NCF Nation: Sun Belt

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.

SEC leads tight race in Power Rankings

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
2:30
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Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesWith a new college football postseason format comes a new trophy for the national champion
With the dawn of the college football playoff, conference strength will be examined more closely than ever before.

As the selection committee has noted, strength of schedule will be a factor in their decision-making process. That means out-of-conference and in-conference schedules will be examined.

Tom Osborne, former Nebraska coach and a member of the selection committee, noted, "A lot of teams are going to be at the mercy of the strength of their conference."

After all, at least one of the Power Five conferences will not have a team selected into the playoff.

Given the increased importance of conference strength, it is time to bring back ESPN Stats & Information’s conference power rankings.

What are the Conference Power Rankings?

Over the past few years ESPN Stats & Information has published weekly rankings of the FBS conferences during the college football season. The formula was originally crafted by then-Analytics Specialist Albert Larcada and has been adapted over the years.

In 2014, the formula is an equal blend of the rankings from the AP Poll (including the others receiving votes section) and ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI).

The AP Poll will not only add a human element to the rankings, but it will also measure the relative strength of the top schools in each conference. Conversely, the Football Power Index will measure the relative strength of every team in the country to determine conference power from top to bottom. For more information on FPI, click here.

The AP Poll and FPI will be weighed equally and the results will be calculated on a 0-100 scale in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the FBS.

SEC leads preseason rankings

It should not be surprising that the SEC leads the conference power rankings after finishing at the top of these rankings in all four years of their existence.

The SEC begins the season with eight teams ranked in the preseason AP Poll, including five teams ranked in the top 13.

After having the most players selected in the NFL Draft for an eighth straight year, the SEC is ready to reload with more ESPN 300 players signed in the past two years (235) than the next two conferences combined.

However, the Pac-12 is gaining ground. After finishing last year in a distant second (14.1 point differential), the Pac-12 begins the 2014 season just 4.1 points behind the SEC as the top conference in the FBS.


USA TODAY SportsHeisman hopefuls Marcus Mariota, left, and Brett Hundley.


A lot of the Pac-12’s strength is based on the projected strength of its offenses. Ten of 12 starting quarterbacks from the Pac-12 return in 2014, including Heisman favorites Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.

In comparison, only six of the SEC’s 14 starting quarterbacks from a year ago return, which leaves gaping holes for top teams such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M.

Some believe this is the first time in years the Pac-12 will make a legitimate run at the SEC for the top conference in the nation.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big 12 comes in as the third-best conference in the country, largely because of its depth in comparison to the Big Ten and ACC.

Many would expect the Big Ten to slide in the rankings after the news of Braxton Miller's injury. The conference actually did not take too big of a hit because Ohio State remained in the top 15 in FPI even when accounting for its new starting quarterback.

However, the component of these rankings that measures the AP Poll remained unchanged. To give an idea of what a drop in the AP Poll would mean: if Ohio State falls to 10th in the AP Poll, the Big Ten would lose an additional three points in the conference power rankings.

Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play? Similarly, what if Marshall from Conference USA or Houston from the American Athletic Conference finish the season undefeated? Does the fact that they played in weaker conferences exclude them from the playoff?

All of these questions could arise throughout the season. Stay tuned after an exciting Week 1 of non-conference matchups that could significantly impact the conference power rankings going forward.

Does Ohio State have argument for No. 2?

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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After Baylor lost to Oklahoma State on Saturday, the number of undefeated teams from BCS AQ conferences is down to three with Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State all vying for a spot in the BCS National Championship.

It appears that the No. 2 spot is Florida State’s to lose, but does Ohio State have an argument to be included in the title game based on conference and schedule strength?

Florida State vs Ohio State

According to ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings – a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and Football Power Index (FPI) - the Big Ten has the advantage over the ACC.

Five teams from the Big Ten received votes in the AP Poll, including three teams ranked in the top 15. In comparison, three teams from the ACC received votes and only two are ranked in the top 15.

However, Ohio State has only played one of those Big Ten teams and it was at home. The highest ranked team that the Buckeyes beat on the road, according to FPI, was Northwestern (64th in FPI).

Florida State, on the other hand, won at No. 3 Clemson and is 3-0 on the road against teams ranked in the top half of the FPI. As a result, despite playing in a conference ranked ahead of the ACC, the Buckeyes have played an easier schedule that Florida State, according to ESPN’s SOS rankings.

