Ohio Bobcats vs. ULM Warhawks Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

Ohio Bobcats (8-4 SU, 4-8 ATS) vs. Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS)
Independence Bowl
Date/Time: Friday, December 28th, 2012, 2:00 p.m. EST
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
TV: ESPN/DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: OU +7/Louisiana Monroe -7
Over/Under Total: 60

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The ULM Warhawks will finally get a reward for their huge season-opening upset of Arkansas, their first-ever bowl appearance, when the Warhawks take on the Ohio Bobcats in the Independence Bowl in nearby Shreveport Friday, December 28th, on ESPN.

Louisiana-Monroe made headlines and turned heads everywhere in the college football world back on September 8th when they dropped then-No. 8 Arkansas in overtime, 34-31. The Warhawks then went on to give Auburn and Baylor everything they could handle the next two weeks despite losing, proving they weren’t a flash in the pan and finally putting them on the college football map under coach Todd Berry after spending most of their time as an FBS program in the shadows (moved to FBS in 1994).

With confidence at an all-time high, the Warhawks tore through the Sun Belt Conference and finished the rest of the year at 7-2, earning a bid to the Independence Bowl and a chance at another program first a bowl victory, if they can just get past the Bobcats in what will likely be a “home” game in front of a huge Louisiana crowd in Independence Stadium.

Hopes were really high in Athens, Ohio, this season since the Bobcats were returning a host of starters as defending Mid-American Conference champions. The Bobcats pushed those expectations even higher when they scored an upset of their own on opening weekend, defeating Penn State on the road in State College, Pa., 24-14.

Ohio was cruising along and looking at a repeat of MAC West champions into mid-October when injuries started to mount and those expectations took a tumble in the form of an upset loss on the road at Miami (OH). The Bobcats then went on to lose their final three games of the season to finish 8-4, in third-place in the MAC West and come limping into the Independence Bowl.

Once the matchup was announced in early December, oddsmakers set the opening point spread with Louisiana-Monroe as 7-point touchdown favorites. The money so far has been mixed enough on both sides that the number hasn’t changed at all, although there are a scant few online sportsbooks currently listing the game at minus -7.5.

The over/under total opened at 60 and also has yet to move in either direction really. You might find a 61 in Las Vegas, since most of the early sharp action has been on the over, but for the most part the number has held at 60.

The early action on the total has favored the over for good reason, since both teams feature dynamic junior quarterbacks in Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton and Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning.

Tettleton, the son of former MLB catcher Mickey Tettleton, isn’t the MAC’s most accurate passer (62%, 2,513 yards, 16 TD), but he’s an excellent decision maker in the Bobcats spread-option offense and he rarely makes mistakes (3 INT). Ohio has a very good running back in Beau Blankenship (1,500 yards, 11 TD) and a strong offensive front that helps the Bobcats run the ball for over 200 yards a game (202 ypg – 29th).

But if the Bobcats are going to get the win, Tettleton will have to throw it and try and take advantage of the Warhawks weak pass defense (allowing 272 ypg – 108th). With most of the Bobcats dangerous outside weapons graduated, Tettleton’s favorite target has become Donte Foster (7 TD), who will have to have a big game against the Louisiana-Monroe secondary.

Browning leads the Warhawks spread-option attack, but unlike the Bobcats, the Warhawks prefer to pass-first with an average of 297 yards a game in the air (27th). Browning is dangerous (65%, 2,830 yards, 27 TD-to-7 INT) and a great leader, and especially important because when he missed two games in the middle of the season with a foot injury Louisiana-Monroe lost both games. Ohio’s defense does a decent job against the pass (allow 230 ypg – 55th), but they’ll face a tough task in stopping Warhawks receiver Brent Leonard. Leonard crossed the 1,000-yard mark and added 10 touchdowns in his 97 catches this season, but if Ohio chooses to double-team him they’ll have to watch out for Je’Ron Hamm (14.9 ypc, 6 TD), who is probably the Warhawks best deep threat.

These two schools have never met before, so betting trends and playing histories are like most bowl game matchups non-existent.

Ohio started the season as a great wager, but they went 1-7 ATS in the final eight games this year to bleed money for anyone silly enough to stay with them. In six of those eight games they were the favorites, but they closed the season as 6-point and 9.5-point underdogs and lost both of those games too (and failed to cover), so wager on Ohio in this game with caution. Ohio does seem to like playing on Friday though, going 8-2 ATS in their last 10 Friday night games and 4-1 ATS in their last five non-MAC games.

Louisiana-Monroe went a perfect 4-0 ATS in their non-conference games this year and are 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games overall, but they haven’t done well against MAC teams in the past going 0-4 ATS over the years.

The over is looking like an excellent wager, since it’s 4-0 in Ohio’s four games against a Sun Belt team, 8-3 in Ohio’s last 11 non-conference games and also 6-0 when Louisiana-Monroe plays in non-conference too.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Picking a side in these “mid-major” conference bowl games is always a hard proposition. I truly believe that Ohio can not only cover, but also probably win this game straight up if they weren’t playing so bad right now. Considering that Louisiana-Monroe is the very definition of Cinderella this year, I hate to go against them in this spot too. All of this leads me to think that maybe the best wager is the over, since I don’t think either defense is well enough equipped to stop the other, even with three weeks to prepare. I’m taking the over of 60.

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