Thor Nystrom

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ATS Bowl Picks Dec. 19-22

Tuesday, December 19, 2017



Tuesday, December 19

 

 

 


Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl

 

Akron (7-6) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)

7 p.m., ESPN

Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium

Boca Raton, Florida

 

Florida Atlantic -22.5 vs. Akron

 

Straight Up:

FAU Owls logo

Against the Spread:

FAU Owls logo

 

View from Vegas:

Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv SportsBook Manager: “Huge spread not scaring anyone. Over 80% of money on the fav. We need Akron here for the book.”

 

Analysis:

This is the largest spread in a bowl game in 40 years. Justifiably so. FAU is objectively the far better team, and they have the added benefit of home field advantage.

 

The Owls haven’t lost since late-September. It’s been breathtaking to watch FAU come on under HC Lane Kiffin and OC Kendal Briles since the 1-3 start threw everybody off their scent. Prior to the current nine-game winning streak, FAU had gone 10-30 combined since the start of the 2014 season.

 

If anybody tells you that they saw the Year 1 Kiffin miracle coming, they’re lying.

 

But hindsight is 20-20 looking back: Kiffin and Briles were two of the sport’s best offensive coordinators over the past several years, and combining Kiffin’s matchup-exploiting brilliance with Briles’ hyper-tempo, hyper-spread, hyper-explosive old Baylor system was a stroke of genius.

 

It would be revisionist history to claim that Kiffin parachuted into a plum opportunity—after the Charlie Partridge era, FAU was not a highly sought-after job last winter—but it turned out that Kiffin and Briles inherited an offensive roster that was near ideal for what they wanted to do. They have Partridge to thank for that. He went 3-9 in three consecutive seasons, but recruiting was never the issue.

 

RB Devin Singletary was the shiniest of Partidge’s departing gifts, a three-star runner (the No. 133 RB in his class, per the 247Sports composite) from Delray Beach. To land Singletary, Partridge fended off FSU, Miami, UNC, USF, and lastly, Illinois, from whom Singletary decommited late in the game.

 

To be fair, even Partridge may not have known what he had on his hands. When Singletary and fellow incoming RB recruit James Charles signed, Partridge said the following: “I haven’t been anywhere, including here, where you haven’t gotten to the fourth or fifth running back over the course of the season. We feel like both of these guys come in and bring quality depth and talent.”

 

Singletary proved to be far more than a depth piece last year as a true freshman. He began the year buried on a depth chart fronted by Gregory Howell, but ended up rushing for over 1,000 yards despite not getting serious run until mid-October.

 

Briles’ system, always extremely running back friendly, has unleashed the full-fledged superstar ability within the young back. Singletary failed to reach 100 yards rushing in FAU’s first two games against Navy and Wisconsin. Since then, he’s topped the century mark in 11 consecutive games.

 

Singletary heads into Tuesday’s game with a ludicrous 1,796 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns (along with an 18-185-1 line as a receiver). For that, he was named a third team All-American, becoming the first Owl in school history to be named an AP All-American.

 

Singletary’s ascension pushed Howell into a secondary role, but make no mistake: Howell himself is a starting-caliber FBS back. Howell has 690 rushing yards (in 172 less attempts than Singletary), but has a slightly better YPC average (6.5 for Singletary, 6.7 for Howell).

 

All of which is to say that Akron won’t get a break when Singletary gets a blow. Singletary and Howell lead the S&P+ No. 7 FAU running attack. The Owls are one of five FBS teams averaging over 6.0 YPC as team.

 

FAU’s run attack against Akron’s run defense is probably the biggest unit-on-unit mismatch that we’ll see during bowl season. The Zips rank No. 105 with 5.0 YPC allowed on the ground, and S&P+ likes Akron’s run defense even less than that, ranking it No. 119 in the FBS.

 

The running game has been a smashing success, but Kiffin and Briles haven’t quite gotten the passing attack off the ground. Jason Driskel is a dual-threat, a preference in the Baylor system. He’s been solid on the ground (387 yards, six TDs), but isn’t consistently taking advantage of the single-coverage his speedy receivers usually get.

 

The scheme itself can speak to much of Driskel’s 65.6-percent completion percentage and 7.5 YPA. Kiffin and Briles didn’t choose Driskel as the starter out of camp, and they’re extremely careful about not putting him into disadvantageous throwing situations. Driskel (1,977 yards passing, 13/4 TD/INT rate) rarely takes sacks and rarely turns the ball over, which is plenty good enough for now.

 

On the other side of the ball, FAU is perfectly FBS-mediocre, ranking No. 63 S&P+. The Owls have a decent pass defense (No. 50 S&P+) and a poor run defense (No. 89 S&P+).

 

The straightforward formula to snapping FAU’s winning streak would entail attacking that weak run defense while slowing down Singletary and Howell.

 

With Akron RB Warren Ball out for the year, Akron isn’t equipped to expose FAU’s Achilles heel. Ball hasn’t played since early in the Sept. 30 win over Bowling Green, and yet he’s only 61 yards shy of the team’s leading rusher (Manny Morgan, 393).

 

Akron’s run offense ranks a lowly S&P+ No. 124. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the rushing offense is helped by dual-threat freshman QB Kato Nelson starting. The bad news is that Nelson, a Florida native who grew up within an hour radius of Boca Raton, is a downgrade from veteran QB Thomas Woodson as a thrower. Either way, Akron’s pass offense stinks (No. 111 S&P+).

 

By now, you know that we think an Akron upset would be something of a miracle. But is there any value to going contrarian and taking the 22.5 points?

 

During FAU’s winning streak, the Owls have beaten six teams by more than 23 (Old Dominion, North Texas twice, Louisiana Tech and FIU) and three by less (an 18-point margin over Middle Tennessee in a game that began the streak, a 14-point win against Western Kentucky and a five-point win Marshall).

 

Akron is objectively worse than the three latter teams. In terms of overall quality, they’re closest to Old Dominion, a team FAU clocked by 30 on the road. Of course, facing a similar spread, Akron hung within 17 of Toledo a few weeks ago in the MAC title game. Per S&P+’s Adj. Scoring Margin, which had Toledo as 28.9 points better on the day, that close-ish margin was a fluke.

 

If you’ve read this column for a while, you know that we rarely lay double-digits and will almost never invest in a favorite of over 20 points—the spots are rarely attractive enough. While we don't think this is a very attractive ATS spot due to the juiced number, we would lean toward laying the points. Akron makes for an intriguing contrarian play if you can stomach buying a Zips ticket. We couldn't get there.

 

 

Wednesday, December 20

 

 

DXL FRISCO BOWL

 

Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)

8 p.m., ESPN

Toyota Stadium

Frisco, Texas

 

SMU -5 vs. Louisiana Tech

 

Straight Up:

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs logo

Against the Spread:

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs logo

 

View from Vegas:

Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv SportsBook Manager: “Quite a bit of early money on SMU has now settled in. Bets coming in pretty evenly.”

 

Analysis:

Arkansas made a tremendous hire in plucking Chad Morris out of Dallas. It was the next logical step in Morris’ ascending career, but his move to the SEC (along with interim HC Jeff Traylor) threw a wrench into SMU’s postseason preparation.

 

Successful Group of 5 teams play without their head coach in bowl games every season, the unfortunate byproduct of the timing of the coaching carousel. But SMU’s situation is different. The Ponies won’t be playing for an interim coach on Wednesday. No, they’ll be playing for new HC Sonny Dykes.

 

This almost never happens. Yahoo’s Dr. Saturday was able to think of four examples over the past 25 years of a coach leaving one school—Dykes was formerly an assistant at TCU—to immediately coach their new program in the postseason: Tommy West (Clemson, 1993), David Cutcliffe (Ole Miss, 1998), Chris Scelfo (Tulane, 1998) and Brian Kelly (Cincinnati, 2006).

