2008 Alamo Bowl Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 12/17/2008
Northwestern (9-3) vs. Missouri (9-4)
Conference matchup: Big Ten vs. Big 12
Date: Monday, Dec. 29, 8:00 p.m. EST
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio
Spread: Missouri -12.5; total 66
No this is not a misprint - Northwestern is actually bowl eligible. The last two seasons they have not only missed a bowl, but they haven't even come close to being a good team. Not only are they in, but they are even the higher ranked team here. The game features two teams on opposite arcs - Northwestern is far better than they were expected to be, while Missouri has been a significant disappointment in the second half.
The Alamo Bowl has been going strong since 1993. Northwestern has one previous appearance, losing badly to Nebraska in 2000. Missouri is making their first appearance. Overall, the Big Ten is 8-6 in the bowl, while Big 12 teams are a dismal 6-10. This is the first time since Northwestern's 2000 appearance that two ranked teams have met in San Antonio.
The game opened with Missouri favored by as much as 14.5, but has since dropped as low as 12. The line is somewhat surprising, since the action is tilted towards Missouri, with more than 70 percent of bets on the Tigers. That suggests that smart money could be in play on Northwestern. The total opened at 64 and has climbed to 66.
Missouri blew out Northwestern the last time the two teams played. That was revenge, because in the game before Northwestern won as 26-point underdogs. The games were played in 1987 and 1985, though, so you probably shouldn't worry about them too much.
Is Bacher Back?
Last year, Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher was second in the Big Ten with more than 3,600 passing yards. Another step forward was obviously the plan for this year, but things didn't quite work out that way. Bacher lost two games to injury, and even when he was playing his numbers were down - his completion percentage and yards per attempt were lower, he threw for 1,500 fewer yards, and he couldn't improve on his 1-1 TD to interception ratio. His last game, against Illinois, was perhaps his most complete of the season, though. The break before the bowl will give him a chance to get healthy and well prepared. He'll need to be at his very best to give his team a chance, especially considering the QB on the other sidelines.
The Mighty Have Fallen
If the Missouri Tigers were a racehorse they certainly would not be a closer. After a 5-0 start that had the team soaring in the polls and Chase Daniel at the head of the Heisman race, the wheels fell off. They were just 4-4 down the stretch, and they lost in every possible way - tough and hard-fought against Oklahoma State, incomprehensibly against Kansas, and in pathetic blowouts against Texas and Oklahoma. The wins over that stretch weren't particularly impressive, either - none of the opponents are bowl eligible. Missouri still managed to win their pathetic division, but they have been as badly exposed as any supposedly elite team this year outside of Clemson or LSU.
Both teams played Illinois this year, but that doesn't tell us much - they both won and covered, and the games were almost three months apart. There was very little contact between the two conferences, either. The only other Big 12 team to play a Big Ten foe was Iowa State, and they hardly count as a team this year. They lost by 12 at Iowa, narrowly covering the 13-point spread.
To sum up the teams, Missouri has an outstanding pass defense with an average running game, and their defense gives up a pile of yards, especially against the pass, while not giving up a lot of points in Big 12 terms. Northwestern has a perfectly average offense, and a defense that isn't much better, though it allows a touchdown less per game than Missouri, and is solid against the run. Missouri is the only team with a defined strength, and Northwestern doesn't measure up well against it. In other words, the spread isn't the slap in the face for the Big Ten that it might initially seem. To put it succinctly, Northwestern never faced an opponent that scored more than 45 points. Missouri exceeded that total six times.
Trends of Note
Northwestern is 3-9 ATS in their last 12 non-conference games, and 1-7 ATS following an ATS win.
Missouri is 4-0 ATS in their last four against the Big Ten, 13-3 ATS in their last 16 non-conference games, and 4-1 ATS as a neutral site favorite. They are just 1-4 ATS against teams with a winning record this year, though, and 1-4 ATS in their last five.
The under is 4-1 both in Northwestern's last five, and in their last five non-conference games.