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The Big Central Arkansas vs. UAB Preview

The first FBS team of the 2020 season takes to the field tonight. We take a look at the Central Arkansas Bears and University of Alabama Birmingham Blazers.

UAB Blazers wide receiver Austin Watkins, Jr. catches a pass during a game between the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the UAB Blazers at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on December 21, 2019. Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our first FBS team of the 2020 season is in action tonight, as the UAB Blazers take on the Central Arkansas Bears at Legion Field (aka Lesion Field as the locals would say) in Birmingham. The game was moved from UAB’s campus due to the amount of available extra seating in the home team’s old stadium

The Blazers have played in the Conference USA championship game two seasons in a row, and Bill Clark has built a bully that at times could lay a claim to being the second-best team in Alabama. And with the overwhelming portion of last year’s division winner returning, they look in great shape for another run in 2020.

Game Details

Who: Central Arkansas Bears (1-0, 0-0 Southland) vs. UAB Blazers (0-0, 0-0 C-USA)
Where: Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
Spread: Opened UAB -18.5, now UAB -21 at DraftKings Sportsbook
Total: Opened 45.5, now 49.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook
TV: ESPN3
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Bet splits

CAU-UAB

Teams Point Spread % Handle % Bets
Teams Point Spread % Handle % Bets
Central Arkansas 21 12% 22%
UAB -21 88% 78%
Teams Total Points % Handle % Bets
Central Arkansas Over 45.5 71% 66%
UAB Under 45.5 29% 34%
Teams Moneyline % Handle % Bets
Central Arkansas 900 46% 22%
UAB -1667 54% 78%

Power ratings

CAU: N/A as FCS, 133 of 257 in Sagarin.
UAB: 66th of 130 in SP+ (119 offense, 28 defense, 11 special teams). 63 of 130 in Football Power Index. 42nd of 76 in CBS Sports, 108 of 257 in Sagarin.

Talent assessments

CAU

N/A as FCS

UAB

Players returning: 81% (82% of offense, 80% of defense)
Starters returning: 18 (9 offense, 9 defense)
Quarterbacks returning: 14 career starts
Talent composite: 94th: 80.12 (247Sports.com)

Analysis

Anyone that saw CAU vs. Austin Peay last week likely didn’t come away impressed. Quarterback Breylin Smith was 26-49 for 283 yards with a touchdown and two INT’s. And that’s against an above-average FCS team, which will give far less resistance than what should be one of the top-three defenses in the Group of Five in 2020.

Eight different pass catchers for the Bears last week with at least two receptions is a good thing for balance, but the Blazers should be able to take away second and third options with their speed and physicality. And their downhill ability to attack the passer (39 sacks last season, 4.8 yards per play allowed) shouldn’t go anywhere with nine starters returning as well as most of their depth.

UAB under Bill Clark has been a revelation since the program was resurrected. They play fast, physical football, and generally bring an intensity to the proceedings that belies their standing in the sport. Though they’ve struggled to move the ball at times, bringing back redshirt junior Tyler Johnston III (2,250 yards and 17 touchdowns in eight starts before injury last season) gives them an experienced signal caller familiar with the system. And CAU didn’t exactly look like speed merchants against Austin Peay. In fact they looked disorganized and for sure not in rhythm.

We like this game a lot more when it was under 21 than over it, but there’s still plenty of value on the Blazers for a cover here. However the total having moved from 45.5 to 49.5 is interesting considering the power rating of the offenses involved. It’s likely a lot of the second-string is in the game the fourth quarter so the backdoor will be swinging in the breeze, but if this number gets over 50... how does this game get to the projected 35.5-14.5? CAU will be lucky to find double digits tonight, and Bill Clark will be running the ball most of the second half if past is prologue. The Blazers aren’t the team that tries to hang a number on people and aims for pinball scores.

The Pick

UAB -21 (Confidence: 2.5 of 5)
Total under 49.5 (Confidence: 3 of 5)

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