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Ruff day for backup QBs and dog lovers

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

USATSI_10499654
Favored Utah covered vs. West Virginia to claim the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
© USA Today Sports Images

While Week 1 of the bowls went to the dogs, chalk walked the walk (and ran the run) on the first day of the second week with favorites winning by scores of of 30-14, 36-14, and 35-17. Key stats plus a preview of Texas/Missouri and a Wednesday tutorial start now in VSiN City. 

College Bowls: Bad day for backup quarterbacks and dog lovers
Not a lot of drama. Backup quarterbacks for West Virginia and UCLA performed below scoreboard expectations…sandwiched around another MAC team that was outclassed at the point of attack. Favorites swept the board, keyed by rushing yardage advantages of 197-29, 213-65, and 344-69. We’ll take them in the order they were played. 

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah (-6.5) 30, West Virginia 14
Yards-per-Play: Utah 4.5, West Virginia 3.0
Total Yardage: Utah 362, West Virginia 153
Third Down Pct: Utah 32%, West Virginia 14%
Turnovers: Utah 2, West Virginia 4
Rushing Yards: Utah 197, West Virginia 29
Passing Stats: Utah 12-27-0-165, West Virginia 10-30-2-124
TD Drive Lengths: Utah 83-13-39, West Virginia 67

West Virginia’s backup quarterback Chris Chugunov just isn’t ready to face big time competition. He struggled in the Texas game that saw Will Grier get hurt. He was just 10 of 20 passing in extended garbage time against Oklahoma. Here, you can see that West Virginia’s passing line was 10 of 30 for little yardage with two picks. Cold, breezy conditions didn’t help. Bad quarterbacks can be really hurt by conditions like that because passes are erratic and receivers are less likely to get a good grip. 

Utah didn’t exactly sparkle the way a 30-14 win might make it sound. Two of the Utes’ TD drives were pretty cheap. A lot of their total yardage was spent sputtering in the middle of the field. 

Both teams finished the season 7-6. Utah was an impressive 9-3-1 against market expectations. West Virginia closed a disappointing 5-7-1 ATS. The first “battle of Power 5 conferences” didn’t set much of a tone for this new week of bowl action. Maybe we’ll have to wait a day. 

Quick Lane Bowl: Duke (-5) 36, Northern Illinois 14
Yards-per-Play: Duke 5.1, N. Illinois 5.2
Total Yardage: Duke 465, N. Illinois 299
Third Down Duke 53%, N. Illinois 8%
Turnovers: Duke 1, N. Illinois 0
Rushing Yards: Duke 213, N. Illinois 65
Passing Stats: Duke 27-40-0-252, N. Illinois 15-28-0-234
TD Drive Lengths: Duke 58-11-80-64-67, N. Illinois 68-69

Northern Illinois had two nice drives in the second quarter. But they were otherwise squashed. While both teams were able to get fractionally above five yards-per-play, only one could move the chains and drive the field consistently. Northern Illinois was just 1 of 12 on third downs. Not shown above, it was also 0 of 6 on fourth downs! That’s SIX virtual turnovers that don’t show up as fumbles or interceptions. One of those failures was an early ill-advised fake punt from their own 10-yard line that had no chance of converting. That free touchdown NI gave away didn’t end up mattering. 

The postseason MAC disaster continued, with Northern Illinois losing by 22, Central Michigan by 23, Toledo by 34, and Akron by 47. The first two were underdogs of less than six points. Toledo was a favorite. Ohio did salvage some MAC pride with a win in the Bahamas over UAB.

Duke was the first ACC team to take the field. We talked during the regular season about how that might be a conference to watch in the bowls. Beating a MAC team may not mean much. We’ll learn more the next few days from Florida State and Boston College (Wednesday); Virginia and Virginia Tech (Thursday); Wake Forest and NC State (Friday); in advance of Louisville and Clemson over the long New Year’s weekend. 

Cactus Bowl: Kansas State (-6) 35, UCLA 17
Yards-per-Play: Kansas State 6.4, UCLA 6.2
Total Yardage: Kansas State 423, UCLA 364 
Third Down Pct: Kansas State 46%, UCLA 23%
Turnovers: Kansas State 1, UCLA 1
Rushing Yards: Kansas State 344, UCLA 69
Passing Stats: Kansas State 10-17-1-79, UCLA 21-34-0-295
TD Drive Lengths: Kansas State 76-74-24-50-98, UCLA 86-72

Looked like a Modster truck rally in the first half as UCLA’s replacement quarterback led the Bruins back from an early deficit to take a 17-7 halftime lead. Devon Modster threw touchdown passes of 52 and 70 yards. Josh Who?! Kansas State won the second half 28-0 as nobody on UCLA (including Modster) could make any plays on either side of the ball. Key stats were obviously third down conversions and rushing yardage. Also worth noting that UCLA was 3 of 5 on fourth downs which means two additional “virtual” turnovers. We talked in Point Spread Weekly about UCLA’s horrible run defense. That obviously mattered as this game was being decided, then put away by the favorite. 

Kansas State finishes the season at 8-5. UCLA ends at 6-7, with a disappointing 4-9 record against the spread. A whole new regime next year for the Bruins.  

Don’t forget that you can still purchase the “VSiN Bowl Guide” for just $19.99. All the big matchups are still ahead. Brent Musburger has hit seven of his last eight picks in his “play the board” extravaganza…sweeping with Fresno State and Over, Utah and Under, Kansas State and Under, while splitting Duke and Under. Matt Youmans and Dave Tuley combined to go 2-1 Tuesday with their best bets. You can also purchase Point Spread Weekly through the Super Bowl for just $49.99, and the Bowl Guide is included at no additional charge. 

College Bowl Stat Preview: A volatile mix when Missouri takes on Texas in the Texas Bowl Wednesday night in Houston
Those of you who were with us in the latter half of the regular season know that we like to put together expanded stat previews for marquee matchups. There haven’t been any yet in the bowls. That ends Wednesday when a pair of teams with very bright futures square off in Houston. We’ll preview at least one college game a day through the weekend (schedule at the end of this section).

Texas Bowl: Missouri (7-5) vs. Texas (6-6) 
Las Vegas Line: Missouri by 2.5, total of 61
Records vs. the Point Spread: Texas 7-4-1 (but 1-3 its last four), Missouri 7-5 (but 7-1 its last eight)  

Texas ended a three-year bowl dry spell in the first season of new head coach Tom Herman. Optimism is running high about the immediate future of the Longhorn program. Though, fans were a bit disappointed by that underachieving finish. The regular-season finale was a home loss to Texas Tech, who made several boneheaded plays in a bowl setback to South Florida. Missouri had one of the most amazing in-season turnarounds in college football history. They looked like absolute doormats in September. After that, one of the hottest, most potent offensive teams in the country. 

Yards-per-Play
Missouri: 7.2 on offense, 5.7 on defense (vs. the #67 ranked schedule)
Texas: 5.2 on offense, 5.2 on defense (vs. the #27 ranked schedule)

Part of the reason Missouri was able to blow and go down the stretch is that they faced a soft schedule. The SEC East was unimpressive aside from Georgia. Missouri also drew Idaho and Connecticut in the second half of the season. But, they REALLY crushed some people. Even if you mentally adjust for schedule strength in the numbers above, you’re going to get Missouri as the superior side in yards-per-play differential. Texas does have the better defense though. We’ve seen how important defenses have been through the first half of the bowl slate. 

Key Passing Stats 
Missouri: 9.5 yards-per-pass attempt, 43 TD’s, 13 interceptions thrown
Texas: 6.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 16 TD’s, 11 interceptions thrown

Wow…a 43/13 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t something we’re used to seeing with an SEC team. Probably the biggest key for handicappers is determining how much of Missouri’s perceived potency is just the ability to run up the score on bad teams. Texas isn’t a bad team. So, we could be looking at a lot of air. Still, that’s a long way down from what Missouri can do in the passing game to what Texas doesn’t do. The Longhorns split time this season between a “passing” quarterback who is slow to make decisions in the pocket, and a “running” quarterback who’s more dangerous scrambling than throwing. In fact, he became more dangerous to his own team too often, trying to force miracle passes into traffic. The problem with finding early success in “hero mode” is that it’s hard to gear down from that when percentages are against you. 

