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Big 12 goes 2-0 heading into blockbuster weekend

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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TCU fell behind Stanford 21-3, but rallied for a 39-37 victory in the Alamo Bowl.
© USA Today Sports Images

TCU survives Stanford in a surprisingly high-scoring Alamo Bowl, part of a 2-0 Thursday for the Big 12…0-2 for the Pac 12. The true blockbusters begin Friday night with Ohio State/USC in the Cotton Bowl. Reviews and previews begin now in VSiN City.

Alamo Bowl: A wild shootout at the Alamo leaves TCU on top 39-37
Stanford jumped to a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter of Thursday night’s Alamo Bowl battle with the TCU Horned Frogs. The Texans rallied back thanks to a 93-yard touchdown pass and a 76-yard punt return TD. The first wildly entertaining game of the postseason matching major conference powers. Let’s hope this foreshadows an exciting football weekend. 

TCU (-2.5) 39, Stanford 37
Yards-per-Play: Stanford 6.0, TCU 7.3
Total Yardage: Stanford 369, TCU 488
Third Down Pct: Stanford 50%, TCU 38%
Turnovers: Stanford 2, TCU 3
Rushing Yards: Stanford 157, TCU 147
Passing Stats: Stanford 15-27-2-212, TCU 28-41-2-341
TD Drive Lengths: Stanford 23-70-53-79-76, TCU 76-75-75-93

TCU would have won stats even without that 93-yard TD pass. Fairly common Big 12-type shootout, with Stanford not out of its element out-of-state. Turnovers were an issue for both teams. TCU was also 0 for 2 on fourth down tries, which means it was more like a 5-2 turnover loss for the winners. That’s why a 488-369 yardage edge with a bonus special teams TD could only lead to a nail biter win. TCU gets the victory, but Stanford gets the money! Horned Frogs finish the season 11-3 straight up, but only 6-8 against market expectations. Stanford closes 9-5, needing this cover to eke out a small profit at 7-6-1. Some very shaky defensive numbers for Pac 12 bowl entries so far. We’ll expand on that in the Michigan State/Washington State write-up below. 

College Bowls: Navy, Oklahoma State, and Michigan State combine for just one turnover, 121 points….to win Military, Camping World, and Holiday bowls
So much for the ACC’s hot start to the bowl season. Virginia and Virginia Tech ended the regular season playing an awful 10-0 game against each other, then failed to get the job done in their 2017 bowls. Washington State was the latest disappointment for the Pac 12 in the nightcap. Classic, well-played football from these three Thursday winners Be sure you pay attention to yards-per-play differential, third down success rates, and turnover differential in the coming boxscores.

Military Bowl: Navy (-2.5) 49, Virginia 7
Yards-per-Play: Virginia 3.2, Navy 5.9
Total Yardage: Virginia 175, Navy 452
Third Down Pct: Virginia 31%, Navy 56%
Turnovers: Virginia 3, Navy 0
Rushing Yards: Virginia 30, Navy 452
Passing Stats: Virginia 16-36-1-145, Navy 0-1-0-0
TD Drive Lengths: Virginia no TDs, Navy 68-55-70-36-11-80-23

Virginia returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Its fans should have left right then! Utter carnage for Navy the rest of the way. The worst-case scenario of what can happen when bitter conditions strongly favor one offensive approach over another. Plus, Navy brought a chip on its shoulder that’s been there since losing again to Army. Some tough luck for Under bettors given the special teams TD for Virginia and three short TD drives for Navy. No reason to dig deep. Navy was as dominant as the score made it seem. Navy finishes the season 7-5. Virginia falls below .500 to 6-7, despite a 5-1 start that included a road win at Boise State. No offensive points for the Cavaliers in their last two games…getting shut out by Virginia Tech and only getting the kick return TD here.  

Camping World Bowl: Oklahoma State (-6) 30, Virginia Tech 21
Yards-per-Play: Virginia Tech 5.6, Oklahoma State 7.8
Total Yardage: Virginia Tech 518, Oklahoma State 492
Third Down Pct: Virginia Tech 56%, Oklahoma State 42%
Turnovers: Virginia Tech 2, Oklahoma State 0
Rushing Yards: Virginia Tech 248, Oklahoma State 141
Passing Stats: Virginia Tech 23-42-1-270, Oklahoma State 21-32-0-351
TD Drive Lengths: Virginia Tech 76-79-61, Oklahoma State 81-79-76

A bit of a disconnect because Virginia Tech ran 92 plays, compared to just 63 for Okie State. That’s how the favorite won yards-per-play big, but the dog won total yardage. Both teams moved the ball well. The difference was that Virginia Tech had trouble finishing its drives. Tech had first and goal from the half-yard line but fumbled. Later, the Hokies threw an interception in Cowboys territory. Toss in 1 of 4 on fourth down tries…and you get just three scoring drives off 518 yards. Oklahoma State plays the higher risk attack. But 7.8 yards-per-play with no turnovers is going to get the job done. Cowboys were 0 of 2 on fourth downs, so there were a couple of “virtual” turnovers in their mix as well. Oklahoma State finishes the season 10-3, while Virginia Tech falls to 9-4. 

Holiday Bowl: Michigan State (-2.5) 42, Washington State 17
Yards-per-Play: Washington State 5.1, Michigan State 6.3
Total Yardage: Washington State 296, Michigan State 440
Third Down Pct: Washington State 45%, Michigan State 67%
Turnovers: Washington State 2, Michigan State 1
Rushing Yards: Washington State 24, Michigan State 227
Passing Stats: Washington State 39-50-1-272, Michigan State 13-22-1-213
TD Drive Lengths: Washington State 80-67, Michigan State 81-63-68-67-27-46

Michigan State led 21-3 at halftime, and 35-3 before Washington State was able to find the end zone. That’s how this one dropped from a “featured” game to the bottom of our recap! Washington State’s stellar regular season defense didn’t help them against a physical opponent from the Midwest. Felt very much like USC’s 49-14 loss at Notre Dame during the regular season. That might be important given that USC and Washington are about to play Ohio State and Penn State the next two days. 

We mentioned in the Stanford/TCU write up that Pac 12 defenses have had some issues. Aside from Utah shutting down West Virginia’s helpless backup quarterback, it’s looked like this:

Oregon allowed 481 yards to Boise State
UCLA allowed 423 yards to Kansas State (backup QB)
Arizona allowed 555 yards to Purdue
Stanford allowed 488 yards to TCU
Washington State allowed 440 yards to Michigan State (who sat on a lead)

Not a mistake that the Pac 12 didn’t get anyone into the Final Four, or even into the Final Four discussion. What seemed like impressive mini-runs for teams like Arizona and Washington State may have just been taking advantage internally of a soft conference.

Congrats to Dave Tuley for his 3-0 board sweep Thursday with best bets posted in the “VSiN Bowl Guide.” Dave won outright with underdogs Navy, Stanford, and Michigan State to move to 58% for the postseason. Matt Youmans is at 62% after hitting two of three (winning Stanford and Michigan State, but losing with Virginia Tech). Brent Musburger is now 17-8 on team sides through 25 bowls, though his Over/Unders haven’t kept up that pace (a winning 54% overall). Steve Makinen bounced back with a 6-2 Thursday on his “play the board” selections. The “consensus” selections on the “play the board” feature that also include three sets of power ratings are 28-22 so far, 56% vs. the number (it’s been a split or a sweep the last 20 games). You can still use the guide for the rest of this weekend’s big games. Purchase a subscription to Point Spread Weekly through the Super Bowl for $49.99, and the “Bowl Guide” is included at no additional charge. 

College Football Bowls: “Market Watch” for Friday’s Bowls
Five games to look at Friday. The market hasn’t been very active in the early starts. Those are all tune-ups for what’s likely to be one of the most heavily bet December bowl games ever. We’ll run through them in schedule order.  

Belk Bowl (in Charlotte, NC)
Opening Line: Wake Forest -3 vs. Texas A&M, total of 64
Current Line: Wake Forest -3 vs. Texas A&M, total of 65

Not a marquee event. Typically, when a game stays frozen on the key number of three this long, it means sharps DON’T like the favorite. They would have jumped in advance of public betting, and the public usually lays points in bowl games. So, we’re left with the possibility that sharps think three is the right number, and they’ll fade any move off the three in either direction for value. Or, they prefer the dog and are waiting to see if the public hits the favorite in the hours right before kickoff. Should be chilly, but not too cold…with game time temperatures in the 40’s. Both teams are glad this isn’t a night game…nights are getting very cold in that part of the country. 

Sun Bowl (in El Paso, TX)
Opening Line: North Carolina State -6 over Arizona State, total of 60
Current Line: North Carolina State -7 over Arizona State, total of 59.5

You can see that professional bettors did jump on this favorite in advance of the public, driving the six up to the key number of seven. Sharps appear to like the Wolfpack at anything below the seven…but aren’t so enthusiastic that they keep pounding on the key number. We might see underdog money come in if the public causes any more lift before kickoff. Temperatures are forecast to be in the 60’s in El Paso. Beautiful day for football at a scenic stadium. 

Music City Bowl (in Nashville, TN)
Opening Line: Northwestern -7 over Kentucky total of 51
Current Line: Northwestern -7.5 over Kentucky, total of 51

Interest on Northwestern from sharps on the key number, but it looks like that interest dries up with the hook. No buy back yet. Looks like it will take at least plus 8 to bring in sharp underdog interest. Not a lot of respect for much of the SEC East in early bowl lines. Missouri was getting respect and played poorly vs. Texas. Should be chilly, but not unbearable in Music City.

Arizona Bowl (in Tucson, AZ)
Opening Line: Utah State -3 over New Mexico State, total of 61
Current Line: Utah State -4 or 4.5 over New Mexico State, total of 63

Might be a game only the sharps will bet! They’re in on Utah State at -4 or better. Things get interesting at 4.5. Stores that have tested the five did see underdog money hit the board then. You’ve heard from South Point oddsmakers that “the public bets teams, sharps bet the number.” Looks like sharps are betting Utah State at -4 or better (for sure), but New Mexico State at plus 5. 

