2018 Birmingham Bowl
Wake Forest +4.5 vs Memphis Tigers
(Saturday 12 p.m. ET)
Wake Forest (+4.5) proved to be an outstanding road team during second half of season, winning last three games away from home as underdogs, and I loved how they finished routing Independence Bowl-bound Duke 59-7 in season finale. Give me the Demon Deacons and the points against Memphis, who has stunk in recent bowl games (0-3 ATS) and enters with a completely different mindset.
Tigers play little-to-no defense but had unbeaten UCF right where they wanted in AAC Championship Game, with the offense firing on all cylinders as they rolled to a 38-21 halftime lead. It was shocking to see everything unravel over the final two quarters as Memphis folded its tent and got blown out 35-3 the rest of the way. To say their confidence was shaken is an understatement and Memphis is now 0-5 ATS in the last five December games.
Wake Forest enters on the upswing, scoring at least 50 points in four of the last five games (32.5 points per game season average), and will frustrate Memphis with a ball-control attack. They had the ball nearly 15 minutes longer than Duke last time (37:21-22:39) behind the nation’s 25th ranked ground game (averaging 214.8 rushing yards per game). RBs Cade Carney and Matt Colburn will do plenty of damage in this match-up and Wake has thrown the ball effectively when necessary, putting up 297 passing yards in a key late-season win over Holiday Bowl-bound NC State.
Up-and-down Memphis features a prolific attack as well but will miss All-American RB Darrell Henderson (skipping the game for NFL Draft) against Wake Forest’s 91st-ranked run defense. That’s a huge blow for the Tigers, who are 1-5 ATS in the last six neutral-site games.
I won’t be surprised to see Wake Forest win straight up, take the points!
Jared Birmingham Bowl Free Pick – Bet Wake Forest +3.5 over Memphis!
2018 Bahamas Bowl
Florida International Golden Panthers +4.5 vs Toledo Rockets
(Friday 12:30 p.m. ET)
Florida International (+4.5) continued to make positive strides in the second year under Butch Davis, going 8-4 SU in 2018, and transfer QB James Morgan (multiple TD passes in 10 of the last 11 games) provides an edge against run-limited Toledo. This game looks like more of a pick ‘em and I will gladly take the points with Florida International.
Last year, FIU won five of their last seven games to snap a long bowl drought but got waxed 28-3 in the Gasparilla Bowl. Similar to UAB, who returned from a lengthy bowl absence with a lopsided loss last year and recently blew out Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl, FIU will be motived to complete the task this year with a celebrated bowl victory.
I like their balance, with RBs Napoleon Maxwell and D’Vonte Price playing well as FIU recorded 190 rushing yards on Marshall’s ninth-ranked run defense in the season finale, and Morgan should be excited to face a soft Toledo secondary after tossing five TDs against while quarterbacking Bowling Green in 2016.
Golden Panthers will give up points with their leaky defense (Toledo averaging 41.1 points and 448.5 yards per game) but FIU more than capable of outscoring this one-dimensional opponent; Toledo missing starting QB Mitchell Guadagni, who went down with an injury late in the season.
After opening 3-4 SU, Toledo played well down the stretch to win four of the last five games. But three of those wins came against teams with a losing record and Rockets weren’t competitive in lone setback, losing 38-15 to Northern Illinois.
FIU has covered four straight against teams with a winning record and Toledo 2-5 ATS in last seven games outside the MAC. I won’t lay points with one of the nation’s worst pass defenses (Toledo ranks 102nd allowing 257.8 passing yards) and like FIU in this spot!
Boca Raton Bowl Free Pick – Bet Florida International +4.5 over Toledo!
James Scully is a professional handicapper who hails from the great state of Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesScully.