Playbook Advantage Football Facts

By The Playbook Staff


• The moneymakers at ESPN may have christened the College Football Bowl Season as "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" but the countless players who landed in Las Vegas this week to bet on bowl underdogs would beg to disagree. "I've been coming out here for the New Year's bowls for a long, long time," said one 70-year old who flew in from South Carolina, "and this is the WORST group of games I've ever seen. My plan on every trip has always been to stay in action thru Sunday when the NFL closes out. But after the favorites won and covered every freakin' game on Friday, I might be taking an early flight back." Yes, players who live by the credo of 'dog and Under' when taking on college football's postseason have been roughed up and left for dead: with 36 bowl games now in the books, the chalk has posted an incredible 23-13 ATS mark (64%) and teams have gone Over the total only one fewer time (22-14). Worst of all, the 5 games featured on Friday that were considered to be some of the best matchups of the bowl season were almost all blowouts where the favorites jumped out to big early leads and slammed the door in the second half. Translation: dog players never had a chance at covering. In the Outback Bowl, Tennessee (-9.5) was covering at halftime with 17-6 lead, then outscored Northwestern 28-0 in the second half. In the Citrus Bowl, Michigan (-3) held a 7-point lead over Florida before blowing the Gators away with a 24-0 second half. Notre Dame may have kept it close in the second half versus Ohio State, but the Irish were trailing by 14-21 points for the majority of the 44-28 final. Iowa won its second half over Stanford, 16-10, but had the misfortune of trailing 35-0 at the end of the first half. Ole Miss closed out the dog-less day with a 34-6 halftime lead over Oklahoma State en route to a 48-20 win (the only New Year's Day bowl that didn't fly Over the total). Yes, for one day in Las Vegas, the 'squares' reigned supreme.

• The legitimacy of the final College Football Playoff rankings was severely questioned by the results of the last few days. No. 10 North Carolina was crushed by No. 17 Baylor as the Bears – playing without their starting QB and RB – rushed for a mind-boggling 645 yards against the Tar Heels 'defense'. No. 13 Northwestern was annihilated by No. 23 Tennessee and No. 9 Florida State got smacked down by No. 18 Houston.

• North Carolina and North Carolina State were humiliated in lop-sided losses, giving up a combined total of 100 points in the process. Oklahoma's 3 bowl teams (OU, OSU, Tulsa) went 0-3, allowing an average of 46.7 points in the 3 losses. SEC squads improved to 6-2 in bowl games with 3 games left: Georgia-Penn State, Arkansas-Kansas State, Alabama-Clemson. The Big Ten's division winners – Iowa and Michigan State – were outscored 73-0 in 6 quarters of play. First-year Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh finished with 10 after his Wolverines played "our best game of the season." Meanwhile, Florida managed to score just TWO offensive TDs in its final 3 games.

• Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State, the three 5-7 teams needed to fill out the record 80 bowl slots, not only covered the spread in all three contests, they won outright as well.

• For another perspective, college sportswriter Jon Solomon posted this interesting piece:
For the second straight year, college football's New Year's Six bowl games were a total bore. This time, it was also a historic bore. The six highest-profile bowls – the Orange and Cotton for the national semifinals, and the Peach, Rose, Fiesta and Sugar – were decided by an average margin of 24.2 points. That's the widest margin in one season for the biggest bowls during the College Football Playoff and BCS eras. Last year, the first New Year's Six games were decided by 18.2 points. Five of the nine most lopsided major bowl games since 2008 have occurred in the first two years of the New Year's Six: Ole Miss 48, Oklahoma State 20; Stanford 45, Iowa 16; Alabama 38, Michigan State 0; TCU 42, Ole Miss 3; Oregon 59, Florida State 20. These are supposed to be the best bowl games? The final BCS season, in 2013, had an average margin of 7.2 points for those five games. The closest BCS season to this New Year's Six disaster was 2007, when the BCS bowls were decided by an average of 20 points.

Why is this happening? Frankly, some of it is cyclical and the random unpredictability of bowl games. You never know who's motivated, who's injured, who's tired, and who's looking ahead to the NFL. When the CFP Selection Committee revealed these matchups on Dec. 6, some of the New Year's Six games were regarded as fairly attractive pairings. Keep in mind, some of these matchups are out of the committee's hands. The Sugar Bowl rout saw the SEC's No. 2 team (Ole Miss) beat essentially the Big 12's No. 4 team (Oklahoma State) due to Big 12 tiebreaker rules.

