Memphis Tigers vs Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (-6.5, 80.5)
Western Kentucky is making its third straight bowl appearance and will face Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Dec. 20. Head coach Jeff Brohm, who led the Hilltoppers to their second straight Conference USA championship this year, was hired by Purdue on Dec. 5 and defensive coordinator Nick Holt takes over in the interim for the bowl game. Memphis is making its third consecutive bowl appearance after finishing tied for third in the American Athletic Conference West Division.
The Tigers had a tough task replacing head coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch after last season but barely missed a beat behind new coach Mike Norvell and quarterback Riley Ferguson. Memphis won three of the last four games to improve its bowl position, including knocking off then-No. 20 Houston 48-44 in the regular-season finale. The Tigers average 39.5 points and rolled up 555 yards of total offense in the win over the Cougars.
Western Kentucky closed out the season on a seven-game winning streak, capped by a 58-44 victory over Louisiana Tech in the C-USA championship game. The Hilltoppers are second among FBS teams with a scoring average of 45.1 points and bumped that number up to 52.1 over the last nine contests. Western Kentucky is aiming for its third straight bowl win after knocking off Central Michigan 49-48 in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl and beating South Florida 45-35 in the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
LINE HISTORY: Western Kentucky opened as 3.5-point favorites and the spread climbed steadily before settling at -6.5 on Monday. The total hit the betting board at 77, went as high as 81 and came back down to 79.5 the day before kickoff. Check out the complete history here.
WEATHER REPORT: Conditions in Boca Raton are expected to be cloudy with temperatures in the mid-70’s for kickoff. There will be a 5-7 mph cross-wind and a slight chance of a shower.
Memphis – WR R. Proctor (Questionable, undisclosed), DB A. Hall (Questionable, leg), DL J. Gentry (Out For Season, foot), RB S. Craft (Out For Season, back), DB B. Ross (Out Indefinitely, neck), DB K. Prewitt (Out Indefinitely, suspension), LB J. Dillon (Out For Season, knee), WR H. Hill (Out Indefinitely, knee), QB B. Davis (Out For Season, knee).
Western Kentucky – DL T. Jones (Questionable, shoulder), LB T. McCollum (Out, elbow), WR N. Fant (Out For Season, knee), RB D. Ferby (Out For Season, shoulder), DB M. Ward (Out For Season, knee), QB N. Fishback (Out For Season, pectoral).
ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS, 7-5 O/U): Ferguson saved his best performance for last, passing for 409 yards with four TDs and no interceptions against Houston to cap a 3,326-yard season. Ferguson’s campaign places him second on the school’s all-time single-season throwing yards’ list behind Lynch’s total of 3,776 from last season. Tigers freshman Tony Pollard was named the AAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year after ranking third in the nation with 993 kickoff return yards and tied for third with two kickoff return TDs.
ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY (10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS, 7-6 O/U): The Hilltoppers’ offense is led by quarterback Mike White, who passed for 4,027 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions while averaging 10.43 yards per attempt. Making White’s job easier is senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor, who logged 1,586 yards and caught 16 of those TD passes, including two in the C-USA championship game. Western Kentucky’s defense held three of its last five opponents under 10 points and recorded as many sacks (five) as rushing yards allowed against Louisiana Tech.
* Tigers are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 vs. CUSA.
* Tigers are 3-13-1 ATS in their last 17 games on grass.
* Hilltoppers are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
* Over is 5-0 in Tigers’ last 5 games after allowing more than 450 total yards in their previous game.
* Over is 12-3-1 in Hilltoppers last 16 vs. a team with a winning record.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The Covers public is backing Western Kentucky with 57 percent of wagers on the Hilltoppers. The over is getting 58 percent of the action. View full consensus data here.