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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Fiesta Bowl (Bowl #27)...By S.H. Austin

FIESTA BOWL (Glendale, Arizona)
1/1, 8:30 p.m. ET FOX

Oklahoma by 7.5 points, total of 50.5

Boise State: 12-0
Oklahoma: 11-2
Oklahoma was a preseason #1 in both Athlon and Phil Steele. We said at the time that this was insanity...because a team returning just four offensive starters from the 71st ranked offense was unlikely to be good enough to be the best in the land. Those publications went to press before Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team for misbehaving with boosters. Steele said in an early newsletter he was keeping OU at #1 anyway. Now that the season is over, was it insane? Oklahoma finished 11-2, and would have been 10-1 if not for bad officiating in the Oregon game. They did win their conference, and they're playing in a BCS bowl. So, the jump from 8-4 last year almost made it to the Promised Land. I'd still submit it's insane to put a team at #1 before they do anything to earn it. And, now that we've had a full year to judge Oregon, sweating a nailbiter there isn't a compliment to the program. The Sooners committed four turnovers or more in four different games, but they did lose RB Adrian Peterson to injury at an unfortunate time. It should be noted that he did play in the loss to Oregon (Oklahoma was outgained 501-381), and in the 28-10 loss to Texas. They weren't ever the best team in the country. It was a horrible preseason choice for that kind of title. They backed into the Big 12 South title when Texas suffered a quarterback injury. OU is officially a BCS team though, and they certainly deserve a lot of respect for an 11-2 record with so little experience on offense. Boise State was preseason #19 in Steele, and #27 in Athlon. Both publications had them winning the WAC, but neither projected a year quite this big for the Broncos.

Boise State: 39-16 versus the 100th ranked schedule
Oklahoma: 29-15 versus the 33rd ranked schedule
Boise State played in a conference that doesn't get much respect. Typically, that's deserved. We'd have to say that Hawaii has a better than normal team this year...San Jose State is A LOT better than normal, so this isn't completely a case of a bully team rampaging through a patsy conference. It's still partly that. Boise State didn't rampage over those aforementioned teams anyway, beating Hawaii by 7 at home, beating San Jose State by 3 on the road. This particular head coach looks to call off the dogs in the 40's. Past teams were prone to run up much bigger totals. Oklahoma's non-conference slate was UAB, Washington, Oregon, and Middle Tennessee. Two of those teams made bowls, and looked awful in their bowls. It wasn't seen as a great year in the Big 12...but there was a lot of depth of talent spread amongst all the teams. So, Oklahoma is the champion of a decent conference, not a powerhouse conference. Boise State's the champion of an improving mid-major. The strength of schedules probably tell the story, though either could be nitpicked.

Boise State: 5-5-1 versus the spread
Oklahoma: 8-3-2 versus the spread
Oklahoma had a habit of looking awful in TV games in a way that would convince everyone to go against them for a month. They barely got by a poor UAB team in their season opener, winning by seven as a 24-point favorite. The next game, they were tight with unheralded Washington (who turned out to be okay before injuries) until a late scoring surge resulted in a push. America decided that Oklahoma was overrated...and the Sooners covered the next two games. That brought Texas. Oklahoma lost 28-10 while giving the ball away five America gave up on them just as the Sooners covered three in a row. Prime time on ABC at Texas A&M saw an ugly 17-16 defensive battle. That was the third and final non-cover. OU won or pushed the rest of the way. So, the 8-3-2 ATS mark looked like a game of Frogger, and the Sooners eventually made it through what turned out to be a very successful season. Boise State's tendencies to call off the dogs earlier than in the past hurt their spread performance. They were 3-4 ATS as double digit favorites. They used to be automatic as big chalk. The Broncos were underdogs only one time...a scintillating 39-3 win at Utah. You saw the Utes beat up on Tulsa in a prior bowl.

Boise State: +150.4, with a season turnover differential of +8
Oklahoma: +85.6, with a season turnover differential of 0
Boise State is still a bully, even if they stop the carnage earlier than they used to. When things are clicking, they'll post some huge yardage differentials. They can pop a +300 on really bad teams. They're guaranteed of facing a few of those bad teams in the WAC. They're not nearly as good as those numbers would suggest. But, within the context of the schedule they play, they are very good. Boise State is this year's "King of the Mid Majors" in terms of the rankings. It would be interesting to see them play BYU. Both of those teams were stronger this year than the mid-major kings usually are. Oklahoma's numbers are a bit inflated by a 462-95 yardage edge over Middle Tennessee. Surprisingly, OU would have been just 9-4 if wins were based on total yardage. That's also not characteristic of a team assumed to be a perennial national championship contender. We want to say something about the turnover category. You've seen enough of these by now to know that a differential of zero is odd for a bowl caliber team. Most postseason teams win that category. The Oklahoma defense was strong, and forced 29 turnovers. Oklahoma's offense was RIDICULOUS about not protecting the ball, and suffered 29 giveaways. Only Iowa and Georgia were worse, and they were thought of as having disastrous offensive seasons this year. This one category could turn out to be the key to the cover. If OU is sloppy with the ball, they'll find it hard to win a blowout.

