Saturday's Bowl Action
December 29, 2012
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AIR FORCE FALCONS (6-6) at RICE OWLS (6-6)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Air Force -3 & 61.5
Opening Line & Total: Falcons -1.5 & 61
Two excellent rushing offenses duel in Fort Worth, TX on Saturday when Air Force and Rice meet in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Air Force ranks second in the nation with 329 rushing YPG, while Rice has 220 rushing YPG, good for 16th in FBS. The Falcons have been slumping though, losing three of four SU and seven of eight ATS, while the Owls have won four straight SU and five of six ATS. Air Force, which is led by RB Cody Getz (110 rush YPG, 20th in nation), has allowed just six sacks all year, tied for the fewest in the nation. Rice's dual-threat QB Taylor McHargue has 2,178 passing yards and 628 rushing yards, scoring 11 touchdowns in each method of attack. This should be a close game throughout, but Rice is playing much better down the stretch, against what appears to be similar competition. The Falcons were stomped in their last game, 48-15, by the same Fresno State team that just got humiliated by an SMU team that lost 36-14 at Rice two games ago. Also, Air Force does not historically bounce back from large defeats, going 7-25 ATS (22%) off a double-digit conference loss since 1992.
Air Force might literally run the football every down, just like it did on Nov. 16, when it topped Hawaii 21-7. The Falcons average 63 rushing attempts per game, gaining 5.2 yards per carry. They throw the football only 12 times per game, but are pretty efficient in doing so with 9.3 YPA. QB Connor Dietz has thrown for 1,127 yards, 8 TD and 3 INT this season. The top rusher for Air Force is senior RB Cody Getz, who has 1,213 rushing yards and 9 TD this year despite playing in just 10 games. He already has three 200-yard rushing outputs this season.
Rice is the second-youngest team in FBS, which is a big reason it started the season slow (1-5 SU) and finished strong (5-1 SU), capped off by a bowl-clinching 33-24 win at UTEP. The Owls are perfectly capable of both running (201 YPG) and throwing (220 YPG) on offense, and QB Taylor McHargue has been outstanding during the team's four-game win streak, completing 64-of-98 passes for 843 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT. Rice has scored 40.5 PPG on 432 total YPG in these four games and has 31.7 PPG and 421 total YPG for the season. Senior RB Charles Ross is coming off a career-best performance against UTEP, rushing for 154 yards and 2 TD. The Owls defense is not great by any stretch, giving up 444 total YPG, 251 YPG through the air and 193 YPG on the ground, ranking 94th in FBS in rushing defense.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (7-5) at SYRACUSE ORANGE (7-5)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: West Virginia -3.5 (-115) & 73.5
Opening Line & Total: Mountaineers -4 & 73.5
Former Big East rivals meet for the 58th consecutive year when West Virginia and Syracuse tussle at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
These teams have played every year since 1955, with Syracuse holding a 31-26 series advantage during this span, including a 49-23 crushing last year. Orange QB Ryan Nassib scored 5 TD (4 pass, 1 rush) in that win, while West Virginia star QB Geno Smith was held to 304 total yards, 2 TD and 2 INT. Both seniors have put up big numbers in 2012, with Nassib throwing for 302 YPG, 24 TD and 9 INT, while Smith is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency with 4,004 passing yards (334 YPG), 40 TD and just 6 INT. But WVU has the second-worst pass defense in the nation (327 YPG). Although West Virginia travels very well, there will more than likely be a much larger throng of Orange fans, as Syracuse bills itself as New York's college team. But more important that fan base is the fact that the Orange defense is far superior than WVU's unit that has surrendered 50+ points five times this season. And although Syracuse is prone to committing penalties, Dana Holgorsen is 0-6 ATS versus teams with 60+ penalty yards per game since he took over as the West Virginia head coach.
West Virginia will be playing in its 11th straight bowl, destroying Clemson in last year's Orange Bowl, 70-33, behind 407 passing yards and 6 TD from Geno Smith. He's also coming off a monster game against Kansas in the regular-season finale, when he completed 23-of-24 passes for 407 yards and 3 TD in a 59-10 blowout. Although Smith has set all kinds of school records in his career (11,461 pass yds, 96 TD), he has been terrible versus Syracuse, throwing 3 TD and 5 INT while taking nine sacks during two straight defeats in this series. Smith's favorite target is 5-foot-10 WR Stedman Bailey, who leads the nation with 23 TD grabs and gains 125 receiving yards per game. The Mountaineers are also a strong rushing team, averaging 178 rushing YPG on 4.9 YPC. Defensively, WVU continues to struggle mightily, allowing 38.1 PPG (9th-most in FBS) and 470 total YPG.
