BYU vs. TCU: Preview and Betting Predictions

Doc Moseman@DocsSportsCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2011

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Wide receiver Bart Johnson #6 of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers 21-19 in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

This is technically a neutral site game, but since TCU could almost walk from their campus to Cowboys Stadium, they should have the clear crowd edge.

BYU will be happy to return to the building, though. In the first college game ever played in the building in 2009, the Cougars shocked No. 3 Oklahoma, 14-13,

The crowd that gathers in that modern miracle of a building this week should see a pretty good game. If these teams had met their potential this year, then it could have been a great game. Both teams have been disappointing, though.

BYU lost consecutive games to Texas and Utah early in the season to derail their first year of independence before they had even built any momentum. TCU lost their opener to Baylor in one of the best games of the year played by any team, then lost to in-state rivals SMU later on.

At its best, this game could have been a virtual BCS qualifier game. Now it’s only for pride—and for revenge on the part of the Cougars after suffering humiliating losses to TCU each of the last three years.

BYU at TCU Betting Storylines

The story for the Cougars this year was supposed to be Jake Heaps.

As a freshman last year the quarterback put up some very solid numbers and looked like he had what it takes to emerge into a star this year. Instead, he has spent the last four games on the bench after a very poor start to the season.

Taking over for him has been Riley Nelson. Nelson played quite a bit as a freshman at Utah State in 2006, but after returning from his Mormon mission and joining BYU he had mostly just picked up the pieces for the Cougars. His maturity is really showing through this year, though, as he has been impressive so far.

He has had at least two touchdown passes per performance, and his numbers—62 percent completion rate, 9.4 yards per attempt and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions—are solid. With Heaps taking snaps the offense was a huge concern for this squad.

The improvements with Nelson in charge have been dramatic, and now there is no reason to worry. Nelson may not win games single-handedly, but he certainly won’t lose them.

The QB position is the story for TCU as well after they lost all-world college star Andy Dalton to the Cincinnati Bengals. Those were massive shoes to fill, but Casey Pachall has done a pretty solid job of doing so.

Pachall has completed 70 percent of his passes, and his 8.3 YPA and 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions is more than solid. He still has room to develop, but he certainly wasn’t the reason his team lost either of their games, and he will give the BYU secondary a serious test in this one.

The offense will be familiar for the experienced Broncos on the team. They run the same basic look as they did with Dalton, though it is stripped down for the new starter.

A big difference that should stand out between these teams on Friday is their speed. TCU is young and inexperienced compared to the BCS teams of the recent past, but they still have the trademarks of a Gary Patterson team—they are athletic and disciplined, and they absolutely fly to the ball.

BYU is somewhat more plodding and methodical, and the Cougars will be in trouble if this turns into a track meet. The challenge for coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff is to make sure it doesn’t—something he has failed miserably at the last three years.

BYU at TCU Betting Odds and Trends

The game opened with TCU favored by 11.5, according to college football odds, and has quickly gained two points to 13.5. More than three-quarters of bets have been on the Horned Frogs, so that line movement is as expected. The total opened at 56 and has thus far been stable at that level.

BYU is 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games overall. TCU is 4-2 ATS in their last six, and have covered their last two. The Horned Frogs have covered three of the last four between these teams, but BYU actually covered last year—they were crushed 31-3, but were 30 point underdogs.

BYU at TCU Preview and College Football Predictions

At two touchdowns or less I have to back the Horned Frogs. Their offense has been very solid this year, even in their two losses. They are a tough and well-coached team essentially playing at home.

BYU is talented too, but their immaturity and lack of talent in spots has shown this year, and they are still a year or two away from real success.

I have more faith in TCU on both sides of the ball at this point.

There is also a big motivation factor for TCU. Though their national title aspirations are doomed, they are still unbeaten in the MWC, and if they can stay that way for two weeks then they set up a huge game at Boise State for the conference title.

I don’t think TCU will be quite as dominant as they have in the last three years when they have won by an average score of 34-6, but I still expect a comfortable win.