This sports handicapper warns that with very little remaining on the College Football schedule, UTEP miners vs. Rice Owls is a very important game with bowl game implications.
Kickoff is set for 8:00 pm ET on Friday at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. Despite a 41-14 beating at the hands of Marshall, 5 Dimes Sportsbook has Rice listed as a 9 point betting favorite and the total for this game is listed at 53.5 points.
With no defining victory, the Owls come off as a mere average football team. They face two huge tests early in the season in Notre Dame and Texas A&M and didn't have a good showing. The Owls were on a 6 game winning streak until they met the likes of Marshall. This is a team that can beat teams with similar talent, but can't handle the better teams in the country or even the best team in Conference USA.
The Miners haven't been any better if not worse. However, they are coming off of a 35-17 victory over North Texas and 14 of those points were late meaningless scores for the 3-7 North Texas Mean Green.
This game is a defining game and will be a building block for the winner. One would certainly think that the Owls are the team to beat, but can they cover the 9 points they are given on College Football odds?
Offensive Balance For the Owls
Rice gets the nod at QB as junior Driphus Johnson has pretty much been mistake-free this season. He didn't manage much offense against Marshall as he threw for just 99 yards. but this is a quarterback that can run the ball and won't give the opposition an advantage with a careless turnover.
For the season. Johnson has thrown for 1960 yards with 15 TD's and 4 INT's. I look for a solid game out of Johnson at home. Johnson will be keying in on his favorite receiver Jordan Taylor. Taylor has missed part of the season and in a legitimate 6 game run, has provided the Owls with a major spark. He has 608 yards and 4 TD's. This is a receiver that hasn't caught for less than 72 yards in a full game.He'll definitely be a factor in the passing game for Rice.
Rice will also be depending on their 1-2 punch of Jowan Davis (824 yards, 6 TD) and Darik Dillard (592 yards, 8 TD) out of the backfield. Even though Dillard didn't do much last week, each player scored a touchdown against Marshall and should have plenty of space to run provided by the offensive line against a somewhat weak UTEP defensive team.
We take a look at the Miners offense and they don't have that same balance. They average a mere 141.7 yards passing per game and their main threat on offense is running back Aaron Jones.
Jones is battling through injuries and actually missed a game 2 weeks ago. That didn't stop him from for running for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns against North Texas. On the season, Jones has eclipsed the 1000 yard plateau to go along with 10 touchdowns. He started off the season with a 237 yard effort against New Mexico, slowed down during the mid-part of the season, and has now appeared to gain his momentum back. Jones' effectiveness will be the key to the game in deciding if UTEP will be competitive or possibly win the game.
Aaron Jones is a concern for the Rice defense, but he did pile those 177 yards last week against a 3-7 squad. Rice has the better overall team and the home field advantage doesn't hurt. That said, 9 points is a lot to lay and I'm going to side with UTEP for my College Football pick. Look for the Miners to feed the football to Jones and ride his back.
Free College Football Pick: UTEP +9 at at 5Dimes