Saturday, January 8, 2011

Getting to Know the Eagle Defense

As you've no doubt surmised by now, this is where things start to get fun...

We've all heard about the Eagles run defense, and even a cursory glance at their numbers is enough to tell you that this is not a unit to be underestimated under any circumstances. In addition to allowing the fewest average yards per game in the nation (an even 80), Boston College has allowed an opposing team's rusher to run for 100+ yards only once in the last two seasons. And while rushing defense is clearly what has brought the Eagles to this point, it's not like the rest of their defense is riding the coattails of the run-stoppers. They're similar to Nevada in that they give up a large amount of yards through the air (229.8 per game, 81st), but are surprisingly solid with regards to pass efficiency defense (113.3, 19th), which stems from having 19 interceptions on the year and allowing just 13 passing touchdowns, tied for 10th- and 12th-best in the country, respectively. On the whole, they're surrendering less than 20 points and 310 total yards to their opponents per game. If the Eagle offense is the atrophied and barely functional left wing of this bird, the defense is the steroid-enhanced and ridiculously muscular right wing.

Individual play-makers abound in this unit. They're led by sophomore linebacker and consensus AP All-American Luke Kuechly, who leads the country with 171 total tackles, 102 of which were solo, second only to Mason Foster of Washington in that category. Another sophomore stud is defensive end Max Holloway, with 13 tackles for loss on the year. Out of those 19 interceptions I mentioned before, 5 came from junior cornerback Donnie Fletcher and another 4 apiece came from sophomore defensive back Jim Noel and senior linebacker Mark Herzlich. If you think you've heard that last name before, it's for good reason: his story is one of the most genuinely inspiring you'll ever hear about anywhere. I'm not normally a fan of fluffy human interest subplots that lead up to sporting events, but if there's a "You've Got Balls" award somewhere out there, this guy has earned it ten times over. It goes without saying that we all should be fans of his after Sunday night.

This isn't to say there aren't some chinks in this bird's armor, though. For a team with such a great run defense, they haven't piled up a ton of tackles for loss (77, tied for 50th), and their 19 sacks on the year (tied for 90th) means they haven't generated a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, either. Furthermore, they've allowed their opponents to convert a pretty mediocre 40.4% of their third downs, which will be robustly tested by the Pistol.

I'll now try the same brief look at how the BC defense stacked up to its competition this year that I did in the last entry with their offense. This time, though, I'll list what each opponent's offense managed to put up against the Eagles:

9/4 Weber State W 38-20
Total Offense: 7th (in FCS)
BC Defense: 381 yards, 2 TDs, 2 FGs, 24 first downs

9/11 Kent State W 26-13
Total Offense: 102nd
BC Defense: 205 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 10 first downs

9/25 Virginia Tech L 19-0
Total Offense: 41st
BC Defense: 343 yards, 1 TD, 4 FGs, 16 first downs

10/2 Notre Dame L 31-13
Total Offense: 61st
BC Defense: 315 yards, 4 TDs, 1 FG, 18 first downs

10/9 @ NC State L 44-17
Total Offense: 39th
BC Defense: 422 yards, 3 TDs, 3 FGs, 26 first downs

10/16 @ Florida State L 24-19
Total Offense: 59th
BC Defense: 311 yards, 3 TDs, 1 FG, 19 first downs

10/23 Maryland L 24-21
Total Offense: 80th
BC Defense: 222 yards, 3 TDs, 1 FG, 13 first downs

10/30 Clemson W 16-10
Total Offense: 88th
BC Defense: 264 yards, 1 FG, 19 first downs

11/6 @ Wake Forest W 23-13
Total Offense: 109th
BC Defense: 287 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 15 first downs

11/13 @ Duke W 21-16
Total Offense: 59th
BC Defense: 311 yards, 3 FGs, 19 first downs

11/20 Virginia W 17-13
Total Offense: 37th
BC Defense: 421 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 25 first downs

11/27 @ Syracuse W 16-7
Total Offense: 97th
BC Defense: 238 yards, 1 TD, 13 first downs

Looking at these numbers takes a bit of the luster off of the Eagle defense, but not much. Out of the three offenses they faced who had a pulse (three and a half, of sorts, if you count Weber State's), the team lost to two of them. The NC State game was far and away their worst performance, but given that two of the Wolfpack's (I'll never get used to spelling it that way) five touchdowns came on a blocked punt and a pick six, it could be argued that the defense might've kept that game manageable on their own were it not for the mistakes of their teammates, and Nevada fans should know all about those kinds of games. And poor offenses or not, there's something to be said for having your three best defensive performances in your final three games. Statistically, they're fairly comparable to a team like Cal, but are probably a notch or two better. Is their defense as good as Boise State's, the best one Nevada faced all year? No, but with more than a month to prepare for this game, it's certainly possible they could play like they are.

