Tuesday, December 20, 2016

College Football Preview: Bowl Week 2

You guys will have to excuse the shortened preview today.  My interest in a lot of this week’s bowl games is limited, and I have a full Heart of Dallas Bowl preview coming out tomorrow.  There are other bowls worth watching, of course, but most of the really good ones aren’t until after Christmas.  
Graphic goes here.

If you absolutely must read about everything, I recommend the Football Outsiders link below.  Speaking personally, I want to talk about two—the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, featuring Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion (-4), and the Armed Forces Bowl, featuring Louisiana Tech and Navy (+3.5).

Let’s start by admitting that it’s weird to be talking about a Navy game.  Having won a game this year against the Middies, though, they don’t turn my stomach in quite the same way they have for the past fourteen.  I’m still rooting for them to lose, of course, but I may actually watch their game.  I don’t normally watch Navy football, but I’d like to see how Zack Abey plays.  I’m really curious to see if he can bounce back from two bad games in a row.

The following is from Football Outsiders:

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech (-3.5) vs. Navy -- December 23, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The challenge that a team like Navy always has in a bowl game is that their opponent has lots of time to prepare to handle the Midshipmen's unique, triple-option offense. A significant aspect to the beatings that Navy regularly dished out to opponents this season is the fact that it's hard to play disciplined defense against unorthodox blocking techniques, post-snap options, and the ever-present threat of a speed back winning the edge on a pitch and taking it to the house.
The problem for Louisiana Tech is that they aren't terribly good on defense, and even with extra time to prepare there's still very much a question of how effective their defense can be. Compounding the issue is the lack of other flexbone or other triple-option offenses on Louisiana Tech's schedule. What they can do is put up a ton of points and hope to bait Navy into trying to throw the ball to keep up. Quarterback Ryan Higgins has facilitated an explosive offense this season with more than 4,000 passing yards and two leading receivers over 1,000 yards in Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. Navy's passing defense has not been strong enough this year to protect them from such a thing.
S&P Outright Pick: Louisiana Tech
The LA Tech Bulldogs (8-5, C-USA West) have had a pretty good season.  They played Arkansas close and have wins against Western Kentucky, UTSA, Rice, North Texas, and UTEP, but then they dropped their conference championship rematch with Western Kentucky to finish the season.
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
The interesting thing about this game is that both teams are pretty much all offense.  LA Tech’s QB Ryan Higgins has been particularly impressive.  As of this writing, he’s 300/456 for 4,208 yards (65.8%) with 37 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.  Similarly, RBs Jared Craft and Boston Scott are both averaging more than 5.5 ypc on the ground.  This squad is up against a Navy defense that has given up a ton of running yardage lately and been susceptible to the pass all season long.
Against that, though, #25 Navy (9-4, American West) has made its record beating exactly this kind of team.  Their triple-option offense isn’t exactly a finesse piece.  They run power football off-tackle, and if QB Zack Abey hasn’t been as good as Will Worth, he also hasn’t played in exactly the same kinds of circumstances, either.  This game, after two weeks off and some practice time running the first team offense, promises to be a lot more like Navy’s regular season.
LA Tech may well win this game, but I think the prognosticators are wrong to assume that the Middies can’t keep up.  True, Navy has not been able to overwhelm defenses that are ready for their triple-option, but I’m not convinced that LA Tech has that kind of doomsday run-stuffing defense.  Meanwhile, Navy doesn’t make many mistakes.  If the Middies can get just one or two stops on defense, they ought to wear this LA Tech team down and finish in dominating position.
I’m not ready to predict a Navy victory, but if I was a betting man, I would take Navy and take the points.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion (-4) -- December 23, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
I love this logo.
This is the first bowl game for the Eastern Michigan Eagles (7-5; MAC) since 1987.  For the Old Dominion Monarchs (9-3; C-USA), it’s their first bowl game ever.  Eastern Michigan has wins over Wyoming, Ohio, Ball State, and others.  The Monarchs have beaten UTSA, UMass, Marshall, and a few more decent C-USA teams.  On its face, this looks like an even match, though you’d have to give the Eagles the edge on strength of schedule.
Both teams feature hot quarterbacks, average to above-average running games, and mediocre defenses.  Eagles QB Brogan Brock has thrown 16 TDs against 6 interceptions but is only a 59.2% passer, while the Eagles’ ground game averages 4.2 ypc.  Monarchs’ QB David Washington is similar at 59.7% completion percentage (28 TDs vs. 4 INTs), but he’s aided by a ground game that gains 5.1 ypc.  Old Dominion’s ground game is a substantial advantage.
The Eastern Michigan Eagles
Prognosticators are picking Old Dominion based mostly on their superior record, and I think that’s probably correct.  Speaking personally, I’m interested in this game mostly as an early scouting report on the new and improved Eastern Michigan Eagles, whom the Black Knights will play at home in the seventh week of the 2017 season.  Army won its first road game in years at Eastern Michigan in 2015, but this new Eagles team promises to be a totally different kind of challenge.

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