College Football Bowl Game Best Bets & Predictions: Friday – Monday (12/23-12/26)

Dec 19, 2022 - 7:11 PM

2022 regular season: 82-66-3 ATS (55.4%)
2022 bowls (through Dec. 18): 8-2 ATS (80%)
2022 combined: 90-68-3 ATS (56.9%)
2014-2021: 706-620-17 ATS (53.2%)

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Independence Bowl | Shreveport, LA

Friday, December 23 | 2:00 PM
Houston (-7) vs. Louisiana | Total: 58
ATL: Houston -3.3 | ATT: 63


  • QB Holman Edwards (Transfer portal)
  • WR Joseph Manjack IV (Injury)
  • DE Derek Parish (Injury)

WR Tank Dell declared for the NFL Draft but announced he would stick around to play in this game. Dell’s decision is huge for the Cougars – he’ll be the best player on the field. Houston also got good news when QB Clayton Tune affirmed he would play.

WR Manjack is out for the year with a hand injury. Star DE Parish is also out for the year with a torn bicep suffered in Week 4. At the conclusion of that week, he was tied for No. 3 in the nation with five sacks and also tied for No. 3 with 8.5 TFL. His loss was cataclysmic, but the Cougs have had time to adjust to life without him. QB2 Edwards is a backup who likely wouldn’t have played anyway.


  • QB Ben Wooldridge (Injury)
  • RB Terrence Williams (Injury)
  • WR Michael Jefferson (Opt-out)
  • WR Dontae Fleming (Transfer portal)
  • DE Andre Jones (Opt-out)

QB1 Wooldridge was knocked out for the season with an injury in mid-November. QB2 Chandler Fields started the last two regular season games and will draw the start here, too. RB Williams is questionable with an undisclosed injury.

WR Jefferson, easily Louisiana’s leading receiver, opted-out to prepare for the NFL Draft. He finished the regular season with 810 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. WR Fleming finished the regular season with the fourth-most catches on the team. Louisiana did get good news when RB1 Chris Smith, who declared for the NFL Draft, announced he would play in the bowl game.

DE Jones, who opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft, was easily the team’s best edge defender with a strong 78.8 PFF grade. Louisiana has decent depth at this spot, but the replacements are an undisputed qualitative drop-off.


The Cougars’ high-octane offense got great news with the opt-ins of QB Tune and WR Dell. Houston scored 30 or more points in 11 of 12 games. They scored 24 in the other (Tulane). The Tune/Dell connection strikes fear in the heart of opponents.

The pass-happy Cougars ranked No. 5 in standard-down passing rate during the regular season. WR Dell has posted 103 catches for 1,354 yards and 15 TD, while QB Tune has thrown for 3,845 yards and a 37/10 TD/INT ratio.

To beat the Cougars – or stay close to them – you must slow down that passing attack. That part of it isn’t optional. Louisiana is equipped to potentially do that, as UL’s strong pass defense ranks No. 35 in success rate and No. 23 in efficiency.

Where you can nick the Ragin’ Cajuns is on the ground. But Houston HC Dana Holgorsen is not interested in that. Louisiana’s No. 29 SP+ defense should be up to the task of at least preventing Tune/Dell from going ballistic.

Louisiana’s offense isn’t great (No. 95 SP+), but it’s better than Houston’s pitiful defense (No. 115 SP+). UL RB Smith, who opted-in for one last NFL Draft showcase, should have a big game.

Holgorsen is 2-7 ATS in his career (3-6 SU) in bowl games, and his teams have lost by 14+ points in four of its last five bowl appearances. Holgo is notorious for treating bowl practices for general work as opposed to opponent-specific plans of attack, and for his belief that bowls are exhibitions.

Houston also didn’t exactly finish strong, going 1-4 ATS in the last five regular-season games. Both of these teams were “sell” programs for us during the regular season, but our preference to fade Houston is stronger, particularly in this matchup, which on paper doesn’t appear strong enough for them to be laying a touchdown.

The pick: Louisiana +7

Gasparilla Bowl | Tampa, FL

Friday, December 23 | 5:30 PM
Wake Forest (-1) vs. Missouri | Total: 60
ATL: WF -7.3 | ATT: 66.5

Wake Forest

  • RB Christian Turner (Transfer portal)
  • WR Jahmal Banks (Injury)
  • CB Gavin Holmes (Transfer portal)
  • CB JJ Roberts (Transfer portal)

QB Sam Hartman will play. RB Turner, the team’s second-leading rusher, is out the door. But fortunately, RB3 Quinton Cooley said he’ll play, even though he’s already announced his own intentions to transfer. WR Banks is the team’s third-best receiver, but Wake Forest has great depth at the position.

CB Holmes was a starter and the team’s second-best corner. CB Roberts played the third-most corner snaps on the team this fall, but PFF grading (58.5) suggests the guys behind Roberts are better equipped to assume the snaps Holmes has vacated (none of the three CBs behind him in snaps graded below 68.0). CB Zamari Stevenson and S Malik Mustapha are expected back from injuries.


  • RB Michael Cox (Injury)
  • WR Dominic Lovett (Transfer portal)
  • G EJ Ndoma-Ogar (Injury)
  • DE Isaiah McGuire (Opt-out)
  • DE D.J. Coleman (Opt-out)
  • LB Zach Lovett (Transfer portal)
  • CB DJ Jackson (Transfer portal)
  • CB LJ Hewitt (Transfer portal)
  • S Martez Manuel (Opt-out)

WR Lovett is a big loss, as he piled up 56 catches for 846 yards in the regular season. Lovett was easily the offense’s most valuable skill player. Mizzou doesn’t have many playmakers outside of him. RB Cox and G Ndoma-Ogar didn’t factor in much this fall.

