Baylor Bears vs. North Carolina Tar Heels, Tuesday Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET
I guess I'm a traditionalist because one of my biggest pet peeves about bowl season - a time that I love like few others - is that bowl games like this one in which the name of the sponsor can't be ignored. It makes me grumpy and as likely as not to skip previewing the bowl - here's looking at you GoDaddy Bowl and Quick Lane Bowl. In matchups as intriguing as this one, though, I am forced to get over myself and go ahead with what really matters. Rest assured, though, I won't be writing this wearing a Russell Athletics sweatshirt.
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Russell Athletic Bowl Betting Storylines
The Tar Heels lost their first and last games of the season - to South Carolina in the opener and Clemson in the ACC Championship - but won 11 straight in between. This, then, represents the first chance in program history for the team to finish with 12 wins. That's remarkable given that Larry Fedora averaged just seven wins in his first three years in Chapel Hill and seemed to be on the fast track to nowhere. If I was looking to rain on the parade a bit I would point out that North Carolina had an ACC regular-season schedule that didn't include Florida State or Clemson, that outside of South Carolina their nonconference schedule was laughable, that South Carolina wasn't exactly dominant this year, or that the closest thing to a signature win is their victory at 6-6 Virginia Tech. It's the holiday season, and I don't want to be negative, though, so instead I'll just focus on the 11 wins.
To be fair, though, it's not like Baylor is in any better shape in terms of schedule. The Big 12 is very tough up top but not exactly deep. Baylor started off their season with three ridiculously bad nonconference opponents and then played five of the worst Big 12 teams to open the season. They won all eight games handily, but they hardly get credit for that. The schedule was heavily backloaded - the three best teams in the conference and a big in-state rivalry game against Texas. They lost badly to Oklahoma at home, rebounded to win at Oklahoma State, but then lost at TCU and, inexplicably, at home against Texas as 21-point favorites to close out the season. Simply, if you are a believer in momentum then you are not a believer in the Bears. Like the Tar Heels, their record feels inflated by a weak schedule. The tough luck for Baylor is that they played more good teams than North Carolina did.
Of course, we can't pile on Baylor without talking about the QB situation. They have had a horrible run of luck here - four different quarterbacks have played, each one replacing an injured one before him. It would be hard for any team to deal with that - never mind one like Baylor with an offense so heavily reliant on the QB. Junior Seth Russell was a Heisman threat until his injury, but he is out for sure after neck surgery. Freshman Jarrett
Stidham was very impressive in relief, and a bright future seems certain. He hurt his ankle, though, and isn't expected to be available for this game. That leaves us with Chris Johnson for this game - a guy who completed just 39.5 percent of his passes for an underwhelming 5.8 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his limited action before he was banged up. Hardly inspiring. Even worse, he won't have Corey Coleman, the new Biletnikoff Award winner for the nation's top receiver, to throw to in this one. Coleman, a junior, had already announced that this would be his final college game, but now he will miss the game due to needed hernia surgery. He's not the only key piece surprisingly gone, either -- top rusher Shock Linwood is out after surgery on his foot.
Russell Athletic Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Baylor favored by the key number of three, and that has since fallen to two points in most spots - with 1.5 starting to be available. Nearly 70 percent of bets have come in on UNC, so the line movement is consistent with the action. The total is predictably high at 70.
The Bears have gone "under" the total in their last five games in December. The Tar Heels are 6-1 ATS against teams with winning records. Art Briles is a dismal 3-7 ATS over his career in bowl games. Larry Fedora isn't much better at 2-4 ATS.
Baylor vs. North Carolina Russell Athletic Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I have to side with the public in this one. I haven't got a whole lot of respect for the Tar Heels -- they aren't nearly the team the record suggests. They are reasonably healthy, though. Against a Baylor offense that has been gutted by injuries, that is a big deal. The Bears have lost so much heading into this game that it would be easy for them to feel sorry for themselves. Can't risk trusting Baylor. North Carolina is the pick.
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