 

Incredibly, those four coaches went 4-0 in those bowl games. So Dykes has that going for him. But he also faces the longest odds of the five.

 

He'll be presiding over a foreign offensive system with a hodge-podge coaching staff of Morris leftovers and new hires. SMU athletic director Rick Hart revealed that plan at the introductory news conference. Hope of its success on Wednesday strikes us as magical thinking.

 

There are few similarities between Dykes and Morris’ offenses outside of the fact that a central tenant of both is spreading the field to attack defenders in space. Once there, Dykes attacks you nearly exclusively through the air. Dykes is a Mike Leach disciple who’ll install an Air Raid offshoot next spring. Morris’ scheme is more balanced, and run with more tempo.

 

Since SMU can’t learn Dykes' playbook in eight days—Dykes was introduced on Dec. 12—he intends to run Morris’ offense against LTU. Morris’ system is similar to those run at Auburn (Morris changed his entire offensive philosophy after twice flying to Arkansas to watch Gus Malzahn’s groundbreaking high school team in the early-2000s) and Clemson, where Morris was the OC prior to taking the SMU job.

 

So how exactly does Dykes intend to do that? This is what he told reporters last week when the news was announced: "I'm going to sit down with [QB] Ben [Hicks] today. I told Ben he may be the only player-coach in college football right now. He's going to teach me the offense." Dykes admitted that it would be a “crazy” week leading up to the bowl.

 

You can say that again. Most unfortunately, the new early-signing period for recruiting begins on Wednesday, the same day this game takes place. Dykes’ fractured attention is likely focused more on winning over new recruits than it is on Louisiana Tech, his former school.

 

And have we mentioned that SMU players openly lobbied for Traylor to be hired for the permanent job? Dykes’ hiring was a wildly unpopular move within the locker room, another big complication within the nine-day window he had to prepare for this game.

 

If Morris had remained on at SMU, we’d have thought an SMU -5 line was just about perfect for this game. S&P+ set SMU’s projected margin of win at 3.3. Kick in another point-and-a-half for a fractional homefield advantage (Frisco is roughly a 40-minute drive from Dallas), and we have our spread.

 

But that line is based in the vacuum of numbers, devoid of context. If you have any skepticism whatsoever about the Morris-to-Dykes transition, you must acknowledge that the line value here is on Louisiana Tech—there’s simply no pessimism about the situation being baked into the spread.

 

SMU heads in with the S&P+ No. 8 offense. The passing attack gets all the accolades because of the damage 6-foot-4 NFL dreamboat WR Courtland Sutton (62-1017-12) and stud LSU transfer Trey Quinn (106-1191-12) have done, but S&P+ actually rates the Ponies’ run game (No. 21)  higher than its aerial attack (No. 45).

 

The issue with the Mustangs continues to be the defense (No. 121 S&P+). Only three FBS teams had a lower rating in preventing explosive plays.

 

Louisiana Tech’s defense is also lousy, but it’s far superior by comparison (No. 87 S&P+). If SMU’s offense doesn’t get lost in the Morris-to-Dykes translation, it’ll put up big numbers.

 

But SMU is going to have all kinds of trouble stopping Louisiana Tech’s offense, especially its No. 27 S&P+ run game, led by RB Boston Scott, a 5-foot-6, 200-pound stick of dynamite.

 

Don’t let Louisiana Tech’s 6-6 record fool you. They’re better than that. This would have been a different season had the Bulldogs closed out some close losses. Four of its six defeats came by one possession, and three of those were decided by a single point (South Carolina, UAB and North Texas, each a top-66 S&P+ team).

 

LTU seemed to be rounding into form in the regular season finale, when they dominated S&P+ No. 52 UTSA 20-6 to achieve bowl eligibility. We expect them to carry that success over into a game against an opponent that may not be on the same page.

