ORANGE BOWL (Miami)
LOUISVILLE VS. WAKE FOREST
1/ 2, 8 p.m. ET FOX
POINTSPREAD AT PRESS TIME
Louisville by 10.5 points, total of 52.5
Wake Forest: 11-2
Louisville was highly regarded coming into the season. Phil Steele's preseason publication had them at #3 in the country. Athlon had them at #10. You've read enough of these previews by now to know that we think bully teams who run up the score often get overrated by the public and the pollsters. Louisville didn't remotely have national championship talent...and would have been picked to finish fourth-best or so if they played in a conference like the SEC. A lot of preseason rankings involve predicting how a team will do against its schedule that year, even if it's a horrible schedule. So, that's why we've been getting Big East teams called "national title contenders" when they wouldn't be SEC contenders for several years now. Don't get us wrong...we know this was a talented team, particularly when they're skill position stars were healthy. Its defense would be in an infirmary by late October if they played in a power conference. It would be great if pollsters and magazine writers could point that out instead of perpetuating the myth that teams with skinny defenders deserve to be considered the best in the country if they give themselves a manageable non-conference schedule before their weak conference begins its play. Wake Forest was picked to finish 41st in the nation by Athlon. That's a reasonably sharp pick considering most everyone else had them worse. Steele had them finishing fifth in the six-team Atlantic division of the ACC. Wake was one of the surprise teams of the year. Louisville cleared all of its manageable hurdles except one, the loss to Rutgers. Louisville went 11-1 while being favored 12 times. Wake Forest went 11-2 while being favored only four times. Do you know how hard it is to go 11-2 when you're an underdog in nine games?! A tribute to the mediocrity in the ACC as much as to the inspired play of this undermanned program.
Louisville: 39-17 versus the 36th ranked schedule
Wake Forest: 22-15 versus the 60th ranked schedule
We don't buy that Louisville played the 36th ranked schedule. But, they weren't at full strength the whole year either, so that kind of cancels things out. They are a bully that runs up the score. They put up 62 on Temple, and 59 on Kentucky's soft defense. If not for injuries to star players they would have done that a few more times. Wake Forest is a classic "Milton Berle" team (see pre-series article) this year. In most seasons, they only dream of being a "Berle." They run the ball all the time, hustle on defense, and hope to find a way to win. In a weak ACC that had a lot of poor quarterbacks (good defenses but a lot of horrible offenses), they rose to the top. This was kind of like Wisconsin's story in the Big Ten. These guys stood pat, and watched everyone else take a few steps backward. You'd have to be a stathead to appreciate this kind of numerical fluke. It's almost impossible to go 11-2 but only have a positive scoring differential of seven points. That's a lot of squeakers.
Louisville: 8-4 versus the spread
Wake Forest: 8-4 versus the spread
Both teams were bargains all season. Bully teams are bargains when they play soft schedules because they can run up the score all the time. This year, the Cards were legitimately better than West Virginia (with "less mistake-prone" being the tie-breaker), so they picked up an extra cover there. It should be noted that the team did struggle ATS vs. the "Berle" type teams. You probably watched the loss to Rutgers. They struggled for awhile and didn't cover against both Syracuse and Cincinnati. Quarterback Brian Brohm played in all three of those games...so this wasn't the backup costing them covers. Put Louisville on the field against a patsy, or a team that can't play ball control, and they will crush them. Wake Forest has the style of play that will give the dog a chance to compete here. Like most "Berle's," Wake Forest was a poor favorite. They went 0-3 ATS when laying points. I've been calling them a favorite over Liberty to simplify things. That wasn't really a board game, but Wake would have been the favorite if it were. They only won 34-14 against a Division IAA team...par for the course. Wake was 8-1 ATS as an underdog this year, with the only loss coming at the hands of a very physical Virginia Tech team. Tech's a better "Berle" than Wake Forest is, and it wasn't close. Though, that game did come the week after Wake Forest shocked Florida State 30-0. That was a letdown spot for the Demon Deacons, obviously.
AVERAGE YARDS PER GAME/TURNOVER INFLUENCE
Louisville: +161.5, with a season turnover differential of even
Wake Forest: -11.0, with a season turnover differential of +14
Those numbers shouldn't surprise you given the team characteristics. Wake Forest was helped greatly by that big turnover advantage. That's partly luck...but run-based teams do have less risk. Louisville had bully yardage...and it would have been even bigger if they had been healthy all year. Louisville was outgained by West Virginia 540-468 (winning turnovers 3-1), and by Rutgers 332-266. So, you can imagine how dominant they must have looked in their other games. To give you a sense of their peaks...they outgained Kentucky and Temple 631-260 and 671-230 in the first two games of the season.
