Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo Bahamas Bowl Odds & Picks: How to Bet the First Game of College Football’s Postseason
Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images and Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured from left: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders running back Martell Pettaway (32) and Toledo Rockets running back Bryant Koback (22).
Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo Odds
|Middle Tennessee Odds|
-115o / -105u
-115o / -105u
Bowl season is here, and what better way to kick it off than with a noon ET kick on a Friday in Nassau for the Bahamas Bowl between Toledo and Middle Tennessee State.
The Rockets finished with a 7-5 record on the season, failing to meet high expectations as the preseason MAC favorite with a win total of 9.5. However, they really came on at the end of the regular season by winning four of their final five games with the one loss coming by three points.
Close losses really cost Toledo all year. The Rockets finished 0-4 in one-possession games with all four coming by three points or less against bowl-eligible teams. This easily could've been a 10-win team had a few bounces gone their way in those coin-flip games.
Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders finished 6-6 on the season, exceeding their preseason win total of five. They became bowl eligible in the regular-season finale with a fourth-quarter comeback win over Florida Atlantic.
The first two things I always look at when handicapping a bowl game are player/coach availability and motivation. There doesn't appear to be any concern with the former, and I believe both teams should have plenty of motivation here.
Middle Tennessee hasn't won a bowl game since 2017, and this will mark its first appearance in one since 2018. After having three of its final five contests canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 last year, I expect an inspired effort from a team that exceeded expectations looking to finish with a winning record.
For reference, six-win teams have been very kind to bettors in bowl games against teams that finished above .500. I assume getting to over .500 does indeed offer some motivational edge in general.
- Six-win teams have gone 68-48-2 (58.6%) against the spread in bowls since 2005 against winning teams.
- As underdogs: 45-25-1 (64.3%) ATS, covering by just under a field goal per game.
- Teams coming off a win to get to six wins have been even more profitable at 26-11-1 (70.3%) ATS.
However, I don't really see the motivational edge in this specific instance against a Toledo team that hasn't won a bowl game since 2015.
I expect this senior-laden team to be hungry to secure its first bowl victory, especially considering how well it played down the stretch, including a dominant win over Akron in a regular-season finale that didn't mean much from a bowl eligibility or conference standpoint.
So, where does the betting value lie from a spread and total perspective? Let's take a closer look at both teams before digging in there.
Middle Tennessee's resume isn't all that impressive when you take a closer look. Five of its six wins came against teams that didn't make a bowl, including:
- Southern Miss
- Florida International
- Florida Atlantic
That lists contains one FCS school and four FBS teams with a combined 10-38 record. The Blue Raiders did have one impressive victory over Marshall, but they were outgained by almost 200 yards and averaged 1.5 fewer yards per play.
So, how did they pull off that upset win? Turnovers. Marshall had six turnovers in the game compared to MTSU's two.
That's actually been a major storyline of the Blue Raiders' season, as they rank sixth nationally in turnover margin, primarily as a result of an FBS-high 31 takeaways.
The Middle Tennessee defense has intercepted a very respectable 16 passes, which ranks in the top 10 nationally. It's also had extremely good fortune in the fumble department, recovering 15-of-20 opponent fumbles. No team in the country had more fumble recoveries or return touchdowns than the Blue Raiders.
When analyzing this MTSU team, it all starts with the defense, which improved dramatically as the season progressed and actually finished 24th in the country in yards per play allowed.
The Blue Raiders are led by safeties Reed Blankenship and Gregory Grate Jr. on the back end in addition to edge rusher Jordan Ferguson and a very reliable cornerback in Quincy Riley, who missed some time earlier in the season.
They can be pushed around a bit up front and will give up a high completion percentage. However, they are an opportunistic group that doesn't give up many explosive plays and buckles down in the red zone.
While the defense ranks 24th nationally in yards per play allowed at 5.1, the offense has been equally as bad — also averaging exactly 5.1 yards per play — the 24th-worst mark in FBS.
