Many, many coaches over the course of the bowl season are going to tell teams that they aren't getting the respect they deserve. It's a classic motivational technique. The amazing thing is that, in a few cases, it is even true. Looking at the way the lines were set and how they have moved in bowl games has me thinking that these four teams aren't getting enough respect - and that they could provide some nice value as a result. Unless they pout about the lack of respect and use it as an excuse, of course:
Michigan State (+9.5) vs. Alabama: I get it that the Tide are favored here. They have a ridiculous amount of talent, they have been on this type of stage so often it seems that they live there, and Derrick Henry is a super freak at RB. If this team didn't have the brand it did and if it didn't play in the SEC, though, then they wouldn't be favored by nearly as much as they are. The Spartans beat Oregon and won at Michigan and Ohio State. The rest of their schedule isn't particularly strong, but then it's not like Alabama faced nearly as daunting a schedule as they have in recent years, either, because the SEC wasn't the mega-power it has been. The Spartans don't win pretty, but they find ways to get it done. They are also very good at drawing motivation from perceived disrespect - they beat Ohio State outright as 14.5-point underdogs.
Memphis Tigers (+2.5) vs. Auburn: In this battle of the Tigers, the wrong Tigers are favored. Simple as that. If Memphis played in a major conference, or if Auburn wasn't in the SEC, then there is no way that the line would be what it is. Memphis won three more games than the six that Auburn did. They beat Ole Miss, which means that they have just one fewer SEC win than Auburn does - in seven fewer tries. Quarterback Paxton Lynch will quite possibly be a first-round pick if he chooses to enter the NFL Draft early after this season. People will argue that Memphis will be hurt by the departure of head coach Justin Fuente to take over at Virginia Tech. While that could be a factor, there is a good staff in place for this game, and Auburn isn't untouched, either - for reasons totally beyond comprehension, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was given another chance to coach at South Carolina and won't be in this game. Auburn has been playing like a team that was ready for this season to be over a month ago. Memphis will be the hungrier Tigers, and they will make this one more than a little interesting.
Northwestern (+8) vs. Tennessee: I am a Big Ten fan, and I am fully aware that three of the four teams on my list here are Big Ten squads. I promise, though, that I was being objective, and it's just how things shape up. Northwestern is a team that is 10-2, losing only to Michigan and Iowa. No shame in either loss. On the other hand, they beat Stanford, and two games back they won handily at Wisconsin as 12-point underdogs. They are a solid team. Tennessee, meanwhile, lost to Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida and Arkansas - also known as the four best teams that they faced. Fans will point out that they have won five straight coming into this one. So has Northwestern, though, and Tennessee's biggest win over that stretch is Missouri, so they hardly proved anything. It's not like Northwestern is going to get out-coached with Pat Fitzgerald in charge, either. This just doesn't make sense.
Iowa (+6.5) vs. Stanford: Here's another Big Ten team for you. There is always danger in looking at common opponents, but in this case it's at least interesting. Both squads played the same Northwestern team that we just discussed, and Northwestern was at home both times. Stanford lost 16-6. Iowa crushed them 40-10. There's more to it than that, too. Iowa proved just last week what they are capable of, taking Michigan State to the very limit, impressing about as much as is possible in their loss in the Big Ten Championship. That was their first loss, while Stanford has two losses. Iowa has also shown that they can confound opponents defensively - they set the tone of games. I have no real problem with Stanford being favored, but to say that they should be favored by almost a touchdown on a neutral field just doesn't compute.
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