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December-26-2006,
Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Insight Bowl (Bowl #16)...By S.H. Austin

INSIGHT BOWL (Tempe)
TEXAS TECH VS. MINNESOTA
12/29, 7:30 p.m. ET NFL NETWORK

POINTSPREAD AT PRESS TIME
Texas Tech by 6.5 points, total of 65.5

WON-LOST RECORDS
Texas Tech: 7-5
Minnesota: 6-6
Texas Tech was preseason #22 in the Athlon publication, and #26 in Phil Steele's publication, so a 7-5 record is a bit of a disappointment. They're in the tougher half of the Big 12, where your game with Baylor is the only sure thing. Athlon had Tech penciled in for eight wins, two losses, and two coin flip games. Tech suffered those two losses, lost one of the coin flips, and lost two of the games they were supposed to win (as a 6-point favorite over Missouri and a 7-point favorite over Colorado). Vegas would have had Tech favored in nine of their 12 outings had the SE Louisiana massacre been on the board. However you slice it, Tech was expecting more. Minnesota went 7-5 last year, and lost some key talent. Athlon picked them 58th in the country, and had them going 4-7 with one coin flip on the projections. It wasn't beautiful, but 6-6 actually exceeded expectations a bit.

AVERAGE RESULT
Texas Tech: 32-24 versus the 61st ranked schedule
Minnesota: 28-25 versus the 12th ranked schedule
Both of these teams are classic bullies. Texas Tech does it by throwing the ball 50-60 times, even if they have a big lead. Minnesota does it by keeping their starters in versus patsies until they have a 40-50 point advantage. Historically, you should lay big numbers with these teams, but show some caution when they're not playing a patsy. Texas Tech was 2-0 ATS as double digit favorites this year, winning by scores of 35-3 and 55-21. They beat SE Louisiana 62-0 in a non-board game. Minnesota was also 2-0 ATS, winning by scores of 44-0 and 62-0. Given those results, the margin averages above aren't very impressive. The USA Today has Minnesota playing the 12th toughest schedule even though the Big Ten was having a down year, and the non-conference slate included Kent State, Temple, and North Dakota State. They did have to go to California. Having a Pac 10 school on your slate is apparently worth about 30 spots on the rundown.

ATS RECORDS
Texas Tech: 4-6-1 versus the spread
Minnesota: 6-5 versus the spread
If you throw out the aforementioned blowouts, Tech is 2-6-1 ATS when not playing patsies...Minnesota is 4-5 ATS. Though we should mention that Minnesota somehow only managed to beat North Dakota State 10-9 in a midseason non-board encounter in the head-scratcher game of the year. Against teams who are playing in bowl games this season, Texas Tech went 1-4-1 ATS...Minnesota went 2-5 ATS. You can tell by now in these previews that we're not high on bully teams when they have to face real opposition. It's great to take them in the patsy games and have your spread covered by halftime. You have to be very careful in real games when the opponent has some horses of their own.

AVERAGE YARDS PER GAME/TURNOVER INFLUENCE
Texas Tech: +117.4, with a season turnover differential of +2
Minnesota: -46.9, with a season turnover differential of +16
Tech outgained SE Louisiana 509-119, SMU 501-189, and Baylor 682-217. Throw those games out and the average isn't going to impress you. Why is Minnesota a negative when they had some blowouts? The Gophers were crushed like a bug when they played top competition. In schedule order, they were outgained 531-352 by California, 518-323 by Michigan, 401-200 by Wisconsin, 484-182 by Ohio State. Also, if wins were based on total yardage, Minnesota would have been 3-8-1 this season. That turnover differential of +16 really bailed them out. This is where we get some separation between the two teams. Both are bullies who kill patsies. Texas Tech was able to at least be competitive against BCS caliber opponents like Texas (35-31 loss) and Oklahoma (34-24). Minnesota wasn't competitive against good teams, and they needed turnover boosts to help them earn wins over opponents like Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa. It's clear now that Tech is the better team, and should be the Vegas favorite here.

QUARTERBACK TD/INT RATIOS
Texas Tech: 37-11, which is actually kind of low for this offense
Minnesota: 19-10, adequate for a team that prefers the ground game
Remember that Hawaii had a 57-11 ratio. Texas Tech throws as often as Hawaii does, so this number is okay, but not super-fantastic given the context.

TEAM CHARACTERISTICS
We've gone over that already here, both teams are bullies. Tech throws a million passes. Minnesota only passes when they have to, which is pretty much whenever they face a decent opponent. The Gophers only passed 15 times vs. Kent State and Temple...but cracked 30 attempts in half of their outings.

