Thursday, December 22: Las Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas, NV at 8:00pm eastern
#4 Boise State Broncos (11-1) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6)
This game is a microcosm of NCAA football failure. A team like Boise State should not be paired with a 6-6 Arizona State team. One fix—getting rid of 6-6 teams and cutting back on the number of bowls—would at least rule out a matchup like this.
Vegas line/spread: Boise State by 14 (over/under 66)
Boise State is obviously a clear favorite; they were a field goal away, probably, from the national championship game. This is one of the wider spreads of the bowl season, with good reason.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. spread|
Boise State was in the top five in the Strength Power Rating most of the year before slumping to finish at #8. Arizona State, despite their 6-6 record, rates at #25. So while Boise State wins 7 of 10 game cross-comparisons, against the spread ASU comes out on top. We should note that ASU did quite a bit worse in the 2nd half of the year, and that's probably why the oddsmakers go with Boise a bit more. But the Broncos had their own slide.
The Strength Power Rating gives Boise State a 10 point advantage in a high-scoring game matching the oddsmakers' over/under of 66. Interestingly, Boise's main advantage over the Sun Devils is on defense, where they outrank ASU #21 to #51. It's a lot closer on offense; Boise is #13, ASU #19.
Arizona State plays a bit of a hurry-up game that inflates their offensive ranking and makes their D look a bit worse that it is. Correcting for tempo, or number of drives, Boise State (a slightly lower tempo team) sees a 12 point advantage.
We derive a score estimate from yardage by comparing the teams' yardage output only, on offense and defense, and correcting for their opponents. Those projected yardage results are converted to a score, which in this case exactly matches the conclusion of the Strength Power Rating, which utilizes game scores only. Boise State ranks #11 in yardage differential, ASU #30. Again, Boise's advantage is on defense—they're #14 to ASU's #71. And the Sun Devil offense actually outranks Boise, #13 to #17. We project about a 75 total yardage advantage for the Broncos.
Using per-play rather than per-game analysis, the game appears a lot closer. Boise has only a slight edge in both passing yards per attempt and yards per carry.
Yardage + interceptions + kick returns: Boise State 39, ASU 30
There isn't a big difference in expected turnovers between the teams. Boise State may have a slight advantage in interceptions, worth about a point in our estimate. Factoring in fumbles, which are essentially unpredictable, would wipe out this advantage.
Arizona State has the advantage on kick returns. While Boise's likelihood of scoring a huge kick return are slim, ASU has a decent chance of doing so, worth an additional two points to their total. Jamal Miles has returned three kicks for touchdowns this year; he's more dangerous to Boise on punt returns where their coverage is questionable.
When Boise State has the ball
|Boise State rushing offense: #54
||ASU rushing defense: #61
Boise's rushing totals aren't spectacular once you correct for their opponents, but they've got talent at running back. Doug Martin has 1,148 yards and D.J. Harper 553, both averaging almost 5 yards per carry. The run is not the focus of the offense, but it's used as a change-up for the passing game, and to drain the clock late. The backs are used a lot near the goal-line, too, combining for 23 touchdowns. Arizona State's rushing defense is average. Boise State should rush for around 150 yards.
|Boise State passing offense: #16||ASU passing defense: #86 per att: #79|
|Boise State interceptions thrown ranking: #23||ASU interceptions picked ranking: #13|
|Boise State quarterback protection rank: #3||ASU pass rush rank: #47|
Kellen Moore will be playing his last game for Boise State against the Sun Devils. He already holds the NCAA record for most wins. This season was another exemplary one from Moore; he threw for over 3,500 yards with 41 touchdowns. Ten different players had over 100 receiving yards, with Tyler Shoemaker and Matt Miller the top targets. Like the top two backs, they combined for 23 touchdown catches. Arizona State's pass defense is their weakness and Boise should rack up over 300 yards through the air.
Moore has thrown just 7 interceptions this year, but ASU's defense is good at seeking out the ball and will most likely pick off Moore once during the game. Their hopes for winning probably depend on getting more interceptions or other big-play turnovers, since they can't slow down the passing attack and it's hard to get to Moore; he's been sacked just 7 times this season, while ASU's pressure is not great. It's good enough to probably hand Moore his 8th sack, but not likely anything else.
