Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bowl Preview: Part II

Part II of our bowl preview will tackle the post-Christmas and pre-New Year's Eve bowl games. Enjoy.

Military Bowl
Marshall vs Maryland
Line: Marshall -2.5
Howdy neighbor! Despite residing in border states, Maryland and Marshall have yet to play a football game against each other. That will change on December 27th when the Terps and Herd clash in our nation's capital. Maryland is breaking a three year bowl drought and playing in their first bowl game under head coach Randy Edsall. The last time the Terrapins were in the postseason, they played in this very game against an opponent from Conference USA. And like the thunder, they rolled, dropping 51 points on a hapless East Carolina defense. The Terps have not seen a great deal of success since that exhibition, which was the final game coached by Ralph Friedgen. Since canning Friedgen, the Terps have managed just a 13-23 record, including a 6-18 mark in the ACC. Despite their struggles, the Terps actually began the year 4-0 and were ranked in the top-25 before Florida State eviscerated them in their first conference game. Outside of their win against Virginia Tech, the Terps did not beat a single IA team that finished with a winning record. Their other five IA scalps consisted of Florida International, Connecticut, West Virginia, Virginia, and NC State. If the Terps do manage to beat Marshall, it would arguably be their best win all season. So what about the Herd? What is their prospectus in this game? Marshall won nine games in the regular season for the first time since 2002, when legendary coach Bob Pruett was at the end of his spectacular run. The Thundering Herd played in the Conference USA Championship Game for the first time since joining the league and by the yards per play metric, were the top team in the regular season. Unfortunately, they had to go on the road in the title game, and the offense that poured in 50 touchdowns over eight regular season games managed just three in a loss to Rice. That game aside, the offense was a sight to behold with quarterback Rakeem Cato throwing 36 touchdown passes and adding six scores on the ground. Despite their showing in their most recent contest, Marshall is a quality mid-major. With a chance to prove their bonafides against a team from a major conference, I think they return to their winning ways and easily cover this small number.

Texas Bowl
Minnesota vs Syracuse
Line: Minnesota -4.5
Last year, Minnesota may have been the worst bowl team from a major conference, and this season they face what may be the worst bowl team from a major conference. First off, the Gophers deserve a huge round of applause. They won eight games in the regular season for the first time since 2003. Much like last season, a 4-0 start against a relatively soft non-conference slate got the Gophers two thirds of the way to bowl eligibility. However, unlike last season when they wheezed to the finish, winning just two of their final eight regular season games, this season the Gophers split their final eight, posting solid wins at Northwestern and Indiana and at home against Nebraska and Penn State. The Gophers were not extremely proficient on either side of the ball, ranking tenth in the Big 10 in yards per play and ninth in yards per play allowed. The Gophers ran the ball often, ranking 16th nationally in rushing attempts with 548. They passed on occasion, but were not very good at it, completing just a shade more than 52% of their throws. In fact, Minnesota receivers combined to catch just 124 passes on the year. The five teams that caught fewer passes all run some variation of the option (Air Force, New Mexico, Georgia Tech, Army, and Navy). The Gophers will attempt to win their first bowl game in a decade against a Syracuse squad that was outscored by 93 points over the course of their eleven games against IA opponents. When the Orange lost, they tended to lose big. Northwestern neat them by 21, Clemson beat them by 35, Georgia Tech beat them by 56, and Florida State also brained them by 56. The Orange did not do much to distinguish themselves in ACC play, ranking eleventh in yards per play and eighth in yards per play allowed. Orange quarterbacks averaged just 5.8 yards per throw, a number that ranked 112th in the nation. I can't come up with a very compelling reason to watch this game except that it is one of the few football games left until next fall. I also can't come up with a reason for you to make any plays here either. I could see the Orange losing in grisly fashion as they have many times this season. However, despite their embarrassing defeats, the Orange have beaten three bowl teams this season (Tulane, Maryland, and Boston College), so a Minnesota win, and more importantly perhaps, a Minnesota cover is far from assured. Sit this one out.

