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Gasparilla Bowl
Editor’s note: Brian Edwards has hit five of his last seven guaranteed plays after easily cashing in with La. Tech last night. He’s 63-51 for the season (55.3%, +7.26 units). Don’t miss out tonight’s pay-if-it-wins-only selection or you can go ahead and sign up for his entire postseason package!

Butch Davis is known for turning programs around in South Florida. It was 22 years ago when he rebuilt ‘The U’ during his six-year tenure from 1995-2000, setting the stage for Larry Coker win the school’s fifth national title in 2001.

Davis arrived in Coral Gables with UM dealing with probation sanctions stemming from Dennis Erickson’s time at the school. He did such remarkable work on the recruiting trail that Coker was left with the talent to win 35 games compared to only three losses in his first three seasons.

Only a late and sketchy pass-interference call against the Hurricanes prevented them from repeating as national champs in 2002, when the very questionable flag came on an incomplete pass by Ohio State on a fourth-and-goal play that would have ended the game in the first overtime.

Davis led Miami to an 11-1 record, No. 2 finish in the national polls and a 37-20 win over Florida at the Sugar Bowl in his final season. Nearly a month later, however, he left the college ranks for a big-money contract to join the Cleveland Browns.

After four seasons, he was fired by the Browns. Then in 2007, Davis returned to college to take over at North Carolina. He had the Tar Heels in three straight bowl games from 2008-2010 before the NCAA boys came calling. The investigation led to Davis’s exit and he was out of coaching for six seasons.

But now he’s back in Dade County at Florida International working his rebuilding magic once again. In his first season at the helm, Davis led FIU to a four-game improvement, finishing 8-4 after a 4-8 campaign brought an end to the predictably disastrous Ron Turner Era. He has the Panthers seeking their first nine-win season in program history tonight when they face Temple at the Gasparilla Bowl in St. Pete at The Trop.

As of early this morning, most betting shops had Temple (6-6 straight up, 6-6 against the spread) listed as a seven-point favorite with a total of 57.5 points. The Panthers were available on the money line for a +240 return (risk $100 to win $240).

FIU (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) compiled a 6-3 record both SU and ATS as an underdog this season, going 5-1 both SU and ATS in its past six such spots. The Panthers finished the regular season on a 5-2 run both SU and ATS, including back-to-back home wins over Western Kentucky and UMass. They drilled Western Kentucky by a 41-17 count as three-point ‘dogs before thumping UMass, 63-45, as 2.5-point puppies.

Senior QB Alex McGough, a four-year starter who will become the school’s all-time leading passer if he can throw for 153 yards against the Owls, completed 20-of-25 passes for 295 yards and three TDs compared to only one interception vs. the Minutemen. McGough also rushed for 108 yards and one TD.

Alex Gardner, another four-year starter who became the school’s all-time leading rusher in his junior season, rushed for 108 yards and a pair of scores vs. UMass. Napoleon Maxwell added 77 rushing yards and two TDs on only 10 attempts.

Bryce Singleton, the true freshman WR who was the jewel of Davis’s first recruiting class, enjoyed a breakout performance in the regular-season finale. He caught all three of McGough’s TD passes, which were the first TD grabs of his career. Singleton had six receptions for 111 yards, while Darius Scott had four catches for 88 yards.

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For the season, McGough has posted career-bests in completing percentage (65.3%), passing yards (2,791), rushing yards (214) and rushing TDs (five). He has a 17/8 TD-INT ratio to improve his career mark to 65/37.

Unfortunately for McGough, he is unlikely to have his favorite target tonight. Senior WR Thomas Owens is listed as ‘doubtful’ due to a knee injury sustained in a Nov. 11 home loss to Old Dominion by a 37-30 score. Owens had 59 receptions for 897 yards and six TDs before getting injured.

Therefore, look for McGough to target Pharoah McKever and Tony Gaiter IV more. McKever has 26 catches for 294 yards and three TDs, while Gaiter has 31 grabs for 293 yards and one TD. Singleton (16 catches, 223 yards & three TDs) will more of a factor as well.

Gardner ran for 765 yards and six TDs while averaging 4.5 yards per carry this year. He split touches out of the backfield with Shawndarrius Phillips and Maxwell. Phillips rushed for 453 yards and four TDs with a 4.6 YPC average, while Maxwell had 425 rushing yards, five TDs and a 6.1 YPC average.

FIU is making just its third postseason appearance in program history. The Panthers went bowling under new Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal in 2010 and ’11. They beat Toledo 34-32 as 1.5-point underdogs in the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl but lost 20-10 to Marshall in the 2011 Saint Petersburg Bowl at The Trop.

FIU went 2-3 both SU and ATS when facing foes that made this year’s postseason.

