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Next up Michigan as Big 10 continues to roll

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had a big night for the Badgers.
© USA Today Sports Images

Penn State and Wisconsin extended a rousing postseason for the Big 10 with wins in the Fiesta and Orange Bowls. Saturday football recaps and New Year’s previews on this special Sunday edition of VSiN City.

Fiesta Bowl: Penn State survives flashbacks in what should have been a rout of Washington

Penn State had jumped to a 28-7 second quarter lead on Washington, with a total yardage edge of approximately infinity to 80. Things were going so well. Surely, there was no way the Nittany Lions would blow THIS lead…the way they blew a 42-27 third quarter lead to USC in last year’s Rose Bowl to USC…or leads of 21-3 in the second quarter, and 35-20 in the fourth quarter this season to Ohio State.

Penn State would only score one more touchdown despite continuing to move the ball. It had to sweat a last minute-possession before extending the Big 10’s undefeated bowl run.  

Penn State (-3) 35, Washington 28

Yards-per-Play: Washington 6.0, Penn State 6.9

Total Yardage: Washington 331, Penn State 545

Third Down Pct: Washington 53%, Penn State 76%

Turnovers: Washington 1, Penn State 3

Rushing Yards: Washington 104, Penn State 203

Passing Stats: Washington 19-29-0-227, Penn State 32-41-2-342

TD Drive Lengths: Washington 75-33-80-78, Penn State 83-64-76-93-70

Huge numbers for Penn State. But good enough numbers for the Huskies playing from behind that the dog was always within striking distance in the second half. Penn State’s three turnovers (plus a missed field goal) kept it from maximizing those 545 yards. Very tough to convert 13 of 17 third downs yet still have to sweat the ending! There was actually some déjà vu’ here from Penn State/Iowa as well. At least for us boxscore whisperers. Penn State had to sweat that ending, despite a 579-273 edge in total yardage. Penn State lost turnovers in that one too, while missing two field goals. If they can clean up some of the leaks, this program very quickly becomes National Championship material. But some of the misdirection, and schematic trick-eration in this offense may prevent the elimination of turnovers. It’s an approach that can rally from behind, or blow big leads. 

This year, it led to an 11-2 record that went 8-4-1 against the spread. Washington fell to 10-3 straight up and 7-6 ATS, failing to build on the promise of last year’s Final Four berth. 

With Penn State’s win, the Big 10 would carry a perfect 6-0 record (5-1 ATS) into Saturday’s prime time telecast of the Orange Bowl.

Orange Bowl: Wisconsin fell behind early 14-3, won the rest of the game 31-10

Still perfect for the conference with a chip on its shoulder. Wisconsin was sharper and cleaner, despite allowing a few big plays to the host Hurricanes.

Wisconsin (-6.5) 34, Miami 24

Yards-per-Play: Wisconsin 5.1, Miami 6.3

Total Yardage: Wisconsin 400, Miami 377

Third Down Pct: Wisconsin 47%, Miami 20%

Turnovers: Wisconsin 1, Miami 3

Rushing Yards: Wisconsin 142, Miami 174

Passing Stats: Wisconsin 23-34-0-258, Miami 11-26-3-203

TD Drive Lengths: Wisconsin 23-71-62-75, Miami 75-45-46

While 6.3 is better than 5.1 in yards-per-play, that can all be erased in dramatic fashion if the lower number is moving the chains and protecting the ball…while the higher number is moving in fits and starts between turnovers. That point has certainly been driven home by our college football coverage this season. Wisconsin was sharper, after a early-game hiccup that dug a temporary hole.

Wisconsin finishes the season with a lucky 13 wins and only one loss. The Badgers were 9-5 ATS. Miami slumps home to 10-3 straight up (5-7 ATS) after winning its first 10 games. 

The Big 10 is still undefeated at 7-0 (6-1 ATS), with only Michigan left on the schedule Monday vs. South Carolina. The SEC is 3-1 ATS, with entries in all five New Year’s Day games. More on those after a quick recap of Saturday’s two appetizers. 