When ASU has the ball
|ASU rushing offense: #72
||Boise State rushing defense: #8
Arizona State is even more passing-focused that Boise. Despite that, they still have a 1,000 yard rusher in Cameron Marshall, who has 18 touchdowns this season. That's about it for their ground game, and Boise State doesn't give up much in that area, ranking in the top ten in rushing defense after adjusting for opponents. Like many teams ASU probably won't try to run all that much on Boise, focusing on the Broncos' relative weakness through the air; the Sun Devils likely won't reach the 100 yard mark.
|ASU passing offense: #8||Boise State passing defense: #36 per att: #44|
|ASU interceptions thrown ranking: #84||Boise State interceptions picked ranking: #19|
|ASU quarterback protection rank: #64||Boise State pass rush rank: #55|
Brock Osweiler has been productive in ASU's system, completing 63% for 3,641 yards and 24 touchdowns. Top receiver Gerell Robinson has 1,156 receiving yards and Aaron Pflugrad is 2nd with 620. The Sun Devils are 18th in per-attempt passing yards (adjusted for opposition), so it's not just the sheer number of attempts jacking up their numbers. Boise State's pass defense is well above average, but not stellar by any means, and that was revealed starkly against TCU—who ranks #17 in per-attempt yardage, by the way.
Boise's secondary will try to stop drives by intercepting passes, and the defense has 14 picks on the year and will probably get another one or two against Osweiler, who has been picked off 12 times this season. The Bronco pass rush is not fearsome, which is good news for ASU whose protection—24 sacks allowed—is solid only when you factor in number of passing attempts. Boise will probably get a couple of sacks, which is normal for any game.
Boise State's season
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (7)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (1)
Losses (1) to losing teams (0)
- @ #22 Georgia 35-21
- @ Toledo 40-15
- Tulsa 41-21
- Nevada 30-10
- @ Fresno St 57-7
- @ Colorado St 63-13
- Air Force 37-26
- @ UNLV 48-21
- TCU 35-36
- @ San Diego St 52-35
- Wyoming 36-14
- New Mexico 45-0
After six games, Boise State was looking as good as they were at any point last year. They beat Fresno State 57-7, compared to last year's 50-0, and followed that with another 50 point win over Colorado State.
But more impressive in retrospect was that their first four wins were all over bowl-bound teams, including Georgia. In all, Boise State beat 7 bowl-bound teams, which is 2 more than Alabama can boast.
And Boise probably would be in Alabama's shoes right now if they could have made that field goal against TCU. Like last year, it was the difference between being 12-0 and going 11-1. But Boise had been playing at a bit lower level since the Air Force game, and that's how they finished out the year, looking like a good but not great team.
It's hard to argue with their 7 bowl victims, though; looking at Georgia's schedule, it's probable Boise would have been undefeated with the Bulldogs' full SEC schedule this season, losing only to LSU in the SEC title game. Had they made the field goal against TCU, they could have had a shot at the Tigers.
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (3)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (1)
Losses (6) to losing teams (3)
- UC-Davis 48-14
- Missouri 37-30 OT
- @ Illinois 14-17
- #8 Southern Cal 43-22
- Oregon St 35-20
- @ Utah 35-14
- @ #9 Oregon 27-41
- Colorado 48-14
- @ UCLA 28-29*
- @ Washington St 27-37
- Arizona 27-31
- California 38-47
When ASU travelled to Illinois, they were both undefeated an the Illini won by a field goal. Weeks later both teams had 6 wins; both finished 6-6.
Arizona State's collapse wasn't as bad as Illinois', but it was close. The same team that beat Missouri in overtime, destroyed USC and handled Utah with ease, later lost to three losing teams in a row.
It didn't start until the UCLA game. They played Oregon well on the road, and whipped Colorado to go 6-2. But all of a sudden, the magic was gone and what easily could have been a 10-2 year went very wrong. Like it did for Boise State, a missed field goal meant a lot: they would have defeated UCLA and been the Pac-12 South champs, and who knows? Instead, Dennis Erickson went from possible Pac-10 coach of the year to ex-ASU coach within a month's span.