Temple is bowling for a third straight season after winning three of its last four games. The Owls are on a 4-1 ATS run since covering the number as 7.5-point underdogs in a 31-28 overtime loss at Army on Oct. 21.

This was Temple’s first season under new head coach Geoff Collins, who garnered his first head-coaching gig after doing outstanding works as Jim McElwain’s defensive coordinator in his first two seasons at UF. Collins has his first team playing its best football at the end of the year.

Temple’s best win of the year, however, came against a 6-6 Navy team. The Owls lost all five games they played against opponents with winning records.

Collins’s squad closed the regular season with a 43-22 win at Tulsa as 4.5-point road ‘chalk.’ Junior QB Frank Nutile connected on 20-of-28 passes for 262 yards and three TDs without an interception. David Hood ran for 84 yards and one TD on 14 attempts, while Ryquell Armstead rushed for 53 yards and one TD on 12 carries.

Isaiah Wright had 50 rushing yards on two totes against the Golden Hurricane, in addition to catching three balls for 38 receiving yards. Adonis Jennings had three receptions for 89 yards and one TD, while Keith Kirkwood had four catches for 71 yards and a pair of scores.

Nutile made the first five starts of his career to finish the regular season, going 3-2 SU and 4-1 ATS. He had just one multi-interception game when he was picked off four times in a 45-19 home loss to undefeated UCF on Nov. 18. Nutile threw for 289 yards and four TDs in the win over the Midshipmen. For the season, he’s completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards with an 11/7 TD-INT ratio.

Nutile took over as the starting QB when Logan Marchi went down with a lower-body injury in mid-October. Marchi won the job of replacing P.J. Walker, a four-year starter and the school’s all-time leading passer, in August. But he has missed the past five games and is ‘questionable’ to be available in a back-up role tonight. Marchi had connected on 55.5 percent of his passes for 1,658 yards with a 9/8 TD-INT ratio.

Temple’s ground attack has struggled all season, ranking 100th in the country out of 130 FBS teams. Armstead saw his rushing yards dip from 919 in 2016 to 553 this year. His rushing TDs also decreased from 14 to four along with his YPC average (from 5.9 to 3.9). Hood ran for a team-high 562 yards and four TDs while averaging 4.8 YPC.

Jennings has a team-best 39 receptions for 691 yards and seven TDs, while Wright has 41 catches for 595 yards and three TDs. Kirkwood has 39 grabs for 575 yards and seven TDs. Ventell Bryant was Temple’s leading receiver in 2016 when he hauled in 54 receptions for 895 yards and four TDs. However, injuries kept him out of three games this year, and he’s ‘questionable’ tonight with a leg injury that kept the junior out of the regular-season finale. His numbers dropped to 28 catches for 273 yards and zero TDs this year.

After the ‘under’ started 6-1 in Temple’s first seven games, but the Owls have seen five straight ‘overs’ that have netted combined scores of 65, 64, 59, 60 and 59 points. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 52.5 points per game.

The ‘over’ is 7-4-1 overall for FIU after cashing in each of its past four games and five of its last six. The four ‘overs’ to conclude the regular season had the following combined point totals: 108, 58, 76 and 57 points. The Panthers have watched their games average combined scores of 56.0 PPG.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- West Virginia star QB Will Grier was officially ruled ‘out’ of his team’s Heart of Dallas Bowl game against Utah on Wednesday due to the finger injury he sustained in November. Grier announced last week that he will be returning to WVU for his senior season.

-- Florida scored a potential QB of the future Wednesday when it signed the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat QB according to 247Sports’ recruiting rankings. The Gators flipped four-star Ohio State commit Emory Jones in large part because Dan Mullen was the first college coach to offer Jones a scholarship back when he was a freshman in high school while Mullen was at Mississippi State. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes also lost a five-star commitment when safety Jaiden Woodbey flipped from OSU to FSU and Willie Taggart. Woodbey, the California product, had been an Ohio State commit since February. Sorry, Oscar!

-- At an Early Signing Day presser Wednesday, LSU head coach Ed Oregeron announced that his team will be without three defensive starters in its Citrus Bowl showdown vs. Notre Dame. Star pass rusher Arden Key is one of those players, in addition to LBs Corey Thompson and Donnie Alexander. However, the Fighting Irish will also be shorthanded after suspending WR Kevin Stepherson and RB C.J. Holmes after they were arrested on shoplifting charges. Stepherson is Notre Dame’s team leader in TD catches (five) and yards per receptions (18.9). He has 19 grabs for 359 yards.

-- Louisiana Tech dusted SMU early and often at last night’s Frisco Bowl. The Bulldogs smashed the Mustangs 51-10 as four-point underdogs, hooking up money-line supporters with a +155 return.

-- With La. Tech’s outright victory, underdogs are now 5-2 both SU and ATS during the bowl games. The ‘over’ has cashed at a 4-3 clip.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards

  
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