Louisville at Cincinnati
December 4, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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The final Thursday night NCAA matchup of the regular season is not the conference championship deciding game many expected it to be before the season started, but there is still a lot on the line in this American Athletic Conference game between Louisville and Cincinnati. Both teams have great records, but through soft scheduling and in most scenarios this game will determine the #2 team in the league.
Match-up: Louisville Cardinals at Cincinnati Bearcats
Venue: Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio (fieldturf)
Date: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET - ESPN
Line: Louisville -3 ½, Over/Under 51
Last Meeting: 2012 at Louisville, Louisville (-3½) 34-31 OT
With Central Florida's narrow comeback win last week, Louisville is out of the running for the AAC title and while a win puts the Cardinals at 11-1, there is no realistic shot for a BCS bowl opportunity. In most scenarios, Louisville will get to play one of its future ACC foes in the Russell Athletic Bowl or the Belk Bowl on December 28 regardless of what happens in this game, despite being a team most expected to run away with the AAC Championship and even be in that national title picture with a likely undefeated season.
The same bowl scenarios are lined up for Cincinnati as this is essentially the second place game in the AAC, though there is a chance Cincinnati could pass UCF for the top spot and the BCS bid with a win if the Knights fall to SMU on Saturday. There is also a chance Cincinnati could get passed by Houston and fall to #4 in the AAC picture if they lose badly, even though they will end up with a better conference record either way. That scenario would mean a cold weather Pinstripe Bowl trip also on December 28. Cincinnati and UCF did not play in the AAC schedule, so the tiebreaker will be the final BCS rankings and to get by the Knights, Cincinnati would need to win impressively in this game and count on a big upset Saturday.
Both of these teams have played extremely weak schedules this season, but Cincinnati has a bit of late season momentum with six straight wins and ATS wins in four of the last five games after some shaky early season performances. Louisville has covered just once in the last seven games, but there are fairly substantial statistical edges for the Cardinals on both sides of the ball. On the season, Louisville has gained 6.8 yards per play on offense compared with 6.4 for Cincinnati. On defense, Louisville allows just 4.1 yards per play compared with 4.7 for Cincinnati. Louisville is in the top 15 nationally in both categories, including third nationally on defense.
Against common opponents in six AAC games, the numbers are pretty similar with slight edges for the Cardinals. Louisville has out-gained those teams by 196.5 yards per game while out-scoring them by 17.1 points per game. Cincinnati has been nearly as dominant, out-gaining those foes by 186.3 yards per game while out-scoring them by 15.3 points per game. The big difference is that Cincinnati only went 5-1 in those games, inexplicably losing to South Florida, but the Bulls had two defensive touchdowns in that game. Cincinnati's statistics in conference play may also be helped by not having to play the best team, UCF, the one team Louisville lost to.
As in any game, quarterback play is at the forefront and while potential top 5 NFL draft pick Teddy Bridgewater has not had a Heisman Trophy caliber season, despite being one of the early season favorites, he has had a tremendous season. Bridgewater has passed for over 3,200 yards this season with 25 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. His 71 percent completion mark has the NFL scouts impressed as his accuracy has been top notch and has improved each season.
After an early season injury to Munchie Legaux, Brendon Kay has led the way for the Bearcats. He has also produced great numbers with over 70 percent completions on the season, passing for nearly 2,800 yards with 22 touchdown passes. Kay has thrown five interceptions in the last four games as his numbers have been a little inconsistent in conference play. The same can be said for Bridgewater, however, as he has just two touchdown passes in the last three games, failing to top 300 yards in any of those games as the scoring has dropped for the Cardinals late in the season.
The weather will be something to keep an eye with both teams leaning on the passing game in most situations. Rain is almost a certainty Thursday night in Cincinnati with the temperature expected to drop severely in the evening hours, going from a high around 60 to likely close to just 30 degrees for the second half of the game.
Last Meeting: This game went to overtime last season, though Louisville had a big yardage edge coming back from a halftime deficit. Cincinnati had three turnovers in the game as they missed an opportunity for what would have been a solid upset over a then undefeated team that was ranked #16 in the nation at the time. Bridgewater had just 58 percent completions in the game, despite throwing for over 400 yards and Kay did not play as Leguax struggled with three interceptions. Cincinnati ran the ball effectively last season in the matchup, out-gaining Louisville on the ground 196-108.
Series History: The overtime win for Louisville last season was the first in the series since 2007 as Cincinnati is 4-1 S/U and ATS the last five years in this matchup. Going back to 1988, Louisville is 14-8 S/U and 12-10 ATS in this series and they are 8-3 ATS at Cincinnati since 1986, while going 5-0 ATS in the last five instances as a road favorite.
Louisville Historical Trends: After an 11-1 ATS run on the road from mid-2009 through 2011, Louisville is just 2-6 ATS in the last eight road games. Louisville is just 10-15 ATS as a road favorite since 2005.
Cincinnati Historical Trends: Cincinnati is 24-6 S/U but just 14-15 ATS at home since 2009. Cincinnati is 6-1 ATS in the last seven and 14-6 ATS the last 20 instances as a home underdog. The Bearcats have not been a home underdog since 2010.
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