First Responder Bowl odds, pick, best bet

The 7-5 Texas State Bobcats battle the 6-6 Rice Owls in the First Responder Bowl on the day after Christmas, and it’s among the easiest bowl games to handicap this Holiday season. 

Two combined players for these squads entered the transfer portal – both for Texas State – and both coaching units remain intact. 

These are two fully-formed squads, save for one major exception. 

Rice starting quarterback JT Daniels “medically” retired from college football after Week 11, thrusting backup quarterback AJ Padgett into action. 

I think the quarterback matchup will be the difference-maker in this bowl game. 

Texas State vs. Rice odds

Team Spread Moneyline Total
Texas State -3.5 (-110) -180 o60 (-110)
Rice +3.5 (-110) +152 u60 (-110)
(Via Caesars)

Teas State vs. Rice prediction

(5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Daniels had a pretty good year. He threw for 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns while leading an Owls unit that finished top 20 nationally in EPA per Pass. 

He completed deep balls, making the Owls’ aerial attack explosive. Top wideout Luke McCaffery – Christian McCaffery’s younger brother – almost touched 1,000 yards on over 14 yards per reception with 12 scores. 

But that same explosive passing offense hasn’t been there with Padgett.

The second-year signal-caller has a career Pro Football Focus passing grade under 53. He’s managed five big-time throws to nine turnover-worthy plays. He’s averaging a meager 6.5 yards per attempt. 

Behind Padgett, the Owls threw for a combined 384 yards over their final three contests. 

The dropoff from Daniels to Padgett is exacerbated in this matchup because the Bobcats’ secondary is their weakest unit. 

The Bobcats couldn’t stop the aerial attack this year, ranking 96th nationally in Pass Success Rate allowed, 111th in Pass Explosiveness allowed and 123rd in EPA per Pass allowed. 

Rice Owls head coach Mike Bloomgren. Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

But I don’t think Padgett can exploit the one monstrous glaring weakness. 

I don’t trust Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren to out-coach Texas State head coach GJ Kinne. Kinne transformed the Bobs in his inaugural season, while Bloomgren’s Owls failed to beat a single Bowl team this year. 

Conversely, I think Texas State’s starting quarterback, TJ Finley, can make plays against Rice. 

Rice’s pass defense is passable but not elite, as the Owls finished the regular season around 50th nationally in EPA per Pass allowed. Their pass rush isn’t great, as they finished 101st in total pressures created – that’s unfortunate when playing against Finley, who struggles mightily under pressure. 

Finely averaged 8.5 yards per attempt with 24 touchdowns on 17 big-time throws this year. The Bobcats ranked top 30 nationally in Pass Success Rate and EPA per Pass. Finley was especially good in Passing Downs, ranking 10th among qualified quarterbacks in Passing Downs Success Rate and Catchable Throw Rate. 

If Finley produces against Rice’s pass defense, it’s curtains for the Owls because their rush defense is relatively weaker, ranking 66th nationally in Rush Success Rate allowed and 89th in Rush PPA per Play allowed. 

Meanwhile, Texas State lead running back Ismail Mahdi created 38 double-digit-yard rushes this year on 47 missed tackles. 

Even better, he’s a threat in the return game: 

Betting on College Football?

Mahdi’s pure explosiveness can exploit a mediocre front seven. 

Overall, I’ll happily lay the points with Kinne, Finley and Madhi against Bloomgren and Padgett, mainly because Rice won’t exploit the Bobcats’ one significant weakness.

Texas State vs. Rice Pick

Texas State -3.5 (Caesars) | Play to -5

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