From the Jim Hurley Network Staff
Contributing Sportsbook Editor
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL - at Dallas, TX
ILLINOIS (6-6) vs. LOUISIANA TECH (8-5) - 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's not often that a non-power conference team will be laying a fistful (or more) points against a so-called "Power 5" team but that's the case here in the Lone Star State where - dare we say - one of the many undeserving 76 bowl teams out there (see Illinois) gets a shot at having a happy ending to its season.
The Illini finished dead-last in the below-average Big 10 in both scoring defense (33.9 ppg) and total defense (464.3 yards per game) and now must contend with L-Tech RB Kenneth Dixon who scored a whopping 26 TDs this year and enters this bowl tilt with 1,236 ground yards.
Hey, Illinois WR Mike Dudek (69 receptions for 965 yards) might be the best freshman to play for the Champaign kids in 20 years.
Spread Notes - Louisiana Tech is a sizzling 10-3 ATS (against the spread) this year with the Bulldogs sporting a 13-4-1 spread mark in non-conference games the past four years. Note that Illinois enters this affair at just 5-7 versus the vig this year and a rotten 18-28 ATS overall the past four seasons.
QUICK LANE BOWL - at Detroit, MI
RUTGERS (7-5) vs. NORTH CAROLINA (6-6) - 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Okay, so it doesn't seem like it but this is Big 10 vs. ACC which makes this bowl bash in Motown the first of the holiday season involving a showdown between "Power 5" conferences - year one in the Big 10 for Rutgers included four non-league wins and QB Gary Nova (2,667 yards passing with 20 TDs) looks to put a capper on his college career with a bowl win and note Rutgers hasn't won a bowl game since 2011 (see Pinstripe Bowl triumph over Iowa State).
Meanwhile, high-octane North Carolina might need 50 points scored here to win 'cause this Tar Heels defense is among the worst in the land while yielding 39 points and nearly 500 yards per game. If Carolina QB Marquise Williams (2,870 yards passing and another 737 yards rushing) cuts it loose here than Larry Ferdora's club (a 3-point betting favorite at press time) could rough up these Jersey boys here.
Spread Notes - North Carolina's snapped back from its 0-5 spread start to be 5-7 vig-wise while entering its sixth bowl game the past seven years and note the Tar Heels are just 9-14 ATS away since the start of the 2011 season. On the flip side, Rutgers is 6-5-1 ATS overall this season and a solid 10-6-1 spreadwise as underdogs with third-year head coach Kyle Flood.
ST. PETERSBURG BOWL - at St. Petersburg, FL
N.C. STATE (7-5) vs. UCF (9-3) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's worth noting that half of UCF's games this year were one-score affairs as the American Athletic Conference crew won games by 5, 7, 7 and 2 points with that regular-season finale a 32-30 Hail Mary job against East Carolina - even head coach George O'Leary couldn't believe what we was seeing when QB Justin Holman aired a 51-yard TD strike on the game's last play.
Now, Holman (2,661 yards passing with 20 TDs and 13 INTs) looks to cap a strenuous month of practices against an N.C. State squad that surrendered 30-or-more points in six different games this season.
Watch for State RB Shadrach Thompson who became the Pack's first 100-yard rusher in the next-to-last game of the year against Wake Forest.
Spread Notes - N.C. State has covered seven of its last 10 games this year after that 0-2 ATS start and did you know the Wolfpack's 4-1 spreadwise away this year after going a collective 4-12-1 odds-wise away the prior three seasons? UCF enters this tilt in the Sunshine State at 8-4 ATS overall this year and the Knights are 10-4 versus non-league foes the past three years.