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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Meineke Car Care Bowl (Bowl #18)...By S.H. Austin

12/30, 1 p.m. ET ESPN

Boston College by 6 points, total of 46.5

Boston College: 9-3
Navy: 9-3
Both teams were expected to do well, and did. Athlon's preseason publication had Boston College at #36, Navy at #42. Phil Steele had them reversed a bit with Navy at #30, Boston College at #41. Each maintained the success of the prior season (BC was 9-3 last year, Navy was 8-4). Both teams have been solid programs in recent years.

Boston College: 26-15 versus the 54th ranked schedule
Navy: 29-20 versus the 90th ranked schedule
Boston College had the better differential versus the tougher schedule, which is why they're favored by as much as they are. Boston College played eight games against teams who went to bowls, Navy only played four. A lot of the BC opponents were mediocre ACC teams who are only in bowls because of soft non-conference schedules. But, that's still a bigger differential than you normally see. Navy's schedule really turned out to be weak with the collapses of Stanford and Air Force this season.

Boston College: 5-5-1 versus the spread
Navy: 6-5 versus the spread
More evidence that these teams were playing to expectations this year. Boston College was 4-4 ATS at the end of regulation in those eight games versus bowl teams. Navy turned out to be 0-4 ATS in their games against bowl teams. That's a bit of a surprise, so let's run the list:

Navy (-12) beat East Carolina 28-23 Navy (-5) lost to Tulsa 24-23 Navy (-1) lost to Rutgers 34-0 Navy (+13) lost to Notre Dame 38-14

The Middies missed expectations by 7, 6, 35, and 9 points in those four games. So, even though they were 6-5 ATS for the year, they were 0-4 ATS vs. decent teams and 6-1 ATS vs. bad teams. In other words, a classic bully. They run up the score on patsies but get exposed as pretenders vs. teams who don't blink.

Boston College: +54.0, with a season turnover differential of +11
Navy: +44.5, with a season turnover differential of even
Considering what we know about their strength of schedules, BC has the more impressive numbers there by far. Navy couldn't force a positive turnover differential against a soft schedule, and didn't roll up the kind of yardage you'd expect for that kind of team against a weak slate. The defense couldn't really put the hammer down in the patsy games either. We're starting to interpret a lot of things as anti-Navy here. We should mention in fairness that Boston College was in a weak conference themselves. This game isn't going to become a matchup of an unrecognized power versus a pretender. It's probably just a decent team versus a pretender. And the decent teams will have some distractions we'll be dealing with in a few seconds.

Boston College: 15-9, not that great for a team that passes so much
Navy: 5-4, a non-stat because these guys run almost ALL the time

Boston College plays an entertaining pro-style attack that tends to result in a lot of thrillers. The offense has a lot of weapons. The defense isn't so good that they can shut people down cold on command. So, you get a 34-33 overtime win over Clemson, a 30-23 overtime win over BYU, a 24-19 nailbiter win over Florida State, a 17-15 nailbiter loss to non-bowl NC State, a tight 21-14 loss to Wake Forest, a 17-14 loss to Miami. Actually, the defense looks pretty good in that listing. But you have to remember that the ACC had no quarterbacks.

Navy is an option team that loves to run up the score on bad opponents. Head coach Paul Johnson has brought respectability back to the program. He knows that big victories lift everyone's spirits. The defense is feisty, but really doesn't match up well against the power programs. Johnson's smart, and doesn't schedule very many of those games, so the team can try to peak for the toughest challenges. You should think of them as a decent CUSA team, or a MAC contender. Unfortunately, that's bad news given the way those conferences have started out.

Boston College didn't play any option teams. They did open the season with Central Michigan, who won the MAC. Since we just said Navy would be a MAC contender, that's a good enough match. Boston College won 31-24 on the road as an 11-point favorite. Total yardage was 405-367. Remember that "Milton Berle" article that ran before the bowls? BC is a Berle kind of team. They don't run up the score on patsies unless they get non-offensive scores. They only beat Maine 22-0. They only beat Duke 28-7. We mention that because Navy beat that same Duke team 38-13. You see the Duke scores and you'd think Navy was the stronger side. But the Duke games were just the Berle/bully dynamic in play.

