The Texas Bowl Missouri Tigers (8-4, 5-7 ATS) vs. Navy Midshipmen (9-4, 6-7 ATS), Reliant Stadium, Houston, Thursday, Dec. 31, 3:30 pm Eastern, ESPN
By Z-Man of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Tigers -6/Midshipmen +6
Over/under: 52 1/2
The Missouri Tigers, who rebounded from a tough stretch in the middle of this season to finish with a flourish, stay in Big 12 country for the Texas Bowl vs. the nine-win Navy Midshipmen New Year’s Eve day in Houston.
Most online sportsbooks opened this game with Missouri favored by six or 6 points, with a total of right around 52 , and those numbers have held steady in early betting action.
Mizzou is also being offered at right around -260 on most college football betting moneylines, with Navy getting about +220 as the underdog.
Navy returned 11 starters this season from a team that won eight games last year, and was expected to parlay its potent running game and a decent defense into another bowl bid. And that’s just what they did. The Midshipmen opened the season with a tough 31-27 loss at Ohio State, a game they could have tied with a two-point conversion in the final two minutes. Two weeks later Navy lost at Pittsburgh to drop to 1-2, but the Mids then reeled off five wins in a row, before losing to Temple by a field goal. Navy then won at Notre Dame, beat Delaware but got upset out in Hawaii. The Mids then ended their regular season with a 17-3 win over Army Dec. 12 in Philadelphia.
So Navy is playing in a bowl game for the seventh straight season.
The Tigers returned only nine starters this year from a team that went 10-4 and won a bowl last season. They lost their starting quarterback, their top three receivers and their entire starting defensive line. So this season was expected to be a rebuilding year. Mizzou started 4-0 but then lost three straight against three bowl-bound Big 12 teams. The Tigers picked themselves up, though, and won four of their last five, averaging 36 PPG in the process. They ended their regular season Nov. 28 with a 41-39 win in the border battle game vs. Kansas.
So at 4-4 in conference play, the Tigers tied for second in the Big 12 North, and will play in a bowl game for the fifth straight year.
The Tigers move the ball mainly through the air. In his first season as the starter, Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert has completed 60% of his passes for over 3,300 yards, with 23 TDs and seven interceptions. And senior WR Danario Alexander caught 107 balls for an FBS-leading 1,644 yards and 13 touchdowns.
On defense, Mizzou gave up an average of 358 YPG, and held opponents to 96 YPG on the ground, 12th-best in FBS.
Navy, on the other hand, moves the ball on the ground. The Midshipmen ranked fourth in FBS this season in rushing at 273 YPG. Junior QB Ricky Dobbs only threw the ball 91 times this season, but set a new FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a QB with 24.
Defensively, the Mids ranked 36th overall, allowing 336 YPG, and 37th vs. the run at 127 YPG.
Sagarin at USAToday.com ranked Missouri’s schedule this season as 56th-toughest, Navy’s as 83rd.
On the injury front Missouri WR Jared Perry, the team’s second-leading receiver, fractured his tibia in the regular-season finale vs. Kansas, and is listed as questionable for the bowl game.
These two teams haven’t met since the 1961 Orange Bowl, when Coach Devine’s Missouri squad beat Navy 21-14.
Navy games averaged 47 points this season, and they went 5-8 on the totals. Meanwhile, Missouri games averaged 55 points, but they only went 5-7 on the totals.
The Sagarin PURE POINTS ratings at USAToday.com rate the Tigers at 76.7, the Midshipmen at 73.7. So on the Sagarin line Mizzou is only favored by three points over Navy.
Sagarin also ranks Big 12 as the fifth-best conference in FBS, with an average team rating of 75.1.
Zman’s Pick: This is one of my stronger games of the college football bowl season. I REALLY like Navy to cover the spread and to win this game straight up as well. Good luck!