ALAMO BOWL (San Antonio)
TEXAS VS. IOWA
12/30, 4:30 p.m. ET ESPN
POINTSPREAD AT PRESS TIME
Texas by 9 points, total of 53
Both teams underachieved expectations by a good bit. Texas was preseason #5 in Phil Steele's publication, and #7 in the Athlon publication. Athlon had them penciled in for 10 wins and two coin flip games. They split the coin flip games but lost two others they were supposed to win. Vegas oddsmakers had them favored by 17 and 13 in those two games they were supposed to win. In fact, oddsmakers had them favored in all 12 games this year. Texas was 9-3 against Vegas projections of 12-0. Iowa was even worse. The Hawkeyes were preseason #15 in Steele, and #16 in Athlon. Athlon had them penciled in for nine wins, two coin flips and one loss. Going 6-6 with those expectations is horrendous. Based on Vegas lines they were projected to go 8-4. That's because they were underdogs in their last two games once it was clear how far they had fallen. This was the second straight year this has happened to Iowa. They were preseason #3 in Athlon last year, but finished 7-5. I know there are a lot of fans of Kirk Ferentz out there. He's not currently living up the expectations of his early promise. He's not coming anywhere near them, to be frank.
Texas: 37-18 versus the 47th ranked schedule
Iowa: 24-20 versus the 22nd ranked schedule
Texas is a classic bully, except that they're one that's good enough to be in the national championship picture every year. They run up the score when they can. If the other team doesn't blink, then Texas can still find a way to win the game even if they don't cover. This isn't like a Navy who bullies Temple but loses to Rutgers and Tulsa. True superpowers who run up the score have actually been relatively rare lately. USC did that a few years ago, Texas did it last year. Oklahoma was like that in their "greatest team ever" period a few years ago. Ohio State and Florida this year are more Milton Berle type teams (see related article that ran before the bowl previews). Iowa looks okay in that stat line, with a +4 differential against the 22nd ranked schedule. We're not sure why their schedule would rank that high. It was a down year in the Big Ten, and their non-conference foes were Montana, Syracuse, Iowa State, and Northern Illinois. They did end up playing six teams who went to bowls. In our mind, they played fairly even schedules.
Texas: 5-6 versus the spread
Iowa: 1-10-1 versus the spread
You know by now that the ATS records typically reflect how a team did against those preseason expectations. The wagering public has trouble adjusting to a new season. They just keep betting on the perceptions of the prior season. Texas couldn't match numbers inflated from a national championship. Iowa had one of the worst pointspread performances on record. It's one thing to say that a team expected to finish in the top 20 went 6-6 straight up. It's another to show that they literally failed to reach expectations virtually every time they took the field. Anybody still think that game day pointspreads reflect "perfected" lines that have been bet into the right place? If you can find discrepancies between perception and reality, you can find vulnerabilities in the numbers.
AVERAGE YARDS PER GAME/TURNOVER INFLUENCE
Texas: +99.7, with a season turnover differential of +8
Iowa: +35.8, with a season turnover differential of -12
Texas is a talented bully, so they're going to have some huge yardage games. The Horns had four games this year with better than a +200 yardage differential. Iowa had decent yardage stats, given their schedule. You can see that turnovers killed them. The defense was too soft to force any turnovers (half their opponents commited 0 or 1). The offense often imploded when having to play from behind (3 or more giveaways in half their games).
QUARTERBACK TD/INT RATIOS
Texas: 29-9, great numbers for a first-year quarterback
Iowa: 19-18, very poor ratio for a senior QB of a highly regarded team
Texas is a super talented bully that ironically often isn't as good as they think they are. They won a national championship last year because they had Superman as their quarterback. This head coach and program have a disturbing tendency to struggle in their biggest games. The offense moves the ball, the defense doesn't stop anybody...and the game turns into a shootout. This is great if you have the Over...and great if you have the dog too. Texas is actually a good team to take as a big favorite versus lesser teams. They don't call off the dogs until they're up 35 points or until they've scored 50. Last year's team went 10-2-1 ATS even though it was clear early on that they were just going to slaughter people every week. This year's team was 4-1 ATS as favorites of 17 or more until their quarterback got hurt. The non-cover was in a game where a huge thunderstorm stopped play in the second half. The Horns were on pace for a 30-point win, but the teams agreed to run out the clock because of the bad weather (the Iowa State game). The team played with arrogance in the Ohio State game, and lost 24-7. The team played with arrogance in the Oklahoma game, and won because of turnovers despite getting outgained 333-232. The team played with arrogance at Texas Tech and had to rally from an early 21-0 deficit. The team played with arrogance against Texas A&M when their QB returned (without his shoulder strength it turns out), and they lost 12-7 with a trip to the Big 12 championship game on the line. The key to handicapping Texas games is knowing whether or not the opponent is likely to get bullied.
