(For the first time in the three years we've done Bowl Chronicles, the Michigan Wolverines make an appearance. That deserves its own BC post. You know where to find the rest of the Bowl Chronicle series.)
Was you New Year's resolution to live more dangerously and take more chances? Betting Michigan today in the Gator Bowl would certainly qualify. What else could you call backing a team that went winless against the spread in conference play. Yep, that's right. Michigan went 0-8 ATS in the Big 10, failing to cover as chalk in its three straight up wins and, for the most part, getting gashed so badly on defense that no head start as an underdog was enough to cash a ticket. Make no mistake this has as much to do with Rich Rodriguez job status as anything else. Fans have a tendency to be quieter while you're rebuilding if you prove a feisty underdog and keep things closer than the experts think. How much would the noise be adjusted in Rodriguez's favor had he only covered the last two games, say taking Wisco down to the wire, but losing a classic in the home finale, and a single digit loss to OSU in a game that’s in doubt into the fourth quarter? There would still be plenty of grumbling, but there might equally loud voices of progress. Those opinions would have a lot more legitimacy to the average fan than they do now. At least Rich isn’t coaching in the south. A winless ATS season in league play is a capital offense in some of those states.
So, just how 'historic' is Michigan's ATS goose egg in league play? In the last dozen seasons, its only happened twice in the Big 10. The 1999 Iowa Hawkeyes, Kirk Ferentz first season in Iowa City, didn’t cash a single Big 10 ticket. Three seasons later they were in a BCS bowl. The 2003 Illini were two seasons removed from a BCS bid when they went 0-8 ATS. After one more season, they finally kicked Ron Turner to the curb and hired the Zooker. Those teams were abysmal. They went 2-9 and 1-11 straight up. At least Michigan had a winning record and qualified for a bowl game during their ATS winless season.
After that downer of a graph, how about some positives. Rodriguez is 7-1 ATS in his last eight out of conference games!!! Not helping? How about the Bulldogs being 18-22 as chalk, albeit they were 5-2 in that role this season. Still not helping, am I? Tell you what, lets just enjoy the highlights of Michigan's last appearance in the Gator Bowl and call it even. This was against Ole Miss, the Bulldogs rival, so in honor of them we'll call them Ole Piss, amirite! Anyway, it was a total mismatch. Michigan's entire offensive line was named game MVP. It was Gary Moeller's first season at the helm, a year before Desmondpalooza hit campus.
I wont bore you with too much X's and O's breakdown. As Brian blogged yesterday, Mississippi State is now the most scouted team across the Internet. And it was really great stuff. It was good to see people excited enough that Michigan is back in the postsesaon that they were motivated to put pen to paper on the actual game itself. Everyone who took part on their own blog or in the diaries here should be really commended. And it offered more proof that the Michigan fanbase has the most talented corps of bloggers. In quality and quantity.
The Michigan key Michigan players in this one will be Kenny Demens and Craig Roh. The MSU running attack puts a lot of stress on the defense. This is a lot like the Illinois attack with Vic Ballard and LaDarious Perkins serving as the lethal 1-2 punch we saw with Leshoure and Ford. QB Chris Relf is a dual threat like Scheelhaase, but maybe just a bit better at this point in their careers. Michigan has been worked by the Illinois running attack three years running, no reason to think the Bulldogs wont gash the Wolverines. In fact, you're probably going to want to get in on a little Vic Ballard Over
95.5 104.5 rushing yards. Just a tip. But back to Demems. In that Illinois game he made a handful of plays, stops that Ezeh could not make, that really helped prevent the game from getting out of control in Illinois flavor. He will need to step up and make plays like that in this one to help this defense get off the field. I mention Roh because somebody on this team is going to have to make a drive changing play on Relf as he escapes the pocket. He's a talented player upfield and he can kill a drive all on his own if he gets the chance to swallow up Relf as he breaks pocket contain. Unless of course the coaches line him up at safety. In that case, forget I said anything. Besides, I'll be in the corner drinking anyway. Kidding aside, if those two players make enough plays to convince us they could be all conference contenders during their upperclassmen years, then this Michigan defense might just do enough to allow the offense to win the game.
