Boise State Broncos vs. Baylor Bears, Tuesday December 27, 10:15 p.m. ET
Boise State deserves better than this. After winning 10 games this year, and being so consistently excellent for so long, they shouldn't wind up in a bowl late on a Tuesday night against a 6-6 team that is a total mess. They really have no one to blame but themselves, though. If they had kept winning they had the chops to potentially wind up in the Playoff, but they let their eye off the ball and now here they are. It doesn't necessarily set up to be the most exciting game of the year, but it is certainly not short of storylines and that makes it interesting enough. If nothing else, Baylor's season has turned into a bit of a car wreck this year, and we know how hard it is to turn away when we see one of those.
Cactus Bowl Betting Storylines
We have to start with Baylor. It has been a season to remember - or forget if you are a fan. Things blew up in the summer, and Art Briles was fired. That scandal has hung over the team all season and cost them players and recruits. Jim Grobe took over interim coaching duties, and early on it looked like he was going to be Coach of the Year. He won his first six games, capped by a win over Oklahoma State. It's a good thing they got bowl eligibility out of the way early, though, because the wheels really fell off. They lost to the Longhorns in a tight battle, and it's like all of their mojo left at that moment. They haven't won since. The low was unquestionably at home against TCU. They were favored by a touchdown and lost by 40. That was right after the Texas loss, and it's as if they haven't cared since.
And then there is the quarterback situation. Seth Russell is a good QB, but he can't stay healthy. He is out with ankle surgery, so freshman Zach Smith has had to step in. He has performed much like you would expect a talented freshman to. There have been some highlights, but he can't get out of his own way at times, and there are too many mistakes. He's not a total disaster, and getting first reps during bowl practices will help, but I'd feel a whole lot better about things with Russell under center.
We're not done with Baylor yet. They have hired their coach of the future, poaching Matt Rhule from Temple. It's an excellent hire. Rhule isn't around practices for this game, though, and it's very unlikely that much, or any, of the current staff will be retained. In situations like this it can be tough for players to find motivation to really grind for a staff that has no sticks or carrots to motivate with.
Yes, Boise State is playing, too. And they bring far less baggage. They won seven straight then lost by two at Wyoming in one of the best games I watched all year. They won three more and then took their eyes off the ball in their finale against Air Force. Brett Rypien, nephew of long-time NFL QB Mark, had a strong year at QB, and Jeremy McNichols can run the ball like crazy. They have an offense that measures out as strong to elite depending on the category, and they are up against a Baylor defense that is average at best, has struggled down the stretch, and is likely to be far from their most intense. Boise State should score in bulk in this one.
Normally we would touch on this in the next section, but it is so striking I have to mention it here. Boise State is as bad against the spread as I have ever seen a good team be. Despite going 10-2 they were just 3-9 ATS, and they had just one cover in their last seven games. It's clear that the public has done a poor job of assessing what this team truly is.
Cactus Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Boise State favored by 9, but that fell almost immediately to 8.5, and has since fallen widely to 7.5. More than 70 percent of bets have come in on Boise State, so the line movement suggests that sharp money hit Baylor early on. The total opened at 66.5 and has drifted slightly to 67.
The Broncos have been terrible against the spread this year, but they are a strong 6-2 ATS in their last eight bowl games and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 neutral-site games. Baylor is 8-1 ATS in their last nine games in December, but they are just 1-5 ATS in their last six overall and 1-4 ATS in their last five against Mountain West foes. The Broncos have gone "over" the total in five of their last seven neutral-site games, and the Bears have gone over in 16 of their last 21 nonconference games.
Boise State vs. Baylor Cactus Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
Betting on Boise State has been far from a pleasure this year, but we have no choice here but to do it again. Baylor has coaching uncertainty, they are in a horrible funk, they lack depth, and they are starting a freshman QB that isn't ideal. Given all of that we just can't trust them - especially against a team that thrives in the postseason and has won six of their last seven bowl games. Boise State will be ready, and they are the pick.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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