Welcome to part one of the SportsAction 2017-18 College Football Bowl Preview. Make sure you subscribe to our Degen and Juice podcast for even more in depth weekly bowl previews.

This preview contains a combination of point spreads, advanced statistics, motivational angles, and coaching changes. You can follow all of my plays for free on the SportsAction App through the [App Store] or [Google Play].

All lines taken from Pinnacle 12/14


R+L Carriers Bowl

Teams:  Troy v North Texas
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Date: December 16th, 1:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Troy -7 Troy -2 Troy -3.5 62

Notes: We start the FBS Bowl slate with Sun Belt co-champ Troy taking on Conference USA runner-up North Texas. Troy brings their top-25 S&P+ defense into this matchup with the objective of slowing down the North Texas top-25 S&P+ ranked offense. The Mean Green have featured one of the most efficient offenses in the nation this season, but they did recently lose their star running back, Jeffery Wilson. They will face a Troy defense that ranks No. 1 in finishing drives (points against past the 40-yard line), and No. 1 in red zone scoring percentage. The current spread does provide value on the Mean Green, as my power numbers and S&P+ both make this below a four-point game on a neutral field.

While this game matches up strength on strength in the Trojan defense and the Mean Green offense, the winner and total may be decided on the other side of the ball for each team. Troy’s offense is not particularly good at throwing the ball, ranking 92nd in Passing S&P+ and 106th in Passing IsoPPP. However, the Trojans should have success moving the ball on the ground in short areas, as they rank 32nd in Power Success Rate and will face a Mean Green defense that ranks 88th defending the same category.

In regards to the total, the under 63 might be worth a look as long as North Texas can protect the ball. (They currently rank 113th in turnover margin). Troy’s defense should ultimately do enough to contain a very efficient North Texas offense to get the win, but they do not have the offensive firepower to pull away. Also, keep an eye on special teams; North Texas’ rank of 51st in Special Teams S&P+ far out-paces Troy’s rank of 122nd in the same category.

From a motivation standpoint, Troy won their bowl game last season, but North Texas is seeking its first bowl victory since 2013. Additionally, North Texas is holding a player/spirit squad remote graduation in New Orleans the night before kick, so it appears that the UNT administration is doing all it can to get students from Denton to New Orleans.

Useless Trends

  • Troy is 7-1 straight up the past eight games in this series against North Texas
  • New Orleans Bowl underdogs are 5-3 straight up the past eight games

The Pick: North Texas +6.5


AutoNation Cure Bowl

Teams:  Georgia State v Western Kentucky
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: December 16th, 2:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
WKU -6 WKU -8 WKU -4 53

Notes: I think it’s safe to say that the New Orleans and Las Vegas Bowls will get primary TV attention while this Cure Bowl matchup will be relegated to a secondary screen. Georgia State had a tough November, losing their final two games to Appalachian State and Idaho, while squeaking out victories against FBS bottom dwellers Texas State and Georgia Southern. Led by senior quarterback Connor Manning, Georgia State will face a Hilltopper defense that ranks 123rd in Passing S&P+.

Western Kentucky certainly had its fair of struggles in 2017, as the offense rushed for the least amount of yards in FBS and allowed 42 sacks of senior quarterback Mike White. However, Georgia State cannot capitalize on either, ranking 127th in Defensive Adjusted Sack Rate and 76th in Rush Defense Power success rate. Western Kentucky’s upperclassmen are no strangers to winning bowl games in Florida; the Hilltoppers won the Boca Raton Bowl and the Miami Beach Bowl in the previous two seasons.

My numbers make this a Western Kentucky cover, while S&P+ calls for a Georgia State ATS victory. This game features two senior quarterbacks facing Passing S&P+ defenses with ranks of 115th and 127th, which certainly makes the over worth a look. Personally, I will play the side live, looking for Georgia State over a touchdown and Western Kentucky at less than a field goal. With both teams having senior quarterbacks attacking poor pass defenses, there should be plenty of points scored.

Useless Trends

  • Western Kentucky is 1-8 ATS since 2016 against non-conference teams
  • Western Kentucky last played in this stadium in 1963

The Pick: Over 52


Las Vegas Bowl

Teams:  Boise State v Oregon
Location:  Las Vegas, Nevada
Date:  December 16th, 3:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Oregon -7 Oregon -8.5 Oregon +1.5 61

Notes: After the departure of Willie Taggart to Florida State, Oregon first named co-offensive Coordinator Mario Cristobal interim head coach, and then eventually the new permanent head coach. Cristobal will head into this Las Vegas Bowl with a healthy quarterback in Justin Herbert. There is a big discrepancy in my power number versus S&P+, which could be attributed to the Herbert factor. The Ducks went 6-1 with Herbert under center, and ranked as one of the top offenses in the nation. Without him, their offense struggled immensely.

