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Handicapping Motivation

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Five Teams With Questionable Motivation Levels for Bowl Season
Handicapping college football bowl games is far different than handicapping a regular season contest. The biggest difference is the increased need to handicap motivation.

Which team wants to be there? Which team would rather just get their season over with?

It might seem too obvious, but motivation truly is the single most important factor in handicapping college football this time of the year. With that in mind, I've put together a list of five teams that might not be motivated for the upcoming postseason.

I would strongly suggest to follow beat writers via Twitter for the teams and read the press conferences of each team heading into their bowl matchups. Ask yourself if it seems like the team is excited and focused on the task at hand, or do the players and coaching staff seem ambivalent?

That will point you in the right direction and I'm expecting lackluster performances from these schools below. 

Houston Cougars
Saturday, Dec. 17 - Las Vegas Bowl vs. San Diego State

The Houston Cougars got to play against ninth- ranked Florida State in the Peach Bowl last year and they ran past the Seminoles, 38-24. That game was on a much bigger stage than their game on the opening Saturday of bowl season this year against the San Diego State Aztecs.

The game is in Las Vegas, so you could argue that makes it more exciting for the players. On the other hand, you have to wonder in a situation like this if the team is motivated to go play a football game, or just to go spend some time in Las Vegas. It's very likely that many of the players have never been to Las Vegas, and there is definitely plenty to do in Sin City. Houston's opponent, San Diego State, is accustomed to coming to Las Vegas, because they play a road game at UNLV every other year.

The elephant in the room here is the fact that head coach Tom Herman left and is now running the show at Texas. Herman did great things with this program, and it has to be disappointing for the players to see him leave.

Cougars defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will be the interim coach for the Cougars in this game before leaving the school and joining Herman in Austin. Houston promoted within and named offensive coordinator Major Applewhite as the full time coach. This is an odd situation all the way around.

Temple Owls
Tuesday, Dec. 27 - Military Bowl vs. Wake Forest

Temple had another fantastic season. The Owls failed to cover the spread in their first game this year but then proceeded to rattle off 12 straight covers against the spread. Temple was supposed to be down this year after they lost a lot of talent on the defensive end, but the Owls won the American Athletic Conference title.

Why would they have questionable motivation? Head Coach Matt Rhule leaving is a large part of it. Rhule did a fantastic job at the school and he was rewarded with a new gig at Baylor. The Owls lost a great head coach, and the players really loved fighting hard for Rhule.

Defensively, Temple ranks in the top five in the nation in most of the major categories this year. However, another reason to question their motivation is their bowl opponent in Wake Forest, who ranks 125th out of 128 teams in total offense. The AAC was a good conference this year, and one would have expected Temple to get a tougher opponent than Wake Forest but since the group isn't a Power 5 conference, the bowl tie-ins don't present intriguting matchups. 

The Owls (-13) are listed as one of the largest favorites this bowl season.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Friday, Dec. 30 - Sun Bowl vs. Stanford

North Carolina had higher aspirations than the Sun Bowl heading into the season and this was a team that appeared to be right on the cusp of big things. They played like a team that was on the verge of a breakout season at times but unfortunately for them, they were very inconsistent.

North Carolina ws blasted 34-3 at home to Virginia Tech after a strong 4-1 start. They did rebound with three consecutive wins, two coming on the road. However, the Tar Heels lost in two of their last three games to a pair of local rivals in Duke and North Carolina State as heavy favorites. 

Head coach Larry Fedora's name has been thrown around multiple times with annual job openings that come up, and you have to think that hurts team chemistry a little bit. The Tar Heels skidded into the finish, and that's not an encouraging sign especially when you're facing a Cardinal team that closed the season with five straight victories.

Tennessee Volunteers
Friday, Dec. 30 - Music City Bowl vs. Nebraska

Remember when Tennessee was 5-0 and considered a playoff contender?

The Volunteers lost four of their final seven games and the defense has been shredded by everyone they have played of late. If they don't have an incredible offensive game, the Vols are toast. They allowed 635 and 740 yards in victories against Kentucky and Missouri respectively. They escaped those games but that poor production caught them in their final game as Vanderbilt posted 608 yards in a 45-34 victory over Tennessee. 

Most people expected Tennessee to win at least 10 games this year, and now they have been terrible late in the season. Head coach Butch Jones is firmly on the hot seat -- again. They do face a struggling Nebraska squad in the bowl and playing in Nashville should give the Vols the edge but a short trip from Knoxville isn't exactly a great reward for the players.

TCU Horned Frogs
Friday, Dec. 30 - Liberty Bowl vs. Georgia

The TCU Horned Frogs were a major disappointment this year and that's being nice. The school was ranked in the Top 25 to begin the season and finished with a .500 record (6-6). Even worse, the Frogs burned bettors with a 3-9 ATS record and that includes a 0-7 ATS ledger in Fort Worth.

Gary Patterson is a good coach, so it is possible that TCU will be ready for this game. On the other hand, after one of the most disappointing seasons in recent program history, this team might just be ready to turn the page and look to next year.

TCU will take on Georgia in the Liberty Bowl and the postseason hasn't been great for the Frogs. TCU is 2-5 ATS in their last 7 bowl games and while I'm not sure I will go against TCU, I definitely can't back them against a solid SEC school. 

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