5 College Football Mismatches Bettors Can Exploit During Bowl Season
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Brontae Harris
- It's important for bettors to examine the biggest mismatches during bowl season.
- I'll focus on five of the most glaring mismatches, starting with one on Tuesday.
- I focus on a few areas, including the run, QB pressure and even red zone production.
Bowl season has arrived, which we means we have a very robust, 12-game data set to analyze the relative strengths and weaknesses of all 78 teams competing during bowl season.
Whether you want to look in the trenches, at the skill positions or even on special teams, bettors must identify and be cognizant of glaring mismatches each week.
Power ratings should serve as your handicapping starting point, but situational angles (especially motivation during bowl season) and matchup analyses should help refine your final wagers.
As I have done each week this season, I have again pinpointed five of the most glaring mismatches during bowl season. These will hopefully help you make more informed betting decisions. For those not familiar, I will point out a major discrepancy in a standard statistic and then provide supporting evidence that the underlying metrics back up.
Let’s start by looking at a glaring mismatch on Tuesday night.
UAB Pass Rush vs. Northern Illinois
- Spread: UAB -2.5
- Over/Under: 43
- Location: Boca Raton, Fla.
- Date: Tuesday, Dec. 18
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
- Channel: ESPN
The Boca Raton Bowl will feature two of the most prolific pass rushing units in college football. Northern Illinois leads the nation with 50 sacks, ranking fifth in Adjusted Sack Rate. Meanwhile, UAB comes in at fourth overall with 43 sacks and ranks third in Adjusted Sack Rate. Both defensive fronts are more than capable of absolutely dominating a game.
However, the UAB offensive line is much more equipped to battle in the trenches. Northern Illinois allowed 38 sacks this season at a rate of 2.92 per game, which ranks 113th in the country. In contrast, the Blazers only allowed 25 all season in the same number of games.
The advanced metrics confirm these raw numbers, as UAB’s offensive line ranks 60th in Adjusted Sack Rate. That’s just slightly above average, but significantly better than the Huskies’ rank of 117th.
In a game that features two stout run defenses, each team should face countless third-and-long situations. And it is the UAB defensive line that is more likely to get to the QB as a result of the more favorable matchup up front. I think that’s ultimately the difference in this game where points should come at a premium.
Troy Special Teams vs. Buffalo
- Spread: Buffalo -2
- Over/Under: 51.5
- Location: Mobile, Ala.
- Date: Saturday, Dec. 22
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
- Channel: ESPN
The MAC had some really bad special teams play this season across the board, including Buffalo — which struggled all year on the often-forgotten about third unit. It’s easier to hide those issues in a conference filled with teams dealing with similar issues, but those deficiencies get magnified against teams with elite special teams. And Troy certainly fits that mold.
Just take a look at some of the differences between these two teams:
- Troy ranks fifth in net punting (41.83 yards); Buffalo ranks 85th.
- Troy ranks ninth overall in average kick return yardage (25.06 yards); Buffalo ranks 114th.
- Buffalo kicker Adam Mitcheson is just 8 of 12 on field goal attempts this year and has missed SEVEN extra points, including a costly one in the MAC championship. Tyler Sumpter hasn’t been spectacular for Troy, but he’s been solid, connecting on 18 of 24 field goal attempts and all 39 extra points.
- Buffalo has had an NCAA-worst SEVEN kicks blocked this year; Troy has had zero.
- Amazingly, Buffalo has also had an NCAA-worst three punts blocked; Troy has had zero.
From an S&P+ perspective, Buffalo ranks 124th in the country on special teams. And Troy? 11th. That’s a staggering discrepancy, which could ultimately decide who will win (and cover) in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl.
No matter where you look, Troy has a distinct advantage on special teams and is much more likely to create a game-changing play from that unit.
Two other noteworthy glaring S&P+ Special Teams ranking disparities this bowl season include:
- Utah (No. 7) vs. Northwestern (No. 122)
- Cal (No. 20) vs. TCU (No. 121)
Georgia Tech Rush Offense vs. Minnesota
- Spread: Georgia Tech -6
- Over/Under: 60
- Location: Detroit, Mich.
