Birmingham Bowl Preview: Duke vs. Troy Prediction


Birmingham Bowl Preview: Duke vs. Troy

College football bowl season is upon us, which means it’s time to break down some great non-conference matchups throughout the holiday season. The most important factor in pretty much all non-CFP matchups is motivation – who wants to be there? Further, determining who is playing for each team in terms of opt-outs and transfer portal entries can be a real nightmare, in addition to the annual coaching carousel that takes place this time of year. Thankfully, VSiN has you covered with up-to-date opt-outs and transfers on the VSiN tracker. Up first for my coverage of bowl season is the Birmingham Bowl.


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Duke Blue Devils vs. Troy Trojans (-7.5, 44.5)

Saturday December 23, Noon ET

Odds as of 12/18, 8:30 a.m. PT

Who’s in, who’s out?

As I mentioned, before making any bets on a bowl game, it’s imperative to know who is and is not going to be playing/coaching for each team. In this game, both teams have lost their head coach, with Duke’s Mike Elko going to Texas A&M and Troy’s Jon Sumrall going to Tulane. In terms of transfers and opt-outs, Troy has the advantage in that aspect, “only” losing leading tackler Jayden McDonald, who had 75 tackles this year, to the transfer portal. Duke, however, will be without a slew of defensive guys who accounted for notable production this year, as well as star QB Riley Leonard, who is headed to Notre Dame via the transfer portal. 

What the numbers say

Obviously, I’m a numbers guy, which is why I created my T Shoe Index in the first place. However, bowl season is the arch nemesis of numbers, because rosters and coaching staffs change so much in the span of a couple weeks that there’s really no exact science to accounting for it all – which is why I said motivation and who’s playing are more important for bowl handicapping than season-long metrics. However, I’m going to give you the numbers anyway. Troy finished the season No. 22 overall in TSI, while Duke finished No. 29 after being in the top 10 for a significant chunk of the season. The Trojans’ offense was No. 65 in FBS, while the defense came in as the No. 9 defensive unit in my numbers. The Blue Devils’ offense was just 49th, but the defense was 18th, which is why those defensive departures could be impactful in this game. Projecting this game as if everyone was healthy, on the roster, and playing, TSI would project Troy -3. 

Bottom Line

While the raw projection shows 4.5 points of value on Duke, I think the losses of Elko, Leonard, and the defensive exodus more than explain that, and I would be inclined to lay the 7.5 with Troy in this game. I think these G5 teams really relish the opportunity to play against P5 teams in bowl games, and Troy is talented enough on both sides to take advantage of a potentially checked-out Duke team after their season ended in disappointing fashion after the exciting way it started. 

Lean: Troy -7.5

Game Trends from Steve Makinen

* DUKE is 6-1 Over in the last seven bowl games

* TROY is 8-1 Over in the last nine bowl games

Systems Match: PLAY OVER the total

TROY is 7-0 ATS in the last seven December games (1-0 ATS this season)

System Match: PLAY TROY