BBVA Compass Bowl preview
BBVA Compass Bowl preview
2014-01-04 00:00:00

Houston closes out football season in Texas against Vanderbilt.

 By Jake Shaw

Vanderbilt (8-4/4-4 SEC) vs. Houston (8-4/5-3)
Noon Saturday, ESPN
Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama

By about the midseason, it's far easier to get a grasp on teams because so many results are in the books. The same might be said for bowl season. Since this game between UH and Vanderbilt is the third-to-last bowl game, enough results have come in to get a better feel for this matchup.

On one side, the top of the American Athletic Conference has proved -- at least as much as possible in games after weeks of a layoff -- that it can compete with, and beat, some elite teams. See Louisville's destruction of Miami and UCF's statement over Baylor for evidence. On the other, the SEC hasn't been off, but it has looked vulnerable. Only two SEC bowl teams have lost, but the supposed best conference in America hasn't looked nearly as dominant as past seasons.

Both bode well for Houston, making its return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

Another X-factor working in Houston's favor: The constant rumors surrounding Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, a hot coaching commodity right now. His name has been attached to the Texas opening as well as multiple NFL jobs. With long layoffs between games, it's these kind of off-field distractions that can affect a team's preparation (ask Baylor).

As for an on-field edge, Vanderbilt won't have starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels today, who attempted the vast majority of passes this year for Vanderbilt but will be sidelined with a knee injury. Like Houston, Vanderbilt will turn to a freshman, Patton Robinette (40-69, 488 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs), who hasn't played significant time since the 56-24 loss at Texas A&M in late October.

Vanderbilt would love to get a big game from its ground attack -- a trio of RBs that rushed for nearly all of the team's 1,596 yards this season -- but that plays right into Houston's game plan. UH has had trouble against some good passing teams, but the Coogs have been solid against the run.

With all this information, I've done a 180 on this game, moving from picking Vanderbilt to going with Houston. This bowl season has been truly unpredictable, with many an underdog scoring the win. I think Houston can be the latest.

Spotlight matchup: Houston QB John O'Korn vs. Vanderbilt secondary. The Commodores have given up the 14th fewest yards through the air this season. Along the way, Vandy has intercepted 16 passes, including five by senior safety Kenny Ladler. An efficient game from O'Korn, making his final start in his true freshman season, could offset this apparent Vanderbilt advantage.

Key Stat: 11, the percent of drives by the Houston offense that had 10 or more plays, ranking UH 101st in the country. On the flip side, 20 percent of the drives by opposing offenses against the Vanderbilt defense covered at least 10 plays, ranking Vanderbilt 119th nationally.

Noteworthy statistical difference: Vanderbilt ranked near the bottom nationally in sacks allowed; the 32 it gave up rank it 96th nationally. On the flip side is Houston, which ranked in the top 40 nationally with 30 sacks. The Coogs would help themselves by keeping up their 2.5 sacks per game average.

The mob says: Vanderbilt by 2.5
So says I: Houston 27, Vanderbilt 25

Charting My Predictions:
Bowl picks straight up: 3-3
Bowl picks against the spread: 2-4
Season straight up: 88-34
Season against the spread: 57-63-2

All times CST; all rankings from the Current BCS Top 25; odds courtesy of these guys.

Jake Shaw is a special contributor to Contact him by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.

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