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Liberty Bowl Pick
The last time these two teams played against each other? Sept. 1, 2012, the first game of the season. You don't get this scenario often, but for this year's Liberty Bowl, that's what it will be. Iowa State covered the last game as two-point underdogs in a 38-23 home win while they come into this one as one-point favorites.
The Cyclones have had an up and down season, but most of that is because of their offense. They've gone back and forth through three QBs and that's not because of injuries. Freshman Sam Richardson is the latest target as he's started their last two games. Iowa State's strength is their defense which has held 11 of their 12 opponents under their regular season scoring average. While they do allow 23.3 points per game, they have not allowed more than 35 points all season. No one else in the Big 12 can say that. Their big wins include TCU, Baylor and an in-state road win at Iowa. The rest of their losses came as underdogs, so their six losses aren't a huge surprise.
While Tulsa has four more wins than Iowa State, it doesn't mean as much coming out of the C-USA, especially when two of their three losses were to out-of-conference opponents. They beat UCF twice by the smallest of margins, but also have close wins over Marshall and UAB, two schools that tend to get blown out by better teams. Their best non-conference win came against Fresno State, 27-26. While they don't have many great wins, they tend to keep the game close no matter who they play.
In their first matchup of the year, the Golden Hurricane jumped to a 16-7 lead in the first quarter, to only give up 17 straight points in the second quarter and never come back. Neither team had trouble rushing the ball (160 yards each), although Tulsa QB Cody Green was forced to attempt his second most passes all season because they were behind. As for ISU, Steele Jantz had one of his better passing games of the year, completing 71.1% of his passes for 281 yards. Even though these teams have solid defenses, neither could really stop the other in this game which is why the 38-23 final score hit the over by 10 points.
This time around, Cyclones fans will get to see what's in store for them for next season with Richardson under center. He's done well so far, keeping the ball safe with seven TDs and zero INTs, although he only completed 42% of his passes in his last game against West Virginia. Nevertheless, keeping the ball safe is something neither previous QB could do, throwing for 15 combined INTs in 10 games. Now we'll get to see if that was just because the defenses he faced weren't very good or because he is for real. Richardson is also solid on the ground which is another advantage he brings. In his two games, he rushed 29 times for 162 yards and a touchdown. Running backs Shontrelle Johnson (504 yards) and James White (469 yards) will get the rest of the load. Johnson had 120 rushing yards in their first meeting.
Tulsa hasn't had the same problems at quarterback, but that's mainly because they run the ball a ton. The 11th ranked rushing offense in the nation is led by three RBs. They all have at least 129 carries and 765 yards. That is quite the triplet. Alex Singleton is more of the bruiser at 260 pounds and leads the bunch in carries and touchdowns with 21. Cody Green has been solid when needed, but that hasn't been the case often this year. He still has 2,499 yards, 17 TD and 10 INTs on the season. In his last four games he has seven touchdowns, but an interception in each of those games. He threw two interceptions against ISU the first time around and turnovers never help, especially when you know this is going to be a close game.
Let's put their first meeting aside for a second. If we do that, and look at each teams body of work this season, we have to come to the conclusion that Iowa State is the better football team. They may not have as many wins, but they played a schedule that was probably two touchdowns more difficult than Tulsa's and yet still have better numbers. When we look at the yards per point numbers we see Iowa State with a 14.7 on offense and a 19 on defense for a +4.3 differential. Tulsa is 13.1 and 14.6 for a +1.5 differential. Again, adjust those numbers for schedule strength by about 14 points. Heck, even without adjusting for schedule strength, that shows Iowa State as being the better team. Also note that our model likes Iowa State by anywhere from 5 to 12 points depending on the time frame for the data used.
Iowa State has played some of the most potent offenses in all of college football this year. Holding a team like West Virginia to 31 points in a losing effort may not seem like an accomplishment, until you look at the number of points WVA put up on some very good teams this year. They also went toe to toe with a Kansas State team that was lighting up the scoreboards this year, losing by six, 27-21. Iowa State is a decent football team, they just happen to be in a conference with several very good teams.
Ah, but there's always a catch. The catch in this one is that these two played already this year. No surprise, Iowa State, the team we feel is better, won that game 38-23. But revenge is one of the most powerful motivators in college football. Same season revenge is extremely rare. To get a crack at the exact same team that handed you one of your 3 losses this season is huge and that's the opportunity Tulsa has here.
We're going to back who we feel is the better team here but we are a tad worried about the revenge angle. Iowa State pk over Tulsa