Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 11:00 AM EST.
Kentucky -2½ -110 over NC State
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - TIAA Bank Field – Jacksonville, FL
12:00 PM EST. The number here has left much of the market scratching their heads. The Wolfpack of N.C. State step into the Gator Bowl as the #23 ranked team in the country, boasting an 8-3 record on the year. The unranked Kentucky Wildcats backed their way into the postseason with a 4-6 record thanks to a lack of available teams combined with no bowl eligibility standards implemented for the 2020 season due to the present pandemic situation. Nevertheless, how on Earth is Big Blue favored in this contest? That is the trope of this matchup.
This season, the Wolfpack have staged three outright upsets as an underdog, two of which were on the road where N.C. State was priced in the seven-point range or greater. Overall as a pup, the Wolves are 4-2 against the number and they were also near to staging a fourth outright upset as a 10-point underdog playing host to Miami in Raleigh, falling by just a field goal. However, a close look at the Wolfpack’s schedule shows some unimpressive wins and we’re suggesting (and so is this price) that State is nowhere near being the 23rd best team in America. The Wolfpack beat Wake by three, Syracuse by seven and Georgia Tech by 10. Big deal. The market is likely going to see it differently. They’ll see a ranked team taking back points. They’ll see an 8-3 team taking back points against a 6-4 team and they’ll also see a ranked team up against a team that would not have qualified for a bowl unless it were due to extraneous circumstances. It’s hard to imagine the Wolfpack being overlooked by the market here. four of State’s eight wins came against teams that won nine combined games between them (Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Duke).
Three of Kentucky’s six losses came at Alabama, at Florida, and against Georgia. The other three were attained at Missouri, at Auburn, and against Mississippi in overtime. In summation, Kentucky lost four games in notably hostile environments, against five teams ranked in the Top 25 at some point this season, four of which were ranked in the top-10 at the time they played. Against Ole Miss, UK could have won just as easily as it lost.
Mark Stoops won't get to end his tenure as Kentucky coach voluntarily like Rich Brooks did, but two aspects of his time in Lexington will stand out as parallels to the Brooks era. Stoops will leave Kentucky better than he found it, and he won't be able to fashion a relevant SEC contender. Stoops has done wonders for the program on the recruiting, fundraising and facility-building fronts, but Kentucky has natural disadvantages that have cemented its historical place in the league pecking order. Stoops has amply demonstrated that however much he's raised the talent level -- and therefore the bar for Kentucky's A-game -- he can't get his team to play consistently enough week after week to be a factor in the SEC race. Stoops' Wildcats will always be prone to weeks where poor weekday practices and gaffe-filled Saturdays prevail but this is not one of those weeks and this is not one of the SEC’s juggernauts either. It’s a beatable team that Kentucky figures to be ready for.
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Kentucky -2½ -110 (Risking 2.20 units - To Win: 2.00)