Fight Hunger Bowl
BYU vs Washington
Line: Washington -3
If Steve Sarkisian had not taken the Southern Cal job a few weeks ago, this game would be a homecoming of sorts. Sarkisian quarterbacked the Cougs in the mid-nineties, and enjoyed two solid campaigns as the starter. Before heading south, Sark guided the Huskies to their first eight-win regular season since 2001! A win over the Cougars could potentially get the Huskies into the nether regions of the final polls for the first time since that same season. Despite their four defeats, Washington was a formidable team in 2013. They just had the misfortune of playing Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State in back-to-back-to back weeks. Those three were head and shoulders above the rest of the Pac-12, finishing a combined 28-4 in games against the rest of the country. Washington also dropped a road game at UCLA later in the year, but each of their eight wins came by at least ten points. In Pac-12 play, the Huskies ranked fifth in yards per play and fourth in yards per play allowed. Senior quarterback Keith Price threw 20 touchdown passes and just five interceptions as he moved into second place on the school's all-time passing yardage list behind Cody Pickett. Running back Bishop Sankey tallied nearly 1800 yards on the ground and if he returns for his senior season will almost certainly pass Napoleon Kaufman as the school's all-time leading rusher. The Huskies will attempt to win their ninth game with interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo, a former star quarterback, leading the team. To get win number nine, they must defeat a BYU team that has been somewhat of an enigma this season. The Cougars somehow lost to Virginia in the season opener, then started the Mack Brown death march with a shredding of the Texas run defense. The blew out bowl teams Middle Tennessee State, Utah State, Georgia Tech, and Boise State by a combined margin of 79 points, yet lost to the two best teams on their schedule, Wisconsin and Notre Dame by ten points apiece. The Cougars offense struggled in their four defeats, mustering an average of just fifteen points per game against Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. In those four games, quarterback Taysom Hill completed an abysmal 43% of his passes. Washington appears to be the kind of team that can shut down the erratic Hill and hold the Cougars under twenty points. However, the Washington offensive line did allow 30 sacks on the season (93rd in the nation), and while Cougar linebacker Kyle Van Noy only tallied four sacks in 2013 after accumulating thirteen last season, he remains a threat to set up shop in the backfield. Last season, he almost single-handedly won the Poinsettia Bowl for the Cougars. The interim coach and the Huskies propensity to give up sacks would give me pause about backing them here.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Notre Dame vs Rutgers
Line: Notre Dame -14
I know I wrote a few paragraphs up that Syracuse could be the worst bowl team from a major conference in 2013. If that distinction does not belong to the Orange, it certainly belongs to their northeast neighbor in New Jersey. First off, lets congratulate Rutgers for their eighth bowl appearance in the last nine seasons and their impending move to the Big 10. Before Greg Schiano was chasing off quarterbacks and pissing off other coaches in the NFL, he engineered one of the better turnarounds in college football history at Rutgers. His successor, Kyle Flood, kept the program afloat in his first season, racing out to a 7-0 and 9-1 start in 2012 before losing the final three games. Still, the Knights got to nine wins for the third time in four seasons and looked poised to be contenders in the watered down newly christened American Athletic Conference. The Knights then began 2013 with a 4-1 mark, albeit with none of the wins coming against eventual bowl teams. However, the defense, long a team strength, was beginning to atrophy. In their first five games, the Knights allowed 52 points twice, once in a loss at Fresno and again in a win over SMU. After the 4-1 start, the Knights wheezed to the finish, beating only Temple (1-11 record) and South Florida (3-9) to gain the elusive sixth win. Along the way, they allowed 49 points to Houston, 52 to Cincinnati, and 41 to Central Florida in grisly defeats. The Cincinnati game marked the first time Rutgers had allowed more than 50 points at home since 2001 against Virginia Tech, in the dark days of Rutgers football. All told, excluding games against Eastern Michigan and Norfolk State, the Knights allowed an average of 34.8 points per game in 2013 despite playing in basically a glorified mid-major conference. Yikes. Against this permissible defense, can volatile Irish quarterback Tommy Rees end his Notre Dame career on a high note? Rees has thrown 61 touchdowns in his Irish career, but has also tossed 37 interceptions. As a point of comparison, Derek Carr of Fresno State has thrown just 23 interceptions despite over 50% more pass attempts in his collegiate career. A.J. McCarron has just 13 career interceptions in roughly the same number of attempts. I guess what I am trying to say is that despite this deservedly large spread, Rees could potentially serve up an upset for Rutgers. Notre Dame has been a hard team to figure in 2013, as they own two phenomenal wins over Michigan State and Arizona State. They also played Stanford tight in a road loss and beat both Southern Cal and BYU. Of course they also lost to what ended up not being a high-quality Michigan team, narrowly edged the dumpster fire that was Purdue, squeaked by Navy, and lost to an average at best Pitt team. Notre Dame is a much better football team than Rutgers, of that there is no question. However, this line is way too large to make a play on the Irish. Previous discussions about double-digit favorites, found in the first preview, apply here. Notre Dame is not an elite team, so if you are hankering for a wager, take the Knights and the points.

