The sportsbooks have released their betting odds for the Independence Bowl between Texas Tech and California, so let’s look at the best bets for this game.
I recommend wagering on Cal and the “over.” This will be a high-scoring game in which the underdog cashes in the moneyline at plus odds.
- California +3 (-110)
- Under 57.5 (-110)
Saturday, December 16, 2023 – 09:15 PM ET at Independence Stadium
No Spavital, No Problem
Texas Tech backers will point to the fact that Cal’s offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has left his team to take the same job at Baylor. However, Cal will be no worse off for not having Spavital.
There are two main worries when an offensive coordinator departs: one, he is responsible for schemes and concepts that offensive players will have spent the regular season becoming familiar with. The worry is that, without him, players won’t understand the offense they’re running as well. Two, he is competent at his job. The second worry, then, is that his replacement isn’t fit to lead the offense. Neither of these worries will apply to this upcoming game.
For the Independence Bowl, Mike Bloesch will act as offensive coordinator for Cal. There will be schematic and conceptual continuity because Bloesch is already the team’s offensive line coach. So the potential familiarity issue will not be a problem because players will continue to be familiar with the offense they’re running.
Bloesch is also more than capable of occupying the offensive coordinator position. Before coming to Cal, he already spent a total of three years as an offensive coordinator – he was at North Texas. His offenses at that school were always good.
Texas Tech’s Star Running Back
The second main reason why bettors unfortunately might like Texas Tech is that the Red Raiders have a stud running back, Tahj Brooks.
Red Raiders backers will, to support their case, point to bad games that Cal has had against strong, Pac-12-leading opposing running backs. It is true that Cal has struggled to stop the rushing attacks of Oregon State, Oregon, and Washington; however, it is unfair to conclude from these particular struggles that Texas Tech’s rush attack will succeed.
Those three teams have excellent offensive lines that, in terms of quality, far exceed Texas Tech’s – all three of those offensive lines are Joe Moore Award semifinalists, which means that they are in the running to be recognized as the nation’s top offensive line. That is why their top running backs succeeded against Cal.
Evidence for this being the reason for their top running back’s success against Cal is the fact that those teams also had backup running backs who produced strong numbers against the Golden Bears. For example, Red Raiders backers will say: “Cal couldn’t stop Bucky Irving (Oregon’s top running back), so the Golden Bears won’t stop Brooks, either.” However, this line of argument is ridiculous because Cal also couldn’t stop Jordan James and Jayden Limar, who are not top running backs but averaged more YPC against Cal than Irving did.
One can’t fairly conclude from these three games that the Golden Bears are not able to defend top running backs and one can’t compare those teams to Texas Tech.
Texas Tech’s Offensive Line
While one might think that maybe the Red Raiders have a good offensive line, too, because their backup running back has a good YPC total, Cam’Ron Valdez’s rush attempt total is low enough to be influenced dramatically by his strong performance against Houston. Repeatedly, though, he failed to be efficient – he yielded 2.3 YPC against TCU and 3.5 against Kansas, two give two examples.
The fact is that Texas Tech lacks the offensive line play to have its backup running backs thrive, as one sees the likes of Oregon accomplish.
One has to consider a team like UCLA a more apt comparison by means of which we can determine the outlook for Cal’s run defense in this game. UCLA has a good running back in Carson Steele, the PAC-12’s sixth-leading rusher, and it doesn’t have a dominant offensive line. Cal limited UCLA to seven points, holding Steele to 53 rushing yards in the process.
Cal’s Better Run Defense
Now, Brooks is certainly better than Steele, so the comparison isn’t great. But the main takeaway is that Texas Tech is not going to run over Cal.
The Golden Bears have a very good run defense – their run defense ranks 41st nationally and it only got stronger as their regular season reached its conclusion. It takes a dominant offensive line to succeed, one that Texas Tech doesn’t have, while Cal showed that it can stop good running backs behind less-than-elite offensive line play.
Conversely, Texas Tech’s run defense is unequivocally bad. The Red Raiders rank 95th nationally in rush defense.
These struggles were also apparent in their non-conference play, for example, when Wyoming’s running backs were very productive and efficient against them.
Critically, star defensive tackle Jaylon Hutchings will miss the Bowl Game for Texas Tech. Hutchings is an excellent run defender, so his absence will be decisive.
Cal’s Stud Running Back
Whereas Texas Tech will want to rely on Brooks but won’t be able to so much, Cal will want to rely on its own star running back and will fully be able to do so.
Jaydn Ott, for Cal, is the Pac-12’s leading rusher. Ott has amassed 1,260 rushing yards and eleven rushing touchdowns on 5.5 YPC. He’s physical and strong. But he’s also tough for defenders to bring down because he’s explosive – his explosiveness is apparent in his excellent 4.4 time. Already struggling against softer tests, Texas Tech won’t be able to contain Ott.
Neither team has much to offer in way of passing – both offenses are headed by quarterbacks who often struggle to avoid interceptions and who are frequently inefficient. Texas Tech also loses its second- and third-leading wide receivers to the transfer portal.
While the Golden Bears will win because they will be able to rely on their offensive centerpiece much more extensively than the Red Raiders will be able to rely on theirs, the total is far too high for a game in which both teams will be focused on running the ball, which drains clock.
NCAAF Pick: California +3 (-110) at Bet365
NCAAF Pick: Under 57.5 (-110) at Bet365
*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.