The Ducks should not only be motivated to play for their new head coach (who received strong vocal support from players and fans), but maybe, just maybe, they have been reminded of their two previous games against Boise State that ended in losses (2008 and the famous LeGarrette Blount 2009 game).

Make sure you stay up to date on the status of Oregon RB Royce Freeman, who did participate in practices this past weekend, which I interpret as a good sign. His status should certainly have an effect on the point spread. I also expect a few headlines with both teams in Sin City for four-plus days, attending similar events leading up to kick.

Oregon’s advanced stats are misleading on the offensive side of the ball, as true freshman Braxton Burmeister took the reigns at quarterback for multiple games when Justin Herbert sat with a collarbone injury. The biggest improvement for Oregon during 2017 was their defense, which finished in the top 30 in a number of advanced rush defense metrics (Opportunity Rate, Power Success Rate and Stuff Rate). They also improved in getting to the quarterback, with an adjusted sack rate of 24th, which should get enough pressure to slow down a Boise State offense that ranks 30th in Passing Success Rate.

I am siding with the Ducks, as I expect them to score any time they get past the 40-yard line. Oregon ranks third in the nation offensive finishing drives, while the Boise defense ranks 106th in finishing drives allowed.

Useless Trends

  • Boise State is 8-1 straight up in the past nine games
  • Oregon was 6-1 straight up and 5-2 ATS in Justin Herbert starts

The Pick: Oregon -7


Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Teams:  Colorado State v Marshall
Location:
 Albuquerque, New Mexico
Date: December 16th, 4:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Col State -5.5 Col State -4.5 Col State -3 58

Notes: Both Colorado State and Marshall ended the season poorly, as the Thundering Herd lost four of their last five, and the Rams lost three of their last four. Colorado State did win this same bowl in 2013 (against Washington State) and 2008 (against Fresno State), and may be the more comfortable team in the high-altitude setting that should be much closer to home for most of their roster.

The spotlight will be on the matchup between Colorado State’s 14th ranked S&P+ offense and Marshall’s 22nd ranked S&P+ defense. The Marshall defense is led by linebacker Chase Hancock (17 run stuffs, nine tackles for toss, two sacks), who will try to contain the dynamic Ram duo of quarterback Nick Stevens and WR Michael Gallup. Marshall ‘s experience playing against a number of pass-first teams from Conference USA should help.

There isn’t a lot of value in the current line, as my power numbers make this Colorado State -4.5 and S&P+ has this at-3. The key stat that could make a difference is third-down conversions. Both Colorado State and Marshall rank high in conversion rate (second and 20th, respectively), but the Rams’ third-down defense is much less efficient. Colorado State ranks 112th in the nation in opponent third-down conversion percentage, which Marshall should capitalize on with their outstanding receivers and respectable offensive rushing power success rate (40th).

Useless Trends

  • Colorado State finished the season 0-5 ATS
  • Marshall finished 1-4 straight up to end the season
  • Colorado State is 0-3 ATS in their last three bowl games

The Pick: Marshall +5.5


Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Teams:  Middle Tennessee State v Arkansas State
Location: Montgomery
Date: December 16th, 8:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Ark St -3.5 pk Ark St -8 63

Notes: Middle Tennessee State has many of the same advanced stat issues that we discussed with Oregon, as the Blue Raiders’ star quarterback Brett Stockstill missed six games, diluting their offensive stats. Backup John Urzua may have thrown for an equal number of yards in as many attempts, but his 7-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio pales in comparison to Stockstill’s 14-5. The Arkansas State defense ranks 96th in defending passing explosiveness, which could be an issue against a healthy Brent Stockstill.

The Arkansas State offense can put up yards in a hurry as they showed in a season-ending loss to Troy in which they put up 606 yards. However, I think they could struggle some against an improved Middle Tennessee defense that ranks 23rd and 39th in defending rushing explosiveness and passing explosiveness, respectively. Most of the betting public will focus on an Arkansas State offense that ranks 11th nationally in total offense, but don’t sleep on a Blue Raider defense that ranks in the top third nationally in opponent yards per play.

MTSU should do just enough defensively while allowing Brent Stockstill to expose Arkansas State’s 101st ranked Passing Downs IsoPPP defense to pull out a cover.

Useless Trends

  • Middle Tennessee is 1-5 straight up and ATS in six bowl games under current head coach Rick Stockstill
  • Arkansas State is 4-1 ATS in their last five games against Middle Tennessee

The Pick: Middle Tennessee +4

*All stats retrieved from footballstudyhall.com and NCAA.com following games played on 12/2.


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