Belk Bowl
Cincinnati vs North Carolina
Line: North Carolina -2.5
Numbers wise, Cincinnati is one of the more interesting teams of 2013. Most advanced stats, be they the SRS, Sagarin Ratings, FEI, or S&P ratings do not hold the Bearcats in a very high regard. Most see them as a middle of the road team. This is due to their non-conference performance, where they lost by four touchdowns to Illinois (perhaps that should prevent a team from being bowl eligible in itself), and scored only fourteen points against a winless Miami of Ohio outfit. For good measure, once conference play began, the Bearcats also lost to South Florida, though to be fair, they did not allow an offensive touchdown. Couple that with the relative weakness of the American Athletic Conference and you can see why despite nine wins, Cincinnati is seen as a middling team. However, I am inclined to disagree here. The Bearcats absolutely dominated the (inferior) competition in their conference, ranking first in yards per play and third in yards per play allowed. Their per-play margin was second only to Louisville in the conference and the Bearcats won four of their six league games by double-digits. The Bearcats had a strong offensive line, allowing just twelve sacks on the year. This was not a function of them being a team dedicated to the ground game either, as the Bearcats were in the top quartile nationally in number of pass attempts. They also generated 35 sacks on the year with the well-named Silverberry Mouhon registering nine and a half by himself. The Bearcats will likely have to deal with a hostile crowd to win a second consecutive Belk Bowl as the Tar Heels from Chapel Hill make the short trek west. North Carolina began the year 1-5, but rallied to win five consecutive games before missing out on an opportunity to instigate a fifteen-way tie in the Coastal Division of the ACC. Despite their 6-6 record, North Carolina posted strong peripheral number. They were fifth in the ACC in yards per play and third in yards per play allowed. Their per-play differential actually ranked fourth in the conference behind the Atlantic Division heavyweights Florida State and Clemson and their own division-mate, Miami. The Tar Heels lost senior quarterback Bryn Renner to an injury still needing three wins to qualify for a bowl game. Sophomore Marquise Williams replaced him and averaged 8.3 yards per pass attempt (21st nationally) while also rushing for nearly 500 yards. The Tar Heels also benefited from the marvelous punt return styling of Ryan Switzer. The freshman wide receiver returned four punts for touchdowns over a three-game span, including two in a tight win over Pittsburgh. Switzer also caught three touchdown passes on the season and threw one against rival NC State. Might there be a rushing touchdown in his future? Despite the homefield advantage and the solid per-play number for the Tar Heels, I think Cincinnati is undervalued by the nation at large. Take the Bearcats to cover here, and if you are feeling lucky, make a play on the moneyline.

