2017 Taxslayer Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions: Louisville vs. Mississippi State
Louisville Cardinals vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs, Saturday Dec. 30, 12 p.m. ET
This game could have been so much more than it is, but changes have robbed it of drama. Last year's Heisman winner, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, is here, and there was the chance for a great showdown with fellow outstanding and entertaining QB Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's season ended with an injury in the Egg Bowl, though. And then there was the chance for a really interesting defensive coordinator showdown. Todd Grantham left Louisville at the end of last season to take the same job at Mississippi State. Bizarrely, he replaced Peter Sirmon, who went and took over at Louisville. Seeing two guys who knew the opposing offenses intimately would have been very interesting. But Grantham is going to Florida with Dan Mullen, and he won't be coaching this game. So, this is a decent game that could have been so much more.
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Taxslayer Bowl Betting Storylines
We obviously have to discuss the coaching change at Mississippi State. Dan Mullen took the Florida job - predictably two days after he said he absolutely wasn't leaving Mississippi State. It's a good move for him, and the Bulldogs made a home run hire in Joe Moorhead from Penn State as his replacement. And Mullen has taken not only Grantham but both offensive coordinators with him. Taking over as interim coach for this game is running backs coach Greg Knox, who has a long history at Mississippi State. Any time we are dealing with an interim coach - especially when coordinators have left as well - we have to be concerned about how focused the team will be. In this case, though, it seems reasonable to be more optimistic than in some cases. The transition was relatively smooth - Mullen didn't leave too many hard feelings when he left, and the team moved quickly to hire a strong coach who is assembling a good staff. And the interim coach is respected, took over quickly, and hasn't been involved in any drama along the way. The Bulldogs will obviously suffer to some extent compared to what they would be like with a full staff, but the change isn't an eliminating factor from a betting perspective for the Bulldogs like it is for other programs this year - like Arizona State.
The Cardinals have been perfectly ordinary this year - though they closed strong, winning their last three and covering each as double-digit favorites. Because they have been much further from the radar than they were last year it has been easy to forget about Lamar Jackson. He was a Heisman finalist again, though, and was very deserving. In fact, in many ways this season was more impressive than last. He was more efficient and made fewer mistakes, and he did it with less help around him than he had last year. There is nothing I want more than to watch Jackson have one last great day before he heads off for the next challenge. Mississippi State's defense is their strength and would certainly be able to frustrate this Louisville offense if at full strength. Frankly, I hope that the coaching change is too much to overcome and the defense falters enough to let Jackson have a big day.
Taxslayer Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The line has been on a bit of a wild ride so far. It opened with Louisville favored by six points. It climbed up to the key number of seven - which is a significant move. It fell back to 6.5, climbed back to seven again, and has now settled back at 6.5 . Nearly four in five bets have been on the Cardinals, so it's no surprise that the line has been on the move, and it's quite possible we'll see seven again. The total opened at 61.5 and has eased up to 63.5 in early action.
Louisville is just 2-7 ATS in their last nine against teams with winning records and 1-6-1 ATS in their last eight nonconference games. They are, however, 4-1 ATS in their last five games overall. They have gone "under" the total in their last four bowl games and four of their last five nonconference games. The Bulldogs are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games against teams with winning records, but just 1-4 ATS in their last five against the ACC. They have gone under the total in five of their last seven games.
Louisville vs. Mississippi State Taxslayer Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I don't trust this Louisville team much in general, but they played well down the stretch, and I have to believe that they have one more big game in them for their Heisman winner. The Bulldogs might not be fully focused for this one, and the preparation won't have been ideal. I wouldn't be nearly as interested in this game at a touchdown or more, but at 6.5 Louisville is the unavoidable play.
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