While two of the biggest traditional bowls are not involved in the college football playoff matchups this season both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl have great matchups to fill out the last two slots on the New Year’s Day Bowl schedule with prominent major conference teams facing off. Here is a look at the teams and matchups to close out New Year’s Day.
Match-up: Iowa Hawkeyes at Stanford Cardinal
Venue: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California
Time/TV: Friday, January 1, 2016
Line: Stanford -6, Over/Under 53½
Last Meeting: First Meeting
Going to the Rose Bowl shouldn’t ever get old but this is the third trip to Pasadena on New Year’s Day in the past four years for Stanford. Stanford won vs. Wisconsin New Year’s Day in 2013 but lost vs. Michigan State New Year’s Day 2014 vs. Michigan State in two tight games. This will be the first ever meeting between Iowa and Stanford on the football field and for Iowa the first Rose Bowl trip in 25 years.
The Big Ten already spoiled Stanford’s season in a way as the Cardinal lost on the opening Saturday of the season at Northwestern, falling 16-6 as a 10-point road favorite to start the season. Stanford wound up 11-2 on the season with a Pac-12 championship but had they not lost that opening game they likely would have ended up in the college football playoff with Stanford finishing #6 in the final rankings, just behind Iowa at #5.
Stanford has a very strong collection of wins this season having defeated Notre Dame, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, California, and USC twice but the Cardinal also slipped late in the season hosting Oregon 38-36. The wins over Washington State and Notre Dame came by the slimmest of margins while being soundly out-gained however as the Cardinal resume ultimately didn’t stack up quite as well by season’s end with teams like USC and UCLA fading late in the year.
Since the low output performance against Northwestern Stanford has scored at least 30 points in every game as a program more associated with defensive excellence in recent seasons was far better on offense this season. This will be the final game of a checkered but successful career for quarterback Kevin Hogan who had his best statistical season but also had some uneven performances. Leading the way for Stanford this season was sophomore all purpose producer Christian McCaffrey who wound up in New York as a Heisman finalist after combining for nearly 2,400 rushing and receiving yards.
Stanford finished the season ranked 50th nationally in total defense however with the team allowing the most yards and points per game of the five years under David Shaw. Eight of the team’s last 11 foes scored at least 22 points, a figure that would have been enough to win four of the last five Rose Bowls. Iowa averaged over 32 points per game this season while allowing just over 18 points per game with a 12-0 start only spoiled in the final seconds of the Big Ten championship game. Iowa ranked 20th in the nation in total defense with excellent numbers against the run, allowing just 3.6 yards per rush, a full yard superior to Stanford’s run defense.
Iowa faced a schedule that deserves some scrutiny with a narrow three-point home win over Pittsburgh being the only win of substance in non-conference play as the team narrowly escaped an upset vs. rival Iowa State in September as well. Big Ten play started with one of the biggest games in the Big Ten West with the Hawkeyes winning at Wisconsin 10-6. Iowa was out-gained by 99 yards in that game and was handed four turnovers. Iowa did crush Northwestern but they had close calls vs. several average teams in conference play to finish undefeated, winning one-score games with Indiana, Minnesota, and Nebraska while frequently failing to impress in the box score. Michigan State had a big yardage edge in the Big Ten championship but it was Iowa that committed the turnovers and key mistakes that the veteran squad rarely had in the regular season.
Despite the game being in Stanford’s home state Iowa figures to have a huge edge in crowd support. One can surmise that Iowa was left ahead of Ohio State in the final college football playoff rankings with the enthusiasm for the traveling fan base being a big factor even though it is not easy to make a case for the Hawkeyes being ahead of the Buckeyes on the final ballot and certainly Ohio State would have been a healthy favorite had the teams faced off.
Stanford should be motivated to prove what many believe, that they were the best team left out of the playoff bracket and the early bowl returns for the Pac-12 have given credence to what many believe, that the league was the deepest in the country despite no team able to fulfill a very difficult task of going 10-0 in league games to remain a viable national playoff candidate in the current format.
The spread briefly opened at Stanford -7 before slipping to -6½ and eventually -6. The total has steadily climbed upward from an opening number of 49½. Under David Shaw Stanford is 53-14 S/U and 42-25 ATS for an impressive five-year run. The Cardinal is 2-2 S/U and 2-1-1 ATS in bowl games with three of those four games being major bowl games. Stanford is just 12-13 ATS under Shaw as a single-digit favorite however as most of the impressive spread track record has come as either an underdog or a heavy favorite.
Despite being a surprise national contender and a team that was doubted all season Iowa was only 7-5-1 ATS on the year and with the soft schedule they were only dogged twice with this Rose Bowl line set to be the biggest underdog spread for the Hawkeyes all season. Iowa covered in all five road games this season and under Kirk Ferentz, who is now one of the longest tenured head coaches in college football, they are 126-86-1 S/U with a 112-91-6 ATS record. That record includes a 48-33-4 ATS record as an underdog with Iowa 6-6 S/U and 8-4 ATS in bowl games under Ferentz, playing as an underdog in all but one of those bowl games.
