Is Tim Beckman's job at Illinois dependent on a win over La Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl? Join us as we preview the matchup with a free college football pick.
The last time Illinois met the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on the gridiron, a 9-game losing streak ensued for the Fighting Illini. Head coach Tim Beckman no doubt recalls that game very well, since it came in his first season at Champaign, and he understands that another setback to the Conference USA runner-ups will hurt his chances to continue rebuilding the Illinois program come National Signing Day next February.
The Heart of Texas Bowl in Dallas brings the Illini and Bulldogs together once again, yet another postseason matchup that will likely interest more college football bettors than the fans of either school. Part of this year's watered-down bowl schedule, kickoff is set for 1 PM (ET) Boxing Day at the Cotton Bowl, which no longer hosts its namesake contest.
SBR's live College Football odds suggest Beckman and the Fighting Illini have their work cut out for them to gain a little revenge against the Bulldogs; La Tech is favored by 6, the spread boosted by a full point from the opener. While the spread has risen, the total has been dropping. Oddsmakers first sent the scoreboard hurdle out at 61½ and that number has dropped to 59 at many sports books, a few even whittling it down to 58.
The one and only previous meeting between Illinois and Louisiana Tech took place early on the 2012 college football betting schedule, and it was all Bulldogs in a mild upset. Favored by a field goal at home, the Illini fell into a 21-7 hole after one quarter, then watched Louisiana Tech score 31 unanswered points in the second half to enjoy an easy 52-24 triumph.
Six turnovers -- 5 of them fumbles -- contributed to the Illinois debacle. Louisiana Tech almost reached the 57 point total by itself, and both teams posted modest leans to the 'over' during the 2014 regular season.
Illini Back In Postseason After 2 Year Absence
Beckman also understands that a loss could signal the end of his tenure at Illinois after talk of his days being numbered dominated the scene during the first seven weeks of the schedule. Half of Illinois' six wins came against the likes of Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State, not necessarily patsies, but still a weak slate considering the Fighting Illini won those contests by a combined 24 points, managing to cover just the victory over the Hilltoppers.
It took a huge improvement by the Illinois defense in the final two games to get to six wins...or should I say it took facing two opponents with rather impotent offenses? Before facing Northwestern and Penn State, ranked 109th and 117th respectively in total offense, the Illini were allowing an average of 493+ yards per game. They held the Wildcats and Nittany Lions to about 318 in the final wins, but face a more powerful offense in Cody Sokol and Louisiana Tech.
Can Bulldogs Put Conf-USA Title Loss To Marshall Behind Them?
Those two wins for Illinois, even against middling teams like Penn State and Northwestern, at least give the Illini some momentum heading into this contest. Louisiana Tech dropped a heartbreaker to a 12-1 Marshall team in the Conference USA title tilt, 26-23, one of two defeats in the final three games.
The Bulldogs have an offense that's very capable of scoring on Illinois. Sokol threw for nearly 3,200 yards and 29 touchdowns while Kenneth Dixon rumbled for more than 1,200 yards and scored 21 times toting the pigskin. Trouble is, La Tech also has a suspect pass defense the Illini can exploit. Both Marshall and Old Dominion, upset winners in Week 12, gained 300+ yards through the air to leave the Bulldogs 82nd in the country (237 ypg).
Bettors will want to double-check the weather forecast before making their wager. Dallas has been known to have one extreme or the other this time of year, from sunshine and temps in the 70s to ice or snow.
Downward movement on the total just might signal the 'under' being a smart play, but I'm not buying into it. Put me down for the 'over' for a College Football pick in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Free College Football Pick: Illinois-La Tech Over 58 at Bookmaker
Season: 61-43-1 (+13.70)