2008 Poinsetta Bowl: Navy Midshipmen vs. Utah Utes Preview and Pick

Navy Midshipmen (8-4) +7.5, 65.5 O/U at Utah Utes (8-4) -7.5, 65.5
O/U, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California, 9 PM Eastern, Thursday

by Badger of Predictem.com

Two teams that have much more in common then their 8-4 records kick
off the 2007-08 college football bowl season when the Navy Midshipmen
and Utah Utes clash in the Poinsettia Bowl Thursday on ESPN.

If you love three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust type football, then this
is the bowl game for you. Both teams feature heavy doses of running
football, with Navy triple-option attack and Utahs multiple-
formation power rushing approach.

Utah comes into the game as the favorites, but off of a 17-10 loss to
BYU in their final game of the regular season November 24th. Prior to
the BYU loss the Utes had won seven straight games, doing a complete
180-degree turn following a disappointing 1-3 start.

Navy is riding a wave, pardon the pun, and is in the midst of a four-
game winning streak. The Middies beat Army on December 1st, 38-3, to
win the Commander-In-Chief trophy again this year. The streak started
on November 3rd when they beat Notre Dame 46-44 in overtime, Navys
first win over Notre Dame in decades.

Navy will also be playing their first game under new head coach Ken
Niumatalolo. He was named the replacement for Paul Johnson
(who left for the Georgia Tech job) less than 24 hours after Johnson
left. A large majority of the assistants have chosen to stay at Navy
as well, so don’t expect the coaching change to be much of a factor
at all.

Oddsmakers opened the game with Utah as a 9.5-point favorite, with a
67.5 total.

Utah boasts a strong running game on offense led by running back
Darrell Mack. Mack, who ended the season with 1,128 yards and 13
touchdowns, is the main reason the Utes sport the 49th best running
game in the NCAA at 163.7 yards a game. Quarterback Brian Johnson is
a decent passer on play-action, but not exactly the most accurate
(65.2 comp%, 10/9 TD/INT). Johnson inability to keep defenses honest
with the pass is why the Utes often times struggle to score (25.5 ppg
- 75th). The good news for Utah is the fact they have one of the
countrys best kickers in Louie Sakoda, who has 10 field goals this
season of over 40-yards plus.

Navy is one of the few colleges left that still runs the triple-
option on offense, and they run it very well. The Middies once again
led all of the NCAA in rushing yards per game (351.5), but they also
led the nation in total rushing yards for the season (4,218) and
rushing touchdowns with 51. Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada
leads the Navy attack, but by no means is the only weapon as they
have six other players with over 400 yards each and 4-plus touchdowns
each. Preparing for the triple-option for just one game continues to
be a tough task for opposing defenses too, cause the Midshipmen score
39.9 points per game (8th).

The Utah defense is no doubt the strength of the team. The unit is
14th overall in the NCAA (319.4 ypg) and should pose a strong
challenge for Navy with the countrys 38th overall rushing defense
(131.3 ypg). On the season the Utes only allowed 15.6 points per game
(3rd in NCAA), but that number dropped to only 9.5 points per game
during the last six games of the season. Keep in mind though that
this came against mostly Mountain West Conference teams (i.e.
Wyoming, Colorado State, San Diego State, Utah State, etc.), what you
could easily call an offensively challenged conference.

As impressive as the Midshipmen are on offense, they are equally
unimpressive on defense. Its a good thing the Middies score so much
on offense, cause the defense can’t seem to stop anyone from scoring
either (36.5 ppg - 110th). Overall the unit ranks 100th in total
defense (438.2 ypg) and has a real hard time stopping the pass (265.5
ypg - 107th) since they never see any passing in practice.

These two teams have never played on the gridiron before, but they do
have one common opponent this season. Utah lost to Air Force, 20-12,
back on September 8th, the same Air Force team Navy beat three weeks
later, 31-20.

Utah has won six straight bowl games, the second longest streak in
college football, which you would think would inspire a loyal
following to San Diego. But the Utah faithful was less than impressed
with their selection to the Poinsettia Bowl, and the Utes had a hard
time selling their allotment of tickets to the game. On the other
hand, not only does San Diego host a naval base in the citys harbor,
but both the mens and womens basketball teams scheduled games in
San Diego this week, so expect a huge turnout in favor of the
Midshipmen.

Utah was a decent 7-5 ATS for the season and covered in all six games
during the winning streak prior to the season-ending loss at BYU.
Other betting trends for the Utes include a 7-2 ATS record in their
last nine games played on grass. The under cashed out in 8 of their
12 games this season, including 6 of the last 8 when they came in as
the favorite.

Navy was a bad wager for sports bettors this season, going 4-7 ATS on
the year. However, they are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games versus
teams from the Mountain West Conference. The over is also a strong
play, as the Middies went over the total in 8 of their last 10
neutral site games and in 9 of their last 12 non-conference games.

Early betting has been heavy on the underdog Midshipmen, as most
offshore sportsbooks have dropped the number from Utah -9.5 all the
way down to -7.5 or even -7 at some Las Vegas sportsbooks. That is
quite a drop, something that raises red flags for most savvy bettors.
The total has also dropped from 67.5 to 65.5 at offshore books and
even 64 at a few Vegas houses.

Badgers Pick: The nearly three-point drop on the spread since it
opened scares me, mostly because I too was going to side with Navy in
this game. Now that the number has fallen so far, I think I’m going
to lay off it. But I will be putting my money on the over. The triple-
option is too hard of an offense to prepare for, especially since
Utah probably doesn’t have anyone on their scout team that comes
close to running it as well as the Midshipmen. We all know how inept
the Navy defense is too. I’m looking at a shootout, even with the
clock running all the time. Find a book where the number is 64 and
take the over.