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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Bowl Mini-Previews, Round 5

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 5 will get us through the remaining bowls, outside of the New Year’s Six. The Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Cotton, Rose, and Sugar will have their own previews.

Outback Bowl :
Wisconsin Badgers (9-3) vs. Wisconsin’s Opponent (8-4)

The Matchup
F/+ 19.8% (17) F/+ 23.5% (12) PUSH
FEI 0.127 (30) FEI 0.214 (11) OPPONENT
S&P+ 243.3 (9) S&P+ 234.2 (16) PUSH
OF/+ 10.0% (18) DF/+ 6.1% (38) WISCONSIN
DF/+ 10.5% (18) OF/+ 18.0% (5) OPPONENT
ST F/+ -0.7% (80) ST F/+ -0.6% (79) PUSH

The first of three B1G-SEC tilts this postseason. Wisconsin still does what they’ve always done, which is use large, cheese-powered human beings1 to pound the rock until the opponent quits. The toter has come in all shapes and sizes — bruisers like Ron Dayne and John Clay, sprinters like Michael Bennett and Brian Calhoun, whatever P.J. Hill and Melvin Gordon, who may turn out to be the best of the bunch. Famously holding the single game rushing yardage record for all of one week, Gordon has a chance to break Barry Sanders’ record2 for rushing yards in a season if he can put up 293 yards in the Outback Bowl.

1 | Offensive linemen are people too!

2 | Whenever a recap of your season includes the terms "Barry Sanders" and "record," you’re doing something right.

That’s unlikely to happen, because their opponent fields a decent defense that’s a lot stronger against the run than it is against the pass. Wisconsin will still put up yards and points, but as Tide fans are acutely aware, their opponent is likely to put up more of both. The Badger defense is pretty nasty on passing downs, so if they can consistently force third and longs this could get interesting. That being said, they have to deal with a healthy Duke Williams and Sammie Coates and Nick Marshall on those downs, and I don’t think they’re up to the task. This was not a favorable matchup for the Badgers before the coaching upheaval took place, and Gary Andersen’s departure in the midst of bowl prep is just an unneeded distraction. I don’t watch little brother outside of the Iron Bowl, but if you are not subject to that principle tune in to see them make another defensive coordinator tear his hair out.

THE PICK: Wisconsin’s Opponent

Update:Williams is suspended for the bowl game, but I don't think it's going to matter.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl :
Missouri Tigers (10-3) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4)

The Matchup
F/+ 12.1% (35) F/+ 13.2% (31) PUSH
FEI 0.115 (34) FEI 0.148 (23) PUSH
S&P+ 212.0 (40) S&P+ 217.3 (33) PUSH
OF/+ 3.8% (44) DF/+ 10.1% (21) MISSOURI
DF/+ 5.0% (42) OF/+ 2.1% (52) MINNESOTA
ST F/+ 3.3% (9) ST F/+ 0.9% (45) MINNESOTA

This one is going to be all about defense. Missouri fielded one of the best units in the country before they ran into the Tide buzzsaw in Atlanta, and even after that shellacking they field a top-25 defense per DF/+. Minnesota under Jerry Kill is known for a smashmouth style of football, which Bill C. goes into some detail about over at RockMNation. Unfortunately for the Gophers they’ve achieved this brand of play with linemen who specialize in road-grading, which in this case comes at the expense of pass protection. Minnesota is ranked 116th in the country in Adjusted Sack Rate, which is exactly what you think it is. The Tigers defense is 14th in the same, and that tells me if Mizzou can get into comfortable pass rushing situations that Shane Ray and Markus Golden are going to cause all kinds of havoc, provided Mr. Ray can stay in the game this time.

The Gophers defense is not the same caliber as Mizzou’s, but Maty Mauk and company are not the best of offenses by any stretch of the imagination. The Tigers will likely be able to accomplish more than third-and-prayers to Jimmie Hunt however, and with Minnesota struggling to move the ball on the other side I’m not seeing a lot of hope for the Gophers. They do have a shockingly balanced special teams game which may provide some excitement, but are saddled with one of the worst kickers in the country according to Fremeau’s field goal efficiency rating, where they are at #110. Missouri is full of warts, but I’m just not seeing enough here to go with Minnesota.