Looking deeper into the numbers, Florida State has had a higher average in-game win probability than Ohio State, meaning it has been more dominant in its wins. The Seminoles lead the nation in FPI, a forecast of team strength, and are predicted to be 10.2 points better than Ohio State on a neutral field.

The good news is that there is only a 29 percent chance that Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State will all remain undefeated entering bowl season, according to ESPN Stats & Info’s projections. So, the argument of team and conference strength may be settled on the field.

Rivalry Week

After nine straight weeks of primarily conference games, next week features its share of notable out-of-conference matchups.

The ACC has three notable non-conference games against SEC opponents on Saturday as Florida State heads to Florida (12 ET, ESPN), Georgia Tech hosts Georgia (3:30 ET, ABC) and Clemson takes on South Carolina (7 ET, ESPN2). According to FPI, the ACC should be favored in all three of those games. If the ACC can go 3-0 against the SEC, it will get a boost in the Conference Power Rankings next week.

Elsewhere, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri have must-win games that will impact the SEC and National Championship races. Ohio State should be tested at Michigan and Stanford will face a tough test against Notre Dame, which could also shake up the conference rankings next week.

Power rankings: Fresno State has BCS edge

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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The BCS Selection Process is clear:

The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference (the "non-AQ group") will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

However, no more than one such team from the non-AQ group will earn an automatic berth in any year, unless non-AQ teams finish both No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth.


This season, No. 15 Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference and No. 16 Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference are in prime positions to earn an automatic berth to a BCS Bowl game. Both teams rank in the top 16 of the BCS Standings and are ranked higher than No. 18 UCF, the highest-ranked team in the American Athletic Conference.

Only one non-AQ team will earn an automatic berth, so when evaluating the résumés of these two schools, conference strength is an important factor.

ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings can provide an objective measure of conference depth. According to these rankings, the Mountain West Conference is the strongest non-AQ conference from top to bottom.

The Mountain West has seven teams (out of 12) that are .500 or better, and is 18-8 against non-AQ opponents (including independent and FCS). Unlike other non-AQ conferences, the Mountain West does not have many weak teams.

The lowest ranked team in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) from the Mountain Conference is No. 106 Air Force. In comparison the MAC and Conference USA each has at least six teams ranked below 106 in the FPI.

However, when looking at the top teams of each conference, the MAC has the most teams (5) and highest percentage of team (38 percent) with at least seven wins. Northern Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Toledo are all bowl eligible and have at least seven wins.

When comparing Fresno State and Northern Illinois, voters will have to account for the strength of each team’s conference, their out-of-conference schedules and their dominance in their wins. Using ESPN’s new ratings systems, one can see that Northern Illinois has played a tougher schedule, but Fresno State has been more dominant in its games. It is up to the voters to decide which conference they believe is stronger and how much that affects their thinking.

This week, the MAC will be on display on Tuesday and Wednesday with three games on the ESPN family of networks -- Buffalo heads to Miami (OH) on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPNU), Kent State travels to Ohio on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPN2) and Northern Illinois will look to remain unbeaten at Toledo on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN2). On Thursday and Friday, the Mountain West and Conference USA will have their time in the spotlight as Rice, UAB, UNLV, Air Force and San Jose State are all in action.

FPI favors Pac-12, ACC in power rankings

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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The SEC continues to lead ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin after an exciting slate of games in Week 11.

As noted in previous posts, the Conference Power Rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country.

The idea is that the AP Poll measures a team’s résumé and perception, and the FPI measures a team’s relative strength in order to predict future success. In other words, the AP Poll answers the question, “If there were a playoff, who would deserve to play in it?” and the FPI answers, “If there were a playoff, who would win on a neutral field?”.

How do these compare in terms of conference strength?

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll, including four teams ranked in the AP top 10. No other conference has more than four total teams ranked in the AP top 25.

In comparison, the Pac-12 leads all conferences with seven teams in the top 25 of the FPI. The SEC is second with six teams, but only one of those teams – Alabama – ranks in the top 8. The Pac-12 has four teams in the top 8.

It is important to note that the SEC has two more teams than the Pac-12, which makes the Pac-12’s lead in the FPI even more impressive.

This is not an indictment of the SEC; the conference had the most teams ranked in the FPI top 25 last season. However, this season, the SEC does not have as many elite teams as in past years. According to FPI, the majority of their teams rank in the 20 to 40 range.

The Pac-12 actually has the most depth at the top of its conference. When Stanford loses to a team like Utah, who has played the hardest schedule thus far according to ESPN strength of schedule rankings, it may not be as much of an upset as many would expect.