 

 

Thursday, December 21

 

 

Bad Boy Motors Gasparilla Bowl

 

Temple (6-6) vs. Florida International (8-4)

8 p.m., ESPN

Tropicana Field

St. Petersburg, Florida

 

Temple -7 vs. Florida International

 

 

Straight Up:

FIU Golden Panthers logo

Against the Spread:

FIU Golden Panthers logo

 

View from Vegas:

Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv SportsBook Manager: “One of the only Bowl games we actually need the favorite; three-quarter of bets coming on the dog here. I can actually cheer for a favorite for once!”

 

Analysis:

Butch Davis performed one of the best coaching jobs in all of the FBS this season, steering a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2011 (Mario Cristobal’s second-to-last season) to an 8-4 record. Because of what Lane Kiffin was doing in Boca Raton, Butch’s own transformative miracle wasn’t often mentioned.

 

But it'll get some ink later this week if FIU can beat a peaking Temple team in front of a nationally televised audience.

 

Davis will once again need to make do without offensive centerpiece WR Thomas Owens (59-887-6 TDs in only nine games). Owens missed the last three games with a knee injury, and it was reported earlier this month that he’ll sit this one out to ensure his health as he begins preparations for the NFL Draft.

 

Frankly, we’re skeptical about FIU’s other offensive pieces. The Panthers finished with the No. 58 S&P+ offense despite its mediocre running attack (No. 101 S&P+) because the unit as a whole was propped up by the passing game (No. 38 S&P+).

 

With 85, Owens had nearly twice as many targets as FIU’s next-highest receiver (and remember: Owens missed three games). Incredibly, the Panthers weathered Owens’ loss just fine by dropping 104 points combined in their last two games. Those games were against Western Kentucky and UMass. As luck would have it, WKU (No. 84 S&P+) and UMass (No. 85) are the teams immediately preceding Temple (No. 86) in S&P+’s power rankings.

 

It’s curious, but nonetheless true, that the FIU offense hasn't regressed without Owens. FIU WRs Bryce Singleton and Tony Gaiter IV have emerged to pick up the slack. Nevertheless, FIU’s team strength is clearly its passing offense, and its top weapon will be on the sidelines on Thursday. That gives great pause, no matter the conflicting data points.

 

Temple comes into this game hot, off a 3-1 November (the loss was to UCF). It’s no coincidence that the run coincides with Frank Nutile taking over at quarterback. Nutile’s first start was the one before the 3-1 streak started, a 31-28 overtime loss at 9-3 Army, a setback that looks far more impressive in hindsight than it seemed at the time. Coming out of it, Temple, at 3-5, didn't look like it would be going bowling. Nutile had other ideas.

 

Temple’s defense regressed from S&P+ No. 16 in 2016 to No. 52 this year, checking in at No. 68 with 27.7 ppg allowed. Even so, it remains the strength of the team. But it has two specific issues that may get exploited by FIU.

 

The Owls struggle to defend the pass (S&P+ No. 70). They also have serious issues in the red-zone, ranking No. 91 defensively. That latter issue looks particularly damning in lieu of the fact that Florida International boasts the nation’s No. 1 red-zone offense.

 

But set aside the numbers and in-game matchups for a second. The question you must answer when breaking down this game is: Do you believe Temple will continue to peak through its bowl preparations and trip down to Florida? Because if the Owls are as good or better than the team we saw in late November, they have a decent chance to cover.

 

But if Temple regresses at all—if they play as they did pre-November—FIU has a strong chance to pull the outright upset. FIU’s veteran-heavy team is not a motivation question. They’re also playing closer to home, with a coach who’s proven to be money in the postseason. Davis is a career 5-2 in bowl games—at Miami and UNC—and both losses were close.

 

We’re simply more confident in FIU’s mindset than we are Temple’s. We know FIU is going to show up. If Temple brings its A-game, the Owls are going to win, and probably cover. But if they come with any less, put them on upset alert.

 

Temple has gotten used to playing in bigger bowl games. In a nondescript postseason matchup against an unsexy opponent, will they have it in them to rise up and bounce FIU in Florida? We’re betting not.