THE PICK: Missouri Tigers

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl :
Houston Cougars (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ 9.8% (39) F/+ -7.1% (79) PITTSBURGH
FEI 0.103 (37) FEI -0.007 (63) PITTSBURGH
S&P+ 213.9 (36) S&P+ 190.9 (86) PITTSBURGH
OF/+ 12.9% (13) DF/+ -2.1% (69) PITTSBURGH
DF/+ -3.4% (73) OF/+ -3.2% (74) PUSH
ST F/+ 0.3% (60) ST F/+ -1.8% (101) PITTSBURGH

So, Pittsburgh lost their coach3, as Paul Chryst has headed home to Wisconsin to serve at the pleasure of Barry Alvarez head up the Badgers in 2015. While he was there, Chryst turned Pittsburgh into Wisconsin East, putting up the 6th best rushing offense in the country per S&P+ this season. That was mostly generated through the bruising efforts of big James Conner, the fifth most-productive back this season. All of this is very important, because Houston’s rush defense is abysmally bad. #111 in defensive rushing S&P+, #115 on standard downs S&P+, #122 in adjusted line yards. The Cougars were going to be vaporized by the end of this, and no amount of coaching drama was going to change that.

3 | This is a theme, as Pat Narduzzi will be the fifth head coach in as many years.

THE PICK: Pittsburgh Panthers

TaxSlayer Bowl :
Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5) vs. Iowa’s Opponent (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ 7.5% (43) F/+ 3.4% (55) PUSH
FEI 0.084 (42) FEI 0.061 (45) PUSH
S&P+ 212.5 (39) S&P+ 201.7 (61) OPPONENT
OF/+ -2.0% (69) DF/+ 4.1% (47) IOWA
DF/+ 7.6% (31) OF/+ 0.7% (56) OPPONENT
ST F/+ 2.0% (27) ST F/+ -1.4% (95) OPPONENT

The team from that state north of Alabama have had kind of an interesting year. Butch Jones thought he was going to be clever and redshirt Joshua Dobbs, instead electing to start tire fire Justin Worley. They were predictably terrible as a result, until Worley got hurt right before the Third Saturday in October. Jones burned Dobbs’ redshirt, and lo and behold they started playing better! This is important, because the team Iowa will see on the 2nd is not the same team that put up that stat line. It’s a much better one, particularly on offense4. You’ll note that’s the only category they don’t have the edge on the Hawkeyes, but they will in this one. I don’t think this will be close.

4 | Senior defensive leader A.J. Johnson won’t be playing, as he’s suspended pending sexual assault charges. Greeeeeeeeaaaat.

THE PICK: Iowa’s Opponent

Valero Alamo Bowl :
Kansas State Wildcats (9-3) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-3)

The Matchup
F/+ 18.8% (19) F/+ 17.5% (21) PUSH
FEI 0.208 (12) FEI 0.146 (24) PUSH
S&P+ 221.6 (24) S&P+ 220.3 (25) PUSH
OF/+ 15.0% (7) DF/+ 2.1% (51) UCLA
DF/+ 3.0% (49) OF/+ 10.5% (16) KANSAS STATE
ST F/+ 0.8% (49) ST F/+ 4.9% (4) KANSAS STATE

This may be one of the more entertaining games to watch while you’re waiting for the national championship game. When Bill Snyder isn’t slipping everyone a Werther’s Original to enjoy while he recounts his experiences in the Revolutionary War5, he fields teams that excel at the little things. They finish drives (#15 in OFEI), they take care of the ball (#2 in turnovers lost), they play well on special teams (#4 in ST F/+), all with (typically) a talent disadvantage. The 2011 and 2012 versions came with outstanding defenses as well, but this started to taper off in 2013 and it got worse in 2014, which is why they are here instead of in the playoff. Unfortunately, UCLA brings a potent offense that is tailor-made to exploit the Wildcats’ defensive weakness, and pair it with a defense that matches up well against Tyler Lockett and company, led by omnipresent Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks. If Lockett can work some return game magic this might get interesting, but I think the Bruins will take it.