- Date: Wednesday, Dec. 26
- Time: 5:15 p.m. ET
- Channel: ESPN
Minnesota allows 5.2 yards per rush attempt, which ranks 118th in the country. Only Virginia Tech allows more among teams that qualified for a bowl this season.
Well, that’s not ideal against a Georgia Tech triple-option attack that runs the ball at the third-highest rate in FBS.
- Army: 63.8% plays
- Air Force: 59.4%
- Georgia Tech: 58.4%
- Navy: 56.3%
- Georgia Southern: 48.7%
Yup, your five option teams, as you’d expect. And Georgia Tech doesn’t just run it frequently, it runs it very effectively. The Yellow Jackets average 5.7 yards per carry, which ranks in the top 10 nationally.
You won’t find anything different if you glance at the advanced metrics. Georgia Tech ranks in the top 20 in Rushing S&P+ Offense — and also sits in the top five in Rushing efficiency, Opportunity Rate and Stuff Rate.
Tech will face a Gopher rush defense that ranks 86th overall, per S&P+. They also have extreme issues containing explosiveness in the run game, ranking 126th in that department. Expect the Yellow Jackets to break countless huge runs against Minnesota on the turf of Ford Field in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Temple Offensive Line vs. Duke
- Temple -3.5
- Over/Under: 55.5
- Location: Shreveport, Louisiana
- Date: Thursday, Dec. 27
- Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
- Channel: ESPN
Duke only had 21 sacks on the season for an average of 1.75 per game, which ranks 95th in the country. Don’t expect the Blue Devils to get many against a stellar Temple offensive that only allowed 15 in 12 games this year — good enough for a top 20 clip.
The advanced metrics tell the same story. The Owls’ offensive line ranks 13th overall in Adjusted Sack Rate, while Duke’s defensive line ranks 96th overall in that same category. And even more alarming, the Blue Devils rank 129th in Adjusted Sack Rate on Passing Downs.
Assuming he can go, Temple quarterback Anthony Russo (who missed the season finale) should have all day to throw in the Independence Bowl against a reeling Duke team that ended the season with two losses by a combined score of 94-13.
Mississippi State Red Zone Efficiency vs. Iowa
- Mississippi State -7
- Over/Under: 44.5
- Location: Tampa, Fla.
- Date: Tuesday, Jan. 1
- Time: Noon ET
- Channel: ESPN2
Yes, Mississippi State’s defense ranks in the top five in red scoring, allowing opponents to score on only 71.9% of trips inside the 20. But even more impressive, the Bulldogs have only allowed opposing teams to score an NCAA-best eight total touchdowns in 32 red zone trips. EIGHT! That’s absurd.
Iowa ranks a very average 56th in red zone scoring percentage at 84.9%, but has only scored touchdowns on 36 of 53 trips inside the 20. Even more troubling is the fact that star tight end Noah Fant will sit out this game in advance of the NFL draft. Fant was the best red zone option for the Hawkeyes.
The advanced metrics paint the same picture. Mississippi State ranks No. 1 in the nation in Finishing Drives, per S&P+. The Bulldogs’ defense also ranks in the top four in both inside-the-10 and 11-to-20 yard line success rates. Meanwhile, Iowa ranks 121st nationally in first-and-goal success rate, which you’d expect for a team that has no running game to speak of.
Considering Iowa’s offense doesn’t possess much explosiveness and the fact that Mississippi State’s defense contains explosive plays as well as any team in the country, Iowa will need to methodically drive down the field to score. But once the Hawkeyes are down inside the 20, they will struggle immensely to punch it in the end zone.
Additionally, the Mississippi State offense has excelled in the red zone, which isn’t surprising with its dominant rushing attack. The Bulldogs offense sits in the top 20 in red zone scoring percentage and also ranks in the top five in Finishing Drives. They should convert most of their trips inside the 20 into seven points against an Iowa defense that hasn’t thrived in the red zone.
This particular mismatch is one of the reasons I like Mississippi State and the under here. It doesn’t hurt the unders case that these are two snails that rank in the bottom 15 in adjusted pace.