Duke's season will come to an end Wednesday afternoon when it faces UCF in the Military Bowl. Before kickoff at 2 p.m. in Annapolis, Md., the Blue Zone has you covered with some can't-miss prop bets:
Duke (-3.5) vs. UCF
The Military Bowl looks to prove itself as a fascinating matchup between two programs trending in opposite directions.
Duke finished its regular season strong by beating Wake Forest due to sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard tossing a touchdown pass to Sahmir Hagans with two minutes left. The win pushed the Blue Devils’ record to 8-4, a massive improvement from their dismal 3-9 record last year. Led by Leonard and his 2,794 passing yards, the offense has been dynamic and threatening. After struggles in the secondary constrained Duke, the unit turned itself around and has steadily improved. The secondary forced interceptions in its last three contests, helping the Blue Devils to secure the second-best turnover margin nationally.
“I think we have gotten better throughout the year,” head coach Mike Elko said during his media availability Monday. “... I think we did make strides as the year went on and got better.”
Conversely, UCF enters Wednesday’s duel after a tough loss to Tulane in the American Athletic Conference championship game. While a talented team led by quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, the Knights are trending backward. Star receiver Ryan O’Keefe, who led the team in catches with 73, entered the transfer portal and joined Boston College. To make matters worse, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey left for North Carolina.
The betting line opened with Duke +3.5, and with all the troubles facing UCF, the seven-point swing in Duke’s favor makes a lot of sense. Expect the Blue Devils to take advantage of the Knights' problems and win their first bowl game of the Elko era.
Pick: Duke -3.5
Over/Under 62.5 points
Both Duke and UCF are built the same way: powerful offense, middling defense. Both teams are led by dual-threat quarterbacks: Leonard and Plumlee are two of the eight collegiate quarterbacks with 10-plus rushing and passing touchdowns. The Blue Devils average 421.2 total yards per game, while UCF averages 480.6. Duke also averages 33.1 points per game, and UCF averages 34.4.
On the other side of the ball, Duke ranks 109th in passing defense, allowing 262.2 yards per game through the air. UCF doesn’t fare much better, allowing 226.1 yards per game in the air, good for 73rd in the nation. Duke’s rushing defense has struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks, allowing North Carolina's Drake Maye and Kansas' Jalon Daniels to rack up 70-plus rushing yards while leading their teams to victory. UCF has problems against the run as well, allowing 157.3 yards per game.
Despite the challenges UCF faces on offense without its former play-caller, expect Wednesday’s affair to be a high-scoring game. Talented offenses combined with below-average defenses usually results in points galore.
Pick: Over 62.5 points
Jalon Calhoun over/under 88.5 receiving yards
Wide receiver Jalon Calhoun tore apart Wake Forest to cap his excellent regular season, snagging 11 receptions for 174 yards. The senior from Greenville, S.C., leads the Blue Devils with 811 receiving yards while averaging 14.5 yards per grab. His speed and ability to create separation make him a matchup nightmare and allowed him to continue to succeed when teammate Eli Pancol went down with a lower leg injury in Week 8.
Calhoun will likely find himself in a favorable contest with ample time to find open space, as UCF typically struggles to rush the passer, only creating 22 sacks on the season. As Pancol, who is also a starting wide receiver, is returning, the Knights cannot afford to solely build their game plan around Calhoun. The Leonard-Calhoun connection should find enough success to get Calhoun past the 88.5 yards, and maybe even enough to allow him to break 1,000 yards for the first time in his Duke career.
Pick: Over 88.5 receiving yards
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