No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels (11-2 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. No. 18 Baylor Bears (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS)
Russell Athletic Bowl
Date/Time: Tuesday December 29th, 5:30PM EST
Where: Citrus Bowl Orlando, F.L.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UNC +3/Baylor -3
Over/Under Total: 70
The 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl will feature an interesting pairing on December 29th when the 18th ranked Baylor Bears meet the 10th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels inside the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. The Tar Heels had a breakout season with an impressive 11-2 record. North Carolina suffered losses in their opener to South Carolina and lost in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson but won all games in between. Now Larry Fedoras Tar Heels will get the chance to get a school record 12th victory when they meet the Bears in Orlando.
Baylor was once the most dominant team in the country earlier this year but they suffered through a pair of crucial injuries at the quarterback position that derailed their National Championship hopes. It started when star quarterback Seth Russell was lost to a season ending neck injury and things got even worse when backup Jarrett Stidham also went down with a season ending ankle injury. Those key losses resulted in the Bears losing 3 of their last 4 games of the season and caused a significant decline in offensive production.
The offense went from being the best in college football to average at best with a 3rd string quarterback at the helm. Those issues were overwhelmingly evident in the Bears 23-17 loss to Texas in their season finale. Baylor entered that game as 20 point favorites over the Longhorns but ended up losing outright. The question going into December 29ths battle with North Carolina is who will be playing quarterback? 3rd string quarterback Chris Johnson is ready to go but there is a possibility that Stidham could be back from his ankle injury. No disrespect to Johnson, but Stidham proved that he could move the offense with some Baylor efficiency while Johnson could not do anything. Therefore, I think the quarterback situation will be really huge towards Baylors chances of getting the W in Orlando.
From a matchup standpoint, this game seems to favor both offenses. Baylor will get running back Shock Linwood back who rushed for 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season and one of the nations best wide receivers in Corey Coleman (74 rec, 1,363 yards, and 20 TDs) will be on the outside. North Carolinas defense has been suspect this season especially against fast pace offenses. Clemson posted a 45 spot on the Tar Heels in the ACC Championship Game and North Carolina State dropped 35 on that same defense the week before. Therefore, Baylor is going to get their opportunities despite who is behind center but it will be telling to see how many connects they can get down the field once those opportunities are presented.
For most of the season, North Carolina has been able to overcome their mediocre defense play by posting big numbers on offense. The Tar Heels ranked 11th in scoring this season averaging over 40 points per game. The running game has been phenomenal with running back Elijah Wood and quarterback Marquise Williams who have combined for more than 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground. Williams has also been flashy at times with his arm despite consistency concerns that seem to come up in big games. Obviously, Williams is going to need to play well against Baylor in order to win the football game. However, I am not completely sure the North Carolina receivers matchup extremely well on the outside. Therefore if North Carolina does not get things going on the ground, Williams could get himself into trouble if he starts forcing the football down the field.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I think this game definitely depends on the quarterback situations. If Stidham does not suit up, North Carolina can win this game straight up. However I believe Baylor is the pick if Stidham does suit up. Therefore I am going to stay away from the side because Stidhams status is up in the air. However, I do think the over 70 will be a strong play. I expect both defenses to have serious troubles in this game which will likely turn into a shootout. Take the over 70!
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