Tonight's Emerald Bowl caps a triple-header on ESPN, so if you're out of football-watching shape and need to exercise your drinking liver and your dipping fingers, you should have plenty of practice doing so this morning/afternoon.
First up, at 10AM, is the Meineke Car Care Bowl featuring West Virginia and North Carolina in what is essentially a home game for the Tar Heels. It's your last chance to see Pat White try and make something out of nothing for the Mountaineers, so you should savor it. Also savoring it: Mountaineers' coach Bill Stewart, who, as a career coordinator who has been somehow elevated to head coach, will probably get about two years after Pat White graduates before he gets the axe.
Then, at 1:30PM, it's Wisconsin and Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. The game, held in Orlando, Florida, was originally held in Miami and called the Blockbuster Bowl, and was briefly a New Year's Day bowl. Alas, t'was not to be. Today, we get a middle-of-the-pack ACC-Big 10 matchup, and I'll admit that my excitement is muted partially by the fact that I can't name a single player on either team. But that's OK, because by this time, I'll have already started drinking at the CGB tailgate. If someone has a TV on nearby, great. If not, I honestly couldn't care less.
Finally, at 5PM, the moment we've all been waiting for: The Emerald Bowl. Cal v. Miami. Jahvid Best vs. a mediocre Miami run defense. A battle of backup quarterbacks. And, based on the national previews of this game, that's it. No other players will figure in the outcome of this game. Unless perhaps Miami's backup long-snapper screws up a punt for the Hurricanes.
This level of analysis left me unsatisfied, so I decided to do a little digging of my own. Hydro watched some game film whilst TwistNHook took you inside the numbers; read on to see what else I found:
I, like most of you West Coast football fans, surely thought that ACC football wasn't worth much attention this year. Not that we were wrong, but it now turns out that Cal is facing a Miami team that I haven't seen much of this year. And it doesn't help that Miami didn't play Maryland this year, so we don't even have a common opponent to compare to. So, I had to go digging a little deepers to find some basis fo comparison between Miami and some of our opponents.
First, I looked at passing yards. Cal ranked just 79th in the country with less than 200 passing yards per game this year, so if the Bears were forced to win through the air, I might be concerned. However, passing doesn't appear to be key to beating the 'Canes. Duke, Virginia, and Texas A&M all threw for more yards than the Bears this year, yet only Virginia came within a touchdown of beating Miami. On the flip side, Georgia Tech ranked in the bottom 5 in the country, throwing for less than 100 yards per game, yet easily whipped the 'Canes in November.
What about a good pass defense? Cal ranked a little higher in this category, 43rd, giving up less than 200 yards passing. However, while a good pass defense obviously benefited Florida and Florida State, Miami was able to overcome the 16th- and 18th-ranked pass defenses of Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, yet fell to North Carolina and NC State, teams ranked 79th and 94th in this category. When the 'Canes were beating people, it wasn't through the air.
The strongest correllation I found to beating Miami was a good rushing offense. While much has been made about the rushing yards given up by Miami the last two games (691), I was ready to discount that stat because the lion's share of those yards (472) were gained by Georgia Tech's tricky triple option, a scheme which runs the ball almost every play and which looks nothing like the Bears' offense (or anyone else on Miami's schedule, for that matter). Still, when you look at Miami's schedule, their 5 losses came to 5 of the 6 best rushing offenses they faced, excepting only Virginia Tech. They beat teams that couldn't run the ball (which included Virginia Tech, who was held to just 77 yards in a 16-14 loss), and fell to teams that could. On this front, Cal, ranked 30th in the country with 184 rushing yards per game, is looking pretty good.
And what about a good rushing defense? Well, a correllation exists, but it's not that strong. While a stout defense up front certainly helped Florida and Georgia Tech, it wasn't enough for either Wake Forest or Virginia Tech (both in the top 30 nationally), who both held Miami to reasonable rushing totals and each gave up just 16 points, yet neither came away with a win. Still, Cal's 25th-ranked rushing defense should come in handy tonight.
And what about the great equalizer, turnovers? As has been pointed out by numerous national articles, a great disparity exists between the number of interceptions gained by the two defenses: 23 for Cal, just 4 for Miami. This difference pretty much entirely accounts for the difference in turnover margin, where Cal is +14 on the year, and Miami is -9. That's a difference of almost 2 turnovers per game, and if you came back from the future and told me that Cal would finish +2 in turnovers tonight, I would basically guarantee you a Bears' victory. One other stat worth noting, however: if the Bears are going to win the turnover battle, they're probably going to do it through the air, as Miami has lost just 4 fumbles all year, tied for 3rd in the country. Now *that's* taking care of the football.
Finally, how does Miami stack up against the opponents Cal has faced? Well, statistically at least, they look an awful lot like Maryland. Check it out:
The only significant difference between these two teams (statisically) is that Miami has a somewhat better pass defense. So, given how bad Cal looked against Maryland, should we be worried? I think not. It's already been discussed plenty that the Maryland game was Cal's worst performance of the year, and I think many people would agree that if they faced off again in Berkeley (as they'll do next September), Cal should be favored to win the rematch. Maryland isn't a bad team, but the Bears are better than that, and if Miami is no better than the Terrapins, I like Cal's chances tonight.