CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL (Atlanta)
VIRGINIA TECH VS. GEORGIA
12/30, 8 p.m. ET ESPN
POINTSPREAD AT PRESS TIME
Virginia Tech by 2.5 points, total of 38
Virginia Tech: 10-2
I was getting ready to write up the "both of these teams were pathetic" rant, but it's hard to say that about a team that went 10-2! Virginia Tech's offense was truly horrible. But, they were in a conference with horrible offenses. The fact that they had a fantastic defense was a tie-breaker that put them over the top most of the time. If you watched them play on TV, they wouldn't strike you as a 10-2 caliber team. And, if they played a real schedule they probably would have gone 8-4 or 7-5. In a weak conference, with a non-conference schedule featuring Northeastern, Cincinnati, Southern Miss, and Kent (all home games), they rode that defense to a great record. Georgia's relative collapse was a surprise. Phil Steele's preseason annual had them ranked 14th in the nation. Athlon had them ranked 15th. The team won the SEC last year, and has made it a habit lately to play in marquee bowls. Georgia did finish with a respectable 8-4 mark. They needed a miracle to beat Colorado, or it would have been 7-5. They also had tight victories over Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Georgia Tech. Athlon had penciled them in for 9 wins, 0 losses, and 3 coin flips. Going 8-4 with some nailbiter wins in that environment is poor.
Virginia Tech: 26-9 versus the 66th ranked schedule
Georgia: 25-17 versus the 37th ranked schedule
That great Virginia Tech defense really shows up here. Holding your full schedule to an average of less than 10 points is something special. Yes, they faced hardly any real quarterbacks all season. They still did a great job of slamming the door on any attempts to move the ball. Georgia's positive differential was helped a bit by wins of 48-12 over Western Kentucky and 34-0 over Alabama-Birmingham where the team had no offense (295 and 271 yards) but scored a bunch of points on punt returns or defensive plays.
Virginia Tech: 6-5 versus the spread
Georgia: 4-6-1 versus the spread
There's an interesting breakdown with Georgia. They were 2-6 ATS as favorites, but 2-0-1 ATS in their only two underdog games this season. They just didn't have the offense to win by impressive margins at high prices. They had enough defense and fire to hang with anybody though. They only lost to eventual SEC champ Florida by seven points. They crushed Auburn on the road in what was their best stat game of the year by a mile. Virginia Tech covered their only underdog game with a 24-7 upset of Clemson (which doesn't seem like an upset now). More than anything, the numbers here show that you just can't make money laying points with poor offenses, that's a break-even prospect at best over the long haul. Taking more than a field goal with good defenses is much smarter.
AVERAGE YARDS PER GAME/TURNOVER INFLUENCE
Virginia Tech: +80.4, with a season turnover differential of +7
Georgia: +57.1, with a season turnover differential of -4
The turnovers jump out there more than the yardage does. Virginia Tech typically does well in this category. Georgia has problems. Amazingly, Georgia had a six game stretch toward the end of the season that went 4-1-5-5-4-3 with giveaways. As shown here, you can't make money laying points with turnover teams either. Two of the games in that mix were underdog covers, though (5 at Florida, and 3 at Auburn). Man, you shouldn't be making that many mistakes late in the season in your biggest games! Virginia Tech is turnover prone if they have to play from behind. They just weren't challenged all that often this year. They gave the ball away four times in a 22-3 loss at Boston College on October 12th. They barely trailed the rest of the season.
QUARTERBACK TD/INT RATIOS
Virginia Tech: 12-8, showing this is a run-based team
Georgia: 11-15, less run-prone, more mistake-prone
Virginia Tech is a bully in the best of times. Unlike most other teams, they like to run up the score with a combination of offense, special teams, and defense. They don't go bombs away like many bullies do. They just keep pounding on you until they have a huge lead. This year, the lack of offense turned them into a Milton Berle team (see pre-series article). They had no mechanism for running up the score with the offense. If the defense didn't score, the blowouts didn't get ugly. Also, this is a team who's games would be dramatically shortened by the rules changes. After September, only one out of seven games topped 35 points! They may just permanently transition to being a Berle team if the rules about the clock aren't changed back. Right now, they're the ultimate bruisers.
