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The past few days have been an orgy of college football, with the weekend - the prime-rib station of the bowl season buffet - still ahead. Following the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night, 30 games are in the books. Some observations on the results so far:
- Favorites have delivered as expected, going 17-13 straight up.
- To our unending amazement, the point spreads were dead-on: favorites have "covered" exactly half of the 30 games after Alabama failed to beat the 1- point spread against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night.
- The "chalk" has performed better in low-scoring games, with favorites covering nearly all the low scoring games: 12 of the 15 covers came in games with point totals under the Vegas Over/Under line for total points.
- Overall, offensive output has trended downward, somewhat contrary to the huge point totals posted throughout the regular season. The under has fared well, with 19 of 30 games finishing below the total, including most (9 of 12) of the games expected to finish with 60 total points or more.
The outliers in that group, however, are truly amazing. To date, in the two games with the highest O/U, the over has paid out. On New Year's Day in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, #15 Central Florida outscored #6 Baylor, 52-42, and blew away the 73 1/2 total. High scoring games are fun but take forever, and the Fiesta Bowl subjected us to more Tostitos commercials than we thought possible. (And no, we didn't understand the bits with Jimmy Kimmel either.)
But the Chick-fil-A Bowl set the bar. In a game with an O/U set at 76, #24 Duke and #21 Texas A&M combined for 100 points in a four-point victory by the Aggies "Johnny Football" (trademark pending) Manziel was responsible for five touchdowns in A&M's dramatic comeback W over the Blue Devils.
Together, the two games reached 194 points, which roughly averages out to a touchdown every five minutes.
With the predominance of the spread offense (in all its myriad forms), we should expect to see even more high-scoring games next year. Right or wrong, increased focus on (not) hitting vulnerable players, especially quarterbacks, will keep skill position players healthy and discourage defenses from fielding big, bruising players (with the possible exception of the defensive line) at positions such as safety and linebacker in favor of athletes capable of covering more space.
If you plan to follow college football in 2014, we'd suggest brushing up on the following terms: bubble screen and zone-read. Or just watch Oregon play every week. That said, we wouldn't recommended taking the Over any more often than usual. As this infographic illustrates, the pass-happy offense has been the new normal since at least 2008, but Vegas oddsmakers took note long ago, which makes the Over/Under results in the '14 bowls that much more remarkable.
Finally, Oklahoma's upset of heavily favored Alabama (by 17) may disprove the Nick Saban school of thought, also adopted by Saban devotees such as Auburn's Gus Malzhan. In short, a dominating rushing attack may not offset an opposing offense capable of putting up huge points in the passing game. As the Sooner "hurry up and wait" (our term) scheme demonstrated, a huge D-line does little good if you can't get them off the field for a breather. Throughout the second half of the Sugar Bowl, the camera showed the Tide's 300-pounders heaving and gasping as Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight rushed his team to the line, only to step back and calmly (for the most part) get the play call from the sideline. Saban could do little more than watch in frustration.
The remainder of the BCS bowls will give us more evidence, but as the recent spate hiring offensive-minded head coaches shows, the tide (if you will) is headed toward piling up big numbers.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
WINNER: AWESOMEST MASCOT
Time: 7:30 p.m., FOX (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
Teams: #13 Oklahoma State Cowboys (-1) vs. #8 Missouri Tigers
Comment: We love Pistol Pete. Unique among college athletics, Pete does triple-duty as the mascot for not only Oklahoma State, but also New Mexico State and the University of Wyoming. Pete is a gun totin', chaps wearin', huge-headed intimidating dude. On the other sideline, Mizzou's "Truman the Tiger" bears a striking resemblance to Tony the Tiger, not the most fearsome choice. Our suggestion? Missouri should adopt the Liger as their new mascot, and maybe him loose on the opposing marching band for dramatic effect.
CFR Pick: Cowboys (and ligers)
Sacred Chicken Proprietary Final Score Prophesy (SCPFSP): Oklahoma State 32, Missouri 26
Discover Orange Bowl
WINNER: The Credit Card For That Exclusive Group Known As Anybody.
Time: 7:30 p.m., ESPN (Sun Life Stadium, Miami)
Teams: #12 Clemson Tigers vs. #7 Ohio State Buckeyes (-3)
Forecast: Would be sunny if played during the daytime, but because the sun will have set by kickoff, it will be dark.
Comment: Presenting the 2014 Also-Ran Orange Bowl! Both teams missed a BCS spot by losing the final game of the season, leaving Clemson as the almost-but-not-quite representative from the ACC to face but-wait-we-were-a-shoe-in-for-the-national-championship-game Ohio State Buckeyes. Clemson lost to eventual ACC champ Florida State earlier in the year but maintained BCS hopes until a 31-17 defeat to in-state rival South Carolina. Ohio State entered the season at #2 following an undefeated 12-0 season in 2012 and maintained the winning streak throughout 2013, only to fall in an upset to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. That MSU went on to win the Rose Bowl should be at least some slight comfort to the Buckeyes. In an odd way, avoiding the pressure of the title game may be a welcome relief to Ohio State, not that any of the players or coaches would dare admit it. The Buckeyes reached the National Championship Game twice during the BCS era, losing back-to-back in 2007 and 2008. Ending the BCS period with another loss would just add insult to injury.
We expect momentum will favor Clemson, who will try to cap off a successful season with a W over a big-name opponent. The Tigers can't play the "no one respects us card," given the modest point-spread, but Clemson has more to win. With a victory, the Tigers can argue that the once-proud program has been restored. Clemson has won only seven bowls games since 1990, and only two in the past five years, a far cry from the dominance of the 1980s, in which the Tigers recorded an NCAA championship (1981) and five ACC titles.
The Orange Bowl won't inspire a tremendous amount of excitement outside of Columbus (the home of Ohio State) and Clemson (the home of Clemson), especially given the Friday night schedule. Generally, we prefer to see upsets in otherwise unremarkable match-ups between big teams, as it should lead to more parity, which is good for the game and avoids the "rich get richer" objections that can drive away casual fans who tire of seeing the usual suspects (Alabama, et al.) come out on top. That said, in a high-scoring game, OSU and QB Braxton Miller (a one-time Heisman favorite) will likely come out on top.
CFR Pick: Over 69.5
SCPFSP: Clemson 22, Ohio State 35
Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.