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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: MPC Computers Bowl (Bowl #21)...By S.H. Austin

12/31, 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Miami by 3 points, total of 41.5

Miami: 6-6
Nevada: 8-4
Most preseason prognosticators were way off the mark with these teams. Phil Steele ranked Miami as #6 in the country, and suggested they might sneak into the national championship game if they could win a few key matchups. He also said they'd probably be favored in all 12 games. They ended up being favored only seven times. Athlon had Miami at #14 in the nation, with nine projected wins, no projected losses, and three coin flip games. We're not sure what these guys were smoking. Miami ranked 73rd in the nation offensively the prior season, and 66th the year before that. Clearly they had no idea how to move the ball on real defenses. It's really hard to compete for a national championship that way. The pundits assumed changes would lead to success, when there was no evidence that this would be the case. And, there was no evidence that the QB would make good decisions even if he was given a better schematic to run. Nevada was ranked 80th in the nation by Athlon, and was projected to start the season 0-4. They started 2-2. Then, they coasted to 8-3 before a season-ending loss to Boise State.

Miami: 20-15 versus the 69th ranked schedule
Nevada: 31-19 versus the 98th ranked schedule
Miami was in the weak ACC this year, making that 6-6 mark even more embarrassing. They played two games against non-conference bowl teams, and missed Vegas expectations by 19, and 15 points (vs. Louisville and Houston). Thank goodness Florida A&M and Florida International were on the schedule. That 20-15 scoring average includes a combined 86-10 rout vs. those non-entities. Nevada ended up playing a very weak schedule. Arizona State was a non-conference foe who turned out to be a disappointment. Colorado State was an even bigger disappointment. Same thing with Northwestern. The team has to be credited for trying to schedule tough opponents outside the league. When it came time to play the games, those opponents weren't anything special. It should be noted that Nevada was bombed 52-21 by the Arizona State team you saw play badly in Hawaii earlier in the bowls.

Miami: 4-7 versus the spread
Nevada: 10-2 versus the spread
You knew this was coming based on the preseason expectations. Miami consistently underachieved what even skeptics expected of them. Nevada came from off the radar to post a great pointspread record. Only the bad losses to Arizona State and Nevada blemished the campaign. This doesn't mean Nevada has the better talent, or is the better team in a head-to-head matchup. It just means that pointspread results are keyed by expectations. If you can figure out who the oddsmakers and public are going to be wrong about via early boxscore indicators, you can take advantage for quite a while. Nevada was 3-1 ATS after a nationally televised win over Northwestern, and still covered their next seven board games. That's particularly funny since Las Vegas is in Nevada!

Miami: +65.0, with a season turnover differential of -3
Nevada: +35.5, with a season turnover differential of +11
Miami's defense was fantastic once again. Their defense has been a defensive power for quite some time. Even with a poor offense they could post a strong yardage differential because the defense held four opponents to less than 200 yards, and nine of 12 opponents to less than 300 yards. Miami's defense didn't do a very good job of forcing turnovers though. They only had 20 takeaways in a conference of bad quarterbacks. They were legitimately great in the other defensive areas though. Considering how weak Nevada's schedule was, that's really not a very good differential. They got blitzed in yardage by ASU, Boise State, and Hawaii. But, they played enough weaklings that they had time to make up for that. This is a hidden negative that will come back to bite them in a bit.

Miami: 13-14, ridiculous for a program that used to crank out QB's
Nevada: 22-11, kind of soft considering the schedule

Miami is a vintage ACC team, meaning they have a great defense and no offense. They're basically the same team as Virginia Tech, Florida State, Virginia, and a few other squads in that conference. Against each other, they're going to play a bunch of 13-10, 14-13, 16-10, 14-13 again, 17-7, and 17-14 games (the actual scores from some Miami encounters this season). This is bad news if you're a favorite (Miami was 2-4 ATS as a board favorite this year), but less of a problem at tight spreads. They really have no idea how to move the ball downfield and find the end zone if they can't just jam it down the throats of less physical teams.

