgia Bulldogs

Foster Farms Bowl :
Maryland Terrapins (7-5) vs. Stanford Cardinal (7-5)

The Matchup
F/+ 16.9% (23) F/+ 6.3% (45) STANFORD
FEI 0.161 (20) FEI 0.017 (58) STANFORD
S&P+ 229.6 (20) S&P+ 203.3 (59) STANFORD
OF/+ 2.7% (50) DF/+ 0.2% (61) STANFORD
DF/+ 15.0% (8) OF/+ 1.6% (54) STANFORD
ST F/+ -0.9% (86) ST F/+ 4.5% (6) MARYLAND

Yes there is a bowl game called the Foster Farms Bowl. It’s been a lot of terrible names, including the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. At any rate, organizers smartly opted for a team from the same county as the stadium in the Cardinal6, which will hopefully allow them to avoid the attendance debacle that was the PAC-12 title game. Stanford fielded their typically-excellent defense again this year, and only a nasty inability to finish drives on offense kept Alabama West from a fifth straight 10+ win campaign. The special teams have been woeful as well, but not to a degree that Maryland has a chance in this one.

6 | Just 14 miles away, which is close enough for Bay Area residents to roller skate ironically whilst nibbling on gluten-free macaroons. Ironically.

THE PICK: Stanford Cardinal