5 | He’s old. He’s 75, but he’s looked that way since 1995.


TicketCity Cactus Bowl :
Washington Huskies (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-6)

The Matchup
F/+ -2.8% (68) F/+ 5.0% (51) WASHINGTON
FEI -0.058 (80) FEI 0.089 (40) WASHINGTON
S&P+ 195.5 (73) S&P+ 197.4 (70) PUSH
OF/+ -3.4% (77) DF/+ 7.7% (30) WASHINGTON
DF/+ -2.8% (71) OF/+ -5.4% (92) OKLAHOMA STATE
ST F/+ 3.3% (8) ST F/+ 2.7% (15) PUSH

In his first season in Seattle Chris Petersen has already equaled the best Seven Win Sark was able to accomplish, albeit with the assistance of a 13th game against Hawai’i. Much like his better teams at Boise State, the Huskies made their hay on defense, putting up the #30 unit in the country behind the disruptive play of seniors Hau’oli Kikaha6 and Danny Shelton. Unlike Petersen’s vintage Boise teams, Washington fields an atrocious offense that seriously missed early departures Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Oklahoma State backed into the postseason with an improbable win in Bedlam over Oklahoma, courtesy of a last-minute punt return touchdown and an overtime field goal. The returner of that punt was one Tyreek Hill, who in addition to producing over 30% of the Cowboys’ all-purpose yardage on the year appears to be a horrible human being. Hill’s been kicked off the team, and his production in the return game especially will not be easily replaced. I think that disruption is going to be too much to overcome in a matchup that was already unfavorable to the Cowboys.

6 | Watch.

THE PICK: Washington Huskies

Birmingham Bowl :
East Carolina Pirates (8-4) vs. Florida Gators (7-5)

The Matchup
F/+ 9.3% (41) F/+ 2.7% (58) FLORIDA
FEI 0.093 (39) FEI 0.043 (48) FLORIDA
S&P+ 211.5 (42) S&P+ 209.3 (48) PUSH
OF/+ -5.9% (97) DF/+ -0.5% (63) EAST CAROLINA
DF/+ 12.9% (12) OF/+ 6.3% (37) FLORIDA
ST F/+ 2.2% (21) ST F/+ -3.1% (114) FLORIDA

East Carolina started the season as the mid-major darling du jour, pushing South Carolina in Columbia, knocking off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and dropping 70 on North Carolina at home. They stumbled a bit down the stretch, most notably in a puzzling loss to Temple that featured 12 penalties and 5 fumbles by the Pirates. Florida, of course, played another year of Muschampball, featuring the #12 defense and #21 special teams unit with one of the worst offenses in the SEC. That offense seems to have gotten better with Treon Harris at the wheel, which was the only area in which ECU had an edge. Muschamp’s gone, but I don’t think that distraction is going to be enough to make a difference.

THE PICK: Florida Gators

GoDaddy Bowl :
Toledo Rockets (8-4) vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-5)

The Matchup
F/+ -5.2% (75) F/+ -0.6% (63) TOLEDO
FEI -0.062 (81) FEI -0.029 (71) PUSH
S&P+ 198.4 (68) S&P+ 202.6 (60) PUSH
OF/+ -0.5% (62) DF/+ -7.3% (100) ARKANSAS STATE
DF/+ -4.3% (80) OF/+ 6.1% (38) TOLEDO
ST F/+ -0.3% (72) ST F/+ 0.6% (54) TOLEDO

This looks like another shootout, as Arkansas State and Toledo both field woeful defensive teams. The Red Wolves are on their third head coach in as many seasons, and the fact they’ve continued to win despite that upheaval is kind of impressive. That being said, the Rockets are a better team, and their decent offense is going to be the difference in this one.

THE PICK: Toledo Rockets