Akron Zips (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Utah State Aggies (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 22, 2015, 3:30 pm EST
Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: AKR +8.5/USU -6.5
Over/Under Total: 47.5
The Akron Zips are back in a bowl game for the first time in a decade after winning seven games to finish above .500 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), and as their prize for clinching a post-season birth the Zips get to go play in the cold of Boise, Idaho, on the (no longer) ďsmurf turfĒ of Albertsons Stadium against the barely bowl-eligible 6-6 Utah State Aggies out of the Mountain West Conference in the Idaho Potato Bowl on ESPN Tuesday afternoon.
Even Boise looks beautiful to the Zips, especially since the seniors on Akron were just 1-11 back in 2012, ran-off a four-game win streak to close out the season, which included the biggest win on the Akron campus in ages when they stomped MAC rival Kent State, 20-0, in the regular season finale to assure the Zips a seven-win season. Getting back into a bowl game has brought excitement back into the Zips locker room, but this is a ride the players and staff donít want to come to an end just yet.
Utah State struggled through the 2015 season, falling apart after a huge, 52-26, upset of Boise State on October 16th. The Aggies lost fifth-year QB Chuckie Keeton for most of the year, lost four of the last six games of the season following the big win over Boise State and come limping into the post-season after getting thrashed, 51-28, to BYU in the finale on November 28th. The good news for Utah State is that Keeton will be back for the bowl game, but whether or not it will inspire the rest of the team to play hard this December in Idaho is the million dollar question.
Oddsmakers opened the Idaho Potato Bowl with Utah State as a full touchdown 7-point favorite, but as the time has past a whole bunch of sportsbooks have dropped the point spread the hook to Aggies minus -6.5, getting off the key number of seven. The over/under total opened at 47.5 and can be found anywhere from 47.5 to 48 depending n where you wager in Las Vegas or offshore.
Thereís no denying the fact that Utah State with Keeton at QB is an encouraging development for the Aggies offensive unit. But letís remember Keeton was back for the Aggies disappointing loss in the finale to BYU, going 20-for-45 for just 243 yards and a TD in a solid effort, so having the QB back is nice but not automatic. What will make this game watchable is the fact that Akronís best asset is defense. The Zips finished as probably the best defense in the MAC this season, and with stud LB Jatavis Brown (tops in MAC in sacks 10.5; TFLs 17.5) all over the field, the Aggies better find a game plan for the Bowl that include accounting for Brown on every down.
Handicapping Utah State is made slightly more difficult this season based on your perception of the Mountain West Conference. The Aggies defense gave up 51 points a few weeks ago to BYU and their third-string QB. They also gave up 48 points to San Diego State mid-season, but overall they are ranked 22nd in FBS in yards allowed (337 ypg) and are exceptionally strong against the pass (180.3 ypg Ė 14th). Akronís best offense is their defense Ö as in capitalizing on turnovers and short fields. Thomas Woodson has developed into a decent QB, but the Akron offense at 24 points per game (100th in FBS) in general is not going win a high scoring game with the Aggies.
These two schools have neer met on the field. Akron is 2-5 ATS against non-conference foes of late, but the Aggies arenít really much better at 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games out of the Mountain West.
The best looking wager for the Potato Bowl could end up being the under. It has a few solid betting trends to support it (under is 4-1 for Akron non-conf.; under is 4-0 in Utah Stateís last 4 bowl games). But it also passes the sight test for me, because Akron will play some defense because head coach Terry Bowden and the Zips know thatís the only way for them to win Ö low scoring. The Aggies have quietly built their defense to 22nd in the country, and their secondary is strong enough to commit eight or nine players into the box to stop the run and still shut down the Zips passing attack.
Badger's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: If I had to pick a side, Iíd probably lean toward Akron because I think that their defense will keep them in this game. But either way, Iím taking the under of 47.5 (or 48 if you get it) because this is one bowl game that will be played in the snow and rain with two solid defenses equipped for the task of playing in slop. More so the boys from Ohio, than the higher-ranked Utah kids.
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