The ground game has been particularly poor (3.5 yards per rush) in part due to an offensive line that struggles to generate a push up front.
Also, a rotating cast of characters at quarterback hasn't helped an already inconsistent passing attack despite some fairly good balance at wide receiver.
Middle Tennessee is currently down to its third and fourth options at quarterback after Chase Cunningham suffered a season-ending injury and NC State transfer Bailey Hockman retired from football. That forced the Blue Raiders to turn to freshman Nick Vattiato as the starter for the final four games of the season. He showed some flashes but ultimately finished with only five touchdowns to six interceptions.
Vattiato also got benched in the season finale in favor of sophomore Mike DiLiello, who led MTSU to that comeback win against FAU. He wasn't great throwing the ball, but he does bring a bit more mobility to the position.
Regardless of who Middle Tennessee goes with at quarterback, this is an offense that prefers to pass but can't really do so effectively.
Similar to Middle Tennessee, Toledo goes as its defense goes.
The Rockets came into the year with one of the most experienced defenses in the country and a unit I had ranked in the top 25 nationally in the preseason.
They had one or two head-scratching performances but mainly lived up to the hype, finishing in the top 25 in both Rush and Pass Success Rate while ranking 14th in yards per play allowed.
There really are no holes on the Toledo defense after the addition of Penn State transfer Judge Culpepper provided some much-needed additional bulk on the interior. Some of the names to look out for include:
- Dyontae Johnson and Jonathan Jones are rock solid at linebacker.
- Samuel Womack is an outstanding cover cornerback, and Quinyon Mitchell has become a very reliable No. 2.
- Jamal Hines and Desjuan Johnson are menaces off of the edge.
- Zachary Ford and Nate Bauer give Toledo two extremely experienced safeties who simply don't make mistakes.
- Tycen Anderson, who missed some time early in the season, is the most talented defender on the roster. He can play slot or safety and will likely play at the next level.
It's an extremely veteran group that doesn't miss many assignments or tackles. There's also excellent depth, especially in the secondary.
However, unlike Middle Tennessee, Toledo actually has a fairly competent offense that improved as the season progressed, primarily due to a switch at quarterback from Carter Bradley to freshman Dequan Finn, who is the more mobile of the two and has played significantly better overall since taking over as the full-time starter.
Toledo has a run-first offense that features running back Bryant Koback. The junior ran for just under 1,300 yards this year at a clip of 6.7 yards per carry. Everything starts with the ground game for the Rockets.
The offensive line does a tremendous job in terms of run blocking (top-25 in Line Yards) but does struggle in pass protection, ranking 117th in Sack Rate. However, that shouldn't be a major issue against a Middle Tennessee defense that grades out below-average in getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Middle Tennessee and Toledo match up statistically:
Middle Tennessee Offense vs. Toledo Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Toledo Offense vs. Middle Tennessee Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Pace of Play / Other
|SP+ Special Teams||91||104|
|Plays per Minute||55||53|
|Rush Rate||49.5% (100)||55.5% (62)|
Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo Betting Pick
With motivation being a wash in my eyes, I think Toledo is the play here.
I just can't see the Middle Tennessee offense doing much against an excellent Rockets defense that has an advantage in almost every matchup.
And on the other side of the ball, Toledo should move the ball on the ground with the power-rushing attack of Koback and Finn's mobility. MTSU also can't really take advantage of Toledo's primary weakness on offense in pass protection.
I also think the Blue Raiders defense got very fortunate in the turnover department this season. Regression certainly looms against a Toledo offense that simply doesn't turn the ball over, finishing with an FBS-low six turnovers on the season.
Keep in mind this game is being played in the Bahamas, which means winds could become a major factor. The current forecast calls for 15-20 mph winds, which might make passing and field-goal kicking a bit more difficult. That should heavily favor Toledo, which has the clearly superior rushing offense and defense.
In regard to the total, I like the under down to 50 in a game I think Toledo dominates with its defense while controlling the clock with methodical run-heavy drives.