Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Evaluating the BCS Bowls

In the BCS' present arrangement, four of the "traditional" bowl games and a national championship game are labeled "BCS bowls" — in what passes for a playoff series — although only the top two teams in the BCS rankings at the end of the season compete for the national title.

This season, the finalists are Florida and Oklahoma. They will face each other in Miami on Jan. 8.

I broke down that matchup (to a degree) the other day and I'll have more to say about it in the coming weeks.

Today, I would like to evaluate the other four games.

Fiesta Bowl
Monday, Jan. 5
8 p.m. (EST), FOX

Texas (11-1, #3 in BCS) vs. Ohio State (10-2, #10 in BCS) — Some pro-Texas theorists have been coming up with wildly improbable scenarios that will bend the time/space continuum until it snaps like a dry twig.

In reality, though, the best Texas can hope for is to beat Ohio State and finish the season second behind either Florida or Oklahoma.

The Buckeyes and the Longhorns should be fairly familiar foes. They faced each other in high-profile nonconference games in 2005 and 2006. Texas won the first meeting, 25-22, and Ohio State won the second, 24-7.

Here's how they compare offensively:
  • Texas is 11th in the nation in passing yards per game. Ohio State ranks 104th.

  • But Ohio State, behind the running of Chris Wells, has the statistical edge in rushing yards. The Buckeyes are 28th. The Longhorns are 34th.

  • In points per game, there's no comparison. Texas is fifth in the nation, averaging 43.9 points per game. Ohio State is 45th, averaging 28.2 points per game.
Well, we knew Texas was putting up some good numbers on offense.

On the defensive side of the ball,
  • Both teams have done a pretty good job of keeping opponents from scoring, but Ohio State has the advantage. The Buckeyes are seventh in the country, giving up an average of 13.1 points per game. The Longhorns are 21st in the nation, allowing 18.6 points per game.

  • The Texas defense is ranked second in the nation in rushing defense, which is bad news for the Ohio State offense. The Buckeyes' run defense is pretty good, too, with a national ranking of 20th.

  • Ohio State's pass defense (with Kurt Coleman, tied for 35th in the country in interceptions) is ranked sixth in the nation, which is bad news for the Texas offense and Colt McCoy. Texas' pass defense is 110th in the country — which is comparable to the OSU pass offense.

  • Total defense belongs to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are ranked eighth in the country. The Longhorns are ranked 50th.
If Texas plays like it did when it still had hope of playing in the Big 12 title game, I think the Longhorns can handle the Buckeyes.

But, if Texas can't shake off the disappointment of not being in the national championship game, I think Ohio State can win the game.

The schools played no common opponents.

Orange Bowl
Thursday, Jan. 1
8 p.m. (EST), FOX

Cincinnati (11-2, #12 in BCS) vs. Virginia Tech (9-4, #19 in BCS) — The last time the schools met was two years ago, in September 2006. Virginia Tech won, 29-13.

From a TV ratings perspective, the game has very little to recommend it — certainly not when compared to the Florida-Oklahoma blockbuster that will be played in Miami a week later. But it will have the evening time slot to itself. The Orange Bowl will be the only game being played on New Year's Night.

How do they match up?
  • Cincinnati is ranked 24th in the country in passing yardage (with Tony Pike, who is 29th in the nation in passing efficiency). Virginia Tech is 112th.

  • But Tech has the edge in rushing yardage. Tech ranks 42nd. Cincinnati is 94th.

  • Neither team has been lighting up the scoreboard. Cincinnati is 51st in points per game. Tech is 89th.
Something tells me not to expect a high-scoring affair, although you never know. Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard is 18th in the nation in all-purpose yardage.

On defense,
  • Virginia Tech is 13th in the nation in points allowed per game. Cincinnati isn't bad, ranked 27th.

  • Both teams enjoyed success stopping the run this season. Cincinnati ranks 13th in run defense. Virginia Tech ranks 19th.

  • Virginia Tech is 15th in the nation in defending against the pass, thanks in part to Victor Harris, who tied for fifth in the nation in interceptions. Cincinnati is 68th.

  • Virginia Tech is seventh in the nation in total defense. Cincinnati is 26th.
Virginia Tech's fate may depend upon how well the pass defense can stop Pike.

The schools played no common opponents this year, although one of Cincinnati's losses was to Oklahoma in September.

Michigan beat Stanford in the first Rose Bowl, 49-0.

Rose Bowl
Thursday, Jan. 1
5 p.m. (EST), ABC

Penn State (11-1, #8 in BCS) vs. USC (11-1, #5 in BCS) — This will be the second time that USC and Penn State have faced each other in the Rose Bowl. The first time they played was on Jan. 1, 1923, in the official dedication of the Rose Bowl stadium.

The two schools took on two common opponents during the 2008 regular season. One was Oregon State. Penn State won its game with OSU easily, 45-14, in early September, but three weeks later, OSU beat USC, 27-21.

The other common opponent was a high-profile foe that both Penn State and USC defeated — Ohio State. USC beat the Buckeyes, 35-3, and Penn State won, 13-6.

On offense,
  • USC ranks 31st in in passing yardage (with Mark Sanchez ranked 13th in passing efficiency). Penn State ranks 35th (with Daryll Clark ranked 23rd in passing efficiency).

  • It's even closer in rushing yardage. Penn State ranks 15th (led by Evan Royster, who rates 25th in rushing). USC ranks 17th.

  • The teams have put up comparable numbers when it comes to scoring — reflecting, I suppose, how close they were to each other in rushing and passing. Penn State is 11th in points per game. USC is 14th.
With two teams that rank in the top 15 in points per game, I'd expect to see a lot of scoring in Pasadena.

Who has the edge in defense?

Well, numerically, the edge belongs to USC, the #1 team in the nation in many defensive categories. But Penn State has had a pretty solid year in defense as well.
  • USC was the stingiest team in the nation when it came to giving up points. The Trojans allowed only 7.8 points per game. But Penn State was fourth in the nation, allowing only 12.4 points per game.

  • USC has a narrow edge in rushing defense. The Trojans are ranked fifth. The Nittany Lions are ranked eighth.

  • Perhaps the most distinct defensive advantage belongs to USC in the category of pass defense. USC ranks first in the nation while Penn State is 12th.

  • And USC is first in the nation in total defense. Penn State is fifth.
Both conferences are considered lacking when compared to the Big 12 and the Southeastern conferences, but these two teams seem to be well matched and could provide the most competitive of the major bowls.

Sugar Bowl
Friday, Jan. 2
8 p.m. (EST), FOX

Alabama (12-1, #4 in BCS) vs. Utah (12-0, #6 in BCS) — If you're not a fan of the passing game, this might be the game for you.

  • In passing offense, Utah ranks 41st (even so, Brian Johnson ranks 18th in passing efficiency). Alabama ranks 96th.

  • In rushing offense, Alabama is 23rd (Glen Coffee is 21st in the country in rushing). Utah is 41st.

  • In points per game, Utah is 15th. Alabama is 30th.
On defense, both teams rank pretty highly, although I think that probably means more in Alabama's case than Utah's.

The Southeastern Conference is simply superior to the Mountain West.
  • In points allowed per game, Alabama is sixth. Utah is 12th.

  • In rushing defense, Alabama is fourth in the nation. Utah is 14th.

  • In pass defense, Alabama is 21st (Rashad Johnson shares 31st in interceptions). Utah is 40th (but Sean Smith is tied for 21st in interceptions).

  • And in total defense, Alabama is third. Utah is 18th.
The teams faced no common opponents this season.

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