Syracuse has played outstanding football in the second half of the season, going 5-1 (SU and ATS) including wins over Louisville at home and road victories at South Florida, Missouri and Temple. Nassib's school-record 3,619 passing yards rank 10th in the nation, while his 8.1 YPA is also impressive. Nassib threw for 239 yards and 3 TD in his first Pinstripe Bowl appearance two years ago, a 36-34 victory over Kansas State. Although short-yardage back Adonis Ameen-Moore (5 TD in six game), was suspended for violating team rules, the Orange are still a decent rushing offense, piling up 173 rushing YPG on 4.2 YPC this year. On the defensive side of the ball, LB Marquis Spruill will not play the full four quarters as punishment for getting into an altercation with police on Dec. 2. For the season, Syracuse allows 25.7 PPG and 385 total YPG, limiting opponents to just 148 YPG on the ground (4.1 YPC).
NAVY MIDSHIPMEN (8-4) vs. ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (7-5)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Arizona State -14 & 56
Opening Line & Total: Sun Devils -14.5 & 56
A pair of surging teams will clash on Saturday afternoon when Navy and Arizona take part in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
The Midshipmen are 7-1 SU (3-5 ATS) since October, while Arizona State has dropped four of six (SU and ATS), but with wins in each of its past two contests. Navy ranks sixth in the nation in rushing yards (285 YPG) thanks to the triple-option, while Arizona State's fast-paced offense directed by sophomore QB Taylor Kelly (267 total YPG, 25 TD, 9 INT) scores 36.4 points per game (3rd in Pac-12). Neither team is very successful in the postseason, as Navy is just 1-4 in bowl games since 2006 and Arizona State has lost six of its past eight bowls, including three in a row by a scoring margin of 22.3 PPG. These teams appear much closer than the spread would indicate, especially in the second half of the season where Navy has been playing much better. The Midshipmen also have two big anti-ASU trends in their favor: The Sun Devils are 2-10 ATS after playing a game where 60+ total points were scored in the past two seasons, and favorites of 10.5 to 21 points off an upset win over a conference rival as an underdog, with a winning record on the season playing another winning team, are just 11-34 ATS (24%) since 1992.
Navy has been winning most of its games comfortably, but it had to come from behind to top rival Army 17-13 in its last game on Dec. 8. Navy has attempted just 160 passes this season (13.3 per game), but QB Keenan Reynolds was still able to throw for 884 yards, 8 TD and 1 INT. Reynolds would prefer to use his legs though, rushing for 588 yards in the past seven games and scoring his team-high 10th rushing TD of the season as the game-winner against Army. The Midshipmen ground game is also steered by RB Gee Gee Greene (team-high 765 rush yds) and FB Noah Copeland, who has 209 yards and 3 TD in his past two contests. Navy has to be concerned with ASU's potent passing offense, as it surrendered 705 passing yards combined to Troy and Texas State before facing run-heavy Army. For the season, Navy allows 23.5 PPG and 386 total YPG (226 passing, 161 rushing).
Arizona State also had a thrilling victory in its regular season finale on Nov. 23, erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat rival Arizona 41-34. Taylor Kelly is a heady quarterback, throwing for 8.2 YPA (2nd in Pac-12), while completing 66% of his passes (3rd in conference). He also knows how to run with the football as one of four teammates that gained more than 400 yards on the ground. RB Marion Grice was the star in the win over Arizona, galloping for a career-high 156 yards and 3 TD, giving him 17 total TD this season. Kelly does a nice job spreading the wealth in the passing game as six different Sun Devils players have 300+ receiving yards. TE Chris Coyle is the main man with 53 grabs for 659 yards. The Midshipmen triple-option attack could be especially troublesome to an Arizona State defense giving up at least 200 rushing yards to four of its past six opponents. For the season, the Sun Devils allow a nearly equal number of yards in the air (179 YPG, 5.6 YPA) and on the ground (172 YPG, 4.1 YPC).
OREGON STATE BEAVERS (9-3) vs. TEXAS LONGHORNS (8-4)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Oregon State -3 & 57.5
Opening Line & Total: Beavers -2 & 56
Texas looks to stop a two-game slide when it stays close to home for Saturday's Alamo Bowl versus Oregon State.
Neither team is playing particularly well as Oregon State has alternated wins and losses in each of the past seven games, while Texas finished the year getting outscored 62 to 37 during a two-game losing skid. Both teams have injury concerns to key offensive starters, but it appears that most (if not all) will play. Mack Brown has chosen to start David Ash (8.6 YPA, 17 TD, 7 INT) coming off a ribs injury at quarterback, instead of going with Case McCoy (9.5 YPA, 6 TD, 3 INT). Beavers QB Sean Mannion has thrown for 220+ yards in every full game, but he also tossed 4 INT in his last game versus an FBS team (Oregon). That poor showing was partly why Mike Riley (5-1 SU bowl record) announced that Cody Vaz will start under center on Saturday. Although this will be a very pro-Texas crowd in San Antonio, a mere 90-minute drive from the Austin campus, Oregon State is simply the better team here. The Beavers have already beaten Wisconsin, UCLA, BYU and Arizona State this year, while losing by just four points at Stanford. The Longhorns' best wins are Oklahoma State (a game they should have lost with a blown fumble call at the goal line), Baylor and Texas Tech. Texas is just 5-15 ATS (25%) versus teams that score 31+ PPG in the past three seasons, and Oregon State is 9-1 ATS when the line is +3 to -3 in this same timeframe.