I think team health is an edge for Michigan. Mike Martin at full strength on the defensive line gives them somebody we knows is a game changer, rather than just hope he can do so. He's Michigan only legit pro prospect right now on the defensive 11. Yes, his return to 100 percent will be important. His play alone could make it easier for Roh and Demens to make the plays they will need to make. He was putting together a defensive MVP caliber season until the injuries slowed him down. Beyond Martin, however, there's Denard Robinson, who everyone is claiming is feeling his best ever on the season. Denard, better than ever? Just the thought puts a shit-eating grin on my face. I have to supress my cackles. On the other side of the field, the Bulldogs come in without some key parts. Chad Bumphis is one of the best receivers in the SEC. He's out. That's one game changer taken care of that Michigan had no chance of checking themselves. Want another? How about Leon Berry. He's only one of the best kick returners in the country. That's one less issue for our maligned special teams unit to deal with, not to mention he's the team's third most prolific wideout.
Another question mark is motivation. It's always an issue this time of year. To be a good handicapper during the college football postseason, you have to be a quality shrink as well. You have to know that Nebraska wont give a shit playing Washington again in the middle tier bowl game they played in a year ago. You have to know that Miami will fold if any single part of the condition of play isnt perfect. You have to know that the Maryland players consider Freidgen their father and are prepared to go through brick wall after brick wall for their dissed leader. I always say bowl games are like NBA regular season games: every team makes a run, they dont really mean all that much as glorified exhibitions of sport and the teams motivational state widely varying and can be tricky to judge. When judging this Michigan team, you have to take into account their mental state with the coaching situation swirling around. We've seen West Virginia and Miami look like they'd rather be a million other places than playing with their coaching situation. But we've also seen Maryland rally around their deposed coach and play lights out. We also saw Oklahoma State send off their offensive coordinator Holgerson with a great effort, despite him splitting a lot of time between places in the bowl run-up, because the players were genuinely happy for him. None of the Michigan players know who is coaching them next year. But, they know who is coaching them this year. It's Rodriguez. As a fan, I'm proud at how the coaches have handled this situation. That will carry over to their players. I think the Wolverines will play hard for this coaching staff. This will be a lot more like the Maryland effort and nothing like we was with the Canes and 'Neers. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Before making a formal pick, let's take a look at the prop board. I havent been shy taking props during this Bowl Chronicle run, and I actually hit enough winners early on that it keep me afloat while the underdogs finally got their bearings. I think there's some interesting stuff to chew for the Gator Bowl. And with a couple hours yet to kick, we can still play one or two. In fact, expect it.
Denard Robinson Rushing Yards O/U 110.5........this is the line at Sportsbook.com. However the bar is higher at BoDog where players have to judge Shoelace at 124.5 yards. Wow. What a big difference! The betting on props must vary wildly from book to book to have differences like that. From looking through college prop boards throughout the bowl season, I can tell you that its not uncommon to see such disparate totals. They always say to make sure to shop around for the best line available. This is true even more if you're going to be a fulltime prop player. Anyway, as for this line. Can Michigan win if Denard doesnt go Over this total? I dont think so. Denard has only exceeded this mark six times year. But in the six times he didnt, he wasnt that far off the pace, averaging a bit more than 88 yards a contest. And in three of those games he basically didnt play the second half due to injury. Basically you're betting on what type of injury will he have today. Just his breath knocked out and he misses a play or two, something we saw almost every week? Take the Over. Will the finger and shoulder injury crop back up, driving him out of the game for good? Take the Under. And start drinking heavily.
Chris Relf, total completions, O/U 9.5......I laughed at this. Seriously? I just cant imagine a QB having less than double digit completions against this defense. I know the style of offense MSU runs lends itself to that. But, come on. It's the 111th ranked pass defense. Completions are its job and business was good this fall. Scheelhaase had 14 completions for Illinois against Michigan and even Purdue's crappy QB in a rain soaked game found a way to complete 12 passes. Michigan's defense allows a bit more than 20 completions per game. Now you need them to reduce that by 50 percent to win on the Under? Of course, Relf has only completed 10 or more passed four times year and one was against Alcorn State. Michigan has a better D than Alcorn State, right? Please tell me I'm right. Actually, dont answer the question at all. Forget I asked.
Vic Ballard total rushing yards, O/U 1o4.5 yards.....Holy hell. Somebody was busy gambling overnight instead of celebrating the new year. This was 95.5 when I checked last night. I thought it was easy money at that number. I'm still thinking that way. Nine different tailbacks have gone over this number against Michigan this season. It happened seven times in Big 10 play, thanks to Wisconsin having two backs going over it. Only nuetered Purdue in the rain and Indiana, who was too busy throwing it 100 times, failed to have a back go over 104.5 yards. I dont know what's stopping us here.