DE McGuire, DE Coleman and S Manuel all declared for the NFL Draft and opted out. All three were crucial defenders on Mizzou’s frisky defense. McGuire posted 21 hurries this fall and led the team with seven sacks. Coleman was No. 2 with six sacks. S Manuel was the team’s second-best safety. He had a solid season outside of blowing too many tackle attempts. The other three defenders listed above were seldom-used backups.


The biggest news here is that Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman is playing. With that in mind, it’s genuinely surprising that Wake Forest isn’t favored by more. My system favors Wake Forest by -7.3.

The market doesn’t appear to be penalizing Mizzou on the spread whatsoever for the Tigers’ myriad opt-outs. If this game had been played at the end of the regular season, on a neutral field, with both teams at full strength, my system would have favored the Deacons by -1.8… this spread is even below that!

The Demon Deacons’ No. 8 SP+ offense was basically unscathed from opt-outs. You can’t say the same about Mizzou’s No. 25 SP+ defense as the Tigers will be missing three standout starters, two of them clustered on the edge.

Wake Forest has a bad defense, a unit that ranked No. 104 SP+ during the regular season. But without WR Lovett, Missouri’s already below-average offense – No. 71 SP+ – will regress further. Perhaps not into a qualitative wash with the unit it is facing, but not an enormous advantage either.

Wake Forest was a disappointment this season. But the opportunity to lay less than a field goal on the Deacons with Hartman starting against a mediocre Mizzou outfit decimated by opt-outs is too alluring for us to pass up.

The pick: Wake Forest -1

Hawai’i Bowl | Honolulu, HI

Saturday, December 24 | 7:00 PM
San Diego State (-7) vs. Middle Tennessee | Total: 49.5
ATL: SDSU -4.8 | ATT: 45

Coaching News

SDSU fired OC Jeff Hecklinski in early October. The Aztecs turned things around under the direction of associate HC Jeff Horton, who took over the offensive coordinator duties.


Middle Tennessee is an extremely matchup-specific handicap.

The Blue Raiders are one of the 20 most pass-happy teams in the nation. They spread the field and complete oodles of short passes, with the No. 11 completion rate on the No. 130 air yards per pass in the country.

To shut down MTSU’s offense, you must hinder its ability to complete those short passes at will, and you must tackle receivers immediately after the catch. MTSU’s passing offense isn’t explosive – No. 90 – if you can’t do either. See the Miami Hurricanes for an example of what happens when a defense does neither.

San Diego State’s defense is strong overall, ranking No. 34 SP+, but the Aztecs rank No. 88 in completion percentage allowed. Where the Aztecs excel is against the run – but that won’t come into play here, because MTSU only uses the run as a get-me-over option.

The Aztecs’ offense, in contrast to MTSU, is one of the 25 most run-happy in the entire nation. QB Mayden is a gifted runner, but not much of a thrower. The Aztecs cannot pass. As a team, they logged a 13/11 TD/INT rate during the regular season.

MTSU’s bad pass defense will not be tested, but MTSU’s stingy run defense – No. 34 efficiency, No. 24 explosion – profiles to severely put a crimp into what SDSU wants to do on offense.

Give me the points and give me the under, as I think Middle Tennessee will win this game outright in a low-scoring struggle.

The pick: MTSU +7 | Under 49.5

Quick Lane Bowl | Detroit, MI

Monday, December 26 | 1:30 PM
Bowling Green (-3) vs. New Mexico State | Total: 48
ATL: NMSU -0.5 | ATT: 51.5

Bowling Green

  • None reported

New Mexico State

  • QB Diego Pavia (Injury)
  • P Josh Carlson (Transfer portal)

QB1 Pavia suffered what has been forwarded as a minor injury on Dec. 3 against Valparaiso. If Pavia is sidelined, QB2 Gavin Frakes – who attempted 112 passes this year – will draw his fifth start of the year. P Carlson, who averaged 40.5 yards per boot, transferred to Arizona State.


These teams have opposite identities on offense.

New Mexico State is a run-happy outfit that wants to move the chains by slowly chipping away at the yardage needed while keeping the clock moving. Bowling Green spreads the field with a pass-happy ethos, hoping to get the ball into space.

New Mexico State’s offensive identity projects to have more success, as Bowling Green’s run defense is mediocre, ranking No. 63 in success rate and No. 71 in explosion. NMSU rarely is stopped behind the line, ranking No. 2 in power success rate. BGSU’s run defense is No. 124 in the same category.

Meanwhile, Bowling Green’s pass-happy tendencies will be met with resistance as NMSU has a very good pass defense. The Aggies’ pass defense is the best thing either team will bring to the field in this game.

The Aggies’ pass defense ranks No. 30 in success rate and No. 6 in explosion. If that unit can indeed greatly hinder Bowling Green’s passing attack, the Falcons will be in for a stop-and-start day on offense filled with punts.

It’s shocking that NMSU HC Jerry Kill dragged this roster into bowl season in his first campaign. Nearly as surprising, Kill has never won a bowl game, 0-5 in his career. The grizzled veteran coach badly wants that first bowl win, and his team, which was playing its best football at the end of the season, figures to sell out for it.

New Mexico State desperately tried to reschedule its postponed game with San Jose State from October. When SJSU didn’t want to play it, NMSU reached out to every other FBS program that could play a 13th game without a waiver on conference title week. When none of them would, NMSU got a waiver to play an FCS team, and also got a waiver into bowl season (the Aggies finished 6-6 with two wins over FCS teams).

The Aggies will treat this game as the Super Bowl. We like them to spring the upset.

The pick: NMSU +3

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