Central Michigan Chippewas (7-5 SU, 9-3 ATS) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Quick Lane Bowl
Date/Time: Monday, December 28, 2015, 5:00 pm EST
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
TV: ESPN2, DirecTV 209
by Badger, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CMU +6/MINN -6
Over/Under Total: 49.5
The Central Michigan Chippewas out of Mount Pleasant will have the entire hope of the state of Michigan on their shoulders Monday, December 28, when the Chippewas host their Midwest neighbors from the Big Ten the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Ford Field in Detroit in the Quick Lane Bowl.
On the surface a middle-of-the-pack team from the Mid-America Conference (MAC) playing against an under-.500 team from a power conference doesnt have much appeal. But in the need to create more bowl games for mediocre college football teams we get to wager on these opportunities where there is value.
If not for a couple of narrow losses, specifically a 41-39 loss to state-rival Western Michigan in October and a 28-23 loss to Toledo in November, and we could have been talking about the Chippewas as MAC West champions. Plus the Chippewas took Oklahoma to the edge in the season opener (lost 24-13) and gave Michigan State a game for three quarters (was 17-10 at start of 4th, lost 30-10) so long story short dont be fooled at all by the fact Central Michigan has five losses this season.
Minnesota slogged through an emotional roller coaster of a season that watched them lose head coach Jerry Kill to retirement due to epilepsy off the field, and then watched them lose six of their eight Big Ten Conference games to finish at 5-7 and somehow get thrown a bone to get into a bowl game with a record two games below the Mendoza line.
Oddsmakers opened the game with big brother Minnesota as 6-point favorites and thats exactly where the game is found today. Interestingly enough, the money is nearly evenly distributed on both sides for this one (Minn. 55% public CMU 45%) which explains the lack of line movement for this bowl game. The over/under total opened at 48.5 at some offshore sportsbooks, but its already up to either 49 or 49.5 at a large majority of books now with the game a little less than a week away.
Since weve already eluded to the Chippewas resume coming into this game, it should be noted that this game could wind up being the showcase game for junior QB Cooper Rush, if he decides to jump into the NFL early. Rush is big, has thrown for 3,700 and 25 touchdowns this year (needs two more to tie last years mark of 27) and is hitting on nearly 70 percent of his passes (67.2). It will be interesting to watch how well the Chippewas move the football with Rush in the passing game because Minnesotas defensive strength is in its secondary. The Gophers only allowed 182 yards a game passing, finishing 15th in FBS in that statistic.
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner has struggled in 2015 without a dependable running game (101st in FBS 142.9 ypg), as the Gophers running back by committee hasnt been effective in replacing departed senior David Cobb. Central Michigans defense was pretty good in the MAC this season, putting up numbers that allowed them to finish ranked 18th in total yards allowed per game (330 ypg). But make no mistake, playing against the Gophers is going to take a full 60-minute commitment from both the offensive and defensive lines for the Chippewas if they hope to spring any kind of surprise on the big brother from the Big Ten.
Although these two have only met once before (a 30-10 victory for Minnesota at home in 1987), there is some decent history to draw from in handicapping this bowl game. Especially since Minnesota and Central Michigan had one common opponent this season thanks to the Gophers playing Kent State in non-conference action. The Gophers beat Kent State, 10-7, in September to notch one of their three non-Big Ten victories. Central Michigan beat Kent State, 27-14, in late November in the game that made the Chippewas bowl-eligible.
Central Michigan is also 5-0 ATS in non-conference action recently, have gone 4-1-1 ATS in their last six bowl appearances, and are a strong 8-3 ATS playing against the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Minnesota is 1-4 ATS in their last five bowl games which includes a 1-4 ATS record in neutral site games as well.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Central Michigan was only a few bad breaks away from playing in the MAC championship game this year. If the Chippewas can get a few quick scores and establish an early lead, Minnesotas offense is just not good enough to play in comeback mode for too long. An early double-digit lead could lead to a straight up upset by the Chips, but regardless I think they have a balanced team that will be able to stay with the team from the bigger conference. Im taking Central Michigan plus the 6-points.
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