This Boca Raton Bowl spotlight is on Bailey Zappe, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior for Western Kentucky who is hunting college football’s single-season records in passing yards and touchdowns.
Zappe’s Hilltoppers are short underdogs to Appalachian State for the early Saturday game, per oddsboards around the betting market. BetMGM and DraftKings are both in line with the market consensus at App State -3 as of Wednesday.
Zappe is expected to play, as are two key offensive weapons bound for the transfer portal but have remained on campus.
The Mountaineers present a challenge for Zappe, but we like the Hilltoppers’ firepower in what promises to be one of the more entertaining bowl games of the season.
Appalachian State Mountaineers (10-3, 8-5 ATS)
The App State defense is the sticky point of trying to outwit the total (67.5 to 68.5) on this game. Western averages 41.8 points per game, which it has jacked to 48.7 over its past three — only UCLA, at 49.3, has scored more over that stretch.
The Mountaineers, however, allow a paltry 20.1 points, No. 16 in the nation. Over their previous three, they’ve whittled that average to 11.3, tied with Clemson at third lowest in the country.
Six of App State’s past eight games have finished ‘under’ their totals.
Senior left cornerback Steven Jones, whose five interceptions tie him with a gaggle of others atop the game, is one of those disruptors. He has returned three of those for touchdowns, tops in the nation.
Keep an eye on him, if you can — with a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, he’s probably the fastest Mountaineer.
Zappe might favor throwing to his right side.
At linebacker, fourth-year junior Nick Hampton is tied for 17th with 10 sacks. Senior middle linebacker D’Marco Jackson is tied for fourth, with Colorado State’s Scott Patchan, with 20 tackles for loss. Hampton is tied at 14th with 17 TFL.
Sophomore Noah Whittington, Western’s top tailback with 467 yards (a 5-yard average), will allow Zappe to breathe if he can break a few early runs to keep this defense honest.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-5, 9-4 ATS)
Zappe (pronounced ZAP-ee) is chasing BJ Symons of Texas Tech and Joe Burrow of Louisiana State.
In 2003, Symons threw for a record 5,833 yards for the 8-5 Red Raiders. Two seasons ago, Burrow completed 60 TD passes for the Bayou Bengals.
Zappe, who transferred from Houston Baptist and brought a bunch of talent with him to the Bowling Green, Ky., campus, has accumulated 5,545 aerial yards and 56 TDs this season.
Last time out, he set a personal best with 577 yards. He started the Conference USA title game against UTSA with a 60-yard TD pass and ended it with a 34-yard strike. In between those tosses, though, the Roadrunners dominated.
UTSA won, 49-41, as 3-point underdogs.
Receiver Mitchell Tinsley (80 catches, 1,299 yards, 12 TDs) plans to jump into the transfer portal, but he is expected to play one last time — as will outstanding 6-6, 310-pound left tackle Mason Brooks — with Zappe in this bowl game.
Fifth-year senior linebacker DeAngelo Malone is the Topper’s main agitator on defense, with a top-10 national four forced fumbles and a team-best 17 tackles for loss.
Western had covered six of seven, until that UTSA debacle, and we favor the continuation of that trend.
App State Vs. WKU Pick
One of our models has Western Kentucky winning by two points, the other shows a tie. With Zappe on the verge of two prominent records, his teammates rise to a grand challenge and help him bust both mark — and win.
Our Pick: Hilltoppers +3 (-110)