Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo (-10)
Toledo is by far the better team in this matchup, carried by their defense and Bryant Koback-led rushing game. Middle Tennessee lost Chase Cunningham over a month ago. Outside their game against a floundering FIU team, it has failed to produce offense against some of the country’s worst defenses in Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, and Old Dominion, scoring under 21 points in each game. In the Bahamas Bowl, they face a Toledo team ranking 16th in defensive success, with an elite secondary ranking sixth in EPA per pass attempt. Even with Cunningham, this team had troubles on offense finishing the year 82nd in EPA per pass attempt and 122nd in EPA per rush attempt.
Offensively, Toledo should be able to move the ball on the ground relatively easily as Middle Tennessee allows a 43.2% defensive success rate against the run (99th nationally.) In their last five games, Toledo averaged 43.2 (spooky coincidence) points per game, and while that was against a MAC schedule, Middle Tennessee isn’t any better.
Pick: Toledo -10
Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina (-10.5)
The luck finally ran out on the Huskies two weeks ago as they were exposed by an average Western Michigan team. Although winning their conference championship with ease, Coastal Carolina presents an increasingly difficult matchup for this team. This Northern Illinois defense is terrible. Ranked 125th in defensive success rate, they face an offense with a healthy Grayson McCall under center. The Chanticleers ranked first in offensive success rate, second in offensive EPA per play, and specifically first in EPA per pass attempt. The Chants explosive offense should easily put up points against this team and extend drives as they also ranked first in third/fourth down success rate, while North Illinois ranked 96th.
On defense, the Chanticleers might struggle against this prolific rushing game, but ultimately, as a top-40 rush defense, they should be able to key in on the run game and keep the Huskies one-dimensional. Although Rocky Lombardi looked great last week, this defense ranks 23rd in defensive success rate against the pass, and with the ability to force the Huskies to run the ball, expect the Chanticleers to cruise here.
Pick: Coastal Carolina -10.5
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. App State (-2.5)
This is the best matchup thus far, with the Hilltoppers facing off against the Mountaineers in what could be a fun contest between these two teams. Zach Kittley, the new offensive coordinator for Texas Tech, sounds like he’ll coach in the bowl game, possibly to help QB Bailey Zappe break the all-time passing touchdown record. It’s a tough matchup for Big Red as App State has a top-15 passing and rushing defense in success rate. This year App State has allowed over 30 points once and has kept teams under 20 points in eight of twelve games. However, Western Kentucky does boast the highest early down success rate in the nation, while App ranks 93rd in that category.
Along with a stifling defense, App has one of the better offenses in the country on a per-play basis, ranking 30th in offensive success rate and top-10 in passing success rate specifically. The Hilltoppers, who have been playing slightly better defense, still rank 100th in defensive success rate. Ultimately I think the success the Mountaineers have had on both sides of the ball will likely be too much for Zappe and Western Kentucky, and the boys from Boone pull the win off.
Pick: App St -2.5
New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Fresno State (-11.5)
Despite the tumultuous week for Fresno State, quarterback Jake Haener announced he would return after putting his name in the transfer portal. Coach Kalen DeBoer will not coach in this game after taking the job at Washington, but Jeff Tedford is a familiar face to Fresno fans. I don’t place too much stock in what’s happened with DeBoer, but I do think there may be some residual issues with offensive coordinator Ryan Grubbs leaving. Ultimately, I think this sets up the Miners’ defense to feast this week, coming in as the nation’s eleventh-ranked defense. I believe there are still questions about the health of Haener heading in, which doesn’t help.
Gavin Hardison for UTEP should be able to post efficient numbers as he has all season but does get a challenge in the Mountain West’s best secondary. For Miner Nation to cover this game, he’ll need to be adequate, slow the pace of play, and rely on the defense to do the work. I think they can do everything here, given the litany of questions for the Bulldogs.
Pick: UTEP +11.5
Independence Bowl: UAB vs BYU (-6.5)
Another good bowl matchup, the spread here opened at -8.5 for BYU and is consistently being bet down and might end up even lower before kickoff. I side with the bettors on this one – UAB is an excellent team, and despite a (what the f***) loss to Rice, they’ve played good football all year. They should have beat UTSA and lost to a Liberty team led by Malik Willis. Otherwise, this has been a tough team to play all year. Led by a defense that ranks 23rd in defensive success rate, they have consistently shut down opponents this year behind South Alabama transfer Tyree Turner, DL Alex Wright, and safety Grayson Cash. All should play in this bowl game and look to limit an explosive BYU offense led by Tyler Allgeier.
