Unfortunately, the New Year’s Eve bowl schedule is devoid of blockbusters. But the nightcap that should end just before the ball drops in Times Square has thriller potential for fans and bettors.
That’s the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, featuring Pac-12 runner-up Utah and Big 12 “host” Texas. Utah has a chip on its shoulder after a shockingly bad loss to Oregon with a possible Final Four berth in play. Texas stunned Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl, led by coach Tom Herman and his great career record as an underdog.
Let’s run the key indicator stats VSiN has been using for bowl coverage. Note that strength of schedule rankings are from Jeff Sagarin’s data at USA Today.
— Utah (-7) vs. Texas (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Utah: No. 36 offense, No. 3 defense, No. 48 schedule, 8 turnover margin
Texas.: No. 15 offense, No. 108 defense, No. 4 schedule, 6 turnover margin
Utah didn’t play to those stats in its two highest-profile games. The Utes looked more like a Mountain West team at USC and against Oregon in the conference title game. But a safe, physical approach gives a team a great chance to control its own destiny against that very soft Texas defense.
The Longhorns began the season with a competitive home loss to LSU that looks much better in retrospect than it did at the time. But their performance in the Big 12 looks worse. Not much separates Texas and Iowa State in the big picture. The Cyclones were crushed 33-9 by Notre Dame on Saturday. Iowa State was outrushed 208-45, possibly foreshadowing point-of-attack problems for Texas.
In betting markets, the Alamo Bowl sat idly at Utah -7 for weeks. Sharps and squares alike have learned it’s best to wait for news about suspensions or injuries before making big bowl investments. The first moves you see on game day will likely represent sharp preferences.
The case for Utah: This group should be fired up to atone for the Oregon debacle. And it will be positioned to do so, pounding its strength at a very soft defense. That’s typically a recipe for bowl blowouts. There’s a chance Texas doesn’t bring much fire. A trip to San Antonio is nothing special for the Longhorns. Could be a lethargic ending to a disappointing season.
The case for Texas: Utah may have created illusions through the season in a soft conference, which were exposed away from home in its most difficult challenges. Obviously, the version of Utah that lost badly to USC and Oregon shouldn’t be laying a touchdown to anyone in a big game. In terms of skill sets, these could be relatively even teams. Longhorns backers will be getting about a touchdown with a proven “underdog” coach.
Looks like figuring out the truth about Utah is the key to picking this winner.