College Bowls: Earlier Saturday, upsets in the TaxSlayer and Liberty bowls

Before the Big 10 barrage, a pair of exciting upsets on the Saturday card. 

Mississippi State (plus 7) 31, Louisville 27

Yards-per-Play: Louisville 5.1, Mississippi State 5.4

Total Yardage: Louisville 358, Mississippi State 404

Third Down Pct: Louisville 25%, Mississippi State 47%

Turnovers: Louisville 4, Mississippi State 3

Rushing Yards: Louisville 187, Mississippi State 277

Passing Stats: Louisville 13-31-4-171, Mississippi State 11-20-1-127

TD Drive Lengths: Louisville 51-74-88, Mississippi State 56-79-22-65

This was the first straight up win for the SEC in the bowls, though the conference moved to 75% against the spread with Mississippi State’s outright victory. Kentucky and Texas A&M both covered as underdogs Friday. Pretty clean upset up and down the boxscore, though the difference-maker was a cheap TD drive. State was using a backup quarterback. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson may have hurt his draft stock more than Sam Darnold did the night before. Horrible stats, particularly for a TD favorite. Those four interceptions stick out…but the poor overall accuracy and third down conversion rate should as well. An amazing athlete. And, you can at least teach decision-making at the next level. A step backwards this season, from what was already the typically disappointing “Vince Young career path.” Mississippi State finishes the season 9-4 straight up, 8-5 against the spread. They also gave Alabama quite a thrill. Louisville falls to 8-5, but was 5-8 against inflated market expectations…with this result a metaphor for its season. Cards were favored in 11 of those 13 games. 

Iowa State (plus 4) 21, Memphis 20

Yards-per-Play: Iowa State 4.3, Memphis 5.7

Total Yardage: Iowa State 346, Memphis 339

Third Down Pct: Iowa State 41%, Memphis 25%

Turnovers: Iowa State 1, Memphis 0

Rushing Yards: Iowa State 32, Memphis 53

Passing Stats: Iowa State 24-38-0-314, Memphis 21-33-0-286

TD Drive Lengths: Iowa State 65-55-85, Memphis 40-66

More evidence that respected mid-majors would rate in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. South Florida went down to the wire with Texas Tech. Memphis did the same with Iowa State, though this was on its home field. Both of those teams went down to the wire on the road at Central Florida. Central Florida is getting plus 9.5 from Auburn (though could pull an upset of Auburn isn’t emotionally invested after finishing with Alabama and Georgia its past two games). Auburn would be about that price over Iowa State or Texas Tech (more vs. Tech) on a neutral field. Ergo…if you’re arguing that Central Florida deserved more consideration for the Final Four because of an undefeated record…you’re arguing that a team of Iowa State’s caliber should be allowed into the Final Four if it happened to flee its conference and go 12-0 against lesser lights. In terms of the Liberty Bowl…neither team could run the ball. Iowa State was able to pass its way down the field at a little more than four yards-per-play. That helped the Cyclones win play count 80-59. They were able to finish three TD drives, compared to just two for the hosts. The Big 12 is 5-2 straight up in bowls heading into champion Oklahoma’s big game Monday. Iowa State was a dream for bettors this season, finishing 11-1-1 against the spread on an 8-5 straight up record. Memphis also has a lot to be proud of, 10-3 straight up and 7-5-1 ATS. 

College Football Bowls: “Market Watch” for New Year’s action, including Final Four

We’re running these for you today because our Monday morning report will be jam-packed with NFL results from Sunday’s full schedule. Please watch VSiN programming through the weekend for live market updates direct from the sports betting capital of the world. (Note that weather isn’t expected to be much of a factor Monday, though it might be breezy in Tampa and Orlando.)

