2007 Texas Bowl Preview
by T.O. Whenham
Houston (8-4) vs. TCU (7-5)
Conference matchup: Conference USA vs Mountain West
Date: Dec. 28, 2007
Location: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
Spread: TCU -3.5
The Texas Bowl doesn't exactly have a long history. Rutgers beat Kansas State in the first edition last year. This bowl replaced the Houston Bowl, which ran from 2000 to 2005, though no one really misses that event. The Texas Bowl is now broadcast on the NFL Network after that network bought naming and broadcast rights last year. The bowl was supposed to be a matchup between the Big 12 and Conference USA, but TCU took the place of a Big 12 team after both Kansas and Oklahoma made the BCS, meaning the Big 12 didn't have enough bowl eligible teams. These two Texas rivals last met in 2004, when TCU won by a touchdown and covered the 6.5-point spread. The Horned Frogs have won each of their last seven meetings stretching back to 1993.
Houston can cover if: they can overcome distractions to focus on the game. Coach Art Briles has left the program to take over at Baylor, so Chris Thurmond, who was recruiting coordinator and coached the cornerbacks, is slated to be at the helm for this bowl. There is talk that legendary coach Jack Pardee could come back to take over the program, with former star QB David Klingler as his offensive coordinator. The whole situation could certainly take the focus of the players off the game. That's certainly a concern for a team that showed that they could badly lose focus at times this year. Against Tulsa, for example, the game was a pick 'em, but only a late Houston touchdown stopped it from being a humiliating 56-0 shutout. The Cougars won the games on both sides of that blowout, so it was more of a periodic problem than and overall weakness. If their mind is on the field then will be able to score. They had the fourth most yards per game in the country, and were remarkably balanced between the run and the pass.
TCU can cover if: they pay like they were expected to all year. Few teams were as big a disappointment this season as the Horned Frogs. It seems almost impossible to believe, they were a very trendy pick to upset Texas in Week 2. They lost that game 34-13 while barely putting up an effort, and have struggled since. They dropped a game the next week to Air Force, and should have won at least two of the other three they lost. This team fell hard from being a potential Cinderella BCS-busting team early in the year to ending up in a Texas Bowl game that few will watch now. The defense wasn't outstanding all year, but it was fairly competent and acceptable. They will be challenged by the explosive Houston offense, and will have to be at their best to win here. They certainly have the ability to shut teams down when they want to, but they haven't done that, or anything else, with any consistency.
General notes: Neither team in this game was profitable against the spread on the season, so there is no clear choice based on past betting performance. Houston has never really settled on a quarterback to replace Kevin Kolb, who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Case Keenum and Blake Joseph have each had significant playing time, but neither has been able to seize the position as their own. That's not an immediate concern because the system got them this far, but it's not the ideal situation when they are heading into a bowl as an underdog.
Re: Texas Bowl
Houston Cougars (8-4) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (7-5)
In only its second year, the Texas Bowl will seek to pair up one of the nation’s best offensive units in Houston against a traditional monster on defense with the Texas Christian Horned Frogs. A pair of quarterbacks for Houston will be used interchangeably to meet the variety of down-and-distance situations the Cougars will face on offense, while senior tailback Anthony Alridge will find plenty of opportunity to carry the ball out in open space. Texas Christian will meanwhile seek to win its third-straight game in a row, and carry on a strong tradition of winning in postseason bowl games with a youthful quarterback in Andy Dalton and an up-and-coming running back in Joseph Turner. The hiring of the Kevin Sumlin away from Oklahoma will keep the press buzzing about Houston, but don’t be surprised to see TCU come away with bragging rights thanks to its defense, especially with Tommy Blake back in uniform.
