Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (-4.5)
Mon., December 31, 12:00 p.m. ET
Three things to know before betting on Virginia Tech-Cincinnati:
1. Virginia Tech is lucky to be in a bowl game this year. A 49-35 Hokies loss to Old Dominion as 28-point favorites in late September was one of the biggest college football upsets in recent memory. That defeat also featured a season-ending leg injury to starting quarterback Josh Jackson and foreshadowed a disappointing season for Virginia Tech. Even some of its wins felt like they were the result of luck. The Hokies were outgained by more than 2.0 yards per play (an enormous margin) against UNC in October, yet still won by a field goal. After a four-game losing streak (and a six-game skid against the spread), Virginia Tech needed to win its final two games just to reach .500 and become bowl eligible. The Hokies ended the regular season 5-7 against the spread, with three of those ATS wins coming in the first four games.
2. Ryan Willis, Jackson's replacement at quarterback, was a pleasant surprise for Virginia Tech, throwing for 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Passing plays accounted for 61.7% of Tech's total yardage this season (41st in FBS). Unfortunately for the Hokies, that makes Cincinnati a very difficult matchup. Cincy finished seventh in the country in scoring defense (16.1 points allowed per game) and was especially tough against the pass. The Bearcats allowed the lowest opposing completion percentage in the country (47.3%). Virginia Tech doesn't have the tools to pivot to a run-heavy offense and, even if it did, Cincinnati is dominant in that respect, as well. Cincy allowed only 3.19 yards per carry to opposing rushers, ninth-best in the country.
3. Even though Cincinnati is known for its defense, there's still plenty to like on the offense. Freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder averaged 7.8 yards per passing attempt (fourth in the AAC), and sophomore running back Michael Warren III was a second-team all-conference selection after rushing for more than 1,100 yards. Playing against a weak Virginia Tech defense, trends suggest the Bearcats are in a great spot to cover the spread in the Military Bowl. Over the last 10 seasons, favorites of 3.5 to 10 points that are averaging at least 440 yards per game and coming off a performance in which they averaged at least 6.75 yards per play are 33-8 against the spread in games played in the second half of the season against teams allowing between 390 and 440 yards per game.
Pick: Cincinnati -4.5
Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)