Analyzing a bowl game is different from regular season games in many ways, and it takes a little more work than a regular season game. The following is a checklist of what to look for in a bowl game:
1) A team that allows more yards rushing than they gain rushing rarely gets the win. Line play is key in a big game, so the team that gets more rushing yards should prevail.
2) Compare which team gets more yards per pass attempt and which allows more.
3) Compare recent games to early games to see if a team has become stronger or weaker in any areas. For instance, the line play (average yards for or against) needs to be examined to see if there is any change in recent games versus the year’s average.
The QB position needs to be evaluated to see if there is improvement in any area, such as completion percentage, interception ratio and yards per pass attempt. Has a quarterback improved or lost confidence as the season progressed?
The defensive secondary needs to be improving as it enters the bowl season. Are they getting more interceptions, allowing fewer completions, or decreasing the yards per pass attempt?
4) The quarterback position is critical in a bowl game, so both of these players need to be compared. Which team has the better signal-caller in terms of leadership, completion, touchdown interception ratio, ratings and any intangibles?
5) Which team has a better coach in terms of bowl record and coaching big games? Also, which coach gets the most out of his players. Some coaches (the head coach, as well as offensive and defensive coordinators) are better having three weeks to prepare a game plan than others. If two teams are equal, the superior coach will usually win.
6) Motivation is a huge factor in a bowl game. Which team is more excited to be in this particular contest? Did they accept a lesser bowl than they thought they deserved? Are they playing a team that they think is far inferior?
7) Has the team been to a bowl before? If the current players have never been to a bowl, it increases their enthusiasm and increases their chances of success. This is the opposite of what most people think. However, in the big bowls (New Year’s Day), the more experienced team gets an edge.
8) If a team has a new head coach for the bowl game (doesn’t happen often), the coach tends to do well even though he hasn’t had long to work with the team. Since 1978, a new coach is 5-3 in bowl games. Usually coaches are not fired or leave from a bowl team between the end of the season and a bowl game. Usually a coach wants to finish the bowl with his team before going to the new job.
This year, watch what happens with Dennis Franchione at TCU (will coach through the bowl game, located 200 miles from his new coaching home) and Kirk Koetter at Boise State. Some other teams are likely to have new head coaches for their bowl game.
Alabama thought it would do more for recruiting to have Franchione visible to recruits on the sidelines Dec. 20th in the State of Alabama. He will still have time to come aboard after Christmas with his new staff. Some coaches are also using the open positions at other colleges as leverage for a new contract or contract extension.
9) If a key assistant coach leaves before the bowl, that can also be crucial (last year offensive coordinator Leach left Oklahoma as offensive coordinator to become head coach at Texas Tech, and that made a negative difference for Oklahoma).
This is a significant factor this year, as 15 Division 1-A teams have coaches who have either resigned, were fired or retired. This is more than last year in sheer numbers (nine in 1999), but also more perennial bowl teams. There are at least eight teams this year that are usually bowl teams vs. only three last season.
Programs like USC, Arizona State, BYU, North Carolina, Missouri and West Virginia want their coach with the program as soon as possible. In other words, a situation like last year’s hiring of Tom Cable for Idaho’s head coach is unlikely to happen with assistant coaches this year. Cable was allowed to continue with Colorado as offensive coordinator through their bowl game (scored 62 points) and then joined Idaho in January after their bowl win.
This year, with competition high for good coaches, expect coaches to leave before the bowl (new coaches will come from the successful bowl teams). Raiding bowl teams creates a vicious cycle as raided bowl teams seek other bowl teams to replace their head or assistant coaches.
The most important analysis when a team loses an assistant or head coach ia where the replacement coming from and what changes that will create for the team.
An example is Clemson losing offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, and how that will affect a great Tigers offense in their Gator Bowl game. Who will call the plays and how competent are they at making adjustments with Rich’s system? The same criteria needs to be examined with Georgia Tech and Ralph Friedgen’s offense. He was so good at adjustments and communicating both to the quarterback and upstairs. How will his replacement affect the performance in the Peach Bowl? Miami losing their defensive coordinator (Schiano) could be a factor with their great defensive play-calling.
10) Compare a team’s level of competition and see which team had the more challenging schedule. Usually the team with a more difficult schedule will do better. This also includes checking conference strengths and how a conference did against non-conference opponents.
11) Be aware of the team with the Heisman Trophy winner! This team has often not been a good bet, including Ron Dayne last year with Wisconsin (won the game, but lost ATS).
12) All things being equal (they never are), the better defense will prevail in a bowl game. Rush yards allowed and pass-efficiency defense are the biggest factors, but scoring defense is also important.
13) Underdogs tend to do well before New Year’s Day and poorly on New Year’s Day and beyond. This is a generalization, but, if all else fails and two teams are considered equal, than lean this way.
14) What is a team’s previous record in bowl games? If they have won most bowl games, they tend to have more confidence in being able to get the job done.
15) Playing surface plays a role in a bowl game. Is a team playing on a surface similar to that at their home field? A grass team can have trouble playing on artificial turf if they are not used to it (or visa versa).
16) The location of the game can be a great difference maker. Does one team have a home field advantage or very close to home? Usually one or two teams are close to their home field.
17) Which team has the better record on the season? The team with the better overall record has an advantage in most cases.
18) Does one team enjoy a favored status with the betting public? If one team has a good reputation and the other team is unknown (or thought less of), sometimes the line will over compensate for the name recognition factor.
19) Is there a key player who has been injured and will be back for the bowl game? Besides getting the player back, the whole team can be uplifted. Also look for injuries in bowl practice and late suspensions.
20) Which team has the better fan base of alumni and boosters who will attend the game? Some teams get a larger fan base attending the bowl game, which will further motivate the players. Some locations for a bowl will be an area where many active alumni live and will attend.
21) Check the weather report for game day. Cold weather, wind or rain can affect the game plan. Weather conditions can take away a team’s strength advantage and make the match up more even. Long-range forecasts are available on the Internet.
22) Consider the number on the Total if the game looks like it will be an immovable object meeting an irresistible force.
23) Which team and staff has a desire to win, and which is taking a vacation? Some teams are disciplined and others feel the bowl itself is a reward. Is the team getting the most out of bowl practices, or are they sightseeing? Does the coach take them away from their hotel to an undisclosed location the night before? This is different than No. 6, which deals completely with the player and fan attitudes at the time of accepting the bowl bid. What will a coach do at the bowl location in terms of practice, scheduling and motivation? The type of preparation at the bowl site is critical in deciding the game outcome.