Nevada has the scores of a classic mid-major bully, meaning they run up the victory margins against patsies, but post some ugly results when they step up in class. What's odd is that they didn't have the monster yardage edge of your typical bully. They beat Utah State 42-0, but only won yardage 346-207. They beat UNLV 31-3, but only won yardage 311-227. This team did a great job of cashing in opportunities from turnovers. Opponents had a whopping 35 giveaways this year...which can happen when bad teams have to play catch up. When not getting those bonus points, Nevada looked pretty awful. Boise State beat them 38-7 in Reno with a 477-141 yardage edge. It was supposed to be a field goal game! Arizona State beat them 52-21 with a 486-306 yardage edge. This is very bad news for a team that has to step up in class for its bowl. If Miami doesn't give the ball away, Nevada may have very few options for driving the field and scoring. That 38-7 loss to Boise was an eye-opener in this regard.

Miami didn't have any good matches. They did kill Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic. We're not ready to say that Nevada is THAT bad when they step up in class.

Nevada didn't have any good matches either. The poor results vs. Boise State and ASU are going to loom large. Nevada did cover against Hawaii and San Jose State though. Both of those teams looked good in early bowls, but neither of those teams could be considered a clone of Miami.

Miami has none, unless they want to win one last game for the Larry Coker regime. This could happen. It should be noted that it really only takes the defense to show up for the Hurricanes to be in a position to cover. This defense has a lot of pride, and can only be helped by playing in cold conditions. It's hard enough to score on Miami in great weather.

Nevada should be excited to go to a bowl game. It's a shame it's got to be the Ice Bowl in Boise. They'll have a home conference crowd (Miami doesn't draw well at home, so who's going to make this trip?) It's a chance to make a name for the Nevada program against a big name school.

Miami lost to LSU 40-3, losing yardage 468-153
Nevada beat Central Florida 49-48 in overtime in the Hawaii Bowl as a 2-point favorite, winning yardage 653-555.

We forgot to mention that Miami bowl debacle earlier. LSU was playing a backup quarterback, and devastated this Miami team. Yet, the preseason pundits were STILL expecting big things from the Hurricanes this year.

Miami covered three of the prior four bowl games this century before last year's LSU massacre.
Nevada had about a ten year dry spell for bowl appearances before last year's game.

If an Olympics were held between these two teams, Miami would probably win every event. That was true in the Duke game, yet Miami barely held on for a 20-15 win against an opponent destined to go 0-12. Miami was outgained 380-329 by an opponent destined to go 0-12. Are you kidding?! To us, everything will revolve around how seriously the Miami players take the game. If they show up, particularly the defense and a running back, then this could be a surprisingly easy win. The more we look at Nevada, the more we see a bully that found a way to exploit it's strengths on the scoreboard versus patsies. Nevada failed to reach 400 yards in seven games against a patsy schedule. What's going to happen against Miami? It's hard to see them getting to 300 yards against a great Division I defense. Throw in the cold weather, and we don't see how Nevada does anything. They scored 7 points on 141 yards on Boise State, who they match up much better physically against. They only scored 19 points on 351 yards against a Fresno State team that turned out to be pretty bad. If Miami shows up, Nevada will have trouble getting to 10 points without help from its own defense or special teams.

Nevada's a pretender, but if Miami no-shows the game Nevada could win. We're writing these previews about a week or so in advance. Oregon and Arizona State have already shown that major conference teams can lose by double digits to mid-majors if the players don't care about the game.

We like Miami's defense, and we want to take those guys against a pretender. This sets up a tandem possibility in our mind. The pointspread at the top has an equivalent final score of Miami 23, Nevada 20. We think Nevada getting to 20 is much less than a 50/50 likelihood against this defense in winter weather. If Miami shows up, Nevada will have trouble getting to 10 points.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

40%: Miami covers an Under game 40%: The tandem combo splits one way or the other 20%: Miami fails to cover an Over game

The key comparison is the 40% chance of a sweep versus the 20% chance of getting swept. That's what makes this a path worth considering. Heck, if those assessments are right, it's the BEST path to consider. If Miami doesn't show up emotionally as a team, they can still win a 14-10, 20-16 kind of game as long as the defense cares enough to hit some people. Nevada's lack of physicality is very likely to be exposed in this one.

I keep having flashbacks to the 2003 Humanitarian Bowl. We had a similar mismatch in terms of physicality...and the favorite was an ACC team with a shaky quarterback. Georgia Tech won that game 52-10 over Tulsa as a 7-point favorite. If that happens again here (or even 34-13 ), you're going to be really mad at yourself for having as much on the Under as you did on Miami. So, maybe think of it as 3-stars Miami, 2-stars Under. Or, 60% Miami, 55% Under to use the classifications we've had in the other bowls.

S.H. Austin

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