Another factor perhaps impacting the committee: Large conferences with unbalanced divisions and schedules. Look at the Rose Bowl. In hindsight, a Rose Bowl between Stanford and Ohio State could have been outstanding if the committee had ranked the Buckeyes ahead of Iowa. The Hawkeyes played in the weaker Big Ten division without facing Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in the regular season. CFP committee chairman Jeff Long said Iowa finished ahead of Ohio State by proving more in a Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State than the Buckeyes had shown in their previous body of work. The New Year's Six blowouts can also be explained by the thin margin between wins and losses we saw in this regular season. If Michigan's punter didn't drop the ball, Michigan State would have two losses and Ohio State probably would have been in the playoff as potentially a tougher opponent for Alabama. Of course, if Arkansas didn't convert a fourth-and-25 against Ole Miss, Alabama might not have even been in the playoff. Now it's up to the Tide and the Clemson Tigers to rescue one of the worst bowl seasons in college football history.


• The New York Jets (10-5) have done everything right for the last five weeks, but if they don't come through on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, their opportunity to play postseason football could go right down the drain. It will not be an easy game for rookie head coach Todd Bowles and his team. The Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills earlier this season, and they were routed by the Bills in two games last year. The Jets go into the final week of the season with a one-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) for the second wild-card spot in the AFC.

• While the Jets have to go on the road and beat an up-and-down Buffalo team to assure themselves of the playoffs, the Steelers need to go on the road and beat the Cleveland Browns and hope the Jets come out of their game in Buffalo with a loss. If that happens, the Steelers will get that final playoff spot and the Jets will miss out. That is the only playoff spot that is legitimately up for grabs going into the final weekend.

• The Indianapolis Colts (7-8) have a slight chance of taking the AFC South division title away from the Houston Texans (8-7), but for that to happen, the Colts would have to beat the Tennessee Titans and the Texans would have to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those are just the first two steps. The Colts would also need seven other Week 17 games to go their way to get into the playoffs at the Texans' expense.

• While all six spots in the NFC side have been decided and four AFC spots are locked up, there is room for plenty of movement in the standings, and that will have an impact on matchups in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. The most significant game in the NFC will take place in Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers (10-5) will host the Minnesota Vikings (10-5) on Sunday night. The winner of that game will clinch the NFC North division, and the loser will remain in the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Packers would secure the No. 5 seed if they lose, but the Vikings would take the No. 5 or 6 seed if they lose.

• The Seattle Seahawks (9-6) have the other wild-card spot, and the Packers have the tiebreaker edge over Seattle based on their head-to-head victory in Week 2. However, if Seattle and Minnesota end up with the same record, the Seahawks have the tiebreaker edge since they beat the Vikings in Week 13.

• On the AFC side, the New England Patriots (12-3) will earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they beat the Miami Dolphins in Florida. If they lose and the Denver Broncos (11-4) win at home against the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos can take the top seed on the AFC side. However, the Broncos have not secured the AFC West crown yet. If they lose to the Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) beat the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead, the Chiefs will win the division. Kansas City is seeking its 10th win in a row.

• Arizona can still claim home-field advantage with a win over Seattle and a loss by Carolina.

• There are a number of reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles fired Chip Kelly on Tuesday evening. One of them reportedly had to do with his refusal to relinquish personnel power. Another one involved him losing the support of his players. But it's not just the players who stopped supporting Kelly, according to multiple reports. The former Eagles coach was losing people throughout the building, sources said, even outside of football operations. His autocratic tendencies got the best of him. His allies were few and far between. In fact, team owner Jeffrey Lurie had begun having serious reservations a few weeks ago, when he began reaching out to confidants about how to proceed and began doing research on the pool of potential candidates elsewhere. He started to doubt whether Kelly The Innovative Coach was quite smart enough to overcome Kelly The Personnel Demagogue. Everything having to be Kelly's way – moving events around to fit his schedule, things having to accommodate him – grew troublesome.

Lurie didn't go into his meeting with Kelly with the intention of firing him. More, it was to take his temperature and continue to feel him out and gather information that would lead to his ultimate decision on what to do with his organization in 2016. Obviously, things went sideways and what Kelly had to say didn't mesh with the owner's vision, and Lurie became convinced that for as radical as a Week 17 firing might be perceived, it was time to do it. The fact that Kelly didn't seem inclined to scratch and claw to remain in his perch, sources said, did him no favors as well. Now it remains to be seen if Kelly will land in Tennessee to be reunited with former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.