The Houston Cougars are just 2-9 straight up over their last 11 bowl games, but they have turned the tides recently by winning two of their last three. Vanderbilt is also 2-1 SU over its last three bowl appearances. When Houston and Vandy square off in Birmingham for the Compass Bowl on Jan. 4, the Commodores will be 2.5-point favorites over the Cougars.
Houston (8-4 SU, 10-2 ATS, 5-7 OU) kicked off 2013 with a sensational 5-0 straight-up and against the spread start. The Cougars cooled off down the stretch with a 3-4 SU mark over their last seven games, but still helped their backers out with a 5-2 ATS record over that time.
Despite having one of the worst passing defenses in the country – they rank 116th nationally, allowing 276.2 yards through the air on average – the Cougars worked the bend-don't-break strategy well while allowing only 20.2 points per game. Houston was inconsistent on offense this year but managed a respectable 33.9 points per game overall.
While Houston started strong and then faded, Vanderbilt (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS, 7-5 OU) got off to a mediocre 4-4 SU and 3-5 ATS start before closing out the season on a 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS run.
The Commodores finished 26th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 352.3 total yards per game while excelling against the pass. Despite ranking 94th in offensive yardage, Vanderbilt managed to score 29.2 points per game, which was enough on most nights thanks to the defense.
The big issue for Vanderbilt this time around will be the absence of quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who tore his ACL earlier this year. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is expected to start, and he played pretty well in relief of Carta-Samuels earlier in the season.
If recent history is any indication, we may be in for fewer points than expected; in two of Vanderbilt's last three games, and in each of Houston's last four games, they hit the under for total points.
The Compass Bowl odds history at Odds Shark shows Big East teams with a 5-2 SU edge in recent matchups.
All eyes in this one will be on Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, who is one of the top candidates for many of the coaching vacancies around the country. Even if the players and coaches say the nonstop rumors aren't a distraction, it's human nature to be wary of an uncertain future.
Compass Bowl computer pick: 38-29 Houston (via Odds Shark's computer formula)