Match-up: Mississippi Rebels vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Venue: Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
Time/TV: Friday, January 1, 2016, 8:30 PM ET
Line: Mississippi -7½ Over/Under 68½
Last Meeting: 2010 Cotton Bowl, Mississippi (-3½) 21, Oklahoma State 7
This will actually be the third recent bowl meeting between these teams with Cotton Bowl wins for Mississippi after the 2003 and 2009 seasons. Mike Gundy was coaching Oklahoma State for the most recent meeting and it was a rare bowl loss for the Cowboys who have won four of the last five bowl games under Gundy who is 6-3 S/U and 5-4 ATS in bowl games.
With a win in this bowl game Ole Miss can improve in record in a fourth straight season under Hugh Freeze who took over a 2-10 squad to go 7-6 in 2012, 8-5 in 2013, and 9-4 in 2014. Last season’s team also could have hit the 10-win mark but the Rebels were destroyed in the Peach Bowl with a 42-3 result vs. TCU. Going 9-3 through a difficult SEC West schedule is commendable but for the second straight season Ole Miss climbed to #3 in the polls with a big win over Alabama only to falter against lesser competition later in the season.
The Rebels took losses to Florida, Memphis, and Arkansas and while the late season loss at home vs. the Razorbacks was an overtime affair that featured one of the more incredible plays of the season with a 4th-and-25 lateral play converted for Arkansas, the losses to Florida and Memphis came by double-digits. This was an inconsistent team and the overall numbers are a bit inflated due to opening the season with 76-3 and 73-21 victories.
The marquee win over Alabama featured five turnovers for the Tide as Ole Miss held off a furious comeback attempt in a 43-37 win. The acclaimed defense filled with top end talent also allowed over 400 yards in each of the final four games of the season. NFL prospect Robert Nkemdiche has already been suspended for this game and depth on the defensive line could be an issue for the team going up against a fast-paced Cowboys attack.
On offense junior quarterback Chad Kelly will come close to 4,000 passing yards for the season but he had four games with multiple interceptions this season and he is a risk to take sacks trying to extend plays. Highly regarded wide receiver Laquon Treadwell had 76 receptions for nearly 1,100 yards but only once did he had multiple touchdowns and the committee approach in the backfield led to some inconsistent performances as Jaylen Walton led the team in rushing but with just 690 yards and only one 100 yard game.
After a 10-0 start Oklahoma State wound up losing the final two games of the season but it is the fourth time in six seasons the program has reached a double-digit win count. The Cowboys have had late season slips before as a 10-0 squad in position to be in the BCS title game lost at Iowa State in the 2011 season as a nearly four-touchdown favorite and the 2013 team was 10-1 before losing the finale with Oklahoma.
A schedule that put TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all visiting Stillwater had many pegging the Cowboys as a national sleeper this season but in the first half of the season it didn’t look like a team capable of that kind of run. Oklahoma State struggled to slip by Central Michigan in the opening week and was very fortunate in a 3-0 Big XII start with narrow wins over Texas, Kansas State, and West Virginia. At 7-0 the Cowboys looked in trouble falling way behind at Texas Tech but the team rallied to win and then with the help of turnovers upended undefeated TCU the next week.
Oklahoma State couldn’t keep up with Baylor allowing 700 yards to lose by 10 even with Baylor down to a back-up quarterback and in the Bedlam finale with the Sooners the Cowboys played most of the game without their own quarterback as Mason Rudolph was battling an ankle injury and only played sparingly before being ruled out. Rudolph sparked the late season rally last season as Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma to become bowl eligible and then won in bowl action vs. Washington. The sophomore had a strong statistical season though he did have eight interceptions in nine Big XII games. The Cowboys are an up-tempo offense that spreads the ball around as no receiver had more than 53 catches and the running game was often sparked by their other quarterback, senior J.W. Walsh who routinely took snaps for a change of pace.
The pace of play wore on the Oklahoma State defense which allowed 430 yards per game on 5.5 yards per play with the biggest difference compared with Ole Miss being much less success against the run and far more yards per completions allowed but the Big XII schedule compared with the SEC schedule plays a role in those figures.
Under Mike Gundy Oklahoma State is 93-46 with a 73-59-3 ATS record but the team owns a track record as being a bit of a frontrunner, piling on points in lopsided wins but not winning in the biggest games. Oklahoma State is just 20-28 ATS as an underdog under Gundy but 23-11-1 ATS as a double-digit home favorite. Oklahoma State did win the Fiesta Bowl in an overtime thriller vs. Stanford after the 2011 season but they came up short vs. the SEC in the Cotton Bowl two years ago losing to SEC East champion Missouri. In the last six games the team has played as an underdog Oklahoma State has four outright wins going back to last season as the recent success as an underdog has been there.
While there have been some late season distractions for Ole Miss this will be the first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1969. The team has played in the Cotton Bowl in a few recent seasons and last season’s Peach Bowl appearance was technically a major bowl game but there is some enthusiasm to be in this game with the program having several historic Sugar Bowl wins in its history and a reasonable five-hour drive south for fans to make the trip. Under Freeze Mississippi is 33-18 S/U and ATS and after the embarrassing bowl showing last year a better performance should be expected. The spread on this game appears to be hitting -7½ at some outlets after mostly sitting at -7 since being released at -6½. The total has climbed from 66 to 68½ before holding at 68.