Georgia's a hard team to figure. They had some 27-24 and 24-22 kind of games that strike you as double mediocrity. The defense wasn't shutting people down. The offense wasn't exploding. But, in the stats, the defense looks terrific much of the time, and the offense looks pretty bad. Sometimes opponents were scoring points on short fields because of turnovers. That makes the defense look worse on the scoreboard than they are in the stats. The offense could move the ball and score a bit on Kentucky, or other weaker teams. Inexplicably, they popped 446 yards at Auburn. Most of the time though, you could pencil in less than offensive 300 yards versus good defenses, and less than 300 yards allowed for the defense. Right now, Georgia doesn't have a QB it can trust. It's hard for a team to define itself when that happens.
GAMES VERSUS SIMILAR OPPONENTS
Virginia Tech faced a lot of teams in the ACC who had shaky offenses and decent defenses. Georgia was basically an ACC team this year. Georgia beat eventual ACC runner up Georgia Tech 15-12 in their regular season finale. You'd think that a season of playing ACC teams would prepare Virginia Tech pretty well for this particular matchup
Georgia played in the tougher conference, so you'd have to think they're more battle tested. They're not going to be intimidated, even if they lost to both Florida and Tennessee, and played some coin flip games against some of the weaker teams in the SEC. The problem is...if you're LOSING coin flips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, you're just not an elite team. Where would Virginia Tech finish in the SEC? We'll have a better sense of that after this game than we do now.
MOTIVATION FOR THIS GAME
Both should be okay here. Each is used to playing in New Year's caliber games. This game will have the feel of New Year's Eve game, even though it's played on December 30th. Expect a huge crowd. Georgia is playing in its home state. Virginia Tech travels well. Can't imagine either team would be flat.
LAST YEAR'S BOWL PERFORMANCES
Virginia Tech beat Louisville 35-24 in the Gator Bowl, winning yardage 391-352
Georgia lost to West Virginia 38-35 in the Sugar Bowl, losing yardage 502-501
RECENT BOWL TRENDS
Virginia Tech covered their last two bowls after failing to cover the prior three this century. They covered their only underdog game, and went 1-3 ATS as favorites.
Georgia is 2-3 ATS this century, laying points in every single game. It's been a very strong run overall for Mark Richt. If you're playing a bunch of New Year's games, and you're laying points every time....you have an elite program. This year was a big aberration in that regard.
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
It's hard to imagine anything but a low scoring struggle. Sometimes bowl games have that feel and things bust out all over the place. Both defenses score a TD. Somebody returns a punt for a TD (a reasonable likelihood in this game actually). A flea-flicker here, and pass back to the quarterback there, and suddenly it's 21-all in the third quarter and you've already lost the Under.
This year, we haven't seen so much of that in the early bowls, particularly those involving teams that play defense and are aware of the clock. We're also seeing that the layoff may be hurting offenses more than people expected. Vegas has posted a low total here, but it may not be low enough.
Virginia Tech's last five games: 17, 33, 23, 27, and 31 total points Georgia vs. the ACC: 27 points in the Georgia Tech game; 295 offensive yards or less six times this year, 298 yards or less allowed eight times.
A computer would probably get about 250-270 yards apiece, with a 16-13 or 17-14 kind of final score. You haveto determine how "fluke" points will impact things. The fact that Georgia's been the much worse turnover team could really hurt them against somebody like Virginia Tech. That has to be the tie-breaker in our mind. If both teams show up with equal intensity, it's most likely to be a defensive struggle where the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins.
I'd rate the percentages this way:
55% that Virginia Tech makes the fewest mistakes and covers 45% that Georgia's tougher preparation in the SEC or a home state boost leads to an upset.
60% that the game goes Under this already low total 40% that goofy things take it Over
At the posted Vegas numbers, Georgia's critical number is 17.5. If you want the Virginia Tech and Under combo, you have to hold the Bulldogs under 17.5 to have a chance to sweep. Tech has allowed 10 points or less in nine of 12 games. They've only allowed 16 COMBINED points the last month (Virginia, Wake Forest, Kent State, and Miami of Florida). That seems like a logical way to go about it. As we know, anything can happen in a bowl game.