Florida State Seminoles vs. Houston Cougars, Thursday Dec. 31, Noon ET
The first of the major bowl games to be played on New Year's Day is a true David and Goliath tale. In one corner you have a truly elite team just a year removed from a national title. In the other corner you have a school most known lately for producing coaches who shine elsewhere - both Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin coached Houston. It's not the first time by any means that an upstart has taken on a super power in a big bowl game. It has turned out well - Utah and Boise State both excelled when given the chance - and it has gone poorly - Northern Illinois and Hawaii both embarrassed themselves. Which group will Houston join after this contest?
Peach Bowl Betting Storylines
The job that Tom Herman has done at Houston can't be praised enough. After a very successful run as offensive coordinator at Ohio State, he took over a team that had limped to consecutive 8-5 seasons and wasn't as good as the records suggested. It seemed to be a team going nowhere. Herman made an immediate impact, winning the conference in his first season and coming within a three-point loss at UConn, with his backup QB playing, of a perfect season. They are strong offensively, very good defensively against the run, and very opportunistic - they have a +17 turnover margin. This success means, of course, that Herman has been rumored for pretty much every open job at a bigger school and will likely continue to be until he actually takes one. He avoided the attention this year and got a new contract out of it. It remains to be seen what the future holds, but for now what's important is that Houston is exceptionally well-coached.
Houston can run the ball. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was the leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns, and Kenneth Farrow added 949 yards and 12 scores. Six other guys gained at least 92 yards. It all added up to an offense that was 13th in the country in rushing yards and 11th in points scored. That running success could provide an opportunity for the Cougars here. Florida State is just mediocre against the run - 35th in the country in yards allowed.
For Florida State, the story on offense will likely be what it has been all year - Dalvin Cook. The all-World superfreak ran for 1,658 yards and 19 scores, and made his impact felt in so many other parts of the game as well. He sets up an interesting showdown. Houston has a Top-10 defense against the run, but they also haven't faced a back nearly of this caliber. They are unlikely to be able to stop him completely, but if they can slow him down then they will have a good chance. The Seminoles will be looking to use the dangerous Cook as much as they can, but they will also likely look to pass aggressively. The pass game under Everett Golson has not been dominating by any means, but Houston has a lousy secondary that can be exploited - and has been repeatedly.
Peach Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Florida State favored by 6.5. That quickly shifted to the key number of seven and has been stable at that level since. The betting action has been almost perfectly split between the teams - at least by number of bets - so any shift going forward would be a sign of heavy action on one side or a significant development affecting the game. The total sits at 55.5 and is showing slow upward momentum.
The Seminoles are 4-0 ATS in their last four against teams with winning records. They have gone "under" the total in their last five bowl games. The Cougars are 5-0 ATS in their last five against the ACC and 6-1 ATS in their last seven nonconference games. They are 6-2 ATS in their last eight neutral-site games.
Florida State vs. Houston Peach Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I've struggled with this one. I have not been that impressed by Florida State this year, and I am a bit concerned about their hunger - especially as reports emerge that Jimbo Fisher negotiated with LSU about taking over there at the end of the regular season. Houston is going to be hungry, and they have absolutely nothing to lose. They have a talent deficit, and they haven't seen a team like this one, but they want it more, and I am going to bank on that being enough - like it was for those stud BCS Busters in the past. When the game opened at 6.5 I wasn't sure, but at seven it seems like Houston is the choice. It's a gamble, but it's one that will be fun to sweat out.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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