FPI also favors the ACC more than the polls. Florida State is the top team in the FPI, and Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Duke also rank in the top 25.

In the annual ACC vs. SEC matchups at the end of the season, FPI projections favor Florida State over Florida, Georgia Tech over Georgia and Clemson over South Carolina.

So, while the SEC is getting all the accolades in the polls, future performance may be on the side of their rival conferences. The good news is that this debate will be settled on the field. Keep an eye on the FPI as bowls approach in order to determine the relative strength of teams and conferences.

For more on FPI, click here.

Big 12 rises in conference power rankings

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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A quick refresher: ESPN Stats & Information’s 2013 conference power rankings are based off of a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

The SEC took its largest lead of the season in the ESPN Stats & Information conference power rankings after five of its top six teams won on Saturday, including three wins over non-conference opponents by a combined 112 points.

The SEC is now 38-7 in out-of-conference games (.844 win percentage), which is the best nonconference win percentage of any conference.

Despite two of its top four teams losing on Saturday, the Pac-12 remains the No. 1 conference in the Football Power Index. The Pac-12 has four of the top 10 teams in the FPI, a ratings system that measures overall team efficiency.

However, the SEC has a major edge in the portion of the conference power rankings that measures the AP poll. Six of the top-15 teams in the AP Poll reside in the SEC, three more than in any other conference.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big 12 jumped ahead of the ACC for third place this week. Four of the Big 12’s ten teams have one or fewer losses, most of any conference. Baylor and Texas are both unbeaten in conference play, which could result in a de facto Big 12 championship game in the final week of the season.

The top teams in the ACC Coastal division had a rough Saturday. No. 7 Miami needed a last-second touchdown in its win against Wake Forest, then-No. 14 Virginia Tech committed four turnovers and was held scoreless for the first 44:49 in its loss to Duke and Pittsburgh was outscored 17-8 in the fourth quarter in its loss to Navy. These struggles were reflected in the ACC’s rating in the conference power rankings.

Fresno State survived a 35-28 overtime thriller against San Diego State to remain unbeaten. The Bulldogs are carrying the Mountain West Conference in the rankings and have a chance to earn an automatic BCS bowl bid if they remain unbeaten. Similarly, the MAC’s eighth place spot in the rankings is a result of strong starts by Northern Illinois (8-0) and Ball State (8-1).

Next week there are only three matchups between ranked opponents, so look for upsets to have a major impact on rankings.

SEC remains on top after wild Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Two weeks ago, ESPN Stats & Information released its 2013 conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

Week 8 was characterized by chaos and upsets; No. 3 Clemson, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 Louisville, No. 9 UCLA, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 15 Georgia all lost this week.

Overall, nine ranked teams were defeated, including five teams from the SEC, two teams from the Pac-12, one team from the ACC and the top team from the American Athletic Conference.

How has this wild week impacted the ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings?

The SEC did not fall as far as many would have expected because its losses came against fellow SEC opponents. Many of the points lost in the computer rankings (FPI) and in the AP Poll were picked up by their opponents.

For example, Missouri rose nine spots and gained 448 points in the AP Poll after its victory over Florida. Similarly, Auburn jumped 13 spots and gained 711 points in the AP Poll after beating Texas A&M on Saturday. In these cases, the Gators and Aggies did not lose as many AP points as their opponents gained.

Nonetheless, the SEC lost 2.9 points in the Conference Power Rankings after its top teams went down. The SEC had five teams fall at least seven spots in the AP Poll, and many of those spots were filled by other conferences, specifically the Big 12.

The Big 12 gained 14.8 points in the power rankings after its top four teams -- Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- all rose in the polls. As a result, the Big 12 jumped to second in the portion of the power rankings that measures the AP Poll.

Similarly, the Pac-12 moved from second to first in the computer portion of the conference power rankings (FPI). The Football Power Index (FPI) is one of ESPN’s new storytelling metrics that measures the relative strength of a team in terms of scoreboard points on roughly a -30 to +30 scale with 0 being average. The average Pac-12 team has an FPI rating of 14.6, meaning they are 14.6 points better than an average FBS team on a neutral field. In comparison, the SEC’s average FPI rating is 12.8.

Finally, the American Athletic Conference had the largest fall in the Conference Power Rankings after Louisville lost to UCF on Friday. Louisville was carrying the AAC in the polls and the computers after the conference went a combined 19-20 in its out of conference games. With the Cardinals’ loss, and their subsequent fall in the polls, there is a good chance that a non-AQ team will finish ahead of the American Athletic Conference champion in the BCS standings. If that team is also ranked in the top 16, it will be granted an automatic BCS Bowl berth.

