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.