Boca Raton Bowl
December 18, 2017
By Brian Edwards
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The Lane Train doesn’t even have to leave the station for the postseason. Florida Atlantic (10-3 straight up, 9-4 against the spread) will play host to Akron in Tuesday’s Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium.
As of Monday night, most betting shops had FAU installed as a 22.5-point favorite with a total of 64. 5Dimes.eu and SBG Global had Akron at +1250 on the money line (risk $100 to win $1,250).
This is the richest spread on a side in the history of college football bowl games. For bettors that don’t want to lay the enormous number, there is the opportunity to back FAU in the first half as a 13-point favorite.
In his first season at the South Florida school after spending three years as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama, Kiffin led FAU to 10 wins and its first Conference USA Championship. FAU has won nine consecutive games while going 7-2 ATS. The Owls haven’t tasted defeat since losing a 34-31 decision at Buffalo as 1.5-point road underdogs.
Since getting drilled 42-19 by Navy in its season opener, FAU has won six in a row at home while going 5-1 ATS. The Owls hosted the C-USA Championship game, blasting North Texas 41-17 as 11-point home favorites. Sophomore RB Devin Singletary stole the show with 164 rushing yards and three TDs on 26 attempts. QB Jason Driskel completed 15-of-27 passes for 269 yards and one TD without an interception. John Franklin III completed his only pass attempt for 49 yards, in addition to making a 22-yard TD catch and rushing for 75 yards on only two carries.
During FAU’s nine-game winning streak, it has won by at least 14 points eight times. The Owls are 3-1 ATS in four games as double-digit favorites.
Singletary led the nation in scoring with 29 rushing TDs and one TD catch. He is already the school’s third-leading all-time rusher after producing 1,794 rushing yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Singletary also has 185 receiving yards on 18 receptions. After rushing for only 94 combined yards in losses vs. Navy and at Wisconsin (31-14), Singletary has ripped off 11 straight games with at least 104 rushing yards.
Driskel has connected on 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,977 yards with a 13/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has run for 360 yards and six TDs, averaging 5.1 YPC. Driskel does an excellent job of spreading the wealth around. Five players have at least 20 catches and minimum of 317 receiving yards led by Willie Wright, who has 49 receptions for 586 yards and four TDs. Kalib Woods has 20 catches for 540 yards and four TDs, while Harrison Bryant has 32 grabs for 408 yards and a team-best five TDs.
FAU is ranked 14th in the nation in total offense, ninth in scoring with a 39.8 points-per-game average and sixth in rushing yards. The Owls have won their last four games by margins of 24, 19, 28 and 25 points.
The FAU defense is led by junior LB Azeez Al-Shaair, who has recorded 134 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, four passes broken up, four QB hurries and one forced fumble.
FAU is bowling for only the third time in the program’s history and the first time since 2008. The Owls defeated Central Michigan 24-21 as a seven-point underdog at the ’08 Motor City Bowl. They also beat Memphis 44-27 as three-point ‘chalk’ at the 2007 New Orleans Bowl.
Akron (7-6 SU, 9-4) won the MAC’s Eastern Division, only to take a 45-28 loss at Toledo in the MAC Championship Game. Nevertheless, the Zips covered the spread as 20-point underdogs thanks to a 28-7 run in the last 15:30 of the game. They trailed 38-0 until Manny Morgan’s seven-yard TD scamper with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Terry Bowden’s club secured the spread cover thanks to Kobie Booker’s five-yard TD catch from Robbie Kelley with 20 seconds remaining. Akron used three different QBs with redshirt freshman Kato Nelson throwing for 177 yards and two TDs without an interception. Morgan rushed for 51 yards and one TDs on 11 attempts, while Kwadarrius Smith had three receptions for 114 yards and one TD.
Senior QB Thomas Woodson has been Akron’s starting QB for most of the last three seasons, but he was suspended for three games late in the regular season. Nelson took over and went 2-2 in four starts. The RS freshman out of Flanagan HS in Hollywood, Florida, about 20 miles south of Boca, threw for 909 yards with an 8/2 TD-INT ratio. Nelson completed only 48.8 percent of his passes, though. He is a dangerous runner who had 177 rushing yards and one TD.
Nelson is expected to get his fifth career start, but Woodson is likely to see playing time as well. Woodson has completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 1,777 yards with a 14/9 TD-INT ratio.
Smith leads Akron in receiving yards (719) and TD catches (seven) and has 33 receptions. A.J. Coney has 41 catches for 523 yards and three TDs, while Tra’Von Chapman has 51 grabs for 463 yards and two TDs. Senior WR Austin Wolf has 30 receptions for 450 yards and five TDs.
Akron has seen RBs Warren Ball and Deltron Sands go down to season-ending injuries. Morgan has rushed for a team-high 393 yards and four TDs, while Van Edwards has 348 rushing yards and two TDs.
Akron is ranked 118th in the country in both total offense and rushing yards. The Zips are 103rd in scoring with a 23.6 PPG average. As for the other side of the ball, Akron is ranked 98th in total defense, 99th at defending the run and 82nd in pass defense. This unit is opportunistic, though, forcing 27 turnovers that have helped it rank 60th in scoring ‘D’ (26.3 PPG).
There are two keys players for the Akron defense, junior LB Uslysees Gilbert and sophomore safety Alvin Davis. Gilbert has produced three interceptions, one pick-six, one fumble recovery for a 40-yard TD return, a team-best 127 tackles, five sacks, 3.5 TFL’s, four PBU and five QB hurries. Davis has 72 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery, one TFL, one forced fumble and two PBU.
Akon owns a 5-3 spread record with a pair of outright wins in eight games as a double-digit underdog this year. The Zips are 2-4 SU and 4-2 ATS in six road games. As a road underdog during Terry Bowden’s tenure, Akron has compiled a 17-9 spread record in 26 such spots.
Akron is in the postseason for the third time in school history and the second time during Bowden’s six-year tenure. The Zips went out to the smurf turf in Boise two seasons ago and won 23-21 decision over Utah State as 7.5-point underdogs at the 2015 Idaho Potato Bowl.
The ‘under’ is 7-6 overall for the Owls, 5-2 in their home games. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 64.1 points per game.
The ‘under’ is 10-3 overall for Akron, 5-2 in its road assignments. However, the ‘over’ has hit in two of the Zips’ last three outings. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 49.9 PPG.
According to our weather reports, the forecast is for partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 74 degrees at kickoff, which will be at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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