Friday, December 15, 2017

Bowl Games 2017: Opening Slate

The holiday season? Eh, that's all well and good, but now it's the reason for the season: that's right, bowl games! Why are there 39 of them this year, you ask? Because one of them went out of business! Why were there previously 40, you ask? Well, because live sports are about the only thing that makes money on TV anymore!

This year's preview of all the action includes a new Watchability Rating. I mean, let's face it, you're going to have these games on at least in the background anyway because it's not like anything else is on. But nonetheless, I'm here to help you prioritize. To wit, here's the four tiers:
  • I: Background noise, or maybe just the background thing on TV while you have some Christmas music on.
  • II: You'll at least have the volume turned up, because, hey, it's college football, anything can happen.
  • III: Your family member who likes college football will be actively watching this, telling you about how Mizzou got a lot better in the second half the season as they rediscovered their offense and their schedule got easier.
  • IV: Marquee games, like playoff games as well as quality bowl matchups featuring good teams.
Also new are S&P+ lines, which are based on the differences on the S&P+ ratings produced by Bill Connelly. Since Connelly uses gauges this against Vegas lines, I thought it'd be useful to look at these numbers.

With all that said, let's look over tomorrow's opening slate! The full slate is, of course, here.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

1:00: North Texas vs. Troy (New Orleans Bowl @ New Orleans, LA; ESPN): Troy has made perhaps the best coaching hire of the season, by which I mean they were able to retain rising star Neal Brown for another year. By all rights, with the win over LSU the Trojans should've been 11-1 this year, but they blew that chance by putting up a result even more inexplicable than their win in Baton Rouge: losing a week later at home to South Alabama. North Texas was a respectable 9-4 this year, but they never looked that impressive doing it even though they won Conference-USA West. I'm going with Troy.
S&P+ line: Troy by 3.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: Ten total meetings, dating to when both were in the Sun Belt. The first was in 2001, an 18-16 win by Troy, and the last was in 2012, a 14-7 win for Troy. Troy leads the overall series 8-2.
Last bowl game: North Texas appeared in last year's Heart of Dallas Bowl, losing 38-31 to Army. Troy defeated Ohio 28-23 in last year's Dollar General Bowl.
Announcers: Jason Benetti and Kelly Stouffer

2:30: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State (Cure Bowl @ Orlando, FL; CBSS): Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am home again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am whole again

Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am young again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am fun again

However far away
I will always love you
However long I stay
I will always love you
Whatever words I say
I will always love you
I will always love you

Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am free again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am clean again

However far away
I will always love you
However long I stay
I will always love you
Whatever words I say
I will always love you
I will always love you

I've got WKU here.
S&P+ line: WKU by 3.8
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: Just one, a 44-28 Western Kentucky victory back in 2013.
Last bowl game: For the Hilltoppers, this is their fourth straight bowl game. They beat Memphis 51-31 in last year's Boca Raton Bowl. This is Georgia State's second ever bowl appearance. Their first appearance was a 27-16 loss to San Jose State in the 2015 Cure Bowl.
Announcers: Carter Blackburn and Aaron Taylor

3:30: Oregon vs. Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl @ Las Vegas, NV; ABC): I actually like the Ducks here. It'll be interesting to see how the coaching situation affects them, but they ended their season pretty strong except for a 38-3 faceplant up in Seattle. Boise was back to its old ways in the Mountain West. What this means, ultimately, is that this the game of the day, by far.
S&P+ line: Boise State by 1.6
Watchability tier: IV
Previous meetings: Just two, in 2008 and 2009. Boise won both games, but the most infamous moment in either game in the 2009 when, after the game, LaGarrette Blount sucker punched a Boise State defensive linemen right in the jaw. Blount wound up getting suspended and kicked off the team, but has gone on to punch it into the end zone 51 times in the NFL.
Last bowl game: This is the first bowl game for the Ducks since the 2015 season, where they lost 47-41 to TCU in the Alamo Bowl. For the Broncos, this is their 16th straight bowl game, dating back to the 2002 Humanitarian Bowl, a 34-16 win over Iowa State. Last year they were defeated 31-12 by Baylor in the Cactus Bowl.
Announcers: Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit

4:30: Colorado State vs. Marshall (New Mexico Bowl @ Albuquerque, NM; ESPN): This season just never got going for the Rams. After starting 6-2, they'd finish 7-5 including close losses to Wyoming and Boise State. Marshall's season followed a similar trajectory, starting 6-1 before going 1-4 to close out the year. This comes down to how you feel about the relative quality of the Mountain West versus C-USA, which for me makes me lean slightly toward the Rams.
S&P+ line: Rams by 2.8
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Colorado State's fifth straight bowl game dating back to the 2013 New Mexico Bowl, a 48-45 win over Washington State. Last year they lost to Idaho 60-51 in the Potato Bowl. This is Marshall's first bowl since the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl, a 16-10 win over UConn.
Announcers: Anish Shroff and Ahmad Brooks

8:00: Middle Tennessee State vs. Arkansas State (Camellia Bowl @ Montgomery, AL; ESPN): Arkansas State also boasts a weird loss to South Alabama and a kind of "is this really happening?" loss to Troy which got some Twitter notoriety a couple weekends ago. That said, I like them over MTSU, who may just be happy just to be bowling. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)
S&P+ line: RedWolves by 8.2
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: Former Sun Belt foes, MTSU holds a 9-5 all-time lead, including two wins way back in 1948 and 1949. Their last meting was back in 2012, a 45-0 Arkansas State shutout.
Last bowl game: This is the third straight bowl for the Blue Raiders, dating back to a 45-31 loss to Western Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. Last season they lost 52-35 to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. For the Red Wolves, this is their seventh straight bowl game, dating back to the 2011-2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl, a 38-20 loss to Northern Illinois. Last season they defeated Central Florida 31-13 in the Cure Bowl.
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Andre Ware

Saturday, December 09, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 15

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Noon: Wofford @ North Dakota State (NCAA Division I Quaterfinal, ESPN2): Honestly, I don't have many thoughts on this other than I think it'd generally be more interesting if the Bison (pronounced 'Bizon') won, so let's go with them.

3:00: Army vs. Navy (@ Philadelphia, PA; CBS): This is the game of the day, obviously, with the requisite lead-in to the Hiesman ceremony. Look, the main reason to watch here is that it should be a close game, but that I actually like Army to win in the first time since... well, the first time that I can ever recall. Maybe I need to go back through this site's archives, but that's besides the point. Last year's game was a massive upset, this year's won't be.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Bowl Predictions 2017: Final

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to write a post before the bids starting coming out. The full field is now available.

I didn't have a particularly strong opinion in the Alabama vs. Ohio State debate, and I predicted that Alabama would probably prevail. It does, unfortunately, lead to the non-zero chance that there could be a Georgia vs. Alabama national title game, which would pretty much be the most insufferable thing ever.

Some other notes from the field:
  • I was surprised Washington got in the New Year's Six over TCU, but that's way things go sometimes. This likely wrecked a lot of projections.
  • There was a lot of horse trading this afternoon. The Camellia Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, and Army's opponent in the Armed Forces Bowl were the last to be announced, probably to work out getting a better opponent for Army than a low-tier C-USA or MAC team. These bowls are all owned by ESPN, which means that things can happen that are hard to predict.
  • Oregon vs. Boise State on the first day of bowl season in the Las Vegas Bowl should be a lot of fun.
  • I bet the Texas Bowl people want Texas-Texas A&M badly, but I suspect neither school wants to play that game. TAMU wound up going to the Belk Bowl instead.
  • Texas Tech-South Florida is probably going to set a Birmingham Bowl scoring record.
  • TCU-Stanford may be the grittiest Alamo Bowl ever.
That's about it. Our annual preview series will start next week!

Friday, December 01, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 14

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Friday
8:00: Southern California vs. Stanford (Pac-12 Conference Championship @ Santa Clara, CA; ESPN): I'll be at this game! At any rate, it's hard to know what to make of this rematch. USC beat Stanford 42-24 but that was literally back in September. Suffice it to say, things have changed, including the part where USC later got shallacked by a Notre Dame team that the Cardinal just easily beat. USC has since struggled in conference play as well, so I'm going to pick the mild upset and go with Stanford here.

Saturday
Noon:
  • Memphis @ Central Florida (American Conference Championship; ABC): Memphis is solid and all, but UCF is pretty dang good. Going with the Knights here.
  • Akron vs. Toledo (Mid-American Conference Championship @ Detroit, MI; ESPN): Saturday early afternoon MACtion? Sure, why not! That said, Toledo is a huge favorite, and for good reason. That's never stopped underdogs in the MAC title game before, but still, this should be a straightforward Toledo win.
  • North Texas @ Florida Atlantic (Conference USA Championship; ESPN2): Roll Owls.
12:30: Oklahoma vs. Texas Christian (Big 12 Conference Championship @ Arlington, TX; FOX): Everyone is saying that Gary Patterson and TCU will have Oklahoma's number in this rematch and ruin Oklahoma's chances at the playoff to prove how dumb the Big 12 having a title game is. Therefore, I'm going against the grain and thinking the Sooners win easily.

4:00: Georgia vs. Auburn (Southeastern Conference Championship @ Atlanta, GA; CBS): It's hard to beat at team twice in the same season, but Auburn is actually pretty good? They've already shutdown Georgia and just shut down Kirby Smart's master in the worst performance anyone has seen out of the Tide in years. It's hard for me to pick against the Tigers here.

7:30: Troy @ Arkansas State (ESPN2): Neal Brown just's sitting here waiting, Tennessee. I mean, he beat LSU! (And will probably beat Arkansas State.)

7:45: Fresno State @ Boise State (Mountain West Conference Championship; ESPN): Fresno won round one down in Fresno, but given home field advantage I like Boise in the rematch.

8:00:
  • Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Big Ten Conference Championship @ Indianapolis, IN; FOX): I like Ohio State is going to win. There I said it. Now it's time to hedge. For starters, it depends on which version of Ohio State, and more specifically, J.T. Barrett shows up. If it's Good Ohio State/JT then I think they'll win. Otherwise, this Wisconsin team is a pretty dang good version of Wisconsin (I mean, they're undefeated!) and will win if Ohio State is anything less than 100%.
  • Clemson vs. Miami (Atlantic Coast Conference Championship @ Charlotte, NC; ABC): I don't think Miami is that good and that Clemson will win easily.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Bowl Predictions 2017: Week 6

Come and get 'em!

Okay, this is the second-to-last edition. We've even got our first confirmed pairing: UAB vs. Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl. (Welcome back, Blazers!) But we've also got more chaos than ever in the playoff picture. Let's talk about that, bullet-point style.
  • Here's the not-controversial part, maybe other than where they're ranked: ACC champion, SEC champion, Oklahoma if they beat TCU in the Big 12 championship.
  • So that's the three. Who's the fourth? Well, if Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, then there's no debate that undefeated Wisconsin will be in. But what if Ohio State beats Wisconsin? Does 2-loss Big Ten champ Ohio State get in over 1-loss Alabama? The arguments are otherwise very similar, but Ohio State has an edge over Alabama in terms of strength-of-schedule (reminder, Alabama's best win is LSU) and a conference championship.
  • So this is why I'm projecting #1 Auburn vs. #4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and #2 Auburn vs. #3 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
  • Alabama, as the highest ranked team from the SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame, would get an Orange Bowl bid, matched against Miami.
  • The other notable thing is that with the loss to Pitt, I had a hard time putting Notre Dame in the New Year's Six over TCU. I'm not completely sure on this, but I think a three-loss Notre Dame will drop like a rock in the rankings.
  • Alabama would have to go to the Orange as per the rules, assuming Georgia falls below them if they lose to Auburn in the SEC championship. The Committee may send UGA out west instead of putting them in Atlanta for the 3rd time in just over a month, but I think if the Peach winds up with Central Florida they'll want a strong local draw.
Other news and notes:
  • Currently there are 79 bowl eligible teams, and I'm projecting Florida State and New Mexico State to get eligible this weekend, for a total of 81. With the demise of the Poinsettia Bowl, that means there's 78 bids available, so there's three extra teams.
  • With the SEC getting 3 teams into the New Year's Six, that leaves less than 7 SEC teams available for their top-tier berths. I have the Liberty Bowl getting the short end of the stick.
  • The Pac-12, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. They have only 5 berths after the NY6, and I'm projecting only the Pac-12 champion to get in. They 9 total eligible teams, though, so I'm figuring Utah and UCLA will be left out. A tweet indicated that Independence Bowl representatives were at the UCLA-Cal game Saturday, but that would require a swap to be arranged since the Independence has an arrangement with Conference-USA already. 
  • With Notre Dame not getting into the NY6, I have them pipping the first available ACC bowl slot, bumping everyone else down a spot. I wound up putting newly eligible Duke in the Birmingham Bowl.
  • Even if they've been there a lot recently, I think Oklahoma State is the most exciting option for the Alamo Bowl from the Big 12.
  • If the Big 12 gets both Oklahoma and TCU in the NY6, that really dashes the chances of Texas in the Texas Bowl against Texas A&M.
  • I didn't want to send Stanford to San Diego for the second time this season (they played at San Diego State back in September), but I think the Holiday will like getting a Stanford team that's finished strong down there. And the weather everywhere in California is nice, but San Diego it's always just that much nicer.
That's it for now. I expect some other minor bids to be announced during the week, and that I will have to hustle to get a new set of projections out this Saturday to stay ahead of the news. Until then!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

