Memphis and Wake Forest meet for the first time since 1967 in the 2018 Birmingham Bowl. Wake Forest is just the second Power 5 team to play in the opening 15 bowl games this season, and against Group of 5 American Athletic Conference entrant Memphis, the Demon Deacons do have a much stronger strength of schedule (SOS) advantage in this match-up. So when comparing stats, that SOS is something to consider, despite Memphis holding a very strong +2.3 yards per play differential over Wake Forest.
2018 Birmingham Bowl
Memphis Tiger (8-5) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)
Saturday, December 22nd – Birmingham, Alabama 12pm ET (ESPN)
Betting Line: Memphis -3.5 (73)
Memphis is playing their first game against an ACC opponent since a season-opening loss to Duke in 2013. The Memphis offense was explosive this season averaging 7.0 yards per play to rank No. 5 in the country vs. FBS opponents. The Tigers allowed 5.5 yards per play on defense while Wake Forest had a 5.1 yards per play offense and 5.9 yards per play defense for a negative differential.
These two teams enter the Birmingham Bowl with different motivations and mind sets. Wake Forest crushed rival Duke 59-7 on the road in their season finale as a 9.5-point underdog to become bowl eligible. Wake Forest also beat NC State on the road as a 19-point underdog late in the season, and made it to a 3rd straight bowl game despite losing 13 players to season-ending injuries this year.
Memphis has lost a few assistant coaches since their crushing, season-ending loss to UCF in a game the Tigers blew a 31-14 lead against undefeated Central Florida. The Tigers’ offensive coordinator left to Auburn and will not coach in the 2018 Birmingham Bowl . Memphis will face their third straight back-up quarterback, as Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman will make his fourth straight start after starter Sam Hartman suffered a season-ending foot injury vs. Syracuse Nov. 3. Newman has passed for 680 yards and eight touchdowns in the last three games including two wins as double-digit underdog.
The concern for Wake Forest is that the Deacons defense has been shaky and faces a Memphis offense that was very strong this season. Will the play calling and execution continue with a new offensive coordinator in the bowl game, and are the Tigers motivated enough following another loss to UCF to conclude the regular season? The Wake Forest defense was next to last in the ACC and against FBS opponents the Demon Deacons allowed 469.1 yards per game to rank No. 115 in the country, but 380.7 yards per game over their final three contests when the entire team played better. The Wake Forest red zone defense is the worst of all bowl teams.
In short, this game stacks up as a high scoring affair. Even with a bloated total, cheering for touchdowns is the way to go. There will be a lot of scoring to go around.
Key ATS and Totals Stats: ACC teams are 6-0 over the total in their last six contests vs. American Athletic Conference teams.
2018 Birmingham Bowl Free Pick – OVER 73.0
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.