Sizing Up Texas Christian: It’s been an up-and-down year for the Horned Frogs, who, coming into the 2007 season, appeared to have enough firepower on offense and experience and skill on defense to be a favorite out in the Mountain West. Quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Marcus Jackson were moved back and forth into the starting position, both hoping to impress head coach Gary Patterson enough to get a more permanent role, as none stood out enough in spring practice to get the nod. Neither ever truly gained control of the TCU offense in dominating fashion. Dalton eventually played well enough to get named to The Sporting News’ Freshman All-American team, setting a freshman passing record for the school with 2210 total yards, but errors abounded in his first-year campaign regardless, as against Utah, where Dalton threw four interceptions. Things initially appeared more solid in the TCU backfield, where junior Aaron Brown finally found himself a feature back, but injuries and lack of performance yielded Brown’s hold on the starter role to sophomore Joseph Turner, who, in only eight games rushed for nearly 600 yards and six touchdowns; fans and fantasy owners alike will remember that Turner was absolutely explosive in the last game of the year against San Diego State, where he rushed 33 times for 226 yards and four touchdowns. Ervin Dickerson proved the main threat at wideout, while seasoned veteran Donald Massey sought to shore up the loss of previous star receivers, Cory Rodgers and Quentily Harmon. Defensively, TCU remained monstrous, even with the absence for most of the year of star defensive linemen, Tommy Blake. Only BYU was better against the rush, while the Horned Frogs tied for first in conference for number of interceptions with 16. Teams CAN pass against TCU, which will play well into the hands of the 27th-best team in the nation in passing with the Houston Cougars, so watch to see how the rotating tandem of Case Keenum and Blake Joseph do in this bowl game.
Sizing Up Houston: With one of school’s best passers in Kevin Kolb now departed from the Cougars’ football program, Houston looked to a pair of hotshot youngsters in the form of Case Keenum and Blake Joseph to take over the reins of the offense with the same degree of poise and production that their now-NFL bound counterpart in Kolb had in years prior. That was a big demand to make of either the freshman or sophomore (respectively) prospects, but combined, Houston put together a pretty impressive tandem of throwers, a pair which, by the end of the year, had thrown for a collective 2248 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Not bad, considering the level of experience either one had heading into the start of 2007, especially Keenum, playing as a true freshman out of the gates. Still, it would be in the running game, where senior stud tailback Anthony Alridge ruled the roost, that the Cougars would make or break each one of their games. The running back out of Denton, Texas was absolutely astounding, carrying the ball 244 times on the season for a total of 1568 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and an additional 424 yards and five touchdowns coming in the passing game. Freshman Terrance Ganaway was equally impressive, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry on only 108 total rushes on the year, while Keenum proved nimble enough to finish the year with 414 yards and an additional nine scores to his name. Donnie Avery provided the firepower out at receiver, and after a solid start to the year against Oregon with six catches and 66 yards, exploded against teams like East Carolina and Rice, the latter in which he stunned onlookers by grabbing 13 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, Houston appears solid enough on paper, but is weak in its secondary, especially near the goal line, where the Cougars have given up 28 scores on the year. Brown and Turner should also find success against a unit that also averages almost 145 yards-per-game on the ground; remember, however, playing a rush-centered team like Tulane (with the outstanding Matt Forte), Houston yielded only 85 yards to the feature back.
Who Should Shine: No doubt that Alridge is going to get his numbers in on this game; in eight games in 2007, the senior has gone over 100 yards rushing, and in three, over 200. TCU will attack the rush with a dominating line presence, but Alridge is effective on the outside as well as in the inside. Keenum and Joseph should provide enough distraction to keep the Horned Frogs playing back a bit to solidify pass coverage, allowing the rush to remain a significant threat. Meanwhile, watch for Dalton to get into grove against a Houston defense that will allow the Horned Frogs to score at will and, as with most games the Cougars have played in 2007, keep this contest a true shoot-out. Don’t forget TCU’s Chris Manfredini at kicker if it comes down to a last second field goal; this kid will win the game with no problem.
The Pick: TCU could be a deadly foe in this matchup up Texas teams, especially if it can keep Alridge under wraps. It’s not an impossibility – the Horned Frogs blanketed New Mexico’s Rodney Ferguson – but the quarterback duo of Keenum and Joseph will keep the pressure up on the pass. The Cougars will keep the ball moving (this is the fourth best overall offense in college football this year) and, in a fashion reminiscent of Brigham Young, make this a high scoring game. Will TCU have enough to keep up offensively? They’ll find it won’t matter, as Houston’s defense is second rate; Dalton should be solid, but watch for Turner to be a difference maker. Patterson always has his teams ready to play in bowl games and TCU doesn’t like to lose on a national stage. TCU comes out ahead on this one only because of its defense in the fourth quarter, but expect this one to be close. TCU 34, Houston 28.
Re: Texas Bowl
Texas Bowl: TCU Horned Frogs vs. Houston Cougars
- A pair of Texas schools with lock horns in the Texas Bowl Dec. 28. TCU Horned Frogs and the Houston Cougars will both be trying to grab a bowl win when they battle at Reliant Stadium. These teams have played four times since 2002 and the Horned Frogs have won all four (going 3-1 against the number).
Oddsmakers currently have the Horned Frogs listed as 4½-point favorites versus the Cougars, while the game's total has not yet been posted.
TCU amassed 694 yards last time out in a 45-33 win at San Diego State, failing to to cover the 12.5-point road spread. The 78 points scored were OVER the posted total of 50.
Andy Dalton was 23-for-39 for 298 yards, and he also added a touchdown on the ground. Joseph Turner ran for 226 yards and four majors for the Horned Frogs.
Anthony Alridge ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns last time out as the Cougars pounded the Texas Southern Tigers by a final score of 59-6. The oddsmakers avoided that contest - no line or total was posted for the expected mismatch.
TCU: 7-5 SU, 5-6-1 ATS
Houston: 8-4 SU, 4-7 ATS
TCU most recently:
When playing in December are 7-3
When playing on grass are 7-3
After outgaining opponent are 6-4
When playing outside the conference are 9-1
Houston most recently:
When playing in December are 2-5
When playing on grass are 8-2
After outgaining opponent are 7-3
When playing outside the conference are 4-6
A few trends to consider:
TCU is 15-5 SU in its last 20 games
Houston is 6-1 SU in its last 7 games
Re: Texas Bowl
TCU (7-5 SU, 5-6-1 ATS) vs. Houston (8-4 SU, 4-7 ATS)
How they got there:
Texas Christian should be grateful they received an invitation into the Texas Bowl. A school who finished with a 7-5 overall record and an average 4-4 conference performance in the Mountain West seems like a far stretch for this program to find extended life after the regular season.
While not possessing the most dynamic offenses in college football, TCU’s defensive squad has been a brick wall. Ranked 16th in the nation in total defense (allowing 320 YPG) and 18th in run defense (allowing 109.4 YPG), the Horned Frogs where afflicted with the inability to bury close games. Four of it’s loses this season came by a point difference of seven or less.
With the inflated amount of bowl games out there, plenty of money floating around between sponsors and campuses and a watered down amount of talent, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that TCU is playing into the end of December.
Houston walks into the Texas Bowl with some positive momentum after finishing the season with a 6-1 performance in the last seven meetings. Working with the No. 4 top offense in the nation, the Cougars finished 2007 with 513.2 YPG. With a 6-2 record in the Conference USA, Houston was very close to taking the crown in the conference but an implosion against Tulsa (56-7) dashed those dreams.
In the end, two teams who have a deep history between each other will play a local game in the state of Texas.
What to expect:
If offense win games and defense win championships then TCU would have the advantage given its high ranking run and pass ‘D’.
Houston arguably has the fastest one-two punch on the field with RB Anthony Alridge and WR Donnie Avery clocking in at 4.2 in the dash. Using a two-quarterback system, the Cougars like to utilize arm power with speed. If Houston can sustain a balanced run and pass attack then the lockdown defense that TCU plays will most likely be put to the test.
However, TCU does posses that rock solid ‘D’. This contest might not even come down to who has the better set of players. The Cougars are missing some key figures on the sidelines, most notably head coach Art Briles and co-offensive coordinators Philip Montgomery and Randy Clements. This leaves gapping holes in a team that needs as much leadership as possible.
Players to watch:
TCU – This program is working with an insane defensive line. Led by NFL ready Tommy Blake, who played only seven games this year due to personal problems off the field, safety Stephen Hodge (53 tackles, 7 ½-sacks with two forced fumbles) and defensive end Chase Ortiz (41 tackles with eight sacks) are all formidable forces for Houston to contest with. This is not an incredible offense by any means, but red shirt freshman QB Andy Dolton did throw an effective 2,210 yards with 10 TDs.
Houston – Running back Anthony Alridge is the No. 7 rusher in the country, cashing in 1,568 yards with 14 scores this season. Complementing the blistering speed is wide out Donnie Avery. Avery led the team with 81 receptions for 1,336 yards and seven trips across the end zone. The ‘D’ squad is missing that big pop so don’t look for this game to center around just an average linebacker core.
TCU has one heck of a tradition in football. Going way back to 1920, the Horned Frogs are a career 9-13-1 SU (a tie in 1958 against Air Force marked a dead heat). Since 1998, TCU is a solid 5-3 SU and 5-2-1 ATS when bowling. Last season, the Horned Frogs took a ‘W’ against North Illinois (37-7), while covering the 12 ½-point spread.
Meeting TCU for the first time in a bowl game, Houston owns a career 8-9 SU record when bowling. Involved in a seven-game slide, the Cougars took its last bowl game victory in 1980 against Navy in the Garden State Bowl (35-0). Coming off a bowl game loss against South Carolina last year (44-36), TCU is a total 0-3 SU and 1-2 ATS since 2003 in “the big game”.
Inside the Line: TCU -4½, 58
Most books opened the line on this contest at four points in favor of TCU and that number hasn’t really fluctuated. Books like Bodog.com and Sportsbetting.com have adjusted the line a ½-point, which now stand at -4 ½. The total has been lowered a point or two and now stands at 58 to 58 ½ points.
TCU is 5-16 ATS in their last 21 versus the Conference USA. The ‘under’ is 8-2 in the Horned Frogs last 10 games as a favorite.
Expert Opinion: Christian Alexander
An 8-4 Houston team with an offense ranked 4th in the nation in total offense (513 yards per game), 17th in scoring (36.3 points) playing in its own backyard against a disappointing 7-5 TCU team. Sounds like a clear cut winner but throughout the year, the Cougars where blessed with a light schedule. Now they have to face a TCU team that ranks 16th in the nation in total defense (320 yards allowed per game) and 16th in points allowed (19.2). Making matters worse, Houston just lost its coach (Art Briles) to Baylor and he has already departed with his top two offensive assistants right behind him. Whatever the outcome look for a tough TCU defense to have its work cut out for it, while the Cougars ‘D’ could be spinning on its head.
TCU has won its last two visits to a bowl game in 2005 and 2006, while Houston hasn’t held a trophy up high since 1980. Different times call for different analysis but with the Cougars in upheaval after coach Briles left for greener pastures it almost feels like there's no captain behind the wheel of the ship.
This could be a crash and burn game for Houston, regardless of the speed this core produces from the running back and wide receiver positions. As questionable as TCU freshman QB as Andy Dalton is, expect the concrete defense to take a hold of this contest. No upset come Friday in this matchup of a backyard brawl.
Final Score: TCU 34, Houston 20
Re: Texas Bowl
TCU vs. HOUSTON (Texas Bowl)...Cougs no covers last 4 TY or 5 of last 6, and didn’t cover last 4 games within city limits TY. TCU only 1-4-1 vs. line away TY, but Frogs have covered their last 4 bowls for Gary Patterson. Tech edge-TCU, based on team trends.
Re: Texas Bowl
Game Preview for Houston vs T-C-U
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars remain in their hometown this postseason as they take on the TCU Horned Frogs in the second-annual Texas Bowl from Reliant Stadium. The Cougars finished in a first-place tie with Tulsa atop Conference USA's West Division with 6-2 league mark. The team was 8-4 overall this season marking its third straight winning season and third consecutive bowl bid. The Cougars really put things together late in the season, winning six of their last seven games. The success was enough to land head coach Art Briles a new job at Baylor, leaving the team under the guidance of interim head coach Chris Thurmond for the postseason. Next year, there will be a new dawn in Houston football lore, as former Oklahoma assistant Kevin Sumlin, who was hired on December 14th, will be the new head football coach. Sumlin also represents the first African-American to be tabbed a head coach in the state of Texas. Houston is 7-9-1 in bowl games all-time and brings a seven-game postseason losing streak into this game. The Cougars have not won a bowl game since topping Navy, 35-0 in the 1980 Garden State Bowl. TCU, which is under the guidance of seventh-year head man Gary Patterson, finished 7-5 this past season, including a 4-4 mark in the Mountain West Conference. The league record was good for just a fifth-place finish, despite the team winning two straight and three of its last four to close out the regular season. The Horned Frogs will be making their 23rd postseason appearance and the team is an even 3-3 in bowl games under Patterson. These teams have met each other 24 times since 1976. Houston holds a 13-11 edge all-time, but the Horned Frogs have closed the gap with seven straight victories in the series. Rutgers defeated Kansas State, 37-10, in the inaugural Texas Bowl last December.
