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.

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