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SOLON'S PICKS, BOWL WEEK PART TWO

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On a hectic pre-holiday Friday, Solon chips in his final bowl picks. Enjoy.

Greetings all.

All things considered, while this has been a thoroughly dissatisfying season for me, I suppose things should be put in perspective; after an uneven 6-11 start, I recovered to go on a 49-24 run--as good an extended run as I have ever had--before stumbling to a 17-28 (and counting) finish--as bad an extended run as I have ever had.

A wiser man than myself once said that the bottom line in this game is that you win some, you lose some, and you hope you win more than you lose. While for the better part of November I wondered if the first part of that adage was true, even in this, one of my more personally disappointing seasons, I have been able to accomplish this task; anyone using my selections, wagering with the traditional 10-11 vigorish, would show a profit for the season.


Profit! It's what's for dinner.

My two-year record stands at 156-124, a much more robust 55.7%; generally, a percentage above 55% is considered professional-level quality, and every season a 55% winning percentage is my stated goal. I will fall short of that number this season unless I am able to run the table with my final five selections, which given my current form is highly unlikely; hopefully this off-season I will learn some lessons and come back strong when next season starts.

As it stands (I am writing this Thursday night), my record for the year is 72-63, a winning percentage of 53.3%; please note that I still have wagers on South Carolina and Texas Tech still pending, in addition to those listed below. Hopefully I can close it out strong and build a little momentum for next season. Here are my final selections for the season:

COTTON BOWL, Dallas, TX

Nebraska (+1) v. Auburn

As I have said many times, I thought Auburn was overrated for much of the season.

Even now, I am perplexed by their wins over LSU and Florida (although, both games were at home, they were outgained substantially by LSU and didn't score an offensive TD against Florida, and one could argue they were fortunate to win either contest). Outside of those two games, and the opener against WSU, Auburn's performances have been very uneven; 'Bama gave them a victory with turnovers, and games against South Carolina and Ole Miss went down to the wire, and they were of course dominated at home by Arkansas and Georgia. Offensively, they have been very average; their running game has been very pedestrian, and while Nebraska is vulnerable against the pass, Auburn has only thrown for more than 200 yards this season against BCS opposition against Mississippi and Mississippi State. On the other side of the ball, Auburn has a good but not great D, and they have also shown vulnerability against the pass; the difference is that Nebraska HC Callahan will surely exploit this weakness. SEC opponents averaged 7.44 ypp against Auburn with an 8-6 ratio, but those numbers are a little deceptive, as they were only truly effective against Mississippi State's non-existent passing game; in their other 7 SEC games, Auburn gave up 8.07 ypp with an 8-5 ratio. Nebraska's passing game got better as the season progressed, although they struggled against OU's strong pass D in the Big 12 Championship game with 3 interceptions. Even including that poor performance, for the season in Big 12 play Nebraska threw for 8.04 ypp with an 18-5 ratio. Nebraska's running game is prolific if not efficient--they averaged 150 ypg and 4.13 ypc in Big 12 play--and they will likely outproduce Auburn on the ground as well, and be able to control the clock. Auburn will want to make amends for last year's poor bowl performance, but Nebraska should have a big edge in the crowd and I think they will have too much for Auburn to overcome.


Callahan will have those "fucking rednecks" in line, according to Solon.

OUTBACK BOWL, Tampa, FL

Tennessee (-4) v. Penn State

Penn State has a legitimate D, but their O has severe limitations. Against quality defensive opposition--Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin--Penn State averaged 6 ppg and 212 ypg, and only managed 1 TD--on a 43-yard screen pass--in those three games. I am not sure that Tennessee has a D as good as any of those--they very well may have, however--but there is little doubt that Tennessee's D is far superior to anyone else on the Penn State schedule. Tennessee's running game has been uneven this season, although the presence of RB Coker has made a massive difference; with him, they are averaging 137 ypg and 4.41 ypc; without him, they are averaging 44 ypg and 1.87 ypc (albeit against considerably stronger opposition). Tennessee's big advantage in this contest lies with the passing game; QB Ainge is averaging 8.75 ypp with a 19-8 ratio for the season. Penn State's pass D has been pretty good this season, but they have dominated lesser passing games while struggling against better ones; to illustrate, ND, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin averaged 7.85 ypp against them with a 7-0 ratio (PSU admittedly had a good game against Ohio St QB Smith, but that was as much a product of the weather conditions than anything else). I believe Tennessee's passing game is at least as good as any of those, and I think it will make the difference here as the PSU O will not have much production against the stout Tennessee D.

