Independence Bowl: Lean 'Under' With Good Vandy, NC State Defenses

vanderbilt football

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 5:17 PM GMT

There's nothing like spending the Christmas holidays in Shreveport! Well, I wouldn't honestly know. But  Vanderbilt and NC State (-4.5) will be there Dec. 26 when they face off in the Independence Bowl. It's a 5 p.m. ET kickoff shown on ESPN2.

Commodores Thrilled For Bowl

Most schools don't get too excited about a 6-6 record and making a  lower-tier bowl game, but it's cause for a celebration at Vanderbilt as that school doesn't play postseason football too often being stuck in the mega-tough SEC and with the most stringent academic standards in the conference: i.e., Vandy can't take some players that an Alabama will.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was on the hot seat entering 2016 as the Commodores were 7-15 in his first two seasons, but reaching the program's first bowl since 2013, James Franklin's final season, is enough to bring Mason back. Vandy had some really quality victories this year, winning at eventual Conference USA champion Western Kentucky 31-30 in OT on Sept. 24, winning at Georgia 17-16 on Oct. 15 and closing the regular season with home upset wins -- both by at least 11 points -- over Ole Miss and No. 24 Tennessee. The 45-34 win over the state-rival Vols was Vanderbilt's most points against an SEC opponent since scoring 49 against Mississippi State on Sept. 25, 1971.

The Commodores aren't a good offensive team usually, ranking 109th in scoring at 23.5 points per game. But QB Kyle Shurmur improved as the season went on, throwing for more than 1,100 yards and averaging 9 yards per attempt in November. In six losses this season, Shurmur averaged 153 yards and threw two touchdown passes and five interceptions.

Vandy has one of the best running backs in the SEC in Ralph Webb, who rushed for 1,172 yards and 12 scores.  The defense is very stout, allowing 22.6 points a game. Linebacker Zach Cunningham is an All-American and was a Butkus Award finalist after leading the SEC with 119 tackles.

Vandy was 7-5 ATS on college football odds this season and 5-6-1 O/U.

 

Wolfpack Save Doeren's Job

NC State was a moderate disappointment this season at 6-6 overall and 3-5 in ACC play. There was some talk that Coach Dave Doeren might not be brought back for next season, but AD Debbie Yow has since stated the he will. His record at NC State is 24-26 and his teams have gone 9-23 in ACC play.

I'm not sure Doeren gets another chance if his Wolfpack don't upset rival North Carolina 28-21 in the regular-season finale to get bowl eligible. In four years, Doeren now has won almost as many ACC games at UNC's Kenan Stadium (two) as he has at his own Carter-Finley Stadium (three). That win over the Tar Heels was the only really  quality victory on the year for NC State, unless you count a 10-3 home victory over Notre Dame in hurricane conditions on Oct. 8 -- and I don't since the Irish didn't even make a bowl game.

The Wolfpack's quarterback is graduate transfer Ryan Finley (Boise State), who threw for 2,820 yards and 15 touchdowns. He suffered a head injury vs. UNC but should be fine. Matthew Dayes is one of the ACC's top running backs with 1,119 yards and 10 touchdowns. NC State averages 25.8 points per game and allows 23.3. The Wolfpack have the fifth-best rushing defense in FBS, allowing 104.7 yards per game. The team's top defender is end Bradley Chubb, whose 21 tackles for loss are second nationally and he had nine sacks. The Wolfpack are 8-4 ATS on college football picks this season and 4-7-1 O/U.

NC State and Vandy don't have a common opponent this year as the Wolfpack didn't play any SEC teams and the Commodores lost big at ACC school Georgia Tech, but the Jackets didn't play NC State. The ACC finished 6-3 against SEC teams during the regular season. The Wolfpack and Commodores have played twice and not since 2012 in the Music City Bowl, won 38-24 by Vandy.

I give a small lean on NC State -4.5 but prefer the total between two good defenses more than the side.

NCAAF Free Pick: 'Under' 44.5Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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