College football bowl season is my absolute favorite time of the year. For the most part, bowl games feature matchups between teams that have yet to face each other. You get teams that are making their first trip to a bowl or their first bowl in years, teams that are looking to ride a win streak, and seniors looking to showcase their talents one last time.
Keeping track of player opt-outs is key. If you’re looking for general tips on betting during bowl season, check out a few pointers here.
With just a few weeks left of the 2021 season, I’ll be providing some thoughts, considerations and picks for every bowl game. Because there are so many, there will be opportunities to cash. Hopefully, I can provide you with some of those opportunities.
The plan: If I have a strong conviction, I will label it as "pick" rather than "prediction." If you don’t see a game you’re looking for, check back periodically as this will be a running blog and posts will be added through the College Football Playoff.
Also, make sure to follow me on Twitter. That's where I will post any last-minute player opt-outs, injuries, or coaching changes.
Tuesday, Jan. 4
TaxAct Texas Bowl: LSU vs Kansas State -5.5, 48
LSU opened as a 2.5-point favorite with the total at 47.
Out for LSU is starting QB Max Johnson (over 2,800 passing yards, 60 percent completion, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions). It’s a big deal to have your starting QB out when you are 26th in passing yards and 114th in rushing yards.
The starting QB is a little tricky. First on the LSU depth chart is true freshman Garrett Nussmeier. However, if he were to start, he’ll lose a year of eligibility. From local reports, expect Jontre Kirklin — a former high school QB getting reps as a WR this season —to start. What should you expect from Kirklin? Your guess is as good as mine, but he did have 3,000 rushing yards and 51 ground scores in high school. Perhaps we see some of that mobility here.
Also out for the Tigers is leading RB Tyrion Davis Price. He accounted for 1,000 of the 1,300 total rushing yards and six of nine rushing scores for the team. Receiver Kayshon Boutte, second in receptions, first in receiving yards and accounts for nine of the team's 29 receiving scores, is also out. On defense, out is LB1 Damone Clark, who leads the Tigers in tackles and is second in sacks.
Expected to start for the Wildcats is QB1 Skylar Thompson, who missed the finale against Texas due to an ankle injury.
We have no idea what we’re going to get from the Tigers offense. We have either a true freshman with no snaps or a WR with just four receptions this year playing who may be used as a mobile quarterback. The problem with that is K-State is top 30 in defending the run. The Wildcats are also top 25 in opponent points per play and top 40 in opponent red-zone scores (giving up more field goals than touchdowns) because the Wildcats are also top 15 in touchdowns allowed.
On the other side of things, even with Thompson back behind center for the Wildcats, K-State is averaging just 26 points per game, is 95th in red zone scores and 79th in touchdowns scored.
Prediction: UNDER 48
Bowl blog record: 22-15-4 with this final game pending.
PREVIOUS BOWL PREVIEWS, RESULTS
Saturday, Jan. 1
Sugar Bowl: Baylor vs Mississippi -1.5, 56
The total opened at 51.5. The Baylor Bears continue to have issues at quarterback. Gerry Bohanon, who played 10 games, was out the final three games from injury. He is expected to be back just in time because Blake Shapen, who led the Bears to close out a four-game win streak including a Big 12 Championship win, is out from a shoulder injury. Baylor's two losses against Oklahoma State and TCU were with Bohanon behind center.
What a tough matchup to measure. Baylor has passed nearly every test this season with wins over Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to win the Big-12 championship game. However, so have the Rebels with good wins over Arkansas and Texas A&M. Could this game be about defense?
In its last four wins, Baylor held opponents to 24 points or less, including a 27-14 win over Oklahoma where it held Caleb Williams to 142 passing yards and OU to 82 rushing yards. Same could be said for Ole Miss, though. In its final four games, the Rebels held opponents to 21 points or less, including a 27-14 win over Liberty. Ole Miss has a top-10 pass rush that can wreck drives and Baylor is top 20 against the run.
Prediction: UNDER 56 (Baylor 21, Mississippi 7)
Saturday, Jan. 1
Outback Bowl: Arkansas -2.5 vs Penn State, 48.5
This line opened with Penn State -3.5 and the total at 45.5. Arkansas’ roster looks to be intact, whereas Penn State’s will have some changes. Out for the Nittany Lions is WR1 Jahan Dotson (91 of 276 receptions, 1,182 of 3,293 yards, and 12 of 12 receiving scores).
Can we just roll with the OVER? That’s been the trend hasn’t it? Arkansas has found itself in high-scoring affairs this season — 52-51 loss to Ole Miss, 38-23 loss to Auburn, 31-28 win over Mississippi State, and even a 34-17 win over Missouri to open the season. This defense is clearly vulnerable in spots. Sure, Penn State will be without its leading receiver, but they do still have QB Sean Clifford.
Prediction: OVER 48.5 (Arkansas beat Penn State 24-10)
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs Notre Dame -2, 45
This line hasn’t seen much movement, down from the opening of 2.5. Out for Notre Dame is RB1 Kyren Williams (204 of 431 attempts, 1,002 of the 1,827 rushing yards, and 14 of the 23 ground scores). Also out is S Kyle Hamilton (fifth in passes deflected, co-lead with forced interceptions). The names of the Fighting Irish that matter to me most: Isaiah Foskey, Justin Ademilola, Jayson Ademilola, Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills. These are the top players creating that quarterback pressure I love to back to much.
