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2009 BIG 12 Football Championship Game
Nebraska vs Texas
We'll admit to having a weakness for big dogs in huge games. But we won't play a game based solely on that. The game has to qualify using all of the same methods we use to handicap any other game. In this instance, Nebraska qualifies as we will detail below. Currently Sportsbook.com has Texas -14 with a total of 43.5.
One often overlooked aspect of handicapping a game like this, is determining whether one "program" can compete with another. Not just whether this years edition of a given team can compete, but can the program in general, compete. In other words, is one school, in this case, Nebraska, capable of recruiting the talent to compete on the same level as the talent Texas is able to recruit? You'll find plenty of matchups in college football where one program simply dominates another. Perhaps once every decade, the lesser program will pull an upset, but by and large, there is a talent gap that will rarely close.
Nebraska passes the talent test. We aren't referring to great Nebraska teams of 20 years ago either. We're referring to recent history. One need only look at the last few games between these programs to determine whether the talent is there to compete. These two last played in 2007 and 2006. In 2007 it was a Texas team that went 10-3 and a Nebraska team that went 5-7. Final score was 28-25 Texas. In 2006 it was a 22-20 final in favor of Texas in a year that saw Nebraska go on to lose 21-7 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Title game. It was Texas 31-7 in 2003 and then another 3 point win for Texas in 2002, 27-24, to round out this decade.
In fact these two teams have played 8 times since 1996. If you had given Nebraska 14 points in each of those games, their record against the spread would have been 7-1. Now, some may say, what a team did in 1998 has very little to do with what a team does in 2009. But that's not entirely true. Again, what we're trying to determine, is whether Nebraska is capable if recruiting the talent to compete with Texas. Had Texas blown out Nebraska the last 5 times they played, we'd say that perhaps Nebraska can no longer compete. But as you can see from the examples above, that is not the case. 3 of the last 4 games were decided by a field goal or less.
Now on to this game. Again, we refer to talent levels, heck, this the Big 12 Title game. Texas is a great team and at 12-0 is playing for more than the Big 12 Title. The National Title is obviously on the line here. Nebraska has earned the right to play in this game. At 9-3, this is a fine team. Sure, no National Title for the Cornhuskers. Just a nice Bowl game. But wouldn't the Big 12 Title be sweet while at the same time putting a kink in the Longhorns plans.
Regular readers of our stuff know where we are going next. Common opponents. For these two teams, there were 6. Texas was 6-0 against those teams averaging 38 points per game while giving up 15. Nebraska was 5-1, averaging 21 points per game and, like Texas, giving up 15 on average. The total yards tells the same story. Texas has an easier time moving the ball and also held opponents to fewer total yards. Simple numbers can tell us simple things. The conclusion, Texas is a better football team. But are they 14 points better?
The yards per point numbers against these common opponents suggest the margin is closer than 14. Texas has an offensive number of 9.9. Fantastic. Means they had no problem moving the ball AND putting it in the end zone. Nebraska has a ypp offensive number of 12.9. Not as good as Texas, but 12.9 is a good number. Defensively, Texas has a 17.1 while Nebraska has a very nice 19.6. Since Texas held opponents to fewer total yards on average, those numbers suggest Nebraska did a good job in the red zone. They gave up a few more yards but managed to keep teams out of the end zone.
Subtracting the defensive numbers from the offensive numbers, Texas is a +7.2 while Nebraska is a +6.7. Fairly even, with Texas having the offensive edge and Nebraska having the defensive edge.
Bottom line here is that Texas is the better team, but perhaps not 14 points better. The numbers suggest the gap is closer than that. Past history, and the talent level of these teams over the years also suggests the gap is closer than 14 points. Lastly, when you factor in the motivation of playing live on National Television, in prime time before every football fan in the nation, with the Big 12 Title on the line and the chance to play spoiler, Nebraska becomes an attractive side.
No question Nebraska needs to keep it close all the way through if they want a chance to win it in the end. If they fall behind early they will be in trouble, as they aren't built to come from behind against an offensive power house like Texas. This needs to be similar to the Texas Oklahoma game for Nebraska to have a chance. In that game, Oklahoma held Texas to 16 points in a 16-13 loss.
We're looking for both defenses to come up big on Saturday Night as they have all year long. We can't pass up the points here. As of this writing there are some 14.5's on the board. That hook may come in handy.............3* Nebraska +14.5 over Texas.
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