Quarterback Issues Make UNC +3 The Pick In Russell Athletic Bowl

Ross Benjamin

Thursday, December 17, 2015 11:17 PM GMT

Our handicaper provides us with an early betting preview on the bowl matchup between North Carolina and Baylor that includes his college football pick.

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College Football Pick: North Carolina +3

Best Line Offered: at Bovada

 

Russell Athletic Bowl
North Carolina (11-2) will meet Baylor (9-3) in the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl on Tuesday 12/29. The opening kickoff at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida is slated for 5:30 PM ET. Current (12/17) college football odds at Bovada indicate that Baylor is a 3.0 point favorite.

 

Quarterback Mess at Baylor
There’s no quarterback controversy at Baylor, however, keeping one of their signal callers healthy enough to play is another story. Junior Seth Russell (2104 yards/29 TD passes) was off to a magnificent start to the year before sustaining a season ending neck injury in game 7 against Iowa State. Enter freshmen Jarrett Stidham (68.8%/12TDS/2INTS) who played very well in three starts before going down with an ankle injury against Oklahoma State. Stidham missed each of Baylor’s final two games, and has been downgraded to doubtful for the upcoming bowl game. Sophomore Chris Johnson is expected to start for the third straight game, and he’s gone 0-2 in his first two. Baylor dropped those final two contests by scores of 28-21 in overtime at TCU, and then were upset 23-17 by Texas as a 21.0 point home favorite during its regular season finale. Unfortunately, Johnson had to leave the Texas game in the first half after sustaining a concussion, and was replaced by fourth string junior quarterback Lynx Hawthorne who is a converted wise receiver.

Must Read: A Brief Primer on Handicapping Bowl Games

Chance to be a Record Setter
North Carolina has enjoyed a magnificent 11-2 season in 2015. After being upset in their season opener against South Carolina, the Tar Heels reeled of 11 wins in a row before falling 45-37 to #1 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The North Carolina football program has won 11 games in a season on four occasions (1972, 1987, 1992, & 2015), but has never reached the 12 win plateau. Needless to say, achieving that school record will provide plenty more incentive and motivation. North Carolina’s quarterback situation is an extremely stable one. Senior Marquise Williams has thrown for 2825 yards and also ran for another 867. Williams has thrown 21 touchdown passes and also run for 11 scores.

 

Final Thoughts and Pick
Despite Baylor’s current quarterback situation, the Bears running game (300 YPG) is extremely potent, and more than capable of carrying the offensive load. That’s certainly a concern for a North Carolina defense that’s been vulnerable against the run in recent games. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tar Heels stack the box, and dare Baylor to beat them in their air, due to their issues under center. I believe Marquise Williams will turn in a huge performance during his final game donning a North Carolina uniform. I’m siding with the small underdog for one of my college football picks.