Texas A&M Aggies (6-6 SU, 3-9 ATS) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Saturday, December 31, 2011, Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas, TV: ESPN
by Badger, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: A&M -10/NW +10
Over/Under Total: 66.5
The Texas A&M Aggies are a team in transition in 2012, but first they will have to attend to some unfinished business in 2011 when they face the Northwestern Wildcats of the Big Ten Conference in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas on Saturday in Reliant Stadium in Houston.
There is so much off the field action going on in College Station these days that its hard to figure out which story line is most important.
After losing four of their last five games of the season the Aggies fired head coach Mike Sherman and hired the hot new coach on the block Kevin Sumlin from Houston. Sumlin wont coach the Aggies in the Texas Bowl, that job goes to defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter who is also on his way out the door since he was hired to be the new coach at Fresno State.
Plus, Texas A&M is poised to join the SEC Conference beginning with next season, adding more turmoil into the mix as the Aggies try to figure out how to compete in the nations top conference after never really competing for titles in their old conference, the Big 12.
Then, word came a few days before Christmas that senior offensive lineman Joseph Villavisencio died in a car crash in Texas. Even though Villavisencio was only a reserve player on the field, he was a popular member of the team and his death will serve as just another layer of distraction of what was already looking like a 7-layer salad of distraction in Aggie-land.
DeRuyter will try and get the Aggies to win their first bowl game since 2001 against a Northwestern Wildcats team that finished their season trending in the opposite direction, winning four of their last five to become bowl eligible.
Northwestern will also be looking to snap a long losing streak in bowl games, going 0-8 since winning the 1949 Rose Bowl including an 0-3 mark under current head coach Pat Fitzgerald with two of those three loses coming in overtime.
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The point spread for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas hasnt changed much since it opened weeks ago even though so much has changed in the A&M program, as oddsmakers originally installed the Aggies as 9.5-point favorites when it opened. Theres been enough action on the game to move the number up to Texas A&M minus 10-points, but its hung at the 10-point mark for several weeks leading up to kickoff.
The over/under total is a different story though, opening at 65 back in early December and moving up to 66, then 66.5 and up to its current number of 67 at a majority of the offshore sportsbooks on the Web.
Offensively the wild card in this game is the health of Aggies running back Cyrus Gray. Gray hurt his shoulder in the, 61-7, victory over Kansas back in November and didnt play in the finale against the rival Texas Longhorns and it crushed the Aggies offense in that game. With Gray out (1,045 yards, 15 TD) and fellow running back Christine Michael (899 yards, 8 TD) already out with a torn knee, the Aggies offense went nowhere and quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a bear of a time carrying the load by himself (20-of-49, 224 yard, 3 INT vs. Texas).
If Gray can play (listed as probable), the Aggies should have plenty of offense in order to keep a Northwestern defense that struggles against the run (allowed 185 ypg 89th) on their heels. If he cant go, or is limited, then the Wildcats pass defense (224 ypg 61st) is likely good enough to keep the Northwestern offense in the game until the final minutes.
The Wildcats surge at the end of the season can mostly be attributed to the play of senior quarterback Dan Persa, who missed the start of the season while still recovering from an Achilles heel injury that knocked him out of last years bowl game too.
Persa led the nation in completion percentage (74.2) while throwing for 2,163 yards and 17 touchdowns in just nine games. His numbers were also good enough to rank him in the top-10 in passer rating for the season (160.3), and NFL scouts will be all over the Texas Bowl in Reliant Stadium to watch Persa one more time before he graduates.
Persa has nice weapons at his disposal, with Jeremy Ebert (1,025 yards, 11 TD) and tight end Drake Dunsmore being his favorite targets. The Wildcats also have a wild card of their own in all-purpose back Kain Colter, who played QB while Persa was hurt (threw for nearly 700 yards and 5 TD) then stepped into a utility role as a running back (589 yards, 8 TD) and receiver (446 yards, 3 TD) once Persa was back in the fold.
But the Wildcats will have to attack a Texas A&M defense that stuffs the run with the best of them (allowed just 106 ypg 13th). With a secondary that gives up nearly 300 yards a game (281 ypg 113th), I expect Persas arm to be sore after about 50 throws if the Wildcats hope to stay in this game and match score for score.
With no recent playing history to get insight from in this game, the betting trends are few and far from ideal.
Texas A&M has struggled in the past out of the Big 12 (1-5 ATS in last six non-conference) as the favorite (2-8 ATS in L10), in bowl games (0-5 ATS in L5) and in neutral site games too (0-9 ATS in L9).
Meanwhile, everyone seems to discredit Northwestern in bowl games but all they do is cash tickets (4-1 ATS in L5 bowl games), especially against the Big 12 (4-0 ATS in L4 vs. Big 12).
The over also looks like a trend play in this game, since the over is 6-2 in the last eight games when Texas A&M is the favorite and 4-1 in Northwesterns last five neutral site games as an underdog (11-4 when just underdog).
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Texas A&M has more talent, but more turmoil as well. Theyve underachieved since October and I expect one more game in that role in 2011 until the new sheriff Sumlin comes in and cracks the whip. I like Northwestern to keep it close, like they always seem to do. Im taking Northwestern plus the points.
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