Navy had troubles stepping up in class, as we documented earlier. Boston College sits between the high end of that list (Notre Dame and Rutgers, who beat Navy 72-14) and the low end (Tulsa and East Carolina, who lost to Navy 51-47). BC is probably closer to the high end. But, their "Berle" tendencies would bring that right back down to where the Vegas oddsmakmers already have it.

Boston College was probably hoping for a better bowl back when they were in the thick of the ACC race for a BCS spot. But, the most important factor here is that they're losing their head coach. Tom O'Brien is moving down to NC State, in a very odd case of a coach staying within a conference when he leaves a program. This move came as a surprise to many. It's not like O'Brien was overachieving expectations to such a degree at BC that the world was at his beck and call. NC State called, so he's becking his way to Raleigh. Coaching changes can lead to very volatile results in bowl games. Sometimes the players rise to the occasion to send the guy off...sometimes they have trouble finding much motivation to bring peak intensity.

Navy is still happy about any bowl bid they get. They will surely be excited to play a major conference team after dealing with small-timers in the last two bowls. It has to be said though that they're coming off a win over archrival Army, and a pair of bowl victories. Sometimes teams play flat after stringing together wins. They think it will be easy every time out. It isn't.

Boston College beat Boise State 27-21 in the MPC Computers Bowl on Boise's home field, winning yardage 383-360.

Navy beat Colorado State 51-30 in the Poinsettia Bowl, winning yardage 611-572.

Boston College 5-0 ATS this century in bowl games, which speaks very well for the preparation of coach O'Brien. The BC coaching change is quite a monkey wrench.

Navy became a perennial bowl team in the 2003 season. They struggled in their first postseason outing against Texas Tech of the Big 12. The next two years they dominated Mountain West teams. As we've made clear already, this is the kind of program that doesn't match up well physically versus major conferences, but can be dominant within the mid-major milieu.

We're writing these about 7-8 days ahead of kickoff, meaning we've now seen many of the less physical teams get squashed in the early bowls. In prior seasons, many of these smaller profile underdogs have come up with combinations of trickery and motivation that overcome their physical weaknesses. This year, Northern Illinois barely showed up for TCU. Rice was way behind Troy before they realized they would have to tackle somebody. East Carolina was in the same boat versus South Florida. So, the first three teams to appear from the MAC and CUSA, conferences we compared Navy to, have posted pathetic results.

History says you're supposed to take early underdogs. The early results this year, in what could be a transition year in the direction of "smash mouth" football because of rules changes and the evolution of schematics, are showing finesse teams struggling in bowls. Navy's kind of a physical finesse team, as option teams try to be. I can't honestly say there are meaningful indicators that are going to shed important light on the matchup. BC's coaching change is a monkey wrench. BC is a physical "Berle" type team that has trouble getting distance from many opponents. Those factors point to Navy plus the points. The fact that Navy's 0-4 ATS versus bowl teams, while CUSA and the MAC are 0-3 ATS in their early bowls points the other way.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

55% that Boston Colleges distractions lead to a Navy cover. It could help the Middies that they don't have to worry about getting their timing down in the passing game. Early bowl losers Oregon, Rice, East Carolina had big troubles doing that after the layoff. Option teams may pick up a hidden edge because something like that isn't an issue.

45% that Navy's lack of big time physicality allows Boston College to control the flow of the game and pull away to a cover

With so many question marks in play here, there doesn't seem to be any point to guess on the total. If BC's defense lacks intensity, it could turn into a high scoring shootout. Navy didn't play high scoring shootouts vs. bowl opposition. We'll pass on the total, pending weather forecasts. Poor weather could limit the passing game for BC, forcing a point-of-attack encounter that runs clock and keeps the game Under. We have to say that early bowls are signaling Unders. This total wasn't all that high to begin with. We reserve the right to post a game day decision. For now the total is a pass.

S.H. Austin

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