Wednesday, December 26, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
Free NCAAF Pick: ‘Over’
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are going to their first bowl game in their second season under head coach P.J. Fleck. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are in their 11th and final year under Paul Johnson; they’ve gone bowling eight times for the master of the flexbone offense, with a record of 3-5 SU and ATS. Georgia Tech is a 5.5-point favorite at press time after opening at -4, with the total dipping from 60.5 to 60.
How They Got Here
The Gophers made themselves bowl-eligible with a pair of stunning upsets in their last three games, beating Purdue (-10 away) and Wisconsin (-12 at home) by double digits. After a slow start to the season, the Jackets won four of their last five games, starting with a key victory over Virginia Tech (-3 at home) in Week 9.
Why Minnesota Can Win/Cover
The Gophers may be underdogs at the Quick Lane Bowl, but if they can beat Purdue and Wisconsin, they certainly can beat Georgia Tech. Thumping two of the better teams in the Big Ten is a big deal. This was the second-toughest conference in college football according to Sports-Reference, while the ACC was No. 4 in the Power 5. The Jackets are No. 76 on the F/+ Combined Ratings at Football Outsiders; Minnesota checks in at No. 53.
This might normally be a spot where the 6-6 Gophers would be disinterested in their minor bowl game after a disappointing season, but motivation shouldn’t be a problem here. They’re on a serious roll after beating Wisconsin for the Paul Bunyan Axe. And they’ll play relatively close to home in Michigan, while the Jackets will be making the long trek from Georgia.
Why Georgia Tech Can Win/Cover
Paul Johnson is one of the more legendary coaches in college football, and his players will do their level-best to send him off as a winner. His flexbone offense is one of the most difficult for teams to plan for, because it’s seldom seen outside of the military programs; Johnson also had great success at Navy before taking the top job in Atlanta. And while the Gophers have the better overall defense in this matchup, they’re vulnerable against the run, ranking No. 101 according to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ Ratings.
Because of this mismatch, the computer projections are in Georgia Tech’s favor. ESPN’s Football Power Index has the Jackets winning 60.7 percent of the time, roughly the same as -3.5 for a vig-free point spread. That’s close to where the NCAAF odds were at the open; the consensus figures at press time have 64 percent of bettors taking Tech.
Common Opponent/Series History
These two teams didn’t share a common opponent in 2018, and they have yet to play a game against each other with a betting line attached.
There may be some value with Minnesota now that the lines have moved, but it’ll be a tough get in Johnson’s last game before retirement. The “over” figures to be in play here for your NCAAF picks. All that running around in the flexbone will eat up the clock, but the Gophers are not very good at stopping the rush, and the Jackets defense is awful in just about every aspect. As a bonus, both sides of this matchup have excellent special teams; Georgia Tech’s Wesley Wells hasn’t missed a kick all season. Playing indoors at Ford Field will help keep those chains moving and those kicks true.