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Vanderbilt favored slightly over Houston on Saturday
By: Robert Livingston - StatFox
Published: 1/4/2014  at  5:43:00 AM
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VANDERBILT COMMODORES (8-4)
vs. HOUSTON COUGARS (8-4)

Compass Bowl
Legion Field - Birmingham, AL
Kickoff: Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: Vanderbilt -3, Total: 53.5

Vanderbilt will attempt to earn a nine-win season against Houston, also in search of win No. 9, in Saturday's Compass Bowl, but the Commodores will have to do so without starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels (knee), who tore his ACL earlier in the season and underwent surgery after the conclusion of the regular season.

After losing two of its first three games, Vandy navigated the rest of its season well, earning strong wins over programs such as Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. The Commodores went 6-6 ATS, including 3-2 ATS in non-home games where it gained just 294 total YPG. The Cougars didn’t beat a ranked team all year—falling to their two ranked foes in UCF and Louisville—though they closed out their season with a 34-0 shutout of SMU to avoid ending the year on a four-game losing skid. They went an incredible 10-2 ATS, including 6-0 ATS in non-home games (1-0 ATS at neutral site) where they gained 447 total YPG. But Houston is 0-7 ATS in road games after allowing six or fewer points in their previous game since 1992. They are, however, 17-6 ATS (74%) after an SU win over the past three seasons.

Which team will close out its season with a ninth victory? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 regular season and bowl season. The four experts finished the regular season a collective 51.1% ATS (120-115-7) on college football Best Bets, led by StatFox Dave's stellar 57% ATS (35-25-2) mark. This included a 64% ATS (23-13-2) record in his final 11 weeks. StatFox Gary was 2-1 ATS in the final week to finish 53% ATS (21-19-1) in the regular season. Gary was 56% ATS (20-16-1) in college football Best Bets since Week 3. StatFox Brian also finished strong with a 3-1 ATS mark on Best Bets in Championship Week, giving him his fourth straight winning season of college football Best Bets at 52% ATS (33-30-1). StatFox Scott is looking to repeat a huge 2012-13 bowl season, when he posted a 71% ATS mark in Best Bets (5-2-1).

With Austyn Carta-Samuels (2,268 pass yards, 8.1 YPA, 11 TD, 9 INT) out for this game, freshman QB Patton Robinette will step under center. He filled in for a couple games earlier in the year after the injury was initially suffered, and finished the year completing 58.0% of his passes for 488 yards (7.1 YPA), 2 TD and 3 INT. He also ran for 177 yards (3.2 YPC) and six touchdowns. Robinette may not be very accomplished in his young career, but he has the luxury of throwing one last game to senior WR Jordan Matthews (107 catches, 1,334 yards, 5 TD), the SEC’s all-time leader in yards and receptions. And for bigger plays, he can look to another senior, WR Jonathan Krause (41 catches, 703 yards, 3 TD), who averaged 17.1 yards per reception. On the ground, sophomore RB Jerron Seymour (627 rush yards, 4.4 YPC) found the end zone 13 times, while the Commodores scored 31 rushing TD all season. Although he missed the last game against Wake Forest with an injury, he is expected to start on Saturday. Vanderbilt’s defense was average, giving up 24.7 PPG (47th in FBS) and 367 total YPG. The Commodores stopped the run (148 YPG on 4.1 YPC) much more effectively than the pass (204 YPG, 6.1 YPA), allowing a 63% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, including 68% completions on the road. Vanderbilt helped itself out nicely by forcing 27 turnovers this season, compiling 20 takeaways over the final six games.

Houston's offense was pretty strong in 2013, racking up 33.9 PPG (34th in FBS), including 284 passing YPG (2rd in nation). Freshman QB John O’Korn takes the snaps for the Cougars, and he has thrown for 2,889 yards (7.2 YPA), 26 TD and 8 INT. He completed 59.9% of his passes and averaged 33 attempts per game, but did not throw an interception in eight of his 12 contests. He has a clear favorite target in sophomore WR Deontay Greenberry (76 catches, 1,106 yards, 10 TD) while junior WR Daniel Spencer (50 catches, 764 yards, 6 TD) can also make things happen in the open field. Sophomore RB Ryan Jackson (655 rush yards, 4.0 YPC, 6 TD) led Houston on the ground, but he has not gained 70 rushing yards in a game for nine straight contests, as his offense much more prefers to throw the football. Playing an easy schedule, Houston gave up only 20.2 PPG (15th in FBS), and was especially tough against the run, holding teams to 144 YPG on a mere 3.5 YPC. Through the air, the Cougars allowed a hefty 276 passing YPG (7.0 YPA) on 62% completions. But this defense knows how to change the complexion of a game by forcing turnovers. The unit tallied at least three takeaways in nine of its 12 games this season, totaling 40 forced turnovers for the season.

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