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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Emerald Bowl (Bowl #9)...By S.H. Austin

EMERALD BOWL (San Francisco)
12/27, 8 p.m. ET ESPN

UCLA by 4.5 points, total of 40.5

UCLA: 7-5
Florida State: 6-6
We'll end up saying "both teams were disappointed" in a lot of these early bowl games. UCLA was 10-2 last year, and had talked themselves into thinking they might become a perennial Pac 10 power. Most analysts weren't expecting much this year because only four starters returned on offense. Analysts were also looking at a schedule that included Utah and Notre Dame on the non-conference slate. All in all, UCLA shouldn't be ashamed of that 7-5 mark. The season-closing win over USC certainly eased the pain. Florida State was inexplicably rated very highly by some people before the season started. They limped to a 1-4 straight up finish last season (including their bowl), and lost a lot of talent. They didn't have a quarterback who could avoid turnovers versus pressure defenses. Recruiting wasn't what it used to be either. Phil Steele had them at #10 nationally in his preseason publication, and said that a road victory over Miami (who he had at a ludicrous #6) might launch FSU all the way to the BCS title game. FSU did win that game, snuck by Troy 24-17 as a 30-point favorite, then went 4-6 straight up the rest of the season. An offense that hadn't ranked in the top 55 of the nation the past two years just got worse and worse, resulting in the eventual firing of the offensive coordinator.

UCLA: 23-18 versus the 3rd ranked schedule
Florida State: 25-19 versus the 44th ranked schedule
UCLA has a lot to be proud of with those numbers. Posting a +5 scoring differential against the #3 schedule in the country would suggest they were national championship caliber. They're not, which is reason number fifty that we think the USA Today has the strength of schedule numbers wrong. UCLA did play a tough schedule. They didn't play the third toughest schedule in the nation, and the Pac 10 didn't play the 10 toughest schedules. Though, let's give them credit for a strong season. Allowing just 18 points per game with the bulk of your schedule coming against Pac 10 offenses plus Notre Dame and Utah is fantastic. They didn't have any 55-0 games against Cal-Poly or somebody that caused a misleading average. Florida State had a couple of those games. The racehorses FSU does have were able to run away and hide from Rice and Duke with scores of 55-7 and 51-24. We should probably say it this way...UCLA and FSU were close to being identical in the big picture. Both had quarterbacks who struggled, but both had strong defenses that could keep them in games. Because FSU has a powerhouse history, and was expecting big things this year, the 2006 campaign was seen as a bit of a disaster. Because UCLA was coming off the radar, and wasn't talked about as a BCS darkhorse, the 2006 campaign looks very impressive. FSU ended the season with three games against bowl teams, and they couldn't top 250 yards against any of them. UCLA did the same, but 275 yards was the threshold. UCLA was outgained by USC 329-235 in its season finale. FSU was outgained by Florida 388-235 in its season finale. UCLA caught the breaks needed to score the upset over the BCS power. FSU didn't. If the top 100 teams took a family picture, UCLA and FSU would be standing very near each other.

UCLA: 8-4 versus the spread
Florida State: 5-7 versus the spread
These records confirm what we were talking about with the expectations. Both teams did the same things during the season. That led to a 67% cover rate for the underrated Bruins, but a losing mark for the overrated Seminoles.

UCLA: +16.6, with a season turnover differential of +6
Florida State: +43.1, with a season turnover differential of -11
It's hard to post a big yardage edge with a struggling offense. As a general rule, Florida State was better at moving the ball, but their offense was extremely turnover prone. During their late season slump, they stopped moving the ball, but made more turnovers (9 in the last three games)! UCLA plays a safer style. Florida State should have more big play potential in this game. They do seem to have forgotten how to do that though.

UCLA: 14-12, pretty bad for a bowl team
Florida State: 18-15, very bad for an alleged power
Again, we have similarities here between the programs. They're not helpless in the air. But, now that you've seen some of the numbers for the bowl teams in these write-ups, these ratios aren't indicative of quality offenses.

By now we have a pretty good picture. The defenses are solid as a rock. The offenses are inconsistent at best. UCLA does a better job of protecting the ball on offense. It is important to note that the Bruins players believe they're part of something that's just beginning, while the FSU players may believe they're part of the demise of what was once a great program. Twins, except one is proud and the other is depressed.

UCLA doesn't really have many twins in their own conference. Most teams in the PAC 10 have more offense and less defense. Arizona's in the neighborhood style-wise. UCLA beat them 27-7 with a 293-222 yardage edge. UCLA's as battle-tested as it gets, so they should be able to stand up to any opponent without blinking.

Florida State beat Miami 13-10 to start the season (with a ludicrous 176-134 yardage result). That's a good match, because Miami and FSU have been going down the same path lately. NC State is also a good match. FSU lost that game 24-20 but won yardage 345-340. Virginia is kind of in the same boat. FSU beat them 33-0 with a 343-183 advantage. Before their late collapse, FSU did okay in these kinds of games. You know, Florida's not all that far from UCLA in terms of style and approach (a computer wouldn't see Tebow's thrilling jump passes, just the yardage breakdowns). We already mentioned that FSU was outgained 388-235 in that 21-14 loss.

FSU wasn't sparkling in these games. They weren't getting routed either.

UCLA just upset USC in their season finale to completely rearrange the BCS picture. That was a HUGE result. It's very hard to see them getting up for the Emerald Bowl.

Florida State is probably embarrassed about something like this. The kids may still show up and play. They might have a chip on their shoulders too. There sure wasn't much life on the sidelines in the last month of action though.

UCLA (-2) beat Northwestern 50-38, losing yardage 584-453
Florida State (+10) lost to Penn State 26-23, losing yardage 392-284
That FSU/PSU game went to overtime. Florida State had about 250 yards at the end of regulation. FSU's offensive woes go back a long way.

UCLA has made a habit of playing in minor bowls. They're 3-2 ATS in this century.

Florida State is used to playing in major bowl games. They're also 3-2 ATS their last five bowl appearances.

If Florida State brings some fire, it's going to be a competitive, low scoring game. If they don't, it's going to be a one-sided low scoring game. Oddsmakers have posted a low total here. The right number is probably a bit lower. You have to honor the potential for trick plays, etc. when both teams had a month off. Heck, overtime is an issue. Last year's game with Penn State went Over 46 even though the game was 16-all at the end of regulation.

Each team played six games this year where neither they, nor their opponents, could reach 350 yards. Most of those games saw both teams in the 200's. If you isolate the games that these teams have played against other defensive minded teams, you'd get something centering in the mid 30's rather than 40-41.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

60%: the game fulfills expectations in terms of limited offensive production. If this were a regular season game, that mark would be 70%.

40%: things open up a bit more because teams have had a month to get creative on offense...or special teams and defense throw in some cheap points that keep it from being 13-10 or 16-16 at the end of regulation.

The team side angle is very tough to judge because FSU looked like they had had lost the will to live late in the Florida game. They were tired of embarrassing themselves and wanted to go home. UCLA should be flat as a pancake off the USC upset. Nobody cares about the Emerald Bowl. Which non-caring non-offensive team do you want to invest in?

Bowl history says the dogs have the edge in a game where nobody's supposed to care. With that in mind, we'll make it 53% to 47% for Florida State on the team side, and 60% to 40% for the Under.

S.H. Austin

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