It took awhile, but the first bowl Game between two ranked teams is finally here. The Russell Athletic Bowl features two of the highest scoring teams in the nation, however one will be without its starting quarterback. Even so, Baylor opened as a -3 point favorite over North Carolina (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) for the Game in Orlando, but that is changing quickly to UNC’s favor due to injuries.
The ACC dominated this bowl last year when Clemson beat down Oklahoma 40-6. North Carolina could easily repeat that feat for the ACC, despite being listed as underdogs.
Baylor is simply not the same team without Seth Russell leading the way and three losses in the last Four Games of the season show that. The Bears average the most points per Game in the country, yet they scored just 38 points total in the final two Games of the year. Chris Johnson has been named the team’s starter and his experience is minimal at best with 38 pass attempts on the year. Most of Johnson’s experience this year came in a monsoon against TCU in which he went 7-of-24 for 62 yards. It’s hard to gauge where he’s at after watching that Game.
North Carolina does not have to go with its backup quarterback and that’s why they get the edge in this matchup. The Tar Heels ran through the ACC this season, going undefeated in regular season play. Their loss to South Carolina in the opener looks like a fluke at this point, while they battled Clemson in the ACC title Game and that deserves some respect. However, the ACC isn’t rated as highly as the Big 12 and UNC didn’t have any big non-Conference wins.
Then again, that didn’t matter in last year’s bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma.
The Tar Heels tend to give up a decent amount of points, but that usually doesn’t matter because the offense scores so much. The problem for UNC is that Baylor is going to run the ball a ton in this Game because Johnson is at quarterback. The Tar Heels are not good at stopping the run and are one of the worst in the country allowing almost 217 yards per Game. They gave up 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Clemson last Game.
While Baylor isn’t Clemson, the Bears still are a good running team, even without Russell at quarterback. Johnson will be a factor in the ground Game, but Baylor also has a large stable of backs. Lead running back Shock Linwood is out for this Game, which won’t help, but Johnny Jefferson and Devin Chafin have been good in his absence. And if UNC focuses on the ground Game, Johnson will need to find a new top target because leading receiver Corey Coleman (1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns) is out for the Game as well with a sports hernia.
The Tar Heels should keep up though, and with Johnson at quarterback, it may be Baylor that has to do the keeping up.
Baylor doesn’t have a great defense either and will be exploited by UNC quarterback Marquise Williams, who is playing in his final collegiate Game. Williams struggled against Clemson, completing 11-of-33 passes and will want to end his career on a better note. Williams is a threat on the ground (867 yards, 11 TDs), but he’s been more efficient passing the ball this season. Still, the Heels will feed running back Elijah Hood plenty, who has 1,345 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
There will be points in this Game with the over/under set above 70. But betting on a team with a backup quarterback is never an easy thing to do, especially if they are favored.
The Tar Heels are 6-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record, while the Bears don’t have any relevant stat to mention, and are just 5-6 ATS on the year.
Our Pick – North Carolina +3 (3* Key Release)