The busiest day of bowl season will wrap up with a party down in New Orleans as Appalachian State and UAB square off in the Superdome for the New Orleans Bowl. It will be the Mountaineers second straight trip to NOLA for bowl season, while UAB will be making its first endeavor.
The Mountaineers flirted with the New Year's Six bowl berth, but the mid-season loss to Georgia Southern -- their only misstep of the year -- cost them a trip to the Cotton Bowl. Nevertheless, a win over the Blazers would tie a bow on a dream season despite coach Eli Drinkwitz's departure to Missouri after the season. The Blazers continue to impress ever since coach Bill Clark resurrected the program from its shutdown prior to the 2017 season.
A win on Saturday would give UAB its second straight double-digit win season and further cement it as one of the top teams in the Group of Five. So who will win this battle down on Bourbon Street? Let's take a closer look at the matchup and the storylines to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread.
Appalachian State: Drinkwitz might be gone, but the offense led by quarterback Zac Taylor (33 total touchdowns) is still cooking with gas. Taylor's work, along with Darrynton Evans (1,323 rushing yards) and Marcus Williams Jr. (598 rushing yards), has made this offense one of the most difficult to defend in the country. The real story with the Mountaineers is the defense. They lead the Sun Belt in total defense (335.9 yards per game), yards per play (5.00), third-down defense (31.38 percent) and turnovers gained (21). The Blazers offense hasn't been as consistent as it has been in the past, so this game provides an opportunity for the Mountaineers defense to flex on national television.
UAB: Clark's teams are known for defense, and this year's unit has been rock solid. They are ninth in the nation in total defense at 294.1 yards per game, eighth in yards per play at 4.59 and fifth in third-down defense at 28.9 percent. Tyler Johnston III took the snaps for the majority of the season, but freshman Dylan Hopkins saw some more playing time down the stretch -- including a 185-yard performance in the 20-14 win over Louisiana Tech on Nov. 23.
Event: New Orleans Bowl
Date: Saturday, Dec. 21 | Time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome -- New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
New Orleans Bowl prediction, picks
Both of these defenses are rock solid, which makes this line look a little too big. Yes, the Mountaineers are dynamic on offense. But the coaching change coupled with the quick turnaround between the Sun Belt Championship Game and the New Orleans Bowl makes me think that there might be some sloppiness -- especially early. Thomas and Co. will pull away late, but this line is a little too big. Pick: UAB (+16.5)
So who wins UAB vs. Appalachian State? And which side of the spread can you bank on in over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the spread to jump on Saturday, all from the advanced model that is up almost $4,000 on its top-rated picks, and find out.