Iowa was so bad this year that it's hard to define what they were trying to do. Normally this is a run-based, defensive-minded team that passes to balance things out. They're like Michigan in that regard. They'll pass a lot when trailing, and pass about 20-30 times in a normal game depending on the flow. This year's team only topped 185 rushing yards once all season. The team had double digits in incomplete passes 10 times, even though they faced a lot of teams who were bad against the pass. Isn't it common to have that many incomplete passes? Common, but not automatic. Both of these teams played Iowa State. Iowa was 26-38 passing, Texas was 19-24 in the air. Texas was 10-11 passing aginst rice, 11-18 in the air against Oklahoma, and 23-29 passing against Oklahoma State. Iowa only had one game like that all season (17-23 versus Purdue). You could probably say that one of the reasons Iowa is having big problems the last two years is that they don't really know what they are. Or, they don't have the pieces in place to settle down and become something.
GAMES VERSUS SIMILAR OPPONENTS
Texas faced a few similar teams to Iowa. The Hawkeyes would strike you as a typical Big 12 kind of team. More Big 12 North than South. Texas either crushes those teams if they're able to be bullied (Iowa State before the storm), or sweats a close finish if they're not (Nebraska and Kansas State).
Iowa's home game against Ohio State is probably a good match in terms of talent. Ohio State won 38-17, with a 400-336 yardage advantage and a 4-0 edge in turnovers. Michigan's also a good match. Michigan beat Iowa 20-6, with a 291-238 yardage edge and a 1-1 mark in turnovers. Wisconsin's a BCS team. The Badgers beat Iowa 24-21 on the road, with a 371-304 yardage advantage. If both Iowa and Texas show up with their normal performances, Texas is going to win yardage, and will probably have a turnover edge of at least +1.
MOTIVATION FOR THIS GAME
Texas will have a big crowd, but they're not excited about going to the Alamo Bowl. That particular bowl is cursed every year with getting teams from two major conferences who were hoping for something better. Tickets sold quickly. It's unlikely the players themselves will be breathing fire after blowing their chance at the Big 12 crown and a BCS spot. Texas was thinking national championship before their QB got hurt in the loss at Kansas State. Still, these are bullies...and bullies love putting on a show. If they get a big lead, they might click into phase and start pouring it on.
Iowa lost its last three games of the regular season, and five of its last six. They could be happy to get a bowl bid anywhere given that fact...or could find motivation from playing a big name opponent. That's probably less of an issue if you've already played Ohio State and Michigan earlier in the season. Some pundits thought Oregon would bounce back from three late-season losses to put things together in the Las Vegas Bowl. Instead, it seemed like a virtual no-show. You just can't assume Iowa is in the mood to make up for their slump here. It could happen, but they could also look as bad as Oregon did.
LAST YEAR'S BOWL PERFORMANCES
Texas beat USC 41-38 in the Rose Bowl (which was the BCS championship game last year), losing yardage 574-556
Iowa lost to Florida 31-24 in the Outback Bowl, losing yardage 447-410
RECENT BOWL TRENDS
Texas is 2-3 ATS their last five bowl games, which was 1-3 ATS as a favorite before the upset of USC last year. Texas defenses have been particularly weak in postseason action. It's tough to cover as favorites when you're allowing four to five touchdowns a game.
Iowa is 3-2 ATS this century, with Kirk Ferentz generally showing good preparation. The other loss was to a USC team that was playing great at the end of the 2002 season (Carson Palmer's team).
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN? We haven't yet discussed the injury status of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. He's been cleared to play by doctors. These are the same doctors who said he was fine before the Texas A&M game when he was OBVIOUSLY only throwing at about 80% arm strength on downfield passes. Texas was 17-29-4-180 in the air that game, and only put 230 yards up in the stat book all day. He was so obviously not ready it was ridiculous. But, coach Mack Brown kept him in there all day, inspiring the backup to transfer to Ole Miss before this bowl game was even played. If McCoy gets hurt, a walk-on with no game experience will be in the game for the Horns. Do you want to lay double digits with that possibility?
If this were a regular season game that meant something, we'd probably project Texas winning by 17-21 with a shot to run up the score. The fact that it isn't certainly creates the possibility for a tighter game. If you're a dog fan, it's worth noting that you have a senior quarterback getting double digits in a dome from a team that's had a poor pass defense this year. Drew Tate played in a dome in the season finale at Minnesota, and passed for 364 yards (granted, he threw 4 interceptions!). There are ways for Iowa to hang around if they don't pull an Oregon and no-show their bowl.
I'd rate the percentages this way:
55% that Iowa takes advantage of a flat Texas team, or a Texas QB who still doesn't have his downfield arm strength back yet to hang within the tall number.
45% that Texas throws a party and wins going away. If BYU had been laying 12 points to Oregon, they would have had it covered by halftime. Iowa was down 21-10 to Ohio State at halftime at home.
We didn't really have much of a totals opinion at the beginning of this article. Looking at the possibilities for Iowa to score some points on the UT secondary has swung us to the Over. You could see a garbage time second half with Iowa either scoring or throwing interceptions. Texas won't call off the dogs until they've put points on the board if things are going well. If McCoy really is healthy, that helps the Over too. The first dome game of the postseason was the Over in New Orleans, the only Over of the first six bowls.
60% that the game goes Over, either keyed by Texas bullying or a garbage time atmosphere in the second half.
40% that the game goes Under, possibly because McCoy doesn't have his arm strength back and Iowa plays conservatively with a chance to win the game.