Baylor Bears (6-6 SU, 3-9 ATS) vs. Boise State Broncos (10-2 SU, 3-9 ATS)
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 at 10:15PM EST
Where: Case Field, Phoenix, Arizona
By Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAY +7.5/BSU -7.5
Over/Under Total: 66.5
The Baylor Bears meet the Boise State Broncos on December 27 in Phoenix in the Cactus Bowl. Baylor’s season has been fairly easy to chart with 6 straight wins followed by 6 straight losses. In their last game, they covered the spread for the first time since October 15 in a 24-21 loss to West Virginia. Boise State is coming off a 10-2 season, but lost their last game to Air Force, 27-20, as a few key losses prevented them from having one of their special seasons. Neither team has been successful from a betting standpoint, with a combined 6-18 record against the spread. Who can get the win and cover in this one?
It all went south for Baylor this season. And combined with their preseason drama, it’s been a roller coaster 2016 for the Bears. Without getting into all the particulars, there have been a lot of bumps on the road for this team—losing their coach amid scandal, the same man who was responsible for resurrecting the program. Interim coach Jim Grobe did an OK enough job, but wasn’t able to get the Bears back on the winning track when things started getting sideways. Injuries certainly played a role. And it got worse when they again lost starting QB Seth Russell for the season. With the defense deteriorating over the course of the season, it all unraveled dramatically for the Bears.
In their first 6 games, the Bears allowed 106 points, a pretty low total considering that 42 of those came in their win over ISU. That number swelled to 262 points over their last 6 games. It made it hard on a talented offense, especially once they lost Russell. The defense was ragged against the run, with opposing running backs having their way with this bunch. And they weren’t that great against opposing aerial attacks, either. They do have a playmaking component, albeit one that diminished over the course of the season. Still, they rushed the passer on occasion, while getting turnovers. Safety Orion Stewart had five picks, while corner Ryan Reid had three, with both scoring TDs on the season. KJ Smith got after the quarterback some. But make no mistake, their porous play of late has been a big part of the equation that has allowed them to fall so hard off the map after a promising start.
Since Russell went down, true freshman Zach Smith has taken over behind center. That’s quite a jump for the promising QB to make and in the better part of four games, he’s been what one would expect—a promising player who needs to iron out some kinks. He has thrown 6 interceptions in the last three games, but has also thrown 8 touchdowns. He can air it out and is a big strong kid who should develop in the coming years. He has a couple good backs in Terence Williams and Shock Linwood. And there are some good passing targets available with KD Cannon, Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, and Blake Lynch. Even so, the point outputs for this offense have been decreasing over the last part of the season.
Boise State got off to a 7-0 start this season and was looking like another tip-top Boise team. A 30-28 loss at Wyoming cooled them down, as did a regular season finale loss to Air Force, 27-20. It looked like they were going to make a national splash perhaps, but losing to a pair of good Mountain West teams forced them into this game, not exactly what they had in mind.
The Boise State offense is led by some of the best skill players in the conference. They have one of the top backs in Jeremy McNichols, along with his 27 touchdowns. He has 1663 yards on the ground and 450 through the air. They are led by a rising quarterback in Brett Rypien, a growing force behind center with 3341 yards and 23 TD throws. His last two games were his worst performances of the season, but look for the extra rest to have allowed him to reset. He has two 1000-yard receivers at his disposal with Thomas Sperbeck and Cedrick Wilson. Both are very capable, with Wilson offering size matchup issues to opposing defensive backs with his size. Also making plays this season was WR Chaz Anderson and RB Alexander Mattison.
The Boise State defense suffered some injuries and increasingly inconsistent play throughout the course of the season. They seemed to end the season a notch worse than where they were when winning 7 straight to open the season. Scores from other teams went from the tens and twenties to the twenties and thirties. To their credit, they were somewhat consistent and in 12 games this season, they allowed 16-27 points 9 times. Their pass rush wasn’t applied consistently and they were one of the most incapable teams in the country when it came to getting turnovers, with just two picks from this “D” in 2016.
This is a season Baylor wants to see end. They have a new head coach, with Matt Rhule from Temple coming, but right now, there is nothing to savor on the heels of six straight losses. It’s like being in Vegas for a week and after 6 days of losing money, you don’t even want to hear the word “Vegas” anymore. But let’s not spend all our attention on the woes of Baylor. For a ranked team like Boise State, this is not that exciting of a proposition—playing a team that lost 6 straight in the Cactus Bowl. They were cruising along nicely this season with no losses and had their sights on something bigger than playing this team in this bowl game.
Neither team can really be expected to be shot from a cannon for this matchup. Baylor is deflated for obvious enough reasons, while the season ended on a low note for Boise State with a loss and this bowl designation. Still, Boise State would appear to have more wind remaining in their sails, as they at least want to finish the season on a strong note after putting so much energy into this campaign. I don’t like to lay better than a touchdown in games where there’s a chance both teams will be flat, but I see Baylor’s defense collapsing some late in the game, as the Broncos get the cover.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Boise State Broncos minus 7.5 points.
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