CAPITAL ONE BOWL (Orlando)
WISCONSIN VS. ARKANSAS
1/1, 1 p.m. ET ABC
POINTSPREAD AT PRESS TIME
Arkansas by 2.5 points, total of 45.5
Both of these teams had surprise seasons. Arkansas was more popular coming into the year. Athlon picked them 30th in the nation in their preseason publication. Phil Steele had them as a highly regarded 13th in the nation...and would have picked them to win the SEC West if he hadn't thought Auburn would be #2 in the nation. He read the tea leaves properly with the Hogs at least. Arkansas did go on to win the SEC West despite a late season loss to LSU. Wisconsin was a MONSTER surprise. Athlon had them at 26th in the nation. Steele didn't have them in his top 45, and picked them to finish 7th in the Big Ten. It's fair to say that nobody expected a team with a new head coach and only two returning starters on offense could go 11-1 this season. Were they really that good? Probably not. They missed Ohio State in the schedule rotation, and had an extremely weak non-conference schedule. It was a down year in the Big Ten. Many teams took 2-3 steps backward while Wisconsin stood pat. That's what launched them to a great record.
Wisconsin: 30-12 versus the 84th ranked schedule
Arkansas: 30-18 versus the 41st ranked schedule
Wisconsin did an excellent job of staying focused versus that weak schedule. You have to give them credit for avoiding flat spots. They recognized their edges every week, and did what it took to get the job done. We want to be careful not to suggest that they're just a lousy pretender or something. It's still hard to this day to determine whether they're really a "A" team, or just a "B" that played a bunch of "D" opponents all year. This game will help shed some light on that issue. Though, it's not like the world is certain of Arkansas either. They may also be a "B" team with a favorable schedule, that lucked into the fact that LSU was an "A" team that had to play Florida and Auburn on the road. To us, the numbers above cancel out once you adjust for strength of schedule. Through this point in the process, we're seeing even teams.
Wisconsin: 7-2-2 versus the spread
Arkansas: 5-6-1 versus the spread
Because so little was expected of Wisconsin, they managed to dominate pointspread expectations. One of the non-covers was in a blowoff season finale against lowly Buffalo. They won 35-3 as a 38-point favorite because they called off the dogs early against a glorified high school team. The other non-cover came in a flat spot against Illinois after they had won four games in a row by big margins. This was really a harmonic convergence for backers. Wisconsin was a team that loved to dominate bad teams, they played a lot of bad teams just at a time when the public wasn't taking them seriously. It was a year full of easy covers. Arkansas isn't a bad team, so the 7-2-2 isn't necessarily predictive of what would happen in a bowl. Arkansas struggled early in the year as they adjusted to a highly touted freshman quarterback. Things started to click in November when prior starter Casey Dick was given the reigns back. But...that clicking just led to low prices against BCS bound LSU and Florida. Arkansas wasn't able to match up with those powers. We'd have to say that Arkansas is one of the few teams this year that turned out to be underrated, but couldn't make any hay for wagerers against the pointspreads.
AVERAGE YARDS PER GAME/TURNOVER INFLUENCE
Wisconsin: +143.3, with a season turnover differential of +1
Arkansas: +71.6, with a season turnover differential of -8
The discrepancies here are a direct result of schedule strength. Wisconsin did a great job of clamping down on soft opponents and imposing their will on the scoreboard and in the stats. They just rolled over teams who didn't know what they were doing. Arkansas actually has a very good yardage number for a team that couldn't settle on a quarterback while playing in a killer conference. You can see problems in the turnover category though. Both youngsters were prone to mistakes. The defense also did a horrible job of forcing turnovers. Arkansas only had 13 takeaways all season...and six of those came in one game against Louisiana-Monroe. Nine opponents committed one turnover or less, which is just awful by major college standards. This is not a great defense, even though nine starters are back from the prior season. Well, it's not a good defense by SEC standards anyway.
QUARTERBACK TD/INT RATIOS
Wisconsin: 18-7, slow and steady run-based team, this will work
Arkansas: 19-13, same boat here, but way too many interceptions
Wisconsin is a bit hard to judge because they played the same kind of opponents all year. They want to control the point of attack, trying to beat you with the running game and a conservative passing attack. They will pass the ball 20-25 times a game if things are going normally (actually, it was eight times between 19-26 this year) because they try to keep defenses honest. In the loss to Michigan, the only tough team they faced, Wisconsin passed 43 times because they were playing from behind. We're inclined to think this is a "B+" Rutgers-style team that played a lot of bad opponents. They seem very similar to Rutgers in the big picture. They probably have more beef and a more trustworthy quarterback in passing situations though. Rutgers, plus a big buffet meal, is Wisconsin.
