Now we know why the Big 10 and Pac 12 didn’t get teams into the Final Four! In Friday’s Cotton Bowl, Ohio State played as badly offensively as you can in a high-profile win, while USC kept turning the ball over. At least there were bowl thrills earlier in the day.
Cotton Bowl: Ohio State offense plays about 10 good minutes in 24-7 win over USC
An ugly night for the Big 10 and Pac 12. A worse night for USC quarterback Sam Darnold and his hopes for being a #1 draft pick this summer. A disappointing ending with a sideline fight between players after the result was no longer in doubt. Not exactly the showcase college football and ESPN were hoping for entering the New Year’s weekend. Though, Under bettors were ecstatic through the second half. Ohio State backers cashed their tickets thanks to all the Trojan turnovers.
Ohio State (-9.5) 24, USC 7
Yards-per-Play: USC 5.1, Ohio State 5.0
Total Yardage: USC 413, Ohio State 277
Third Down Pct: USC 32%, Ohio State 17%
Turnovers: USC 4, Ohio State 1
Rushing Yards: USC 57, Ohio State 163
Passing Stats: USC 26-45-1-356, Ohio State 11-17-1-114
TD Drive Lengths: USC 15, Ohio State 19-59
Yes, there were some defensive athletes on both teams. But things shouldn’t have been THAT ugly! In “real” scoring, it was basically a 10-0 win for Ohio State. The Buckeyes were gifted an early touchdown after a fumble return into the red zone. They had one high-quality long drive for a field goal. Then, they were gifted another score when Darnold threw a TD pass to the wrong team. That made it 17-0. It was 24-0 before USC scored its 15-yard TD drive right before halftime.
Darnold did ultimately reach 356 passing yards because he had to throw all night. He had trouble holding onto the ball when the pass rush got to him. Hollow numbers because moving in the middle of the field doesn’t get you anywhere. Ohio State’s 2 of 12 on third downs and other generic numbers grade out poorly compared to what other good teams have done vs. USC this season. Remember, Notre Dame beat them 49-14. Stanford had four long touchdown drives against USC in the Pac 12 Championship game.
Congrats to the Ohio State defense. High energy and well-prepared. The Buckeyes finish the season 12-2 straight up, 7-7 against market prices. USC falls to 11-3 against what’s being exposed as a softer-than-realized schedule. Trojans were just 3-10-1 against the spread, hurt badly by Darnold turnovers all season long.
College Bowls: Finally felt like bowl season with scoring fireworks and thrills in Belk, Sun, Music City, and Arizona bowls
Some excitement! The first two Friday bowls were high scoring shootouts. The two that followed went right down to the wire. Kentucky decided not to force overtime with a two-point gamble against Northwestern. Underdog New Mexico State needed extra time to upset Utah State. Let’s run the numbers in the order they were played.
Wake Forest (-3.5) 55, Texas A&M 52
Yards-per-Play: Wake Forest 6.7, Texas A&M 6.5
Total Yardage: Wake Forest 646, Texas A&M 614
Third Down Pct: Wake Forest 43%, Texas A&M 40%
Turnovers: Wake Forest 2, Texas A&M 3
Rushing Yards: Wake Forest 246, Texas A&M 115
Passing Stats: Wake Forest 32-49-0-400, Texas A&M 42-63-1-499
TD Drive Lengths: Wake Forest 69-50-83-47-69-69, Texas A&M 55-75-80-64-67-72
Clearly some defensive issues. Though part of the massive volume comes from the fact that both teams like playing at a very fast pace. Wake Forest ran 97 plays, Texas A&M 94. Scoreboard was helped by a pair of non-offensive touchdowns. Texas A&M’s first touchdown came on a blocked punt return. Wake Forest scored on a punt return TD later in the afternoon. Sometimes fast break “arena football” can become tiresome because it doesn’t feel like “real” football. Given all the yawners fans and bettors have experienced this postseason, a welcome diversion. Both teams entered at 7-5 straight up. Wake Forest gets its eighth win, and closes the season a stellar 9-3-1 against the spread. New buzz about the Demon Deacons. A&M finished 7-5-1 against the spread. The Jimbo Fisher era begins next September.
NC State (-5.5) 52, Arizona State 31
Yards-per-Play: NC State 6.7, Arizona State 6.7
Total Yardage: NC State 491, Arizona State 469
Third Down Pct: NC State 67%, Arizona State 57%
Turnovers: NC State 1, Arizona State 4
Rushing Yards: NC State 173, Arizona State 117
Passing Stats: NC State 24-29-0-318, Arizona State 25-40-3-352
TD Drive Lengths: NC State 87-56-75-49-80-38-3, Arizona State 72-76-45-80
Extended garbage time, as NC State jumped to a 21-3 second quarter lead that swelled to 38-10 early in the fourth quarter. Five more touchdowns were scored after that! Postseason defensive problems continued for the Pac 12. Note how sharply NC State played. Just five incomplete passes, 10 of 15 on third downs, and a 4-1 win in the turnover category. Stat volume doesn’t capture NC State’s dominance because of all the garbage accumulation. That 38-10 score just after the start of the fourth quarter does.