I'll end this entry by referring you to my interview with BC Interruption again for my "Best-Case Scenario, Worst-Case Scenario" outlines. Ultimately, I agree with the RGJ's Dan Hinxman in that the winner of this game will be whoever does the best job of executing their game plan. Both teams know pretty much exactly what to expect from each other with regards to their offenses, but I feel the differences in this game will be Nevada's passing attack and the motivation spurred by this particular class of seniors to end their losing streak in bowl games.

Now I'm off to San Francisco -- pictures and a road trip recap will follow soon after. Let's do this!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Five Good Minutes with BC Interruption

Here's the second collaboration between myself and Brian over at BC Interruption. You can find my answers to the questions he asked me here. We're going to ignore the fact that the interviews we've exchanged take more than five minutes to read. Brian's a guy after my own heart in that when he's asked a question about his favorite team, he answers the HELL out of it! Because that's just how passionate the two of us up yours if you don't like it.

1. Describe the Eagles' season to date in 100 words or less.

Word limits? Ugh. Just had a bad flashback to grad school application essays.

This year’s Eagles season can be summed up in one word: rollercoaster. It’s been a wild, strange ride for the Eagles football team in 2010. The year started with a lot of promise. BC got back their star linebacker, a year after winning a battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer. Had a ton of talent returning from an 8-win team. After falling into a very disappointing 2-5 hole, the Eagles rebounded to win 5 straight and make their 12th consecutive bowl game appearance. This year’s team is stout against the run but leaves a lot to be desired on offense.

2. If Boston College could take one Nevada player and have them play for the Eagles, who do you think it would be and why? And if Nevada could take one Boston College player and have them play for the Pack, who do you think it would be and why?

Colin Kaepernick is certainly the Wolf Pack’s most talented player, but I don’t think I would take Kaepernick. Before you flame me for that, hear me out. I think Kaepernick can run the “Pistol” offense to perfection, but I’m not sure that style of offense would play to the Eagles’ offensive strengths. We have an offensive coordinator that is pushing 80 years old, and I’m not sure he’s ever even heard of the “Pistol” offense. Well, we’ve run some “Pistol” offensive plays in the past, but I’m sure he’s never heard the term before.

It’s a tough question as I’m not too, too familiar with the Wolf Pack. I guess I’ll go with Vai Taua coming out the backfield. Taua, along with BC’s Montel Harris and Andre Williams, could be great running behind BC’s offensive line.

Then again, maybe we could use Kaepernick out of the Wildcat/Bazooka. I’m torn on this one, but will probably stick with Taua. If you have any standout wide receivers, BC could use them, too.

For Nevada, sophomore linebacker (and tackle machine) Luke Kuechly would be a great anchor to the Wolf Pack defense. The guy just flies to the ball and would help further solidify the Nevada D.

3. Imagine this Boston College team is the six BCS conferences in a nutshell. Who or what would be the SEC and the Big East? (In other words, what are this team's strengths and weaknesses?)

BC’s SEC is our rush defense, which is what makes this bowl matchup so interesting. Their Big East is the team’s receiving corps. There is a lot of talent there, but the receiving corps is very, very young and a bit inexperienced.

Just a step below the SEC – Pac 10? Big Ten? Big 12? ACC? – is the Eagles offensive line. They have been maddeningly inconsistent, especially in the beginning of the year, but have started to put things together down the stretch. The line is anchored by Anthony Castonzo, a four year starter that will break the school’s record for starts in the Bowl game.

