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Gridiron Players Club (12/23/23)

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(2 Picks)

3:30PM EST: JMU/AF Under 43 (3 Units)

A lot to unravel for JMU. Every major coach is on the move. HC, OC, and DC all gone for this game. They also have 10 starters in the transfer portal, but the good news is that they're all playing. This was the Dukes first year in the FBS and their first ever bowl game. It's important to these kids and their willingness to play and delay their portal decision speaks volumes to the ball club. Defensively they should be fine and absorb the blow but losing an offensive play-caller is tough.

The strength of the JMU offense has been its passing attack. They're methodical and take what the defense gives them but that's a lot of scheming guys open. Had they been a strong rushing team it would have been easier to keep on rolling. If the OL is good and the ground game strong, doesn't really matter as you can play off that regardless. The Air Force defense is no slouch either. They've struggled a bit recently but that has a lot to do with how their offense has played.

Air Force had been without their starting QB Zac Larrier since he went down against Army. Uncoincidentally the AF defense had their worst 3 games of the year after that. It has a lot to do with the AF style of play. They run the Triple Option. Their entire scheme is built on high time of possession and grinding down an opponent. Keeps the defense fresh but most importantly off the field. AF has allowed an average of just 14.4 points per game when Zac Larrier starts. Fortunately, he's back for this Bowl Game and should help keep this clock ticking.

Defensively the Dukes should be just fine. Losing a DC hurts but a lot of defense is prep work and they brought in a couple coaches to help them prepare for the extremely predictable triple option. They're an experienced group and will be at full strength. They're also the #1 rushing defense in the nation allowing just 61.5 rushing yards per game. While they aren't going to outright stop Air Force's triple option, it's going to be very tough for them to sustain long scoring drives.

The defenses hold the edge in pretty much every department. Air Force ranks 7th and JMU 14th in Time of Possession this season. Neither one of these teams move fast and they like to do their defense favors by playing slow. Should be a grind it out affair today.

7:30PM EST: Utah -6.5 (3 Units)

Utah is without a few players from the transfer portal, but this is still the vastly superior program. Kyle Wittingham enters his 17th bowl game as head coach for Utah and he's 11-5 in the previous 16. The Utes were perennial Pac-12 title contenders the past few years and their defense has a lot to do with it. That defense is largely intact for this bowl game, and we trust it to help cover this number.

It's been a down year for Utah as they never got QB Cam Rising back from injury, but this is still a good football team. They've lost @ Oregon State, at Home to Oregon, @ Washington by a TD, and @ Arizona. Those are all good football teams. The Utes defense has shut down every non elite offense. Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and USC all put up points on the Utes. Outside of that their defense has allowed 11.6 points per game.

This Northwestern offense is not good. They rank 118th in total yards per game, 120th in rushing yards per game, and 88th in passing yards per game. That's out of 133 FBS programs. They'll be one dimensional all game long as they face the 5th best rush defense in the Nation. Again, Utah's pass defense has struggled against some Elite passing teams, but Northwestern is far from that. It's going to be tough on Northwestern to move the ball.

Offensively is where the Utes have struggled at times, but they run the ball well. They rank 26th averaging 182.2 rushing yards per game while Northwestern ranks 773rd allowing 159.3 rushing YPG. That's going to allow Utah's offense to stay on the field and play complimentary football. They'll have to play through their defense in this one and they'll be more than capable of doing so. Northwestern ranks 50th in points allowed per game, they're nothing special.

Utah just the stronger and better coached program. Sure, a couple guys have left to the portal, but Wittingham has one of the most successfully run College Football programs in the Nation. He's had a ton of success in Bowl Games and we fully expect them to show up ready to play today. Also believe the PAC-12 Conference is much stronger than the BIG 10 was this year. Utah is also the more talented team.

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