Bourbonstreet’s 2006 Bowl Outlook, Part 5

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Orange Bowl: (01.02, Tuesday 8pm, FOX)

Tuesday night down in Miami we will see the big east Champion Louisville
Cardinals playing our Atlantic Coast Conference Champions, the Wake Forest Demon
Deacs. Many people I know and have come to trust are telling me that this is one
of the biggest bowling mismatches of the year; they are telling me it’s all in
the Cards. But Wake presents some oddball matchups for Louisville that are
being heretofore overlooked. Among them: Wake was tied for first best in all of
D-1 with 22 picks registered vs. opposing QB’s on the year, while Louisville
gained 62% of its total yardage through the air. Now throw in the fact that the
Cards were 95th worst in fumbling during 2006. The INT and fumbling trends
above account for Wake being 46 spots ahead of Louisville in turnover margin.
Wake also has the largest bowling advantage in special-teams play for the
combined four categories of special-teams that I track. Now what if I told you
that Team “L” lost its Larry Csonka clone RB for the year … would you take
the over or the under on that team finishing 11th in rushing for the year? The
Cards were 10th. That’s impressive folks. But not as impressive as the 96 spot
edge in Total Offense that L’ville fields, which is the largest margin of any
bowling matchup! Then thrown in substantial Cardinal O-line vs. Demon Deac
D-Line personnel matchup edges that favor Louisville, and then consider the
Cardinal defensive speed advantage. So while Wake can win with some Louisville
help, I have to agree with my sources. Wake is overmatched, and not by a small
amount. Louisville by double digits. Possibly more.

Sugar Bowl: (01.03, Wednesday 8pm, FOX)

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have dropped eight straight bowls, unable to
notch a postseason win since 1994, while the LSU Bayou Bengals were the 2006
SEC version of Virginia Tech, playing very good, if not flat out the best
football in-conference to close the year. LSU out gained Florida by 30 yards,
and Auburn by a stunning 129, so the Bengals could very easily have been sitting
on top of a perfect 13-0 record with any luck at all. That typed, LSU’s
consistent foible all year has been an inconsistent running game, as junior
Jacob Hester leads LSU with a very inadequate 415 yards for 2006. Notre Dame
Senior QB Brady Quinn will throw the football at the next level, but he will be
in tough vs. the 3rd ranked pass defense, which is also 3rd in pass efficiency
defense and 6th in sacks in all of D-1, as LSU enjoys secondary cumulative
talent, and overall defensive speed advantages over Notre Dame. The Irish do
hold noticeable net punting and turnover margin edges, though some of this has
been annulled by the improved play of NFL early-entry junior QB JaMarcus Russell
of LSU. Russell raised his completion percentage by 8%, his TD throws by 11, and
lowered his INT’s by two from last year to this year. From what I’m seeing
LSU has enough of a front line advantage on both sides of the line of scrimmage,
and a bit of a home field advantage going for it in this one. I like that,
though Coach Charlie Weiss will hold this margin down all by himself. LSU by
eight or less.

International Bowl: (01.06, Saturday 12noon, ESPN2)

In this first ever “Great White North” of the border affair, the
Cincinnati Bearcats take on the Western Michigan Broncos up in Toronto, Canada,
eh. Present-day Bearcat head coach Brian Kelly played and soundly whipped
Western Michigan (31-7) way back on the 10th of November. The kicker here is
that Coach Kelly was coaching the Central Michigan Chippewas at the time. Former
Rutgers re-tread and 100th year senior QB Ryan Cubit now nepotistically (his
dad is the WMU head coach) leads the Bronco offense that ranked 86th in total
offense, but WMU was 5th in rushing defense, and not coincidentally 1st in
sacks. WMU was led by the D-1 sack leader who is the best colligate LB you’ve never
heard of, one Ameer Ismail. Cincy starting QB Dustin Grutza and his 9:13 passing
ratio have a lumbar injury, so if you’ll pardon the pun, the Bearcats might
jus’ back into a good thing in having strong-armed senior QB Nick Davila and
his 6:1 ratio get the nod as the man under center. The ‘Nati is the slightly
better offensive team, but WMU is the slightly better defensive team. The
difference here lies in coaching continuity, return teams, and a rather volatile
79 spot edge in the all-powerful turnover margin. All of which favor the
Bearcats, hence, Cincy by nine.

