The 2021 college football bowl season gets underway Friday afternoon with the Bahamas Bowl featuring the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and Toledo Rockets (12 p.m. ET, ESPN). This is the second trip to the Bahamas Bowl for both teams — MTSU lost to Western Michigan in 2015, and Toledo lost to FIU in 2018.
Toledo opened as a 9.5-point favorite, but the line moved to as high as -10.5 at many sportsbooks, including BetMGM and Caesars, in early wagering.
The total is between 50.5 and 51.5.
NCAAF · Fri (12/17) @ 12:00pm ET
|TOLE Toledo||at||MTNS Middle Tennessee|
|Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tennessee|
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Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (6-6 SU, 6-6- ATS)
Losing starting quarterback Bailey Hockman after three games contributed to Middle Tennessee’s slow start. However, when Chase Cunningham took over, the offense began to look better, and the season started to turn around. The team went 2-2 with him under center in his first four starts — but then he was lost for the season against Southern Miss.
Heading into the Bahamas Bowl, it is unclear who will start at quarterback. Nicholas Vattiato started the final four games but got benched for Mike DiLiello in the regular-season finale. The run game stepped up down the stretch and provided the offense with some stability.
However, while a run game would help, Middle Tennessee may need to see its run defense step up more so than its own rushing attack.
Toledo ranked 33rd in the nation in rushing this season with 192.9 yards per game. But the Rockets ran for 200+ in four of their last five games. However, Middle Tennessee has allowed just 128.2 yards a game. Only one of its last five opponents rushed for 100+ yards.
But where the Blue Raiders have thrived is in the turnover department. Middle Tennessee ranked first in the nation in turnovers gained with 31 during the regular season. Toledo, though, has turned the ball over just six times this year.
Toledo Rockets (7-5 SU, 8-4 ATS)
Expectations were higher for the Rockets this season than a third-place finish in the MAC-West with the talent the team had coming back. The team did play well enough overall to rank first in the conference in scoring offense and defense.
Dequan Finn appears to be a talented young quarterback, as the freshman was the second most efficient in the MAC this season. After the loss to Central Michigan, running back Bryant Kobak rattled off five straight 100+ yard games, including a 203-yard, four-touchdown performance in the win over Ohio.
As for the defense, it gives up less than 200-yards a game through the air but 150.8 on the ground. The Toledo defense ranked first in the conference in sacks, second in tackles for a loss, and third in red-zone defense.
However, while there is a lot to like about the Rockets on both sides of the ball, Toledo is flawed. The Rockets have the distinction of being the most penalized team in the country this season. When you are getting flagged nearly 10 times a game for 88 yards, you will lose close games you could have won.
While the offensive line does a solid job creating running lanes, it struggles to keep defenses out of the backfield. Toledo ranks ninth in the conference in tackles for a loss allowed and sacks allowed.
Middle Tennessee’s run defense may be good enough to slow down the Toledo run game. But the Blue Raiders offense may have a hard time getting things going against a solid Rockets defense. Without a few turnovers giving them favorable field position, Middle Tennessee will have a hard time keeping up.
But Toledo does not turn the ball over.
The Rockets will shoot themselves in the foot a few times with penalties and help keep the Blue Raiders in the game, but should run away with this one in the second half.