If the last two weeks are any indication of what is to come, look for more chaos and upsets this upcoming weekend. Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Miami (FL) will look to avoid losses to unranked opponents at home. UCLA, Stanford, South Carolina and Texas Tech will all go on the road looking to take down a fellow ranked opponent.

Video: Outside the Hashmarks

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
10:00
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Mark Schlabach reacts to the report that the Group of Five conferences are thinking about starting their own bowl games in places like Little Rock, the Bahamas, and Dubai.
1. Bob Stoops has won 149 games in 14 seasons at Oklahoma. He is nine wins shy of surpassing Barry Switzer as the all-time leader in Sooners coaching victories. And for the first time in his tenure, the Sooners failed to reach a BCS bowl in consecutive seasons. It’s not time to panic -- Oklahoma went 10-3 last season -- but the Sooners didn’t measure up to his standard, especially on defense. Stoops discusses his career, college football and his 2013 team with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast posting Thursday.

2. Notre Dame returned to national prominence when it got bigger and faster. It was no coincidence, as I pointed out last season, that the Irish defensive linemen came from Texas (Kapron Lewis-Moore), Georgia (Stephon Tuitt) and Florida (Louis Nix). Here’s the other side of the geographic coin: Top punt returner Davonte' Neal (Arizona) and receiver Justin Ferguson (Florida) have left the program. A year ago, defensive lineman Aaron Lynch (Florida) left. Perhaps the margin of error on national recruits is thinner.

3. For as long as I can remember, athletic administrators have sprained their wrists wringing their hands over the rising cost of college football. And yet with the announcement that FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are moving to the Sun Belt Conference, the number of FBS schools will increase 127, up from 119 five years ago. That means schools are choosing to spend more money. Perhaps because they are chasing more money, too, not to mention the glue that college football can provide a campus.

Arkansas State won the GoDaddy.com Bowl with a 17-13 win over Kent State on Sunday night in Mobile, Ala. The Red Wolves finished with a 10-3 record after winning the surprisingly low-scoring affair. Here’s how Arkansas State earned the 10th bowl victory in program history:

How the game was won: Physical defense from Arkansas State. The Red Wolves were able to corral Kent State’s dynamic duo of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, who each rushed for at least 1,200 yards this season. Archer was hampered by a knee injury for much of the game, losing his explosiveness after scoring an early touchdown and Durham was generally bottled up by the Arkansas State defense.

It was over when: Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith was stopped short on a fourth-down run as he tried to lead the Golden Flashes to a game-winning touchdown. It was yet another example of the strong defensive effort from Arkansas State on Sunday night.

Stat of the game: 3.4. That’s the yards-per-carry average for Durham, who entered the game averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 96 rushing yards per game. He finished the GoDaddy.com Bowl with 20 carries for 68 yards.

Game ball goes to: Qushaun Lee. The Arkansas State linebacker was all over the field, finishing with 13 tackles including the final fourth down stop on Keith. He was a key playmaker as the Red Wolves slowed a Kent State offense that entered the game averaging 34.6 points per game.

Unsung hero of the game: J.D. McKissic. Playing in his first bowl game, the redshirt freshman receiver was outstanding with 11 receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown for Arkansas State. He provided a dynamic target for senior quarterback Ryan Aplin throughout the night.

What it means: Arkansas State will enter the Bryan Harsin era with momentum. The former Texas offensive coordinator takes over as head coach after Gus Malzahn left for Auburn. The Wolves lose Aplin but running back David Oku, their leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards and McKissic, their leading receiver, return to form a solid foundation for 2013.

Pregame: GoDaddy.com Bowl

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
12:00
PM ET
Kent State (11-2, 8-1 Mid-American Conference) vs. Arkansas State (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt)

WHO TO WATCH: Kent State's Dri Archer. He became the school's first ever consensus All-American, earning a spot as the returner/all-purpose player after leading the nation in kickoff returns at 38.2 yards per attempt. He has returned three of his 15 kicks for touchdowns. But Archer, who stands just 5-foot-8, is more than just a special-teams ace. He ran for 1,352 yards while averaging 9 yards per carry and piled up 15 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught 35 passes for 539 yards and four scores. Quite simply, Archer is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch.