Boise State: 21-8, not great considering strength of schedule
Oklahoma: 20-8, okay for a power team with a shaky QB

Boise State is typically a soft bully that runs up the score on patsies, but gets physically beaten up on the rare occasions they play a physical team (remember last year's 48-13 loss at Georgia as a 7-point underdog, where the Broncos were outgained 574-292, or the MCP Bowl loss to Boston College). This year's team looks to be a bit tougher in the bigger games. They had a great result early with a 42-14 win over Oregon State. And that 39-3 rout of Utah on the road looks even more impressive in retrospect. They will pass the ball 22-27 times a game (seven games in that window), with an offense that tries to spread people out then shoot through the gaps. Hawaii does that and passes 50 times. Boise State does that and passes 25 times. But, it's still all about an undersized team trying to spread people out and shoot through the gaps. In past years, we would have been on Oklahoma in this game in a heartbeat. This particular Boise State unit may match up better with physical opponents than past entries.

Oklahoma would be a "Milton Berle" team (see pre-series article) if they could figure out how to stop fumbling the ball and throwing interceptions. OK has a great defense. They prefer to run the ball because the QB is so erratic. It's the Rutgers style with butter on the fingers. But Oklahoma's defense gives them a chance to cover big spreads anyway. The Sooners were 5-1-1 ATS as favorites of seven or more points. This stop-unit is so suffocating that they can cover big spreads more easily than most "Berle" type teams.

Boise State didn't play anyone as good as Oklahoma. We've mentioned already that they more than held their own when challenged this year. This will be the biggest challenge. Boise State only scored 23 points on 341 yards at San Jose State in a big road game against a physical team. Not a great match, but evidence that the Broncos can have trouble against a physical style of play.

Oklahoma didn't play anyone that was all that similar to Boise. There aren't many teams who spread things out on offense so they can run...which is what Boise State was doing this year. OU had a little trouble containing the spread offense of Texas Tech. They allowed 24 points, but covered in a 34-24 victory. Boise State's defense would be comparable to Tech's in terms of the role they play in these shootouts. Note that OU won yardage in that game 448-281, but lost turnovers 4-1. Take away the turnovers, and Oklahoma wins by more than two touchdowns. That's probably not a good sign for Boise. Boise will HAVE to force turnovers to stay close.

Boise State should be sky high about reaching a BCS bowl. It's a historic moment for mid-majors. They'll either play the game of their lives, or shrink from the magnitude of the stage. Many of these same players shrunk at Georgia last year. A program like this just isn't used to the hoopla. I'm about to hyperventilate just imaging what these Boise kids will be experiencing as they come onto the field in the Fiesta Bowl under the spotlight.

Oklahoma is happy to have won the Big 12 and returned to the BCS. They're probably not all that inspired about having to play Boise State. It's much easier to get up for a big name team. If motivation is going to be an edge, it's probably for Boise. But, if there's going to be a deer in the headlights, that's Boise too.

Boise State lost to Boston College 27-21 on their home field in the MPC Computers Bowl, losing yardage 383-360
Oklahoma beat Oregon 17-14, winning yardage 361-327

Boise State is 3-2 ATS this century in bowls, 2-1 ATS on their home field, and 1-1 ATS outside of Idaho. They covered as a 10-point underdog against Louisville in the 2004 Liberty Bowl, but failed to cove as an 11-point favorite on TCU's home field in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl.

Oklahoma is 2-3 ATS the last five bowls. That breaks down to 0-2 ATS as a favorite and 2-1 ATS as an underdog. They had two notable failures in national championship games, missing the Vegas spread by 14 points in a loss to LSU, and by 35 points in a loss to USC. Coach Bob Stoops is great at motivating his kids when they're underdogs. You can ask several years of Texas Longhorns players about that. The team sometimes plays with much less fire as a favorite.

It's hard to like Boise's chances here. You have to assume that the Oklahoma defense will own the point of attack. You also have to assume that the much better athletes will be able to force a couple of turnovers. Boise lost the ball three times even in that blowout win over Utah. For Boise State to cover, either Oklahoma has to be flat as a pancake on defense, or commit a lot of turnovers on offense. If Oklahoma plays clean, it's going to look like the Boise State/Georgia game last season. If Oklahoma plays sloppy, it could STILL be a Sooner's cover that resembles the 34-24 win over Texas Tech. Oklahoma has to be flat footed AND mistake-prone for this to be a game. We've all seen enough bowls in our lives to know that can happen.

Boise State is going to bring an effort. We won't begrudge them the chance to make a name for themselves and mid major teams in general on this national stage. The odds are against it turning out well though.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

30% that Boise State shows up as deer in the headlights, falls behind early, then makes a lot of turnovers while playing catch up. This leads to OU's physicality wearing down the Broncos in the second half, and pulling away to a large victory margin.

30% that Oklahoma isn't as sharp as they should be, but they still exploit their physicality advantages to earn a double digit victory. This team has thrived as favorites this year. Boise State is far from a sure thing to move the ball and score points even if Oklahoma isn't firing on all cylinders.

20% that the game turns into a pointspread toss-up with garbage time points in the fourth quarter determining which side ends up getting the cover.

20% that Boise pulls off a shock the world result, keyed by multiple Oklahoma turnovers.

If you split the 20% toss-up category, you get 70% for Oklahoma, and 30% for Boise State. Given the talent matchups, and the way Oklahoma's strength lines up with what Boise State likes to do...we think that captures it. It's not quite men against boys...but it's great athletes against nice kids who try really hard. The athletes usually win those games by double digits.

S.H. Austin

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