The big 2013 AdvoCare V100 Bowl breakdown: The star running back showcase

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The offenses go about their business in different ways, but both Arizona and Boston College will be wanting to run, run, run in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Shreveport. Arizona's a better team, but if the BC offensive line holds up, this could be a ground-based shootout.

Hey, kids, do you like running games? Because I've got the game for you ...

Games like this are why bowls still serve as a lovely set of exhibitions. Arizona and Boston College don't exactly get the opportunity to play each other much. A home-and-home would have all sorts of logistical issues involved -- not exactly friendly to visiting fans.

But while these programs tend to run in different social circles, they play two styles of football that are at once similar and ridiculously different. They feature perhaps the two best running backs in the country, but they operate at different paces and execute defenses that really couldn't be any more different. That Arizona's defense is better is the reason the Wildcats are favored by a decent margin.

But this game will showcase two decent programs that go about footballing in completely different ways. Sounds fun to me.

How they got here

Arizona's season to date

Like quite a few teams out west, Arizona fell victim to the Pac-12 getting its act together in a major way. The Wildcats improved from 38th to 30th in the F/+ rankings and surged from 68th to 25th in Def. F/+ but remained a 7-5 team in the regular season because everybody else around the Wildcats improved, too.

They handled iffy teams as you're supposed to for the most part, beating Northern Arizona, UNLV, UTSA, and Colorado by an average score of 44-12 and only struggling in such a game once (a 33-28 win over Cal). They also destroyed Oregon and narrowly lost to both USC and UCLA.

That Arizona was able to solidify its gains in Rich Rodriguez's second season probably says quite a few good things about where this program is headed, but we'll have to wait and see that that means if the rest of the conference continues to improve right alongside the Wildcats. Regardless, their reward for another 7-5 season was an interesting opponent in the most bowly of bowl locales, Shreveport.

BC's season to date

Boston College was a really, really bad team in 2012. The Eagles ranked 97th in Off. F/+ and 88th overall and went 2-10 in Frank Spaziani's final year as head coach. Andre Williams was BC's leading rusher with 584 yards, 4.5 per carry.

A year later, Boston College has improved to 42nd on offense, and Williams is a Heisman finalist. He has run so well in 2013 that you cannot imagine him ever not doing so.

BC still isn't a great team, but the Eagles were infinitely more competitive and interesting this fall, staying closer to Florida State than anybody else and losing by just 10 points at Clemson. They beat Virginia Tech at home and went undefeated against non-bowl teams, and that was enough to get back to a bowl for the first time in three years.

For a program that was once among the most consistent in the country -- the Eagles never missed a bowl between 1999 and 2010 -- this was the first sign of true growth in about half a decade. It was driven by a senior-heavy offense, but we'll worry about next year later.

Data dump

Team Record BCS F/+ Rk Line Off F/+ Rk Def F/+ Rk ST F/+ Rk
Arizona 7-5 NR 30 -7.5 31 25 100
Boston College 7-5 NR 54 42 82 20
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
Arizona Offense 24 71 19 62 58 62 13
BC Defense 55 64 65 53 44 62 37
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
Arizona Offense 14 27 67 7 34 5 73
BC Defense 78 57 29 96 22 28 17
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
BC Offense 11 79 21 36 77 25 118
Arizona Defense 40 22 31 39 52 31 101
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
BC Offense 33 73 120 67 72 39 95
Arizona Defense 47 28 99 35 114 97 116
Field Position Adv. FG Efficiency Punt Efficiency Kickoff Efficiency Punt Return Efficiency Kick Return Efficiency
Arizona Special Teams 55 92 65 67 101 114
BC Special Teams 77 1 83 49 94 19

Arizona's biggest advantages:

They have Ka'Deem Carey. BC's Andre Williams is incredibly strong and fun, but technically he has been shut down at times this season. USC and Clemson limited him to a combined 108 yards at 2.6 yards per carry, and he carried only nine times for 29 yards against Syracuse, albeit with help from an injured shoulder. (He'll be fine for the bowl, evidently.)

One cannot say the same of Ka'Deem Carey. Williams' big games were bigger, but Carey rushed for at least 119 yards, gaining at least 4.3 yards per carry, in every game he played in 2013. (He missed the opener against Northern Arizona.) The last team to hold him under that total was UCLA on November 3, 2012. He has averaged a ridiculous 175 yards per game in the last 15 games. He's getting his yards, and there's nothing you can do about it.

One other thing Carey has going for him: Arizona's offensive line is much better than Boston College's defensive line. The Wildcats keep defenders out of the backfield, making sure that Carey doesn't have to make his first move until he's already gained a couple of yards.

And lord knows BC doesn't make a habit of getting into the backfield. While BC has improved dramatically, most of that is because of the offense; the defense is still vastly inferior to most of the BC defenses of the last decade (pre-2012). The Eagles' defense is pretty good at preventing long, methodical drives, but Arizona's pretty great at those.

If this is a close game throughout, and if Arizona keeps needing yards, Carey will keep getting carries. Forty carries? 200 yards? In range.

If BC falls behind schedule, the Wildcats are getting the ball back pretty soon. It would be over-simplifying to say that all these two offenses do is run the ball. Still, they both feature the run a great deal. They will attempt to pass on their terms at times, but once behind schedule, BC especially either won't try anything drastic or won't succeed if they try it.

