We got Army (-3.5) against Houston, but missed on USF (+3) against Marshall, taking us to 3-1 on the bowl season and 12-10 on our college picks of the week so far this year. The bowls get more compelling this week, and we think we’ve found some value.
As we do each week, our pick(s) of the week will get the point/counterpoint analysis, and the rest of our picks printed below. A reminder that you can follow us on twitter at @BrownBenjamin22 and @PFF_Eric and listen to the PFF Forecast with Eric Eager and George Chahrouri here.
Boston College versus Boise State (-2.5)
Prediction: Boise State 29-26 (Boise State covers)
Point (Eric Eager): We’ve loved Boise State all year, and they’ve been good to us more often than not. They’ve been very balanced with Brett Rypien leading their offense to over a 50% success rate on early-down passes (Boston College is at roughly 40%, for reference) and Alexander Mattison managing over 65 missed tackles forced on over 300 carries. They will face a stiff test in the Eagles’ passing defense, allowing -0.21 EPA per early-down passing play (second only to Clemson in the ACC), but will be able to make some plays on the ground, where the Eagles have been more modest in terms of effectiveness (38% success rate allowed). A balanced Boise attack, along with the difference between Rypien and BC’s Anthony Brown (only 7.9 yards per clean-pocket passing attempt, with seven INT) will get Boise to the cover here.
Counterpoint (Ben Brown): Boston College enters the First Responders Bowl sporting the second-best EPA allowed on early-down pass defense in the ACC. With an 18% contested pass rate and pressure registered on almost 33% of dropbacks, the Eagles defense is very much for real. This will be the classic case of strong pass defense matched against one of the most productive offenses in the FBS. Boise State has been a favorite of ours throughout the college football season and the only situation where we don’t see a cover occurring is if Boston College severely limits their passing attack and Brown is able to connect on a few long passes or finds success on scrambling situations when the Broncos defense breaks down. The expectation is that Rypien puts an exclamation point on his stellar 2018 as Boise State simply overmatches Boston College offensively.
California versus TCU (+1)
Prediction: TCU 22-21 (TCU covers and wins)
Point (Eric Eager): The defense of TCU (first and second in the Big 12 in early-down passing and rushing success allowed, respectively) should be able to do enough to stop a Cal offense that is the worst in the Pac 12 and one of the worst in the country, dumping almost a quarter of an expected point each time they drop back to pass on early downs.
Counterpoint (Ben Brown): Cal entered the bowl season as the worst passing offense from an EPA standpoint in the Pac-12. Chase Garbers has played better down the stretch since returning from injury in Week 8, yet, when you are displaying a passer rating of 89.7 from a clean pocket, the only direction to head is up. Surprisingly, Garbers has been very good against the blitz, sporting a passer rating of 111.8. Unfortunately for his future prospects, TCU blitzes under 20% of dropbacks which is an exceptionally low rate. Cal’s defense played well in the Pac-12 allowing a successful early-down pass attempt on 41.7% of attempts. TCU splits similar EPA metrics in a much more offensively-focused conference and is the superior team in our rankings model. We think the wrong team is favored and expect TCU to win and cover in a low-scoring affair.
Vanderbilt versus Baylor (+4)
Prediction: Vanderbilt 30-27 (Baylor covers)
Point (Ben Brown): Charlie Brewer has graded as a top 10 quarterback according to PFF in 2018. He has been quite good when kept clean, posting a passer rating of 103.7 and an adjusted completion percentage of 78.6. This hasn’t necessarily translated into a high EPA per dropback and his relatively safe average depth of throw grouped him into our second cohort of QB clusters. Still, PFF and therefore this model is high on Brewer and the big-play pass-catchers he has around him. With an above-average defense that has performed well out of the high flying Big-12, Baylor should be able to do enough offensively to cover the 4 points against a very middle-of-the-pack to below-average SEC team.
Counterpoint (Eric Eager): Vanderbilt has been one of the more effective teams on the ground this season, averaging 0.07 EPA on early-down runs (fourth-best in the SEC). Baylor is allowing successful runs on almost 40% of such early-down plays, which is one of the weaker marks in what is a weak set of defenses in the Big 12. If Vanderbilt can leverage this strength and put pressure on Brewer (where he has only a 61.4 passer rating), they might be able to suppress an inconsistent Baylor offense and cover the number here.