The California Golden Bears (7-5) are set to take on the TCU Horned Frogs in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl. Kickoff is set for 9:00 EST on Wednesday, December 26th at Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Oddsmakers opened this thing up with TCU as a 2-point favorite, but the money has flipped the line to where Cal is now a 1-point favorite. The total for this matchup is currently sitting at 38.5 points.

Click here for a full look at the college bowl betting odds. You can also click on the following link to check out my bowl predictions.

Cheez-It Bowl Vegas Betting Preview: TCU vs California

This was no where close to the kind of season we expected to see from TCU. The Horned Frogs were suppose to contend for the Big 12 title, but instead had to win 3 of their final 4 just to become bowl eligible. It was a hard season to explain. The Horned Frogs had a 21-13 lead over Ohio State and only lost by 12 despite a -3 turnover margin. They went just 1-4 over their next 5, including a shocking loss to Kansas, which was the Jayhawks only win in conference play.

You have to give this team props for not throwing in the towel and fighting for a bowl. It will be their 17th bowl game in 18 years under head coach Gary Patterson. Win or lose, Patterson will still have a winning bowl record after this one, as he comes in at 9-7. TCU has won 3 of their last 4 bowl games, including a 39-37 win over Stanford in last year’s Alamo Bowl.

It was a similar up and down season for the Golden Bears. There was a buzz around Cal after they started out 3-0 with wins over UNC and BYU, but they lost 3 straight, including a shocking 37-7 loss at home to a bad UCLA team. That seemed to be a turning point for this team, as they went on to win 4 of their final 6, including a win over eventual Pac-12 champion Washington.

Getting to a bowl after just missing out at 5-7 in his first year, is a big step in the right direction for second year head coach Justin Wilcox. Postseason play isn’t the norm in Berkeley, as this will be just the second time in 8 years that Cal is going to a bowl. The most recent was 2015, when they beat Air Force 55-36 as a 7-point favorite in the Armed Forces Bowl.

2018 Cheez-It Bowl Free Pick & Predictions: Cal -1

With the line basically a pick’em, we just have to pick the outright winner here and I would have to side with Cal in this one. I not only think the matchup favors the Golden Bears, but I also think they will be the more motivated side in this one.

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Injuries and a suspension really put the TCU offense in a bad spot this year. The Horned Frogs lost starting quarterback Shawn Robinson to a season-ending shoulder injury and won’t have backup Michael Collins, who is dealing with a foot injury. Leading rusher, Darius Anderson is also not going to be available and wide out KaVontae Turpin was suspended back in October.

TCU finished the year averaging 24.7 ppg, which was almost a touchdown under what their opponents gave up on average. When you struggle to move the ball and put points on the board against the lackluster defenses in the Big 12, you know there’s some serious problems.

I just have a hard time seeing the Horned Frogs being able to get anything going against a top tier Cal defense. The Golden Bears allowed just 21.2 ppg, which was 8.3 ppg fewer than what their opponents averaged. They were also even more stingy on the road, as they only gave up 16.4 ppg away from home.

The one big weapon that TCU has is wide out Jalen Reagor, but Cal has the 23rd ranked pass defense (187.1 ypg) in the country and you can bet they will have a gameplan in place to make sure Reagor doesn’t beat them.

I know the Cal offense isn’t much better, but I trust them a lot more and there’s a chance TCU’s defense doesn’t play well. I have to wonder how much the Horned Frogs even care about this game. Keep in mind they entered the season No. 16 in the country and were coming off an 11-win season. This is no where close to the bowl they thought they would be in and there’s no extra incentive to beating a Cal team that hasn’t really done anything to make them a team you would be excited to beat. Give me the Golden Bears -1!