Outback Bowl (in Tampa, FL)

Opening Line: Michigan -8.5 vs. South Carolina, total of 43

Current Line: Michigan -7.5 vs. South Carolina, total of 42.5

We’ve got clear bookends in this one. Sharps liked South Carolina at plus 8 or better earlier in this weeks-long betting session. The line gradually dropped all the way to Michigan -7 on Friday. That’s when Wolverine money started hitting the board (both sharp and public). We’re seeing Michigan -7.5 at publication deadlines. Plenty of time between now and Monday morning for that to settle. Barring injury or suspension news, we’ll be probably be hovering just above the key number of seven. Both conferences are getting results. So, any sort of league bandwagons would likely cancel out. Sharps bet numbers rather than teams (as you regulars know). Respected money hits Michigan at -7, South Carolina at plus 8 or more. 

Peach Bowl (in Atlanta, GA)

Opening Line: Auburn -9.5 over Central Florida, total of 63

Current Line: Auburn -10 over Central Florida, total of 67.5

Weekend activity has pushed what had been a largely dormant line at Auburn -9.5 up to the key number of -10…with some stores testing -10.5…and offshore sites with a lot of public clientele even going higher. Possibly a reaction to early SEC point spread results (though it’s the lower-division teams covering as dogs). Or, the fact that Memphis couldn’t win on its home field against Iowa State after pushing UCF to the limit in the AAC Championship game. Some dog interest is likely lying in wait around this price range. Situational veterans like having “the dog with something to prove” against “the favorite that’s disappointed to be in this bowl,” particularly if double digits are involved. Let’s see when the buy back kicks in. We should also mention that the total is way up from the opener. This game will be indoors. 

Citrus Bowl (in Orlando, FL)

Opening Line: LSU -1 over Notre Dame, total of 50

Current Line: LSU -3 over Notre Dame, total of 51.5

Interest in LSU showed very early. The line has been sitting at -3 most of the month. Some stores have moved to LSU -3.5 to see if that brings in Notre Dame money. Others are using an increase in vigorish (charging -120 rather than -110 to bet LSU at -3). Difficult to “love” the Irish the way they closed the season, even with the hook. We’ll have to see if sharp dog lovers jump in at plus 3.5, or wait to see if the public pushes the game all the way to plus 4. Given the strong SEC presence in the Final Four and across the full New Year’s Day schedule, supporters of that conference might be riding the full slate of South Carolina, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama. Sharps skeptical of that conference will be happy to let those tourists create some free half-points or points for them. 

Rose Bowl (in Pasadena, CA)

Opening Line: Oklahoma -1 over Georgia, total of 59

Current Line: Georgia -2.5 over Oklahoma, total of 60

Baker Mayfield’s flu has been influencing the line late in the week. We had already seen a big move that flipped favorites. Once Mayfield’s illness suggested he might not be at 100%, more Georgia money hit. Every percentage point is worth something! OU money might come in strong on game day if Mayfield looks to be recovered, or even if plus 3 comes into play because it’s a key number. If everyone’s healthy, sharps have already established that they like Georgia at -1.5 or better. Sharp moves around pick-em are often correlated to superior defense or other lower-risk advantages at the point of attack. 

Sugar Bowl (in New Orleans, LA)

Opening Line: Clemson -1 over Alabama, total of 47

Current Line: Alabama -3 over Clemson, total of 47

Alabama money also hit early here. Clemson opened as a small favorite off shore. Many stragglers opened Alabama as a short favorite. The line has been Alabama -3 for several days now. Not yet enough buy back on this talented dog. The public loves betting Alabama when it’s cheap, and is already hitting Auburn, LSU, and Georgia in the New Year’s extravaganza. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see -3.5 hit the board…with patient Clemson money happy to grab the hook (or more) if it becomes available. 

Monday is currently positioned to feature a cat-and-mouse game between sharps backing underdogs against the public betting SEC favorites. Oddsmakers are figuring out how much they’re going to loosen the yarn and where they’re going to put the cheese. 

Rose Bowl Stat Preview: Can Baker Mayfield get healthy in time for Oklahoma/Georgia semifinal?