Cowboys QB Spencer Sanders threw for zero touchdowns, four interceptions and was sacked twice against Baylor. Granted, Oklahoma State was without its best RB in Jaylen Warren, who is expected to play. But just like OKSU, Notre Dame is top 10 in pressuring the quarterback. Even more, the Fighting Irish are top 15 in forcing turnovers. Notre Dame QB Jack Coan completed 74% of his passes for 345 yards and two scores in the season finale. I’ll take the passing team with a great defense any day of the week.
Prediction: Notre Dame ML -120 (Oklahoma State beat Notre Dame 37-35)
Citrus Bowl: Kentucky -3 vs Iowa, 44
This line opened Kentucky -1. Out for Kentucky is WR2 Josh Ali (41 of 225 receptions, 601 of 2,700 yards, and three of 23 scores). Also out is TE Isaiah Epps (11 receptions, one score). Back in the lineup is DE Josh Paschal (second in sacks).
Out for Iowa is RB1 Tyler Goodson (256 of 477 attempts, 1,151 of 1,558 yards, six of 17 rushing scores).
Iowa ranks 121st in total offense. Losing Goodson is huge. Kentucky can afford to lose a receiver because its offensive strength lies in the run game (72nd in passing yards and 14th in rushing yards). Iowa already doesn’t have an offense and it's facing a team that is top 20 in total defense. Iowa is weird and has found ways to win by forcing turnovers. The Hawkeyes lead the nation in takeaways. Kentucky is 80th in giveaways. That’s the only way Iowa wins.
Prediction: Iowa +3 (Kentucky beat Iowa 20-17)
Rose Bowl: Utah vs Ohio State -3.5, 64
This line opened with Ohio State -6.5 and the total at 67. For Utah, players are declaring for the NFL draft, yet still committing to play in this game.
Not the same sentiment for Ohio State. Out for the Buckeyes is WR2 Garrett Wilson and WR3 Chris Olave. Combined, these two account for 135 of the 312 receptions, 1,994 of the 4,379 receiving yards and 25 of the 40 receiving scores.
Utah is a lot like Michigan, a run-first offense behind a top 10 offensive line with a great defense but has a much better pass rush. It's next man up for the Buckeyes, but the fact that players for the Utes are declaring but still playing is as good a gauge as you can have for motivation.
Prediction: Utah +3.5 (Ohio State beat Utah 48-45)
Friday, Dec. 31
Gator Bowl: Rutgers vs Wake Forest -16.5, 63
This line opened at Wake Forest (-15) and the total at 61.5. Out for Rutgers is RB1 Isaih Pachecho (167 of 471 attempts, 647 of 1,688 rushing yards, five of 19 ground scores).
Out for Wake Forest is WR2 Jaquari Roberson (leads in receptions, second in yards with 1,078 of the 3,999 and eight of 36 receiving scores).
How ready is Rutgers going to be? The season was over, off on vacation the team went, then boom! “Hi, want to play a bowl game?” This matchup was assembled in nine days' time and now a Scarlet Knight defense faces a potential NFL-caliber QB in Sam Hartman. In the Big Ten, Rutgers doesn’t face many passing offenses. Against Maryland, Penn State and Ohio State, Rutgers was outscored 120 to 29.
The spread is mega high and Hartman is down his second-best receiver but that’s the only way to look.
Prediction: Wake Forest -16.5 (Wake Forest beat Rutgers 38-10)
Sun Bowl: Central Michigan vs Washington State -7, 58
Another matchup put together last minute. Out for Washington State is RB1 Max Borghi and RB2 Deon McIntosh. Combined, the two account for 271 of the 378 attempts, 1,412 of the 1,564 yards and 15 of the 18 rushing scores. Even though the Cougars are a pass-heavy team (43rd in passing yards and 94th in rushing yards), not having your top two backs is still a loss.
The Chippewas defense gave up 8.0 yards per pass to Missouri, 400 passing yards to LSU, 350 passing yards to Miami (OH) and 8.5 yards per pass to Kent State. When you have a defense that is this bad (124th against the pass) against a pass-heavy team without its top two running backs, you look at the total.
Prediction: OVER 58 (Central Michigan beat Washington State 24-21)
CFB semifinal Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati vs Alabama -13.5, 57.5
The matchup to watch: The Cincinnati pass rush (17th in quarterback pressure) against an Alabama offensive line that is still ranked 99th in QB protection. The Georgia win with Bryce Young sacked zero times was a one-game sample size.
Prediction: Cincinnati +13.5 (Alabama beat Cincinnati 27-6)
You can watch my full analysis here:
CFB semifinal Orange Bowl: Georgia -7.5 vs Michigan, 45.5
The key in this game, red zone defense from both squads.
Prediction: UNDER 45.5 (Georgia beat Michigan 34-11)
You can watch my full analysis here:
Thursday, Dec. 30
Duke’s Mayo Bowl: South Carolina vs. North Carolina -9, 57
Former Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler transferred to South Carolina. That's ... interesting. For now, the Gamecocks will be without RB1 ZaQuandre White (2nd in attempts, leads in yards, two of the seven ground scores). Also out is DE Kingsley Enagbare (fifth in tackles, leads in sacks). Not having Enagbare is a loss because UNC has the fourth-worst QB protection.
