Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Preview and Pick: Ohio Bobcats vs. Marshall Thundering Herd – Point Spread – Betting Odds

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl: Ohio Bobcats (9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (6-6 SU, 6-5 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, December 26, 2009, Ford Field,
Detroit, Mich., TV: ESPN

by Badger of

Point Spread: Ohio -3/Marshall +3
Over/Under: 49

Nobody really knows exactly what will happen when the Ohio Bobcats, runner up in the Mid-American Conference this season, take on the Marshall Thundering Herd, a middle-of-the-pack team from Conference USA, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl the day after Christmas at Ford Field in Detroit.

On the surface, it looks like it should be a landslide for the Bobcats.

The Bobcats, led by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich, ended the
regular season as one of the hottest teams in the MAC. The Bobbies
won seven of their last nine games, including a four-game winning
streak to close the season and held their own for the most part
against a strong Central Michigan team in the MAC Championship game
(lost 20-10 as 13.5-point underdogs) at the same venue of this bowl
game, Ford Field.

Add that all together and what you get is the fact that Ohio is
enjoying one of their best seasons in school history, and Solich and
the Bobcats would like nothing more than to add the exclamation point
by beating Marshall to earn the schools first-ever bowl victory in
the familiar surroundings of Ford Field.

But if times are great in Athens, Ohio, for the Bobcats these days, its easy to say that the times a little west in Huntington, W.Va., are not nearly as sweet for Marshall.

The Herd lost three of their last four games, finishing with a bad 52-21 loss at UTEP, and thats just the actions on the field.Off the field the Thundering Herd program is in transition.

Head coach Mark Snyder resigned following the UTEP loss, and Rick
was appointed the interim coach for the bowl game. The Herd
recently announced their new head coach for next season, John Doc
(Associate HC at West Virginia the last two seasons), so
there has to be some confusion among the players as their leadership
is still kind of there leading them, but with the new sheriff looking
over everyones shoulder ready to clean house as soon as the game is

The oddsmakers out in Las Vegas also believe the Bobcats are the team
to beat in this matchup, just not in such a landslide, as they opened
the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with Ohio as slim 2-point favorites.
Early action at the window has moved the line up slightly to Ohio
minus 3-points at a majority of the offshore sportsbooks on the Web,
with a few 2.5s mixed in here and there if you want the hook.

The over/under total opened at 49.5 and has only moved down the hook
to 49 at most books, although you can still find a few 49.5s if you
want that half-point.

Offensively, neither one of these teams is very dangerous or dynamic.

Ohio is led by quarterback Theo Scott, who is a solid athlete, but just not much of a throwing QB. For the season Scott completed only
58 percent of his throws for 2,258 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10
interceptions. The Bobcats as a whole amass 324.5 yards a game (99th
in NCAA), but only 204.8 of those yards come through the air,
allowing them to score 25.4 points per game (75th).

Scott is surrounded by some solid wide receivers like Taylor Price
(team-leading 735 yards, 5 TD), Terrence McCrae (534 yds., 8 TD) and
their deep threat and punt returner LaVon Brazill (689 yds., 6 TD),
but for some reason the Bobcats have trouble taking advantage of
their strength on the perimeter. They also have a hard time
converting points in the red zone, as they had only a 39 percent rate
of scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20-yard line.

Marshall is led by quarterback Brian Anderson, who has thrown for
more yardage (2,561) than Scott, but is not nearly as accurate (57%,
14 TD, 13 INT), which isnt saying much. The big difference is that
the Herd has a 1,000-yard rusher in Darius Marshall (1,054 yds., 11
TD), who averages 5.1 yards per carry and helps the Herd run for
138.8 yards per game as a team (72nd). Receiver Aaron Dobson (24.1
yards per catch, 4 TD) is the Herds most dangerous threat on the

The other major difference in this game will be the two defenses.

Ohio led the entire NCAA this season with 36 forced turnovers, so they are very opportunistic on the defensive side of the ball. For
the year they allowed just 21.3 points per game (32nd), but their
biggest weakness is against the run (allowed 150.9 ypg), which could
spell trouble against Marshall.

Marshalls defense allowed almost 400 yards a game during the C-USA
schedule (192.5 ypg), which might explain why they finished 6-6 on
the season. They also allowed an average of 24.9 points per game,
which spells disaster when your own offense is only scoring 21 a game.

This will be the 53rd all-time meeting between the schools, with the
last one back in 2004 when Marshall beat the Bobcats, 16-13, in
Athens. In fact, even though the Bobcats lead the all-time series,
the Herd has owned the recent history winning four straight (2001
thru 04) and eight of the last nine meeting going back to 1988.

But while the Herd owns the recent history on the scoreboard, its
the Bobcats that have been cashing in tickets for bettors with a 5-2
ATS record in the last seven tries. Take it with a grain of salt
though, because almost all of those covers happened as large double-
digit underdogs including a huge 26-point spread that they covered in
a lopsided 42-18 loss in 2001.

For what its worth, these two schools had one common opponent this season. Both teams beat Bowling Green during the season, with the Bobcats outlasting them by a score of 44-37 in a game where they gave
up 474 yards to the Falcons. The Herd also beat Bowling Green, but in
a completely different game, beating the Falcons 17-10 where they too
gave up a ton of yardage to the Falcons (393 yards).

Other betting trends worth noting are: the Herd is 5-1 ATS in their
last six bowl games, but only 1-4 ATS in their last five games
against the MAC; Ohio is 7-2 ATS in their last nine non-conference

Badgers Pick: With all that has gone on at Marshall since the
season ended, Im not sure the team will be focused on the game. Ohio
is the better team, with the better defense and continuity at coach
in Solich. Take Ohio minus the 3-points.