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Fenway Bowl Betting Guide: Southern Methodist Mustangs vs. Virginia Cavaliers

A pair of teams that limped home down the stretch christen this Boston bowl

The inaugural Fenway Bowl features a rarity in bowl matchups as both Southern Methodist and Virginia recently named new coaches.

Sonny Dykes left SMU to take over the program at Texas Christian while Bronco Mendenhall made the surprising decision to step down at Virginia after this game. Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is taking over at Virginia while Rhett Lashlee, a former offensive coordinator for the Mustangs, returned to Dallas to become the head coach.

Fenway Bowl Betting Guide: Southern Methodist Mustangs vs. Virginia Cavaliers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images/AFP

However, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is coaching SMU in the Fenway Bowl

The Mustangs finished 4-4 in conference play despite having the top offensive team in the American Athletic Conference. It isn’t too hard to figure out what needs to be addressed at SMU moving forward. As much as SMU struggled on defense, Virginia has even more defensive issues so those who bet online will be looking closely at the 71½-point total.

This certainly has the feel of a game where both kickers will get plenty of practice on extra points.

Despite a late-season slump, SMU still topped the expected win total of 6½ while Virginia landed right on its expected win total of 6.

Late-morning temperature at kickoff for the Fenway Bowl is expected around a ‘balmy’ 35 degrees.

  • Game: Southern Methodist (8-4) vs. Virginia (6-6)
  • Location: Fenway Park, Boston, MA
  • Day/Time: Wednesday, December 29, 11:00 a.m. ET
  • Television: ESPN

Betting Lines

Team Point Spread Moneyline Over/Under
Southern Methodist +2½ (-110) +115 71½ (-110u)
Virginia -2½ (-110) -135 71½ (-110o)

Win would ease some of the sting out of a tough end to SMU’s season

There was a three-team race in the first half of the American Athletic Conference season as Southern Methodist won their first seven games. However, inability to slow down the opposition as well as struggles to win close games had SMU fading fast.

After winning three one-score games during the impressive start, the Mustangs lost to Houston (seven points), to Memphis (three points) and to Tulsa (three points). A blowout at Cincinnati was also thrown in, meaning SMU lost four of  their last five games.

The losing streak began with the Mustangs allowing 412 and 432 passing yards, respectively, against Houston and Memphis. That’s not great news moving forward as Southern Methodist drew a Virginia team that’s second nationally in passing offense (392.6 yards per game)

SMU didn’t have a sack in its last two games and had nine games with two sacks of less. Allowing the Cavaliers to operate their pass-first offense with minimal pass rush is not the ideal scenario. Junior defensive end DeVere Levelston leads the Mustangs with 10½ tackles for loss and 6½ sacks. He’ll need to make his presence felt early and often.

The Mustangs have lost 14 of their last 20 games when listed by the Las vegas odds as the underdog.

Injury Report

Running back Tre Siggers is questionable. TJ McDaniel (ankle) is out. Receiver Danny Gray is opting out of the bowl game after declaring for the NFL draft. Despite missing the last two games due to injury, Gray is SMU’s leader with 49 catches and 803 receiving yards.

Three Players to Watch

Quarterback Tanner Mordecai has thrown for 3628 yards, 39 touchdowns and has eight 300-yard passing games this season. Receiver Rashee Rice has 64 catches for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Offensive lineman Alan Ali is a four-year starter who has been invited to play in the NFLPA Bowl.

Armstrong looking to get passing grades while leading Virginia to bowl win

Brennan Armstrong attempted just 34 passes in his first two seasons at Virginia, but he has certainly made up for lost time.

Armstrong had three games as a junior when he attempted more than 40 passes with the Cavaliers going 1-2 in those two contests. That was the precursor to a memorable senior season. At one stretch, he attempted more than 40 passes in six consecutive games, including 60 attempts in a win at Louisville. Even while missing the loss to Notre Dame, Armstrong led the aerial-happy Atlantic Coast Conference in attempts and yards.

What he couldn’t do was shake Virginia out of a late-season tailspin. The level of competition had something to do with that, as Virginia played nationally-ranked Brigham Young, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh teams before wrapping up the regular season with a loss to rival Virginia Tech.

Hard-to-figure UVA had a season log of win two, lose two, win four, lose four.

Since 2010-19,, six of the seven quarterbacks who led the ACC in passing yards played in the NFL. That number to grows when North Carolina’s Sam Howell makes the jump. Armstrong is currently 130 yards ahead of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, but Pickett has decided not to play in the Panthers’ bowl game so Armstrong should end the season as the conference leader in passing yards.

Now the Cavaliers face another slumping team in the Fenway Bowl.

Virginia has finished 10 of its last 11 seasons with a final-game loss. If Armstrong does nothing else at Fenway Park, he would like to change that trend.

Speaking of trends, the total established by the college football spreads has gone over in six of Virginia’s last eight games against teams from the American Athletic Conference.

Injury Report

Receivers Nathaniel Beall and Lavel Davis, linebacker Chico Bennett, defensive backs De’Vante Cross and Josh Hayes are out.

Three Players to Watch

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong leads the ACC and is second nationally with a symmetrical 4,444 passing yards. Sophomore Dontayvion Wicks has 1203 yards on 57 receptions. Junior linebacker Nick Jackson has 117 tackles and seven games with at least 10 tackles.

Betting on the Game

Neither team is known for its commitment to the running game. SMU was eighth out of 11 American Athletic Conference teams with an average of 35.2 rushing attempts per game. Virginia’s 28.3 carries per game are last in the Atlantic Coast Conference and No. 126 out of 130 FBS programs.

Southern Methodist is 1-4 against the college football odds in its last five games.

The total has gone under in nine of Virginia’s last 13 games.

Virginia has won 15 of its last 19 games when entering as the favorite.

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