Northwestern (-8) 24, Kentucky 23
Yards-per-Play: Kentucky 5.5, Northwestern 5.7
Total Yardage: Kentucky 338, Northwestern 442
Third Down Pct: Kentucky 10%, Northwestern 35%
Turnovers: Kentucky 2, Northwestern 0
Rushing Yards: Kentucky 65, Northwestern 333
Passing Stats: Kentucky 21-39-2-273, Northwestern 9-21-0-109
TD Drive Lengths: Kentucky 67-74-39, Northwestern 80-52
Weird one to explain. Northwestern owned total yardage and third down tries. But the purple Wildcats still needed an interception return touchdown to break 20 points. They were trying to ice a 24-17 win in the final minutes...and the “smart” university wanting to show off an advanced understanding of analytics went for it on fourth and short in their own territory. Kentucky stopped it! The blue Wildcats would drive 39 yards for what could have been an overtime-forcing TD. But Kentucky decided to go for the win with a two-point try (to the joy of everyone at ESPN terrified that this game would delay the start of Ohio State/USC). That didn’t work out. Northwestern survives a shaky day to win by one laying a TD. Note that NW didn’t turn the ball over, but was 1 of 5 on fourth down tries, which are all “virtual turnovers.” That’s what caused 442 yards to only lead to two offensive touchdowns. Northwestern finishes 10-3 straight up, 9-4 ATS. Kentucky closes 7-6, but 4-9 ATS.
New Mexico State (plus 5) 26, Utah State 20 (in overtime)
Yards-per-Play: New Mexico State 4.4, Utah State 5.0
Total Yardage: New Mexico State 365, Utah State 441
Third Down Pct: New Mexico State 18%, Utah State 11%
Turnovers: New Mexico State 3, Utah State 2
Rushing Yards: New Mexico State 174, Utah State 187
Passing Stats: New Mexico State 29-54-2-191, Utah State 14-33-0-254
TD Drive Lengths: New Mexico State 69 (and 25 in OT), Utah State 24
If you didn’t get a chance to watch this one (you’re not alone), be aware that both teams scored in the first quarter on kickoff return touchdowns. This was an even lower scoring game than you realized in terms of what the offenses could accomplish on their own. You can see that favored Utah State’s only offensive TD was on a very short field. New Mexico State had one strong drive, then busted a run in overtime. The third down rates were 4 of 22 and 2 of 18. So, 6 of 40 combined for two teams who also combined for five turnovers. Awful football, but a compelling finish. Both teams entered at 6-6. Both teams are nicknamed the Aggies. No wonder they couldn’t find separation in regulation.
More kudos to Brent Musburger, who is now 20-9-1 against the spread on team sides through 30 bowls. His overall record clocks in at 56% picking the board after a 6-3-1 Friday. You can follow the rest of Brent’s selections (plus those of other VSiN experts) in our “Bowl Guide.” Purchase a subscription to Point Spread Weekly through the Super Bowl for $49.99, and the “Bowl Guide” is included at no additional charge.
College Football Bowls: “Market Watch” for Saturday’s Bowls
Four games to look at today. Will be hard to match the entertainment value of the first four games Friday. Let’s see how sharps have been betting these…
Taxslayer Bowl (in Jacksonville, FL)
Opening Line: Louisville -5 vs. Mississippi State, total of 61.5
Current Line: Louisville -7 vs. Mississippi State, total of 63
Sharps who wanted Louisville knew to jump in early in advance of public action. The Cardinals have a superstar quarterback. Mississippi State lost its starting quarterback for the season in the rivalry finale against Ole Miss. You can see the opener has been bet up to the key number of seven. The public might take it higher before kickoff. We’ll have to see if sharps buy back any moves above the seven. Weather should be nice, with temperatures in the high 50’s or low 60’s.
Liberty Bowl (in Memphis, TN)
Opening Line: Memphis -3 over Iowa State, total of 65.5
Current Line: Memphis -4 over Iowa State, total of 66.5
Forecasted temperatures are in the 30s, which might be an equalizer for Iowa State here on the home field of Memphis. This is much more Iowa weather than Tennessee weather. We can assume sharps were impressed with how closely Memphis played Central Florida in the American Athletic Conference finals (played on UCF’s home field). Iowa State is 10-1-1 against the spread this season! Yet, early money hit the “home” team. Wouldn’t be shocking to see some dog interest if the line goes any higher. The Big 12 is doing well in the postseason outside of sloppy Texas Tech and quarterback-less West Virginia. Nice sleeper matchup in terms of entertainment value.
Fiesta Bowl (in Glendale, AZ)
Opening Line: Penn State -2.5 over Washington, total of 55
Current Line: Penn State -2.5 over Washington, total of 54.5
Remember that this is a late afternoon start, if you’re thinking of watching or betting. Prime time quality, but afternoon kickoff. It would be wrong to assume the line hasn’t moved just because the starting point and endpoint are the same. Both the 2 and 3 have been tested…with money bringing the number right back to 2.5. That tells us sharps like Washington plus 3, while the favorite-loving public (and some other sharps) like Penn State at -2. Let’s see if perceptions of this game change on the heels of the Ohio State/USC result.