4. Name three keys to victory for the Eagles and one key to certain defeat.

Here are my Eagles keys to victory:

1) Open up the playbook. No use going conservative on offense with nothing really to play for and given that this could very well be offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill’s last game. Nevada will clearly be expecting a heavy dose of running backs Montel Harris and Andre Williams, so it’s time to take the training wheels off of true freshman Chase Rettig at QB.

2) Make life uncomfortable for Kaepernick and the UN-R Pistol offense. Of course its cliché, but winning the turnover battle on Sunday will be very important for both teams. Hawaii used four Wolfpack turnovers to hand you guys your only loss. BC needs to be opportunistic on defense and take advantage when Kaepernick and the offense slips up.

3) Come away with points in the red zone. BC was the worst in the nation at scoring touchdowns after getting into the end zone. The Eagles converted on just 1/3 of their trips to the red zone. That’s just plain awful and was caused by a combination of play calling and execution. If BC comes away empty on their trips to the red zone on Sunday, it could get ugly and in a hurry. Field goals aren’t going to be enough to keep up with a potent Nevada offense.

As for a key to certain defeat, I’ll go with steering clear of penalties, particularly on offense. The AT&T Park crowd will be decidedly pro-Nevada, so the Eagles can’t take many false start and holding penalties. The Eagles young offensive skill position players just can’t seem to execute when they fall back to 1st and 15 and 2nd and 20.

5. What do you think the conference realignment future holds for the ACC? And what was up with the Big East this year? Seriously, "automatic bid" my ass.

I’m not convinced that a football conference beyond 12 teams is sustainable in the long run. I know the Pac-12 flirted with 16 earlier this year, but I’m not sold that 16 or more is sustainable longer term. Look no further than the failed experiment of a 16-team WAC as proof.

The Big Ten is probably the exception to that rule, however, and I wouldn’t rule out a 14-team or 16-team incarnation of the Big Ten in the not-so-distant future. Just because the Big Ten does this, however, doesn’t mean that the era of the super conference will catch on for the other AQ conferences.

I think 12 (or 10, in the case of the Big 12 and the Big East) is the magic number for us AQ conferences going forward. I know programs like BYU and TCU are hoping for their invite in the mail for the Big 12, but with Texas and Oklahoma happy with 10, that conference really has no incentive to expand. The Big East will move to 10 with TCU in the short term, and perhaps a Villanova, Central Florida or Memphis in the future.

The beauty of having all the AQ conferences at 12 (or 10) teams is that it keeps the six BCS conferences happy and stable, and doesn’t leave much room for non-AQs to move in and crash the big-money, BCS party. I hardly agree with this as I’m anti-BCS and favor a playoff, but if you are a BCS conference team, you have to be happy that Utah and TCU are moving to AQ conferences, since they posed the greatest threat of crashing the BCS bowl party the last few years. There will undoubtedly be other challengers to the BCS over the next few years – maybe Nevada, Central Florida, Houston – but including Utah and TCU silences the program’s that have most threatened the status quo over the past few years.

As for the ACC, I don’t see the conference being proactive in the expansion arms race. The most likely scenarios are that a Maryland (disgruntled with all the power the North Carolina bloc has in the conference) or Georgia Tech moves to an expanded Big Ten, or the four southern schools – Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech – break away and join the SEC in an expanded 16-team conference. I guess the SEC poaching Virginia Tech and Texas A&M is also in play too, albeit a much slimmer possibility.

If the ACC gets raided, I think they would look to Big East schools like Syracuse or Pittsburgh to fill the void.

As for the Big East, that conference was an absolute train wreck this year. Big East fans are quick to point the finger back at the ACC and say how close the ACC is to the Big East, but I beg to differ. I think there was a sizable gap between ACC football and Big East football this year. That league has the potential to be very good in a few years with Syracuse, USF, Louisville and TCU all on the upswing, but as of now, it’s a lot of ‘meh.’

6. Rate your confidence in a BC win heading into this game on a scale of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, with "Commando" being "supremely confident" and "Batman and Robin" being "not confident at all."

I really like BC’s matchup with the Wolf Pack. I think the Pistol offense’s strength is BC’s strength on defense. This one is going to come down to how well the BC offense can move the ball. I think that the long layoff will be a factor in the game, and I wouldn’t discount the emotional boost the Eagles will have as they play alongside cancer survivor Mark Herzlich one final time.

