The regular season is behind us, and as such there isn't much to watch in terms of opponents. So for now, we have a brief primer on the Big Ten bowl season. I'm sure the Copper Bowl will be covered in great detail by people who know more about such things.
Rose Bowl: #5 Michigan State vs. #4 Stanford
Michigan State is the outright, undisputed, no takesies-backsies Big Ten Champion. They went undefeated in conference and rolled over Ohio State in the conference championship game. There was much celebration, which would have been a The-Who's-on-Christmas-Morning arm-in-arm singing if it weren’t for this guy informing everyone that couches were flammable. Way to ruin it for everyone, guy.
Stanford, meanwhile, had as many impressive victories as anyone in the country. They took down Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Notre Dame, and Arizona State twice. But they also lost to USC (post Kiffin) and… Utah. Utah finished 2-7 in the PAC 12, with their only other win coming against Colorado. If they don’t lose that game, are they playing Florida State in the title game?
One nice thing for traditionalists is that the Rose Bowl (the most expensive ticket of the season, by the way) will actually feature the Big Ten Champion and the PAC 12 Champion, which has happened only 5 of the previous 12 seasons. And as the playoff system picks up steam, this might be the last of its kind.
When the MSU has the ball:
|Points Per Game||29.8||PPG Against||18.6|
|Yards Per Game||385||YPG Against||339|
|Offensive FEI||38||Defensive FEI||2|
Given the level of competition Stanford has faced, their defense has been downright stifling. They held Oregon to 20 (after shutting them out through three quarters), UCLA to 10, and Arizona State to 14 in the conference title game. Stanford runs a 3-4, but often puts a fourth hand in the dirt in the person of world-destroying Trent Murphy (14 sacks, 21.5 TFL). Murphy will be a real test for Sparty’s tackles, who haven’t been as consistent as the interior guys.
Michigan State, meanwhile, didn’t decide it needed to score offensive points until October, at which point they became decent but not good enough to save their advanced stats for the year. Nevertheless, they made huge strides as the year went on, especially on the offensive line. We have discussed this. It made you anger vomit, remember?
When the Stanford has the ball:
|PPG Against||12.7||Points Per Game||33.2|
|YPG Against||248||Yards Per Game||413|
|Defensive FEI||3||Offensive FEI||16|
Sweet mercy this is going to be violent. Stanford plays the downhilliest of downhill football. Look at the offensive line splits here:
There is very little confusion about what the Cardinal is going to try to do. This is Brady Hoke’s vision for a utopian society, the difference being that Stanford has the horses to run it (Josh Garnett reference. Drink). And you all know how Michigan State’s defense rolls. They’ve shown a little vulnerability (relatively speaking, of course) to power running schemes, but with their ability to leave their corners on an island, this is going to be 8 or 9 men colliding with 8 or 9 men all damn day.
So? It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan State reacts to their new defensive staff given Pat Narduzzi’s TOTALLY IMMINENT departure. Probably about as poor as can be expected, which is to say they will only hit Devin Gardner 8 or 9 times. Stanford 7, Michigan State 6
Orange Bowl: #7 Ohio State vs. #12 Clemson
Sad Urban Meyer is sadder than the saddest Keanu Reeves. There is no spiritual fulfillment in that pizza, good sir.
Ohio State won 24 games in a row, including its first 12 games this year, and doesn’t even have a conference title to show for it. An Orange Bowl is a pretty decent consolation prize, but try telling that to a bunch of guys who were up a touchdown late in the third quarter of a game that would have won the Big Ten and sent them to Pasadena with a shot at the belt.
Clemson peaked early this year. They opened with a win over then-#5 Georgia (a ranking that was probably legitimate before Georgia tore its Everything Ligament), and after that they dropped their only two marquee matchups to Florida State (51-14) and South Carolina (31-17). Their second-best win was probably either over Boston College or Georgia Tech. The ACC wasn’t exactly the Running Man course this year.
When Ohio State has the ball:
|Points Per Game||46.3||PPG Against||21.1|
|Yards Per Game||518||YPG Against||351|
|Offensive FEI||4||Defensive FEI||16|
The Buckeyes were among the most dangerous offenses in the country this year. You know this. It has been well documented. We can stop talking about it now.
Clemson’s defense held up pretty well statistically. They are led by DE Vic Beasley, who led the ACC with 12 sacks. Florida State ripped them to pieces, but Florida State ripped every defense to pieces. South Carolina put up a bunch of points but only 318 yards. Georgia put up 38 points and a bunch of yards, but against a healthy Todd Gurley that wasn’t much of a sin.
