By Charles Jay
There is certainly much reason for excitement with the Minnesota Golden Gophers‘ program these days. They have been highly-ranked for most of the season, and PJ Fleck, who did great things at Western Michigan, has attained historic levels in his third year at the helm. Think about this for a second – Minnesota has reached ten wins in the regular-season for the first time since ’05. Understand that we’re not talking about 2005, but 1905!
Now the Gophers (10-2 SU, 6-4-2 ATS) will try to cap off their season with a victory in the Outback Bowl against the Auburn Tigers, who are coming off a victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The action begins at 1 PM ET at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. And while ESPN is televising the festivities, BetAnySports customers can place wagers on the game in progress, accessing what is available through Sports Betting Ultra.
Minnesota’s big moment came on November 9, as it carved out a 26-21 victory over Penn State, and eventually they got to 9-0 before losing a 23-19 decision to Iowa. Later they were waxed pretty good by Wisconsin (38-17), and that may have left some doubts in the mind of skeptics, since Minnesota did not have either Ohio State or Michigan on its schedule and struggled mightily against the likes of South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern.
Auburn (9-3, both straight-up and against the points) opened up with a victory over Oregon, and ended the regular schedule beating Alabama. In between, they had a grueling slate, which included a game at LSU where they managed to stay within three points (23-20) despite giving up 30 first downs and 508 yards. In the Iron Bowl, they were bailed out by Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who threw two interceptions they returned for touchdowns.
In terms of statistical oddities, this game matches the teams who were ranked #1 and #130 (dead last) in punt return defense.
In the college football odds posted on this Outback Bowl at BetAnySports, Auburn is favored by a touchdown:
Auburn Tigers -7
Minnesota Golden Gophers +7
Over 54 points -110
Under 54 points -110
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan has made a great deal of progress between his freshman and sophomore seasons, throwing for 2975 yards and 28 touchdowns. That was good enough to finish sixth in the NCAA passing efficiency rankings. And Minnesota converted 50.3% of their third-down situations with the help of a dynamic pair of receivers – Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson – who were both among the nation’s top 20 in receiving yards. However, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarocca, who acted as kind of a “guru” to Morgan, has moved on to another coaching job at Penn State, leaving the “committee” approach to game planning and play-calling.
Bo Nix was a much-ballyhooed freshman recruit, and he showed why in the opener against Oregon, leading the winning drive. He threw 15 touchdown passes and ran for seven more, but he is still something of a work in progress, as his 57% accurate accuracy rate indicates. No doubt coach Gus Malzahn will be relying heavily on JaTarvious Whitlow, who averaged five yards per carry for a rushing game that ranked 24th with 211 yards per contest.
It’s really the defense that is going to carry this team, however. It is true that they gave up more than 500 yards against both LSU and Alabama, but they also held Oregon to 332 and Georgia to 251. Only seven teams in the nation stopped third downs better than they did (30%), and that will come in handy against this Minnesota offense, which, as mentioned, was very proficient in that area.
Auburn has a couple of likely first round draft picks up front in Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, and as a team they averaged 7.5 tackles for losses.
What gets forgotten sometimes is how good Minnesota played on defense, ranking among the top 30 in the nation against both the run and the pass, and 14th overall. And even though star linebacker Kamal Martin is skipping this game to prepare for the draft, Minnesota has one of the better safeties in the country in Antoine Winfield Jr., an All-American who registered seven interceptions on the season. A challenge for Minnesota will be getting a push up front to stop the Auburn ground game, but we think they can definitely snuff out most attempts by Nix down the field.
Of course, we understand that Minnesota did not play the strongest schedule, but if they can play anywhere near close to what their defensive rankings indicate, they could slow this Auburn bunch, which had less than 350 yards of offense against the likes of Georgia, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M. We’re going to assume that Morgan and his receivers won’t run wild against this very capable veteran secondary. So what were getting around to is that we kind of like this game to go UNDER the total of 54 points. That’s one thing we’re doing in WagerWAR for New Year’s!
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