WHAT TO WATCH: The offenses. Both teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing. Trayion Durham joined Archer as a 1,000-yard rusher for Kent State, which averaged more than 228 yards per game on the ground. Arkansas State piled up more than 217 rushing yards per game and has its own 1,000-yard back in David Oku. But the Red Wolves also have a strong passing game with Ryan Aplin, who threw for more than 3,000 yards with 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season. While the Kent State passing defense is vulnerable, the Golden Flashes were second in the nation with 23 interceptions.

WHY TO WATCH: These might not be name-brand programs, but this game features two good teams. Kent State won 10 games in a row before losing to Northern Illinois in double overtime at the MAC title game. Had the Golden Flashes pulled that game out, they likely would have made a BCS game instead of NIU. Arkansas State brings a seven-game winning streak into the game and won the Sun Belt title. In fact, both teams were so good that their head coaches got hired by bigger schools -- Kent State's Darrell Hazell by Purdue, Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn by Auburn. Hazell will still coach in this game, while defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as interim coach for the Red Wolves, who also lost head coach Hugh Freeze before last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl. Kent State is playing in its first bowl game in 40 years. Both teams have exciting offenses. Purdue fans will want to get a look at their future coach. And this is the second-to-last college football game we'll see until next August. Enjoy it.

PREDICTION: Kent State 31, Arkansas State 28. The Red Wolves have a more balanced offense, but the Golden Flashes faced better competition in a terrific year for the MAC. They also have had more stability during bowl preparation as Hazell admirably stayed aboard to finish off this historic season for the program. Kent State has been great at coming up with turnovers all year and will do the same in Mobile, Ala. That and some big plays from Archer will be just enough.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl keys

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
10:30
AM ET
Breaking down today’s AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl matchup between Ohio and Louisiana-Monroe:

1. Healthy Tettleton: Ohio junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton was slowed by a rib injury that played a role in the Bobcats losing four of their final five games. He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions and is much healthier now that he's had time to recover. Ohio will use Tettleton on designed running plays. And now that he’s back to full strength, he becomes even more difficult to defend because he won’t be as tempted to try to force things in the passing game.

2. Beating man coverage: Louisiana-Monroe isn’t afraid to play man coverage and leave their cornerbacks one-on-one on the perimeter. The Warhawks have intercepted 15 passes, led by Isaiah Newsome's four picks. They will stack the line of scrimmage and come after Tettleton. Pass protection will be critical for Ohio, not to mention making some big plays down the field when the Warhawks bring the pressure. The Bobcats need to set the tone early in their offensive line.

3. Getting defensive: Ohio was decimated by injuries on defense this season, particularly in its front seven. Some of those defenders are scheduled to return for the bowl game, but it remains to be seen how rusty they might be. Against an offense like Louisiana-Monroe’s that’s continually attacking, the Bobcats could help their cause by forcing some turnovers and not allowing the Warhawks to get into a rhythm early.

Instant analysis: C. Michigan 24, WKU 21

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
11:24
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Central Michigan closed the 2012 season with its fourth straight win by holding off Western Kentucky 24-21 on Wednesday night in the Little Caesars Bowl at Ford Field.

Here’s how it went down:

It was over when: Instead of trying a 36-yard field goal that could have tied the game and forced overtime, Western Kentucky elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Central Michigan 19-yard line with 51 seconds to play. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes just overthrew his tight end, Jack Doyle, who stretched out for the ball, but couldn’t come up with it inside the 5.

Turning point: With Western Kentucky punting from its own end zone, Central Michigan’s Avery Cunningham was able to get a hand on the Hilltoppers’ punt, and the Chippewas took over from their own 26 with 6:55 to play. Aided by a pair of pass interference penalties on Western Kentucky, Central Michigan needed just three plays to find the end zone and take the lead for good.

Game ball goes to: Central Michigan quarterback Ryan Radcliff finished 19-of-29 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His final touchdown was an 11-yard strike to Cody Wilson to give the Chippewas a 24-21 lead with 5:11 remaining.

Stat of the game: Central Michigan’s Zurlon Tipton rushed for 101 yards, which was his seventh straight 100-yard rushing performance.

Unsung hero: Central Michigan redshirt freshman receiver Andrew Flory had a pair of touchdown catches in the first quarter -- a 69-yarder and 29-yarder. The Chippewas were playing without two of their top three receivers, Titus Davis and Courtney Williams, both of whom were suspended for violating team policy.

What it means: After limping into the final week of October with a 2-5 record, Central Michigan put a bow on its torrid close to the season. The Chippewas (7-6) ended up winning five of their final six games.

