SI.com's Luke Winn analyzes the matchup.
This isn't the fearsome, multi-faceted rushing attack we've become accustomed to seeing from the Horned Frogs. After ranking ninth in the nation in rushing offense in 2006, TCU dropped to 40th in '07. Sophomore Joseph Turner has emerged as the featured back; he has just 587 yards on the season but is riding momentum into the Texas Bowl. Turner closed the regular season with a 226-yard, four-touchdown romp in a 45-33 win at San Diego State. Freshman quarterback Andy Dalton had a turbulent debut season under center, throwing 10 interceptions against 10 touchdowns. His favorite target, senior wideout Ervin Dickerson (37 catches, 457 yards, four TDs), is the only Horned Frogs receiver with more than one scoring grab.
TCU has been carried, in large part, by its defense. It ranks 18th in the nation against the run (yielding 109.4 ypg) and ninth in pass efficiency (104.7 rating). Senior defensive end Chase Ortiz has been a monster, recording eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Junior defensive back Stephen Hodge is a blitzing threat, as he racked up seven sacks -- the second-most on the team after Ortiz -- out of the secondary. The Horned Frogs only allowed one 200-yard-plus rushing game (to Wyoming on Oct. 6) and held opponents to 75 rushing yards or fewer four times.
The Cougars' biggest question mark concerns the situation on their sideline. Can they win a bowl game without the services of their head coach, Art Briles, who bolted for Waco after being hired by Baylor? Cornerbacks coach Chris Thurmond has taken over the team in the interim. He'll be banking on a huge farewell performance from senior Anthony Alridge, one of the nation's most underrated big-play backs. Alridge accounted for nearly a third of Houston's total touchdowns (19 of 58) and ranked seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game with 130.7. Senior wideout Donnie Avery, who led Conference USA in receiving and had a 346-yard explosion against Rice on Oct. 13, is the Cougars' biggest threat in the passing game.
While Houston's offense was potent enough under Briles to rank fourth in the nation in total yards, its D has been occasionally porous, allowing 48 points to Oregon, 37 to East Carolina, 48 to Rice and 56 to Tulsa. The Cougars still ranked first in the C-USA in total defense at 365.7 yards per game, which may say more about the league's lack of D than it does about Houston's ability to shut down opponents. The Cougs' main weapon on that side of the ball is junior defensive lineman Phillip Hunt, who led the C-USA in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (16).
At face value, the fact that the Cougars are without Briles would seem to doom them for this game. But it also might be the kind of adversity they need to maintain focus on a bowl game held in their hometown. Look for Alridge to eventually wear down the Horned Frogs' D, and the better offense -- Houston's -- to prevail.
The pick: Houston 27, TCU 20