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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Sun Bowl (Bowl #14)...By S.H. Austin

SUN BOWL (El Paso)
12/29, 2 p.m. ET CBS

Oregon State by 3.5 points, total of 52.5

Missouri: 8-4
Oregon State: 8-4
Both teams had very nice seasons. Neither team was expected to have a big impact heading into the year. Athlon's preseason publication had Missouri at #50, Oregon State at #62. Phil Steele had Missouri at #45 in the nation, and picked Oregon State to finish 9th in the Pac 10. Both teams certainly turned out better than those forecasts. Missouri moved into the top 10 in the polls after a 6-0 start. Reality slapped them in the face with a 2-4 finish. Oregon State brought down mighty USC with a storybook 33-31 upset. Instead of calling it a year with that result, they won four of their last five games. Missouri was dreaming bigger dreams after the hot start against a soft schedule. Both teams should be proud of what they accomplished.

Missouri: 29-18 versus the 75th ranked schedule
Oregon State: 27-21 versus the 10th ranked schedule
Again, we have to mention that the USA Today has overrated the Pac 10 schedules in our opinion. Oregon State actually ranks dead last in that league in strength of schedule. Yup...10th in the Pac 10, and 10th in the nation. Their non-conference foes were Eastern Washington and Idaho on the soft side, along with an early road trip to Boise State that turned ugly (42-14 loss) and a late road trip to Hawaii that went well (35-32 win). Missouri played a soft schedule. That misled some into thinking they were top 10 material early on. They got Ole Miss and Colorado early in the season before those teams could even figure out how to snap the ball on the road. They played an Ohio team who can't play catch up vs. real opposition. And then there was Murray State and New Mexico. Tigers fans will point out that Ohio and New Mexico are going to bowls. That's only true because there are way too many bowls.

Missouri: 5-6 versus the spread
Oregon State: 7-5 versus the spread
Neither team really made a lot of hay concerning ATS expectations, even though they both outperformed national expectations. If either team had an off week, it was REALLY an off week. Oregon State had losses by scores of 42-14, 41-13, 25-7, and 13-7. Missouri missed the spread by 18, 8, and 19 points in the three-game stretch that spoiled their season against Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa State. You could say that Missouri was underrated early (4-3 ATS their first seven board games) and overrated late (1-3 ATS the last four). You could say the opposite for Oregon State (1-3 ATS their first four board games, 6-2 ATS after that). It's safe to say that when Missouri was 6-0 straight up and sitting pretty in the polls, nobody thought they would be a 3.5 point bowl underdog to the Oregon State team that was 2-3 straight up having lost to Boise State and Cal by a combined 83-27 score. What a turnaround!

Missouri: +105.5, with a season turnover differential of +4
Oregon State: +36.8, with a season turnover differential of +8
You may not think of Missouri as being a clone of Clemson. They're actually so close in many areas that their numbers are virtually interchangeable. Missouri does run a form of a spread offense. Their version of the spread has the quarterback taking off and running through gaps more than other spread offenses. If you asked a computer to run "similarity studies" of the stat breakdowns, Missouri would show up in that family of teams we discussed in the Clemson/Kentucky game and others. Here's what Missouri and Clemson have in common:

Both finished 8-4
Both played schedules ranked in the 65-75 range for strength
Both were plus double digits in scoring differential for the year
Both were plus 100 yards or more in yardage differential for the year
One had a turnover differential of 24-28, the other had a differential of 24-27
Both started hot and ended poorly
One was 5-6 ATS the other was 6-6 ATS, but each covered their home patsy games and didn't fare very well in other scenarios

The good thing about this family of teams is that they perform similarly against the pointspread in a variety of situations. That's more true in the regular season than in the bowls. I have you reading now, so I want you to think about that for next season.

The stat line in this category will trick you into thinking Missouri is the much more explosive side, they're not. They just pad their stats against teams who don't know what they're doing (589-150 vs. Murray State, 471-162 vs. an Ole Miss squad that was helpless in September, 428-188 vs. Ohio).

Missouri: 26-11, the numbers we would have expected Clemson to have
Oregon State: 16-8, more conservative than you'd expect
Missouri's quarterback Chase Daniel did a great job of exploiting lesser teams. He turned out to be mistake and turnover prone against tough competition. Missouri lost the ball 10 times in their three games against Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Oregon State's less pass-happy this year than they've been in the past, meaning they'd go more to the ground game in the red zone if they could get away with it.

