College Football Bowl Game Best Bets & Predictions: Monday – Thursday (12/19 – 12/22)

Dec 17, 2022 - 12:59 PM

Here’s a look at the bowl-game spreads and totals for Monday through Thursday along with my projections. You can also find my best bets.

2022 regular season: 82-66-3 ATS (55.4%)
2022 bowls (through Dec. 16): 2-0 ATS (100%)
2014-2021: 706-620-17 ATS (53.2%)

Note: Spreads are from the favorite’s perspective. ATL stands for “Adjusted Thor Line.” ATT stands for “Adjusted Thor Total.”

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Myrtle Beach Bowl | Conway, SC
Monday, December 19 | 1:30 PM
Marshall (-10) vs. Connecticut | Total: 41
ATL: Marshall -12.1 | ATT: 37.5

QB Peter Zamora (Transfer portal)
WR Talik Keaton (Injury)
DE Emmanuel Balogun (Transfer portal)

RB Rasheen Ali, who rushed for 1,401 yards and 23 TD last year, missed the first 10 games of the season to address his mental health. He showed no rust in the final two games, rushing for a combined 181 yards over 32 carries against Georgia Southern and Georgia State. He and RB Khalan Laborn are a devastating 1-2 punch.

WR Keaton was the team’s WR2 prior to suffering a lower-body injury in late-October. Keaton did not play in November and is considered questionable to play. It was only a small drop-off to Keaton’s backups. QB Zamora, buried on the depth chart, took only six snaps this season. DE Balogun appeared in all 12 games off the bench, but his 103 snaps ranked 23rd on Marshall’s defense.

QB ​​Ta’Quan Roberson (Injury)
RB Nathan Carter (Transfer portal)
RB Brian Brewton (Injury)
WR Cam Ross (Injury)
WR Keelan Marion (Injury)
WR Darius Bush (Transfer portal)
WR Nigel Fitzgerald (Injury)

RB Carter was limited to 137 snaps this fall due to injury. WRs Ross and Marion have been injured, but they’ve both been given an outside shot to return for this game. That development would certainly help UConn’s aerial attack.

QB Roberson, who began the year as the starter, suffered a season-ending injury in the opener. RB Brewton, who appeared in only three games this fall, has elbow and finger injuries that have his status up in the air. WR Fitzgerald suffered a season-ending knee injury in September. WR Bush only played a few snaps this fall.

Both teams are run-heavy, ranking in the top-20 in rush rate. Both offenses are poor overall – Marshall is No. 122 SP+, UConn is No. 124 – thanks to poor passing attacks. Both teams are led by reliable defenses, each of which boasts top-20 tackle rates nationally.

Marshall is simply a better version of what UConn wants to be. The Thundering Herd’s run game is legitimately dangerous at full-strength, and Marshall’s defense is downright nasty, ranking No. 8 SP+.

UConn will have zero success through the air. The Huskies are also going to meet big resistance on the ground. The Huskies’ rushing attack ranks No. 81 in success rate and No. 22 in explosion. Marshall’s elite run defense ranks No. 4 and No. 13, respectively, in those two categories.

That’s one issue for UConn. The other is that, flipping the field, UConn doesn’t have the run defense to slow Marshall’s one-two punch of Laborn and Ali. Marshall’s run game ranks No. 69 in success rate and No. 54 in explosion – the majority of that sample size without Ali, it’s important to note – while UConn’s defense ranked No. 107 and No. 81 in those categories.

But the Herd don’t exactly project to light up the scoreboard here, either. Though we think the Herd will win this game, a double-digit spread is scary against a UConn team that has consistently surprised this year (9-3 ATS) by playing tough and keeping things close against more-talented teams.

Instead of making a referendum on the side, we’re playing the under. The under has hit in five-of-seven games to close the season for UConn. Marshall, meanwhile, was an under machine this year, with the under 9-3 in Herd games.

The pick: Under 41

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl | Boise, ID
Tuesday, December 20 | 2:30 PM
San Jose State (-4.5) vs. Eastern Michigan | Total: 54
ATL: SJSU -4.2 | ATT: 53.5

San Jose State
WR Charles Ross (Injury)
DE Grady Manley (Transfer portal)

WR Ross was a decent starter prior to going down with an undisclosed injury in the middle of the season. No clarification has been given regarding his injury or status. DE Manley played only 14 snaps this fall.

Eastern Michigan
WR Zach Westmoreland (Transfer portal)
WR Dennis Smith (Transfer portal)
WR I’Shawn Stewart (Transfer portal)
CB Isaiah Watson (Transfer portal)

All four were scantily-used backups.

Our numbers – both on the side and with the total – are extremely close to the sportsbooks’. This one instead comes down to conviction. And we’re simply more confident in EMU.

The Eagles are a tough team that keeps games close and pulls them out. During the regular season, half of EMU’s games were one-possession outcomes. EMU went 5-1 in those games.

SJSU started 4-1 ATS. But following a tragic death of a member of the team that led to the cancellation of the New Mexico State game, the Spartans went 0-6 ATS in their last six games.

The Spartans had an opportunity to make-up the game against the Aggies during conference title week but declined. The team might just want this season to be over with.

On the field, SJSU is one of the most pass-happy teams in the nation. But pass defense is EMU’s strength – the Eagles rank No. 17 in opposing completion percentage. On the other side, EMU prefers to establish the run. SJSU’s defense struggles to stop it.

We are also galvanized by EMU HC Chris Creighton’s historical success in the postseason, where he’s gone 3-1 ATS in four career games. Getting more than a field goal feels generous. Sure, our system says the number is fair. But half the data making up that sample was from the first-half of the season when SJSU was a different team.

The pick: EMU +4.5

Boca Raton Bowl | Boca Raton, FL
Tuesday, December 20 | 6:30 PM
Toledo (-5) vs. Liberty | Total: 54
ATL: Pick ‘em | ATT: 58

RB Dae Dae Hunter (Injury)
WR Jaivian Lofton (Transfer portal)
OG Jacob Bodden (Transfer portal)
DT Dre Butler (Transfer portal)
DE Stephen Sings V (Transfer portal)
DE Marquise Brunson (Transfer portal)
LB Ahmad Walker (Transfer portal)

Liberty suffered a rash of injuries in the regular season, and was particularly ravaged at the quarterback position. But both QB1 Charlie Brewer and QB2 Kaidon Salter — along with QB3 Johnathan Bennett, who played a much larger role this season than expected due to the injuries— played in the regular season finale. You’d figure both would be healthier for this game. Liberty’s quarterback situation is much-improved for this game in comparison to the the majority of the regular season.

RB Hunter suffered a season-ending torn LCL in November. It was a devastating loss for Liberty’s offense. A transfer from Hawaii, Hunter was one of Liberty’s two-most valuable assets on offense. The ground game has not been the same since he went down. RBs Shedro Luis and TJ Green have assumed Hunter’s workload. Green barely played at the beginning of the year but did show some flashes in the last few games with increased usage. WR Lofton was the team’s second-best PFF-graded receiver, but he was being used as a backup. OG Bodden and DE Brunson barely played.

DL Butler was a rotational piece who appeared in all 12 games. He did decent work this fall, but Liberty has the depth to cover for his defection. Basically the exact same thing could be said about DE Sings, though he appeared in 11. Liberty will be fine up front so long as they don’t suffer an in-game injury. LB Walker’s loss hurts. Walker, who posted 64 tackles this fall, was the team’s best linebacker. Walker transferred to SMU.

QB Tucker Gleason (Injury)
OG Lavel Dumont (Transfer portal)

No impact, here. QB2 Gleason was inactive for the MAC Championship Game due to a hand injury. In that game, QB1 DeQuan Finn returned from injury and played the entirety, helping the Rockets down Ohio 17-7. Finn’s good to go – he ran for 96 yards against the Bobcats when you take out the yardage of the one sack he took. OG Dumont did not acquit himself well in the four games he appeared in this fall.

Fall 2022 CTA

Coaching news
Liberty HC Hugh Freeze left to become Auburn’s head coach and will not coach in this game. The Flames will play for interim HC Josh Aldridge, a staffer since 2019. Liberty started 8-1, but didn’t appear as prepared during the three-game losing streak to end the regular season as Freeze flirted with Auburn and rampant rumors swirled around the team. From that perspective, Liberty is in a better spot coaching-wise in this game than it was over the latter-part of November.

To former HC Freeze’s credit, over the first nine games, he was able to navigate a devastating rash of injuries at the sport’s most important position as Liberty raced out to an 8-1 start. Now, with QBs Brewer and Salter back, the Flames’ offense should more or less be back in business.

The loss of RB Hunter hurts Liberty, but probably not as much as the availability of a healthy Brewer and Salter helps it. Offensive viability is big against Toledo, which features a strong defense.

But so does Liberty. In fact, the Flames actually rank three slots higher than Toledo in SP+ defense. That’s even after Liberty’s face-plant in those last-three regular season games.

Toledo has been a bit of a paper-tiger bully in 2022. The Rockets didn’t beat a team ranked higher than SP+ No. 87. The team that was ranked No. 87, Ohio, was playing without by far its best player in that game (QB Kurtis Rourke).

Liberty seemed to quit on former HC Freeze down the stretch. We’re banking on the fact that the Flames will normalize with Freeze and his drama having moved on, and with Liberty’s quarterback room at long last now stabilized.

Liberty suffered more defections in advance of this game. But even with those baked into our adjusted number, we still have this game lined as a pick’ em. And while Liberty’s interim staff is at an experiential disadvantage, Toledo HC Jason Candle’s 1-4 ATS record in bowl games doesn’t exactly inspire.

The pick: Liberty +5

New Orleans Bowl | New Orleans, LA
Wednesday, December 21 | 8:00 PM
South Alabama (-4.5) vs. Western Kentucky | Total: 54
ATL: USA -7.6 | ATT : 52.5

South Alabama
WR Devin Voisin (Injury)
OT Anterrious Gray (Transfer portal)

USA WR Voisin is questionable with an arm injury. He left the regular season finale with his arm in a sling. Voisin’s a starter who posted a solid 70.0 PFF grade through the first 12 games. OT Gray only played 46 snaps during the regular season.

Western Kentucky
QB Darius Ocean (Transfer portal)
WR Daewood Davis (Opt-out)
TE Joshua Simon (Transfer portal)
TE Joey Beljan (Transfer portal)
OC Rusty Staats (Transfer portal)
OT Gunner Britton (Transfer portal)
LB JaQues Evans (Transfer portal)
LB Matthew Flint (Transfer portal)
CB Kahlef Hailassie (Opt-out)
CB B.J. Wagner (Transfer portal)
S Arthur Brathwaite (Transfer portal)
S Talique Allen (Transfer portal)
K Brayden Narveson (Transfer portal)

QB Austin Reed entered the transfer portal and flirted with Louisville. But Reed had a sudden change-of-heart and returned to WKU. He announced that he will play in the bowl game. This is huge news. When Reed announced his transfer initially, the market had an aggressive reaction. The spread at sportsbooks immediately changed from South Alabama -2.5 to -8. Reed’s return has stabilized the spread. Reed is No. 2 in the nation with 4,247 passing yards.

Reed’s offensive line won’t be as strong in the bowl game as it was during the season. OC Staats and OT Britton were both solid starters. WR Daewood Davis and CB Kahlef Hailassie, each transfers from Oregon, both declared for the NFL Draft. Davis was the team’s second-best receiver. CB Hailassie was WKU’s best defender – his loss hurts.

TE Simon is a very skilled receiver. WKU probably made a mistake splitting his snaps with backup TE Beljan, who is also in the portal. It is unclear if either will play in the bowl. Same goes for LB Evans and S Allen, both starters. Over the last two seasons, Evans logged 109 tackles, 12 TFL, and 6.5 sacks. Allen would be easier to replace if he’s out.

The return of WKU Austin Reed was great news for the Hilltopper. But even at full-strength – and WKU is far from full-strength following myriad defections outside of Reed – the Hilltoppers struggled mightily when stepping up in competition this fall.

The Hilltoppers went 7-1 SU against teams ranked SP+ No. 80 or lower – bottom-50 teams in the country. The loss, against No. 91 Indiana, should have been a win (WKU 90% postgame win expectancy).

Against teams ranked higher than that threshold, WKU went 1-4 SU. The one win was over UAB on a Friday night in October. I happened to watch that entire game. WKU absolutely should not have won it. The Hilltoppers prevailed 17-14 despite giving up 200 run yards to RB DeWayne McBride and struggling on offense because UAB QB Dylan Hopkins got knocked out for the game on its first drive and the Blazers literally couldn’t throw for the rest of it (63 pass yards on the first drive, 33 pass yards the rest of the game).

Unfortunately for WKU, South Alabama is a very strong squad. The Jaguars rank No. 33 SP+. USA has a middle-of-the-road offense (No. 66 SP+), but an awesome defense (No. 22) and special teams (No. 20). And unlike WKU, South Alabama remains at full-strength for this one.

The Jags’ pass defense – extremely important against WKU’s Air Raid – is superb, ranking No. 11 in success rate and No. 20 in efficiency. USA also ranks No. 4 in tackle success rate, ensuring WKU’s ability to get the ball into space won’t end in huge plays.

USA will also have an enormous havoc advantage on both sides of the ball. The Jags rank No. 11 in defensive havoc rate and No. 26 in havoc allowed. WKU ranks No. 101 in havoc rate, and No. 69 in havoc allowed.

The pick: South Alabama -4.5

Armed Forces Bowl | Fort Worth, TX
Thursday, December 22 | 6:30 PM
Baylor (-5.5) vs. Air Force | Total: 49
ATL: Baylor -4.8 | ATT: 51

QB Kyron Drones (Transfer portal)
RB Josh Fleeks (Transfer portal)
WR Gavin Holmes (Injury)
WR Seth Jones (Transfer portal)
S Devin Neal Jr. (Transfer portal)

QB Drones was a backup and RB Fleeks was used sporadically off the bench. RB Fleeks, a former receiver, never really found a positional home. WR Jones was a secondary receiver who posted a ghastly 50.0 PFF grade in his snaps. WR4 Holmes’ status is unknown with a leg injury. Holmes is a solid player, but if Baylor’s top-three receivers can handle most of the snaps, his absence won’t be devastating if indeed he’s forced to miss the game.

The biggest loss is S Neal, who posted 41 tackles. But Baylor had three safeties who logged more snaps, so perhaps they can paper-over his defection as well in this game.

Air Force
None reported

Coaching news
Following the end of the regular season, Baylor fired DC Ron Roberts and special teams coordinator Ronnie Wheat, who also coached safeties. Baylor’s defense fell to No. 66 in points allowed and its special teams ranked No. 119 in efficiency.

Air Force is an extremely straightforward handicap. The Falcons’ triple-option offense runs the ball more than any offense in America – and very effectively (Nop. 14 success rate, No. 17 efficiency, No. 7 opportunity rate, No. 2 stuff rate). And the Falcons play nasty defense (No. 9 SP+).

To beat the Falcons, it’s a similarly straightforward proposition: You must greatly slow down its rushing attack, forcing Air Force into the third-and-long situations it languishes in. And you must be able to throw the ball effectively. Air Force’s stingy defense is especially stout against the run.

Baylor doesn’t profile as a squad that should be favored by nearly a touchdown against Air Force. The Bears’ run defense is poor, ranking No. 100 in success rate, No. 102 in efficiency, No. 78 in opportunity rate, and No. 126 in power success rate.

Baylor also is a run-first offense, though obviously not as lopsided as Air Force (No. 35 standard-down run rate, No. 40 passing-down run rate). That’s an offensive preference that unfortunately leans directly into Air Force’s defensive strength.

Baylor QB Blake Shapen needs to be outstanding for the Bears to win by margin in this game. Air Force’s passing defense ranks a more-manageable No. 59 in success rate (but No. 26 against explosion).

During the regular season, Shapen posted a mediocre 16/10 TD/INT rate. To be fair, he acquitted himself a bit better in PFF’s grading (No. 53 out of 160 qualifiers). But it would be fair to deem Shapen a middle-of-the-road FBS starter at this juncture. And Baylor’s receiving corps is highly uninspiring.

Baylor also limps in on a three-game losing streak, off a disappointing 6-6 regular season. The Bears didn’t even come close to their 7.5 preseason win total. Meanwhile, Air Force has won four-straight, and the Falcons covered the number in all four of those games.

Baylor HC Dave Aranda covered in the only bowl game Baylor played in while he’s been at the helm. But Aranda is at a major bowl experiential disadvantage here. Grizzled veteran Air Force HC Troy Calhoun is 7-5 ATS in career bowl games.

Air Force lost only three games this year – all by seven points or less. Which makes sense for a slow-moving offense with a strong rushing attack that plays awesome defense. We’ll take the generous amount of points with a live underdog.

The pick: Air Force +5.5

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