The leads have already been written. If flu-ridden Baker Mayfield can lead the Oklahoma Sooners to victory in their national semifinal against the Georgia Bulldogs Monday afternoon in the Rose Bowl…he’ll be compared to Michael Jordan and all the other star athletes who overcame illness when chasing a championship. If he plays poorly…well, what did you expect? He was sick?

Let’s assume he’ll find away to perform to norms, and crunch the numbers for game one of the Final Four doubleheader. 

Rose Bowl: Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Georgia (12-1) 

Las Vegas Line: Georgia by 2.5, total of 60

Records vs. the Point Spread: Oklahoma 8-5, Georgia 9-4  

Oklahoma was initially the favorite when lines first went up. That was consistent with many respected Power Ratings assessments. Generally speaking, Oklahoma was seen as superior in a neutral field comparison. Matchup handicappers preferred Georgia’s defense, and liked the potential for Georgia’s run-based offense to control the point of attack. 

A quick cut-and-paste from our article in the “VSiN Bowl Guide:”

*Georgia runs 69% of the time, Oklahoma was #40 against the run

Being #40 on in the nation against the run isn’t very good by elite bowl standards. Teams much better than that have been gashed for big gains (Washington ranked #1 in the nation against the run before allowing 203 rushing yards on 5.3 yards-per-carry to Penn State). Perhaps OU matches up better against other contenders than Georgia might. Head-to-head, models see OU’s potential vulnerability against Georgia’s strength to worth an investment around pick-em.

The Bulldogs were bet to a 2-point favorite before Baker Mayfield fell ill. The line is up to Georgia -2.5 since that news broke. Let’s get to our standard indicator stats.  

Yards-per-Play

Georgia: 6.8 on offense, 4.5 on defense (vs. the #30 ranked schedule)

Oklahoma: 8.4 on offense, 5.7 on defense (vs. the #28 ranked schedule)

Similar differentials vs. very similar schedule strengths as rated before the bowls started by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. Oklahoma is plus 2.7, while Georgia is plus 2.3. But we’re talking different scales. Georgia plays smash mouth football, and features a great defense. OU just piles up yardage while a less impressive defense helps run out the clock. Generally, defense is a tie-breaker in matchups like this because the softer defense is less likely to force game-changing turnovers. 

Key Passing Stats 

Georgia: 9.1 yards-per-pass attempt, 21 TD’s, 7 interceptions thrown

Oklahoma: 12.0 yards-per-pass attempt, 44 TD’s, 5 interceptions thrown

You can see why Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy, and why his health is so important. What a juggernaut! And, the Big 12 has held its own in the bowls so far, proving that Mayfield wasn’t just bullying bad teams. Big-time numbers in a big-time conference. Georgia only passes 31% of the time. But the Bulldogs can make very big plays when they do throw. Big YPPA numbers for both. That plus 39 TD/INT ratio for OU dwarfs the plus 14 for Georgia. 

Pass Defense 

Georgia: 5.6 yppa allowed; 13 TD’s allowed, 10 interceptions

Oklahoma: 7.5 yppa allowed; 21 TD’s allowed, 8 interceptions

You can see that OU has the much softer defense. Clearly, the key questions for handicappers to focus on are:

*Can Georgia’s pass defense slow down Mayfield?

*Can OU’s run defense get the Georgia offense off the field?

Worth remembering that Georgia hasn’t seen a lot of quality quarterbacks this season. They did shut down Auburn in the SEC title tilt.

Impact Defense 

Georgia: 33% third down pct-allowed, 18 takeaways, 26 sacks

Oklahoma: 39% third down pct-allowed, 17 takeaways, 24 sacks

Georgia’s more impressive on third downs, and those takeaway and sack counts are more impressive because the Bulldogs don’t play fast break football. Frankly, OU should have A LOT MORE of both takeaways and sacks considering the pace of its games, and how often opponents have to pass from behind. Georgia’s “impact” numbers are disappointing, but they do force punts. OU’s defense gets less scary the more you study it. 