Arkansas is more run-based than Wisconsin, typically throwing 16-22 times a game unless they have to throw more. Even if they have to, they shy away from it. They only threw 26 passes in the championship loss to Florida. If you watched the LSU and Florida games, you know that this team is just awful in the passing game. They only have a few routes. Many high schools have more complicated passing schematics. Arkansas tries to beat you with complicated rushing schematics, and talent in the backfield. Arkansas is basically Wisconsin, with less beef, more speed, and a much worse quarterback situation. The speed is so talented that it makes up for other possible weaknesses.
GAMES VERSUS SIMILAR OPPONENTS
Wisconsin played Michigan and a bunch of pushovers. Arkansas is neither Michigan, nor a pushover.
Arkansas probably played a few teams like Wisconsin. If you just look for the Rutgers style, Alabama fits that...Auburn fits that...South Carolina kind of fits that because Steve Spurrier was influenced by his NFL days into more of a defensive style...LSU fits that...even Florida fits that in a way. If you think of those teams having good defenses, and putting more emphasis on the ground game than the passing game (Florida passes a bit more than Wisconsin...25-30 per game), then Wisconsin's in the family. Arkansas beat Alabama 24-23, Auburn 27-10, and South Carolina 26-20; but lost to LSU 31-26 and Florida 38-28. If you believe the BCS rankings that have Wisconsin among the nation's elite, then you'd be going against the Hogs here. If you think Wisconsin is more like the tier that lost to Arkansas, then you can see this as a good matchup for Arkansas. They beat Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina by an average score of 26-18 despite playing two of the three games on the road.
MOTIVATION FOR THIS GAME
Wisconsin played in this game last year (which usually doesn't yield a motivated effort from the players), and might have trouble getting up for a team they saw lose its last two games on TV. But, it is the first bowl for this head coach, and there are only 2 returning starters on offense. It would be dicey to assume a no-show. Just be aware that it's possible.
Arkansas should be happy about going to a New Year's Day bowl the year after a four-win season in 2005. But, they did have a shot at the BCS. History has shown that good teams often bounce back well from a loss in their season finale. They don't want to end on a sour note. This category is probably going to be a wash. If it's not, we'd think Arkansas is more likely to have an edge than Wisconsin.
LAST YEAR'S BOWL PERFORMANCES
Wisconsin beat Auburn 24-10 in the Capital One Bowl as a double-digit underdog, winning yardage 548-236
Arkansas didn't qualify for a bowl last year
RECENT BOWL TRENDS
Wisconsin is 3-2 ATS this century, going 3-1 ATS as underdogs, but 0-1 as a favorite. This is their first bowl under new head coach Bret Bielema.
Arkansas hasn't played in a bowl since the end of the 2003 season. This collection of talent doesn't have a history. There are A LOT of seniors in key positions, so that speaks well for a good effort in career finales.
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
This is a tough one. It's hard to know what to expect from Wisconsin as they leave their part of the country and face a team with more speed than they're used to seeing. There just aren't any samples to judge from.
In Wisconsin's favor, they have the better quarterback. That means they can play from behind if things don't go their way early. It means they have more versatility in dealing with whatever faces them.
Going the other way, we really like fading teams who won their bowls the prior year when they go against opponents that either lost a bowl, or didn't get to play in one. If one team is likely to be fired up because of an intangible, it's going to be Arkansas rather than Wisconsin.
Because we have a pair of Rutgers style teams, it's probably best to look at the Under. Either team might run clock with a lead. The danger is that Arkansas is a bit higher scoring than this class of team typically is. Their rushing game has more big play potential. Their defense is prone to getting beaten on big plays. Sorry, we just can't see a great selection here. The indicators are more scarce in this game than many of the others. The intangibles might be meaningless, or might be explosive.
I'd rate the percentages this way:
55% that seeing less passes than we're used to seeing leads to a lower scoring game than Vegas is currently projecting.
45% that both teams break a few big plays, and the game goes Over even with a relative lack of passing compared to what most of the bowl caliber teams are doing. (Again, this is relative...we'll still probably see at least 45 passes here. It's just less likely to be 60+ here).
55% that all of the Arkansas seniors bounce back from the loss to Florida with a big game, finishing their careers on a winning note.
45% that Wisconsin is STILL better than people realize, and uses their more versatile attack to find a way to get the outright victory.