As for my confidence level, I’d give BC no more than a 50/50 shot at pulling this one out. So let’s go with Kindergarten Cop, a respectable, middle-of-the-road Schwarzenegger movie. “I'm a cop, you idiot! I'm Detective John Kimble!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting to Know the Eagle Offense

Nevada's 2009 season started and ended with nationally televised 35-point beatings in far-flung locations. As of now, the only things guaranteed to start and end the Pack's 2010 season are home games (either actual or in spirit) against opponents nicknamed the Eagles (As an aside, cheer on Eastern Washington when they play Delaware in the FCS National Championship game this Friday).

We'll start this week's bowl festivities with a closer look at the Boston College offense.

One quick look at this unit is enough to tell you that it's not the main reason why the Eagles are here. BC only averages 18.9 points per game -- more than four of Nevada's prior opponents, to be fair, but still 109th in the country. They only tally 308.5 yards of offense per game, good for 106th -- that's nearly seven fewer yards per game than San Jose State, barely higher than Nevada's per-game rushing average and ranked only six spots higher than New Mexico State's offense and twelve spots higher than UNLV's. Moving the ball through the air has been a trying task for the Eagles all year long, who've thrown more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (13), completed just 52.4% of their passes (for comparison's sake, Kaep completed 53.8% of his passes his freshman year) and boast an average efficiency rating of just 110.9. They only convert one out of every three third downs and have surrendered 2.25 sacks per game as well. Even the relative strength of their rushing attack is still ranked in the bottom half of the nation's teams at 133.2 yards per game. A group of world-beaters this unit is not.

The Eagles have five quarterbacks listed on their roster, all of whom are underclassmen. Three of them have seen significant action at various points of the year, with sophomore Dave Shinskie starting four of the first five games before gradually handing the torch over to true freshman Chase Rettig. He'll be the third true freshman quarterback Nevada's defense will face this year after Colorado State's Pete Thomas and BYU's Jake Heaps. Their highest passing output was 265 yards in a 31-13 home loss to Notre Dame, and their worst performance was probably in a 24-19 loss at Florida State in which they were held to just 95 yards. The only game in which they scored more than two passing touchdowns was the season opener against Weber State.

But luckily, the outlook gets much rosier (or would it be maroon-ier with BC...?) when the focus shifts to the Eagle ground game. They're led by junior back Montel Harris, whose 103.5 yards per game are currently 16th-best in the nation. If given the chance, freshman back-up Andre Williams has shown he can lead the offense, too, as he did when he ran for 185 yards and a touchdown in the season finale at Syracuse. Though not spectacular by most standards, being ranked 88th in rushing yards per game is a little misleading with this group -- they've actually had six 150+ yard games that are brought down in the averages by a few really sub-par outings, like the 5 yards on 23 carries they ran for against Notre Dame.

The following is a small breakdown of how Boston College's opponents have stacked up on defense and how the Eagle offense fared against them.

9/4 Weber State W 38-20
Total Defense: 109th (in FCS)
BC Offense: 411 yards, 5 TDs, 1 FG, 17 first downs

9/11 Kent State W 26-13
Total Defense: 11th
BC Offense: 305 yards, 2 TDs, 4 FGs, 19 first downs

9/25 Virginia Tech L 19-0
Total Defense: 53rd
BC Offense: 250 yards, 16 first downs

10/2 Notre Dame L 31-13
Total Defense: 52nd
BC Offense: 270 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 13 first downs

10/9 @ NC State L 44-17
Total Defense: 32nd
BC Offense: 272 yards, 2 TDs, 1 FG, 12 first downs

10/16 @ Florida State L 24-19
Total Defense: 42nd
BC Offense: 266 yards, 4 FGs, 9 first downs

10/23 Maryland L 24-21
Total Defense: 39th
BC Offense: 285 yards, 3 TDs, 16 first downs

10/30 Clemson W 16-10
Total Defense: 19th
BC Offense: 305 yards, 1 TD, 3 FGs, 16 first downs

11/6 @ Wake Forest W 23-13
Total Defense: 100th
BC Offense: 298 yards, 3 TDs, 1 FG, 14 first downs

