2018 Boca Raton Bowl Preview

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D.S. Williamson

December 18th, 2018

Two of the most underrated teams in college football battle it out in this season’s Boca Raton Bowl. Northern Illinois used a win over Buffalo in the MAC Championship to stamp their ticket to Florida while Alabama-Birmingham marched to their second bowl game since restarting their football program. The 2018 Boca Raton Bowl betting line is very tight and reflects how close these two teams are in terms of skill.

Early in the season, the Northern Illinois Huskies sat on a 1-3 record. Once MAC play started in earnest, they stepped it up. The Huskies won the West Division by going 7-2 in the conference. Northern Illinois is no stranger to bowl appearances. When they hit the field on Tuesday, it will be their eighth bowl appearance since 2010.

The Huskies’ opponent, the UAB Blazers, might be the most surprising team in college football this season. Alabama-Birmingham ended the universities football program after 2014, but restarted it in 2016. Two seasons later, the Blazers beat Middle Tennessee 27-25 in the Conference-USA Championship. That's what we call "fast tracked progress" in the business.

UAB will try to add an exclamation point with a 2018 Boca Raton Bowl victory while for Northern Illinois playing in December is old hat. Which team takes it on December 18?

2018 BOCA RATON BOWL FOOTBALL BETTING Alabama-Birmingham Blazers vs Northern Illinois Huskies Tuesday, December 18th – FAU Football Stadium – 7:00pm ET Odds: UAB -2.5 (43.5)

Alabama-Birmingham Hunts for First Bowl Victory

This will be UAB's third appearance in a bowl game since the program started in 1991. In 2004, the Blazers lost 40-59 to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. The football program had to wait another 13 seasons before current coach Bill Clark took Alabama-Birmingham to the 2017 Boca Raton Bowl. Although making a bowl game last season was nice, MAC squad Ohio pummeled the Blazers 41-6

Clark and his team will be looking for a different outcome on Tuesday. Once again, they face one of the better Mid-American Conference teams. Northern Illinois is no joke of a football program and has been a mainstay in college football betting since they played most of their conference games mid-week through October and November. Bettors are familiar with them.

But, Clark’s group will be fired up. To UAB, just making the bowl game’s a huge accomplishment. The fact they made the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl by beating Middle Tennessee and winning Conference-USA should provide even more motivation. At 9-4 ATS, those savvy enough to ride the Blazers made some cagey profits. This is a team that is used to exceeding expectations and the fact that they're favored in this game is a strong indication of just how far they've come.

Illinois Ready to Carry Momentum From MAC Championship

The Northern Illinois Huskies are ready to carry the momentum they earned by upsetting MAC East Division winner Buffalo in the championship over to the Boca Raton Bowl. Northern Illinois finished the regular season in dire straits.

They lost outright to both Miami-Ohio, 13-7, and Western Michigan, 28-21. In both games, the Huskies went off -6.5. But, in the MAC Championship, NIU stepped it up, beating the Bulls by the slimmest of margins, 30-29.

The MAC’s always a competitive conference. To beat a hungry group like UAB, though, Northern Illinois might have to play their best game this season.

2018 Boca Raton Bowl Betting Analysis

The Boca Raton Bowl could be the most even bowl matchup this year. Most of the interest is split 50/50, and it's easy to see why.

Both teams should cover based on hot trends. Northern Illinois is 4-1 ATS versus a team with a winning record and 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 games after accumulating more than 280 yards passing in their previous. The Blazers are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 following an ATS win and 8-3 ATS versus a team with a winning record.

The one trend that really stands out, however, makes UAB the pick. The Huskies are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 bowl games. Because Northern Illinois tends to lay it all out in the MAC Championship, they tend to blow it in their bowl game.

Alabama-Birmingham is desperate for a bowl victory. They should be ready on Dec. 18. The Blazers are the pick to cover the spread, which means that they'll make history in the process.

2018 Boca Raton Bowl Betting Free Pick: UAB -2.5