 

 

Friday, December 22

 

 

Bahamas Bowl

 

UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)

12:30 p.m., ESPN

Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium

Nassau Bahamas

 

Ohio -7.5 vs. UAB

 

Straight Up:

UAB Blazers logo

Against the Spread:

UAB Blazers logo

 

View from Vegas:

Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv SportsBook Manager: “Nothing of note here with spread and total not moving at all. However, one of our sharpest bettors loaded UAB if that is worth anything.”

 

Analysis:

To us, UAB is the best story in college football this season. Resurrected from a two-year playing hiatus, the Blazers are amidst the best season in program history. This is just UAB's second bowl appearance, and they’ve already set a program record for wins in a season while playing in the FBS with eight. UAB sentenced itself to death. And then it revived itself, immediately the strongest it had ever been. The Blazers are like a lovable Gregor Clegane (the Mountain from "Game of Thrones").

 

If Rotoworld had a vote in the AP Coach of the Year award (we don’t), our ballot would have been cast for UAB HC Bill Clark (who I guess would be Qyburn in the metaphor). Clark didn’t even make the finalist list (Scott Frost, Kirby Smart, Dabo Swinney), an injustice we must move on from in order to dive into UAB’s postseason draw.

 

Just as the AP COY award treated Clark like an interesting curiosity, Las Vegas lines continue to treat the Blazers like a cute, plucky bunch that cannot hang with decent teams.

 

Because that narrative didn’t match the team’s performance, UAB was an ATS cash cow. The Blazers are 8-3-1 ATS, with four outright upsets (Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and UTSA).

 

Motivation is not a question on the UAB side. It isn’t helpful for you to think about them as a compelling story, a curiosity that has punched above its weight. That narrative fails to recognize UAB as the legitimate, quality team they are in a vacuum. It’s better to think of the Blazers as a UFC fighter with an iron chin and a non-stop motor, the type built to spring upsets because they won’t go away.

 

Basically, UAB is the Group of 5’s Nick Diaz.

 

Does Ohio have enough to beat a team of that profile by double-digits? Let’s just say that we’re skeptical.

 

As always, the Bobcats offense is run-first. Ohio led the MAC in rushing, and the ground attack’s extreme efficiency explains why it’s also loved by advanced metrics (S&P+ ranks Ohio’s run offense No. 29 overall and No. 7 in rushing success rate).

 

Ohio QB Nathan Rourke was a revelation after taking over early in the campaign. A dynamic runner, he easily led the FBS in touchdown runs by a quarterback (21) and finished second overall to FAU RB Devin Singletary. Taking out sack yardage, Rourke ran for 978 yards on 8.3 YPC.

 

Rourke isn’t as good when confined to the pocket, throwing for 2,018 yards and a 15/7 TD/INT rate on 54.4-percent completions and a 6.6 YPA average. Ohio finished the regular season with a mediocre S&P+ No. 73 passing offense.

 

Even so, Ohio has a big offensive advantage heading in (and also a big special teams advantage). That said, Ohio will likely be without RB A.J. Ouellette, who’s doubtful with a shoulder injury. HC Frank Solich indicated late last month that Ouellette was likely out for the bowl game, and we haven’t received any substantive status updates since.

 

Ouellette, Ohio’s leading rusher (980 yards), may not be as valuable to the team as Rourke, but he’s extremely important. Ohio wants to grind you down, and Ouellette functions as its hammer.

 

The Bobcats gagged away an appearance in the MAC title game courtesy of two upset losses to close the season against Akron and Buffalo. Against the Zips, Rourke ran wild (165 yards), but Ouellette was bottled up for only 74 yards on 3.08 YPC. Because of that, Ohio faced more second-and-long and third-and-long situations than it is built to handle, and the Bobcats were soundly outplayed (they lost close, 37-34, but S&P+ had the expected margin of victory Akron by 10.1).

 

The next week, against Buffalo, Ouellette was limited to two carries due to injury. Ohio’s passing offense once again proved overmatched when consistently placed into disadvantageous situations, and Buffalo won by seven (S&P+ had the expected margin of victory Buffalo by 10.0).

