Monday, January 4, 2010

Fiesta time

There have been four matchups between undefeated teams in the history of the BCS, and all four have been for the national championship. It's a short list:

1999: Florida State (11-0) vs. Virginia Tech (11-0)
2002: Miami (12-0) vs. Ohio State (13-0)
2004: USC (12-0) vs. Oklahoma (12-0)
2005: USC (12-0) vs. Texas (12-0)

There'll be one more game on that list after tonight. I was really hoping Boise State and TCU would each get matched up against major-conference teams -- something like Boise against Alabama and TCU against Florida -- but it is what it is.

As you'd expect, both teams are pretty awesome at just about everything. TCU is fifth in total offense, Boise State is seventh. Boise State is first in scoring offense, TCU is fourth. TCU is first in total defense, Boise State is 14th. TCU is fourth in scoring defense, Boise State is 15th. And so on ...

The usual qualifier here is "grumble grumble schedule strength couldn't do that in the SEC grumble grumble," but that argument doesn't hold much water this year. TCU beat Clemson in nonconference play and then kicked the shit out of BYU and Utah in the Mountain West, which looks pretty good after BYU's waxing of Oregon State and Utah's win over Cal. Boise physically dominated Oregon in the season opener and wasn't seriously challenged the rest of the year. It's true that nobody in the WAC was particularly good this year, but the Broncos did what they were supposed to do and destroyed just about all of those mediocre teams; after Oregon, the only close game was a seven-point win over Tulsa in October.

So both have faced and beaten good teams; the thing I question is whether Boise has faced a defense comparable to TCU's. Oregon's is solid, but everyone else on the schedule ... um, not so much. There's been nothing this season that has prepared Boise for a defense ranked in the top five nationally in every statistical category TCU obviously hasn't faced the highest-scoring offense in the country, but Clemson, BYU and Utah were all in the top 34 in scoring, and TCU held those three teams to an average of 15 points. We're not talking about Cincinnati. Boise will probably also be playing without injured receiver Austin Pettis, and while his absence didn't hurt in the last two games of the regular season, he'll be missed against a team with a legitimate defense.

Speaking of legitimate, don't sell TCU's offense short: As noted above, the offense has actually been just as good as the defense (and just as good as Boise's offense, which I never would have guessed). Even if you go beyond the scoring numbers, TCU is fifth in rushing offense, third in pass efficiency, fifth in total yardage, fourth in fewest sacks allowed, etc. There's nothing really spectacular about Andy Dalton or Jeremy Turner, but everything just seems to work (having an uber-athlete like receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley helps).

The big question -- and the thing that's really hard to know -- is whether Boise's shutdown effort against Oregon said more about Boise's defense or Oregon's sloppiness. If the Broncos' defense is really that good, this will be a hell of a game. If not -- and if TCU is able to move the ball with consistency -- then I think there's a chance the Frogs will pull away. It'll be asking a lot of Boise's offensive line to hold off all-everything defensive end Jerry Hughes and give Kellen Moore enough time to throw on every down, which is what will need to happen if TCU is scoring much. I will say that if things get desperate, Chris Petersen isn't a bad guy to have calling plays -- he also has a pretty good history in the Fiesta Bowl.

I like both teams a lot, but I'm not sure TCU has a weakness; the Frogs are just really good, and they can match up with almost anybody in any area. All things considered, the spread in Vegas (TCU by 7 1/2) seems just about right in this one. Prediction: TCU 28, Boise 20.

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