Friday, December 30, 2011

PS Bowl-A-Thon 2011: Insight Bowl - A Field of Dreams for Iowa?

The Where and When:
Insight Bowl, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ. Friday, December 30th, 1:00 ET ESPN/ESPN3

The Who:
Oklahoma Sooners (9-3, 6-3 Big 12) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-4 Big 10)

The Why:
Both Oklahoma and Iowa are in Tempe as a result the Big 12 and Big 10 tie-ins to the game. Specifically, the Insight gets the fourth pick of Big 12 schools and with OK State heading to a BCS game, Kansas State the Cotton, and Baylor the Alamo, the 9-3 Sooners landed in sunny Tempe. Of course, the Sooners were a preseason pick of many to play for the BCS championship but after laying a deuce-infested egg against Texas Tech at home, losing both Whaley and Broyles to injuries and deciding to send their JV squad to the beat down at Bedlam, the Sooners landed fourth in the Big 12 pecking order.

Likewise, the Insight gets fourth pick of Big 10 teams and with Wisconsin playing in the Grand Daddy (and Michigan getting an “at large” invite to the big boys table and thus not available in the pecking order for non-BCS bowl games), Michigan State is headed to the Outback (mmm…Outback Steakhouse…blooming onion anyone!??), and Nebraska to the Capital One. As a result, Iowa, at 7-5 is headed to the “House Where Dennis Erickson Formerly Fielded .500 teams.”

What Smartypants Accounting Guy Would Tell You:
On paper, there is no doubt that Oklahoma is the better team, even though the injuries to Whaley and Broyles have certainly impacted the team. More specifically, since Broyles’ injury Oklahoma QB Landry Jones has thrown zero TD’s and 5 interceptions and Oklahoma even ended up tied for the 8th most turnovers in FBS with 28. However, on the season, Jones did throw for just over 4,300 yards and 28 touchdowns (against 14 interceptions). And for the season the Sooners put up an average of 40 points while surrendering only 23. But, the big elephant in the room (aside from Breezy’s girlfriend) remains – i.e. without Whaley can the Sooners run and without Broyles, can Jones be successful? As shown by the meltdown against OK State the Sooners are certainly anything but invincible, but as luck would have it, Big Game Bob’s squad will be facing an Iowa squad that was ranked last in the Big 10 against the pass. And that, loyal readers, is not a good omen, when facing Landry Jones and company (with our without Broyles).

For Iowa, it was really a tale of two seasons – at home, in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium Iowa was 6-1 including a big win over Michigan. However, on the road, the Hawkeyes struggled to a 1-4 record, including a loss to the lowly Minnesota Golden Gophers. Statistically speaking, Iowa’s offense didn’t really do anything of note, averaging 236 passing yards per game (57th) and 143 rushing yards per game (76th). Surprisingly, even though Coach Ferentz and Iowa are often lauded for producing great running attacks, this season they averaged fewer yards than the “pass-happy” Sooners (who are averaging 167 ypg on the ground). And of course the big news out of Iowa City was the fact that leading rusher Marcus Coker (1,384 yards and 15 TD’s on the season) was suspended for this game, leaving the team with no back who has toted the rock more than 18 times (or for more than 80 yards). That means for Iowa to have a chance they’ll need to rely on quarterback James Van Der Beek (and the whole Dawson’s Creek gang)…oops I mean James Vandenberg, who threw for 2,800 yards and 23 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions.

The last thing to note, which has already revealed itself in multiple bowl games is discussing the motivation and desire of each team to be in the game. Iowa, after not being ranked all season is certainly relishing the opportunity to knock off the preseason number one team in the nation and keep them from getting to 10 wins. Meanwhile, will Oklahoma come out flat and disinterested since they will view this game as a letdown because it’s not in front of the bright lights and big crowds of the BCS games?

Pool Prognosticators Pattern:
I’ve driven through Iowa a couple times and watched Field of Dreams many, many times (after all, who doesn’t choke ‘em back at least a touch when he has a catch with his dad?). I drove through Oklahoma once and all I remember is that it seemed flat. But, I used to live in Dallas and the annual Red River Rivalry game was always a scene not to be missed (if for no other reason than to watch the OU and UT fans get way too drunk), with the “Roy Williams sacking Chris Simms in the end zone” play being among the coolest to see in a bar backed with Oklahoma fans screaming Boomer Sooner! Add to that the fact that the Iowa GOP primary is January 3rd so Iowa’s been all over the news and I’m leaning toward the state whose official flower is mistletoe.

Vegas Edge:
Oklahoma is a 14 point favorite which shows that even with injuries and potential questions about being motivated for the game, Vegas clearly views the Sooners as the superior team. On the season, Oklahoma was 6-6 ATS, with three of those losses coming to end the season (after the Broyles injury). Iowa, meanwhile was 5-7 ATS and pretty much all over the map all year. Iowa is, however looking for their fourth straight bowl win and second consecutive Insight Bowl victory (after beating Blaine Gabbert and the Fighting Missour-a Tigers last season). The over/under on the game is 58.

Sweatpants Verdict:
On paper, Oklahoma is clearly a more complete squad, even with the injuries to Whaley and Broyles. But, their motivation about playing in the game is certainly a question, as is Jones’ ability to put up big numbers without his favorite receiving target. With the suspension of Coker, Iowa will need to ride the right arm of James Van Der Beek (um, Vandenberg) as well as get some early momentum and confidence from a turnover or special teams play to ride, Journey “Don’t Stop Believing” style to victory.

Unfortunately, the loss of Coker, Iowa’s inability to win away from home and their pass D ranking last in the Big 10 is just too much for the already over-matched Hawkeyes to overcome. Oklahoma will be out to prove that the Bedlam meltdown was an anomaly and end the season on a high note, rolling to a 45-20 victory.

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