Birmingham Bowl betting preview: ECU vs. Florida

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East Carolina Panthers vs. Florida Gators (-7, 56)

Game to be played at Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama

Florida – ranked ninth nationally in total defense – will be challenged by the country’s top quarterback-receiver combination. American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year Shane Carden has hit NCAA-record holder Justin Hardy for 27 career touchdowns – the most among active duos. Carden averages 359.1 passing yards – with five 400-yard games this season – while the Gators are allowing 194.2 yards through the air, 24th in the nation.

Freshman starting quarterback Treon Harris is expected to play for Florida after being charged with a second-degree misdemeanor Dec. 13 after operating a vehicle without a valid license. Two small bags of marijuana were also found in the car but Harris and freshmen teammates Jalen Tabor and J.C. Jackson were not charged because the car did not belong to any of them. The Florida athletic department released  a statement Friday afternoon saying “We are aware of the incident and are dealing with it internally and their bowl status hasn’t changed.”

D.J. Durkin, who will not return to Florida after spending two seasons as the defensive coordinator, will serve as interim head coach for the bowl game while recently hired head coach Jim McElwain has been watching practices. McElwain hired Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins on Dec. 16 to fill the same role at Florida. “(Interim coach) is one of the hardest positions to be in,” said Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill, who was the Texas Tech interim coach for the 2010 Alamo Bowl before taking the East Carolina job.

TV: Noon ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Oddsmakers opened the Gators as 7-point faves. That was adjusted to -6.5 before moving back to -7. The total opened at 57 and is down to 56.

WEATHER: Forecasts are calling for an 88 percent chance of thunderstorms and wind blowing toward the north endzone at nine mph.

INJURY REPORT: East Carolina – WR Trevon Brown (Probable, knee), RB Breon Allen (Out, leg).

CHEERLEADER WAR:

ABOUT EAST CAROLINA (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS, 6-6 O/U): Hardy – who won the 2014 Burlsworth Trophy as the best player who began their career as a walk-on – owns the NCAA record for career receptions (376) and leads the nation with 9.2 catches per game. Carden has thrown for 4,309 yards and 28 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 551 attempts. The Pirates – ranked No. 2 in passing (367.3) and fifth in total offense (532.8) – should have freshman receiver Trevon Brown (four TDs before a knee injury on Oct. 23) back for the bowl game.

ABOUT FLORIDA (6-5 SU, 6-5 ATS, 8-3 O/U):
Harris has thrown for 633 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions and run for another 240 yards and two scores since taking over as starter five games ago. Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor have combined for 1,382 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and Demarcus Robinson leads the Gators – who have lost five turnovers in their last five games after committing 15 in the previous four games – with 47 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns. Leading tackler Antonio Morrison needs two stops to become the first Gator with 100 tackles since Ahmad Black in 2010.

TWEET BEAT:



TRENDS:

* Pirates are 5-0 ATS in their last five non-conference games.
* Gators are 4-1 ATS in their last five bowl games.
* Over is 6-2 in Gators last eight bowl games.
* Over is 7-2 in Pirates last nine neutral site games.

COVERS CONSENSUS:
According to Covers Consensus, 59 percent of bettors are taking the Gators.

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