Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Western Michigan Broncos (-5, 65)
Game to be played at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, Nassau Bahamas
Both Middle Tennessee and Western Michigan ended their regular seasons on a good note and look prepared to put up a boatload of points in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Christmas Eve. Led by quarterback Brent Stockstill, who set the Conference USA passing record for a freshman with 3,678 yards, the Blue Raiders overcame a 3-5 start with four straight wins down the stretch, the last two by a combined 69 points. The Broncos’ balanced attack ranked second in the Mid-American Conference in total offense and helped get the squad past then-No. 24 Toledo 35-30 in the finale of the regular season Nov. 27.
Western Michigan features a dynamic receiving duo in Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis, the first tandem in the nation to go over 1,100 receiving yards in the same season since 2012. The pair combined for 23 touchdowns and helped lead a Broncos’ offensive attack that ranks second in the nation in time of possession (34.5 minutes per game). Junior quarterback Zach Terrell threw for 3,225 yards, third in the MAC, with 27 touchdowns against eight interceptions, five of which occurred in the first two games of the season.
The Blue Raiders’ defense struggled early on but was pivotal in slamming the door on opponents down the stretch, limiting their last two foes to a combined 14 points. Linebacker T.T. Barber (11.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks) and safety Kevin Byard (four interceptions in 11 games) were both all-conference selections for a unit that tied for second in the league in picks with 16. Offensively, the run game left something to be desired, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and failing to get a single player over 500 yards on the ground.
TV: Noon ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Western Michigan opened as 3.5-point favorites before getting bet to -3. Shortly after the line jumped two whole points back in the Broncos favor to -5 and got as high as -5.5, before settling back at -5. The total has been consistently bet up since opening at 62.5 and now sits at 65.
Middle Tennessee – LB A. Stewart (questionable Thursday, undisclosed), DE J. Jones (questionable Thursday, undisclosed), LB M. Harges (questionable Thursday, undisclosed), TE T. Barron (questionable Thursday, undisclosed), CB J. Cutrer (questionable Thursday, undisclosed), RB J. Bryson (doubtful Thursday, shoulder), OL D. Johnson (out Thursday, undisclosed).
Western Michigan – N/A.
WEATHER REPORT: It should be a beautiful day for football in the Bahamas with temperaures in the low 80’s and a 10-12 mile per hour wind blowing from east to west.
ABOUT MIDDLE TENNESSEE (7-5, 8-4 ATS, 4-8 O/U): Stockstill is the son of head coach Rick Stockstill, who has guided the program to five bowl games since taking over in 2006 but hasn’t won one since the New Orleans Bowl in 2009. With his son in the fold and another freshman – wide receiver Richie James – as the other offensive star, the future is bright. James is one of three wideouts in FBS play to record 100 catches and one of 14 to reach the 1,200-yard mark.
ABOUT WESTERN MICHIGAN (7-5, 7-5 ATS, 6-5-1 O/U): Head coach P.J. Fleck’s name often comes up in discussions of coaching vacancies, and he will get a chance on national television to show off the progress he has made at Western Michigan. “This was kind of the year of the ‘nevers,'” Fleck recently told the Detroit Free Press. “We’ve never been to back-to-back bowl games. We’re doing that. We never beat a Top 25 team. We’ve done that. We’ve never had back-to-back-to-back No. 1 (MAC) recruiting classes three years in a row. We’re doing that. But now, it’s a chance to have our first bowl win in the history of the program.” Terrell threw for three touchdowns – all of them to Davis – in last year’s loss to Air Force in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
* Middle Tennessee is 4-0 ATS in its last four games overall.
* Western Michigan is 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in December.
* Under is 5-0 in Middle Tennessee’s last 5 games overall.
* Over is 4-1-1 in Western Michigan’s last 6 non-conference games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The public is siding with the Broncos in this matchup with 65 percent of wagers on Western Michigan. As for the total, 55 percent of wagers are on the over.
