Wednesday, December 17

Poinsettia Bowl: In Which the BCS Gets a Meaty Middle Finger

Okay, so we learned our lesson from last year and we're not attempting to write bowl previews for every bowl - but we are covering most of them. With that being said, we're starting with this unintentional gem of a bowl that's showing up before Christmas, of all things. I can't think it was the Poinsettia Bowl's hope that they'd end up with the two best non-BCS teams out there, but sometimes Festivus miracles occur. (Actually, it's also appropriate that the Festivus miracle in this case was the Fiesta Bowl only seeing dollar signs and not actual on-field skill; it's always a Festivus miracle when someone's being an idiot.)


Going 0-2 against BCS teams isn't a point of shame; lots of teams do it. However, most teams don't win every other game they play, which is what the Horned Frogs did. The win everyone knows about is the complete decimation of BYU on October 16th (it's always nice when you get the night to yourself, isn't it?), but everyone also missed the 44-10 domination of bowl-bound Air Force. For a team that's known for their defense, they only scored under two TDs three times - in their two losses and in a 13-7 win over Colorado State. Heck, if you throw out the lackluster 26-3 opening win over New Mexico they didn't score less than 30 points in a game all year.

How do they do it on offense? Well, they run what most people would term a balanced offense (rushing yards ~= passing yards), but this is a run-first offense. They average nearly 50 runs per game, to the tune of 215 yards per game on the ground. The key here is that everyone chips in; 5 guys have between 350 and 500 yards rushing this season, with nobody topping Joseph Turner's 494 yards. The guy you've heard of, though, is RB Aaron Brown, who was a bit hobbled this year - but still doesn't average over 50 yards per game. Through the air, they're not as openly Neanderthal as, say, an Air Force, but they're not far off; QB Andy Dalton is the only semi-legitimate passer on the roster. Backup QB Marcus Jackson is what the kids call a dual threat; that's flagrantly not true since he can't pass worth shit.

Their scoring D is 2nd in the nation, behind only USC (and right in front of Boise State). It works for them, since they basically dare teams to attack them through the air; when you average 1.74 yards per carry against a team you'll abandon the run pretty quickly. Take to the air and you luck out; now you're facing a defense that's only 9th in the country, with a pretty sweet 8/14 TD/INT ratio. Best of luck. CB Stephen Coleman has a TINT (so does DL Jerry Hughes, but we'll write that off as a fluke).

How TCU beats Boise State: It'll come down to turnovers - and it'll have to. That +13 margin will be tested here, and since Boise State outpunts TCU don't count on winning the field position game. On offense, there's some - but not much - hay to be made busting it up the middle; sure, the four leading tacklers for Boise are largely up the middle, but TCU's rushing game isn't dependent on outside runs for the most part. (Yes, it is dependent on mixing it up, but this is not a home-run rushing attack we're dealing with here.) TCU has to win the third-down battle; they had the most third-down conversions in the country so far, but Boise State has one of the best third-down conversion defenses in the country. Then again, so does TCU.

This game will be nasty; if TCU can keep it within a score, they're in good shape. Oklahoma was the only team to blow TCU out, and the Horned Frogs had Utah beat for 58 minutes. There's no reason they can't beat Boise for 60.

Boise State

With Ha'wai'i (or as it will soon be written, həˈwaɪ.i) getting pimp-slapped by the Georgia Arps in last season's Sugar Bowl, and with the second-best teams in the WAC winning just 7 games, there was no way Boise State was going to beat out Utah for a BCS slot. It's a shame because, in retrospect, BSU's win on the road over Oregon is a hell of a lot more impressive than Utah's over Michigan; probably more impressive than any of the Utes' wins to be honest. But don't blame Utah; they're unbeaten with a trio of quality home wins to back that up. Blame the BCS for taking the mighty _Buckeyes._ of Ohio State -- or really, for unapologetically being Jim Delany's bitch. Either way, Boise State should be playing in the Fiesta, but we'll take one tolerable pre-Christmas bowl as a consolation.

Boise State is an old-fashioned run offense meets tough defense kind of team - the complete opposite of what they were when they won the Fiesta Bowl after the 2006 season. Defensively, Boise is #3 in the nation in scoring. Only two of their first eight opponents managed to crack ten points against this defense, and don't read too much into the 32 they allowed against Oregon. In a road environment against a team who finished with 9 wins and second in the Pac 10, #7 offense in the country (or, as we like to think of it, #2 offense outside the Big 12), Boise was up 37-13 at the end of the 3rd quarter. Pretty much every game except their late trip to Nevada was an uninteresting blowout, because nobody could get anything going offensively against these guys.

Boise State averages about 36 rushes per game and 34 passes per game - balanced on the surface, but when you consider the number of times a team is forced to pass on 3rd and long, this means they're favoring the run whenever they have a choice. Ian Johnson, who scored the final points in that epic Fiesta Bowl win over yet another vastly overrated Oklahoma team, is still leading the charge on the ground but has been nearly equalled by Jeremy Avery, giving the Broncos a legitimate two-back system.

Freshman QB Kellen Moore throws the ball with 70% accuracy and enjoys a 25-9 ratio. He's not being asked to win any games, but he's damn sure not losing them. (right, unbeaten)

Now, a great defense and a reasonably good, consistent offense is tough to beat. And Boise State makes certain that the special teams and turnover games won't swing that back the other way. The Broncos have forced 31 TOs while giving up only 24, including a 20-10 edge in interceptions. Kyle Brotzman averages 45.5 yards per punt, and the team gets a +7 yards/punt return edge on their opponents. The Broncos do have some issues with the FG unit (14/22).

TCU mirrors Boise State in many ways - great defense, commitment to the running game, win the turnover battle, win the kicking game. They're a little better at FG kicks, but a little worse at punting and QB play. Calling the first two something that can't be changed and possibly a wash, Boise really wants to force the issue at the QB position. TCU likes to stack the box and take away the run even at the expense of giving up perimeter and deep pass coverage. This was particularly evident against Oklahoma, when the Sooners' final 21 points came on three passes of over 50 yards each to Manuel Johnson. Kellen Moore is no Sam "Fuck It I'm Going Deep" Bradford, but surely he can outplay Andy Dalton. The Broncos should use a similar defensive strategy as the Horned Frogs, overloading the box and forcing TCU to throw more than they'd like. Bonus that Boise's secondary has also been more active than TCU's in forcing turnovers.

Offensively, Boise should not only test TCU's at the perimeter and in deep coverage, but also with trick plays. The old playbook's still around there somewhere, and in the (admittedly few) Broncos games I watched this season, these plays made occasional appearances with a good amount of success.