The Ohio Bobcats took some lumps late this season and, while they earned a bowl berth, they're big underdogs against the Pirates of East Carolina in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl for December 23 at the Trop in St. Petersburg.
There's not much difference between Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference, but East Carolina, the runner-up in C-USA's East Division, is favored by two touchdowns over Ohio, the third-place team in the MAC East.
Point spread: East Carolina opened as 13-point Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl favorites; the total was 63.5. (Line updates and matchup report)
Odds Shark computer prediction: 41.9-29.0 Pirates
Why the Pirates can cover the spread
East Carolina is an experienced bunch, with 18 starters back from a team that went 8-5 last year. The Pirates own wins this year over North Carolina and North Carolina State. One of their losses was a close five-point decision against Virginia Tech.
ECU won five in a row during the second half of the season, averaging 50 points per game in the process, before running into a buzz saw at Marshall in the season finale.
Still, at 9-3 this program is playing in a bowl for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. East Carolina likes to throw it around, and why not? Quarterback Shane Carden completed 71 percent of his passes this season, 32 for touchdowns, and WR Justin Hardy caught 105 balls for over 1,200 yards.
The Pirates can also run the ball a bit with RB Vintavious Cooper, who's five yards short of a thousand. Defensively, East Carolina ranks 30th overall in FBS and 15th versus the run.
Why the Bobcats can cover the spread
Ohio only returned 12 starters from a 9-4 team of last season, but with some key people back, the 'Cats were still expected to contend in the MAC East. Ohio started 6-2, one of those losses coming at Louisville in the season opener, but fell asleep in November and lost three lopsided games in a row.
But the Bobcats recovered to beat UMass in the season finale by four touchdowns. By the numbers, Ohio is average on offense, but they do possess some semblance of balance, rushing for 136 YPG and passing for 239 YPG.
And defensively the Bobcats rank in the top quarter in the country against the pass. So maybe they've got a fighting chance against ECU's air attack, but the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl odds are stacked against them.
East Carolina was on a very nice run until that loss to Marshall and probably deserves to be favored by more than two touchdowns for this game. The Pirates possess a very potent passing game, led by a QB with a career TD/INT ratio of 55/20, and they own a couple of victories over BCS schools.
Ohio, on the other hand, looked very bad during that late-season losing streak, getting outscored 123-16, which should be cause for concern for bettors. USA Today's Sagarin ratings say C-USA and the MAC are very similar in quality, but this is a mismatch. Give the points and take East Carolina.
- Favorites are 4-1 ATS in first five Beef 'O' Brady's Bowls
- OVER is 6-1 past seven East Carolina games