QUARTERBACK TD/INT RATIOS
Louisville: 21-7, surprisingly low for this style of play
Wake Forest: 9-5, this team hardly ever passes in the red zone
This is easily the most EXTREME of the bully/Berle matchups in this bowl season. Louisville is one of the nation's ultimate bullies. You should almost always lay big numbers with them against teams who can't run clock. Vegas underestimates those margins by a good bit time and time again. Wake Forest isn't normally this successful. Berle teams can't play catch up when they fall behind. Opposing ACC quarterbacks were so bad this year that Wake Forest rarely fell behind. The flow of the Orange Bowl will be determined by whether or not Louisville can take Wake Forest out of its preferred game. They couldn't do that at Rutgers (nor could they do it very well against Syracuse and Cincinnati...they did have more luck in a home game against South Florida). Wake Forest is less physical than Rutgers, but has more big play potential on the ground because of their complicated rush schemes. This game could miss the line very easily by double digits in either direction. In fact, that's probably a best expectation. Either Wake Forest pulls a Rutgers, or Louisville pours on the points in the second half because Wake isn't good at playing catch up.
GAMES VERSUS SIMILAR OPPONENTS
Louisville's troubles vs. this style have been documented already. Wake's lack of action against quality quarterbacks has been as well. We should note that Wake Forest/Clemson is a pretty good match. Clemson is very similar to Louisville in terms of style and approach. Clemson was less talented than Louisville this year. Wake Forest was leading Clemson in the fourth quarter before a bizarre sequence of plays turned things around. They ended up losing the game 27-17 as 17-point underdogs. Wake was outgained 428-219, but played a rope-a-dope between the 20's to lead most of the afternoon. We should expect something similar here in terms of the yardage. Wake will be trying to run more clock to keep Louisville to a lower yardage total.
Both teams played Syracuse and Connecticut this year. The stats from those games give you a sense of the styles here:
Louisville beat Syracuse 28-13 on the road, winning yardage 426-322 Wake Forest beat Syracuse 20-10 at home, winning yardage 363-136 Louisville beat UCONN 48-17 at home, winning yardage 570-236 Wake Forest beat UCONN 24-13 on the road, losing yardage 304-209
Averages: Louisville: 38-15, 498-279 in yardage Wake Forest: 22-12, 286-220 in yardage
This situation is reminiscent of our example in that pre-series "Berle" article. People see those results and figure that Louisville must be about 10-11 points better. People did that with the stats for Louisville and Rutgers going into that game, and regretted laying the points. Same kind of story for people that laid points with Boise State at San Jose State, or West Virginia against South Florida. Or Indianapolis at Jacksonville a few weeks ago in the NFL...or Indianapolis at home against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year...or all the times the approach of Tampa Bay wreaked havoc with the supposedly unstoppable juggernaut of the St. Louis Rams a few years back. This has been going on forever. The blowouts do happen...they just happen much less often than people think they do.
MOTIVATION FOR THIS GAME
Louisville should be very excited to be playing in the Orange Bowl...but they were once thinking about facing Ohio State in the BCS championship game. Barry Alvarez had assured them repeatedly on national TV that all they had to do was beat West Virginia for that to happen.
Wake Forest never gets to go to a big game like this. They should be fired up. But, they may also succumb to the "dear in the headlights" issues that might bedevil Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
LAST YEAR'S BOWL PERFORMANCES
Louisville lost to Virginia Tech 35-24, losing yardage 391-352
Wake Forest didn't qualify for a bowl last season
RECENT BOWL TRENDS
Louisville is 0-4 ATS the last four seasons, with their defense victimizing them each time. The Cards have allowed 35, 40, 49, and 38 in their last four postseason appearances.
Wake Forest has only played one bowl this century, beating Oregon 38-17 as a 7-point underdog in the 2002 Seattle Bowl. Those T-shirts are surely a collector's item now.
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
You can write this one yourself. It's the ultimate bully vs. Berle battle. Either the bully clicks early and often on the way to a rout. Or, the offense spends the night on the sidelines wondering why the other team keeps moving the chains and running clock.
I'd rate the percentages this way:
60% Berle (with at least a 33% chance of an outright victory)
40% Bully (with at least a 25% chance of a 42-10 type snoozer, or maybe 52-20 because scoring goes up in bowls)
What about the total?
In this style of game, what you like on the total is a direct result of what you like on the team side. Wake Forest games will go Under high totals like this. When Louisville clicks, they fly Over this total. Not only does Louisville score all night, but their defense allows a bunch of points too. The key will be how the clock runs. If Wake Forest is successful in taking the air out of the ball....then you won't want the Over. If they're not, then the total should be 70.
This sets up a reasonable enough hedge for Wake backers. They might consider something on the Over just in case...then hope for a split if Wake can score some garbage time points late on the ground.
We'll call it 55% Over, 45% Under as a way of setting up the hedge.