Friday, December 30: Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas, TX at Noon eastern
Brigham Young Cougars (9-3) vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (8-4)
Two teams that faltered early and redeemed their seasons meet to see who ends the season on a positive note.
Vegas line/spread: BYU by 1 1/2 (over/under 57.5)
BYU is a slight favorite; the line has moved down a bit from 2 1/2 to 1 1/2 points, while the over/under has increased from 55.5.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. spread|
Though BYU is the favorite by the oddsmakers, Tulsa outranks the Cougars in the Strength Power Rating, #38 to #50. Correspondingly, Tulsa is a slight favorite in the game-comparison system—though it's pretty narrow for a 12-ranking-spot difference. The reason is BYU's consistency since the mid-season, while Tulsa has a few very good games and several below-average ones that almost tilt the majority to the Cougars. Against the spread, Tulsa has a bit more leeway.
Tulsa is a 3 point favorite with our computers. No home field advantage is given though Tulsa plays fairly close to home; BYU is not terribly far away. Tulsa's advantage is on offense where they are #28 (BYU #52), though BYU's defense is a bit better (#43 to #58).
When tempo is "removed", BYU has a miniscule edge but the estimate is essentially a tie. Tulsa plays very fast, and BYU ends up playing a lot slower; Tulsa's offense is overrated due to their speed, and BYU's underrated.
Using per-game yardage adjusted for opposition, BYU has the edge; they're #25 in adjusted yardage differential while Tulsa is #47. The offenses are much closer than they are in scoring: Tulsa is #26 but BYU is 42nd. The big difference now is on defense where the Cougars are #18, the Hurricane #72. BYU doesn't give up a lot of yards but yields quite a few points; it's not immediately clear why as their red zone defense is good as is their 3rd down defense. In any case, BYU comes out 40 total yards ahead in our projection.
On a per-play basis Tulsa is the winner; they should average around 4.7 yards per carry on the ground to just 3.2 for BYU, offsetting the Cougars' slight per-attempt passing advantage.
Yardage + interceptions + kick returns: BYU 32, Tulsa 27
Both teams have a decent chance of getting multiple interception, but by the odds Tulsa is more likely to win that battle. It's only worth around a point as the advantage is small and theoretical. As we'll see later, Tulsa should really be given a bigger advantage in this department if you look at each team's quarterback stats.
BYU has the edge on kick returns, however. Tulsa is unlikely to score on big returns (they are without Demaris Johnson, as they have been all season). BYU has a couple of touchdown returns, J.D. Falslev and Cody Hoffman having one each. The better field position that should result, and chance of a big play (Tulsa has average coverage) offsets Tulsa's turnover advantage and (barely) adds a point to BYU's projection.
When BYU has the ball
|BYU rushing offense: #65
||Tulsa rushing defense: #53
Five players for the Cougars rushed for over 250 yards, including J.J. Di Luigi and QB Riley Nelson. Due to their mostly poor schedule, they rank slightly below average. Tulsa's defense is slightly above average and should hold the Cougars to around 140 yards.
|BYU passing offense: #35||Tulsa passing defense: #99 per att: #67|
|BYU interceptions thrown ranking: #100||Tulsa interceptions picked ranking: #21|
|BYU quarterback protection rank: #44||Tulsa pass rush rank: #29|
Jake Heaps was the starter in the first five games but as they struggled he was replaced by Riley Nelson against Utah State, and he led them to victory. After that, Nelson lost only to TCU; Heaps returned against Idaho and New Mexico due to Nelson's injury, but Nelson started the final game. Heaps announced he was transferring, recently deciding on Kansas. He will not play in the bowl game.
For the full season, BYU was #35 but Nelson's numbers are a lot better than Heaps', with 16 TDs and 5 interceptions (Heaps had 9 and 8). So our estimate of 280 passing yards for BYU could be low, but note that Tulsa's pass defense is better than its per-game average shows.
Tulsa has some hope of slowing down the attack. As a team BYU is pretty interception-prone; Nelson and Heaps have combined for 13 (Nelson 5, Heaps 8) at about the same rate. Tulsa's Dexter McCoil and Milt Howell both have four picks; look for 1 or 2 more during the game. BYU's quarterback protection will be tested by Tulsa's decent pass rush, too. Tyrunn Walker has 8 sacks on the year, and he and his teammates should have at 2 more. Nelson is more sack-prone than Heaps, so two sacks might be a minimum.
When Tulsa has the ball
|Tulsa rushing offense: #26
||BYU rushing defense: #50
Tulsa has a powerful backfield duo: Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts, who have 884 and 843 yards respectively. Douglas accomplished the feat in just 108 carries, for an astounding 8.2 ypc average. QB G.J. Kinne is 3rd with 405 net yards. These 2,000+ yards put the Hurricane on the borderline of the top 25 in adjusted rushing per game, much better than BYU's defense can claim. Tulsa should have around 180 yards.
|Tulsa passing offense: #47||BYU passing defense: #12 per att: #17|
|Tulsa interceptions thrown ranking: #108||BYU interceptions picked ranking: #66|
|Tulsa quarterback protection rank: #16||BYU pass rush rank: #113|
G.J. Kinne has thrown for 2,876 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2011 despite losing star receiver Demaris Johnson before the season began. Now his favorite targets are Willie Carter (868 yards) and Bryan Burnham (737) who combined for 15 TD catches. BYU's pass defense is fantastic, and might limit the Hurricane to around 200 yards.
By our adjusted interception rankings, BYU should pick off 1 pass, and possibly two on average. Kinne has been intercepted 12 times, but backup Kalen Henderson is responsible for another 4 picks in just 29 attempts. That makes the "team" stats worse; if Kinne plays the whole game then the interception estimate is too high. Maybe cut it to just one?