Roy Roundtree Receiving Yards, Over 70.5....what happens when Roy finds some consistency in his game? He was so close to a 75-plus catch, 1,000-yard season that would be comparable to many of the great WR seasons we've seen here. But, maaaaaaaan, did he have a lot of goose egg days. Six times he had 48 or less yards and seven times he would have failed to go over this number. Michigan has a lot of options, so its hard to put big numbers every week, but if Roundtree shows a bit more consistency in his week-to-week production, he could threaten single season records. He vanished from the gameplan in the three game run against MSU, Iowa and PSU. Barely played against UConn after an injury forced him out of the game. And we all know about his drop issues that cropped up in spades in the Ohio State game. When Roundtree is on, everything is working for this offense.
Dayrl Stonun O/U 3.5 catches....Another tricky one to factor because of the different options the Michigan offense has. Stonum went over this number six times this season. In the other six games, he only had 9 total catches. He did go over this total against top competition like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. And he went Over in the team's biggest wins of the season vs UConn, Notre Dame and Illinois. As a Michigan homer, I like the Over in both these WR props, but just cant pull the trigger. If I do, you can bet that Hemingway--who doesnt have a single prop to his name--goes off for nine catches and 135 yards. I'd be fine with that, but probably poorer.
Longest TD Of The Game, O/U 57.5 Yards......I talked about this one heading into the Penn State game. And, how the standard numbers for this prop in most games is 50.5 or 51.5. We took a stab at that number for the PSU game since we'd seen a TD of that length five times in the first seven games. Sure enough Kevin Koger of all people ripped off a catch and run to get us the cash. Come bowl season, the oddsmakers are requiring a longer TD than usual to have a winning Over ticket. I dont know if it matters, though. We've seen at least one TD on offense from longer than 57.5 yards out in eight of Michigan's 12 games. If you include defensive and special teams scores--and the book is suspiciously quiet on whether those count, but I'm assuming they do--then the total is up to 10 out of 12 games. The only games where there wasnt a score of any variety long than this were the UConn and Iowa games.
So, do I like any of those props? I'm taking the Ballard one. That way I can pretend to hear cash register jingles instead of just wanting to beat me head against the wall every time he gashes the Michigan stop troops. And, of course, I'm taking the Over 110.5 rushing yards for Denard. I wish they put out a total offense number. Or even a passing prop (at books I dont have an account at I did find O/U 207.5 passing yards). I think both he and Ballard go over their rushing hurdles in their sleep today. I'm feeling bullish on the Wolverine offense. Total pointsfor the Wolverines is set at Over/Under 27.5. They've gone over that 9 times this season, including against five bowl teams. Book It. And, why not, this could be the last game of the Rodriguez Era which at the least has left us breathless with all sorts of emotions after long touchdown scores. I'll bite on the Over 57.5 for longest score of the game, despite that hurdle being set higher than usual. Four props. All for what we're playing every prop here and at the JCB for a quarter unit. We're just having fun with these. I should probably come up with a fifth to make this battle a true best of five. If any other inspiration comes my way, Ill send it out via the JCB Twitter.
As for the game itself, the last time our Wolverines were in a bowl game, I had no problem taking all those points against Florida. Neither the Wolverines, nor their foe today are as talented as either of those teams. I really do think Mississippi State resembles Illinois a lot. Michigan struggled all day against that offense. But, they had zero problems dealing with their defense. I dont know if MSU is as talented on that side of the ball as the Illini. Unlike the Illini, they have a true defensive weakness going up against the pass. And I dont think they have a guy like Marquez Wilson who made several bigtime plays, giving the Michigan fits. Translation: Michigan wont stop them. They wont stop Michigan. I thought the Baylor matchup for Illinois was a lot like the Michigan game, except they would come out on top. I was correct. I think this matchup for Michigan is a lot like the Illinois game. They wont that shootout. They might not win this shootout, but, I did resolve to take more chances this year, so I will take the head start. And since two out of every three games in the Rodriguez Era has gone Over the total--including 8 out of 12 this season--lets make one last Over stand before its too late.
The Picks: Michigan +5, x 1/2 Unit; Over 59.5 x 1/2 Unit. That's six plays alone in the Gator Bowl. Am I pumped for Michigan back in the postseason or what?