College Football Pick on Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

LT Profits Sports Group

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 2:43 PM UTC

Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014 2:43 PM UTC

Central Florida of the AAC may be playing in its home state on the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl Friday night, but will that be enough to prevail over NC State out of the ACC?


The co-champions of the AAC may actually have their hands full Friday night vs. an ACC also-ran when that latter conference’s NC State Wolfpack (7-5) take on those Central Florida Knights (9-3) in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl from Tropicana Field in Saint Petersburg, FL at 8:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

The posted line at Pinnacle Sports has NC State as a small underdog of +2 for this contest at current odds of a positive +102.

Beat Baylor in BCS Bowl Last Year
The Central Florida program did not win its first bowl game until beating Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl, but it has since followed that up with two more bowl wins, rising to national prominence by beating Baylor in a BCS bowl last season 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. This now marks the Knights’ fifth bowl appearance in six seasons.

NC State has had an excellent bounce-back season for a team that finished at 3-9 last year, and not even being the losing college football picks in four straight games in the middle of this season prevented the Wolfpack from becoming bowl eligible. But they did not stop there as even after getting that needed sixth win to go Bowling, the Pack culminated the regular season with an emphatic 35-7 win over rival North Carolina in the season finale on the road in Chapel Hill.

Are Defensive Numbers Real?
UCF did not match its 12-1 record of last season that included a perfect 8-0 AAC mark going 9-3 this season, but it also finished in a three-way tie atop the AAC at 7-1 while ranking third in the country in total defense allowing 282.8 yards per game and an average of 17.9 points. However, one of the other two teams the Knights tied with, the Memphis Tigers, also ranked very high defensively and just allowed 48 points to BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl!

That brings to question the overall strength of the AAC, a concern validated by the fact that UCF faced a schedule ranked 118th across all of college football in SOS according to the Sagarin Ratings, compared to a 65th ranked SOS for NC State.

While that SOS makes it tough to gauge the great defensive numbers, a gauge not helped by Memphis’s defensive performance on Monday, it also magnifies the decline of the UCF offense this season in the first year of the post-Blake Bortles era, as new starter Justin Holman completed a pedestrian 59.0 percent of his passes for only 2661 yards with an ordinary ratio of 20 touchdown passes vs. 13 interceptions.

Add in a low 132.2 rushing yards per game on just 3.2 yards per carry and the Knights were way down to 101st in the country in total offense, and remember that was vs. a rather dubious schedule.

Strong Finish for Wolfpack
The Wolfpack got off to a 4-0 start before the aforementioned four-game losing streak, but remember that streak began with a loss to undefeated Florida State in a game NC State led much of the way, and was followed up by losses to three other bowl teams in Clemson, Louisville and Boston College. So it is difficult to disagree with the assertion that none of the four NC State losses were a bad as Central Florida’s one AAC loss to lowly Connecticut!

And the Wolfpack deserve credit for now folding despite that skid, winning three of their last four game with the win at North Carolina in the finale after already becoming bowl eligible being the cherry on top.

And NC State has a better offense that what the Knights are accustomed to facing in the AAC, averaging 29.8 points and 402.0 total yards per game, and the Wolfpack 37th ranked rushing attack averaging 206.0 yards on a potent 5.4 yards per carry will test a fifth ranked UCF rushing defense (97.4 yards per game) that accumulated its stats vs. questionable competition.

Improving NC State Defense the Difference?
Finally, do not overlook what was an improved NC State defense this season relative to recent years, as that unit finished 50th nationally in total defense at 373.1 yards per game. Furthermore that defense got better as the season went on, culminating with holding an excellent North Carolina offense that averaged 34.2 points and 424.8 yards to a scant seven points and 207 total yards in the finale in its own stadium!

So while UCF is the team entering this game with the defensive reputation, look for the underappreciated NC State defense to throttle a mediocre UCF offense, further fueling a mild upset by the Wolfpack on the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl on Friday.

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College Football Pick: NC State +2 (+102)

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