Thursday's Bowl Action
December 24, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Matchup: Bowling Green (10-3 SU, 10-3 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6 SU, 4-7-1 ATS)
Venue: Ford Field
Location: Detroit, MI
Time/TV: 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
The reward for Bowling Green for winning the MAC championship and saving the BCS from having to include Northern Illinois for a second straight season is a trip back to Detroit where the MAC title game was played nearly three weeks ago. With the successful season for Bowling Green, excellent head coach Dave Clawson was hired away to take over at Wake Forest. For this bowl game special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Adam Scheier will lead the Falcons. Eastern Illinois head coach Dino Babers has been hired to take over the Bowling Green program moving forward as there will likely be a complete turnover of the staff with many of Clawson’s assistants following him to Winston-Salem.
After an embarrassing bowl showing last season, losing by 21 against Mississippi in the Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh should be motivated for a better showing this season. In now nearly two seasons led by former Wisconsin assistant Paul Chryst the Panthers have had great inconsistency, delivering a few big wins but also losing several games the program should be expected to win. The Panthers are just 6-6 on the season but the schedule did include nine games against teams that are in bowl games. Pittsburgh won on the road against ACC finalist Duke and also beat Notre Dame and outside of the opening loss to Florida State the Panthers were mostly competitive in every game with several close defeats.
Comparing the statistics between these teams reveals massive edges for Bowling Green on both sides of the ball with the Falcons averaging 6.7 yards per play on offense and surrendering just 4.8 yards per play on defense. Pittsburgh finished with negative net yards per play for the season and the Falcons closed the season by out-gaining each of the last five opponents by at least 120 yards and that included three MAC bowl teams. Bowling Green figures to hold a substantial rushing edge in this matchup but a Falcons team that is 10-3 ATS on the season may be facing an inflated spread, especially given the challenges of the coaching transition and the poor recent bowl track record for teams from the MAC.
While few of the players or coaches were involved, Bowling Green upset Pittsburgh the last time these teams met. That game opened up the 2008 season with Bowling Green winning by 10 as a two-touchdown underdog. Since 2007 Bowling Green is on a 34-15-1 ATS run in non-home games including going 14-3 ATS in the last 17 instances as a favorite away from home. Bowling Green also went 8-2 ATS as a favorite in any venue this season. Pittsburgh is 20-12-1 ATS as an underdog since 2007 though the Panthers are just 2-3 ATS in that role this season with just one S/U win as an underdog.
Matchup: Utah State (8-5 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS)
Venue: Qualcomm Stadium
Location: San Diego, CA
Time/TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
While there is certainly disappointment for Northern Illinois after coming so close to an undefeated season and a second straight BCS spot, a trip to San Diego is not a bad consolation especially given the recent temperatures in the Midwest. The Huskies won’t have the coaching change distraction they had in last season’s blowout bowl loss in the Orange Bowl. Given the dominant success that Florida State has had this season that 21-point loss for the Huskies does not look quite so damaging. Current head coach Rod Carey led the Huskies in that game so he has bowl experience and should have his team ready to play to close out a still very successful season for the MAC powerhouse. Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch will also be playing in his final collegiate game, finishing with remarkable career numbers.
Utah State is another program that had to deal with the loss of a head coach after last season and while this season’s results fell short of last season’s success, it was a solid season given the transition for first year head coach Matt Wells to a new conference and the mid-season injury of do-everything quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Utah State won its division in its first season in the Mountain West and lost narrowly to Fresno State in the conference championship game to sit at 8-5 overall on the season. Utah State only defeated three teams that are in bowl games but respect is warranted for narrow losses on the road against two Pac-12 teams, Utah and USC. Replacing Keeton was the huge challenge of the season and after some early struggles Darell Garretson led the team to wins in five of the final six games though with some inconsistency. He injured his hand in the MWC championship but he is expected to start this game.
Statistically Utah State has been vastly superior on defense with an impressive run defense that allowed just 2.8 yards per rush. While it has been a very good defense, facing a lot of pass heavy teams in the Mountain West may skew the numbers a bit against the run. Northern Illinois is incredibly posting 7.0 yards per play this season as one of the top offenses in the nation. Led by Lunch the Huskies have gained 6.6 yards per rush this season while averaging over 312 yards per game on the ground. The Northern Illinois defense has been shaky at times this season however, surrendering 424 yards per game on 5.6 yards per play, a full yard worse than Utah State averaged with the Aggies facing a slightly stronger schedule.
These teams have not met since 1995, a game Utah State won easily at home. Northern Illinois is actually just 3-10-1 ATS in neutral site games since 2005 with limited success in bowl opportunities despite the great overall run for the program. The Huskies are 20-12-3 ATS as a favorite of seven or fewer points since 1999 though by kickoff the Huskies may end up as a slight underdog. The Huskies are just 6-6 ATS the last 12 games when getting points. Utah State is 11-3 ATS the last 14 non-home games and the Aggies have been on a great run as an underdog going 19-8 ATS since 2009. Utah State is just 6-11 ATS since 2006 in closely lined games with a spread of three or less in either direction however.