A rule of thumb for midlevel and minor bowl games is to figure out which team has something to prove and then grab that team to win the game. And when in doubt, take the underdog.
The trick, of course, can be trying to determine which team qualifies as more motivated. In the first 15 bowl games, underdogs are 8-7 both straight up and against the point spread. Only five games have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
This comes into play with the Texas Bowl on Wednesday night in Houston. Much has been written about Texas being short-handed against Missouri, a 2½-point favorite. On the flip side, the Longhorns have a lot more to prove.
Texas is trying to avoid a fourth consecutive losing season for the first time since the 1930s. The Horns have two quarterbacks who want to leave a good impression on Tom Herman going into 2018. They have highly recruited backups thrust into starting roles who want to show they belong. Plus, there’ll be no problems getting up for an SEC opponent, and the Longhorns will be urged on by a pro-Texas crowd.
Missouri already has proved about all it can after turning around its season thanks to a six-game winning streak. The Tigers probably hoped to draw a better opponent than a 6-6 team. They also know that SEC squads usually beat Big 12 teams not named Oklahoma in bowl games. They might just be too comfortable.
There is a stat for midlevel bowl games like this that shows teams coming off a defeat in their final regular-season game, as Texas is, beat the spread just over 60 percent of the time when playing teams coming off a win, as Missouri is. Why? Because they are hungrier.
Most computer models predict a Texas victory. Jeff Sagarin has it 34-25 Longhorns. CBS Sports has it 29-25 Horns. The Massey consensus ratings, which include more than a dozen computer systems, have Texas ranked 40th and Missouri 48th.
The Longhorns were a reliable betting entity this season, 8-4 against the spread. The Tigers were 7-5.
Mizzou star QB Drew Lock will have his moments, no question, but the Texas defense is too strong for him to consistently pick it apart.
Even missing some key pieces, the Longhorns will show their depth is pretty good and win 31-27.
BUCKING THE LINE
I’ve been given an imaginary $1,000 bankroll for the college football season. After nearly four months of imaginary wagering, the kitty is virtually intact.
Update: A 3-1 record in early bowl games and a $67 profit margin lifted the season record to 42-41-3 against the point spread. Yep, that’s coin-flip territory, but it’s been an interesting ride along the way. Be sure to check StatesmanU for periodic bowl updates the rest of the way.
New bankroll: $986
Wednesday best bets
Pinstripe: Boston College (+3) over Iowa: The Eagles want to be playing in the snow and cold at Yankee Stadium. The Hawkeyes openly hoped for a warm-weather game. Emotional advantage BC. $44
Texas: Texas (+2½) over Missouri: Too many people are writing off the Longhorns because of who will NOT play. We like the guys who WILL play, with their month of prep time. $33
Independence: Southern Miss (+16) over Florida State: The Seminoles don’t want to be in Shreveport. $33