In for the Gamecocks is DB Cam Smith (leads in passes deflected) and LB Brad Johnson (second in tackles). Having at least those two helps because South Carolina is not known for its offense. It is 118th in total offense but has a top-15 defense against the pass, which could come in handy facing a passing offense led by Sam Howell, who announced earlier this month he would play the bowl game. Plans can change and he is a potential first-round draft pick. It’s also surprising to see no announcement from RB Ty Chandler, a senior. Starting for South Carolina is QB3. He did start two FBS games this season, a 20-17 win against East Carolina and 30-0 loss to Clemson in the finale. There’s no analysis behind this. This is a rivalry game and UNC is a team with multiple players that can choose to opt out last minute. Additionally, we need to consider Sam Howell's road splits, South Carolina being top 25 in red zone scores allowed and two points of line value (line opened 7.5). I read this final part and I think, “Or would the total be a better option?” Rivals, a Gamecocks offense that averages 19 points per game but at least has a good red zone defense?
Prediction: UNDER 57 (South Carolina beat North Carolina 38-21)
Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Tennessee -6.5, 64.5
Out for Purdue is WR1 David Bell and WR2 Milton Wright. Combined, these two players account for 151 of the 381 receptions, 2,018 of the 4,086 receiving yards and 13 of the 30 total receiving scores. That’s not good when you are a pass-heavy team (126th in rushing yards). Also out is Purdue DE2 George Karlaftis (sixth in tackles, second in sacks). Without these players, it makes sense why the line moved from the opening line of Tennessee -2.5. What doesn’t necessarily correlate is the total jump to 64.5 from the 59.5 opening line. The Vols are a bottom-10 passing defense so perhaps Purdue can still find some success. However, since the Boilermakers are a pass-heavy team without its top two receivers, it’s Vols or pass. I’m interested in looking for an in-game UNDER opportunity if the spot looks right.
Prediction: Tennessee -6.5 (Purdue beat Tennessee 48-45)
Peach Bowl: Pitt vs. Michigan State -3, 55
The thing about bowl games is you really have to throw analytics out the window. Every stat line has players factored in that are no longer on the roster. This game is just another example of that.
Out for Pitt is QB Kenny Pickett, who is fifth in the country in passing yards, top 20 in completion percentage and third in touchdown passes. Pickett’s 42 touchdowns account for 63% of the team’s scores. Once he announced he would not be playing, this line shifted from Pitt (-4.5) to Michigan State being favored and the total dropped from 63.5. Nick Patti will get the QB start (14 attempts). Also out for Pitt WR3 Taysir Mack (fifth in receptions, third in receiving yards, three receiving scores).
Out for Michigan State is star RB Kenneth Walker III. He accounts for 263 of the 443 rushing attempts, 1,635 of the 2,227 rushing yards and 18 of the 23 rushing scores. You have two teams with their star player out. What do you do with that? What we know is both teams are 115th and 130th against the pass. The Spartans will have to pass now with no Walker available. Is the lower total valuable now? Receivers for both squads look to be intact. As long as that remains true, the total could be the way to go.
Prediction: OVER 55 (Michigan State beat Pitt 31-21)
Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Wisconsin -6, 41.5
This line hasn’t seen much change. The opening line was Wisconsin (-7) and 43. Out for Arizona State is DB2 Jack Jones (sixth in tackles, co-lead for passes deflected, co-lead in interceptions). Also out for the Sun Devils is RB1 Rachaad White (182 of the 462 rushing attempts, 1,006 of the 2,454 rushing yards, 15 of the 33 rushing scores).
Questionable right now for the Badgers are starting lineman OT Logan Bruss (limited in practice) and C Joe Tippmann (not in pads at practice earlier this week).
Arizona State is a run-first offense (94th in passing, 23rd in rushing) and missing its best running back facing a Badgers defense ranked No. 1 against the run. Do we trust the Badgers? Down a starting center, Wisconsin could have some trouble.
Prediction: UNDER 41 (Wisconsin beat Arizona State 20-13)
Wednesday, Dec. 29
Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland -4 vs. Virginia Tech, 55
This game saw a major line shift from the Virginia Tech -2.5 opening line before starting QB Braxton Burmeister entered the transfer portal. Burmeister threw for fewer than 2,000 yards and had just 14 passing touchdowns on the season with the Hokies ranked 111th in passing yards and 28th in rushing yards, but he was second on the team in rushing yards with two ground scores. Also out is QB2 Knox Kadum, leaving third-string QB Connor Blumrick (16 passing attempts) as the starter.
Other notable players out include WR Tre Turner (second in receptions, leads in receiving yards, with three of the 17 receiving scores), DL2 Jordan Williams (8th in tackles, 5th in sacks) and DB3 Jermaine Waller (6th in tackles, tied for second-most passes deflected).
In for Maryland is RB3 Challen Faamatau, and TE1 Chigoziem Okonkwo who will be entering the draft after the bowl game. Considering the player changes for VA Tech, you can understand the line move with the spread, but the total actually ticked up from the 53-point opening line.
I’d be worried about a quarterback change if it was on a passing team, but the Hokies don’t pass. Blumrick could be not much of a drop-off from Burmeister as far as mobility goes. Blumrick was once the leading rusher against Miami with 132 yards on the ground. As long as both RB1 Raheem Blackshear and RB2 Malachi Thomas are in the lineup, mixed with Blumrick’s mobility, I like the Hokies offense to still contend. The Terrapins are ranked 73rd against the run, giving up 326 rushing yards to Minnesota and 200 rushing yards to Michigan State.