Cotton Bowl (in Arlington, TX)
Opening Line: Ohio State -6.5 over USC, total of 64.5
Current Line: Ohio State -7.5 over USC, total of 65

This is the blockbuster we’ve been waiting for. You regulars know we’ve been following the market on this one since the beginning. Ohio State money has come in fairly hard at -7 or better. Many math-minded sharps have been getting gradings to the Buckeyes all season (to little avail because the team is 6-7 ATS). Nationally, the public will be on this favorite. In Las Vegas though, there’s a lot of “local” support for USC. It will be fun hearing about the betting bedlam from sports books all across the city Friday on VSiN.

College Bowl Stat Preview: A clash of the titans Friday when Ohio State faces USC at Cowboys Stadium in Texas
Our series of big game stat previews continues now with Ohio State/USC. Tomorrow we’ll crunch the numbers for Penn State/Washington. Sunday, we’ll run these indicator categories for both of Monday’s Final Four battles. 

Cotton Bowl: Ohio State (11-2) vs. USC (11-2) 
Las Vegas Line: Ohio State by 7.5, total of 65
Records vs. the Point Spread: Ohio State 6-7, USC 3-9-1  

The market was very high on both teams to start the season. Neither could play to those expectations. Ohio State was power-rated by many oddsmakers and sharps as “co-best-team in the country” with Alabama. Bad losses to Oklahoma and Iowa, and a near-miss against Penn State kept them from reaching that level. USC was exposed as overrated in September, and couldn’t shake that label with just a 25% cover rate. Turnovers were a problem for the Trojans. Still, a combined 22-4 straight up record is a tribute to the quality that is there. “Not quite as great as expected” is still very good. 

Yards-per-Play
Ohio State: 7.0 on offense, 4.4 on defense (vs. the #22 ranked schedule)
Southern Cal: 6.7 on offense, 5.7 on defense (vs. the #16 ranked schedule)

Big edge to Ohio State, who was slightly better on offense and much better on defense. Schedule strength was fairly comparable because both scheduled some toughies. Given bowl wins by Purdue and Michigan State over Arizona and Washington State respectively, it’s possible USC’s schedule strength is worse than Jeff Sagarin’s calculation (USA Today). The YPP differential is why the math guys keep getting Ohio State “buy” signs, and why the Buckeyes are laying more than a touchdown against an 11-2 opponent at a neutral site. Registering at plus 2.6 in yards-per-play against a tough schedule is quality stuff. 

Key Passing Stats 
Ohio State: 8.4 yards-per-pass attempt, 39 TD’s, 10 interceptions thrown
Southern Cal: 8.6 yards-per-pass attempt, 26 TD’s, 12 interceptions thrown

USC’s Sam Darnold is going to be a high draft pick in the NFL. But it was Ohio State that was much more impressive in the air this season. Some of that was from running up the score vs. weaklings. Only some. USC was supposed to find the end zone more often, and find the arms of defenders less often. Both offenses should pass well indoors on a fast track. 

Pass Defense 
Ohio State: 5.9 yppa allowed; 16 TD’s allowed, 12 interceptions
Southern Cal: 7.0 yppa allowed; 22 TD’s allowed, 16 interceptions

Ohio State’s interception count is disappointing considering how many opponents are passing from way behind week-to-week. USC could be in real trouble on pass defense because of that high average. 

Impact Defense 
Ohio State: 32% third down pct-allowed, 20 takeaways, 37 sacks
Southern Cal: 37% third down pct-allowed, 24 takeaways, 43 sacks

There’s a bit of inflation in the sack counts because of garbage time. Opponents playing from way behind are prone to get sacked. But both defenses have athletes on that side of the ball…and know what to do when a ball springs lose. Edge for Ohio State on third downs.

This one could get wild because both quarterbacks aren’t afraid to put it up…and both defenses are capable of creating and cashing in miscues. The “critical score” for a line of Ohio State -7.5 with a total of 65, is Ohio State 36.25, USC 28.75. Hard to make the case that OSU’s potential for a big passing night isn’t already baked into the line. That stats justify the market price, and are in sync with expectations. It would be easier to make a dog call if USC hasn’t been so overrated this season, and hadn’t been crushed 49-14 at Notre Dame, the last time they ran into some Midwest physicality. If we get the best from both, it will be an exciting game. We said that last night about Michigan State/Washington State…and the Pac 12 representative didn’t put up much of a fight.

Back Saturday with a special bonus report. Remember, we’re 7-days-a-week through the bowls! We’ll review key boxscore stats from all five Friday matchups, and preview Penn State/Washington. There will also be a “Market Watch” for all four Saturday games. Sunday we’ll look at key indicator stats for Alabama-Clemson and Oklahoma-Georgia, and provide a final “Market Watch” for New Year’s. Monday’s are devoted to NFL summaries.  

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