11/13 @ Duke W 21-16
Total Defense: 108th
BC Offense: 356 yards, 3 TDs, 15 first downs

11/20 Virginia W 17-13
Total Defense: 78th
BC Offense: 370 yards, 2 TDs, 1 FG, 18 first downs

11/27 @ Syracuse W 16-7
Total Defense: 7th
BC Offense: 315 yards, 1 TD, 3 FGs, 18 first downs

Whenever an AQ team and non-AQ team are matched up, the initial impulse for many is to explain away any of the AQ team's statistical imperfections by saying "Well, they play in a tougher conference." And indeed some of the blame for BC's struggles on offense can probably be assigned to the above average defenses they've lined up against many weeks. But you wouldn't be able to tell the defenses of Wake Forest, Duke and Virginia apart from a lot of WAC teams, and the Eagles still didn't exactly light up the scoreboard those weeks. But ultimately, to their offense's credit, the three statistically best defenses they've played against -- Syracuse, Kent State and Clemson -- were all wins, and that's what matters most. "Good enough" has usually been just that for BC. In a way, they're the Millennium Falcon of offenses: they may not look fast, but they've got the fun where it counts.

In one of my next two entries, I'll turn my attention to one of the main attractions of the Fight Sponsorship Bowl: the Boston College defense.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Presenting BC Interruption

The following is an introduction from one of the contributors to SB Nation's Boston College blog, BC Interruption. Enjoy!

Greetings Wolf Space Pack fans. My name is Brian Favat and I write for BC Interruption, SB Nation’s Boston College blog. [Pack Backer] had the great idea of writing an introductory post familiarizing Nevada fans with the Boston College Eagles, since ACC and WAC teams don’t play each other very much. My experience with Nevada is basically limited to this season, the Pistol office, and Pistol Whipping The WAC’s introductory post on your team.

Let’s get a few BC misconceptions out of the way first. No, us Superfans aren’t all card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation. Jeff and I both root for the Yankees, and due to an increasingly national student body base, cheer for all different types of professional teams. Though if you aren’t affiliated with a pro team growing up, it’s easy to get caught up in the Sox, Pats, Celtics and (to a lesser extent) Bruins once you head to college in Boston.

We all don’t talk like Mayor Quimby from “The Simpsons.” There are a good percentage of students that come from the greater-Boston area, but more and more students come from all over the Northeast (and increasingly parts of ACC territory).

We are the only “College” in Division I-A college football; mostly because the name “Boston University” was already taken. Technically, BC is a university as it has multiple colleges. Speaking of Boston University, learn to hate the BU Terriers. The two schools are separated by just 3.5 miles and are bitter college hockey rivals. In football, learn to love to hate the University of Notre Dame, and whiny Big East schools that are still bitter BC left. In basketball, we are still feeling out the rivalries in the ACC. But everyone loves to hate Duke, and so do we.

BC actually has a pretty good tradition and history on the Division I-A college football scene. The Eagles remained independent up until 1990, when they became founding members of the Big East conference. The vast majority of BC’s time in college football’s top-level, however, was as an independent. BC would play a lot of similar schools early in its history, which is reflected in the teams we have played the most in our history – Holy Cross (82 games), Syracuse (46), Villanova (45), Temple (37) and Army (36). After a 14-year stint in the Big East, we jumped ship to the ACC, where we’ve been since 2005.

There was a lot of resentment towards BC’s move towards the ACC (more so than Virginia Tech or Miami, for some reason), and we’re kinda thankful that schools like TCU, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Nevada are all switching conference affiliations over the next few years. Hopefully that will help deflect some of the hate we get for moving to a more stable conference.

As for this year’s team, depending on who you ask, this year was a bit of a disappointment. When you dig yourself into a 2-5 hole, I guess you’ll take what you can get when it comes to bowl season. BC abandoned their 27 year old incumbent sophomore quarterback after 3 games in favor of a true freshman – Chase Rettig – from San Clemente, Ca. Rettig has played a bit better as the weeks went on, but for the most part, BC’s five-game winning streak after our five-game losing streak can be attributed to a lightening up of the schedule down the stretch. BC’s five game winning streak came against Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia and Syracuse. To put that in context, that’s probably the equivalent of ending the season with Hawaii (Clemson), Sac State (Wake Forest), Louisiana Tech (Duke), Idaho (Virginia) and Fresno State (Syracuse). Not exactly a murderer’s row down the stretch.