When Clemson has the ball:
|PPG Against||21.3||Points Per Game||40.2|
|YPG Against||362||Yards Per Game||502|
|Defensive FEI||36||Offensive FEI||27|
Clemson will be limited through the air. Because they only count the yards until you hit the end zone. Otherwise we would be measuring in furlongs.
Ohio State’s pass defense was never stellar this year, but things really fell apart at the tail end of the year. In the last four weeks they gave up 35 points and 288 yards passing to Scheelhaase and Illinois, 320 yards passing to Indiana, 451 yards passing and
43 41 points to Michigan, and 34 points and over 300 yards to Michigan State. The entire secondary struggles to tackle, with Bradley Roby being a primary culprit. He was supposed to be an All-American-caliber corner, but instead he has been an All-American- caliber athlete trying to play corner. There's a big difference.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson was an aerial machine this year, led by Tajh Boyd’s nearly 3,500 passing yards and 29 TDs against only 9 picks. Boyd’s weapons include the no-you’ve-never-heard-of-him-before Sammy Watkins (1237 yards and 10 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (800 yards at 20.5 ypc). It is worth noting that Clemson has an excellent kicker in Chandler Catanzaro, who will come in extremely handy with all of the extra points.
So? Ohio State is probably banking on Tajh Boyd’s arm falling off before the game ends. Plus, at some point Sammy Watkins has to get tired or bored or something. Clemson 94, Ohio State 83 (OT)
Capital One Bowl: #19 Wisconsin vs. #9 South Carolina
Clowney. Clowney Clowney. Jadeveon. Clowney. Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney Clowney bo bowney banana fana fo fowney mi my mo mowney. Clowney. Conditioning. Draft. Clowney. Vincent Smith’s helmet.
When South Carolina has the ball:
|PPG Against||14.8||Points Per Game||34.1|
|YPG Against||294||Yards Per Game||454|
|Defensive FEI||8||Offensive FEI||8|
Quarterback Connor Shaw has thrown for 21 TDs and only 1 interception. He only throws for 8.24 YPA despite completing 61% of his passes, so he isn’t asked to do a huge amount with the ball. Still, 21/1 is a rather impressive ratio. Running back Mike Davis was the workhorse for the Cocks, racking up over 1100 yards at 5.8 YPC. South Carolina runs primarily an inside zone scheme, with Shaw and Davis running read option, speed option and a little bit of everything else. This is a really well-balanced team.
When Wisconsin has the ball:
|Points Per Game||35.8||PPG Against||20|
|Yards Per Game||487||YPG Against||345|
|Offensive FEI||26||Defensive FEI||18|
So? When it comes right down to it, you can’t Clowney on the Clowney to continue to succeed with Clowney. At some point, Clowney is going to Clowney, ya know? Still, all things considered, there’s always a chance that Clowney. Clowney 27.
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. #16 LSU
The important thing to know about this game is that Raymond James Stadium has real grass, and was once rated the 2nd best turf in the NFL. Will a grazing Les Miles be distracted, or will a well-fed Les Miles be sharper and more focused? We asked Miles that question, and he responded by talking about the Punic War for a minute and a half, pausing for seven minutes, and concluding by requesting an additional copy of the in-flight magazine because the crossword was already filled out in his copy.
When Iowa has the ball:
|Points Per Game||27.3||PPG Against||22.7|
|Yards Per Game||389||YPG Against||350|
|Offensive FEI||45||Defensive FEI||49|
LSU’s defense was pretty good in terms of yards and points, but advanced statistics don’t care for them; they were 49th in Defensive FEI and 48th in Defensive S&P+. They have a couple of quality interior guys in Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, but they’ve struggled against the run.
For Iowa, Greg Davis remains thoroughly Greg Davis, with his leading receiver (Kevonte Martin-Manley) averaging under 10 yards per catch. Jake Ruddock completed 60.2% of his passes, but for only 7.0 yards per attempt. HOW DID THIS TEAM MAKE THE OUTBACK BOWL? They did run the ball pretty well with a three-headed (and more importantly, six-functional-legged) group of Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, and Jordan Canzeri. Star left tackle Brandon Scherff has announced he’s gonna go all Taylor Lewan and stay for his Senior year, so yippee.
When LSU has the ball:
|PPG Against||18.8||Points Per Game||37.0|
|YPG Against||303||Yards Per Game||466|
|Defensive FEI||29||Offensive FEI||6|
This one would have been a lot more fun before Zach Mettenberger got hurt. The Senior QB tore up his knee in a season-ending victory over Arkansas. His backup, freshman Anthony Jennings, led that comeback over Bret Bielema’s ‘football team,’ but has thrown only 10 passes in his brief career to this point.