GAMES VERSUS SIMILAR OPPONENTS
Texas Tech didn't face any run-based opponents with crappy defenses. Minnesota's a rare bird in that respect. Most run-based teams have good defenses because of the synergy from running the clock. Tech held their own against physical opposition like Texas and Oklahoma. They only allowed 12 points to a very physical TCU team, though that was a 12-3 loss. Tech won't seem like a great physical match at the point of attack, but they have some schemes that help neutralize that to a degree. Really, one of their key strategies is to create a shootout which forces run-based opponents to pass more.

Minnesota didn't play any teams that normally pass 50-60 times a game. But, Indiana threw the ball 47 times against them in a 63-37 loss, and Michigan State threw 53 times in a 31-18 loss. Both of those games happened in November, and both ended up being easy wins for the Gophers. They have some confidence in shootouts heading into this one. Handicappers have to determine how much of a step up in class Texas Tech represents from Indiana and Michigan State.

MOTIVATION FOR THIS GAME
Texas Tech may have been hoping for more at the beginning of the season. This is a fun bowl to play in though, so they shouldn't be demoralized about it. As we've said with some of the other teams, a game like this might pale in comparison to many of the regular season outings. Tech got sky high for Texas and Oklahoma in the last month of the season. How do you get sky high for Minnesota?

Minnesota is probably happy to be going to this bowl. Expectations weren't all that high to begin the season. The Gophers ended their season with three straight wins to jump from 3-6 to bowl eligible. They're probably excited that they get to keep playing.

LAST YEAR'S BOWL PERFORMANCES
Texas Tech lost to Alabama 13-10 in the Cotton Bowl, losing yardage 420-329
Minnesota lost to Virginia 34-31 in the Music City Bowl, losing yardage 468-461

RECENT BOWL TRENDS
Texas Tech had been impressive in three bowl appearances prior to last year, beating California 45-31 in the Holiday Bowl, beating Navy 38-14 in the Houston bowl, and beating Clemson 55-14 in the Tangerine Bowl. Their style of play can really run up the score if the opposing defense is slow or unprepared.

Minnesota is 3-2 straight up this century, but just 2-3 ATS. Three of their games have landed in the 60's, the other two in the low 40's.

WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
Let's start with those bowl notes. Texas Tech has a history of putting up big numbers against poor defenses, and they're facing a poor defense. Minnesota allowed 468 yards last year in their bowl game against Virginia...and now they're facing a much more potent attack in what will probably be better scoring conditions. Last year's Insight Bowl was ridiculously high scoring, with the desert atmosphere possibly influencing how well the defenses could hold up.

With all of that in mind, a tandem combination of Texas Tech and the Over might make the most sense. At the line and total posted at the top of this preview, Texas Tech's critical number would be 35. They have to score at least 36 points to make a tandem safe. Should the Red Raiders clear that hurdle, it's kind of like you're shooting a middle. A $100 bettor in Las Vegas would be risking $10 to win $200. If you split (Tech covers an Under game or Tech doesn't cover an Over game, you lose the $10. If Tech covers an Over game (which is reasonably likely if they're going to have a good offensive day), then you sweep.

Of course, the catch is that they HAVE to get to 36 points. It's not REALLY like shooting a middle. Tech could have a lousy game and you go 0-2. As handicappers, you have to decide how likely it is Tech will score that many points on a soft defense.

How often did Tech score 36 points this year? It only happened four times: 38 at UTEP, 62 vs. SE Louisiana, 42 at Iowa State, and 55 vs. Baylor. At least you can see that they can easily drive an Over in their big games.

How often did Minnesota allow 36 points this year? In also only happened four times: 42 at California, 48 at Wisconsin, 44 at Ohio State, and 36 vs. Indiana. It should be noted that Minnesota did allow 546 yards to Iowa, but the Hawkeyes only scored 24 points because of five turnovers. Minnesota also allowed over 500 yards to Michigan, but the Wolverines "Milton Berled" it and only won 28-14.

Tech is a bully...Tech isn't likely to turn the ball over five times...and that puts us over the top in my opinion. In good weather conditions, Tech is very likely to score at least 36 points on at least 500 total yards on this soft Minnesota defense.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

40%: Texas Tech covers an Over game 55%: The tandem combo splits one way or the other 15%: Texas Tech fails to cover an Under game

The key comparison is the 40% chance of a sweep versus the 15% chance of getting swept. If the assessment is correct, that's a sound way to take some shots here.

12-26-06
S.H. Austin
Majorwager.com
austin@majorwager.com



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