Prediction: Virginia Tech +4 (Maryland beat Virginia Tech 54-10)
Cheez-It Bowl: Iowa State vs. Clemson -1, 44
Expected to play for Clemson is WR2 Joseph Ngata. Out for Clemson is WR1 Justyn Ross (leads in receptions, yards and three of the 12 receiving scores). He was out the final two games from injury so this isn’t surprising.
Out for Iowa State is RB1 Breece Hall (253 of 390 rushing attempts, 1,472 of 2,023 rushing yards, 20 of the 25 rushing scores). Talk about a huge loss. The Cyclones with QB Brock Purdy is a pass-heavy team (22nd) but also had a balanced offense with Hall playing a large role. Hall had seven games of at least 100 rushing yards. In three games, Hall rushed for no less than 167 yards, including 242 in the season finale 48-14 win over TCU.
Clemson may be down some receivers but the Tigers have a ground-game attack and they're built around their defense, not their offense. The Tigers have the third-best pass rush in the country; they had seven sacks against Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman. If Purdy won’t have his best RB to assist, this could be a spot he gets wrecked, seeing as how he had trouble against Oklahoma (seven sacks, one touchdown), a team ranked 62nd in quarterback pressure.
Prediction: Clemson ML -115 (Clemson beat Iowa State 20-13)
Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Oklahoma -7, 60
Out for Oregon is WR1 Devon William (second in receptions, 557 of 2,792 receiving yards, four of 17 receiving scores). Also out is DE1 Kayvon Thibodeaux (leads in sacks, fourth in tackles).
Out for Oklahoma is WR2 Jadon Haselwood (led in receptions, second in receiving yards, six of 29 receiving scores).
The Ducks prefer the run (83rd in passing, 22nd in rushing). The Sooners' defensive strength is against the run (113th against the pass). Down your best pass rusher, facing an Oklahoma passing offense capable of putting up all the points, while your defense is ranked bottom 30 against the pass? I’m never a fan of backing Oklahoma (Hook ‘Em) but this should be OU’s win. But look, these are two teams that make no sense. Oregon defeated Ohio State early in the season but lost to Stanford in overtime. Oklahoma had six wins by seven points or less and lost to Baylor and Oklahoma State during its final three-game span. These are two teams with losing ATS records, so back the dog?
Update* COVID-19 is part of handicapping as of late. It may be more so relevant here as earlier this week the Oregon men's basketball game was postponed and from local news sources, has trickled down to the football team, as well. Keep this is mind.
Prediction: Oregon +7, really though, pass. (Oklahoma beat Oregon 47-32)
Tuesday, Dec. 28
Birmingham Bowl: Houston vs. Auburn -2, 51
Auburn QB Bo Nix made the transfer to Oregon earlier this month. That news doesn’t affect the line much, however, because Nix sat out the final two games with injury. That left TJ Finley to get the start in back-to-back losses to South Carolina and Alabama. Out for Auburn is CB Roger McCreary, who leads the team in passes deflected and tied for most caught interceptions. This, on an already vulnerable secondary as the Tigers are ranked 95th against the pass and now are missing one of their best defenders. One thing to ponder: just how healthy Finley will be after injuring his ankle in the season finale. If you watched that game, he was hobbling badly. In a recent interview, Finley said he thinks he will be back to 100%.
Auburn’s defensive strength is against the run. Houston is a pass-heavy offense. Against similar offenses, Auburn gave up 28 points and 300 passing yards to Penn State, and 43 points and 415 passing yards to Mississippi State. Houston does have a top-10 defense but managed to give up 38 points to Texas Tech and 42 to South Florida. Finley was competitive against Alabama … injured.
Prediction: OVER 51 (Houston beat Auburn 17-13)
First Responder Bowl: Louisville vs. Air Force -1, 54.5
I can’t help but see a field goal game which is keeping me off a side. This line has seen some movement with it opening as a pick'em, moving to Louisville -1 as of yesterday and as of today sits with Air Force -1. Instead, I’ll look at the total. These are two run-first teams but Louisville defense is vulnerable against the run, ranking 75th in rushing yards allowed. It gave up 35 points and 212 rushing yards to UCF, and 52 points and 362 rushing yards to Kentucky. Air Force is the No. 1 rushing offense in the country but Louisville is fifth best in yards per rush attempt.
The Falcons will get theirs because the Cardinals defense is bottom 20 in red zone scores allowed, bottom 40 in touchdowns allowed and 77th in opponent points per play. However, this is an efficient offense that was able to score 30 points or more in seven games this season. Air Force will score, and Louisville will have to keep up.
Prediction: OVER 54.5 (Air Force beat Louisville 31-28)
Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State -9.5, 58.5
Weather could come into play, but with just 12 mph winds, 23 mph gusts and light rain expected, it could also be a non-factor. Out for Texas Tech is WR Erik Ezukanma, who leads the team in receptions and receiving yards (705 of the 3,092), with four of the 17 receiving scores. Expected to be back in the lineup for the Red Raiders is WR3 Myles Price, who had 451 receiving yards and two receiving scores. This line opened with the Bulldogs as 8-point favorites and the total at 60. I agree with both line moves.
