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For all of its troubles, North Carolina keeps finding itself in meaningful bowl games. This year, they will take on Missouri in the Independence Bowl, despite the firing of head coach Butch Davis at the start of the season. The 7-5 Tar Heels will be a challenge for the Tigers who are also 7-5 after winning 4 of their last 5 games. Missouri opened as a 3.5 point favorite but the line currently sits at 5 at 5 dimes.
Missouri will seek to run the ball and run the ball often. They’ve got an OK passing game, but everything starts with the run. They will face a run defense that is giving up a very stingy 3.1 YPC on the year. They held Rutgers to 1 yard on 25 carries and running powerhouse Virginia Tech got only 145 on 40 carries. Young QB James Franklin will have to step up and help his offense get points on the board. The youngster has been hot and cold, but he did have an explosive game against Baylor with 33 of 46 passing for 325 yards and 3 TDs.
The North Carolina offense is versatile enough to run and throw. QB Bryn Renner completed 21 of 28 for 338 yards and 3 TDs against Wake Forest. The ground game is averaging a stellar 4.2 YPC. They ripped a strong Virginia team for 222 yards rushing this year. Renner and company will face pass defense that has been scorched on many occasions this year, giving up 388 to Arizona State, 448 to Oklahoma and 406 yards to Baylor.
You have to consider the Tar Heels situation here, with Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora waiting in the wings to take over this team. It may actually be a positive. Current coach Everett Withers took over in a difficult situation and guided the team to this Bowl game. This being his last game, it could rally the team.
When handicapping these Bowl games, you look for statistical edges as well as potential emotional edges. There doesn't appear to be either in this matchup. Both teams have had their troubles with off the field incidents and statistically, they seem to match up well. Our score prediction model isn't much help here, predicting a 5 point Missouri win, 29-25. The yards per point numbers are just about dead even. But if you factor in a schedule strength for Missouri of approximately 5 points more difficult, you end up right on the current posted line.
When in doubt, there's only one way to go, and that's with the underdog. The way to play this one would be to wait and monitor the line. A move down from 5 to 4 would be insignificant. However, if it goes the other way, you could capture the +6, which would be significant. With 70% of the action thus far lined up on the Missouri side, a move in that direction wouldn't be a surprise.
We'll put this out as follows - North Carolina +6 or more. Anything less, pass.
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