Birmingham Bowl: Duke vs. Troy Expert Pick and Prediction – December 23, 2023
BIRMINGHAM BOWL: DUKE VS. TROY EXPERT PICK AND PREDICTION – December 23, 2023 — It really hasn’t been a good time to be a fan of Duke football lately. A 7-5 season certainly isn’t bad by the Blue Devils’ standards, but Duke’s gotten one bad thing after another since September.
Following a 5-1 start, the Blue Devils managed just two wins, going 0-4 on the road in the ACC. Riley Leonard went down with an injury, coach Mike Elko left for Texas A&M and then Leonard ditched Durham as well, transferring to Notre Dame. And that means that the Blue Devils go into this bowl game with an interim coach, questions at quarterback and a defense that hasn’t held anyone to less than 19 points since Oct. 14.
To make matters worse, this is a virtual home game for their opponent. Troy sits just 150 miles south of Birmingham, and the Trojans will likely pack Protective Stadium. They’ve won 11 games for the second straight year, winning the Sun Belt in the process. They’re without their coach too, as Jon Sumrall left for Tulane, but their interim coach is in a different situation.
Greg Gasparato’s coaching for his job, as this serves as an audition to see if he’s ready to move from defensive coordinator to the man in charge. That’s not the case for Duke interim coach Trooper Taylor, who will trade blue for maroon and join Elko in College Station after the Birmingham Bowl. Plus, the Trojans still have their quarterback: Gunnar Watson emerged as one of the best in the Sun Belt this season.
(7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS)
(11-2 SU, 8-5 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 23rd at Noon EST
Where: Protective Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.
Public Bets: 55% on Troy
Public Money: 69% on Duke
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of December 14th, 2023.
Duke vs. Troy In-Season Trends
Duke started the year fantastically with a 5-1 start that saw the Blue Devils go 4-2 ATS. Since then, they’ve gone 0-4 on the road in the ACC and have not covered outside the Triangle. They weren’t competitive at Louisville, faded after a half against Florida State when Leonard re-injured himself and lost at bowl-ineligible Virginia.
Related: LA Bowl Expert Pick and Prediction
While Duke has weakened, Troy got stronger. Part of that was a weaker slate, but Troy still didn’t let anyone but Louisiana-Lafayette stay within two touchdowns over the final nine games of the year. The Trojans have stepped up the offense lately with four straight overs, never scoring less than 31 points.
The defense might be weakening a bit, giving up 17 or more in three straight weeks after holding seven of eight opponents to 16 or less.
It’s likely to be a decent day for football, with temperatures reaching 60 degrees on a cloudy day.
With Jordan Waters joining Leonard in the portal, Duke’s running game takes a hit. Jaquez Moore is the only Blue Devil back with much experience, and he’ll have freshman Grayson Loftis under center. In short, there’s not much experience in the Blue Devil backfield.
Troy is again different. Watson threw for 27 touchdowns against just five interceptions this season, and he wants to end his college career with a Power 5 victory. Behind him, Kimani Vidal rushed for 1,582 yards and 14 scores, showing that Troy is a lot more than a quarterback and a good defense.
The deck seems stacked against Duke here. The Blue Devils don’t have their quarterback, don’t have their running back, don’t have their coach and their interim leader already has one foot out the door. Plus, Duke’s heading into Alabama to face Troy, which should have plenty of motivation to beat a Power 5 team.
If Watson plays the way he’s capable of, which he should, it’s hard to see Troy having problems in this situation. The Trojans should roll here.