As long as there are no player opt-outs, I like the Bulldogs in this spot with QB Will Rogers leading the charge. Ranked third in passing yards, Rogers leads the FBS in completion percentage and is top 10 in touchdowns thrown. Against other passing teams, Texas Tech gave up 70 points and 303 passing yards to Texas, 52 points ad 469 passing yards to Oklahoma, and 38 points and 356 yards to Iowa State, though they did happen to defeat the Cyclones while losing by double digits to both the Longhorns and Sooners. Keeping up with a potent offense could be a tall task for a Tech team without its leading receiver.
Prediction: Mississippi State -9.5 (Texas Tech beat Mississippi State 34-7)
Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia vs. Minnesota -5, 44.5
Out for West Virginia is WR5 Isaiah Esdale (fourth in receptions, fifth in receiving yards, one score). A bigger loss for the Mountaineers is RB1 Leddie Brown, who had 223 of the 425 rushing attempts, 1,065 of the 1,535 rushing yards and 13 of the 18 total rushing scores. Though WV is a pass-first team, ranking 48th in passing and 99th in rushing, having Brown in the lineup has been key to WV’s wins. West Virginia is 6-0 when they rush for over a hundred yards and 0-6 when they don’t. Who has been the player to carry the team over the 100-yard mark in those wins? It was Brown. RB2 Tony Mathis Jr. may be capable as he did have a single game rushing for 118 yards, but that was against Kansas. This will be a tougher task.
Down its star RB, facing a Gophers defense ranked top 10 against the run — a team that held Wisconsin to 62 rushing yards and 13 points and Nebraska to 4.4 yards per carry and 23 points — it may be too much to overcome. That combined with a WV QB in Jarret Doege who has a pretty big difference in splits, seven touchdowns to seven interceptions on the road compared to 12 touchdowns to four interceptions at home, could all lend to the favorite to cover.
Prediction: Minnesota -5 (Minnesota beat West Virginia 18-6)
Monday, Dec. 27
Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan -7 vs Nevada 56
This matchup has seen the greatest line movement yet but for good reason. The line opened Nevada -6 with a game total of 66 before Nevada Wolf Pack QB Carson Strong opted out. He's one of the best quarterbacks this season, ranking sixth in passing yards (4,186), seventh in completion percentage (70 percent) and sixth in passing touchdowns (36). You can see why the line flipped. Also out for Nevada is WR Tory Horton, WR Justin Lockhart, WR Elijah Cooks, and TE Cole Turner. These players are 4th, 6th, 8th and 2nd in receptions, respectively. Combined, they've accounted for 1,963 of the 4,398 receiving yards and 21 of the 37 total receiving scores — the biggest loss being Turner, who alone accounts for 10 scores.
Out for Western Michigan is WR Jaylen Hall (second in receptions, second in receiving yards, leads in receiving average, three of 21 receiving scores) and TE Anthony Torres (only 137 of the 3,135 receiving yards and no scores). As long as WMU QB Kaleb Eleby is playing and has his top two running backs and leading receiver, there’s only one way to look — to the total.
The Broncos are top 10 in total offense, have a balanced pass-run game, run a high-tempo attack and can score. They're ranked top 30 in touchdowns scored while averaging 31 points per game. The Nevada offense may be down some parts but it’s the Nevada defense I’m interested in, ranked 69th against the pass and 97th against the run. Against other rushing teams, the Wolf Pack allowed 38 and 41 points from Kansas State and Air Force giving up an average of 372 rushing yards. To passing teams, Nevada gave up 31 points and 32 points to Boise State and Fresno State allowing an average of 322 passing yards. WMU scored 41 points against Pitt and closed the season scoring 41 against Northern Illinois. This is a capable offense.
Prediction: Western Michigan team total OVER 31 (Western Michigan beat Nevada, 52-24)
Saturday, Dec. 25
Camellia Bowl: Ball State vs. Georgia State -6, 51
The opening line was Georgia State -4 and the total at 50. After starting the season 1-4, the Georgia State Panthers went on to finish 6-1 in the second half of the season, including a four-point loss to Louisiana and a win over Coastal Carolina as 13-point underdogs. The Panthers, led by a dual-RB threat in Tucker Gregg and Jaymest Williams, are a top-10 rushing attack facing a Ball State defense ranked 96th against the run. The Cardinals defense is a polarizing unit, losing 22-12 to Toledo while giving up 272 rushing yards, but then defeating Western Michigan 45-20 and holding the 27-ranked rushing offense to 2.5 yards per rush. Ball State was competitive against Northern Illinois and wrecked Buffalo. Which version of the Cardinals do we get?
Cardinals QB Drew Plitt is a very capable quarterback, though ranked just 92nd in passing yards. However, in 11 games, Ball State played half against teams ranked inside the top 50 for passing defense. The Panthers are 104th against the pass. Plitt could see some success here. Either the Panthers roll against a terrible rushing defense or Plitt is able to keep up via the passing game. Either way, points.
Prediction: OVER 51 (Georgia State beat Ball State, 51-21)
Thursday, Dec. 23
Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Florida (-7, Total: 56.5)
Out for the Florida Gators are leading pass rusher Zachary Carter (eight sacks) and QB2 Anthony Richardson (fourth on the team in rushing yards with three rushing scores). Florida starting QB Emory Jones announced that he would play in the bowl game with the intent of entering the transfer portal after.
In for the Knights is RB Isaiah Bowser, who leads the team in rushing attempts, is second in rushing yards and leads in rushing scores. Bowser has missed three consecutive games, including the regular season finale against South Florida, but is back for the bowl game.
