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Thursday's Notebook
Editor’s Note: Joe Nelson is the top college football handicapper on VegasInsider.com (67%, +2,022). Don’t miss out on his Week 13 Winners!

The Thursday Night college football schedule features three nationally televised games this week to start off the first of the final three weeks of the college football regular season. While none of the top conferences are involved in the Thursday games this week, there is meaning in the conference races and bowl projections for all three games. Here is a brief look at the matchups for Thursday college football this week.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Central Florida Knights (-17½) 7:30 PM ET (ESPN)

Most have assumed that after the huge win over Louisville, it is a foregone conclusion that Central Florida will win the AAC and the automatic BCS bowl spot that goes with it. The Knights are certainly in the driver's seat at 5-0 in league play, but they will get the best shot from each of their final three opponents. Four of the five wins in conference play for Central Florida have come by seven or fewer points as this has not been a dominant team and last week the Knights barely survived against Temple, a team that is improving but still has just one win on the season. The early season win over Penn State no longer looks all that impressive and while the offensive numbers are very good for this team, there has been some inconsistency. Central Florida has improved defensively compared with last season statistically, but the numbers are not dominant, allowing 5.5 yards per play and 370 yards per game.

After a promising 4-1 start to the season, Rutgers has lost three of the last four games with only a narrow win over 1-9 Temple. Rutgers has played the last three games at home, yet has lost badly in two of those games, falling by 35 points each against Houston and Cincinnati. Rutgers has featured an excellent run defense that is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, but opponents are passing for 328 yards per game against the Scarlet Knights on over 64 percent completions.

Rutgers will still play Connecticut and South Florida after this game, so heading to a third straight postseason spot seems likely regardless of Thursday's result. Rutgers has had 21 turnovers this season led by erratic senior quarterback Gary Nova, who has 10 interceptions in five conference games, but this is a team that scored 40 points per game through the first five games of the season as the offense is still capable of producing.

The spread trends favor Rutgers in the road underdog role as the Scarlet Knights are 17-10-1 ATS on the road since 2008 and an impressive 24-10-1 ATS as an underdog since 2006. Since 2009, Central Florida is 16-9-1 ATS as a home favorite, but the Knights are just 7-7 ATS the last 14 games when favored by 14 or more points.

Rice Owls (-18) at Alabama-Birmingham Blazers 7:30 PM ET (FS1)

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Rice is a contender Conference USA West race, but an early November loss at North Texas is damaging to those hopes as the Mean Green currently holds the edge with both teams at 5-1 in conference play. Rice enters this final road game on a short week after a dominant homecoming win over Louisiana Tech, but the opposition is not threatening going against the 2-8 UAB Blazers. Rice already has seven wins overall, so another bowl trip is likely after the team won the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force last season. Two of the three losses for Rice came in road games this season and the Owls are a bit suspect statistically, sitting with a 7-3 record but barely positive in net yards per play. Rice has allowed 175 rushing yards per game and while the defense has improved dramatically overall compared with last season's numbers, Rice has been out-gained in three wins this season.

UAB is in the opposite division of Rice and these teams last played in 2010 with Rice winning narrowly at home. It has been a rough season for the Blazers in the second season under Coach Garrick McGee as it seems unlikely the team will improve on last year's 3-9 record, sitting at 2-8 with two games to play currently. The schedule has been a great challenge with this being just the fourth home game of the season. UAB lost badly at home to Florida Atlantic, but picked up a win over FCS Northwestern State and nearly beat Middle Tennessee State in the other home games.

UAB is allowing over 503 yards per game on average this season on 7.4 yards per play, as the defense has really struggled, hiding a competent offense. UAB actually averages more yards per play on offense than Rice at 5.9 and the Blazers are still gaining almost 400 yards per game with solid run and pass balance. Quarterback play has been an issue with only 53 percent of passes completed, but UAB has scored at least 21 points in seven of 10 games this season. The Blazers have been outscored, 195-80 on the current four-game losing streak.

Rice is just 7-12-1 ATS as a road favorite going back to late 1997, though the Owls are 2-0 ATS in that role this season. This spread is currently sitting as the highest road favorite spread for Rice as far back as we have data (1980). Rice has covered in six of the last eight games as a double-digit favorite, including three of four instances this season. Historically, UAB is 20-9-2 ATS as a home underdog since 1999, including covering in 10 of the last 14 instances and in the lone opportunity this season. UAB has failed in six straight games against the number as an underdog of 10 or more points.

UNLV Rebels at Air Force Falcons (-1) 9:30 PM ET (ESPNU)

The Rebels have not been to a bowl game since 2000, but at 5-5 so far this season, they could get an opportunity with just one more win. Next week's home date against San Diego State will be a tough game, so this may be the best opportunity to get it done. UNLV has lost two games in a row in tough home games against good teams and the Rebels have been out-gained by 40 yards per game and out-scored by almost five points per game despite the even record this season. Before winning at New Mexico in September, UNLV had lost 23 consecutive road games S/U and going back to 2004, UNLV is 6-52 S/U and 15-40-3 ATS on the road. Those days appear to be behind the program with two road wins this season and one more win will seal the best season for the program since 2003 and a big jump in wins after three straight two-win seasons under Coach Bobby Hauck. The overall statistics are marginal for the Rebels, but lopsided losses to Arizona and Fresno State do skew the picture.

This is the final home game for Air Force, but it has been a miserable season with only a win over Army as a highlight. This was a three-point game last season with UNLV winning in Las Vegas early in the season but the Falcons have had an overwhelming series edge in recent years, winning nine of the last 11 meetings S/U and going 7-4 ATS in the series since 2002. UNLV last won Colorado Springs in 2001 and Air Force has generally been heavy favorite in this series.

Air Force has allowed at least 27 points in every FBS game this season as the defense has allowed 478 yards per game on 6.3 yards per play. The defensive edge for UNLV is not substantial, however, as the Rebels are allowing 5.5 yards per rush and 236 yards per game on the ground and Air Force still brings a dangerous running game to the table with 276 rushing yards per game on average. There is snow and cold weather currently projected for Thursday night and that could be a big advantage for the home team given the style of offense run by the Falcons and the warm climate Rebels team.

The road struggles for UNLV are well documented and the numbers are also poor in games where UNLV is expected to have a chance to win. When playing as a favorite, or as an underdog of less than 10 points, UNLV is just 28-47 ATS since 2002. Air Force has certainly had recent struggles at home going just 4-16 ATS in the last 20 home contests, though they are 12-8 S/U in those games.

  
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