Russell Athletic Bowl
Louisville vs Miami
Line: Louisville -3
After missing out on the postseason thanks to a self-imposed bowl ban in the first two seasons of the Al Golden regime, the Miami Hurricanes will make their triumphant return to the bowl season. This may come as a shock to some casual college football fans, but Miami has not won a bowl game since they edged Nevada in Boise back in 2006. That marked Larry Coker's final game as head coach of The U. Since that New Year's eve, Miami has been thoroughly mediocre, going 50-37 and depending on the outcome of this game, never losing fewer than four games in any season, and finishing in the final AP Poll only once. Early, and perhaps even midway through 2013, the Hurricanes appeared to be close to being back. They upset Florida in a turnover-fueled triumph that ended up not being that impressive at the end of the season and won their first seven games. However, the Hurricanes were revealed as frauds, losing their next three to Florida State, Virginia Tech, and ...gasp... Duke, with each loss coming by at least 18 points. They did rebound to beat Virginia and Pitt to finish with nine wins and an outside shot at being ranked in the final polls. Miami in 2013 was a team with a great strength (its offense) and a glaring weakness (its defense). The Hurricane offense finished second only to Florida State in the ACC in yards per play. Senior quarterback Stephen Morris, though mistake-prone with twelve interceptions, averaged a whopping nine yards per pass attempt (tied for twelfth in the nation). As a whole, the offense averaged nearly seven yards per snap in conference play. Even without stud running back Duke Johnson over the second half of the conference season, the offense remained explosive. However, the defense was another story entirely. The Hurricanes ranked 13th in the fourteen team ACC in yards per play allowed. Quarterbacks and running back alike rejoiced when the Hurricanes came out of the tunnel. In their final five conference games, the Hurricanes allowed over eight yards per pass attempt and over five yards per rush. Warren Sapp and other legendary retired 'Canes could probably have performed better. So what are Miami's prospects going against a talent like Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville? While Louisville did not win the inaugural American Athletic Conference as most had predicted, they were clearly the most dominant team. And believe it or not, the offense wasn't really the story. Sure, the Cardinals rated third in the American in yards per play, with Bridgewater completing over 70% of his passes and throwing 28 touchdowns versus just four interceptions, but the defense was outstanding, limiting conference opponents to under four and a half yards per play. Defensive ends Marcus Smith (twelve and a half) and Lorenzo Mauldin (nine and a half) combined for 22 sacks and ranked second and seventeenth respectively in the metric nationally. The Cardinals held ten of their twelve opponents to fewer than twenty points and were very close to finishing unbeaten. Last season, Bridgewater carved up an elite Florida defense in the Sugar Bowl. He has to be licking his chops at the chance to face Miami. This spread seems very small, perhaps thanks to the Miami national brand. Back Louisville in this one, as they have the firepower and defensive acumen to turn this into a rout.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Kansas State vs Michigan
Line: Kansas State -4
What are you doing for an encore? After leading Kansas State to a surprising Big 12 championship and berth in the Fiesta Bowl, expectations were rather muted for Kansas State entering 2013. Despite the attrition and regression, the best coach in college football led Kansas State back to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. Now, can the Wildcats manage to win their first bowl game in eleven years? Kansas State opened 2013 with a loss to IAA North Dakota State. However, the Bison have lost just two times over the past three seasons and are playing in their third consecutive IAA National Championship Game. In fact, the Bison have actually beaten a IA team each of the past four seasons. The Wildcats rebounded from that defeat to crush their other two non-conference foes, Louisiana-Lafayette and Massachusetts. When conference play began, the Wildcats struggled on the scoreboard, losing competitive road games to Texas and Oklahoma State, while holding Baylor's potent offense in check at home in another sporting defeat. Then the schedule lightened and the Wildcats heated up. They won five of their final six games with all of the wins except one coming by at least three touchdowns. For the season, Kansas State actually ranked a surprising second in yards per play in the Big 12, behind only Baylor. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams alternated under center in replacing Heisman finalist Colin Klein. As a team, the Wildcats did not throw the ball often (only nine teams passed fewer times), but they were very explosive, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt (tied for fourth nationally). Elsewhere in the backfield, John Hubert needs just 32 yards on the ground to become the first Wildcat running back to top 1000 yards since Daniel Thomas in 2010. Hubert has already passed Thomas as the school's second leading rusher, but its unlikely he can pass Darren Sproles for the top spot (just 2064 yards behind). Defensively, the Wildcats ranked fourth in the Big 12 in yards per play allowed. The Wildcats ball-hawking secondary snatched sixteen passes from opposing quarterbacks, continuing a recent trend after grabbing eighteen in both 2012 and 2011. The Wildcats will seek to end their bowl losing streak against a Michigan team that disappointed in Brady Hoke's third season. True, they also lost five games last year, but each of their five defeats came to teams than finished in the final top-25, with four coming to teams than finished in the top-ten. The Wolverines cannot boast of such schedule misfortune this year. While the Wolverines did lose to the two best teams in the conference (Michigan State and Ohio State), they also fell to Iowa, Nebraska, and Penn State, three solid, but hardly elite teams. The Wolverines lost four