2008 Texas Bowl Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 12/18/2008
Western Michigan (9-3) vs. Rice (9-3)
Conference matchup: MAC vs. C-USA
Date: Dec. 30, 8:00 p.m.
Location: Reliant Stadium, Houston
Spread: Rice -3; total 73
This is the third edition of the Texas Bowl, which replaced the Houston Bowl. You may remember the inaugural edition because of the outcry - upstart Rutgers made the game, and for a while it seemed that most Rutgers fans in New York and New Jersey would not be able to watch the game because it was on the NFL Network. Rutgers won that game, and TCU won last year.
Rice appeared in their first bowl game since 1961 in 2006, losing badly to Troy. This is just their ninth appearance overall. They are 4-4, though they sport a four-game losing streak dating back to 1953. Western Michigan is even less experienced. The International Bowl in 2006 was just their third bowl appearance. They are winless in their bowl history. Both teams have engineered impressive turnarounds this year - Western Michigan was a dismal 5-7 last season, and Rice was even worse at 3-9.
The line opened at the key number of three, and has given every indication of staying there. That's despite overwhelming support - more than 90 percent of all bets - for Rice. That could suggest either that there is smart money in play for Western Michigan, or that the books are content with the number. The total opened at 70 and has jumped as high as 73.5 in some places. The teams averaged a combined 71.4 points per game, and neither plays anything even remotely resembling defense, so the movement is no surprise.
Jarrett Dillard is a player
If you haven't see Rice WR Jarrett Dillard play yet then you'll want to watch this game, because you are going to see a lot of this senior on Sundays. Dillard became the first All-American from Rice since 1958, and it was about time. He owns the NCAA record for career TD receptions with 59, he surpassed 1,050 yards three times in his career, and he just dominates the field. His sophomore year was actually better than this season, so the All-American honor is really a career achievement award. Dillard will face the 97th-ranked pass defense in this game, so he should finish out his career in style.
Dillard isn't the only stud receiver in this game. Western Michigan senior Jamarko Simmons had 98 receptions for almost 1,200 yards this year. He's more of a possession receiver than a deep threat like Dillard, and he has caught the eye of NFL scouts. Everyone wants the next Wes Welker these days.
Well matched pivots
Senior Chase Clements of Rice has had an impressive season - 3,800 yards, completed two-thirds of his passes, 8.5 yards per attempt, 41 TDs against just seven interceptions, and 621 rushing yards for 11 scores. He would outclass a large majority of the quarterbacks in the country. Western Michigan's junior Tim Hiller can hold his own, though. Hiller also completed two-thirds of his passes, netting more than 3,500 yards. His 34 TDs weren't quite as good as Clements, but they were still more than solid. Where Rice gains an edge is that Hiller doesn't run - with 38 attempts for two yards he is clearly a graduate of the Dan Marino school of running the ball. Still, Hiller has put together a better junior year than Clements did last year, and the fireworks from both teams will limit the need for a running game, so neither team gets a clear edge under center. Hiller also has a much better running back behind him in Brandon West than Clements does in C.J. Ugokwe.
Location, location, location
If this game comes down to the 12th man then it is going to be a blowout. Rice is in Houston, so the players can sleep in their own beds, and fans can have dinner at home and still be there for kickoff. Western Michigan has to travel clear across the country, and there isn't much reason to believe that they will bring a large contingent of fans with them. This is by far the longest trip of the year for the Broncos, but they have put on a fair number of miles, and they have done okay on the road. They have had three long-ish non-conference trips - Idaho, Temple, and Nebraska. They were 2-1 in those games, though just 1-2 ATS. Overall, their road record was 3-2, and 2-4 ATS. Rice was 6-0 at home, and 5-1 ATS.
Trends of Note
Western Michigan is 4-0-1 ATS the last five times they have been an underdog of three or fewer points. They are just 2-5-1 ATS against teams with winning records.
Rice is 5-1 ATS in their last six as favorites, and 5-1 ATS in their last six overall. They are 4-1 ATS after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game.
The over is 9-1 in Western Michigan's last 10 as an underdog, and last 10 non conference games. Four of their last five games against a team with a winning record have gone over. Rice is 6-0 on the over the last six times they have been favored by three points or less. Rice has gone over in 42 of their last 51 games.