Missouri's in the family of bullies who spread things out on offense and are surprisingly weak, physically, on defense. This fact doesn't always show up in the defensive stats because the offense can run clock and force lousy opponents into a catch up mode they can't play.

Oregon State is the much more physical team. They banged heads with a lot of decent opponents in a tough conference, and performed much better than people expected. They run a balanced attack that mixes things up well. The defense was fickle. You could find great games, and you could find lousy games. If you cherry pick the lousy games they don't look very good. Do the reverse, and you see seven opponents who couldn't reach 300 yards.

Missouri didn't fare well against the physical teams on their schedule, or really even the decent teams on their schedule. It's not like they folded up the tent and went home. They kept battling...but would eventually wear down or make turnovers. The effort was always there (well, maybe not in the 21-16 loss at Iowa State). They just weren't as good as their press clippings. This family of teams doesn't fare well in physical games, whether it's Missouri/Oklahoma, Clemson/Virginia Tech, Louisville/Rutgers, or even West Virginia/South Florida.

Oregon State's trip to Boise State is probably the best comparison style-wise. Missouri and Boise State are actually pretty similar in the big picture. If you put Missouri in the WAC, they'd win it. If you put Boise in the Big 12, they wouldn't be likely to win their division. It will be interesting to see if Boise can top the 26-10 standard Missouri put up in their regular season loss to OU. Oregon State did, in fact, play horribly at Boise. It was early in the season, and they didn't seem ready for the challenge at all, losing 42-14 and getting outgained 421-262. Hawaii presents a different version of the spread offense variations, and the Warriors gained 524 yards, even though Oregon State won the game. It's likely Missouri will be able to move the ball and score here if they can avoid turnovers. Oregon State's defense is much stronger against bruisers who try to pound the ball up the middle. They're vulnerable to spread out approaches.

Missouri has had time to accept their fate, and did play well in their season finale against Kansas. Missouri won that game 42-17, with a 493-322 yardage edge. That game may have righted the ship emotionally. Let's call it neutral. They're not fired up about El Paso when they were top ten earlier in the season. It's a fun bowl though, probably not a downer.

Oregon State might have trouble getting up for the game because they ended the regular season at Hawaii. That game was a virtual bowl in itself. Since they won that game, and their prior outing in a come-from-behind rivalry victory over Oregon, they might be caught flat footed here. If there's an edge in motivation, it's probably for Missouri.

Missouri beat South Carolina 38-31 in the Independence Bowl, winning yardage 504-408 as a 4-point underdog.

Oregon State didn't qualify for a bowl last year.

Missouri's only other bowl appearance this century was a 27-14 loss to Arkansas in the 2003 Independence Bowl.

Oregon State went 3-1 ATS their last four bowls under head coach Mike Riley, including a pair of blowouts over Notre Dame. They beat the Irish 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2000 season, and 38-21 in the 2004 Insight Bowl. Sandwiched between those bowls: a 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh in 2002, and a 55-14 win over New Mexico. At least we know they get up for Notre Dame.

In September, Missouri would have made sense because they had their form out of the gate. In November, Oregon State would have made sense because Missouri wasn't playing well versus physical teams, while Oregon State realized they could get the job done against anybody if they were focused. In December? We'd have to say the preponderance of evidence is pointing to the total rather than the team side. Oregon State's defense had trouble with spread out attacks (allowing 400 yards or more five times this year). Missouri's defense had trouble with physical attacks (allowing over 180 rushing yards in a game six times). Missouri played a 69-point game in their bowl last year with more than 900 total yards.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

60% that it's your typical Sun Bowl where both teams threaten 30 points in the bright Texas glare.

40% that Missouri makes too many turnovers to reach that threshold, and/or Oregon State runs clock to sit on a lead in the second half.

The team side call is tough at this line. You're supposed to take underdogs in early bowls. You're supposed to go against teams that finish their regular season in Hawaii. We've ended up shading many of these percentages in favor of Big 12 teams thus far. If the conference is underrated, taking the dog will turn out to be a smart move. If the conference looks shaky out of the gate, it would be dumb to back another Big 12 team here. We think it's best to see how Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Kansas State perform before making any final determinations. Check the thread on game day for comments from posters regarding early bowl developments.

For now, let's think about the Over and hope for good weather.

S.H. Austin

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