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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Champs Sports Bowl (Bowl #17)...By S.H. Austin

12/29, 8 p.m. ET ESPN

Purdue by 1 point, total of 52.5

Purdue: 8-5
Maryland: 8-4
Kind of a mixed bag here. Both teams were coming off 5-6 campaigns, so it's great to go 8-4 after that. Both teams were expected to improve this season. Phil Steele's preseason publication had Purdue at #24 (partly because they wouldn't have to play either Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten schedule rotation this year), and Maryland at #38. Athlon's publication was less optimistic for both, posting Purdue at #31 and Maryland at #59. What is there to complain about? The schedule strengths were weak. Purdue went 5-3 in the Big Ten even though they didn't have to play the two superpowers. They lost by a combined 83-20 to Wisconsin, Iowa, and Penn State. One of their wins was just by two points over a poor Michigan State team. In the big picture, they really weren't all that better than last year's 5-6 team. Maryland played in the stunningly weak ACC this year. Three of their eight wins came against William & Mary, Middle Tennessee, and Florida International. They couldn't reach 28 points against any of those three stragglers. They ended the season with a combined 76-40 loss to Boston College and Wake Forest. These may be two of the worst 8-win teams in quite some time.

Purdue: 28-27 versus the 64th ranked schedule
Maryland: 22-23 versus the 55th ranked schedule
If you're basically dead even on the scoreboard with schedules ranked in the 55-65 range, then you're basically a team that should be ranked in the 55-65 range. At least the numbers so far suggest a competitive matchup! Purdue has more offense, Maryland has more defense. They're basically dead even thus far through the data.

Purdue: 5-6-1 versus the spread
Maryland: 4-7 versus the spread
Both teams underachieved expectations. Purdue was 2-5 ATS at one point, but expectations plummeted so far that they were able to cover three of their last four games even when they weren't playing all that well. They were underdogs against that horrible Michigan State team we mentioned earlier. They were underdogs against a poor Illinois team and got the win. They were outgained 505-435 in a win over Indiana, and outgained 653-472 in a cover at Hawaii. Even the good games weren't really good games. Maryland started very slowly, had a nice run in the middle against NC State, FSU, and Clemson; then apparently wore down from that with an 0-3 ATS finish. Maryland has the lesser ATS record, but you can at least point to games where they did impressive things.

Purdue: -6.9, with a season turnover differential of +1
Maryland: -63.7, with a season turnover differential of -8
So much for pointing to impressive things. We had to double check this because it looked ridiculous. Believe it or not, Maryland was outgained in 11 of 12 games! Their total yardage record was 1-11! This is virtually unheard of for a bowl team. And...should something crazy like this even come close to happening, it's invariably turnovers that save the day. Maryland lost turnovers too! The Terps only yardage victory came over William & Mary. They were outgained by Middle Tennessee, Florida International, and every other team they faced after that. How could this happen? Maryland played a "bend but don't break" defense that allowed yardage between the 20's, but didn't get killed on the scoreboard (remember, they were in the ACC, a league packed with QB's who had no idea what to do in the red zone). Also, their turnovers were distributed in a way that had their worst games in a cluster. They had a turnover deficit of 12-1 in the bad losses to West Virginia, Boston College, and Wake Forest. They won turnovers in tight victories over Virginia, NC State, Florida State, and Miami. Maryland went 6-1 straight up in games decided by less than a touchdown. That's how you turn a bunch of stat negatives into a good record. Purdue had poor stats considering their soft strength of schedule.

Purdue: 22-19, poor for a team that throws 40 passes a game
Maryland: 13-12, pathetic for this coach's preferred style

Purdue is trying to figure out what's next. They were kind of a one-trick pony with a great rider when the spread offense first hit the ground running in the colleges. Purdue was a bully who loved running up the score on people. Quarterback Drew Brees (now with the New Orleans Saints) thrived there, and the team was automatic in blowout situations. Brees graduated, major conference teams figured out how to deal with spread offense through blitzing and containment coverage...and Purdue fell off the map. They don't have any other tricks. They can still put up yardage and points on soft defenses when they face them.

Maryland is basically the same story. You can throw NC State in this class of teams, as that offense fell off the map when Philip Rivers left. Ralph Friedgen was considered an offensive genius. The Terps had double digit wins for three years running. Then, major conference teams figured out how to deal with spread offenses, and Maryland fell off the map at about the same time Purdue did. They went 5-6 in the two years prior to this with offenses that were just helpless vs. good defenses. This year's team never broke 30 points or 380 yards despite a manageable schedule, with a senior quarterback! The geniuses need to come up with another trick soon.

There's so much similarity within these conferences that the full season stats probably tell the story accurately enough. Purdue plays a lot of games that would strike you as ACC-style. Maryland's defense is better in the red zone than many of the softer Big Ten teams Purdue faced. But, otherwise, things are going to come out in the wash. There aren't any hidden secrets here that would make you go "Aha!" The more you look, the less appealing each team is regardless of the context.

Has to be a wash, because both teams missed out on bowls last season. Nothing special either way. Each team lost their regular season finale and would like to end the year with a win.

Neither qualified

Purdue is 2-3 ATS this century in bowls, dropping their last two appearances before missing out entirely on the postseason last year. The sport caught up to what they were doing.

Maryland won blowouts after the 2002 and 2003 seasons when Ralph Friedgen's offense was moving along in peak form. They beat Tennessee 30-3, and West Virginia 41-7 in consecutive years. This is their first postseason appearance since then.

Vegas oddsmakers have it as a virtual coin flip, and all the indicators pretty much do as well. Whenever you think you see a positive while scanning through a team chart (Maryland's 6-1 in close games), you find a whopping negative (Maryland's 1-11 in total yardage). Purdue won three games in November, but the stats were unimpressive and the opponents were bad teams. You couldn't possibly take either team with confidence. That leaves the total. Do you want the Under with two teams who may combine to pass the ball 70 times? Do you want the Over with offenses that struggled to score on good defenses?

When Maryland was posting good results, they were playing with fire and intensity against teams like FSU, Clemson, and Miami. They only lost the ball one time in those three games. Purdue was doing that against Michigan State, Illinois, and Indiana, but committed nine turnovers. If mistakes are going to determine who wins and covers this game, then Purdue's probably going to get the short end of the stick.

I'd rate the percentages this way: 55% that Maryland covers because of turnovers
45% that Purdue covers because Maryland's "bend but don't break" defense runs out of luck in the red zone

Regarding the total, we've seen in the early bowls that scoring has been particularly tough for teams who HAVE to pass to make their living. We're riding these on a lead of several days. That Saturday tripleheader of Unders just finished off (PapaJohn's, New Mexico, and Armed Forces Bowls), which might inadvertently lead me into a bunch of Unders. I do think that the combination of increased blitzing and faster clocks will lead to scoring reductions in "rusty" situations. We saw it early in the regular season. We've seen it with these early bowl games.

With that in mind: 60% that it's a reasonably competitive game that stays Under the total thanks to poor decisions from both quarterbacks.
40% that it blows up a bit because bowl games often do that.

The forecast is for very ugly play regardless of the weather! There could be some drama in the fourth quarter though. If both teams show up with equal intensity, it will be hard for one to pull away from the other.

S.H. Austin

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