LSU runs a pretty standard pro-style offense, except it does so with ridiculous levels of talent. Find me a better receiving tandem than Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and I’ll buy you a Pepsi. Both went over 1100 yards, and did so in shiny, happy fashion:
After Landry and Beckham, LSU’s next leading wide receiver had 7 catches for 145 yards ALL SEASON. This is indicative of the fact that (a) LSU doesn’t run many 3- and 4-wide sets, and (b) damn these guys are good. They’re a home-run type of team, and they’re pretty good at it.
So? I’m predicting Iowa 12, LSU 4. Wait, you get points for punting, right? No? Oops, my mistake. LSU 31, Iowa 14.
Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. #22 Georgia
Mark Richt has lost control of Bo Pelini.
Both Nebraska and Georgia suffered through moderately disappointing and turbulent seasons. In Georgia’s case, it was because of a confluence of injuries not seen since Leroy Jenkins went rogue. In Nebraska’s case, it was because a suspect run defense, a quarterback carrousel, and the fact that their head coach is, to use an industry term, a wanker.
When Nebraska has the ball:
|Points Per Game||32.6||PPG Against||29.4|
|Yards Per Game||421||YPG Against||381|
|Offensive FEI||67||Defensive FEI||52|
The loss of Taylor Martinez hurt Nebraska something fierce. Last year, Nebraska was #8 in offensive FEI and 8th in offensive S&P+. This year, with Martinez out and Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong Jr. splitting snaps, they finished 67th in offensive FEI and 47th in S&P+. And that is despite the Ameer Abdullah’s breakout year. There’s no way they miss Rex Burkhead that bad. That said, Georgia hasn’t been that great defensively. Some of this is due to injury (more on this in a moment), but they gave up more points per game than any Big Ten bowl opponent this year.
When Georgia has the ball:
|PPG Against||25.3||Points Per Game||38.2|
|YPG Against||367||Yards Per Game||490|
|Defensive FEI||31||Offensive FEI||5|
If Jourdan Lewis offended the gypsy, Georgia built a Piggly Wiggly on top of the gypsy’s mother. In a display that would make AIRBHG blush, the Bulldogs lost three of their top four receivers, their top two running backs, a starting tight end, and quarterback Aaron Murray for significant chunks of the season. Malcolm Mitchell, Justin-Scott Wesley, Keith Marshall, and Murray were all lost for the year and won’t play in this one.
Georgia’s offense couldn’t have drawn a better matchup though. Junior Hutson Mason will take the snaps for Georgia, but that probably means he’ll be the guy handing the ball to Todd Gurley. Georgia’s line remains quite solid, and Nebraska’s interior is still gooey soft (does anyone else hear a ringing sound in their ears?). Georgia ran about 51% of the time this year, but I’d guess that number heads north of 60% in this one.
So? This one is a matter of nature vs. nurture. I don’t care how much corn you eat. You won’t look like this kid. Gurley 28, Nebraska 13
Texas Bowl: Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Texas Bowl, December 27
This one features two teams who overachieved based on pre-season expectations. Which is nice… but that doesn’t necessarily make the game ‘good’ or anything. Syracuse’s six wins came over teams who were a combined SUUUUUUUCK, with Boston College probably being the most impressive despite their lack of Doug Flutie, or even a Matt Ryan. Minnesota padded their stats with wins over four non-conference snacky-cakes, though they did have wins over Nebraska and Penn State which is something. Syracuse has the lowest FEI, by a healthy margin, of any Big Ten bowl team or opponent. Syracuse and Minnesota have the two lowest offensive FEI totals of any Big Ten bowl team or opponent. Like I said, this game probably won’t be good.
When Minnesota has the ball:
|Points Per Game||26.4||PPG Against||26.1|
|Yards Per Game||343||YPG Against||369|
|Offensive FEI||73||Defensive FEI||64|
They will run the ball. A lot.
When Syracuse has the ball:
|PPG Against||22.3||Points Per Game||22.8|
|YPG Against||371||Yards Per Game||375|
|Defensive FEI||33||Offensive FEI||92|
They will also run the ball. A lot.
So? This is the football version of “eat your vegetables because there are starving people in other countries.” It’s football, and soon there will be no football. Just watch it. It’ll be like a 15 possession game. You’ll live. Minnesota 13, Syracuse 10.