of their final five games, and before rebounding to torch Ohio State, the Wolverine offense looked like it was playing in the nineteenth century. In a four-game stretch against Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa, the Wolverines scored just five offensive touchdowns, with two coming in overtime against Northwestern. In those four games, Michigan averaged just 217 yards per contest and an anemic 3.3 yards per play. For the season Michigan ranked eighth in the Big 10 in yards per play (which I suppose is somewhat impressive considering the aforementioned stretch). The defense ranked sixth in yards per play allowed, meaning Michigan was a pretty average (or below) Big 10 team, as also evidenced by their 3-5 league record. I don't feel supremely confident taking Kansas State to cover here, especially with their somewhat spotty bowl record under the Snyder, but I think a small play on the Wildcats is a solid investment strategy.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Navy vs Middle Tennessee State
Line: Navy -6.5
After finishing 8-4 last season and missing out on a bowl game, the Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee will make their first postseason trip since 2010. In their first season as a member of Conference USA, the Blue Raiders finished 6-2 in league play, and inflicted the only regular season conference loss on Marshall's resume. The Blue Raiders ranked second in Conference USA in yards per play and were eighth in yards per play allowed. The offense coalesced as the season progressed, and the schedule eased up, as the Blue Raiders scored more than 40 points four times in their last five games. The Blue Raiders featured a committee offense that did not have a single go-to playmaker. No receiver had more than 550 yards through the air, but five players had at least 200 yards receiving. Similarly, Jordan Parker led the team in rushing with just 727 yards, but four players had at least 200 yards on the ground. Senior quarterback Logan Kilgore did take the majority of snaps under center, and with a big game could pass Wes Counts as the school's all-time leading passer (370 yards behind Counts). The defense is similarly anonymous, with no player accumulating more than five sacks or ten and a half tackles for loss. The Blue Raiders will face a Navy team making their tenth bowl appearance in the past eleven seasons. The Midshipmen have lost five of their last six bowl games, including four of five under current head coach Ken Niumatalolo, but why focus on the negative?Navy won eight games in 2013, but none came against teams with winning records. Pitt, South Alabama, and San Jose State all finished 6-6. I suppose there is something to be said for beating the teams you should beat, as Navy's four defeats all came to teams with winning records (Western Kentucky, Duke, Toledo, and Notre Dame). Navy did what they have to do win games, run the ball (second nationally in rushing yards per game and thirteenth in yards per rush) and win the turnover battle (their margin of +12 tied for tenth). Navy appears to be a little overvalued here in giving nearly a touchdown to the Blue Raiders. I'm not overly confident laying money on either side here, but I would make a small play on the Blue Raiders plus the points. In addition, keep this little statistical minutia in mind: Under Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders are 8-2 in their last ten games decided by a touchdown or less. Not that this trend is in any way predictive, just something to keep in mind if the Blue Raiders do manage to squeak one out.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Ole Miss vs Georgia Tech
Line: Ole Miss -3
After imploding at the end of the Houston Nutt era, during which they managed a 1-15 SEC record over his final two seasons, Ole Miss is back in the postseason for the second straight year. Are the Rebels appreciably better than they were last season? Not really. In 2012, they managed a 3-5 SEC record and beat just one team that finished with a winning record. This season they were once again 3-5 in the SEC, and while their wins were more impressive (Vanderbilt and LSU in the conference and Texas outside of it), the Rebels are pretty much who they were last year, just with more disappointment. Ole Miss was below average on both sides of the ball in the SEC, ranking ninth in yards per play and eighth in yards per play allowed. The Rebels continued their streak of not having a player top 1000 yards on the ground or through the air since 2009. Though to be fair, receiver Donte Moncrief could get to that mark with a big game (currently 825 yards receiving). The defense struggled to get to the quarterback, registering just eighteen sacks on the year (tied for 96th nationally). The arrival of uber-hyped defensive end Robert Nkemdiche did not result in a series of quarterback takedowns that took the nation by storm. Nkemdiche was not a gamechanger, but most fans should be happy with two sacks and eight tackles for loss from a true freshman. He wasn't Clowney, but that is not where the bar should be placed. If I was a betting man, I would say Ole Miss won't get many sacks in this game either. Georgia Tech, as you may know, runs the triple option and only passes as a change of pace, or out of necessity. The Yellow Jackets will be playing in their 17th consecutive bowl game and sixth consecutive under head coach Paul Johnson. The Yellow Jackets continued their run of strong offensive performances under Johnson, ranking fourth in the ACC in yards per play. However, their achilles' heel, as it has been for sometime, was the defense. The Yellow Jackets ranked tenth in the ACC in yards per play allowed. Outside of their loss to Virginia Tech, when the defense allowed a scant seventeen points, the Jackets surrendered an average of nearly 45 points in their defeats at the hands of Miami, BYU, Clemson, and for a fifth consecutive year, Georgia. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, this should be a high-scoring, entertaining contest. These teams appear to be pretty evenly matched, so I'm surprised Ole Miss is laying a field goal. Paul Johnson has not exactly crushed it in bowl games at Georgia Tech, but I think the Jackets are a solid play on the moneyline here.