Orange Bowl (in Miami, FL)
Opening Line: Wisconsin -6.5 over Miami, total of 64.5
Current Line: Wisconsin -6 over Miami, total of 65
Some odd adventures late in the week, as the line got as low as Wisconsin -4.5 on Friday. That corrected by the evening, with a mix of sharps and the public bring the number back to -6. Not clear what caused that blip. Remember that many sharps bet against Miami heavily on Clemson in the ACC Championship game. That anti-Miami sentiment must have been very happy to see -4.5 and -5 temporarily available.
Be sure you watch VSiN programming Saturday for the latest news from both sides of the counter. A lot of activity in the hours before kickoff Friday. You should expect that again Saturday.
College Bowl Stat Preview: Washington hopes to end Pac 12 tailspin against Big 10 power Penn State
If you’ve been following the postseason, you know that that the Pac 12 hasn’t exactly been bathing itself in glory. Utah beat West Virginia, an outmanned underdog that didn’t have a quarterback. Otherwise: Oregon lost and failed to cover vs. Boise State, UCLA lost and failed to cover versus Kansas State, Arizona lost and failed to cover vs. Purdue, Stanford lost but barely covered vs. TCU, Washington State lost and failed to cover vs. Michigan State, Arizona State lost and failed to cover vs. NC State, and USC lost and failed to over vs. Ohio State. That doesn’t mean Washington is without hope Saturday in Glendale. Are they battle-tested enough, given those results, to play to market expectations?
Cotton Bowl: Penn State (10-2) vs. Washington (10-2)
Las Vegas Line: Penn State by 2.5, total of 54.5
Records vs. the Point Spread: Penn State 7-4-1, Washington 7-5
As we mentioned in the “Market Watch” section. Penn State is a popular bet at -2, while Washington is a popular bet at plus 3. Public preference in the hours before kickoff will determine where the line settles (if it does). In major betting events like this, public money dwarfs sharp money in volume. Both teams ended up being “overrated” in terms of their ability to win their conferences, but “underrated” in overall pricing given those profitable ATS records.
Penn State: 6.6 on offense, 4.7 on defense (vs. the #48 ranked schedule)
Washington: 6.5 on offense, 4.2 on defense (vs. the #59 ranked schedule)
If you read the Ohio State/USC preview, you’ll recall that both teams played tough schedules according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. Neither of these two did. Softies in non-conference action, with only the best of their conference opponents helping to get the slates into the top 60. Some in the media have been suggesting Penn State is as good or better than Ohio State. Our indicator stats do not bear that out. Ohio State had better numbers against the tougher schedule. Head-to-head, Ohio State outgained Penn State 529-283 in a game that was close because the Nittany Lions had a kickoff return TD and a pair of very short 23-yard TD drives. Don’t handicap this one thinking Penn State is the “true” champ of the Big 10. They might have been the true champ of the Pac 12 had they been in that conference based on league indicators in the postseason. Regarding our YPP stats, it’s very close once you make mental adjustments for schedule differences. Washington likely still has the superior of the two defenses.
Key Passing Stats
Penn State: 8.2 yards-per-pass attempt, 30 TD’s, 8 interceptions thrown
Washington: 8.3 yards-per-pass attempt, 18 TD’s, 5 interceptions thrown
Washington didn’t turn its per-pass volume into many TD’s. That’s just 1.5 touchdown passes per game…which is low for elite teams who complain that they’re not on TV enough. Penn State did a much better job of passing for scores against a slightly tougher schedule.
Penn State: 6.0 yppa allowed; 12 TD’s allowed, 10 interceptions
Washington: 5.9 yppa allowed; 8 TD’s allowed, 13 interceptions
Excellent numbers for both. Great stuff. Even if you allow for the possibility that Washington was shutting down an overrated conference, you still have to give them the nod in this category.
Penn State: 34% third down pct-allowed, 24 takeaways, 38 sacks
Washington: 34% third down pct-allowed, 21 takeaways, 38 sacks
Very similar. Not something obvious that jumps out in a way that should impact your thinking.
Given the numbers we just studied in pass defense and impact defense, this one could end up being lower scoring than the market is projecting. Washington’s apparent conservative passing attack could play into that as well. Penn State’s status as favorite is justified based on the differences in pass offense. Plus, Saquon Barkley of Penn State looks to be the single most dynamic player on the field for either team. If you’re skeptical of the Pac 12 based on this postseason, Penn State at anything under three is going to make sense. Our matchup data is suggesting more of a defensive struggle than the market is.
Back with you Sunday to run the numbers from Saturday’s bowl grand slam, and to post indicator stat previews for Monday’s Final Four featuring Oklahoma vs. Georgia and Alabama vs. Clemson. On New Year’s Day, we’ll have our standard Monday recap of all the Sunday NFL action, along with an early look at point spreads for Wildcard Weekend.
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