Memphis Tigers (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)
Boca Raton Bowl
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 20, 2016, 7:00 PM EST
Where: FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MEM +4.5/WKU -4.5
Over/Under Total: 79
The Memphis Tigers can serve as mentors to guide the way for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers when the two schools meet in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Football Stadium on December 20th on ESPN. Memphis can show the Hilltoppers program how to move on after a successful coach moves on to take a job at a Power 5 school.
Memphis is finishing up their first season with a new coaching staff under Mike Norvell, after Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech late last season. Western Kentucky will be facing life without their head coach Jeff Brohm, who left the program on December 5th to take the Purdue job leaving defensive coordinator Nick Holt to serve as the interim head coach for the bowl game.
Brohm was picked to lead the Boilermakers after a successful three-year run at Western Kentucky that has ended in three straight bowl appearances. Another reason may be the fact that the Hilltoppers under Brohm have always put up scoring numbers like its Techmo Bowl, including this year when they finished second in FBS with a 45.1 points per game average. Western Kentucky also ended the year with seven straight victories, scoring a ridiculous 52.1 points per game during the streak.
Although Memphis is no stranger to scoring points on offense either. The Tigers “only” score 39.5 points a game and will come into the Boca Raton Bowl fresh off its best game of the season, a 48-44 upset of then 20th-ranked Houston in the season finale just before Cougars coach Tom Herman left town for Austin. But the Tigers defense has struggled this year against prolific offenses, which is one reason why they may have their hands full with the Hilltoppers in the bowl game and why oddsmakers have opened the total for this game at a high number of 79.
Western Kentucky opened the game as 5-point favorites and even though a large majority of the money so far is coming in on the Hilltoppers, the point spread has actually dropped at a few sportsbooks and can be found at minus -4.5.
Both of the QB’s in this game will turn heads with their statistics. The Tigers Riley Ferguson has quietly had almost as strong a year as last year’s QB and high NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch, throwing for 3,326 yards and 00 TDs. But Western Kentucky’s Mike White has thrown for over 4,027 yards and 34 TDs and its not just a bunch of bubble screens either, as he averages 10.43 yards per completion. But perhaps the biggest difference could be the fact that White is not the only threat in the Hilltoppers attack, as running back Anthony Wales rushed for 1,376 yards and 24 touchdowns to provide the run-pass balance every offense strives to achieve.
As far as betting trends go, Memphis has a perfect 6-0 ATS record against CUSA teams and are 18-7-1 ATS in non-conference games over the years. However, they have struggled in neutral site games (1-4 ATS in L5) and have struggled in bowl games with a 1-4 ATS record in December. Despite the fact that Western Kentucky has been a “hot” wager of late (5-1 ATS in L6 this season), their history of struggling to cover the spread in non-conference games is well documented 0-4 ATS.
Badger's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Memphis probably got into this bowl game due to their upset of Houston in the finale. But let’s not forget that Houston had a tendency to play hot and cold all year and speculation that Herman was leaving for the Texas job had to have caused the Cougars players to be distracted all week going into the game. The Tigers lost to Navy, Tulsa, Ole Miss and South Florida, so they have struggled against quality teams all season long. But … and it’s a big but, you just can never tell how a team whose head coach has already left town for greener pastures is going to play. In my mind the Hilltoppers are easily the better team, but motivation for some of the players now that Brohm has left town and some of the current assistants may soon join him could be at an all-time low. It may take them most of the game to pull it off, but I still think Western Kentucky will do it eventually. I’m taking Western Kentucky minus the 4.5 points.
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