Cactus Bowl Pick

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Cactus Bowl Pick

Baylor

vs.

Boise State

12/27/16

This was a disappointing season for both Cactus Bowl teams for a number of reasons. Boise State was looking to go undefeated, while Baylor has been a mess since the spring. And despite closing the season with six-straight losses, the Bears made a bowl and will continue to be led by interim coach Jim Grobe with Matt Rhule waiting to take over.  As expected, the Broncos were early -7.5 point favorites at 5 Dimes Sportsbook for the Game in Phoenix. Of note, the line opened near -10.

Boise State had a disappointing season because they once again failed to make the MWC championship Game with two road losses to Wyoming and Air Force. The Broncos took care of the rest of the competition, including beating Washington State early in the year, but they couldn’t close out the Games they needed. They’ll at least be motivated to end the season on a high note.

The same can be said for Baylor, who hasn’t won since mid-October, which is slightly ridiculous. Once their Big 12 Schedule picked up, the Bears struggled mightily and then lost their starting quarterback Seth Russell to close the year. OUtside of an early win against Oklahoma State, Baylor hasn’t done anything all that impressive with their other five wins coming against non-bowl teams.

With how the Baylor defense has played this season, it will be up to its offense to win or cover this Game. The problem is that freshman quarterback Zach Smith hasn’t shown that much in his Four Games. Even against a putrid Texas Tech defense, this offense only put 35 points on the board. It’s likely the Bears will only reach 20-30 points unless Smith took a major step forward in the month leading up to this Game. The one way Baylor can move the ball is on the ground through a trio of running backs in Terence Williams, Shock Linwood and JaMychal Hasty. But in the last few Games, that hasn’t been enough.

Baylor will need to step up on the defensive side, which is a tough thing to bet on considering they gave up at least 42 points in Four of their final five Games. The problem is that Boise State’s offense is no slouch, although scoring 20 points at Air Force in the last Game says otherwise. But as history shows under head coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos have pOured points on in their last two bowl Games, including 38 against Arizona in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

Their main route of attack is running back Jeremy McNichols, who topped last year’s numbers with 1,663 yards and 23 touchdowns. Prior to the season finale, he had at least 140 yards in six-straight Games. To help, Baylor has one of the worst rush defenses in the league, giving up more than 210 yards per Game. Sure, that’s partly because of the high-scoring Big 12, but again, Boise State is not really a step down in competition.

In addition to McNichols, sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien has only gotten better in his second season, with 23 TDs and 6 INTs, to go with a solid 9.74 yards per attempt. That YPA is good for Fourth in the nation. It also helps that he has experienced receivers in Thomas Sperbeck (1,193 yards, 9 TDs) and Cedrick Wilson (1,041 yards, 10 TDs).

This Game could ultimately come down to Baylor’s motivation, coming in off six straight losses. Then again, it’s quite possible a lot of the players will want to impress new coach Matt Rhule. If that’s the case, expect a fight from the Bears, similar to the season finale at West Virginia.

The Broncos are 6-2 ATS in their last eight bowl Games and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 neutral-site Games. The Bears are 1-4 ATS in their last five vs. the MWC and 2-10 ATS in their last 12 Games on grass.

Our Pick – Well, we won’t be making an official play on this Game. However, we can tell you that Our model likes Baylor, picking the Bears to lose by just 3 when using full season stats and picking them to win straight up when only using stats from down the stretch. Yes, that’s right, despite going 0-6 down the stretch, Our model likes them to win straight up when only using stats from those Games!

We just can’t get involved with this Game in any serious way considering the craziness surrounding the Baylor program right now. LAme duck coach, players disinterested and threatening to leave, etc.

Hey, sometimes Games like this one turn out to be the most entertaining of the Bowl season. Baylor +7.5

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