 

UAB’s edge heading in comes on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank S&P+ No. 37 to Ohio’s S&P+ No. 48. The Blazers are better against the run (No. 55 S&P+) than the pass (No. 78 S&P+), but UAB’s secondary did have a first-team C-USA pick in Darious Williams.

 

UAB should be able to slow down Ohio, especially if Ouellette is indeed out. UAB’s offense is sort of a poor man’s version of Ohio’s. It's led by 235-pound freshman grinder RB Spencer Brown (1,292 yards and ten scores).

 

UAB QB A.J. Erdely, ala Rourke, ran for double-digit touchdowns (13, with 475 yards). While not the pure runner his contemporary is, Erdely had similar passing numbers to Rourke (2,077 yards, 16/4 TD/INT, 61.8-percent completions and a 6.0 YPA average).

 

We think that Ohio will show better than they did in their last two games, but it’s hard to envision them dusting UAB. The Bobcats are accustomed to playing in bowl games, and they’re no doubt bummed they aren’t in a better one after starting 8-2.

 

We’ve long considered Ohio HC Frank Solich one of the game’s most underrated coaches, but it’s fair to point out that Solich is 4-9 in bowl games over his career, including 2-6 while at Ohio. Against an extremely game opponent accustomed to winning as underdogs and attempting to make school history, Solich may just end up finding himself as the newest coach on the wrong side of UAB’s magical ride.

 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

 

Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)

4 p.m., ESPN

Lyle Smith Field at Albertsons Stadium

Boise, Idaho

 

Wyoming (pick ‘em) vs. Central Michigan

 

Straight Up:

Wyoming Cowboys logo

Against the Spread:

Wyoming Cowboys logo

 

View from Vegas:

Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv SportsBook Manager: “A true pick em and is getting bet exactly like that, 50/50. The under, though, is getting pounded. Already dropped from 47 to 45.”

 

Analysis:

Last week, I had conversations with two different college football writers about this game.

 

Writer No. 1 and I agreed that it was most unfortunate that Central Michigan were paired in a bowl together, as he and I had hoped to fade both in the postseason. Writer No. 2 and I spoke about the in-game matchups, and whether or not Wyoming’s No. 9 S&P+ defense could stop dynamic CMU RB Jonathan Ward and CMU’s on-again, off-again passing attack.

 

At the end of those discussions, I asked each for a pick. Writer No. 1: “I don't love it but I think if Allen does decide to play, I kinda have a gut feel that he does well ... I would have to take Wyoming there with gun to my head.” Writer No. 2: “Are we saying with Allen in or out? I want the Cowboys if he plays.”

 

They asked me for mine. I said: “If Allen’s playing, Wyoming. If he’s not, CMU.”

 

Really, we could end the write-up there.

 

For all the criticism Allen (1,658 passing yards, 13/6 TD/INT rate, 56.2-percent completions, 5.6 YPA) took this season, he remained an extremely valuable member of the team.

 

Allen suffered a sprained throwing shoulder on Nov. 11 against Air Force. In games against Group of 5 teams, Wyoming was averaging 35.0 ppg to that point. If you want to include all 2017 games—which is to say throwing back in the first three games of the year against the Power 5’s Iowa and Oregon and the FCS’ Gardner-Webb—then Wyoming was averaging 24.4 ppg.

 

Either way, Wyoming was 7-3 at that point, with two losses as prohibitive underdogs to Iowa and Oregon, and the other one at MWC power Boise State.

 

In the two games Nick Smith started to close out the regular season, the Cowboys went 0-2, with an understandable-but-ugly loss to Fresno State (13-7) and a humiliating loss to San Jose State (20-17), one of the FBS’ three-worst teams. Wyoming averaged 12.0 ppg in those two.

 

The Cowboys went three-and-out on 27.5-percent of its drives when Allen was healthy and have done so on 42.1-percent of drives since his injury. And again: Nearly half of the latter sample size came from the San Jose State game, a team only listed above 0-12 UTEP in S&P+’s power rankings.