SUGAR BOWL, New Orleans, LA

Louisiana State (-9.5) v. Notre Dame

In many ways, the story of Notre Dame encapsulates all that is great about college football; legendary coaches, legendary players, legendary games, all from a small school in the Midwest that remains independent despite playing in the geographical midst of the nation's oldest, and arguably most storied, conference. Unfortunately, the romance and tradition surrounding the program has put recent editions in the odd position of having to punch well above their weight in the postseason. Much like last season, Notre Dame does not belong anywhere near a BCS bowl; and, due to their rich tradition, they once again must face a marquee opponent that is far superior rather than a more manageable BCS foe, such as Boise State or Wake Forest. Notre Dame's O is one-dimensional; RB Walker provides little balance to QB Quinn. Unfortunately for the Irish, if LSU's D is vulnerable anywhere, it is against the run (witness Arkansas' performance against them); against the pass they are solid, giving up only 5.52 ypp with a 9-10 ratio against BCS opponents. And, ND's offensive problems pale in comparison to their defensive problems; while they have been a suspect unit all year long against largely mediocre opposition, they now have to face a unit that is every bit the equal of the two teams that dominated them this season. QB Russell's production has been remarkably consistent--between 196 and 269 yards in 11 of 12 games--and, incredibly efficient, averaging 9.08 ypp with a 26-7 ratio. ND has faced three decent passing attacks this season--Michigan, Purdue, and USC--who averaged 295 ypg and 9.21 ypp with an 8-3 ratio. It seems unlikely that ND will be able to keep the LSU passing game in check, and I look for a big win for the Tigers in this spot.


Roy Horn and Notre Dame will have something in common, according to Solon.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:

ROSE BOWL, Pasadena, CA

Michigan (+2) v. Southern California

I'm a little confused by the line movement on this game, which has shifted the favorite. Michigan's D is almost certainly not as good as people thought it was earlier in the season--by which I mean in mid-November--but I suspect that facing the Ohio State offense will do that to a lot of legitimate defenses. USC brings a strong passing attack, but their running game is certainly limited. Even after their performance against Ohio State, I rate the Michigan rush D as the best in the nation and I think they will render the USC O one-dimensional. While the performance of the Michigan O in the OSU-Mich game was overshadowed by the performance of the Ohio State O, it was still impressive, as they gained 397 yards against a D that had given up a previous high of 343 yds this season. Most impressive was the performance of RB Hart, who had 23 carries for 142 yards. Hart is not going to dominate games, but he will always get yards and provide QB Henne with some balance. Henne, meanwhile, has really developed as a passer this season, averaging 7.66 ypp, nearly a yard higher than his previous best, while still maintaining his strong ratio (this season, 20-7). In an odd reversal (given that they are a Pac-10 team), USC has probably not faced an offense as capable as Michigan's this season; Nebraska's probably is now, but it was not when the Trojans played them. I think Michigan rates a slight edge in just about every aspect--slightly better running game, passing game, run D (I think USC might have a slightly stronger pass D)--and, given that I am getting points, I would lean toward Michigan in this one.

FIESTA BOWL, Glendale, AZ

Oklahoma (-7) v. Boise State

Boise is no doubt a legitimate team but they are probably the equivalent of a mid-level BCS conference team like Mizzou or Georgia. I am not sure how excited Oklahoma will be to be playing in this game, but the return of RB Peterson at least suggests an honest effort out of their most potent offensive weapon. Add to this the strong Oklahoma D, and I think Boise will struggle on both sides of the ball. Boise has faced very few strong Ds this season; against Oregon State, Wyoming, and Utah, Boise averaged 32 ppg and 350 ypg; of course, none of these teams have anywhere near Oklahoma's talent level or playmaking ability. Boise's biggest problems lie on the other side of the ball, where the challenges faced by Boise this season have been few and far between. Outside of Hawaii--who had clearly not hit their stride, and, who, in any event, scored 34 points and gained 476 yds at Boise--Oregon State's suspect O rates as the best Boise has faced. Specifically, Boise has yet to face a legitimate rushing attack; the best on their schedule has probably been that of SJSU or Fresno State. Even without RB Peterson, Oklahoma's running game is superior to those teams; with him, they are vastly superior. QB Thompson has had a very good season as well, and likely rates as the second best QB Boise has faced (to Hawaii QB Brennan); the bottom line is that I believe the Boise D to be untested and that will likely make the difference as the strong Oklahoma D will keep Boise in check enough for their O to make the difference in this one.


