Central Michigan Chippewas (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Date/Time: Friday, December 22, 2017 at 4PM EST
Where: Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, Idaho
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CMU pick/WYO pick
Over/Under Total: 45
On December 22, the Central Michigan Chippewas meet the Wyoming Cowboys in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise. Comedic name of the bowl aside, it’s an interesting matchup between the fast-finishing Chippewas, winners of five straight, and the Mountain West’s Wyoming Cowboys, a team that didn’t finish well, but still should present ample problems for their opponents in this bowl game. The Cowboys last played on November 25 in a demoralizing 20-17 loss to the one-win San Jose State Spartans. The Chippewas last played a day earlier, scoring perhaps their best win of the season with a 31-24 win over NIU. Can they carry over the momentum from the end of the regular season or will Wyoming put the time off to good use and get healthier to finish their season strongly?
Central Michigan is coming off a streaky 2017 regular season. They started the season nicely at 2-0. Then, things got a bit sideways, as the Chippewas dropped four of their next five games. But since that, they have really whipped themselves into shape and enter this matchup on a totally different note than Wyoming with five straight wins. Beating a good team like Northern Illinois in their last game was a big statement and they have peaked at the right time.
During this streak, Central Mich is averaging over 41 points a game. The Chippewas have a familiar name behind center in quarterback Shane Morris, the former Wolverine. The senior QB’s stats might not elicit excitement, but he closed the season in fine form with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions during this 5-game winning streak. The bulk of the running duties are handled by Jonathan Ward, with Morris chipping in with some nice runs from time to time. Ward also aids in the short-pass category. The aerial part of their offense grew better over the course of the season, as Corey Willis, Mark Chapman, and Tyler Conklin made a lot of plays to help get the Chippewas where they are.
Sometimes, the inadequacies of a defense aren’t revealed as the offense is doing well. The Central Michigan defense is not air-tight. There are teams with offenses that aren’t up to Wyoming’s level who have been able to exploit the weaknesses of this defense. They have a linebacker that gets in on a massive amount of plays in Alex Briones. And in the secondary, they have guys who can get the ball for the offense in Josh Cox, Sean Bunting, and Amari Coleman. They hope some of that playmaking ability delivers in this game. With Wyoming’s defense being really stingy, the Central Michigan “D” cannot afford to make too many missteps in a game where points might be precious.
Wyoming’s season has also been up-and-down. Losing QB Josh Allen (questionable) to a shoulder injury the last two weeks was costly. Losing to Fresno is one thing, but to fall short to a 1-11 San Jose bunch that has been looking bad was a definite setback for the Cowboys. The formula for Wyoming’s success is a delicate one, as all the close games will attest. Their offense isn’t going to thrill and they rely on a stout defense to wear teams out as they cross the wire a nose ahead. But the injury disruptions on offense were enough to make it so they sagged at the finish line of the regular season. Things were looking good after a 1-2 start, as the Cowboys won 6 of their next 7 games. But the offense has grinded to a halt over the last few weeks of the season and they hope the time off (nearly a month) can help them rediscover their previous form.
The Wyoming offense has been a pretty economical one. Allen offers a little boost, as he is a good game-manager who can do damage with his feet. Nick Smith, his junior backup, has ability, but his mistakes were key in losing to the Spartans in their last game. The extra time should help, whether it’s in getting Smith more up-to-speed or in allowing Allen’s shoulder to heal. Either way, the offense struggles to get separation. The run-game is pretty so-so, with top back Trey Woods under 500 yards. Austin Conway is a reliable target aerially, with CJ Johnson spring forth with nice plays here and there.
Wyoming really needs their defense to deliver in this game. Most of the team’s success this season is attributable to this side of the ball. They were good in the last two games, but those performances were wasted by an inept offense. They have given up an average of less than 18 points a game. Their secondary has been tip-top this season, as Andrew Wingard and Rico Gafford both had four interceptions. Linebackers Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia have been in on a lot of plays this season. CMU’s Shane Morris will be seeing a level of pass-defense that surpasses what he’s been facing lately and we’ll see what happens.
Bowl games like this can be really tricky, as there aren’t any common threads upon which to rely. Wyoming plays at a higher level in the Mountain West, but if what they are now is anything like how they closed the season, the Chippewas should be licking their chops. There is a chance that Wyoming’s defense takes over this game and the Cowboys surge late against their demoralized opponent for the win. But with the way the Chippewas finished the season, this has the look of a game that will be highly-competitive. I see the Chippewas hanging in there and getting the big win in the Potato Bowl.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Central Michigan Chippewas in a pick ‘em. - Move the line on this game up to 20 points by inserting it into a 20 point football teaser at the web’s best sportsbook: 5dimes!