UAB needs DeWayne McBride to return from an ankle injury suffered in their last game on the offensive side of the football. Assuming he can, offensive lineman Colby Ragland could be a matchup nightmare for the BYU defensive line, which ranks 100th in defensive success rate against the run. In the passing game, Gerrit Prince should be a featured weapon along with Trae Shropshire, both of who can get open against a BYU defense ranked 109th in passing success rate. Ultimately I do think BYU wins this matchup as the duo of Jaren Hall and Tyler Allgeier can put up points against almost anyone, but given what’s laid out above, I like UAB to cover.
Pick: UAB +6.5
LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty (-9.5)
I would be surprised if Malik Willis didn’t play in this game which is the key to the pick. Eastern Michigan cannot – literally cannot – get pressure against the quarterback. Ranking 94th in sack rate at 5.3% and 129th in line yards, they’ll be unable to expose Liberty’s offensive line, by far their weakest unit. If Willis has time to throw or scramble, Eastern Michigan is in for a very long day. Honestly, this spread opened too low at -6.5, and under ten points is still surprising. Liberty should be able to do anything they want in this matchup and with the stakes raised for Willis and his NFL evaluation, expect the Flames to show out.
Pick: Liberty -9.5
LA Bowl: Utah State vs. Oregon State (-7.5)
Utah State may be one of the most surprising teams in the country this year. With their up-tempo offense led by Logan Bonner, the Aggies had a complete turnaround under Bruce Anderson this year. As the highest temp team in the country, I expect Utah State to be able to score against a Beavers team that ranks 84th in defensive EPA per pass attempt and 94th in defensive EPA per rush attempt. Look for the combo of Bonner and Deven Thompkins to light this defense up as they’ve done all year.
On the other side, this Oregon State team has had gritty wins against both Arizona State and Stanford to end the year. Powered by their rushing attack and BJ Baylor, Oregon State should score points in this matchup but will face an improved Aggies defense that ranks 37th in defensive success rate against the rush. This could be a high-scoring matchup in which both teams fail to stop the others’ strength against their weakness, but Oregon State favored by more than a touchdown is too much at the end of the day.
Pick: Utah State +7.5
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall vs. Louisiana (-5.5)
With Billy Napier taking the job at Florida, the Ragin’ Cajuns promoted Michael Desormeaux to take over the role starting with this game against Marshall. He should help with consistency as he operated as the Co-OC last season and has been with the staff since 2016, working in different offensive roles. An alum of the program and one of its best collegiate producers ever, I don’t think there will be much drop-off for this game. On-field, Louisiana once again had a stifling defense, ranking 19th in defensive success rate, limiting some of the conference’s best teams to under 20-points consistently, including the conference championship matchup against App State. On offense, this team is led by a group of talented running backs, including Chris Smith, Montrell Johnson, and Emani Bailey. Marshall has a mediocre rush defense, ranked 50th in success rate but should have their hands full this week.
After leaving the Western Kentucky game with an injury, it sounds like quarterback Grant Wells will be ready to go for the bowl game. This is a big deal and probably worth three or more points in the spread, so getting him back matters for the Thundering Herd. This team can score with Wells under center, ranking 17th in offensive success rate and ninth in rushing success rate behind dual-threat RB Rasheen Ali. This game should be close as both offenses are playing well, and their defenses are taking care of businesses. As it stands, 5.5 is too much for Louisiana, and it should be closer to three.
Pick: Marshall +5.5
Myrtle Beach Bowl: Old Dominion vs. Tulsa (-9.5)
Both teams impressively ended their season, with Tulsa’s highlights beating SMU and keeping it within a score against Cincinnati. At the same time, Old Dominion rattled off five straight wins to become bowl eligible. The Monarchs have been a great story this year, projected to be one of the worst teams in the country but becoming bowl eligible. However, this is a tough matchup for them. Zach Kuntz and Blake Watson lead the way, but the passing offense as a unit ranks 95th in EPA per pass attempt. To keep this game close, they need to rely on Watson’s rushing game as Tulsa’s weakest unit is their defensive line, which ranks 67th in rushing success rate.
On the other side of the ball, Tulsa will need the good version of Davis Brin this week, the one that doesn’t turn the ball over multiple times a game. The weakness for Old Dominion is their pass defense, which ranks 92nd in success rate. If Brin can play a game manager-plus role this week and limit turnovers, Tulsa should win this matchup. The risk in projecting at the 9.5-point spread is that they need to play a clean game, and the way ODU is rolling is too big of a number to cover.
Pick: ODU +9.5
Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State vs. Wyoming (-3)
Wyoming is a tough matchup for the Golden Flashes offense this week. Kent State plays with the second quickest pace in the country, running over 2.9 plays per minute, while Wyoming plays methodically, ranking 93rd in pace. Kent State ranks 124th in defensive success rate, allowing Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen to have big games.
