San Jose State cornerback Nehemiah Shelton holds the trophy while celebrating with teammates after defeating Boise State in an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West championship, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
- 6-1 Ball State is a 9.5-point underdog against undefeated San José State on New Year’s Eve in the Arizona Bowl (CBS, 2 p.m. EST)
- Each program finished its regular season with conference championships for the first time in either program’s history
- Read below for analysis, odds and a pick on the game
Out of the four bowl games to be played on New Year’s Eve, perhaps the most compelling matchup is between Ball State and San José State in the Arizona Bowl.
Both teams are conference champions; Ball State won its first MAC championship in program history against then No. 23 Buffalo on December 18th, 38-28. The Spartans also won their first Mountain West championship in their first title game appearance over Boise State, 34-20.
Undefeated San José State comes into the game as the more impressive team to oddsmakers, and the Spartans are 9.5-point favorites against the 6-1 Cardinals.
Ball State vs San José State Odds
|Ball State||+9.5 (-108)||+270||O 64 (-112)|
|San José State||-9.5 (-113)||-360||U 64 (-109)|
Odds taken from DraftKings on Dec. 29th
Trouble in the Cards for Ball State?
The Cardinals have averaged more than 34 points per game this season, due in large part to the potency of their passing attack, led by quarterback Drew Plitt. The redshirt senior has completed 66-percent of his attempts this season, and he threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns his last time out against the Bulls.
Plitt is going to be without his leading rusher in the backfield on Thursday night. Senior running back Caleb Huntley chose not to play in preparation for the NFL Draft after he put up modest totals this season, but averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Redshirt sophomore running back Tye Evans is expected to handle the workload Huntley leaves behind, and he has averaged 4.6 YPC on 74 attempts in 2020.
The Spartans have allowed an average of just 92 rushing yards per game in their last three outings, which is about where the top three rush defenses in the country sit. San José State has also been a strong defense at containing run plays in likely passing situations and has been an above-average unit at preventing third down conversions all year.
Despite Ball State’s success through the air this season, its offensive line hasn’t graded-out as an elite pass-blocking group, and Plitt needs to be mindful of Spartans’ defensive lineman Cade Hall, who has 10 sacks this season.
2021 CFP National Championship Odds Tracker
Where Ball State Can Make Things Interesting
Recently, the Cardinals have been an elite defense when things have come to defending third downs and its effort in the red zone. Ball State has allowed opponents to convert just 32-percent of third downs and score on just 55-percent of red zone opportunities in their last three games.
Justin Hall takes the screen pass 55 yards for the score#BallState #WesternMichigan
— Sideline CFB (@SidelineCFB) December 12, 2020
The Spartans have been playing above their season-long averages in terms of yardage, but San José State hasn’t been efficient as of late in the same areas that Ball State has seen improvement. The Cardinals also have one of the highest-paced offenses in the country, and the Spartans will likely have to dip into their bag of tricks to keep up if Ball State comes out firing on all cylinders.
Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler are among the top pass-catching duos in the country, and should get plenty of looks. Ball State is going to need one or both of them to have a strong showing since there appears to be limited potential in the running game.
Following the Line Movement
Combined, the two teams have been under the predicted point total in 10 of their 14 games this season, so it’s curious that the total has increased since its initial posting. Additionally, the Spartans haven’t been in a game in which the total has reached so high, while Ball State has hit that mark in fewer than half of its games.
Ball State’s success primarily comes down to Plitt continuing his run of strong play, but the Spartans should know what he is bringing to the table with a few weeks to have prepared. The Cardinals are an interesting threat to come away with a backdoor cover, but the Spartans should control this one and ride it to a smaller score than the books are expecting.
The Pick: Under 64 (-109)
Nick Krueger has over a decade of experience in sports media, covering a wide range of events including two Olympic Games for Yahoo Sports. Other areas of focus for Nick throughout his career have included college football recruiting, NCAA athletics and Major League Baseball Spring Training.