They'll be no blue turf to save them in Glendale.

ORANGE BOWL, Miami, FL

Louisville (-9.5) v. Wake Forest

I was quite close to playing this game, but I decided to hold off; Wake has been my "bogey side" this season, as I have gone 0-4 when selecting their games. The Louisville O is incredibly potent, but the loss of RB Bush in week one has undoubtedly curtailed their production; as a result they are not likely to go off against strong defenses as they have in recent seasons (witness their O scoring 24 pts v. K State, 18 pts v. Rutgers, and 23 pts v. Cincinnati). Wake's success is largely inexplicable this season, but their is little doubt that they have a strong D; they only gave up more than 20 pts on D twice this season, and opponents are averaging less than 14 ppg. Even with this, there's little doubt that Louisville will produce something offensively--they've only been held under 20 points once in the last three seasons--and it will be incumbent upon Wake's O to keep up. This is where Wake will run into trouble; Louisville does not have a great D, but they are serviceable, and Wake--which has only gained as many as 300 yards twice all season--will probably not be able to get the job done. I also think Wake will be satisfied with their season, whereas Louisville will feel they have something to prove. All in all, Louisville should get the job done, but 9.5 is a lot of points to give to a legitimate opponent and I think it might be too big an ask for the Cards.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, Glendale, AZ

Ohio State (-7.5) v. Florida

I have gone back and forth on this game, and I have come to the conclusion that the Gators are up against it. In retrospect, the Gators probably have a better D than Michigan, but that assessment is primarily a product of Ohio State's dominance against the Wolverines; 6 TDs, 3 punts, 3 TOs. Florida's D has played well against good offenses this season--Tennessee scored 20 pts, South Carolina scored 16 pts, and LSU scored 10 pts--but none of those teams present the challenge that Ohio State does; OSU features better players at every unit--QB, RB, WR, and OL--than their SEC counterparts. So long as OSU's execution does not suffer too much from the long layoff--keep in mind that the Michigan game was played on Nov. 18--they will almost certainly fare better in terms of production than any opponent the Florida D has faced this season. No doubt Florida will do better than Michigan did against OSU's O, but even that will not likely be enough, given their limitations on O. Ohio State's D is, to some extent, vulnerable against the run, but that isn't Florida's strength; in fact, Florida's running game at this point consists of direct snaps to WR Harvin and keepers by QB Tebow; primary RB Wynn seems to be an afterthought. Florida's passing attack is fair, but Ohio St has defended the pass well this season--only Michigan's superior passing attack had sustained success against them--and it is unlikely that Florida's QBs will be able to do enough to keep up with the Ohio State O.

Of course, there's always the chance that Ohio State hasn't really been tested; all they've done this season is beat Texas (not looking overly impressive, at this point--and, in any event, it was QB McCoy's second game) and Michigan--who themselves had only beaten an overrated ND team and an otherwise untested Wisconsin team. What happened to their O when they played a great Penn State D? How about against a less great (but still good) Illinois D? If Ohio State had needed to test their mettle at Auburn, at Tennessee, and at home to LSU, would they still be undefeated? I'm not sure. Usually, it doesn't work like this, but it's certainly possible that the Big 10 was so weak this season that both Ohio State and Michigan (as well as Wisconsin) are fabulously overrated (by way of comparison, look at the Big 8 in 1987), and they'll be ill-equipped to deal with a more battle-hardened Florida team. A good barometer might be Michigan's performance in the Rose Bowl; I think if Michigan does not hold their own, Ohio State might be in trouble (Wisconsin is a bit of an anomaly, I don't think their performance will tell us much about Ohio State). In the end, I think it's best to pass and hope for a good game.

Florida/Ohio State: Happy Fun Ball untouchable.

A hearty thanks to all commenters for all of your input this season; best of luck to all of you with your wagers.