The last college football game of 2019 will be the Valero Alamo Bowl between the no. 11 Utah Utes of the Pac-12 and the Texas Longhorns of the Big 12. Kickoff is at 7:30 EST on Tuesday, December 31 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Utes as 7-point favorites with an over/under of 54.5 points. Click here to get a full list of this year’s bowl schedule and betting odds for every game.
The Utes are no doubt upset about the way their season ended. For the second straight year, Utah lost in the Pac-12 Championship Game, spoiling an otherwise impressive season. Of course, the kicker this year is that the Utes likely would have gone to the College Football Playoff had they won the Pac-12 title. Instead, Kyle Whittingham’s team will have to settle for a place in the Alamo Bowl.
It’s worth mentioning that Utah has been one of the best programs in the country in bowl games. The Utes have been victorious in 14 of their last 16 bowl appearances, including a 9-2 record under Whittingham. However, Utah did lose to Northwestern in last year’s Holiday Bowl, which also followed a loss in the Pac-12 title game.
As for Texas, they took a slight step back this season. Tom Herman appeared to have things turned around after last year’s 10-4 campaign that was capped with a Sugar Bowl win over Georgia. But the Longhorns failed to build off that season. After starting the year 4-1, the Longhorns were 3-4 the rest of the way, falling well short of a return trip to the Big 12 Championship Game.
On the bright side, Texas is 2-0 in bowl games under Herman. In addition to last year’s win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, the Longhorns knocked off former Big 12 foe Missouri in the Texas Bowl two years ago. This year, the Longhorns will get another chance to finish their season with a win as they play in the Alamo Bowl for the third time, previously beating Iowa in 2006 and Oregon State in 2012.
I have a little bit of pause picking this game because Utah’s motivation could be a question mark. It’s sometimes tough for teams to get excited about a bowl game after losing a conference championship game. Texas was the beneficiary of that with Georgia last year while Utah was an example after losing their bowl last season. However, if the Utes bring their best effort, I feel good about their chances to win and cover. Given Utah’s great bowl history, I’ll put some faith in Whittingham to rally the troops and get the job done.
Utah’s poor performance in the Pac-12 title game aside, the Utes had an impressive 2019 campaign. They won 10 of their 13 games by at least 18 points. The only exceptions were losses to USC and Oregon, as well as a close road win against Washington. That means the Utes had 10 games when they left zero questions about what team was better. In my opinion, Texas isn’t close enough to the level of teams like Oregon or Washington to keep up with the Utes for 60 minutes if Utah is properly motivated.
I also think the Utah seniors will want to go out on the right note, most notably quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. Those two formed one of the best quarterback-running back tandems in the country, giving Utah a balanced and potent offense. There were just three games all season in which the Utes failed to score at least 30 points. Issues along the offensive line hindered the Utes against Oregon, but that didn’t seem to be a problem against most teams.
Even elite Pac-12 defenses like Washington and Cal couldn’t keep the Utes contained. That doesn’t fill me with confidence that Texas will be any different. Despite some modest improvements late in the year, the Longhorns gave up at least 30 points in half their games. Teams with a balanced offensive attack were usually able to have success against the Texas defense, which is why I think they’ll struggle to keep the Utah offense contained.
In fairness, the Texas offense is more than capable of scoring a few touchdowns as well. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger put together an impressive season and was able to carry his team at certain points of the season. However, I worry that Ehlinger didn’t always receive enough help around him. That could be a problem against a Utah defense that was one of the best in the country. The Utes have an elite defensive line that helped them limit 10 of their 13 opponents to 17 points or less. I’m not sure they’ll be able to hold Texas to that number, but scoring opportunities for the Longhorns could be hard to come by in this game.
Again, Utah’s motivation is a question mark and concern for me. Texas is surely good enough to seize the moment if the Utes aren’t up for the game. However, I feel more comfortable leaning toward the better team. At their best, Utah is noticeably better than Texas on both sides of the ball, and I think that’ll be enough to cover the 7-point spread.