It’s Tom Herman as an underdog. It’s Tom Herman’s Texas Longhorns in the Lone Star State at the Alamodome. It’s…the line moving against Tom Herman and Texas? The 2019 version of the Valero Alamo Bowl features the underdog Longhorns and the favored Utah Utes, who are a seven-point favorite across most of the market for the last game of 2019. This is a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on December 31.
There are some 7.5s out there on Utah, as this line opened mostly 6.5 across the market and did get bet up. There were more 7.5s earlier in the bowl betting process, but some Texas nibbles have come in to bump this line down a tad. The total on this one has stayed steady at 55.
Herman dropped to 16-4 straight up with 11 outright upsets as head coach at Houston and Texas in that preferred underdog role with the loss to Baylor on November 23. Baylor was -3.5 and won by 14. Exactly 365 days before this game, Texas beat Georgia as a 12-point dog in the Sugar Bowl. If you remember, Georgia had less than zero interest in that game after losing to Alabama in devastating fashion in the SEC Championship Game to miss out on the College Football Playoff. Texas took advantage.
In this year’s Alamo Bowl, Texas once again faces a team coming off of a Conference Championship loss and one that could very likely have kept them out of the CFP. The difference is that Utah never had a prayer in that game. Oregon rolled from start to finish and it was the first time that Utah got punched in the mouth and couldn’t respond in that 37-15 loss. It was just the second loss of the season for Utah, who lost at USC on a short week on September 20.
Utah will be missing star defensive back Jaylon Johnson, who is sitting out the bowl game in preparation for the NFL Draft. So far, we haven’t heard of anybody sitting out the game for Texas, but this has been a team ravaged by injuries this season, particularly on defense. In theory, Texas should be healthier than the team has been in a while with the long layoff to New Year’s Eve, but this preview is being written two weeks out from the game and a lot can and will change.
If the defense had played better, or stayed healthier, Texas may have wound up in a different spot. The offense blossomed this season under Sam Ehlinger. Last season, there was some question as to whether or not Ehlinger or Shane Buechele was a better fit. Buechele transferred to SMU and Ehlinger took the reins. The Longhorns responded with 6.28 yards per play, the most in quite some time for Texas. Unfortunately, the defense was atrocious with 6.24 yards per play allowed. From the best offense in a while to the worst defense in a while.
In preparation for the bowl game, Herman fired defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. He also demoted offensive coordinator Tim Beck, despite Texas’s quality offensive showing. So we have a Texas team going into the bowl game with two new coordinators. Safeties coach Craig Naivar will be the DC for the bowl game, but Herman has already hired former Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash to take over for next season. The OC job was still open at time of writing.
Utah’s Pac-12 Championship Game performance was nothing short of stunning. This was a Utes team that had rolled along all season long, never allowing more than 30 points. The Utes had won eight straight, with a five-point win and every other win by at least 18. Then they laid a huge egg in an enormous spot for the team and for the conference as almost a touchdown favorite against Oregon.
So far, nobody besides Johnson will sit out for a Utah team that managed 6.75 yards per play this season. With a ninth different OC in 11 years, it was a staggering increase from last season, as Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss played well week in and week out. Huntley completed 73.7% of his passes with an 18/4 ratio and Moss ran for 6.2 yards per carry on 219 tries. The second time around for OC Andy Ludwig certainly went well.
On a weekly basis, Utah took money. The 6.75 yards per play on offense were coupled with 4.40 yards per play allowed on defense for one of the nation’s largest yards per play differentials. Utah was fourth in the YPP department on defense and allowed just 914 rushing yards, second to San Diego State in that department. Utah only allowed 2.69 yards per carry.
In this game, though, it will be Utah’s pass defense that will be tested and its best player will not be there. This is a Utah team that only allowed 13 touchdowns through the air and had 13 interceptions. Furthermore, Utah was tied for fifth in yards per pass attempt allowed.
The line move here is predicated on an enormous yards per play differential between the two teams. Utah was +2.35 and Texas was just +0.04. Utah played the 48th-toughest schedule per Sagarin, but Texas’s strength of schedule ranked fourth. Utah played three top-30 teams and Texas played six. That is why we haven’t seen this line fly out of control. Yards per play differential will always create a line move, but strength of schedule discrepancies can stop the number in its tracks.
For me, I like Utah here. My line is actually -11 and this is one of my biggest overlays of the bowl season. I’m not in any hurry, as a -7 +100 or maybe even an expensive -6.5 at -120 could be coming because it’s Texas in an underdog role and people will latch onto Herman in that regard. Utah getting blown out in the P12CG should take away any sting of having missed the playoffs. This is still a chance at a name-brand win. Utah should get it and should hopefully get it by margin.
Pick: Utah -7