The Cougars once again bring a potent and balanced offensive attack into the postseason. The team put up some gaudy numbers this year, averaging 36.3 ppg, thanks to 513.2 yards of total offense per game (fourth in the nation). The ground game has been lethal at 5.1 yards per carry and 239.9 yards per game (10th nationally). The passing game is just as deadly at 273.2 yards per game (27th nationally). Quarterback Case Keenum started half the games this year, but is tabbed the starter for this game, having completed almost 70 percent of his passes in 2007 (.698), for 1,924 yards with 13 TDs. The top target downfield was clearly WR Donnie Avery, who had a huge season with 81 receptions, for 1,336 yards and seven TDs. Anthony Alridge did most of the damage on the ground and was the team's workhorse, averaging a hefty 6.4 yards per carry, while churning out 1,568 yards (seventh nationally at 130.7 ypg) and 14 TDs on the year. The offensive line doesn't feature a single player over the 300 pound mark, but is anchored by All-CUSA-First Team member Jeff Akeroyd at right tackle.
Like most teams that possess prolific offenses, the defense is a step or two behind. That is the case in Houston, as the Cougars allowed a generous 29.9 ppg this year, on 365.7 yards of total offense. That of course, does not mean this team is void of defensive playmakers. The secondary is where it begins for the Cougars, led by safeties Rocky Schwartz and Kenneth Fontenette. Schwartz, who missed the 2006 season due to injury, returned with a fervor this season, pacing the team in tackles with 87. Schwartz also recorded two interceptions, forced three fumbles and recovered two. Fontenette was a Freshman All-American in 2005 and picked up All-CUSA-Second Team honors in '07, registering 60 tackles, four INTs and two fumble recoveries. The defense as a whole recorded 23 sacks this year and the main source of the pass rush came from All-CUSA- First Teamer Phillip Hunt. The 6-2, 250-pound junior end amassed 49 total tackles, while leading the team in TFLs (16.0) and sacks (9.5).
While not as explosive as Houston's offense, TCU does bring a balanced unit into this game as well. The team as a whole is averaging a steady 26.6 ppg. The Horned Frogs come in averaging almost 400 yards of offense (388.4), getting 169.1 on the ground and 219.3 through the air. It has been a redshirt freshman that has led this offense into battle this year. Andy Dalton set a school freshman record with 2,210 yards passing. However, his youth was evident in his TD/INT ratio, which was an even 1:1 (10 TDs and 10 INTs). The receiving corps lacks a go-to-guy downfield, but rather, has been successful with a number of outlets to turn to. Six players have recorded 20 catches or more for this team, led by Ervin Dickerson, who has hauled in 37 balls, for 457 yards and four TDs. Tailback Joseph Turner paced the team with 587 yards rushing (5.2 ypc) and six TDs. He is certainly peaking at the right time, as a great deal of his production came in the season-finale against San Diego State, where he torched the Aztecs for 226 yards and four TDs.
TCU has long relied on stifling defensive play and 2007 was no different. The Horned Frogs were once again one of the nation's top stop units, holding foes to a mere 19.2 ppg (17th nationally). Teams struggled to move the chains against TCU, which allowed just 109.4 ypg rushing and 210.6 passing. There are plenty of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for TCU. The play up front is highlighted by three-time All-MWC member Chase Ortiz. The 6-3, 255- pounder finished the regular season with 41 total tackles, while pacing the team with 15.5 TFLs and 8.0 sacks. Another three-time all-conference performer reigns in the middle in the form of standout LB Jason Phillips. The junior MLB led the team in tackles this year (77), with 9.0 TFLs, one sack and one INT. Strong safety Stephen Hodge (53 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 7.0 sacks) must be accounted for in passing situations, as does sophomore CB Rafael Priest (33 tackles, three INTs).
