College Football Pick: Bet North Carolina ATS in Russell Athletic Bowl

LT Profits Sports Group

Sunday, December 27, 2015 2:05 PM GMT

The Baylor Bears were considered College Football Playoff contenders when they were 8-0, but injuries have decimated the Bears offense, making North Carolina the bowl play Tuesday.

 

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Free College Football Pick: North Carolina -2½ (-115)
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

The Russell Athletic Bowl on Tuesday evening may have lost a bit of luster with key injuries decimating the offensive skill positions of the Baylor Bears (9-3, 5-6 ATS), once considered the favorites to win the Big 12 title, greatly helping the cause of the potent North Carolina Tar Heels (11-2, 8-5 ATS) of the ACC at Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, FL at 5:30 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

The point spread at 5 Dimes has North Carolina as a small favorite for this contest with the current line at -2½ with odds of -115.

 

Baylor Lost Three of Last Four
Baylor was considered a prime College Football contender when it sat at 8-0 while leading the country both in scoring and in total offense, but then starting quarterback Seth Russell and backup Jarrett Stidham were both lost for the season, and the offense was not the same while the Bears lost three of their last four games. Then, third stringer Chris Johnson was knocked out of the season finale vs. Texas, forcing wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne to play quarterback!

North Carolina meanwhile opened up the season with a narrow 17-13 loss to South Carolina in a game where the Tar Heels had three turnovers all coming in the red zone, and they were then the winning college football picks in their last 11 regular season games to win the Coastal Division. They then lost to top ranked and undefeated Clemson 45-37 in the ACC Championship Game, piling up those 37 points vs. a seventh ranked Tigers’ defense.

 

Scheduling Issues Addressed
The biggest knock against North Carolina this year was its schedule as the Tar Heels did not face Clemson or Florida State during the regular season, but to be fair they did beat five bowl teams in their last five regular season games in Pittsburgh, Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech and NC State, and then their performance vs. Clemson in the ACC Championship Game should have removed any doubts about their legitimacy.

And remember that they had a successful recovery of an onside kick called back on a very questionable offside call at the end of that game, taking away a chance to force overtime.

The North Carolina offense was potent as usual this year ranking 10th in the nation in scoring with 40.9 points per game and 21st in total offense with 486.9 yards per contest. They ran the ball well vs. the stout Clemson defense with a rushing attack ranked 21st with 223.2 yards per game, led by dual threat quarterback Marquise Williams and lead running back Elijah Hood, and that duo figures to have great success here vs. a Baylor team allowing 156.3 rushing yards per game.

Just as important for the resurgence of the Tar Heels this season though was the vast improvement of the defense. That unit brought in former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as the new defensive coordinator after allowing a hideous 39.0 points and 498.1 yards per game last year, and the turnaround was impressive with North Carolina ranking 33rd in the country in points against this year at 22.6 per game while lowering the yards allowed to 411.3.

 

More Than Just Quarterback Issues
The Baylor third string quarterback Johnson has been cleared from the concussion that knocked him out vs. the Longhorns so he figures to get the start here with the Bears out of options. However, being without their top two quarterbacks is only half of the issue on offense as Baylor will also be without leading rusher Shock Linwood (1329 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) and leading receiver Corey Coleman (1363 receiving yard, 20 touchdowns)!

Thus, you can basically throw out the fact that the Bears did end up leading the nation in scoring (48.0 points per game) and total offense (604.6 yards) as the offense right now is a mere shell of its normal self with so many backups pressed into starting duty. And the decline of the offense was obvious in the last two games, when Baylor scored just 21 points in an overtime loss at TCU and 17 points while losing to Texas as a 21-point favorite!

Thus, the Bears will probably not be able to score enough points here to cover up the deficiencies of their defense as they were able to over the first eight weeks of the season, as this is a team that is ranked 51st in the land in rushing defense and 77th in passing defense. And facing a dual threat quarterback in Williams does not help the cause of the defense either.

 

Bounce-Back Heels
Finally, while North Carolina had its 11-game winning streak snapped vs. Clemson in the ACC Championship, the Tar Heels are 11-4-1 ATS in their last 16 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game, 4-0 ATS in their last four games following an ATS loss and still 6-1 ATS their last seven vs. teams with winning records. Meanwhile, the wounded Bears come in 1-5 ATS in their last six games overall.

All of the key injuries to the Baylor offense combined with the weak Bears’ defense should prove fatal here, enabling North Carolina to emerge victorious relatively comfortably in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Tuesday.