The East Carolina Pirates were nationally ranked at number 23 until they were shocked at Temple two weeks ago, and now this assignment at Cincinnati looks tougher.
The road favorite dropped out of the national rankings due to an upset loss in its last game and it could not be vulnerable vs. an even tougher foe Thursday night when those East Carolina Pirates (6-2, 2-2 away) pay a visit to the streaking Cincinnati Bearcats (5-3, 3-1 home) at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH at 7:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN2.
The posted line at Pinnacle Sports has Cincinnati as a home underdog of +3 for this contest at current odds of -112.
No Longer Ranked Due to Stunner
East Carolina was flying high at 6-1 and was even dreaming of playing a New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve bowl game, but those hopes were probably dashed by an almost inexplicable 20-10 loss to the Temple Owls as 9½-point road favorites when the Pirates last played two weeks ago. Now they have gone from being nationally ranked to being just one of four AAC teams with one conference loss, actually sitting one-half game behind the 4-1 Memphis Tigers.
And one of those one-loss AAC teams that East Carolina is tied with is this 3-1 Cincinnati team. The Bearcats began the season just 2-3 on the college football picks including losing their conference opener to Memphis, but they have since won three straight games all in conference play with their defense finally giving their always potent offense some excellent support.
Improved Defense the Key
There has never been any concern about the Cincinnati offense as the Bearcats are averaging 34.8 points while ranking 29th in the country in total offense with 465.9 yards per game, with quarterback Gunner Kiel keying a 15th ranked passing attack averaging 308.5 yards. However, the Bearcats did not know what they had defensively until the start of AAC play.
You see Cincinnati is still 113th in the country in total defense allowing an ugly 475.6 yards per game overall, but there is a good explanation for that. After all, the Bearcats did not shy away from good competition during the non-conference portion of their schedule, and they may have simply been outclassed in very difficult road games vs. the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Miami Hurricanes, allowing a disgusting 105 points and 1331 yards combined in those two losses!
The talent level has obviously evened up since the start of AAC play however, and during the current three-game winning streak the Cats have allowed just 11.3 points and 312.3 yards per game defensively while outgaining those three opponents by an average of +213.4 yards!
Possible Letdown Spot
Prior to the stunner at Temple, the only other East Carolina loss was a covering 33-23 defeat in SEC territory at South Carolina, and with a major bowl bid probably vanquished by the Owls, the Pirates may need to guard against a letdown here knowing that they are going to a lesser bowl practically regardless of how the rest of this season plays out.
And while few people may have seen that upset coming, the Pirate offense has been trending in the wrong direction as of late with the 10 points scored at Temple and the 217 passing yards by quarterback Shane Carden both being season lows. East Carolina is still averaging 35.9 points per game overall while ranking fourth in the land in total offense with 549.5 yards per contest, but those averages have dropped to 23.0 points and 496.3 yards the last three games.
And of the last three Cincinnati games are any indication, the Bearcats may have a better defense than the Owls have right now.
Dangerous Home Underdog
Finally Cincinnati is not a home underdog very often and even less so since Tommy Tuberville took over as head coach. In fact the Bearcats are 6-1 ATS the last seven times they have been cast in this home dog role, and they were even competitive in the lone loss in a 31-24 defeat to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville last season.
Look for that trend to continue with Cincinnati at the very least covering this small spread, which would also give the Bearcats a great chance at an outright upset over East Carolina on Thursday.
College Football Pick: Cincinnati +3 (-112)