Pass Defense 
Missouri: 7.6 yppa allowed; 18 TD’s allowed, 12 interceptions
Texas: 7.4 yppa allowed; 16 TD’s allowed, 15 interceptions

Very similar pass defense statistics, which gives Texas the nod because the Horns played the tougher schedule. And, remember that Texas plays in the pass-happy Big 12, while Missouri got to face a lot of lousy quarterbacks. Those are actually awesome numbers for Texas in context. They faced Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold (and Mason Rudolph of Okie State), yet the Texas defensive TD/INT ratio was almost dead even.

Impact Defense 
Missouri: 44% third down pct-allowed, 17 takeaways, 31 sacks
Texas: 28% third down pct-allowed, 22 takeaways, 30 sacks

Texas was much better at getting stops, while facing much more potent offenses. Missouri had a poor third down defense by college standards, while facing several offenses that sputtered through the season. The key to a Texas upset would seem to be in this section. Missouri may get bullied off the point of attack. Texas isn’t likely to be intimidated given the quality it’s already battled this season. 

The case for Missouri is that you have a potent offense that’s been on fire for a couple of months facing an underdog that may have peaked too soon. We know that Missouri can run up the score when things are going well. The Texas offense isn’t particularly well suited to playing from behind at speed. 

The case for Texas is that much of Missouri’s production may be hot air that only matters against soft opposition. If the Longhorns show up with intensity, they’re likely to own the point of attack and make plays defensively that will keep the game within reach (or protect a lead). 

Close exciting games have been the exception rather than the rule so far in the bowls. This one at least has the potential to be a well-played thriller, featuring teams who are hoping this is just the beginning of big things to come. 

This week’s stat preview schedule in VSiN City
Thursday: Michigan State vs. Washington State
Friday: Ohio State vs. USC
Saturday: Penn State vs. Washington
Sunday: Georgia vs. Oklahoma and Alabama vs. Clemson (to be played Monday January 1)

Tutorial: Don’t use trends to evaluate teams, use trends to evaluate the market
You’ve often heard the South Point oddsmakers on VSiN programming talk about how “sharps don’t bet teams, sharps bet numbers.” In a similar vein, bettors should avoid getting locked in on the “team” element of any trend they see, focusing instead on what that trend might be saying about the market

Admit it, if you see that a team is 8-1 against the spread over their last nine games, or maybe 8-1 in the past in a situation that confronts them next time out, your first thought is to bet that team. You want to ride the hot hand. Or, you want to exploit this “proven” situation for them. 

Among the problems…

  • Many trends have no predictive value
  • Many trends were relevant, but now the market has caught up
  • Many trends were relevant, but the team or its opponents have made adjustments

It is important that you don’t let yourself get swayed by trivia or old news when making your betting decisions. 

You might find it helpful to change your focal point. Instead of assuming the trend is telling you something relevant about the team, ask whether it’s telling you something about the market.

  • Has the market just flat misread the quality of a team? 
  • Or, was the market slow to pin it down initially, but has recently been getting closer?
  • Has the market NOT recognized the impact of a key personnel change?
  • Or, did the market largely fix an initial misread after an injury or benching?
  • Has the market NOT recognized when a team is dealing poorly with internal issues?
  • Or, is the cat now out of the bag regarding a fall from grace? 

While a sentiment like “the Browns stink, let’s keep betting against the Browns” will sometimes work for an extended period; its more common to see ATS tendencies level out or regress. Many sharps don’t use trends at all. They focus on player and team skill sets, game conditions, schedule dynamics, and what they would consider “real world” factors that are most likely to determine a game’s outcome. Don’t use trends as a shortcut substitute for that level of analysis. If you’re going to consider them, use trends to open inquiries into market reactions to real-world developments.  

That’s it for Wednesday. Back with you Thursday to recap the key stats from Wednesday’s bowl grand slam and preview Washington State/Michigan State. We’ll also get caught up with our estimated “market” Power Ratings in the NBA. Don’t forget that VSiN City will run seven-days-a-week through the bowls. 

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