Valero Alamo Bowl
Oregon vs Texas
Line: Oregon -13.5
After all the rumor and innuendo, the news was made official a few days ago. Mack Brown will no longer be the coach of the Texas Longhorns following this Alamo Bowl appearance. The returns diminished towards the end of his tenure, but Mack won a national title and 158 games during his time at Texas. The Longhorns finished the season ranked thirteen times in his sixteen years on the sidelines (pending the final results this season), including six finishes in the top-ten. That's a pretty successful tenure. Unfortunately though, the prospects for sending Mack out a winner do not appear to be very strong. Despite a 7-2 mark in the Big 12, Texas was below average according to the yards per play metric. The Longhorns raked just seventh in yards play and fifth in yards per play allowed. Facing a team as dominant as Oregon, Texas could be in deep trouble in their home state. For the first time since 2008, Oregon will not end their season in a BCS bowl, though I think one could make the argument they are a more deserving participant than Oklahoma. Despite their two conference losses, the Ducks rated out as the best team in the Pac-12. The offense remained explosive despite the loss of head coach Chip Kelly, ranking first in the league in yards per play. Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw 30 touchdowns and averaged 9.5 yards per pass. Mariota also contributed nearly 600 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. You, dear reader, may also be surprised to know that the Ducks were also dominant on defense. They held Pac-12 foes to under five yards per snap, ranking first in the league in yards per play allowed. The Ducks didn't make a lot of plays in the backfield, netting just 26 sacks (54th in the nation) and 63 tackles for loss (99th in the nation), but they consistently limited opponents' gains. The first bowl preview post discussed the trend about double-digit favorites in bowl season, so I wouldn't lay a mortgage payment on this game. Still, by almost any metric, Oregon is elite and Texas is middling. If you have to make a play on this, I think this is much more likely to be an Oregon blowout than a close game reminiscent of last year's Alamo Bowl.

National University Holiday Bowl
Arizona State vs Texas Tech
Line: Arizona State -14
This game kicks at 10:15 Eastern Standard Time on December 30th. You might be better served heading to bed and reading about this one. If both these teams play as they did during the regular season, this one could get ugly. Arizona State won ten games and played for the Pac-12 title in Todd Graham's second season. The Sun Devils have three losses, but two of those came courtesy of Stanford. The other came to Notre Dame, so the resume does not have a single bad loss on it. They do have their fair shard of quality wins, beating Wisconsin, Southern Cal, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, UCLA, and Arizona. The majority of those games were not competitive, with the Sun Devils winning the five games against the Trojans, Huskies, Cougars, Beavers, and Wildcats by a combined margin of 134 points. Overall in Pac-12 play, the Sun Devils ranked sixth in yards per play, perhaps surprising because they averaged over 44 points per game in Pac-12 play. However, they were even stronger on defense where they finished third in yards per play allowed. The Sun Devils enter the postseason tied for the national lead with 40 sacks. Three players had at least seven and half sacks with bookends Carl Bradford and Davon Coleman tallying eight and half apiece. The Sun Devils should have ample opportunity to rack up some sacks against Texas Tech. In their first season of play under Kliff Kingsbury, the Red Raiders threw more passes than all but two teams in the nation. The Red Raiders actually began the year 7-0 before losing their final five, continuing a disturbing trend since Mike Leach left town. In the past four seasons, first under Tommy Tuberville, and now under Kingsbury, the Red Raiders have gone 22-6 from the beginning of the season to the penultimate weekend in October. Beginning with the last Saturday of October though, the Red Raiders have gone just 6-16. The must be scared of Samhain. Overall, the Red Raiders were an average Big 12 team and pretty deserving of their 4-5 league record. They ranked fifth in yards per play and seventh in yards per play allowed. Texas Tech has pulled off a huge bowl upset against a Pac-12 opponent in the somewhat recent past, but the odds they can do it again are very small. The warning against double-digit favorites in the bowl season applies here, but Arizona State appears to be one of the better heavy favorites to back this postseason.

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