The Birmingham Bowl is the perfect matchup that features two teams that don’t play much defense, both allowing more than 30 points per contest. Playing a little closer to home, Memphis was a -5.5 point favorite with an over/under of 74 about a week before the Game.
Memphis (8-5 ATS) had some questionable losses earlier in the season, but still managed to make the AAC title Game by winning its final Four of the regular season. Everything was there for the Tigers to finally beat UCF, but they fell apart in the second half and ended up not covering in a 56-41 loss. It was a little different for Wake Forest (4-8 ATS) playing in a more difficult conference. Not only did it have better wins (at NC State), but it also closed the season on a good note in a huge 59-7 win over Duke.
In like opponents, Wake won at Tulane 23-17 in the season opener, while Memphis fell 40-24 a month into the campaign. The Tigers are favored, but the Demon Deacons changed defensive coordinators halfway through the year and that led to some of their better wins, and given the extra couple weeks to prepare, that only means good things for the underdog.
Wake’s defense has worse numbers, yet showed improvement late in the season. Memphis didn’t really stop any relevant team, allowing 31.5 points and 420 yards per Game. again, Wake was worse allowing 33.3 points and 465 yards, but it’s a little harder to project how they will play. The huge thing for the Deacons is that the run defense showed up late in the season, not letting NC State, Pitt nor Duke rush for more than 3.3 yards per carry.
That could be an issue for Memphis because that’s how its offense moves the ball. Darrell Henderson has been excellent with some of the best numbers in the country with 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns, and backup Patrick Taylor (1,012 yards, 15 TDs) isn’t far behind. If those guys find any kind of resistance, this offense isn’t the same, mostly because quarterback Brady White has made a living off a stout ground Game. White has decent numbers (25 TDs, 8 INTs), but he struggled in any Game that was close. In fact, he managed only Four touchdowns and Four interceptions in the five losses. Top wide out Damonte Coxie (66 receptions, 1,104 yards, 7 TDs) has also seen a drop in numbers with just eight catches in the last three Games.
Memphis had some decent defensive performances, but against any offense that could move the ball, it was trouble. Stopping Tulsa and UConn was good, but those offenses are arguably less potent than Wake’s. Sure, the Deacons aren’t the same as a year ago, but running back Cade Carney still posted a decent 954 yards and eight touchdowns and he’s expected to split touches with senior Matt Colburn (698 yards), who likely returns from injury. The Memphis run defense is fine, allowing 4.1 yards per carry, but fine may not be enough to cover the five points. The problem with betting Wake is that sophomore quarterback Jamie Newman is still inexperienced, only seeing significant time the last three Games. Sure, he’s been pretty good as a dual-threat QB, but he was bad in the loss to Pitt. His main goal will be to get Greg Dortch (89 rec., 1,078 yards, 8 TDs) the ball, which he did against Duke, 10 times for 124 yards.
A lot of signs point to Wake Forest in this one, but that means you’re backing a younger quarterback and weaker rushing attack. Either way, both teams should put up points, likely meaning this one goes back and forth most of the way. Another relevant note is that Memphis will have a new offensive coordinator after Kenny Dillingham was hired by Auburn.
The Tigers are 5-1 ATS in their last six on field turf, but 1-5 ATS in their last six bowl Games. The Demon Deacons are 4-1 ATS in their last five bowl Games, but 2-8 ATS in their last 10 on field turf.
Our Pick – Wake Forest +3