Free Pick: Cotton Bowl

The high-scoring Texas Tech Red Raiders are set to do battle with the Ole' Miss Rebels in the 2009 Cotton Bowl.

At Rock Box Sports we pride ourselves on looking beneath the surface for those nuggets of truth that can make the difference between winning and losing. This year’s Cotton Bowl matchup between Texas Tech and Mississippi offers a prime example of how the process works. On the surface, Tech looks like a great bet laying 4.5 to the upstart Rebels. All season long (with the lone exception of the Oklahoma game) we’ve seen Graham Harrell and company tear through Big 12 defenses to the tune of 45 points and 536 yards per game. They run the ball, they throw the ball, the offensive line is massive, Crabtree is unstoppable, Leach is a genius – yadda yadda yadda.

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Let the masses chew on all that while the rest of us take a look beyond the hype. Mississippi is a very good football team, quite possibly the most underrated in the nation. This is no bunch of scrappy overachievers but, rather, a balanced, well-coached team with first-rate talent. Though their record stands at 8-4, they could very easily be 11-1, having lost several tight games early in the season. It was during this time that the young Rebels were learning how to win. Now they come in with the momentum of a five-game winning streak, including wins over Florida and LSU on the road. Lesson learned.

The big difference for Mississippi has been the arrival of new coach Houston Nutt. Nutt developed a well-deserved reputation as a giant killer at Arkansas. He now holds a 15-8 record ATS against top ten teams, including six outright wins. Nutt’s team thrived as underdogs this season, going 4-0 ATS in that role. You think Texas Tech scares them? This is a team that won in The Swamp. They’re not afraid to go up against Tech and neither should you be when it comes time to lay the money.

On offense, the Rebels feature a balanced attack, led by QB Jevan Snead, a Texas transfer and big-time recruit. In his first year as a starter he has blossomed in the second half of the season, compiling a 13-2 TD-INT ratio during the current five game streak. Snead has a reliable stable of receivers and running backs. The team has established an excellent balance of run and pass behind an offensive line led by Outland Trophy finalist and surefire top ten NFL pick Michael Oher.

But will the Rebel “D” be able to contend with the vaunted Red Raider attack? The key will likely be whether the defensive line can mount pressure on Harrell. While the Mississippi secondary is not as weak as some have claimed, it is certainly true that the strength of the Rebel “D” lies in the defensive line. Given the time, Harrell might well pick Ole Miss apart. Much has been made of the Texas Tech offensive line’s ability to protect the QB. Indeed, considering the frequency with which Harrell drops back to pass, the total of eleven sacks allowed on the season seems daunting. A closer look, however, offers some hope for the Rebels. Of the eleven sacks allowed, ten came in the final five games when the competition got tougher. Against the only two frontline defenses they faced, Tech allowed three sacks versus Oklahoma and two versus Texas. Another three were served up in the season finale against Baylor.

In short: don’t believe they hype. Tech feasted on mediocre opposition for much of the season. They played a grand total of one good team on the road, and we all saw what happened there in Norman. Even at home, they beat Texas by six, Nebraska by six, Baylor by seven. There is no reason whatsoever to think that a sound and balanced football team like Houston Nutt’s crew cannot hang with them every step of the way on a neutral field. The Cotton Bowl’s grass surface might even give Ole Miss a bit of an edge. While both Mississippi and Tech play their home games on turf, Mississippi’s game translates much better to grass. Research shows that the Rebs are 3-1 ATS on grass while the speed and timing-oriented Raiders are 0-4.

We’d love to think that the Rebels might have a motivation edge as well. Considering that just a few weeks ago the Raiders were thinking national title, that could be the case. Then again, Harrell’s snub by the Heisman committee, and the fact that many Techsters hail from the Dallas area (including Harrell and Crabtree), should give the team a reason to show up.

In order to win this one, then, the Rebels just might have to be the better team. And, you know what, it’s distinctly possible that they are. Look for Ole Miss to control the ball on offense, running behind Oher and spreading the ball around to a diverse set of weapons. On defense, the Rebs can’t hope to stop Tech, but they can slow them down. It says here that the d-line will get enough pressure on Harrell to disrupt his rhythm and make a couple key stops when needed. If it comes down to a field goal, Miss will have the edge with All-SEC kicker Joshua Shene.

We’ll say 34-31 Mississippi and make it a THREE STAR “Trap Game of the Bowl Season” special at Rock Box Sports.

By Chris Rocco

Rockboxsports.com 

Check out the 2008 Cotton Bowl Preview

Our Free College Football Bowl Pick for the Cotton Bowl matchup between the Mississippi Rebels and Texas Tech Red Raiders game is

OREGON STATE BEAVERS -3

TheSpread.com Projected Final Score

Mississippi Rebels 34

Texas Tech Red Raiders 31

We also predict that this game will GO UNDER THE TOTAL (69.5 Sports Interaction.com) SET BY ODDSMAKERS

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Posted: 1/2/09 9:00AM ET

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