Arizona State suffered more than its share of injuries during the offseason, but there weren't too many more during actual gameplay in 2011. Boise State is also healthy in key positions, but cornerback Jamar Taylor is still questionable. His return would be welcome as Boise State's main concern is pass defense, especially this game.
- Boise State's season: +0 wins; ASU's season: +0 wins
- Boise State's momentum: -1 win; ASU's momentum: -4 wins
- Boise State won final game: YES; ASU won final game: NO
- Boise State glad to be there? NO; ASU glad to be there: NO
- Boise State coaching situation: stable; ASU coaching situation: fired, coaching bowl
This one is a doozy when it comes to psychology. Both teams finished the season with the same record as last year, and for both that was a huge disappointment. Boise expected to go 12-0 as redemption for last year; instead, they failed due to another missed field goal. Arizona State's expectations were sky-high as pundits put them in the top ten. A slew of ACL injuries whittled expectations down quite a bit, but they seemed certain to improve on last year's record—particularly when they stood 6-2. Their season ended in the worst way: with an inexplicable 4-game slump.
Boise State is stuck in a classic de-motivation trap. Make the field goal and they are in a BCS bowl—probably the national championship game. Miss it and they fall to the Poinsettia Bowl. Last year nearly the same thing happened, as they fell from the Rose Bowl to the Poinsettia, but as luck would have it they faced a worthy opponent in Utah. They rose to the occasion and won 26-3. Can they get motivated two years in a row, this time facing a 6-6 opponent?
Arizona State has to be in the doldrums too. They have a lame-duck coach, which might give them a reason to send him off with a big win. They're also facing a top ten opponent. You could say they have nothing to lose, and a strong desire to finish with a winning record. From that perspective, ASU would appear to be the more motivated team.
But I would bet that it's the opposite. The Sun Devils are a beaten team. Boise State has always played well in its bowl games, no matter what the circumstances. This is also Kellen Moore's last game. He has 49 wins, and one more will give him 50. I would guess that it is coach Chris Peterson that manages to keep the team motivated, game-in and game-out, whether they are playing a tough team or one of many cupcakes inevitably on their schedule. With several weeks to reflect, he'll have the team ready—and probably angry about the BCS slight and the insult of facing a 6-6 team. They could take out their anger on Arizona State, and they'll want to get the win for Moore.
It's no secret Boise State is the better team and should win this game. They are a two touchdown favorite, and our computers, by both score and yardage, make them a 10-point winner.
Only two things are possibly in Arizona State's favor: Boise State could be demotivated or overconfident; and the Sun Devils' passing game could click against the Bronco pass defense.
If Boise doesn't come to play and ASU somehow does, there is a scenario where an upset happens. Teams that fall from a lofty bowl perch often phone it in come bowl time and get beat. I went over the reasons above why I don't think that's going to happen, but it's not really possible to predict.
The passing game is one area where Arizona State could keep up with Boise State and make the game a shootout. Boise's pass defense has taken its lumps and Arizona State's looked pathetic late in the year. Can ASU really trade touchdowns one-to-one with Boise State? Probably not. They would also need to intercept Moore at least a couple of times—easier said than done—and maybe get some big kick return plays from Jamal Miles. Then the upset could happen.
Both teams played well in the first half of the season, then for some reason their gameplay fell a notch—or several in ASU's case—and remained there. So most of the full-season data above should be modified with the teams' new quality level in mind. Looking at Boise's last six games, they played a whopping 10 points worse than their overall numbers. But ASU played 14 points worse during their 4-game slump. Add those corrections to our 10-point margin for Boise, and guess what? Now we match the oddsmakers two-touchdown spread for the Broncos.
Boise State has a lot more to lose in this game. Its defense has more to prove. When you consider that they beat Georgia by two touchdowns, how hard is it to imagine they should beat Arizona State by more than that? Over the last few years, the Broncos' bowl games have been much lower-scoring than expected. The game might go like last year's Utah game, but with a bit more offensive fireworks.
Prediction: Boise State 38, Arizona State 17
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2011-2012 bowl game schedule.