BYU doesn't really have much hope of getting relevant pressure on Kinne, who has been sacked just 12 times all year. Again, Henderson has been sacked 4 times skewing the sack ratings. The Cougars have 20 sacks against easy competition; Kinne is unlikely be sacked at all.
So while Tulsa might have more than 200 yards if they're safe from picks and sacks, but if Kinne gets hurt again and Henderson (4 sacks and 4 picks in 29 attempts?) has to play, things could get ugly.
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (1)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (0)
Losses (3) to losing teams (0)
- @ Mississippi 14-13
- @ Texas 16-17
- Utah 10-54
- Central Florida 24-17
- Utah St 27-24
- San Jose St 29-16
- @ Oregon St 38-28
- Idaho St 56-3
- @ #12 TCU 28-38
- Idaho 42-7
- New Mexico St 42-7
- @ Hawaii 41-20
BYU is very lucky they didn't start the year 0-5. They came back against Mississippi after being down 13-0, then lost to Texas after being up 13-0. The next game wasn't a contest as Utah demolished the Cougars 54-10 on their home turf.
After that shaky start the Cougars began to get some traction, starting with narrow wins over UCF and Utah State, the latter their only win over a bowl-bound team. They won three more before losing a fairly close game at TCU, then beat three more losing teams to finish a stealthy 9-3.
Since the Utah game the team's game ratings steadily improved; the offense improved a lot over the first six games and the defense was steady from the 4th game on. But the level of competition was poor in general, and the Cougars were just 1-2 against non-top-25 bowl teams.
The offense did a lot better in Nelson's five starts than in Heaps' six: 20 points better adjusted for opposition, and 12 points better than the offense's overall average.
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (2)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (0)
Losses (4) to losing teams (0)
- @ #21 Oklahoma 14-47
- @ Tulane 31-3
- #3 Oklahoma St 33-59
- @ #4 Boise St 21-41
- North Texas 41-24
- UAB 37-20
- @ Rice 38-20
- SMU 38-7
- @ Central Florida 24-17
- Marshall 59-17
- @ UTEP 57-28
- #12 Houston 16-48
Tulsa had a nightmare early schedule worse than any other team save perhaps Arizona. Starting with AP pre-season #1 Oklahoma, they followed a breather at Tulane with pre-season top ten Oklahoma State and Boise State. Predictably, they began the year 1-3 with losses of 33, 26, and 20 points.
Then it was Tulsa's turn to win by double-digits against North Texas, Alabama-Birmingham, Rice, and SMU. They had trouble at UCF but won, then beat Marshall 59-17 and UTEP 57-28, both games off the charts offensively. They were on a roll heading into the Houston game but the Cougars shut them down defensively while rolling up 48 points of their own, a fourth 20+ point loss to another top 25 team.
Neither team has any new major injuries. Jake Heaps' transfer is effective immediately so he won't play in the bowl game.
- BYU's season: +3 wins; Tulsa's season: -1 win
- BYU's momentum: +1 win; Tulsa's momentum: +2 wins
- BYU won final game: YES; Tulsa won final game: NO
- BYU glad to be there? yes; Tulsa glad to be there: yes
- BYU coaching situation: stable; Tulsa coaching situation: stable
BYU improved a lot over last year's 6-6, but with an easier schedule. Tulsa lost a win, but had a very tough schedule. Ultimately schedule doesn't matter; an improvement in record is an improvement, and a decline is a decline. Both teams did better in the 2nd half of the season.
BYU arguably played their best game of the season in the Hawaii road finale, while Tulsa played their worst. Again, schedule is a factor as Tulsa lost to Houston, but a 48-16 loss is still a downer
Are they glad to be there? Is the question. BYU was aligned with this bowl before the season started, so it's just where they expected to be. Tulsa knew that with their schedule, getting to a bowl game might not be guaranteed, so they should be reasonably pleased, too, after their 1-3 start.
This is a game with no clear favorite. Any number of bowl games are the kind that can "go either way" but normally there is a clear favorite by the oddsmakers and the stats; then the job is just to think about which team is more motivated and which possible scenario plays out.
But here we have the oddsmakers saying BYU, the Strength Power Rating saying Tulsa. The main per-game yardage analysis says BYU, the per-attempt projection says Tulsa. Tempo-free Strength projection calls it a tossup, the game-comparison system is very close to that.
There are no major injuries to give us a clue, and the psychology of the game seems to be about a draw, or at least impossible to predict.
On offense BYU should be able to pass the ball, but the threat of interceptions and sacks from Tulsa might mitigate that. Tulsa can probably run the ball, but passing will be tough.
BYU has improved slowly but surely and is a better team when Nelson plays QB. But they've been playing a soft schedule for the most part, with just one win over a bowl team and one game against a top 25 team. Tulsa has two wins over bowl teams and has played four games against top 25 teams.
Putting it simply, BYU hasn't defeated a team as good as Tulsa, and Tulsa hasn't defeated any team as good as BYU. Nor has either team lost to a team as BAD as their opponent in the Armed Forces Bowl.
It's a tough call, but BYU's play under Nelson has elevated them. Tulsa lost only to top 25 teams, but they lost by enough each time to make it clear it doesn't take a top 25 team to beat them. And their last loss had to be demoralizing, making their earlier run of success a bit flat. BYU closed with perhaps their strongest win, and if not, it was at least the level of their recent games, not a huge dropoff like Tulsa suffered. This doesn't mean Tulsa can't keep it close but we'll take BYU by a nose.
Prediction: BYU 29, Tulsa 28
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2011-2012 bowl game schedule.