Kent State should have a tough time with both phases, while Wyoming brings a very solid defense into this matchup. Before MAC conference play, the Golden Flashes struggled to produce offense against quality defensive play. Wyoming is closer to their non-conference schedule than the defenses they’ve played recently. Ranking 42nd in defensive success rate, Dustin Crum will have his hands full as they specifically rank 34th in defensive success rate against the pass. Look for Kent State to struggle more than they have against the easy MAC schedule.
Pick: Wyoming -3
Frisco Bowl: San Diego State vs. UTSA (-2.5)
Both these teams ended the year on somewhat of a poor note. UTSA did beat Western Kentucky but struggled the three weeks prior on both sides of the ball. On the other hand, San Diego State was embarrassed by Utah State in the Mountain West championship. The Aztecs are currently led by Matt Araiza – which is probably a bad thing. You don’t want your best player to be your punter. Araiza does give them an advantage in field position, which they rank eighth nationally. For San Diego State to win this game, they need to force turnovers and leverage short fields since Jordon Brookshire just isn’t it. Unfortunately, UTSA ranks fourth in turnover margin, averaging only a single turnover per game.
On offense, UTSA has been good behind Frank Harris and Zahkari Franklin, ranking ninth in passing success rate but face a secondary led by two First Team Mountain West selections in Patrick McMorris and Trenton Thompson. Knowing that Sincere McCormick may assume a bigger role despite his pedestrian end to the season. Both defenses in this matchup should limit the opponent, but only one offense has shown they can score consistently. UTSA should win a potentially low-scoring affair here.
Pick: UTSA -2.5
Armed Forces Bowl: Missouri vs Army (-3.5)
Missouri’s rushing defense has been mocked consistently this year, and you would think against Service Academy it’s wheels up, but this is a different unit than we’ve seen recently. In their last four games to end the season, they allowed 120.3 yards on 34.8 carries per game, good for 3.46 yards per carry. However, is their improvement enough to stop this Army rushing attack? I think it might be good enough to slow it down and allow Missouri to score points. Although they lead the nation in rushing yards per game at over 300 yards, they can still put up those numbers, and the game can remain competitive regardless, given Army doesn’t have any sort of prolific passing game.
Army’s defense is good, but it will still have problems stopping Tyler Badie, especially in the passing game. With Connor Bazelak healthy for Missouri, they should put up points against this army defense who has struggled with decent passing games, evidenced by a high-scoring Wake Forest game, Ball Sate’s efficacy in their win and struggles against a prolific Western Kentucky offense. Ultimately, I do think Army can pull out the win in this game, but the hook here makes me prefer Missouri.
Pick: Missouri +3.5
Fisco Football Classic: UNT vs. Miami-Ohio (-3.5)
North Texas pulled off a shocking upset in their final game of the season, beating UTSA by 22 points on route to a five-win streak to end their season. Peaking at the right time, DeAndre Torrey has led North Texas on the ground but gets a Miami team who ranks 33rd in rushing success rate on defense. The Mean Green may need to rely on quarterback Austin Aune who has been poor this season, evidenced by a nine to seven touchdown to interception ratio and the team’s 122nd ranked passing success rate. It will be tough sledding this week for North Texas on offense.
For Miami, they have a challenge in North Texas who, over the last half of the season, came on strong and ended with a defense allowing a 35.1% success rate, ranking top 15. North Texas hasn’t been as good in the passing game, ranking 96th in EPA per pass attempt and 35th in defensive passing success rate. Against Brett Gabbert and a prolific receiving duo of Jack Sorenson and Mac Hippenhammer, North Texas corners will likely struggle to contain this passing offense.
Pick: Miami (OH) -3.5
Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Florida (-7)
Two big questions face both teams here. First, for UCF, will they get Isaiah Bowser back from injury for this game? He did slow down this season before getting injured, but if he plays, he’s still their best offensive weapon and would be needed to keep pace with this Gators team. On Florida’s end, what happens with Kaiir Elam? Florida’s corner should be considered a high-end NFL prospect, so opting out of the bowl would make sense for him. The bigger loss was defensive end Zach Carter opting out for the Gators. However, given how poor the UCF passing game has been this season, Elam missing is a blow but not the worst-case scenario. This Florida defense ranks 16th in defensive success rate against the pass, facing a Mikey Keene-led passing game posting the 90th ranked offense in EPA per pass attempt.