San Diego State Aztecs vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (+3, 56.5)
Game to be played at Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State will make its second trip to Hawaii in less than three months when its faces Cincinnati on Christmas Eve in the Hawai’i Bowl. The contest will be played at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium, which came under scrutiny last week when the U.S. women’s national team cancelled its soccer match with Trinidad and Tobago, claiming poor field conditions and tweeting out photos of seams in the artificial turf coming apart, mainly on the sideline area. “We didn’t have any problems when we played on it,” Aztecs coach Rocky Long told the San Diego Union-Tribune of his team’s 28-14 victory over the Rainbow Warriors on Oct. 10. “I don’t think it was a concern when we were there.”
San Diego State rolls into the game with the momentum of a nine-game winning streak, the third-longest active streak in the nation behind Clemson (16) and Alabama (10). That includes a perfect 8-0 mark in the Mountain West regular season and a 27-24 victory over Air Force in the 2015 Sports Authority MW Championship game at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 5. It was the 20th conference title in school history and second in the Mountain West era.
Cincinnati was a big preseason media favorite to win both the American Athletic Conference East Division and inaugural league title game. However, the Bearcats finished third in the East behind Temple and USF, which handed Cincinnati its worst loss of the season, 65-27, on Nov. 20. “(The Hawai’i Bowl is) one of the best bowls going,” Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I’ve coached in a lot of them, and unless you’re playing for the national championship, what better place to spend the holidays than Hawaii?”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Since opening as 2-point favorites, Cincinnati has seen no love as the line has not only jumped the fence, but gone all the way to San Diego State -3. The total has been bet down slightly since opening at 57, and is down to 56.5.
San Diego State – QB M. Smith (questionable Thursday, knee).
Cincinnati – WR J. Holton (questionable Thursday, hamstring), QB G. Kiel (out Thursday, personal).
WEATHER REPORT: It could be messy in Honolulu, with a 51 percent chance of rain showers and a 13-15 mile per hour wind gusting across the field from east to west. Temperatures will be high 70’s at gametime.
ABOUT SAN DIEGO STATE (10-3, 7-5-1 ATS, 6-7 O/U): The big question for the Aztecs is whether starting quarterback Maxwell Smith, who passed for 1,529 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions, will be able to make it back to play in the bowl game after tearing his left ACL in the regular season finale against Nevada. “I hope he gets ready,” Long told Union-Tribune. “I’d love to see him start the game.” If not, redshirt freshman Christian Chapman, who completed 9-of-14 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown in the championship game, will make his second college start and the Aztecs, who set a school-single season record with 3,061 rushing yards, will lean even more heavily on Donnel Pumphrey, the Mountain West’s Offensive Player of the Year who has rushed for 1,554 yards and 16 TDs.
ABOUT CINCINNATI (7-5, 6-6 ATS, 6-6 O/U): The Bearcats bounced back from the ugly loss at USF to edge East Carolina, 19-16, on Andrew Gantz’s 42-yard field goal on the final play of the game in their regular-season finale. Junior quarterback Gunner Kiel, who began his career at Notre Dame, has completed 206-of-316 passes for 2,777 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with senior wide receiver Shaq Washington, who set a school single-season receptions mark with 88 catches for 971 yards and six touchdowns, his top target. Senior Hosey Williams (727 yards, 4 TDs) and sophomore Mike Boone (717 yards, 8 TDs) both topped the 700-yard rushing mark while junior linebacker Eric Wilson (103 tackles) leads a defense that ranked just 84th nationally and allowed 190.8 yards per game on the ground.
* San Diego State is 0-7 ATS in their last 7 non-conference games.
* Cincinnati is 1-7 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games.
* Under is 7-2 in San Diego State’s last 9 non-conference games.
* Over is 4-1 in Cincinnati’s last 5 Bowl games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The action is fairly split in this bowl game according to the Covers Consensus, with 56 percent of wagers on San Diego State. As for the total, 58 percent of wagers are on the total.