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This bowl game features two first-year head coaches in Mike Sanford (Western Kentucky) and Shawn Elliott (Georgia State). After winning 23 total games under former head coach Jeff Brohm (now with Purdue), the Hilltoppers barely became bowl eligible under coach Sanford, losing four of their final 5 games to finish with a disappointing 6-6 mark.
Western Kentucky’s regular-season ended with an embarrassing 41-17 loss to Florida International as 2.5-point favorites and I question whether the players will be motivated to play in such a minor bowl game.
Meanwhile, Georgia State enjoyed a solid season under coach Elliott, finishing with a 6-5 record that included five consecutive wins on the road following a 0-2 start. The Panthers are reportedly fired up to secure the program’s first-ever bowl victory so motivation weighs heavily in favor of the live underdog.
The Panthers possess a solid aerial attack behind senior quarterback Conner Manning (Utah transfer), who is averaging 7.1 yards per pass play and should have success against a terrible Western Kentucky secondary. In fact, the Hilltoppers’ pass defense rates 1.5 yards per pass play worse than average (6.5 yards per pass attempt to a group of quarterbacks that would combine to average just 4.9 yards per pass attempt).
Interestingly, the Panthers excelled away from home this season where they finished 5-1 SU (3-2 ATS) and averaged 26.0 points and 437 total yards per game at 5.9 yards per play. Manning completed 64.5% of his pass attempts at 8.7 yards per play on foreign soil, and I expect this that trend to continue in Orlando Saturday afternoon.
Neither team can run the ball effectively, but Western Kentucky’s ground game is particularly troublesome. The Hilltoppers are averaging 67 rushing yards per game at 2.2 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 4.5 yards per carry to a mediocre offense.
The Hilltoppers were 2-4 SU and 1-5 ATS on the road this season where they averaged an anemic 38 rushing yards per game at 1.4 yards per play! Western Kentucky is the only team in the nation without a rushing play of at least twenty yards.
I also like the fact that Georgia State’s defense is loaded with experience (five seniors or fifth-year seniors and four juniors or fourth-year juniors). Western Kentucky’s one-dimensional offense has led to White being sacked 42 times this season, including 19 in the final four games.
Georgia State defensive end Marterious Allen and linebacker Michael Shaw (school-record 25 tackles for a loss) will have the opportunity to apply pressure without the threat of a run game. Overall, Georgia State is 0.6 yards per play worse than average from the line of scrimmage, whereas the Hilltoppers are 0.7 yards per play worse than average from the trenches.
From a technical standpoint, Georgia State is 6-0 ATS versus an opponent off an upset loss and 14-3 ATS on the road versus .501 or greater opposition, while the underdog in bowl games involving a Sun Belt Conference squad are 16-13 SU and 19-9-1 ATS.
In contrast, the Hilltoppers are a money-burning 3-7 ATS in their last ten games off a loss by 20+ points, 1-4 ATS in their last five games versus .501 or greater foes, 1-4 ATS in their last five clashes with Sun Belt representatives and 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games overall.
Finally, my math model only favors Western Kentucky by 4.1 points so we are getting good line value with the Panthers, who also have the motivational edge. With Georgia State standing at 14-5-1 ATS in its last 20 road affairs, grab the points with the Panthers as one of Oskeim Sports’ college football picks on Saturday, December 16.
Oskeim Sports’ College Football Picks:
- Georgia State (+6.5) over Western Kentucky