This line has ticked down from the opening number of 8. I know that overs are having their moment in the postseason. Bowl games through Tuesday are 9-2 to the over. However, I can’t help but see an under. For one, pace of play. The Knights are 110th in plays per game. Two, time of possession. Florida is top 30 in average time of possession. Three, scoring defense. The Gators are top 30 in opponent red-zone scoring attempts and opponent red-zone scores, and top 50 in limiting touchdowns, which forces more field goals.
In five games this season, UCF matchups have averaged 33 points. With an in-state competitive flare, two run-first teams and competitive defenses … hold your nose.
Pick: Under 56.5 (UCF beat Florida 29-17)
Frisco Football Classic: Miami (OH) -3 vs. North Texas, 54.5
The Mean Green really turned around their season. Early on, North Texas tried to remain a passing team like in year’s past. Struggling to find its identity, UNT started 1-6. After switching to a run-heavy offense, UNT finished fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game — led by DeAndre Torrey — and won five straight, including an upset victory over UTSA to end the Roadrunners’ 11-game winning streak.
The Redhawks have faced two teams ranked inside the top 10 in rushing yards, losing 23-10 to Army in a game where they allowed 384 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry, and falling 48-47 in overtime to Kent State in the finale, giving up 303 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
The difference between Army and North Texas: pace. Army is 89th in plays per game, while UNT is … first. Both teams have great offensive lines, so this will come down to who can score more. UNT has the edge by a fair margin in red-zone attempts and red-zone scores. As long as Torrey stays in the lineup, I like the Mean Green to finish out the year strong.
Pick: North Texas +3 (Miami (Ohio) beat North Texas 27-14)
Wednesday, Dec. 22
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Missouri vs Army (-6.5, Total: 54.5)
This matchup has seen some major line movement. The Black Knights opened as 3.5-point favorites with a total of 59.5, and they are the better team.
Pick: Army -6.5 (Army beat Missouri 24-22)
Tuesday, Dec. 21
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Wyoming (-3.5) vs. Kent State (Total: 59)
The strength of both offenses lies in the run game, ranking ninth and 26th in rushing offense, respectively. Neither team is good at defending the run, ranking 103 and 93 in rushing yards allowed, respectively. With one opponent in common, I looked at each matchup against Northern Illinois — a great rushing offense. Wyoming gave up 244 rushing yards and 43 points, while Kent State gave up 266 rushing yards and 41 points.
Kent State is known for having a great QB in Dustin Crum and a high-tempo offense that ranks top 15 in both plays per game and red-zone scores. What the Golden Flashes are definitely not known for is defense, ranking 102nd in opponent points per play, sixth worst in opponent red-zone scores, and bottom 15 in touchdowns allowed.
Prediction: Over 59 (Wyoming beat Kent State 52-38)
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: San Diego State (-3) vs. UTSA (Total: 49)
This game has seen live movement through zero. UTSA opened as a 2.5-point favorite but shifted to the underdog after news that leading rusher Sincere McCormack would declare for the draft and skip the game. He accounted for nearly 1,500 of the team's 2,500 rushing yards and 15 of 25 total rushing scores. It’s definitely a big loss.
For the Aztecs, QB Lucas Johnson will get the start after missing the last two games because of injury. The spread may have changed, but the total has not.
San Diego State is a run-only team led by Greg Ball. It ranks 60th in rushing and 120th in passing, but it is not a threatening offense, ranking 73rd in points per play and averaging 24 points per game. The strength of the UTSA defense is defending the run.
Defensively, however, SDS is top 10 in opponent points per play, opponent red-zone scores, and touchdowns allowed, limiting teams to 19 points per game.
The Roadrunners will be down their best offensive player and facing one of the best scoring defenses, while the Aztecs are a one-dimensional rushing offense facing a top-15 run defense.
Prediction: Under 49 (San Diego State beat UTSA 38-24)
Monday, Dec. 20
Myrtle Beach Bowl: Old Dominion vs Tulsa (-8.5, Total: 54)
Old Dominion had a great 6-6 season. That may not sound like the program excelled but let’s remember that the Monarchs played zero games in 2020 due to the pandemic and finished 1-11 in 2019. The squad then started the season 1-6 before winning five games straight.
Strength of schedule could come into play. Tulsa has played some really great teams in Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Houston, and Cincinnati, losing by eight points or less to the Cowboys and the Bearcats. The best opponents ODU has played were Wake Forest, Liberty, and Western Kentucky, losing all three by 23 points or more.
You can’t run against ODU, 24th in rushing defense, but you can throw it, as it's bottom 20 against the pass. Tulsa QB Davis Brin, with nearly 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, should be able to exploit this secondary. The problem for both teams comes in turnovers. Brin has as many interceptions as he has touchdowns, while both teams are bottom 30 in turnovers and both 60 in takeaways.
The difference will come in the red zone, where the Golden Hurricane has the edge. ODU is 80th in opponent red zone scoring attempts and 85th in opponent red zone scores, while Tulsa is top 20 in both. Tulsa has the better offensive line, better offense, better defense and has played a much tougher schedule. Key for both: Limit the turnovers.
Prediction: Tulsa -8.5 (Tulsa beat Old Dominion 30-17)
Saturday, Dec. 18
RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State (-3, 67.5)
This line has seen no movement but you should keep tabs on the weather. Current forecast calls for 15 mph winds with 24 mph gusts, cloudy with 60% chance of showers. The Hilltoppers have a stud QB in Bailey Zappe but what can happen when you are a one-dimensional offense? A good opposing defense knows how to game plan. WKU is first in passing yards but 124th in rushing, while the Mountaineers are more balanced, 64th in passing and 38th in rushing. App State, however, will be without receiver Corey Sutton, who leads in receptions, receiving yards and receiving scores. Fortunately for App State, WRs Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan are quite comparable. These two will need to step up because the weakness of this Western Kentucky team is the secondary, 110th in passing yards allowed.
With a strong run game between RBs Nate Noel and Camerun Peoples, that will open up the passing game for App State. The Mountaineers three losses are from Miami and Louisiana twice, two really solid teams. App State does have a top-20 defense but key for this matchup will be turnovers. Both squads are in the bottom half for giveaways while both are top 35 for takeaways.
For me, the answer comes in resumes. App State has shown it can defeat or be competitive against passing offenses, while Western Kentucky has struggled against teams that run the ball effectively.
Prediction: App State -3 (Western Kentucky beat Appalachian State 59-38)
PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Fresno State (-11.5, 51)
The Bulldogs will be without their head coach in Kalen DeBoer, now with Washington. In to replace him is Jeff Tedford, who served as Fresno’s head coach from 2016 through 2019 before resigning for health reasons but not until the 2022 season. Fresno QB Jake Haener had initially entered the transfer portal but then withdrew from the portal to stay with the Bulldogs.
Between all these changes, money has come in on the Miners, dropping this spread from the 13-point opening line. The conundrum is that Fresno State interim head coach Lee Marks announced that he wouldn’t name a starter publicly before the game. Haener will now be competing for the start with freshman Jaylen Henderson and redshirt freshman Logan Fife.
Not knowing which quarterback will be behind center really makes handicapping a game difficult. Haener has thrown for 32 touchdowns and over 3,800 yards, so it would be great to see him finish out the season. UTEP may have a top-25 defense but it’s also been in some high-scoring affairs, allowing 54 points from Boise, 42 points from UAB, and 44 from UTSA.
With Haener, you have two pass-first teams with neither defense able to apply quarterback pressure (both 81st and 62nd in sack rate), with vulnerable secondaries, while able to rack up points and allow scores.
Prediction: OVER 51, contingent on Haener starting (Haener started, Fresno State beat UTEP 31-24)
It’s situations like this that make for a good reminder that opportunities could be had with in-game wagering.
Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl: UAB vs. BYU (-7, 54.5)
Another weather game to monitor. Forecasts call for 13 mph winds, gusts of 20 mph, and 65% chance of rain with a possible thunderstorm in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Cougars finished with a 10-2 season record and instead of landing a top-tier bowl game, BYU will have to play in Louisiana well before the holidays. You can’t quantify motivation so I won’t use that in any of my predictions.
What I do know is that UAB leading RB DeWane McBride looks highly unlikely to play. He was carted off the field in UAB’s 42-25 win over UTEP in the season home finale early in the second quarter. McBride led the team in carries and rushing yards, while accounting for 12 of the 26 total rushing scores. Next man up, Jermaine Brown Jr., filled in nicely with 88 rushing yards and three scores against the Miners. Depth, however, could be the issue as RB3 Lucious Stanley left for the transfer portal.
For BYU, WR2 Gunner Romney may miss the bowl after missing the regular-season finale. Romney is third in receptions, second in receiving yards, but accounts for just three of the 26 total receiving touchdowns.
I’ll be honest, I don’t feel confident with this one. Not having McBride puts a wrench in things. I see a UAB defense that shut down a North Texas rushing offense against a BYU team that struggled against a run-heavy Baylor offense. BYU is top 35 in red zone scores per game, while both are outside the top 50 for limiting opponent scores. BYU can rack up some points, while both have been vulnerable to allowing scores. BYU is similar to UTSA statistically, balanced offense with a pretty average defense. UAB is similar to Baylor statistically, a run-heavy offense with a good run defense. In both matchups, BYU against Baylor and UAB against UTSA, points were scored.
Prediction: OVER 54.5 (UAB beat BYU 31-28)
Lending Tree Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty (-9, 58.5)
Saturday is just not looking like a good day for football as far as the weather is concerned. In Mobile, Alabama, there is a 55-65 percent chance of rain but with minimal wind, 6 mph with gusts of 14 mph.
Liberty closed the season with three straight losses including its season finale against Army. The Flames were without their top safety in Javon Scruggs, third on the team with total tackles and co-leader in passes defended. Eagles QB Ben Bryant is 27th in passing yards, though 61st in yards per pass attempt with a 7.6 average. Liberty is ranked top five against the pass, except the Flames have only played one team inside the top 50 for passing yards, Ole Miss. Liberty lost to the Rebels, 27-14, giving up 324 passing yards and 12.0 yards per pass.
The EMU defense is ranked 112th against the run, allowing 210 rushing yards or more to five separate squads, including 236 to Central Michigan in a 31-10 loss to close out the season. CMU is quite comparable to the Flames offensively, both top 55 in rushing yards and yards per rush attempt.
This is a good spot for NFL draft prospect Malik Willis to close out the season strong after scoring 16 points or less in three straight games. Willis, combined with a trio of RBs in Joshua Mack, T.J. Green, and Shedro Louis, should have a field day against the Eagles' run defense to control the clock. Bryant can be a passing threat but with an offensive line that ranks bottom 15 in QB protection (sacked 38 times this season), should have trouble getting the ball off against a top-20 pass rush in Liberty. If EMU does get downfield, Liberty is top 35 in opponent red zone attempts allowed and top 20 in opponent red zone scores allowed.
Prediction: Liberty -9, UNDER 58.5 (Liberty beat Eastern Michigan 56-20)
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Presented by Stifel: Utah State vs. Oregon State (-7.5, 67.5)
This total has ticked up from the opening line of 65. This could be a one-sided victory for either side. The Beavers are top 15 in rushing yards, led by B.J. Baylor, who has nearly 1,300 rushing yards this season with 13 scores. The Aggies allowed 362 yards of rushing offense to Wyoming (lost 44-17) just a few weeks ago, 437 rushing yards to Air Force (won 49-45) and 221 to BYU (lost 34-20). On the other hand, Utah State has a potent passing offense run by QB Logan Bonner, who is 12th in passing yards with 36 touchdown passes. The Beavers gave up 313 passing yards to Purdue (lost 30-21) and 355 to USC (won 45-27). I point these out to show that there’s no consistency.
While others are looking to the OVER, I’ll look to the UNDER. Utah State can run a fast offense, top 10 in plays per game, but not necessarily rack up points quickly. The Aggies are 52nd in points per play and 66th in red zone scores per game. Meanwhile, the Beavers are a much slower-paced rushing offense, top 50 in time of possession, 89th in plays per game, with both excelling in extending the drives, top 35 in third down conversions.
If I’m taking an OVER, I want to see both sides going back and forth. Either the Beavers will control the game on the ground or the Aggies' passing offense will be too much for Oregon State to handle.
Prediction: UNDER 67.5 (Utah State beat Oregon State 24-13)
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana -5 vs. Marshall, 55.5
There is some expected weather but fortunately that won’t disrupt this matchup as it will be played in the Caesars Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints. This total has gone up from the opening line of 52.5. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be without head coach Billy Napier, who is now with Florida. They will instead be coached by Louisiana co-OC Michael Desormeaux. Staying internal and promoting from within is a smart move as it could make for an easier transition and keeps things fluid.
Louisiana’s best offense: the run game. It's 24th in rushing yards and 28th in yards per rush attempt with a trio of RBs that account for nearly 2,200 of the 2,495 total rushing yards and 25 of the 31 total rushing scores. Chris Smith leads in attempts/yards and is second in scores, is out due to a “banged-up” knee, coach Desormeaux announced Wednesday night. He leads in attempts by just 10 and leads in yards by 71. Louisiana has depth and balance, it’s not just a one-man show. However, not having Smith is still a big loss.
Having a fully healthy RB unit would have been beneficial against a Marshall run defense ranked 108th. Against run-heavy teams, Marshall lost to UAB, App State, and Middle Tennessee, though all were by seven points or less.
The strength of both defenses lies in the red zone. They are both top 30 in opponent red zone scoring attempts and top 20 in red zone scores allowed, while also ranking top 45 in forcing turnovers. With Smith in the lineup, I would lay the points with Louisiana. Without him, I’ll look to the defense to step up and keep points limited.
Prediction: UNDER 55.5 (Louisiana beat Marshall 36-21)
Friday, Dec. 17
Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo (-10.5, 50.5)
Both teams are top 55 in total defense, but Toledo can put up points. Despite being No. 1 in forced turnovers, MTSU still managed to give up 35 points to Virginia Tech, 42 to Charlotte, 41 to Liberty, and 48 to Western Kentucky. The Blue Raiders are not immune to giving up scoring opportunities. The Rockets may not be an explosive offense, ranking 73rd in plays per game, but Toledo is efficient. It ranks second in takeaways, averages 33 points per game, is top 25 in points per play and top 35 in offensive touchdowns scored per game, and in its last four games played, it has scored 49 or more in three of them. Granted, it was during MACtion, but this Toledo offense is capable. It appears the weather could play a role with 14 mph winds and gusts up to 28 mph, which could explain why the total has ticked down from the opening line of 53.
The good thing about Toledo: It can run the ball, ranking top 35 in rushing yards — unlike MTSU, which ranks 97th. Toledo RB Bryant Koback, with 1,274 rushing yards and 15 ground scores, could have a big game. If you're looking for a pick on the total, you can listen to my reasoning for liking the OVER on 50.5.
Prediction: Toledo -10 (Middle Tennessee beat Toledo 31-24)
Tailgreeter Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina (-10.5, 63.5)
The Chanticleers have failed to cover nearly every double-digit spread this year, finishing 1-6 ATS in its last seven games. Some of the highlights:
17-point favorites against Troy; a 35-28 win
12.5-point favorites to Georgia State; a 42-40 loss
24.5-point favorites to Texas State; a 35-21 win
14.5-point favorites to South Alabama; a 27-21 win
Against the only other MAC team Coastal has faced this year, it won, 28-25, over Buffalo as a 14-point favorite.
NIU on the other hand is 8-4 ATS and has proven to be a well-coached unit. In the MAC championship game, the plan was executed perfectly. To keep the ball out of the hands of Kent State QB Dustin Crum, the Huskies ran and ran and ran to a 41-23 win, producing 266 yards on 61 rushing attempts and controlling the ball for 40 minutes. The Huskies have an excellent offensive line and are capable of running a similar game plan against a team that is immune to covering big spreads down the stretch.
Prediction: Northern Illinois +10.5 (Coastal Carolina beat Northern Illinois 47-41)