2018 Cheez-It Bowl Betting Guide: TCU, Cal Bring Elite Defenses, Lowest Total of Bowl Season

2018 Cheez-It Bowl Betting Guide: TCU, Cal Bring Elite Defenses, Lowest Total of Bowl Season article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Chase Garbers and KaVontae Turpin

2018 Cheez-It Bowl Betting Odds: TCU-Cal

  • Odds: Cal -1
  • Over/Under: 38.5
  • Date: Wednesday, Dec. 26
  • Location: Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Tuesday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets.


Looking for a rock fight on Wednesday night? Look no further than TCU-Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl, which features the lowest total of this bowl season.

Both teams bring elite defenses and poor offenses to this game, so which one will win out?

Odds Movement for Cal-TCU

By Danny Donahue

Cal was one of the early movers of bowl season. Within a couple days of opening as 2-point dogs, the Bears jumped to a pick’em despite receiving the minority of bets. They’ve since become a bit more popular, but they’re still picking up just 49% of tickets and that line movement has continued to -1. As you may have expected, those bets have accounted for 59% of actual money being wagered.

At just 41, this was already the lowest total of bowl season when it opened. Since then, however, it’s gotten even lower. It’s down to 38.5 behind 50% of bets and 60% of money landing on the under.

Trends to Know for Cheez-It Bowl

By John Ewing

TCU went 4-8 against the spread (ATS) in the regular season. Since 2005, teams that covered 33% of less of their regular season games have gone 35-24-1 ATS in bowl games.

By Evan Abrams

As mentioned, Cal and TCU are playing the lowest-totaled bowl game of the 2018 season, which is currently hovering around 38.5. In the past 20 years, only four bowl games have had an over/under below 40 and the over is 4-0 in those games, going over the total by an average of 19 points.

Good Defense vs. Bad Offense

By Stuckey

Here’s a classic battle of two bad offenses vs. two elite defenses. TCU ranks 90th in the country on offense at 5.5 yards per play. Cal is even further down the list at 118th (5.0 YPP), but both are among the 24 teams in the country that allowed fewer than 5.0 yards per play on defense.

Big Plays? Not Here

By Stuckey

Cal has one of the least explosive offenses in the country, ranking 126th in IsoPPP+. That makes the Bears incapable of exploiting the one general weakness of Gary Patterson’s fast and aggressive 4-2-5 defense.

TCU has also struggled on defense once teams cross the 50, as it ranks 95th in finishing drives per S&P+, but once again, Cal’s offense is not built to exploit that deficiency. The Bears rank a horrendous 128th in the nation in finishing drives.

Cal Should Generate Turnovers

By Stuckey

Cal’s offense scored only 64 offensive points in the final five games of the season, including a garbage time touchdown.

It’s defense scored 22 over that span on three pick-sixes and a safety.

This is an opportunistic Cal defense that took the ball away 24 times in the regular season (top 15 nationally). It should feast on a TCU offense that turned it over 22 times (bottom 30).

Who’s More Motivated?

By Stuckey

I don’t see a material motivational edge here, but this game certainly means more to Cal’s program, which hasn’t appeared in a Bowl since 2015. TCU is a perennial bowl participant, and while they have recently played in many bigger bowls, the Horned Frogs did rally to win their final two games of the season to get to six wins. I expect Gary Patterson will have his troops ready to roll.

Bet to Watch

By Stuckey

I’m not sure I can bet an under 38.5 in a bowl game — where scoring is generally accelerated — but I could never recommend this over.

We are talking about a Cal team that averaged fewer than 13 offensive points during its final five games, including a meaningless touchdown in the final seconds against Stanford. An under of 38.5 would have hit in four of those five games.

I mean, Cal averaged 22.7 points per game (110th nationally) in a conference not known for defense, and with a defense of its own that accounted for plenty of those points.

The same could be said for TCU, which only averaged 24.7 (98th) in a similarly offensive conference. And those averages drop to 20.6 and 22.0 if you remove each team’s respective big games against FCS opponents. All of this goes without even mentioning that these are also two below average pace offenses.

As for the side, I’d lean Cal as a result of their edge in special teams and more opportunistic defense that I mentioned before. Turnovers have haunted TCU all year (126th in Expected Turnover Margin) and it might just bite the Horned Frogs one more time in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Stuckey’s Lean: Cal -1

By Collin Wilson

Branding this game as a defensive effort would be an understatement as the total has fallen below 40. Both Cal and TCU rank in the top 25 in S&P+ defense, while the Horned Frogs are 99th in offense with Cal ranked 121st.

Neither side will have an advantage offensively in success rate or explosiveness, and the red zone numbers for each team are even more unimpressive. Cal and TCU are the bottom two teams in all of FBS in red zone points per attempt.

The only advantage in this game falls in special teams, where Cal has an S&P+ ranking of 20th thanks to fantastic punt and kickoff efficiency.

The Action Network power ratings make the Cheez-It Bowl Cal -3 with a projected total of 46.5. Neither team ranks in the top half in adjusted pace, which will limit possessions and put a premium on any points scored.

TCU has had a revolving door of quarterbacks due to injuries, but looks to start Grayson Muehlstein. The senior had a decent 38% passing success rate in the season finale, but was substituted out for skill position players to run the read option.

Cal has covered games when it does not turn the ball over on offense. When Cal has ball protection, it’s beaten Washington and USC. TCU ranks middle of FBS in havoc rate.

Despite the two programs having never met, both coaches know each other well. Wilcox and Patterson met one another in both the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl and 2010 Fiesta Bowl — Boise State played TCU on both occasions. Patterson has never lost to a Pac-12 team and is 6-0 against the conference as a head coach.

As for the play, we go under the total even with the projection higher. Neither team will play tempo, and both teams have had issues with turnovers. Considering they also both excel in third-down defense and rank last offensively in red zone categories, the under is the only way to look.

Collin’s Pick: Under 38.5

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