You can see why sharps bet Georgia in advance of the public. That doesn’t mean they’ll win. But the Bulldogs have a lower-risk way to attack OU…one that won’t be present if they advance against the strong rush defenses of either Alabama or Clemson. Mayfield has to have a big game without turnovers to trump those point of attack concerns. 

Sugar Bowl Stat Preview: Round Three of Alabama/Clemson matches modern-day juggernauts

These are the two programs that currently rule college football. They’ve split the last two National Championship games. Today’s winner will play for another. Great coaching. Great defenses. Offenses that understand the risk/reward ratio. The state of the art that everyone else is chasing. 

Sugar Bowl: Clemson (12-1) vs. Alabama (11-1) 

Las Vegas Line: Alabama by 3, total of 47

Records vs. the Point Spread: Clemson 8-4-1, Alabama 5-7  

Alabama’s been favored each of the last two years, and has yet to play to market expectations. 

2016 Championship: Clemson (plus 6) lost to Alabama 45-40

2017 Championship: Clemson (plus 6.5) beat Alabama 35-31 

That’s a combined 76-75 scoreboard win for Alabama. But Deshaun Watson was a college superstar, and he’s no longer at quarterback for Clemson. The main question for handicappers here is whether or not new signal caller Kelly Bryant can at least approximate Watson’s big play magic, within a market context that’s finally adjusted to Clemson’s pedigree. 

Yards-per-Play

Clemson: 6.0 on offense, 4.3 on defense (vs. the #7 ranked schedule)

Alabama: 6.9 on offense, 4.0 on defense (vs. the #55 ranked schedule)

Tricky. At first glance, those look close because it’s six-something and four-something. But Alabama’s differential is a huge plus 2.9, while Clemson’s is only plus 1.7. The problem, of course, is how to adjust for schedule strength. Clemson faced Auburn (and South Carolina) out of conference, while also playing in the tougher half of the ACC. Alabama was in the fading SEC. Safe to assume Alabama is still superior after schedule adjustments, probably by something consistent with the point spread. 

Key Passing Stats 

Clemson: 7.3 yards-per-pass attempt, 17 TD’s, 7 interceptions thrown

Alabama: 8.7 yards-per-pass attempt, 23 TD’s, 2 interceptions thrown

You can see what we man about understanding risk/reward. Alabama only threw two interceptions all season! Coach Nick Saban would rather punt and trust his defense than turn the ball over. Dabo Swinney has a similar philosophy, but was trying to enact it with a new quarterback. Both are more prone to have big gainers come from shorter passes that bust loose rather than high-risk bombs. 

Pass Defense 

Clemson: 5.8 yppa allowed; 14 TD’s allowed, 14 interceptions

Alabama: 5.5 yppa allowed; 7 TD’s allowed, 15 interceptions

Well, that’s fantastic (Clemson) and super-fantastic (Alabama). Would be interesting to see the winner match up against Baker Mayfield in the finals…just to get a sense of what happens when extreme ends of the spectrum match up like that. 

Impact Defense 

Clemson: 28% third down pct-allowed, 19 takeaways, 44 sacks

Alabama: 33% third down pct-allowed, 20 takeaways, 31 sacks

Clemson is very stingy on third downs, keyed by a pass rush that really disrupts opposing quarterbacks. Alabama’s plenty scary, but accomplished less impressive numbers against a much softer schedule. 

You can see why the market has an Over/Under that’s well below the scoreboard finals of 85 and 66 the past two years. Sharps are betting as if they’ve decided that quarterback experience is the straight up tie-breaker. Now, YOU have to decide if “Alabama -3” creates an equilibrium or not. 

Another reminder to bet and celebrate responsibly as you make the most of New Year’s Eve. We’ll see you again New Year’s Day to run our usual Monday recaps from all of Sunday’s NFL action. We’ll also take a quick peak at early point spreads for Wildcard Weekend. 

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