BC is 11th in the country on standard downs and 79th on passing downs. Arizona's defense, meanwhile, swarms well and finishes off drives despite a pretty awful pass rush that produced just 21 sacks this year. Ends Sione Tuihalamaka and Reggie Gilbert will get to the quarterback about once per game, but for the most part Arizona simply reacts, prevents big plays, and tackles you before you reach the chains.

And as long as they guard Alex Amidon, the Wildcats are covered. The senior receiver has been targeted with 48 passing downs passes this season (he's caught 31 for 420 yards), and the next six targets combined have combined for … 48 (23 catches, 180 yards, yuck). Williams helps BC to avoid passing downs even though the entire world knows he's getting the ball a lot, but he's still going to get stuffed occasionally, and when he does, BC's drive is on life support.

BC's biggest advantages:

Tommy Gilligan, USA Today

They have Andre Williams. In the four games before he got hurt against Syracuse, Williams averaged 34 carries, 266 yards, and two touchdowns per game. He was a one-man offense.

That BC actually managed to score 31 points against Syracuse despite the loss of Williams was encouraging -- quarterback Chase Rettig both rushed four times for 85 yards (including a 54-yarder) and completed 50-yard passes to Amidon and Mike Naples -- but the Eagles still only gained 359 yards for the game against the 'Cuse defense. Williams alone gained 339 against N.C. State a couple of weeks earlier.

Williams is just so much fun to watch. He is just about the only rusher in the country whose highlights make sense set to the music of Super Mario Brothers, and while his listed weight is 227 pounds, I think they only weighed his legs. Those allow him to plow through defenders at the line and, when in the open field, seem to carry him faster than the rest of his body would prefer. The BC line doesn't have quite as much of an advantage over Arizona's defensive front as Arizona's offense has on BC's, and that might be an issue, but if Williams is allowed to generate a head of steam before taking on defenders, he can keep up with Carey, yard for yard and carry for carry.

If you were looking for a game full of offensive creativity and high-flying tactics, you might not enjoy yourself here. But if you're looking for two studs running the ball wonderfully (and in completely different ways), you've found the right game.

If UA falls behind schedule, the Eagles are getting the ball back pretty soon. See what I did there? In all, Arizona's offense is a little steadier than BC's, thanks in part to line play, but the Wildcats really don't fare any better on passing downs than BC does.

Quarterback B.J. Denker's passing capability improved dramatically as the year went on, and thanks to the pace at which Arizona plays, he still managed to throw about 30 passes per game while feeding Carey the ball 29 times (and rushing himself 10 to 15 times). He completed 61 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns to seven picks, and as we saw in the dominant win over Oregon, Denker is strong at throwing quick passes to stretch the field horizontally and help to open up running lanes in the middle of the field.

Still, there is virtually no big-play threat here, nobody Denker can lean on on third-and-long. Four Wildcats caught at least two passes per game in 2013 -- wideouts Samajie Grant and Terrence Miller, freshman slot man Nate Phillips, and Carey -- and none of them averaged better than 12 yards per catch, and only Miller averaged better than 7.7 yards per target.

Arizona is kind of devastating on first-and-10 or second-and-4. Behind schedule, they are capable of getting devastated.

Overreactions for 2014

We tend to overreact to particularly positive or negative bowl results when it comes to projecting forward for the next season. How might we overreact to this game?

Let's assume for a moment that this is Ka'Deem Carey's last game as a Wildcat. He is only a junior, but he has proved almost everything he possibly could in Tucson, and another year in college would just be another 300 hits he takes before he gets paid to take hits. He's a first- or second-round pick at this stage; he's almost certainly gone.

Without Carey, backup Daniel Jenkins, and Denker, there will be a reset in the Arizona backfield. But if we assume that Javelle Allen or a transfer like Jesse Scroggins (USC) or Nick Isham (Louisiana Tech) is capable of running the show, and if we assume that a Rich Rodriguez offense is always going to have a productive running back (are you ready for 20 carries per game, Jared Baker?), things fall into place pretty nicely everywhere else on the roster.

The offensive line should return four starters, and a strong secondary should return just about everybody. It is awfully hard to stand out in the Pac-12 right now, but Arizona should be expected to put a top-30 or 35 product on the field again next fall, regardless of the outcome in Shreveport.

BC, on the other hand? The Eagles will lose Rettig, Williams, Amidon and both starting tackles, plus five starters from the front seven. First-year head coach Steve Addazio is known as a solid, charismatic recruiter, and he's currently lining up a top-40 class according to Rivals, but next year might see a step backwards before we get to see whatever product Addazio is truly trying to build.

The goal for BC is to send this batch of seniors out as winners. Expectations and overreactions are not really part of the equation.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Arizona 36, BC 27
Win Probability: Arizona 74%

This is a nice status game for the Pac-12. We've talked a lot about how deep football in the West has been this year, and if that's the case, it stands to reason that a 7-5 team from the Pac-12 should beat a 7-5 ACC team. Arizona is better in the trenches and is a bit better when it comes to taking pressure off of its big-play runner with an efficient passing game.

But if BC's offensive line plays well, things even out very quickly. Williams doesn't need much help, but he hasn't always gotten what he needs this year.

Line play will decide this game, but hopefully both of these awesome runners get a chance to put on a show in what will probably be the final game for each.

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