Baylor Bears (6-6 SU, 3-9 ATS) vs. Boise State Broncos (10-2 SU, 3-9 ATS)
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 at 10:15PM EST
Where: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: BAY +7.5/BSU -7.5
Over/Under Total: 67
In the Cactus Bowl from Phoenix on December 27, the Baylor Bears take on the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos are coming off a good ten-win season, but one where a few unexpected losses spoiled a possibly great season and deposited them in the less-than-attractive Cactus Bowl. In their last game, they fell to Air Force, 27-20. Baylor started strongly with 6 straight wins, only to see their season go completely sideways with 6 straight losses to end up at 6-6. If looking hard for the silver lining, they did manage to cover the spread against a good WVU team in their last outing in a 24-21 defeat. Despite a 10-2 season, the Broncos were just 3-9 ATS, as was Baylor. Who can get their fourth cover of the season in this bowl matchup from the home of the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
Boise State was sitting pretty at 7-0 as they attempted to forge another special Broncos season. To their credit, losing two games by a combined nine points hardly qualifies as a disaster, though it led to this bowl placement. And facing a team that has lost 6 straight games in Phoenix on the 27th is anticlimactic for a team that was really close to much bigger things. A 30-28 loss to Wyoming was their first setback of the season, followed by the season-ending loss to AF. Their failure to close the deal against those two conference teams really proved to be costly.
Still, there is a lot to like about this Boise State team, particularly on their offense, where they plan to unleash their full scope of menace against a Baylor defense that has effectively gone into the tank over the second-half of the season. Behind center is a rising young QB in Brett Rypien, who threw for 3341 yards and 23 touchdowns. After a pair of poor showings, Rypien looks to end his season on a positive note in this game. Leading the offense in terms of production is Jeremy McNichols, one of the best backs in the nation. He had 27 touchdowns this season on 1663 yards rushing and another 450 receiving. Rypien operates aerially with a pair of dynamic 1000-yard receivers in Thomas Sperbeck and Cedrick Wilson. With other key role-players in the mix, this is an offense that can do damage.
Unfortunately, the Boise State defense wasn't at their best when they needed to be toward the end of the season. While there was a general rise in the quality of their opponents over the course of the season, the point-totals of the other team started to escalate. Injuries and inconsistent play have the "D" in a bit of a quandary in relation to how they looked through the first few months of the season. At the same time, they were fairly consistent and far more often than not, they gave the offense enough room with which to work. Nine times this season, the Broncos allowed 16-27 points. But they're not necessarily a defense that often makes a big impact on the game, with an inability to rush the passer or register turnovers with any consistency.
For however ragged Boise State may have looked to close the season, no team fell off harder than Baylor after a 6-0 start. One would be advised to consider the full-scope of emotional drain this team has incurred this season. First were the preseason headlines, which resulted in the dismissal of the coach who lifted the program from the ashes. But a 6-0 start perhaps replaced that negativity with a good feeling, a feeling that was dashed amidst 6 straight losses. They suffered crippling injuries, including to their starting QB Seth Russell. Interim coach Jim Grobe won't be back, with a new coach next season. So after all that unpleasantness ended, can they muster the wherewithal to perform well in this spot weeks later? Or are they pining for 2016 to end?
The Baylor defense opened the season with some promise, allowing 16 points a game on average through their first six games. Over the last 6 games, Baylor is allowing 44 points per game. Losing Russell didn't help, as the offense became less of a support system later in the season. But there was little good to say about the "D" to close the season. They were awful against the run, which doesn't bode well for this matchup. While they were able to apply a good pass-rush at times and get turnovers and other big plays, that playmaking ability was less-evident late in the season, but it made up at times for a defense that was very leaky overall.
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True freshman Zach Smith could be the QB of the future for Baylor, but he's still pretty raw and prone to mistakes. He was put in some tough spots for a player who was in high school last season and didn't do too badly. He's big with a good arm and had 8 TD throws over the better part of 4 games, with 6 picks to boot. Terence Williams and Shock Linwood are good backs, with KD Cannon, Chris Platt and Ishmael Zamora his top passing targets. They can still put up points, though this side of the ball is more muted without Russell behind center.
Again, Baylor is working with a lame-duck coach on the heels of nothing but badness and it's hard to imagine them finding something now all of a sudden to put wind in their sails. It's just that Boise is also facing a certain letdown factor with their season ending with a bowl game no ranked 10-2 team would be thrilled about playing. Even with Boise State's season ending in this fashion, they would seem to have more to play for and a better overall team spirit at this juncture. I see a flat game for both teams, but with Boise State's offense getting the better of the Baylor "D" en route to a win and cover.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Boise State Broncos minus 7.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Bears vs. Broncos game by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!