Outback Bowl Odds

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The Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) take on the No. 16 LSU Tigers (9-3) in the 2014 Outback Bowl on Wednesday, January 1 in Tampa, FL. This is a rematch from the thrilling 30-25 victory by the Hawkeyes in the 2005 Citrus Bowl in which they scored on the game’s final play to win.

This contest inside of Raymond James Stadium is set to kick off at 1:00 EST Wednesday afternoon with ESPN providing the television coverage. Taking a look at the lines in Las Vegas, I find LSU listed as a 7.5-point favorite over Iowa with a total set of 49 points.

Why LSU Covers

The dominance of the SEC cannot be overstated. Any time you get an SEC team up against a Big Ten opponent, you should certainly look toward the SEC team first. This LSU team has been better than its 9-3 record would indicate this season as two of its three losses came by a field goal, and the other came on the road against Alabama in a game that was much closer than the final score showed. Les Miles has a very talented team on board heading into the Citrus Bowl.

Iowa has had a solid season this year, but it hasn’t beaten a really good opponent all season. In fact, it lost all four of its games against the best teams it faced in Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Three of those four losses came by double-digits. You could certainly make the argument that LSU is the best team that Iowa has faced yet, which could make another double-digit loss possible for the Hawkeyes in thsi one.

LSU certainly has the advantage offensively in this one. It is putting up 37.0 points and 465.9 yards per game to rank 27th in the country in total offense. Jeremy Hill has been a beast on the ground, rushing for 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns on 6.8 per carry. Terrence Magee has added 614 yards and eight scores while averaging 7.8 per carry. The Tigers boast two of the best receivers in the country in Jarvis Landry (75 receptions, 1,172 yards, 10 TD) and Odell Beckham Jr. (57, 1,117, 8 TD). They also rank 20th in the country in total defense at 349.7 yards per game allowed.

There is a good chance that the Tigers can get to 28 points in this one, which wouldn’t be good for the Hawkeyes. Iowa is just 17-54 against the spread in its last 71 games when it allows 28 or more points. Also, LSU is a perfect 7-0 against the spread in road games when it scores at least 28 points over the past three seasons.

Why Iowa Covers

The Hawkeyes are one Big Ten team that is built to really give SEC teams fits. That’s because they are mirror images of one another. Iowa plays defense and runs the football, which is a similar formula to SEC squad, especially LSU. So, when you get two teams together that are very similar, it’s usually a good idea to look toward backing the underdog. In this case, the Hawkeyes aren’t getting much respect as a 7.5-point dog to the Tigers. They beat LSU in the 2005 Citrus Bowl as a 5-point dog as well.

Iowa boasts an improved offense this season that is averaging 27.3 points per game. Jake Rudock is completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,281 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions to give the Hawkeyes a threat of a passing attack. Mark Weisman has rushed for 938 yards and seven scores. However, it’s the defense that has been so impressive. Iowa is giving up just 18.7 points and 303.2 yards per game to rank 7th in the country in total defense. That includes 16th against the run at 120.8 yards per game, which is huge considering it will be up against an LSU team that is going to be relying heavily on the run.

LSU is going to be without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger in this one, and it could be a one-dimensional running team as a result. He was the heart and soul of this team, completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. It was devastating seeing him go down with a torn ACL in the season finale against Arkansas just before he was going to go on to the NFL. His backup, Anthony Jennings, led the Tigers on a 99-yard TD drive to beat Arkansas 31-27 in the finale. I believe Jennings is getting too much respect for his efforts in limited action against a Razorbacks’ team that didn’t win an SEC game all season. The Tigers are going to miss Mettenberger more than this line reflects.

LSU is going to be without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger in this one, and it could be a one-dimensional running team as a result. Iowa ranks 16th in the country against the run at 120.8 yards per game.

The Hawkeyes are 36-15 against the spread versus good rushing teams that average 4.75 or more yards per carry since 1992. Iowa is 14-3 against the number vs. incredible offensive teams who score 37 or more points per game since 1992. Iowa may be the best four-loss team in the entire country. Its four losses have all come against teams that are currently ranked in Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. It had a chance to win in all of those games, and there’s a good chance it will give LSU all that it can handle in the Outback Bowl.

My Early Lean: Iowa +7.5

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