This season I’ll be breaking down a few of college football’s biggest games each week and giving out at least one bet I like from each matchup. 

Let’s take a look at this week’s College Game Day matchup between TCU and Texas. 

TCU vs Texas Spread, current line:

TCU vs Texas Best Bet Prediction:

The numbers in this matchup point to Texas, but since the Longhorns have choked away some leads, I’m going to take Texas -5.5 points in the first half, rather than lay a touchdown on the full game. 

» Bet it now: Texas 1st half -5.5  

When TCU is on Offense

TCU runs Sonny Dykes’s version of the air raid offense, and Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has valuable experience against Dykes from their days in the Pac-12. 

While Kwiatkowski was the defensive coordinator at Washington, he went 2-1 against Dykes, while he was the head coach at Cal. Dykes’s lone victory was a 30-24 win in Jared Goff’s final season.

Kwiatkowski also faced Mike Leach’s air raid six times as rivals at Washington and Washington State, and was utterly dominant 一 he never allowed more than 17 points to Leach’s squad. In all but one year when they overlapped in the Pac-12, Leach’s lowest scoring output in conference play came against Kwiatkowski’s squad. 

Although we’re a few years removed from those meetings and there are entirely different players involved, Kwiatkowski’s success against this system is certainly something to keep in mind. 

Over the final three meetings between Kwiatkowski and Leach, Kwiatkowski used the combination of zone coverage with no blitz on a ridiculously high 77% of Washington State’s dropbacks, per Sports Info Solutions. 

Expect a similar approach in this game, as Texas ranks 14th in the nation in the use of zone coverage/no blitz (47%). 

Against the zone coverage/no blitz combo, Duggan has fared relatively well but he’s been more susceptible to negative plays. 

Take a look at Duggan’s rate of dropbacks producing -1 EPA or worse outside the red zone in conference play, via Sports Info Solutions:

  • vs zone/no blitz: 21.1%
  • vs all other schemes: 15.7%

One area where Dykes’s air raid differs slightly from his mentor Leach’s is his downfield passing rate:

  • 24% of TCU pass attempts are at 15+ yards downfield (ranked 49th)
  • 50% completion rate on throws 15+ yards downfield (ranked 17th)

The downfield passing game has been critical to Duggan’s success, but this will be his toughest matchup. Quarterbacks throw downfield 34% less frequently against Texas than other opponents, the fifth lowest rate in the nation per Sports Info Solutions. 

Texas’s use of zone coverage without the blitz is a factor forcing a conservative approach, but so is their 36% completion rate allowed on the deep ball (ranked 36th). 

TCU may have some issues in the run game in this matchup based on these trends, via Sports Info Solutions:

  • TCU runs into a light box on 26% of attempts (10th highest rate)
  • Texas allows 4.2 yards/attempt with a light box (ranked 16th)
  • Texas ranks 23rd in opponent-adjusted yards before contact allowed

That said, Kendre Miller has also been a dominant force when given a light box to run into, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt in conference play. 

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When Texas is on Offense

Texas uses a fairly balanced offense, with a 47% pass rate in neutral game situations, per Campus2Canton. That rate has remained steady from game to game, with it ranging from 45% to 51% against Power 5 opponents this year. 

In this matchup, Texas should probably lean more on the run game, where it has a clear advantage over a shaky TCU defense. 

TCU stacks the box against the run at the lowest rate in the nation 一 opposing running backs have just 17 carries into a stacked box against the Frogs, per Sports Info Solutions.

Partially because of this strategy, TCU ranks 95th in opponent-adjusted yards before contact allowed.

Texas does not excel at creating running room for Bijan Robinson 一 it ranks 66th in opponent-adjusted yards before contact 一 but Robinson averages 6.1 yards per attempt against a light box, ranked 24th (out of 126) in the nation. 

In the passing game, Quinn Ewers is among the most aggressive quarterbacks in the country, throwing 15 or more yards downfield at the 12th highest rate (30%). 

However, the deep ball is also Ewers’s greatest weakness, as his catchable pass rate at 15 or more yards (58%) ranks 94th out of 112, per Sports Info Solutions. 

Expect Ewers to remain aggressive against TCU, as teams do not respect the TCU secondary. Opponents are throwing downfield 28% more often against TCU than against other defenses, the third highest rate in the country. 

That said, Ewers’s erratic downfield passing will be particularly risky against TCU. The Horned Frogs rank 10th in the nation with a 31% ball-hawk rate on the deep ball (rate at which the defense makes a play on the ball). 

Final Thoughts on TCU vs Texas Best Bets

This is a tricky game to bet, because Texas should lean heavily on the run game 一 but Steve Sarkisian and his quarterback both have aggressive tendencies and it might not play out that way.  

That said, Texas’s defense also appears to have an edge over TCU’s offense 一 and Kwiatkowski’s success against Dykes and the air raid should boost our confidence. 

All of our research points to Texas holding a clear edge, but I’d rather not put my faith in the Longhorns maintaining a second-half lead 一 so I’ll lay the points in the first half and take Texas -5.5.

Another way to approach this game would be to wait and see Texas’s offensive approach. If the Longhorns appear to be all in on the run game, side with Texas. If they’re getting too aggressive, bet on Ewers making some costly mistakes and take TCU.

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