The dispositive issue in this game is whether Houston will be motivated to play in the Las Vegas Bowl after having much greater aspirations earlier in the season. Keep reading to find out Oskeim Sports’ free sports pick in this bowl game.
The Cougars started the season with an upset over No. 3 Oklahoma and found themselves ranked No. 6 in the nation at 5-0 before losing two of their next three games.
All three of Houston’s losses in 2016 were upsets (lost to Navy as 16-point favorites, lost to SMU as 23-point favorites & lost to Memphis as 4-point favorites in the season-finale), and the Cougars also lost their head coach to Texas.
San Diego State possesses a solid attack that is 0.3 yards per play better than average (6.5 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 6.2 yards per play).
The Aztecs keep the ball on the ground with running back Donnell Pumphrey, who garnered 2018 yards at 6.1 yards per rush attempt this season and Rashaad Penny, who rushed for 995 yards at 7.9 yards per carry.
Despite being 0.8 yards per rush play better than average, the Aztecs are facing a stout Houston front seven that is 1.4 yards per rush attempt better than average against the run.
However, I expect San Diego State to be motivated for Pumphrey, who needs 108 yards to break Ron Daynes’ (Wisconsin) collegiate career rushing record.
Meanwhile, Houston remains an overrated team with an offense that is 0.1 yards per play worse than average (5.5 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 5.6 yards per play).
The Aztecs’ stop unit is 0.7 yards per play better than average, and their secondary has 22 interceptions in thirteen games this season. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is a mediocre passer (6.8 yards per pass attempt against teams that would combine to allow 6.7 yards per pass play), which isn’t good enough to have success against San Diego State’s ball-hawking secondary.
From a technical standpoint, Houston is 1-4 ATS in its last five games versus .501 or greater opposition, 1-6 ATS in its last seven games overall and 0-6 ATS in its last six affairs against unranked teams.
Let’s also note that pre-New Year’s Day Bowl underdogs of three or more points with a higher win percentage are 30-9-2 ATS off a win by ten or less points.
Also, postseason teams who won as an underdog of six or more points in the prior year’s bowl game are a money-burning 4-15 ATS off a SU and ATS loss, including 0-10 ATS as a favorite.
It all comes back to motivation as Houston had legitimate College Playoff hopes before suffering three losses. The Cougars upset Florida State 38-24 in the Orange Bowl last year so it’s hard to imagine a scenario under which Houston comes out fired up about playing in the Las Vegas Bowl on the opening day of the postseason schedule.
I like San Diego State plus the points as my math model actually favors the Aztecs by one point so the Aztecs are a solid sports pick.
Take San Diego State plus the points as Oskeim Sports’ free sports pick in the Las Vegas Bowl!
Oskeim Sports’ Free Sports Pick: San Diego State (+5.5)