The Horned Frogs will do their best to shut down the Cougars in this one, but Houston just has too much firepower and will make enough plays to get the job done in this Lone Star State matchup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 27, TCU 17
Re: Texas Bowl
TEXAS BOWL (at Houston)
TCU (7-5, 5-6-1 ATS) vs. Houston (8-4, 4-7 ATS)
An instate battle is on tap when Texas Christian faces the Cougars, who get to ostensibly play a home game indoors at Reliant Stadium.
Texas Christian won its last two games (1-1 ATS) to gain bowl eligibility, including a 45-33 shootout victory over San Diego State as a 13-point road chalk in its season finale Nov. 24. The Horned Frogs trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, then put up 21 points in both the second and third quarters to take control. QB Andy Dalton (23 of 39, 298 yards, no TDS, no INTs) was solid, but RB Joseph Turner was the difference-maker with 33 carries for a whopping 226 yards (6.8 ypc) and four TDs. Dalton added nine carries for 60 yards and a TD.
Houston also won its last two to qualify for this contest. The Cougars failed to cover as a 12-point home favorite in a 35-28 win over Marshall, then blasted Division I-AA Texas Southern 59-6 in a non-lined home game to cap the season on Nov. 24. In the Marshall contest, QB Case Keenum went 24 of 32 for 298 yards and two TDs, with one INT, and he added 44 yards rushing and another score. RB Anthony Alridge had 25 carries for 103 yards and a TD.
These teams have met 25 times, with TCU winning the last seven in a row dating to 1993, going 6-1 ATS during this stretch. In the most recent meeting in 2004, TCU prevailed 34-27 as a 6½-point home favorite.
The Horned Frogs are making their ninth bowl trip in 10 years and their second in three years to this game. They are 3-3 under coach Gary Patterson in the postseason (3-2-1 ATS).
The Cougars, who haven’t won a bowl game since 1980, have a 7-9-1 mark in the postseason, including a 44-36 loss to South Carolina in last year’s Liberty Bowl as a five-point pup. They’ll play this game without head coach Art Briles, who left the school after the regular season to take the Baylor job. Defensive backs coach Chris Thurmond will be in charge for this contest, with new head coach Kevin Sumlin leaving his assistant job with Oklahoma after the bowl season.
TCU finished the season on a 3-1 ATS run and is on further positive ATS streaks of 11-4-1 against teams with a winning record, 12-5-1 following a SU win and 16-7 as a chalk. However, the Horned Frogs were 1-4-1 ATS on the highway this season, and they’re 5-16 ATS in their last 21 against Conference USA opponents.
Houston finished on a 6-1 tear, but went just 1-5 ATS in lined games during that stretch, including a blowout 56-7 loss at Tulsa in a pick ‘em game on Nov. 10 that decided the Conference USA West division title. The Cougars are 1-4 ATS following a SU win and 0-6 ATS as an underdog of 3½ to 10 points.
TCU averaged 26.6 points and 388.4 yards per outing this season (219.3 passing, 169.1 rushing). But defense is where the Horned Frogs really shine, as they ranked 17th nationally in both scoring defense (19.2 ppg allowed) and total defense (320 total ypg allowed).
Houston’s offense was much more explosive, putting up 36.3 points and 513.2 total yards per game, the latter figure ranking fourth-best in the country. The offense was balanced, too, averaging 273.2 passing ypg and 239.9 rushing ypg. On the defensive side, the Cougars surrendered 30 points and 365.7 yards per contest.
The Cougars stayed under the total in each of their final five lined games. The under is also 8-2 in TCU’s last 10 games as a favorite and 4-1-1 in the Horned Frogs’ last six bowl games.
ATS ADVANTAGE: TEXAS CHRISTIAN