GMAC Bowl: (01.07, Sunday 8pm, ESPN)

The Ohio Bobcats, of deposed Nebraska head coach Frank Solich fame, play
former 2006 VT regular season opponent Southern Mississippi Golden
Eagles. As a strong in-game rule of thumb, take full notice of the fact that
Ohio U has not
dropped a single game this year when 1,212 yard rusher junior RB Kalvin McRae
tops 100 yards rushing. Not to be out done, all-everything true freshman RB
Damion Fletcher (who sat out our game, after having his knee ‘scoped) of So.
Miss ran for 1,330 yards in only 11.5 games (missed one due to his knee, and
he sat out a half for disciplinarily reasons). On the whole, these two are both
coming off of being beaten in their respective conference championship games, so
the GMAC Bowl is a bit of a de facto consolation prize for both. Both field rock
solid stop-units, both love to work the internal power running game, but there
are a few telling differences in play here. While the Bobcats do hold a bit of a
special teams edge, this is negated by a 40 spot advantage in turnover margin
edge in favor of the Golden Eagles. This is further exacerbated by the fact that
Ohio U fields two QB’s, neither of which has more TD’s than INT’s, and the
superior Pivot of these two (Austen Everson) has a bum ankle. But the coup de
grace is the fact that Ohio U is 115th in passing offense, which means that So.
Miss really only need defend the run against an offense as Goldwater
conservative as Ohio U’s. Health also favors So. Miss, and I do too. So. Miss by
three to six points.

BCS Championship Game: (01.08, Monday 8pm, FOX)

The Ohio State Buckeyes have drawn the SEC Champion Florida Gators in the BCS
Title tilt down in Glendale, Arizona. I said a couple of columns ago the one
team that had the speed to match up with, and possibly beat the Buckeyes, was the
Florida Gators. This matchup has come to fruition, but who will win? Florida
only has one real, live, legit chance to upset Ohio State. They must play a very
patient and disciplined defensive game, and practice an opportunistic version of
bend but don’t (big-play) break. In other words they must keep the Ohio State
skill position players in front of them, and make OSU work bit by bit down the
field, rather than allowing yardage in chunks. One look at the 6th ranked
Buckeye scoring offense tells you that that is easier said than done. The Gators
do have excellent punt teams, but Florida fields the worst FG Kicker of any bowl
team (Jr. Chris Hetland is only 31% on the year!). Florida is 6th in rushing
defense, and 5th in passing efficiency defense, so this type of 1990’s Miami
of Florida ‘esq defensive game-planning is possible. But you have to expect
Gator head coach Urban Meyer to go for it on 4th downs, and to fake punts and or
FG’s in an attempt to sustain drives, even if they ultimately yield no points.
Florida was 6th in picking off opponents’ passes, but was next to last in
yellow flags thrown their way in all of D-1. That critical stat and the lack of
FG kicking reduce the Gator’s margin of error to not much at all. I view it as
fair to type that OSU will have to help Florida out if the Gators are to pull
the upset. But 51 days off (recall that the Big 10 schedules no open dates) is a
lot of rust for such a high powered offense to shake off, and Ohio State has
played only one winning team since September the 23rd. If the Buckeyes have
applied lottsa practice WD-40 to their offense, they will easily win this one by
double-digits, and it possibly could turn ugly, as Florida can only hope to win
a very close game here. I’ll admit this is a bit of a reach on my part, but
Florida
by o-n-e single solitary point, as I am still unsold on OSU QB Troy
Smith in the clutch.

Many special thanks must now be paid to Coach Steve Bourne, Coach Charlie
Hammer, and dearly departed Coach John Chmara; for all the football knowledge
they imparted to me over the years.

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