THWG Thought of the Day: 11/25

Men, Georgie's a fine football team, a very fine football team. Georgie's bigger and faster than we are. Probably a little tougher, too.

That's okay, because we're smarter than they are.

Now, let me tell you what's going to happen. That Georgie team's going to come running out of the tunnel screaming and foaming at the mouth and smashing one another upside the head just to get warmed up.

We won't do any of that. While they waste their energy, we'll conserve ours. I've told you that they're bigger, faster, and tougher than you. That's true. But we do have that one big advantage.

We ... are ... smarter.

Think about what I teach you. Play field position. Play great defense. Make no mistakes on offense. Be great in the kicking game. Do that and we'll keep it close.

As the game goes on, they'll start to get tired because they wasted so much energy in the beginning. Because we're smart, we'll have plenty of energy left, and at some point in the fourth quarter they'll make a mistake.

When they do make that mistake, we'll get the football. And when that happens, I'll think of something and we'll win!
Coach Bobby Dodd, as told by Bill Curry

Friday, November 24, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 13

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Noon:
  • Georgia @ Georgia Tech (ABC): TO HELL WITH GEORGIA
  • Ohio State @ Michigan (FOX): All right, it's hard to think of anything to say about this game that hasn't already been said. If you don't have a rooting interest in any of these other games, this is probably where you want to me. I like Ohio State, but boy howdy is it super dependent on which version shows up.
  • Florida State @ Florida (ESPN): Ugh. Uh, FSU? Florida has looked completely checked out the past two weeks.
  • Indiana @ Purdue (ESPN2): Purdue had a kind of out-of-nowhere result last week with an upset at Iowa, and I like them to continue the trend at home against the Hoosiers.
  • Kansas @ Oklahoma State (FS1): Kansas is capital-B Bad.
  • East Carolina @ Memphis (ESPNU): Unless Memphis isn't awake for this 11 AM local time start, or is just looking ahead to UCF next week, they shouldn't have any issues here.
  • Connecticut @ Cincinnati (ESPNEWS): Ugh. Uh, Cincy?
  • Louisville @ Kentucky (SEC): The Fightin' Lamar Jacksons seek revenge for last year's demoralizing loss, and once again you'd have to predict them to win.
  • Tulane @ Southern Methodist (CBSS): Maybe keep an eye on this one, this could be lit. Though if that happens, that would definitely be in SMU's favor.
12:20: Boston College @ Syracuse (ACC): Boston College figures to continue their late-season surge, while the Orange have been doing pretty much the opposite.

12:30: Duke @ Wake Forest (ACC/RSN): Despite I watched what Duke did to my own team last week, I still like Wake a lot here. They're a better all around team.