The offensive explosion most expected didn't disappoint, as Louisiana-Lafayette and East Carolina lit up the scoreboard in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin' Cajuns and Pirates combined for 45 points in the second quarter and spent much of the game in plus territory. East Carolina erased a 21-point first-half deficit, but couldn't convert enough drives into touchdowns as Louisiana-Lafayette celebrated a New Orleans Bowl championship for the second consecutive year.

Let's take a quick look at what happened in the Big Easy ...

It was over when: A fourth-down rollout pass from East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden to wide receiver Andrew Bodenheimer was broken up by Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Melvin White near the sideline with 2:32 left. Ragin' Cajuns star kicker Brett Baer, who had booted the game-wining field goal in last year's New Orleans Bowl, secured another by converting a 39-yard field goal try with 10 seconds left. After beginning the game with three consecutive three-and-outs, East Carolina had moved the ball well throughout the second half until the decisive drive.

Game ball goes to: Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway. The sophomore was the most dynamic player on the field at the dome despite playing through an apparent right shoulder injury. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and he added 108 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Broadway set the team's single-season total offense record on a third-quarter run, and finished with 416 yards on the day. Cajuns sophomore running back Alonzo Harris also deserves a shoutout after going for 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Stat of the game: Both teams entered the game ranked in the top five nationally in red zone offense -- Louisiana-Lafayette tied for second (94 percent), East Carolina tied for fifth (92 percent) -- and they didn't disappoint. The Ragin' Cajuns and Pirates combined to go 10-for-10 on red zone scores, with eight touchdowns and two field goals.

Unsung hero: Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Jemarious Moten. The first-team All-Sun Belt selection stepped up in his final collegiate game. After a Broadway interception off a deflection set up East Carolina in Cajuns territory early in the fourth quarter, Moten responded with an interception of Carden near the 10-yard line. He also had a third-down pass breakup midway through the fourth. Although he should have had more than one interception -- and a possible pick-six off a trick play -- he certainly was a factor for the Louisiana-Lafayette defense.

What it means: The Louisiana-Lafayette program has arrived under coach Mark Hudspeth, recording consecutive nine-win seasons and consecutive bowl victories. Before last year's New Orleans Bowl, the Cajuns hadn't played in the postseason since the 1970 season (in the Grantland Rice Bowl). Broadway emerged as a star this fall and should give Louisiana-Lafayette an excellent chance to compete for a Sun Belt title in 2013. East Carolina also has a promising young quarterback in Carden, but the Pirates need to rediscover their postseason mojo after dropping their fourth straight bowl game.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl keys

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
9:30
AM ET
Three keys for today's R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl matchup between Louisiana-Lafayette and East Carolina.

1. Broadway show: Terrance Broadway takes center stage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after racking up 2,526 pass yards, 661 rush yards and 24 total touchdowns for Louisiana-Lafayette this season. He makes the offense go for the Ragin' Cajuns, and if East Carolina can't slow him down, it'll be a very long afternoon for the Pirates. Broadway really emerged as a dual threat late in the season, eclipsing 120 rush yards in two of his final three games. East Carolina must contain both Broadway and sophomore running back Alonzo Harris to make Louisiana-Lafayette one-dimensional. Broadway enters the game playing his best football, having racked up 1,275 pass yards, 428 rush yards, 12 touchdowns (8 pass, 4 rush) and three interceptions in his past five games.

2. Red alert: Both offenses can put up points, and a big reason for that is their effectiveness in the red zone. Louisiana-Lafayette ranks third nationally in red zone efficiency with 49 scores (40 touchdowns) on 52 attempts. East Carolina isn't far behind, tying for fifth nationally with 45 scores (35 touchdowns) on 49 attempts. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden has led 42 red zone scores on 45 chances since moving into the starting role. The Ragin' Cajuns have scored on each of their past 25 red zone chances entering the bowl. East Carolina's defense is significantly better in the red zone (tied for 54th) than Louisiana-Lafayette's (tied for 103rd). The defense that forces field goal attempts or generates a red zone stop or two likely comes out victorious.

3. Special teams: When the teams are as evenly matched as these two, the kicking game often decides the outcome. Louisiana-Lafayette has a huge weapon in kicker Brett Baer, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist who had the game-winning 50-yard field goal in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl. Baer already has matched his 2011 kick scoring record of 100 points entering the bowl game, having connected on 17 of 20 field goal attempts. East Carolina could do some damage on returns with receiver Justin Hardy, who ranks 31st nationally in punt return average (9.67 ypr). While East Carolina struggles in kickoff and punt coverage, Louisiana-Lafayette isn't very dangerous on returns.

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