The Big Ten meets the ACC in the Motor City for this year's Quick Lane Bowl, and we've got a free college football pick for the clash between Rutgers and North Carolina.
This is my top bet for the toughest sell of the College Football Bowl betting season, convincing people they need to come to Detroit the day after Christmas to watch a 7-5 team take on a 6-6 outfit.
That's what we have for this year's Quick Lane Bowl, basically replacing the old Little Caesars Bowl and sponsored in part by the Detroit Lions of the NFL. Think Houston Texans meet the Buffalo Bills on a professional level with this matchup between the 7-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights and 6-6 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Kickoff at Ford Field on December 26 is set for 4:35 PM (ET), and it's the Tar Heels who are drawing a 3 point chalk line on SBR's live College Football odds after beginning at -3½. The total has inched up a tad from the opener with 66-66½ currently offered at various sports books.
We have some series history between these two teams, and fortunately, it has all taken place in the last eight years or so. The Heels and Knights played a couple of home-&-home schedules as ACC/Big East foes, Rutgers winning the first meeting in 2006 while UNC took the next three (2008, 2010-11).
Spread covers were split between the two schools, but it was a perfect 4-0 ATS for the visitors. Three of the four games finished 'under' the closing totals, and three of the four ended with a 5-point gap or less between the squads.
Tar Heels, Fedora Take Aim At 7th-Straight Winning Seasons
North Carolina barely qualified for the bowl season with six wins, and the two over Georgia Tech and Duke -- who finished ahead of UNC in the ACC Coastal Division -- were big reasons why the Tar Heels are playing in Detroit. Let's not forget, however, that one of the six victories came in the season opener at the expense of Liberty, a Div-IAA squad from the Big South.
It's the second consecutive season North Carolina reaches a bowl with a 6-6 record, a win in the 2013 Belk Bowl vs. Cincinnati lifting the Heels to a winning mark for the sixth consecutive year. Likewise, head coach Larry Fedora has a string of 6-straight winning seasons on the line here, the first four of those years while he was at Southern Miss.
Offense was the strength of the 2014 Tar Heels, which is no surprise given Fedora has long engineered a spread style that churns out the yards. Defense, well, that was a different story as the stop unit allowed opponents to also churn out yardage to the tune of just under 496 per game. UNC foes topped the 500-yard mark six times, led by East Carolina's 789 in a 70-41 laugher on the road back in September.
Fast Start Falls Apart For Knights
Kyle Flood's third year on the job in Piscataway, and the school's first in the Big Ten, got off to a nice start as Rutgers stood 5-1 following a win over Michigan in early-October. Things went downhill after that, though, with four defeats in the final six games, Scarlet Knight backers dropping the cash in four of the final seven.
All four losses down the stretch were lopsided, with only one cover despite getting 20+ points in three of the games. Add 'em up, and the quartet of Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State whipped Rutgers by a combined 180-44, those 180 points allowed nearly half what the Knights gave up on their 12-game slate.
It's a defense with many holes, especially against the run where Rutgers surrendered more than 210 yards per game. Unless defensive coordinator Joe Rossi can devise a plan to stop UNC's spread, it's going to put extra pressure on QB Gary Nova and his receivers, led by Leonte Carroo (53 rec, 1043 yds, 10 TD), to keep putting points on the board.
This one has me confused as far as the spread goes, neither side looking like a strong play. That leaves me with the total, and I'm on the 'under' for my free College Football pick.
Free College Football Pick: North Carolina-Rutgers Under 66.5 at YouWager
Season: 61-43-1 (+13.70)