3:30:
  • Alabama @ Auburn (CBS): You could pretty much make this a bracket. The winner here plays Georgia in the SEC championship, and the winner there makes it into the playoff. Who will win? Auburn has looked fantastic since they lost to LSU, a string of 30+ point wins in their wake (including demolishing Georgia earlier this month). Bama has, of course, been Bama, but here's the thing: who have they played? Their best win is either LSU or Mississippi State, which isn't quite a Georgia-quality win at this point. I still take the view that you bet against the Tide at your risk, but this is the most vulnerable Alabama team in years.
  • Wisconsin @ Minnesota (ABC): After losing to Northwestern, it's safe to say the boat is pretty much sunk for Minnesota. I like the Badgers to retain the Axe here.
  • Iowa State @ Kansas State (ESPN2): Not technically a rivalry, though it does have a fun nickname ("Farmageddon") and is one of the most played rivalries in the history of college football (8th longest, 100 straight meetings). The Cyclones have been one of the most interesting teams in football, but even K-State got into the act last week by putting an already lethargic Oklahoma State team in a sleeperhold. With the game in the Little Apple, I'm leaning slightly toward the home team.
  • North Carolina @ North Carolina State (ESPNU): UNC's lost season figures to come to a merciful end.
  • Pennsylvanian State @ Maryland (BTN): Maryland is feisty this year, but it hasn't often translated into wins, a trend that figures to continue against the Nittany Lions.
3:45: West Virginia @ Oklahoma (ESPN): West Virginia isn't especially good this year, but they're still dangerous enough to wreck Oklahoma's chances of making the playoff. I'm not going to predict that, but there's a chance.

4:00:
  • Michigan State @ Rutgers (FOX): Rutgers is better this year, but... nah.
  • Northwestern @ Illinois (FS1): Northwestern.
  • Temple @ Tulsa (ESPNEWS): Temple.
  • Vanderbilt @ Tennessee (SEC): Should I predict that Tennessee will finish its first ever winless SEC season with a loss here? Eh, why the hell not, let's do this.
4:30: Arizona @ Arizona State (Pac12): As usual, Khalil Tate figures to just be too much for the Sun Devils. Take advantage of the opportunity to watch this if you get Pac-12 Network.

7:00: Oregon State @ Oregon (ESPN2): The Civil War has a reputation, but I don't think an Oregon State team that is winless against FBS teams is much of a threat for the Ducks.

7:30:
  • Clemson @ South Carolina (ESPN): These Gamecocks are improved, sure, but of their five SEC wins, three of them have come against teams that have fired their coach. Clemson has looked more like Clemson of recent weeks, and so I don't think they'll have issues here.
  • Texas-San Antonio @ Louisiana Tech (ESPNU): Looking over these two teams' records, I'm actually leaning toward UTSA a little bit. I didn't figure on that, but here we are.
  • Texas A&M @ Louisiana State (SEC): With the reports that Sumlin is out regardless of the result of this game, I'd have to guess that they might be a little bit flat. I like LSU here.
8:00:
  • Washington State @ Washington (FOX): Well, the Apple Cup isn't quite as hype as we thought it'd be when both of these teams were undefeated, but this still figures to be a lot of fun. Wazzu can still make it to Santa Clara with a win, but I think the Huskies are a better team and they always have an edge at home.
  • Notre Dame @ Stanford (ABC): Speaking of taking advantage of a time slot to watch Khalil Tate, you can even see Bryce Love in primetime on broadcast television! That said, Notre Dame is a better all-around team than Stanford is this year. This figures to not be a good look for the Pac-12, especially if Washington wins the Apple Cup (and Stanford proceeds to the Pac-12 title game on tiebreakers).
9:00: Brigham Young @ Hawaii (CBSS): BYU, but avoid this unless you really need video footage from somewhere sunny and warm right now.

10:00: Colorado @ Utah (FS1): It's not only the Battle of the Rockies, it's the Battle of Last Place Teams In the Pac-12 South. Nonetheless, Utah's the better team, they've just had some bad luck this year. I like the Utes here.

10:15: Utah State @ Air Force (ESPN2): Air Force just, well, hasn't been good this year. I don't figure that will change with this game.