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Little Caesars Bowl
Everyone loves this bowl game as it involves pizza, and everyone loves pizza. It features two grind-it-out teams from the ACC and MAC. The big news coming in is that Bowling Green will be led by interim coach and former special teams and tight ends coordinator, Adam Scheier. Former head coach Dave Clawson took a job with Wake Forest. Even without their coach, the Falcons are still -5 point favorites in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl over Pittsburgh a sportsbook.com where 64% of the action is on Bowling Green and 92% is on the Under.
Some may wonder how a MAC team is favored over an ACC squad, but the numbers say it all. Bowling Green finished 10-3 and put in its most impressive performance of the season in the MAC title game (also at Ford Field) defeating Northern Illinois. The Falcons took care of business down the stretch winning five straight games, three of them against bowl teams. Out of the conference they lost big to Indiana early on, but almost took out Mississippi State 21-20.
Pittsburgh's season wasn't as pretty finishing 6-6 in its new conference. The Panthers struggled against most of the ACC and without their early season win at Duke (58-55), they could be sitting home without a bowl game. While Duke was a nice win, beating Notre Dame was even bigger for them especially after losing to them in three OTs back in 2012.
The standout unit in this game is Bowling Green's defense. They finished fourth in the nation allowing just 14.8 points per game. Outside of Indiana, no one put up more than 28 points on them. Holding Jordan Lynch and NIU to 27 points says it all as the Huskies were scoring over 40 points per game.
It's going to be tough for Pitt to get something going on offense because they haven't really done much against better defenses this year. They had trouble scoring against teams like Florida State, Virginia Tech and even Georgia Tech. The key for the Panthers will be in the ground game. Isaac Bennett and James Conner are a solid duo that has combined for 1,365 yards and 14 touchdowns. If they can't run, it will fall to quarterback Tom Savage, who isn't exactly a game breaker. Savage has had more than two touchdowns just once this year, although his 21-9 TD-INT ratio isn't all that bad. Bowling Green's strength is in its secondary so Savage will have his hands full. Receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street will need to show up in this game.
Just like their offense, Pitt's defense is hit or miss. Obviously it depends on the opponent, but this is a team that only won consecutive games once this year. They never really got into a flow.
BG's offense kept improving throughout the year and they suddenly boast a viable one-two attack. Matt Johnson has come on at quarterback with 14 touchdowns in his past five games. Most notably was his 21-for-27, 393-yard, five-TD performance against NIU. If Johnson is throwing the ball like that, Pittsburgh may be done for because the Falcons have an even better rushing game. Travis Greene leads the way with 1,555 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ran for less than 88 yards just once all year and that was in the blowout against Indiana.
The Panthers are 2-5 ATS in their last seven bowl games while the Falcons are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five bowl games. The Falcons finished the year 10-3 ATS, and the Panthers were just 5-7 ATS. These teams last played in 2008 when BG won 27-17 as 14-point underdogs.
We used Bowling Green as a Key Release in the MAC Championship game and they came thru nicely for us. One of the Keys to that game for us was the weak schedule of Northern Illinois. They got too much credit for their unblemished record which created great value on Bowling Green who actually played a slightly more difficult schedule.
Well, the schedule needs to be considered here and is the primary reason we likely won't use Bowling Green as a Key Release in this spot. Bowling Green had the better year, the better record, the better stats and so on. No question. Heck, Bowling Green is a very good football team and the way they played against their toughest opponent of the year, Miss State, a 21-20 loss, drives that point home.
But we also can't ignore their losses to Toledo and Indiana, their next toughest games as we have Pitt ranked higher than both of those teams in our power ratings. Outside of their 3 losses, they played a weak MAC schedule and that contributes to their favorable numbers.
Take a glance at Pitts schedule and you'll find Florida State, Duke, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Syracuse and Miami Florida. Heck throw in Navy as well. All Bowl teams and Pitt managed to beat 3 of them.
You have to ask yourself, what would Pitts record have been if they played Bowling Greens schedule? What would Bowling Greens record have been, if they played Pitt's schedule? Likely, the records and the stats that go with them would be reversed.
If we take a stat like yards per point, which we like to use to gauge the difference between two teams, the raw numbers favor Bowling Green by about a TD. However, that's before we make any adjustments for the schedules and the Pitt schedule was about 10 points more difficult.
The last thing we want to consider here is the motivational edge and that goes to Bowling Green hands down. Bowling Green has the chance to cap off a great year against a team from a major conference and then ride off into the sunset. Pitt on the other hand, is likely to be disinterested in the whole affair. The majority of their games this year were more high profile and against much bigger name opponents. The only possible motivation Pitt could use would be that they have been installed as an underdog to a MAC team.
Roll everything we've mentioned into a ball and what do you come up with? Likely a good close Bowl game. Pitt's the more talented team but probably by just a hair and the motivational edge becomes a huge equalizer. Our model, which predicts a 24-21 Bowling Green win using full season stats probably sums it up best and is the reason we'll watch this one from the sidelines. If Bowling Green was a dog here, we'd be looking to play them.
As an opinion only, we'd recommend Bowling Green and the deciding factor for us would be the motivational edge they have. Bowling Green -5 Opinion Only
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