Florida had their own set of issues all season resulting in the firing of Dan Mullen, but they are still better than UCF. Ranked 20th in passing success rate behind an explosive offense faces a defense who plays well against the pass led by David Wilson but outside of the second team all-conference safety, it’s a weak unit. Florida’s rushing offense has been good all season behind Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis and presents a size mismatch on the line against UCF. The Knights won’t have the firepower to keep up on offense this week despite the opt-outs and transfers.
Pick: Florida -7
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Memphis (-6.5)
Hawaii is in a freefall right now with reports of how disliked Todd Graham is in the locker room and transfers of vital offensive weapons in Chevan Cordeiro and Dae Dae Hunter. Losing Cordeiro, a Hawaii kid, is a terrible look for the program and indictment of everything occurring for the Rainbow Warriors right now. Before this news, I liked Memphis to win and cover, but now, I like the Tigers even more with the program’s issues.
Memphis, led by true freshman Seth Henigan should light up the Hawaii defense ranked 82nd in passing success rate on defense. Key receivers Calvin Austin III and Javon Ivory should be healthy and start this game. At the same time, Sean Dykes, First Team All-AAC tight end, should be able to create separation against a mediocre Hawaii back seven. For Hawaii, missing Cordeiro and Hunter is a significant loss on offense and ultimately limits their chance of keeping this game close. Brayden Schager played when Cordeiro was out earlier this season and struggled despite good matchups. Although this Memphis defense isn’t great (ranked 81st in defensive success rate), the Hawaii offense is likely the worst unit in this game.
Pick: Memphis -6.5
Camellia Bowl: Ball State v. Georgia State (-4.5)
The Shawn Elliot led-Georgia State football team ended the year incredibly hot winning four of their last five games on their way to a winning record. The Panthers have been led by a very strong defense that ranks 31st in defensive success rate and a top-20 rushing offense featuring a South Carolina corner, Jamyest Williams and Tucker Gregg. This offense should have no issues producing in this game against Ball State, who ranks 113th in defensive success rate and allow a 72.4% success rate on early downs.
Georgia State’s defense has been lights out on the other side of the ball, and Ball State has been inconsistent all season. Drew Plitt can play the best or worst game of his career each week and, in bad matchups, consistently struggles. Justin Hall should play and be healthy, given the time between his injury and the bowl game. Still, it likely won’t be enough to overcome this Panthers defense which ranks top-50 in defensive success rate against the pass and an elite early-down defensive success rate (62.6%). This spread is probably too low as is, but we’ll take what we can and ride Georgia State to a win.
Pick: Georgia St -4.5
Quick Lane Bowl: Nevada vs. Western Michigan (-3)
I’m going to keep this one short because it’s not more complicated than the state of Nevada football is in disarray. There are questions about whether Carson Strong will play, but it won’t matter behind the slew of transfers this week. Nevada lost vital pieces after Jay Norvell was announced at Colorado State in OL Jacob Gardner, WR Tory Horton, WR Melquan Stovall, WR Daiyan Henley. Additionally, tight end Cole Turner has already opted to sit out.
I preferred Western Michigan before the news as their rushing game faces off against Nevada’s 123rd ranked rushing defense which should see Sean Tyler explode in this matchup. The Wolfpack secondary is slightly better, ranking 53rd in success rate. Still, the Kaleb Eleby-led passing game presents too much explosiveness behind Skyy Moore and Corey Crooms for the Nevada corners to keep up. Look for Western Michigan to control the clock as a bottom-10 team in pace and keep what’s left of this Nevada offense off the field.
Pick: Western Michigan -3
Military Bowl: ECU vs. Boston College (-3.5)
With the news that Phil Jurkovec is returning for 2022, Boston College should take momentum into this game against an underwhelming ECU team. For the Eagles, the return of Jurkovec has resulted in renewed momentum despite a close loss to Florida State and a subpar performance against Wake Forest. This team looks much better than they did without Jurkovec under center. For most of the year, the Eagles have relied on their defense which finished 39th in passing success rate, limiting opponents to the ground game most weeks. It’s hard to evaluate this team as the quarterback situation settles, but this Jeff Hafley-coached team should show up to play hard.
For ECU, they ended the season as one of the hottest teams, going 4-1 in their last five games, including an upset win over Memphis and a close win over Navy. Quarterback Holton Ahlers has a difficult test in this matchup as Boston College’s best unit is their back seven. For the Pirates to pull off a win here, look for them to rely on their rushing game led by dynamic duo Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris. The rushing offense has relied on big plays to score this year and will need to do so again against this Eagles defense. I think with Jurkovec settling in and ECU depending on the big play, Boston College can pull out the win and cover here.
I will preface this pick: I feel the least confident about this game of any preview thus far. Both these teams are hard to read, so I’m not betting it regularly, but this is my recommendation for a Pick’Em contest.
Pick: BC -3.5