Connecticut Huskies (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS)
St. Petersburg Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 26, 2015, 11:00 am EST
Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CONN +5/MARSH -5
Over/Under Total: 44
The entire card of Saturday college football bowl games the day after Christmas, December 26th, is full of ďdo we really need to see thisĒ matchups, but perhaps the biggest example of the mediocre slate of games will be when the 6-6 Connecticut Huskies out of the AAC take on the C-USAs Marshall Thundering Herd in the St. Petersburg Bowl inside the juice box of Tropicana Field at 11 am (thatís right Ö 8 am on the West Coast) on ESPN.
No disrespect to the Huskies or the Herd, but these are the type of bowl games that are only watchable BECAUSE you can wager on it. Thatís the ONLY reason someone on the West Coast would wake up early the day after Christmas to watch two irrelevant East Coast teams battle in a bowl played inside Ö yes, inside in sunny Florida at Tropicana Field.
We should give Connecticut credit for at least playing themselves into a bowl with a huge upset of Houston in late November, 20-17. The Huskies defense has improved as the year went along, and a three-game win streak over East Carolina, Tulane and the AAC-champs Houston down the stretch helped the Huskies get back into the postseason bowl picture after a four-year hiatus under new coach Bob Diaco.
On the surface you see the Thundering Herdís nine-win season and you think its another chance for the Herd to have a benchmark 10-win season, but then you look at the Herdís schedule and you realize why teams from Conference-USA are rarely taken seriously. Marshall has one victory, yes one, over a team with a winning record in 2015 (31-10 over Southern Miss. Oct. 10), so how do you really judge that kind of season based on wins and losses? Letís just say its easier to get to 10-wins every year when youíre playing North Texas, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic and Old Dominion. Marshall is good, no doubt, but how good is almost impossible to tell which is why theyíre stuck in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Oddsmakers set the opening point spread for this indoor bowl game with Marshall as 4-point favorites. The betting line quickly went up minus -4.5, and is currently all the way up to Marshall minus -5 at most sportsbooks offshore on the web. However, in most of the books in Las Vegas the number is still holding at minus -4 or -4.5. The over/under total opened at 44 and can still be found at 44 as weel as 44.5 at the books that have added the hook to take the push ouff the board.
Marshallís freshman QB Chase Litton hasnít had a bad season (2,390 yards, 22 TD, 7 INT), but itís been offensive line issues and the Herdís inability to get returning RB Devon Johnson or the Herd ground game (168.5 ypg Ė 68th in FBS) going that has hindered them in games against competition. The Herd will likely have a hard time moving the ball against a much improved Connecticut defense that finished the regular season ranked 17th in scoring defense (allow 19.8 ppg); and one that sports one of the best pass defenses (186.9 ypg Ė 21st) in FBS with a shutdown corner in Jamar Summers taking away half the field in the passing game.
Connecticut should get QB Bryant Shirreffs back for the bowl game (listed as probable), but even with Shirreffs the UConn offense will not be confused as a juggernaut as they finished the regular season in the AAC ranked 120th with a 318 yards per game average. Marshallís defense allowed 171 yards per game on the ground during the season, so look for Huskies RB Arkeel Newsome to play a big role if Connecticut is successful moving the chains.
A lack of head-to-head play always makes betting trends in bowl games useless, but there are a few good looking betting trends if you look at each team separately. For instance, Marshall has been a hidden gem of bowl seasonís past going 4-0 ATS in their last four bowl appearances, which includes a 4-0 ATS record in neutral site games too. Connecticut is 4-0-1 ATS against C-USA teams in the past. Although be warned, UConn is also 5-15-1 ATS in non-conference games of late, so it does make the unblemished mark against C-USA a little more impressive.
Badger's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím all over Connecticut in the underdog role in this bowl game. Marshall has been the class of the C-USA these last couple years, but this yearís team is not nearly as strong as yearís past 10-win teams. The Huskies are battle tested, hungry to try and win to clinch a winning record, sport a better defense then any team in CUSA. UConn keeps it close and may even win it straight up, but either way Iím taking the Huskies plus 5-points.
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