NCAAF
December 28, 2021

Houston Cougars at Auburn Tigers: 2021 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl Gambling Guide - Dec. 28

The Birmingham Bowl is the first of five wonderful bowl games of the day, and if you can believe it, we are here with the best bet of the game. Houston (11-2) will be taking on Auburn (6-6), and despite the difference in records, this should be a solid matchup. 

Auburn ended the season with four straight losses, and their starting quarterback transferred out of the program. So while things look bleak, they can take solace in the fact that Houston Head Coach, Dana Holgorsen is 1-7 ATS in bowl games throughout his entire career. 

If you decided to gamble, we would love for you to tail our picks. If you do that, we just ask that you do so responsibly. 

How do these teams match up, and who has the edge? Well, let's find out. 

Why Houston Can Cover:

Betting Trends:

  • 2-3 ATS in last five games
  • 7-6 ATS this season
  • The total has gone OVER in seven of the last 10 games
  • The total has gone OVER in five out of the last seven when Houston is playing as an underdog

The Cougars gave Cincinnati a little bit of a scare in the AAC Championship, but they just could not keep up with the No. 4 team in the country. The reason they were such a popular bet against Cincinnati is because of how good they are on both sides of the ball.

Houston is 12th in scoring, 11th in points per play, and they are picking up 8.4 yards per pass. Defensively, Houston is 30th in scoring, ninth in yards per game, and 16th in yards per play. Houston is a traditional offensive power, or at least they feel like they are, so the fact that the defense has been so solid is a big reason the Cougars had a lot of success this season. 

Quarterback Clayton Tune finished fourth in passing yards, third in passing touchdowns, and first in completion percentage in the AAC this season. Even with all of that said, Tune took a backseat to Nathaniel Dell in terms of who was the driving force of this offense. On the season, Dell led all AAC receivers in yards (1,179) and receiving touchdowns (12). 

On defense, there is not a real standout player, but they are incredibly deep, and that is a reason they led the AAC in sacks (42.0). The Cougars have seven players with over 3.0 sacks, and they are ranked 10th in sack percentage (9.7%).

Why Auburn Can Cover:

Betting Trends:

  • 2-3 ATS in last five games
  • 6-6 ATS this season
  • The total has gone UNDER in four of the last five games
  • 8-2 SU in last 10 games played as an underdog

Auburn comes into this game on a four-game losing streak, and with Bo Nix transferring to Oregon, they do not have a (good) quarterback either. During the losing streak, the Tigers are only getting outscored by an average of eight points, and the closest margin of defeat was two points against Alabama. 

The Tigers rolled with TJ Finley in the Alabama game, and he accomplished as close to nothing as you can get even though he threw two touchdowns (one in two-point shootout OT). He will once again get the start for Auburn against one of the best defenses in the country. 

When looking at this Auburn team for this game, all stats need to be thrown out the window. Finley was not the starting quarterback all season, and in his limited playing time, he was very average. Even with Nix taking the snaps, Auburn was only 69th in scoring, 65th in total yards, and 76th in yards per play. 

The defense is how Auburn can win this game. They are 38th in scoring, 43rd in yards per play, and against teams that finished the season ranked, Auburn is only giving up 24.2 points. Can they replicate that same success against Tune and Dell? Well, if Auburn can hold Bryce Young in check for 99.9% of the game, they can find a way to hold off Houston. 

Birmingham Bowl Best Bet:

*Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook

Neither team is great at covering the spread, and both teams are trending in opposite directions when it comes to the point total. However, one team is playing with their backup quarterback, and the other is playing with the same unit that torched teams through the air all year.

The only way Auburn can keep up in this game is if they can get to the quarterback like they did against Alabama. The Tigers sacked the eventual Heisman winner seven times, and Auburn is ranked 37th in sack percentage (7.7%). Unfortunately, Houston is ranked 22nd in pass blocking and 18th in finishing drives.

Auburn is currently favored by two points for....reasons, but with so much uncertainty around the program, especially on offense, this may be a spot where Houston dominates. The Cougars have only been underdogs three times this season, and their lone loss as a dog came against Cincinnati. If you ignore that game, Houston has covered as an underdog this season by an average of 18.75 points. 

Pick: Houston +2 (-110)

Photo: Getty Images