 

To quickly retrace points that have been made plenty during the #DraftTwitter season-long argument about Allen, it’s critical to take context into account when considering Allen’s 2017 season. Wyoming lost five offensive starters last year, and four of them are now playing in the NFL.

 

It’s questionable whether any current member of the Wyoming starting offense outside of Allen will play in the NFL. The talent dropoff at the skill positions has been startling, and that should be no surprise with 78-percent of Wyoming’s rushing stats and 80-percent of its receiving output having walked out the door after last season.

 

All of which is to say that, regardless of what the red-faced Twitter poster may have you believe, Allen is incredibly important to Wyoming’s success. With him, Wyoming has a passable offense. Without him, it simply doesn’t.

 

So will Allen play? That’s currently unknown. But there’s this: We’ve received optimistic progress reports from both Allen himself and HC Craig Bohl, and Allen has been running the first-team in practice since the middle of last week.

 

Bohl said the following on Thursday: "I think he's making progress. He threw yesterday. From my standpoint, I know he may feel like he's off a little bit here or there, but it's pretty minimal. I don't see him wince with any throws or anything like that, so I'm encouraged with what we're seeing so far." Bohl added this: "We're not there yet, but I think his demeanor and stuff and how we've been working, that's our anticipation (that he will play)."

 

So that’s tentatively good news. And there’s one important factor to keep in mind: Allen has emphatically stated that he’ll play if he’s physically able to.

 

Allen’s status probably won’t clear up until gameday on Friday, but our pick was due on Sunday, when we went to press. Because the news on Allen is currently optimistic, we’re going to lock in Wyoming as the pick.

 

Fielding any semblance of offense whatsoever makes Wyoming dangerous, because, while its offense fell off in this transition year, its defense became downright scary.

 

As mentioned, Wyoming fields a top-10 overall S&P+ defense (No. 35 against the run, No. 48 against the pass). We do believe that unit is going to give Central Michigan’s offense (No. 84 S&P+) trouble. CMU RB Jonathan Ward (988 rushing yards, nine touchdowns with a 41-361-2 receiving line) is a keeper, but he has a difficult assignment here.

 

It’s imperative for the Chippewas (No. 121 S&P+ running offense) that Ward surpasses a minimum of 100 yards from scrimmage. If Ward doesn’t provide a bulk of the team’s offense, that will mean that QB Shane Morris has to win the game through the air. That would be an unfortunate turn of events for CMU, because Morris, a pocket-passing Michigan transfer, is like a quick-shooting, streaky bench player that either can’t buy a basket or rains fire once inserted into the game.

 

Against decent teams, Morris can't buy a bucket. In a five-game stretch between Weeks 3-7, Morris posted a 6/10 TD/INT rate against Syracuse, Miami (OH), Boston College, Ohio and Toledo, three of whom made a bowl game. In the seven games surrounding those (FCS Rhode Island, Kansas, Ball State, WMU, EMU, Kent State and Northern Illinois) on the schedule, Morris posted a 20/3 TD/INT rate. NIU is the only team from the latter list that finished the regular season with a winning record.

 

To state the obvious: Wyoming is the best defense Morris will face this season. We don’t like those odds for CMU’s No. 81 S&P+ passing game.

 

With Allen, we have a strong feeling about Wyoming. Without him? Wyoming will still have its strong defense, but the offense will disappear (CMU has the No. 49 S&P+ defense). If that happens, CMU should be cobble together enough offense to overcome the meager number Wyoming is able to put up on the scoreboard.

 

****

 

2017 Bowl Record: Straight-Up: 2-3 (40%); Against the Spread: 3-2 (60%)

2017 Regular Season Record: Straight-Up: 115-56 (67.2%); Against the Spread: 90-77-4 (53.9%)

2014-2016: Straight-Up: 350-197 (64.0%); Against the Spread: 286-250-11 (53.4%)



Thor Nystrom is a former MLB.com associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
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