This year’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl looks like it will be a virtual road game for the Eagles, with all these tickets getting gobbled up by Wolf Pack fans. And that’s cool. BC is used to playing teams close to their hometown turf in bowl games. Over the last 10 years, BC has played USC in San Francisco, Vanderbilt in Nashville, Boise State in Boise, North Carolina in Charlotte and Toledo in Detroit. Bowl committees seem content with sending the Eagles to bowl games that end up being de facto road games. BC is 3-2 in those games.

Despite playing 6+ weeks after the end of the regular season, I’m actually looking forward to the bowl game and watching the Eagles go up against the Wolf Pack. The Eagles fell to the ninth and final ACC bowl slot, but get to play the second highest rated BCS opponent of any ACC team in the bowl game. San Francisco and northern California has a decent-sized BC alumni base, and we’ve been able to play out there for three times in the last eight seasons. While Nevada doesn’t have the same college football cache as BC's bowl opponent last year, I think it will be a well-attended game. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Nevada’s Pistol offense go up against the number 1 rush defense in the nation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The "Home" Bowl Advantage (Part 2)

Let's go through the remaining five bowl games with discernible "home" teams:

Armed Forces Bowl

Normally played at TCU's stadium across the Metroplex in Fort Worth, this game was moved to SMU when renovations were started on Amon G. Carter Stadium. Obviously, either location would've suited the Mustangs just fine, but it didn't end up helping them against yet another opponent already fired up just being there. In a rare year when all three service academy teams played in bowl games, Army's defense carried them to a win, and in spite of just 229 yards of offense and converting only 4 of 12 third downs, all the Black Knights had to do was make fewer mistakes (zero turnovers and zero penalties). In true Junie B. Jones fashion, the Mustang coach felt his team wasn't "arrogant" enough, prompting our usual response to any Jones team's loss.

Pinstripe Bowl

We here at PWtW (and by "we" I mean "I") don't understand the suddenly renewed fascination with playing football games in baseball stadiums. As an amateur college football historian, I understand there's powerful nostalgia associated with ideas like bringing Army and Notre Dame back together at Yankee Stadium. But the reasons why this hasn't been done more often are numerous, including potentially killer outfield walls and poor sight lines. But in the case of this game, the mostly pro-Orange crowd had less to do with Syracuse's win than Kansas State's terrible run defense and a bogus celebration penalty did.

Music City Bowl

We liked Derek Dooley in the time he spent at Louisiana Tech, and thought bringing Tennessee to a bowl game in his first year there -- even at 6-6 -- was a minor miracle. But in addition to that baffling loss at LSU back in October and this unholy abortion of a choke, he's apparently trying (and succeeding in) a new form of on-field stand-up comedy for the SEC. This time, instead of having too many players on the field (Butch Davis and the Tar Heels picked that one up), it was personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that did the Vols in. We're guessing he saw some of Les Miles' handy work and said "Pfft, that's nothing! Watch THIS!"

Meineke Car Care Bowl

South Florida and Clemson were very similar statistically to each other in many categories, so it would seem that having the game two and a half hours from the Clemson campus in Charlotte would've given the Tigers and their well-traveled fans the edge. And even looking at the stats now, it seems like the game could've gone either way. But the Bulls got out to an early lead after a Clemson field goal that they never relinquished thanks to a solid if unexciting passing attack. I guess even Clemson's fans can't get too excited over a bowl game with "Car Care" in its name.

TicketCity Bowl

Rounding out the pointless games with stupid names is this one, which I'll admit I waffled back and forth on including in this entry. It's another first-year bowl, and (in theory) is supposed to fill in for the Cotton Bowl, which will now be played at Jerryworld. Even without Dan Persa at quarterback, Northwestern played valiantly and didn't give up in a game they never led. Northwestern is almost always a hard place to coach at, and the sheer difficulty of consistently winning there is underscored by the fact that the Wildcats haven't won a bowl game since 1949, and have just two Rose Bowl appearances in that time.

