Tulsa vs. Mississippi State Armed Force Bowl Odds & Pick: Back Bulldogs as Short Underdog
Credit: William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team.
- Mississippi State's Air Raid offense will go up against a solid Tulsa defense in the Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday.
- With an offense that has had its strong moments this season, Stuckey expects the Bulldogs to keep it close and cover.
- Stuckey breaks down the Armed Forces Bowl in full below and shares a betting pick based on his analysis.
Tulsa vs. Mississippi State Odds
Tulsa vs. Mississippi State might not excite you right away when you hear that matchup, but it should — for a few reasons:
First, this is only one of two games that pits a Power Five team against a Group of Five team (the other such matchup comes in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl featuring No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Georgia).
Second, Tulsa seems to play nothing but thrillers. Six of the Golden Hurricane’s eight games were decided by single digits — with five by one possession.
Lastly, it’s a football game that involves the polarizing Mike Leach, head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
The Tulsa offense has been a work-in-progress all year. Since losing running back Shamari Brooks to injury before the season, the Golden Hurricane have gotten next to nothing from their rushing attack. The passing game has also been very inefficient throughout the year.
Tulsa’s games have each followed a similar script. Its inefficient offense starts very slowly, and the Golden Hurricane find themselves behind at the half. They then connect on timely deep passes in the second half to either come all the way back from huge deficits (See: SMU and Tulane games) or come up just short as they did against Cincinnati in the AAC Championship. Look no further than this discrepancy for an illustration:
- 8.2 points per first half (117th in FBS)
- 17.9 points per second half (15th in FBS)
In contrast, Tulsa’s 3-3-5 defense has been fantastic all season, ranking in the top 25 in various categories. Tyarise Stevenson and Jaxon Player are a handful along the defensive line, and there is no shortage of long, athletic defensive backs that excel in coverage. They Golden Hurricane is also used to rushing only three and dropping eight defenders in coverage, which is the most effective way to defend the Air Raid.
However, the star of the show won’t suit up for Tulsa on Thursday. Linebacker Zaven Collins was arguably the best linebacker in the country this season, earning first-team All American honors and winning the Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the best overall defensive player in college football. He simply did it all for Tulsa and is essentially irreplaceable.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
It’s been a tale of three seasons in one for Mississippi State.
It started with a monumental upset of the defending national champion LSU Tigers, which got the hype train rolling in Starkville. Then, it all went south in a hurry as the Bulldogs lost four in a row with the Mike Leach Air Raid sputtering out. Part of that blame could be placed on quarterback K. J. Costello, who threw eight interceptions and only one touchdown during that four-game slide.
Costello’s poor performance opened the window for freshman quarterback Will Rogers, who ran the Air Raid in high school and whom Leach recruited personally. After some expected early struggles, Rogers finally got the offense on track with an impressive effort against Georgia’s elite defense. Outside of a dud against Auburn, Rogers looked very comfortable in three of the final four games.
Costello and Rogers are both listed as starters ahead of the Thursday’s Armed Forces Bowl, but I’d imagine Rogers will get the first crack after how he finished the year. Despite the experience gap between Rogers and Costello, Rogers just seems to have a better grasp of the offense.
While the offense has had its struggles, the defense has been pretty solid all year against a very difficult schedule. The Bulldogs should show out on Thursday against a subpar Tulsa offense.
Betting Analysis & Pick
I make this game essentially a coin flip, so there’s value in the underdog in what could be a low scoring game. The loss of Collins can’t be overstated for the Tulsa defense. And Mississippi State is as close to full strength as it’s been this season.
I do worry a bit about the two-week layoff for the Bulldogs offense, which relies so much on timing. It’s one of the reasons Leach’s offenses have historically struggled in bowls and off bye weeks. However, given how slow Tulsa usually starts out of the gates, I’m not as worried here.
The Tulsa offense has been way too reliant on explosive passes this season with no semblance of a rushing attack. I think the Bulldogs can control the line of scrimmage and force Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith into some key turnovers.
… and speaking of turnovers, they have killed Mississippi State all season. Only Michigan State and Duke averaged more giveaways than the Bulldogs (2.6 turnovers per game). However, the Tulsa defense only had six interceptions this season, and four came from Collins. Plus, Rogers has been fairly clean with the ball after a shaky start, throwing only three interceptions in his last five games (just under 250 attempts).
Lastly, don’t forget about special teams. Tulsa has been absolutely dreadful in that department this year. That could end up being the deciding factor in what should be a competitive game.
I’d recommend not simply taking the moneyline if you can’t get Mississippi State +3. I’d rather buy +3 (-120) than settle for the moneyline. That’s really a general rule of thumb for me during bowl season, as teams are more likely to go for two late instead of playing for overtime. Plus, with how most of Tulsa’s games have played out this year, one or two points could be the difference between a cover and a loss — especially in a game with one of the lower totals of the bowl season.
From a total perspective, I’d look at the first half under. We could see Mississippi State struggle with timing early, and Tulsa’s offense has been anemic in the first half all year. I also think both defensive fronts should rule the day against each opposing offensive line. Furthermore, the weather forecast is calling for potential winds of 20 mph and heavy rain.
Ultimately, the game could simply come down to the SEC pedigree and talent of Mississippi State. It’s also worth noting that the AAC hasn’t looked great overall to start bowl season. In four postseason appearances, AAC teams have gone 1-3 straight-up and against the spread:
- Boca Raton Bowl: BYU 49, UCF 23
- Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada 38, Tulane 27
- Montgomery Bowl: Memphis 25, Florida Atlantic 10
- New Mexico Bowl: Hawaii 28, Houston 14
Pick: Mississippi State +3 (-120) or better