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The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.

Henry, Elliott, Cook, Fournette highlight Doak Walker semifinalists

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One former and three current Heisman front-runners headline the the 11-player-strong list of semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, the PwC SMU Athletic Forum announced Wednesday.

Of the 11 semifinalists, 10 come from a Power Five conference or Notre Dame.  The only Group of Five player up for an award handed out annually to the nation’s top running back is Wyoming’s Brian Hill.

There are three running backs generally considered as the favorites for this year’s Heisman Trophy — Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Alabama’s Derrick Henry.  LSU’s Leonard Fournette was the stiff-armed front-runner for the first 10 weeks or so of the season.  Those four are Walker semifinalists, as is Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who’s on the periphery of the Heisman discussion as well.

Aside from the six previously mentioned, the other five semifinalists are Utah’s Devontae Booker, Arkansas’ Alex Collins, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Baylor’s Shock Linwood and Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise.

Booker and Prosise are the only seniors in the group, while Collins, Elliott, Henry and Linwood are juniors.  The other five are sophomores.

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon ran away with last year’s award, with all three finalists coming from Big Ten teams.  This year’s three finalists will be announced Nov. 24.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

(more…)

QB transfer will play safety for the Utah Utes

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When quarterback Jason Thompson transferred from the Wyoming Cowboys to the Utah Utes last year, he did so to play under former head coach Dave Christensen, who was named Utah’s offensive coordinator.

After only one year in Salt Lake City, Christensen left the program to become the offensive line coach and run game coordinator with the Texas A&M Aggies.

Thompson’s time as a quarterback also ran its course in Utah. The junior will change positions during spring practice, according to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.

Thompson is already accustomed to making position switches. As a true freshman, he started one game at running back and another at quarterback.

The Utes lost both of its starting safeties, Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen, to graduation after the 2014 campaign. Thompson will have an opportunity to compete for playing time after sitting out the past two seasons.

No. 2 Oregon continues to win despite losing time of possession

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Oregon opponents shouldn’t worry about trying to win the time of possession battle. The Ducks don’t care how long you hold they ball. Oregon expects score as soon as its gets the football.

The No. 2 Ducks’ 48-14 victory over the Wyoming Cowboys proves a team can hold the football the majority of the time and still not come close to defeating Oregon.

Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly never cared how long Oregon had the ball on offense. Current head coach Mark Helfrich operates with the same philosophy.

Craig Bohl‘s squad held the ball 15 minutes longer than Oregon. Yet Oregon still accumulated 556 total yards of offense. Only one Oregon drive lasted longer than five minutes, and that came in the fourth quarter while the Ducks led 42-7.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the maestro of the Ducks’ offense. Mariota continued his march toward an appearance at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York City with another stellar performance against the Cowboys. The junior signal caller was 19-of-23 passing for 221 yards. He has yet to throw an interception during Oregon’s 3-0 start to the season. Mariota also finished second on the team with 71 rushing yards on five carries.

The downfall of Oregon’s nonchalant attitude toward time of possession is leaving its defense on the field to yield massive amounts of yardage. Wyoming amassed 439 yards of total offense. A far more talented team on offense will give Oregon troubles at some point this season once its ability to control the football results in points.

Until then, Oregon remains one of the best teams in college football. And the Ducks will continue to score in bunches while allowing opponents to take as long as they want on offense.