So what conclusions can be drawn from all of these games? The answer is...not many. The "home" teams in these games went 4-6, and out of the three teams with actual home fields to boast -- San Diego State, Hawai'i and SMU -- only the Aztecs won. Did momentum play a major role for the winning teams? Not really. Tulsa was the only team on an actual roll of any kind, having won six games in a row leading up to the Hawai'i Bowl, and a couple of bowl winners (Army and Syracuse) actually headed into their postseason games on 2-game losing streaks. The main factors behind the wins (in my admittedly limited ability to analyze all of them, at least) ranged from turnovers to penalties to great offensive showings and defensive efforts -- the crowds were often at or near the bottom of the list each time.

Does this mean crowds don't count for anything at bowl games? Of course not. They just don't seem to factor into wins nearly as much as good prep work and proper motivation do. And in a way, this validates the original aim of all of those bowl games of yesteryear: to reward good, well-coached teams for exceptional seasons.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The "Home" Bowl Advantage (Part 1)

I'm finally back from Christmas vacation, and it's obvious that I owe Packfan7 thanks for picking up the slack while I was away. Blame my absence on getting caught up with the wrong sorts of people.

With the preponderance of preposterous bowl games with equally ridiculous and unwieldy names polluting college football's postseason, some of them are bound to have tie-ins that result in a few teams getting either a quasi- or actual home field advantage. This is because the principal aims of these bowl games are to sell tickets and fill up hotel rooms and restaurants, and inviting a team close to where that game is being played obviously makes perfect sense in that regard.

Such will be the case when Nevada faces Boston College on January 9th, with tens of thousands of Pack fans expected to flood San Francisco and no Pac-10 fans to pick up the remaining slack. It may seem unfair to turn what's supposed to be a neutral contest into a glorified home game for one of the two teams involved, but just how advantageous is having no or minimal travel in these games? I decided to have a look at some of this year's results and find out.

Poinsettia Bowl

Out of three teams with actual home field advantages in their bowl games, San Diego State was the only one that took care of business. The only thing really working against them was the soggy field that had only recently been drained (cue the obvious Navy jokes), but that would work against both teams on most nights. Just about everything else favored the home team, though, including a more balanced offense, prior experience defending Air Force's triple option and the motivation of actually playing in a bowl game for the first time since the Clinton administration.

Hawai'i Bowl

Needless to say, things didn't go as well for the Warriors on their home field. 35 points would be enough to win a lot of bowl games, but not when your team coughs up the ball six times and is prevented by injuries from fielding all eleven starters at any one time. With Bryant Moniz, Kealoha Pilares and Greg Salas all out of the game at various points, it's no wonder an equally potent Tulsa offense was able to overcome its circumstances and win its third straight bowl game.

Little Caesars Bowl

Toledo is one hour across the border from Detroit, and the Rockets have played in this same bowl game three other times in the last ten years. But this was another case of a team new to the bowl experience -- Florida International this time -- finding a way to pull out the win. And if you saw the end of this game (Who didn't? It's the friggin' Little Caesars Bowl, after all!) you'd know that "pull out" -- as in "pull out of one's ass" -- is the proper term.

Military Bowl

You should start to notice a pattern of motivation here, and Maryland had whole wheelbarrows full of it in their bowl game. Playing just twenty miles from their campus in College Park and on behalf of a loyal head coach who was more or less forced out the door (not an easy task against a man of Ralph Friedgen's girth), Maryland's players beat down East Carolina and sent a strong message: we love our coach, and he deserves better than this bowl game and this exit. I know if Coach Ault were ever kicked to the curb the way Friedgen was, I'd be the one passing out torches en route to storming the offices at Legacy Hall.

Texas Bowl

Here's a case of a team playing in a bowl game for the first time in a while AND in front of a very partisan quasi-home crowd just not capitalizing on the opportunity. Baylor rolled over and died against Illinois just days before the entire Big Ten decided to do the same in its New Years Day bowls, making an already embarrassing loss look that much worse. On the other hand, maybe Ron Zook and the Illini finally got tired of losing their bowl games, as they themselves hadn't won one since 1999?

In my next entry, I'll take a look at the Armed Forces, Pinstripe, Music City, Meineke and TicketCity Bowls for more possible trends in "home" bowl games.