Texas has usually played well in bowl games under Mack Brown, going 9-4 since he arrived in Austin. And the offense has also clicked this season with 36.1 PPG on 441 total YPG. The sophomore Ash has been very accurate this season, completing 68% of his passes, and he'll need to be very careful with his throws against a talented Beavers secondary. Texas has turned the ball over just 15 times this season, but seven have come during the two straight losses, including five interceptions. With former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin leaving Texas to coach Arkansas State, Major Applewhite will be calling the plays on Saturday. He'll have no qualms trying to run the football as his team averages 179 rushing YPG on 4.7 YPC this season. The Texas defense has been repeatedly burned this year, but has made great strides in the past five games with 21.6 PPG and 328 total YPG allowed, which is a huge improvement from the 35.0 PPG and 472 total YPG it surrendered in the season's first seven contests.
Oregon State tied the largest win improvement in the country this year, going from three wins last year to nine victories in 2012. This tripled win total has been even more impressive considering the flux the Beavers have had at the quarterback position with Sean Mannion (knee) and Cody Vaz (ankle) both suffering significant injuries. Both players were nearly perfect in the team's season finale versus Nicholls State, a 77-3 pounding. Mannion connected on 20-of-23 throws for 231 yards (10.0 YPA) and 2 TD, while Vaz was 14-of-17 for 190 yards (11.2 YPA) and 3 TD. Despite the interchanging parts, OSU still posted 33.0 PPG and 316 passing YPG (8.0 YPA) for the season. Much of that had to do with WR Markus Wheaton, whose 101 receiving YPG placed him 11th in the nation. Defensively, the Beavers are very skilled, and love making plays on the ball. They forced 30 turnovers this season (T-12th in FBS), including 19 interceptions (T-6th in nation).
TCU HORNED FROGS (7-5) vs. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (6-6)
SSportsbook.ag Line & Total: TCU -3 & 40
Opening Line & Total: Horned Frogs -2.5 & 41.5
In what figures to be a defensive struggle with the Over/Under set at 40, TCU and Michigan State square off in Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, AZ.
These are similar teams in terms of defense and success away from home. TCU allows just 332 total YPG (18th in nation), while Michigan State gives up only 273 total YPG (4th in FBS). The Horned Frogs were 5-1 SU (3-3 ATS) in non-home games, while the Spartans went 4-1 (SU and ATS) outside of East Lansing, holding these teams to just 13.8 PPG. Offensively, MSU revolves around RB Le'Veon Bell (137 rush YPG, 3rd in nation), while TCU is trying to get its offense in gear after scoring just 15.7 PPG on 308 total YPG in the past three contests. Other than a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame, the Spartans have been in every contest, losing by 1 point to undefeated Ohio State, by 2 at Michigan, by 3 to Northwestern and Iowa and by 4 points to Nebraska. TCU's five losses have come by an average of 11.8 PPG, with only one defeat occurring by less than seven points. And despite the Horned Frogs recent bowl success, they are 0-4 ATS in the past four postseason games.
TCU has had a roller coaster season both on and off the field, most notably starting QB Casey Pachall quitting the team after four games to check into an inpatient program after an alleged DWI in early October. Freshman Trevone Boykin replaced him and managed a mediocre 15 TD and 9 INT, to go along with a solid 380 rushing yards. The Horned Frogs average 29.3 PPG and 397 total YPG (8th in Big 12), but those numbers are pretty poor compared to most pass-happy, soft defensive teams that are part of TCU's new conference. The team ranked last in the conference with 3.9 rushing yards per carry. On the flip side, the Frogs defense was very impressive considering the Big 12 style of play. They allowed 228 passing YPG, but just 6.7 YPA, and held opponents to 104 rushing YPG on 3.3 YPC. Freshman DE Devonte Fields was even better than advertised, chalking up nine sacks and 17.5 Tackles For Loss.
Michigan State's offense has struggled all year, posting just 20.2 PPG and 5.0 yards per play. The Spartans have shown good balance though with 219 passing YPG and 152 rushing YPG. But junior QB Andrew Maxwell hasn't been nearly as effective as last year's signal caller, current Redskins QB Kirk Cousins. Maxwell completed just 52.9% of his passes (last in Big Ten) and wound up with only 13 TD and 9 INT. But he hasn't needed to be great with RB Le'Veon Bell as his teammate. Bell is coming off a career-high 266 rushing yards in the season finale at Minnesota, where he scored his 11th TD of the 2012 campaign. Michigan State's rushing defense is rather impressive, allowing a mere 100 rushing YPG on just 3.3 YPC. Opponents scored a paltry five rushing touchdowns all season, which tied for the second-fewest in the nation behind top-ranked Notre Dame (2 rushing TD allowed). The Spartans defense is led by three all-conference selections in LB Max Bullough and DBs Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard.