Wilson: College Football Bowl Confidence Pool Picks, Ranked 1-39
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyle Shurmur, Jake Fromm and Karan Higdon
- Collin Wilson dives into the college football bowl slate to give his confidence pool picks, ranking each game from 1-39.
- He's treading lightly early in bowl season with so little prep time and uncertainty for teams, then hammering some favorites later this month.
After six years at the University of Arkansas, pursuing all kinds of glory in the field of engineering, I took just one valuable life lesson away from college. If there was ever a portion of your calendar where time management was critical, it was the first two weeks of December.
Was this lesson learned from semester finals in University Physics, Thermodynamics, Advanced C+, or Differential Equations? Hell no! This was all about research for my bowl confidence pool and how the Copper Bowl-turned-Insight.com Bowl would fit into the overall picture.
Times have changed, as the postseason doubled in size over the past two decades to 39 games, plus another for the national title game. That’s why I’m here to help guide you through your confidence pool picks.
Let this column serve as a guiding light in the madness that includes the non-sponsored New Mexico Bowl or Camping World Stadium, which acts as the host site for three different bowls (Cure, Citrus, Camping World).
As for general strategy, I have found the most success following a rule of thumb that if you like an underdog, take them in the pool with low confidence. The Action Network’s Steve Petrella reminds you why underdogs have great value on the moneyline in bowls.
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The bowl confidence pool sortable rankings are below, followed by a short description of the game and reasoning for the selection. Be sure to follow up with The Action Network’s Bowl projections for side and total information and reference The Action Network’s bowl strategy piece by John Ewing for a deeper look into betting bowls.
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AutoNation Cure Bowl
Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
- Saturday, Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Tulane -3.5
- The Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette
- Confidence: 7
Two teams straight off Interstate-10 in Louisiana will play in Orlando. This game will be full of explosiveness — Rajin’ Cajuns on the ground and the Green Wave through the air.
The difference in this contest may be the revolving door around the Tulane offensive coordinator job. Head coach Willie Fritz fired Doug Ruse and hired Will Hall from Memphis. The Green Wave will use interim offensive coordinator Alex Atkins in the Cure Bowl. Atkins has been with Fritz since the Georgia Southern days, but has never called plays in his career.
New Mexico Bowl
North Texas vs. Utah State
- Saturday, Dec. 15, 2 p.m. ET
- The Line: Utah State -8.5
- The Pick: North Texas
- Confidence: 1
Both of these teams have a terrible S&P+ strength of schedule ranking at 128th for Utah State and 130th for North Texas.
There are two factors in taking the underdog for this bowl. First is the Mean Green’s fantastic havoc ranking against Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Secondly, Wells has depleted the Aggies staff in his transition to Texas Tech.
Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona State vs. Fresno State
- Saturday, Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Fresno State -4.5
- The Pick: Arizona State
- Confidence: 5
Plenty of Dec. 15 bowls have low confidence for good reason. Head coaches must mix bowl practices, finals week for the student athletes, and a Dec. 19 early signing period deadline for recruiting.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said winning the Mountain West is a penalty because the Bulldogs have to play so early in bowl season. That’s why the conference is ending its relationship with the Las Vegas Bowl.
Arizona State may have lost N’Keal Harry to the NFL draft, but its the 3-3-5 defense that will give Fresno State issues. The Bulldogs offense saw this scheme in a non-cover against San Diego State earlier this season and struggled at times.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern
- Saturday, Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Georgia Southern -1.5
- The Pick: Georgia Southern
- Confidence: 17
Eastern Michigan is great at defending the pass, which has no value in this game. Georgia Southern’s triple-option attack will control the trench and the clock, taking advantage of the Eagles’ defensive rank of 114th in opportunity rate and 88th in stuff rate.
The defensive front seven for Eastern Michigan will need to resolve its triple-option issues from the Army game, when it allowed 415 yards. The Black Knights held the ball for more than 45 minutes.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State
- Saturday, Dec. 15, 9 p.m. ET
- The Line: App State -6.5
- The Pick: Middle Tennessee
- Confidence: 2
Here’s another instance of loving an underdog so much I am willing to take them straight-up at low confidence in all my pools. The stat profile for Appalachian State is fantastic, but coach Scott Satterfield has moved on to Louisville, taking both coordinators, with a bevy of assistants expected to follow suit.
As for Middle Tennessee, this is the last game head coach Rick Stockstill will coach his son, quarterback Brent Stockstill. Four of the top six receiving targets are seniors, making this a highly-motivated Blue Raiders squad playing in their fourth straight bowl. Look for the Middle Tennessee defense ranking fifth in passing downs sack rate to assist in the win.
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
Northern Illinois vs. UAB
- Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET
- The Line: UAB -2.5
- The Pick: Northern Illinois
- Confidence: 21
Huskies head coach Rod Carey has been reminded all week about never winning or covering a bowl in his five attempts.
This game will be a defensive grind, but expect Northern Illinois to be better in all aspects. The Huskies sport a Strength of Schedule of 82nd, per S&P+, having games earlier this season against Iowa, Utah and Florida State.
UAB’s offensive line is 60th in sack rate, leaving room for NIU to get plenty of pressure with a defensive line havoc ranking of 13th. NIU’s rush defense is No. 6 in S&P+, which should take away the Blazers best weapon in running back Spencer Brown.
Expect the Huskies mobile quarterback Marcus Childers, who has 778 rushing yards on the season, to take advantage of a defense that ranks 129th in giving up a first down on first or second down.
DXL Frisco Bowl
San Diego State vs. Ohio
- Wednesday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. ET
- The Line: Ohio -3
- The Pick: San Diego State
- Confidence: 4
How do you stop the high-powered Ohio attack that averages 3.2 rushing touchdowns a game? Generating a rushing attack and dominating time of possession is one key to stopping Frank Solich, who has covered five of his past six bowls.
Both of these teams like to run, ranking in the top 30 in standard and passing downs run rate. That favors the Aztecs, who have given up just 14 rushing touchdowns this season, and can take advantage of a Bobcats defense that ranks 100th in rushing S&P+.
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
Marshall vs. South Florida
- Thursday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET
- The Line: Marshall -2.5
- The Pick: Marshall
- Confidence: 26
Motivation may be an issue for South Florida, as this game is played in its home stadium in Tampa. Marshall has had plenty of success in the Tampa-St. Pete area with victories over Florida International in 2011 and Connecticut in 2015 at Tropicana Field.
This is Doc Holliday’s 27th bowl game in his coaching career, and he’s gone 5-0 straight-up and against the spread since he became the head coach at Marshall.
On the South Florida side, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert moves on to McNeese State after a number of years with head coach Charlie Strong. Statistically, South Florida is outside the top 100 in a number of red zone categories and bottom 20 in penalty yards per game.
The Thundering Herd are 12th overall in defensive success rate with a ranking of eighth in sack rate against a Bulls offensive line that is 114th in passing downs.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl
Florida International vs. Toledo
- Friday, Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Toledo -5
- The Pick: Toledo
- Confidence: 24
Rockets head coach Jason Candle is familiar with Florida International quarterback James Morgan, who went for five touchdowns with Bowling Green against Toledo in 2016. The Golden Panthers have the 127th S&P+ ranked Strength of Schedule with a fortunate +9 in the net turnovers department.
Both teams are highly explosive and a high-scoring game is expected, but Florida International’s offensive efficiency of 93rd overall should produce more opportunities for Toledo to score.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan vs. BYU
- Saturday, Dec. 21, 4 p.m. ET
- The Line: BYU -12
- The Pick: BYU
- Confidence: 33
With just six wins and no conference affiliation, BYU was happy to be selected for a bowl game. Even with Mountain West Wyoming having six wins, ESPN (which owns the Potato Bowl) selected the Cougars to take on Western Michigan. There is familiarity for the BYU players after playing on the blue turf in a Week 10 heartbreaking loss.
As for Western Michigan, not only has it had the easier schedule, the Broncos are 116th in defensive field position, 121st in overall defensive IsoPPP and 130th in special teams S&P+. BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson had a success rate above average in three of his final four games, and should continue that trend here.
Jared Birmingham Bowl
Memphis vs. Wake Forest
- Saturday, Dec. 22, 1:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Memphis -5
- The Pick: Memphis
- Confidence: 11
The Darrell Henderson announcement could have a reverse affect on the point spread and the outlook of this game. There are serviceable backups for the Tigers, but it is hard to replace a 1,909-yard back who ran for 22 touchdowns.
Memphis should score at will in this contest, with a finishing drives rank of eighth to the Wake Forest defensive ranking of 124th. Both teams are top 20 in adjusted pace, but the special teams rank of 28th for Memphis and 72nd for the Demon Deacons could be the difference.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Army
- Saturday, Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Army -3
- The Pick: Army
- Confidence: 10
Houston has not had much good news lately after losing three of their past four, Ed Oliver’s decision to sit the remainder of the season, and injury to star quarterback D’Eriq King. Head coach Major Applewhite fired his defensive coordinator after the 52-31 loss to Memphis, and now must prepare for the Army triple option.
Houston’s defensive rank of 42nd in opportunity rate and 73rd in stuff rate will make it tough overcome Army’s style of play. Take note of the time of possession stats for these teams, as Army is first in the nation and Houston is last. The Cougars will need to score every time they touch the ball to keep up.
Dollar General Bowl
Buffalo vs. Troy
- Saturday, Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET
- The Line: Buffalo -2.5
- The Pick: Troy
- Confidence: 6
One of the great mysteries in college football is how Troy coach Neal Brown is still there, since better programs should be seeking out his services. In this spot we’ll back his Trojans, who have the much better special teams with ranking of 11th to Buffalo’s 124th.
Both teams cancel out strengths on each side of the ball, as Buffalo will have a tough time passing while the Troy rushing attack faces a tough front seven.
The difference in this game may be Troy’s 15th-ranked defense in rushing S&P+ and familiarity in Ladd Peebles Stadium. The Trojans won earlier this year against South Alabama, while beating the MAC conference in the 2016 Dollar General Bowl against Ohio.
SoFi Hawai’i Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. Hawai’i
- Saturday, Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Hawaii -1
- The Pick: Louisiana Tech
- Confidence: 3
Ever since this bowl was announced, I have been shopping daily for WAC Conference merchandise. Hawaii leads this series 8-2 from their days prior to conference realignment. There is a slight offensive edge statistically in each teams rush and pass unit, and with both teams outside the top 100 in standard and passing downs run rate, this game could go past 2 a.m. on the east coast.
I am backing Louisiana Tech, which is 11th in defensive back havoc. That will be needed against Rainbow Warriors quarterback Cole McDonald.
Bulldogs head coach Skip Holtz has experience in this bowl, winning with East Carolina in 2007. As of this writing, Hawaii is the favorite at several books, which brings the old trend of Warriors coach Nick Rolovich covering just twice as a favorite in three years on the island.
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
Boston College vs. Boise State
- Wednesday, Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Boise State -2.5
- The Pick: Boise State
- Confidence: 15
Boise State was happy to get a bowl outside of Idaho, but don’t expect a large crowd in the Cotton Bowl at noon after Christmas.
Both teams sport similar strength of schedule and poor special teams rankings, but the Broncos rush defense should be the difference.
BC star running back A.J. Dillion will face a Boise unit that ranks 21st in opportunity and 27th in stuff rate defensively. This will be quarterback Brett Rypien’s last game and he is 4-4 against power five programs in his career.
Look for third-down conversions to be a big factor, as the Broncos rank third in the nation to the Eagles’ 115th.
Quick Lane Bowl
Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech
- Wednesday, Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET
- The Line: Georgia Tech -4
- The Pick: Minnesota
- Confidence: 12
While the motivational angle would seem to side with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson retiring, several players took to Twitter to voice displeasure with a Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. The Military Bowl was the desired destination for Johnson with his long ties to the Navy program.
The coach’s offices in Atlanta are a bit crowded currently, with incumbent coach Geoff Collins next in line while Johnson’s staff searches for their next employment. Specifically, excellent defensive coordinator Nate Woody may already have his sights set on rejoining Scott Satterfield, who recently took the Louisville job after leaving App State.
Statistically, Minnesota head coach should be well-prepared for the triple option. After firing their defensive coordinator after a loss to Illinois, the Gophers have played better defense, flashing a stuff rate of ninth in the country against the rush. Coach PJ Fleck will have Minnesota upset-ready in a state where he has deep recruiting ties.
Cal vs. TCU
- Wednesday, Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET
- The Line: Cal -1
- The Pick: Cal
- Confidence: 23
The coaches in this bowl have known each other quite some time, with Gary Patterson and Justin Wilcox facing each other in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl and 2009 Fiesta Bowl while Wilcox was at Boise State.
Patterson has yet to lose to the Pac-12 with a 6-0 record straight-up, but the quarterback room is thin in Fort Worth. Injured quarterback Shawn Robinson is transferring, Mike Collins is still listed on the injury report, and fifth year senior Grayson Muehlstein has 43 attempts on the season.
Walk-On’s Independence Bowl
Temple vs. Duke
- Thursday, Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Temple -3.5
- The Pick: Temple
- Confidence: 14
Generally, we do not look to back interim coaches, but there are an unusual set of circumstances going on with Temple. Coach Geoff Collins has moved on to Georgia Tech, but told all Temple assistant coaches to stay in place for bowl preparations because of his love for these players.
Temple has 19 seniors on this roster that are in their fourth consecutive bowl game. The Blue Devils enter the game losing their previous two games by a combined score of 94-13.
Duke has only three interceptions on the season, while Temple has the top rated defense in passing S&P+.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Miami vs. Wisconsin
- Thursday, Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET
- The Line: Miami -4
- The Pick: Miami
- Confidence: 30
A rematch of the 2017 Orange Bowl will have Miami looking for revenge. The Hurricanes lead the nation in overall havoc, while Wisconsin’s core issue is the defensive line that ranks just 129th in havoc. That is good news for freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry, who has struggled in the passing success rate, going as low as 17% in his final game against Pitt.
Miami has the defense in the trenches to hang with Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor. The Hurricanes defense is second in the nation — the only defense better is Michigan, which allowed only 13 points against the Badgers.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
Baylor vs. Vanderbilt
- Thursday, Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET
- The Line: Vanderbilt -3.5
- The Pick: Vanderbilt
- Confidence: 28
Matt Rhule does have a previous victory over Derek Mason as the Temple coach in 2014, a 37-7 win for the Owls. These two teams ended the regular season on different trajectories, with Vanderbilt winning three of its final four and Baylor losers in four of its final six.
Star wide receiver Jalen Hurd will not play because of a knee injury. But this game comes down to Vanderbilt’s explosiveness on both sides of the ball. The Commodores defense is 24th in overall IsoPPP, while quarterback Kyle Shurmur will have his final college game against a Baylor defense that is 101st in defending explosiveness in passing downs.
The Bears are just 111th on overall havoc, and should be bullied by an SEC team in their home state.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Purdue vs. Auburn
- Friday, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Purdue +3.5
- The Pick: Purdue
- Confidence: 20
Motivation is high for Purdue, which secured head coach Jeff Brohm’s future and sold more than its allotted bowl tickets for Nashville. Auburn may lack the motivation for this bowl after preseason expectations of competing for a New Year’s Six bowl fell short.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been involved in some controversy, but will play after declaring for the NFL Draft. The issue may be the Auburn defense that ranks 105th overall in IsoPPP. That could be a rough formula against a Purdue offense that is 10th offensively in the same category.
The Boilermaker roster is filled with seniors looking to leave West Lafayette on a winning note.
Camping World Bowl
West Virginia vs. Syracuse
- Friday, Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET
- The Line: WVU -1.5
- The Pick: West Virginia
- Confidence: 22
This could be the biggest shocker of the column, as the decision for Will Grier to sit out the bowl in preparation for the NFL draft has moved the Syracuse point spread from +7 to +1.5. Backup Jack Allison has 10 career attempts, but was highly recruited from the highest class of football in Florida.
Another loss for West Virginia is blindside tackle Yodny Cajuste, as the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year has also elected to sit out to prep for the NFL Draft. While it is unknown what the true point spread value of those losses are, we had a similar situation a few weeks ago with Central Florida. McKenzie Milton’s injury saw a Memphis +10 opener get as low as +3 before UCF went on to win 56-41.
The market saw resistance to Syracuse at +1.5, where the number currently sits. West Virginia has other advantages in this game, including a rushing attack that is 29th in explosiveness against the Orange defense that is 96th in the same category. Expect this offensive play calling to lean on the rush and put Allison in low-risk passing situations.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Washington State vs. Iowa State
- Friday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET
- The Line: Washington State -3.5
- The Pick: Iowa State
- Confidence: 9
The big question is Washington State’s motivation after having sights set on a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl. Mike Leach is 1-3 against the spread in bowls with Wazzu, with the one victory coming over an interim staff.
If any defense is familiar with the Air Raid, it is Iowa State after playing in the Big 12. Teams like Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia run a version of the Air Raid that the Cyclones have had success against under head coach Matt Campbell.
Washington State loves to pass, ranking 130th in standard downs run rate, while Iowa State is 23rd in passing downs S&P+ defense. Ride the Cyclones, who have won seven of their last eight games.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Florida vs. Michigan
- Saturday, Dec. 29, 12 p.m. ET
- The Pick: Michigan
- Confidence: 34
Although there has been coaching change on the Florida side, there have been a couple of Michigan victories in this series recently. The Wolverines opened last season with a 33-17 victory and also won the 2015 Citrus Bowl 41-7 against Florida.
Quarterback Shea Patterson is confirmed for the bowl game, where Michigan outranks Florida in S&P+ offense, defense and special teams. Florida’s best offense has been the running game, but Michigan fields the fifth ranked S&P+ defense that will control the line of scrimmage.
Look for Jim Harbaugh to make a statement in this game to get Michigan on track for 2019.
Virginia vs. South Carolina
- Saturday, Dec. 29, 12 p.m. ET
- The Line: South Carolina -4
- The Pick: South Carolina
- Confidence: 13
Virginia stumbles into this game losing three of its final four games and has not won a bowl since 2005. Although some of the advanced stats may favor Virginia, there is a massive difference in the S&P+ strength of schedule, where the Gamecocks are ninth to the Cavaliers rank fo 97th.
Another deciding factor in this selection is the special teams, where South Carolina is third overall to Virginia’s 70th. Look for the Gamecocks passing attack and 34th overall ranking in explosiveness as the edge in this game.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Nevada
- Saturday, Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m. ET
- The Line: Arkansas State -1
- The Pick: Arkansas State
- Confidence: 27
This confidence ranking will force you to have an extra screen dedicated to this game, which is sandwiched between the Peach and Cotton bowls.
This bowl features two teams going in opposite directions. Nevada ended the season in a non-cover to San Jose State and a straight-up loss to UNLV. Arkansas State won five of its last six games, only losing a 4-point game to ULL.
The Red Wolves will have success against Wolfpack quarterback Ty Gangi, as Arkansas State is 17th overall havoc and 19th in the secondary. Third-down conversions favor Arkansas State as well, ranking 40th in the nation while Nevada’s conversions percentage is 116th in FBS.
It is hard to trust a team that cannot protect the football, as the Wolfpack offense gave the ball away 26 times during the season. Look for Arkansas State, which is already playing a heavy emotional game for its coach, to take full advantage of a Nevada team struggling down the stretch.
College Football Playoff: Cotton Bowl
Clemson vs. Notre Dame
- Saturday, Dec. 29, 4 p.m. ET
- The Line: Clemson -11.5
- The Pick: Clemson
- Confidence: 36
The Irish run to the playoff has been a tremendous story, but Notre Dame’s toughest game came in Week 1 against Michigan. Since then, the Irish have played within 10 points of S&P+ ranked 117th Ball State, 68th Vanderbilt, 67th Pitt, 80th Northwestern and 39th USC.
Although Clemson has the easiest strength of schedule of all playoff teams, the Tigers have put teams away since the scare in September against Syracuse.
Notre Dame will have issues rushing the ball, with a stuff rate and opportunity rate outside the top 100. Notre Dame will have issues passing against a Clemson defense that is fourth overall in havoc rate.
The only area Notre Dame may have advantages is punt return efficiency, but first the Irish must focus on getting the Tigers to punt. Expect Clemson to play in the national title game.
College Football Playoff: Orange Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Alabama
- Saturday, Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET
- The Line: Alabama -14.5
- The Pick: Alabama
- Confidence: 39
The Oklahoma offense can trade punches with Alabama for a certain length in this game, but it’s the defense that will decide the cover. The Crimson Tide’s defense ranks eighth overall in S&P+ compared to Oklahoma’s 89th ranking. Alabama has the second-overall ranked defensive unit in havoc, meaning Heisman winner Kyler Murray will be under constant pressure.
The Crimson Tide rank first in the nation in sack rate, so expect to see Murray out of the pocket and scrambling often. The number of Alabama stops will only determine the cover, and not the straight-up winner for a chance to play in the national title game. Alabama rolls here.
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
- Monday, Dec. 31, 12 p.m. ET
- The Line: Cincinnati -5
- The Pick: Cincinnati
- Confidence: 16
After losing six of eight games to end the season, Virginia Tech beat Virginia and Marshall to make bowl season. With a 30% postgame win expectancy against the Cavaliers, the Hokies needed a bit of luck to end up in this bowl.
Cincinnati has played above expectations all season, finishing 10-2. The Bearcats have not won a bowl since the 2012 Belk against Duke. The big difference in this game are the defenses, with Cincinnati in the top 20 in S&P+ ranks with Virginia Tech ranking 79th.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Stanford vs. Pitt
- Monday, Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET
- The Line: Stanford -6.5
- The Pick: Stanford
- Confidence: 32
If you are a listener of the Action College Podcast, you know we have often described Pitt and Stanford as one-trick pony offenses. The Panthers excel in rush efficiency and explosiveness, while the Cardinal implements a jump-ball passing attack that is impossible to defend without the right personnel.
Pitt is 95th in defending explosiveness in passing downs, which could lead to plenty of scoring for Stanford. The Cardinal also excel on special teams, ranking 10th in S&P+ for all FBS teams. David Shaw has experience making the trip to El Paso after winning the 2016 Sun Bowl.
Michigan State vs. Oregon
- Monday, Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET
- The Line: Oregon -3
- The Pick: Michigan State
- Confidence: 25
Justin Herbert is generating attention from NFL scouts, as the Oregon quarterback is eligible to enter the draft. There’s no word as of this writing on his status for the New Year’s Eve game, but the current point spread of Oregon -3 would have a major shift without him.
A Herbert-led Ducks offense thrives in passing downs, ranking 11th overall in S&P+. Michigan State is one of the best in the nation in defending passing downs, with an S&P+ rank of No. 4. The Spartans have an overall havoc rank of sixth and should generate turnovers whether Herbert plays or not.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
- Monday, Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET
- The Line: Missouri -8
- The Pick: Missouri
- Confidence: 38
There is zero chance Drew Lock has forgotten about “Secure the Bag.” The incident in the 2017 Texas Bowl should have Lock heavily motivated to do everything he can to beat an Oklahoma State squad that beat Texas this season.
Lock has held that chip on his shoulder for a year, and this will be his last game with Mizzou. Oklahoma State became tough to predict in the second half of the season, with victories over Texas and West Virginia but upset losses to Baylor and TCU. The Pokes have had success running the ball, ranking 25th in S&P+ rush offense, but that might play into the hands of a Missouri rush defense that has been fabulous in 2018.
The Tigers rank seventh in rushing S&P+ defense, owning the trench and limiting explosiveness. Expect Oklahoma State to have more offensive issues while Drew Lock dices up a Pokes defense that is 83rd against pass explosiveness.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
Northwestern vs. Utah
- Monday, Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET
- The Line: Utah -7
- The Pick: Utah
- Confidence: 35
The prospect of quarterback Tyler Huntley being cleared for contact will boost the Utes chances in San Diego. Huntley has thrown for 1,788 yards and ran for 440 while collecting 16 touchdowns this season. Utah’s defense played well in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but a return from Huntley should put every team in the conference on notice for the 2019 season.
Northwestern succeeded against teams that had plenty of penalties and issues in the red zone. Utah has done neither of those things, averaging just 47.8 yards per game in penalties with a top 10 red zone scoring percentage of 91%.
With a negative yards per play differential, the Wildcats have overachieved in a big way this season. Expect that to end against Utah.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
NC State vs. Texas A&M
- Monday, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
- The Line: Texas A&M -5.5
- The Pick: Texas A&M
- Confidence: 18
The trendy pick would have been North Carolina State until announcements that leading tackler Germaine Pratt and its top wide receiver Kelvin Harmon are opting to sit out for the NFL Draft. Offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford is also leaving the Wolfpack to work with Scott Satterfield at Louisville.
The Wolfpack have a solid passing offense with Ryan Finley, ranking 13th in passing S&P+ but only 73rd in explosiveness. That is where Texas A&M can be beat, ranking 124th in defensive IsoPPP.
The Wolfpack will be efficient in moving through the air, but an Aggies passing downs sack rate of 15th and defensive back havoc ranking of 16th should secure these confidence points in Jimbo Fisher’s first bowl in College Station.
Mississippi State vs. Iowa
- Tuesday, Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET
- The Line: Mississippi State -6.5
- The Pick: Mississippi State
- Confidence: 29
The key to stopping Mississippi State is stopping Nick Fitzgerald from leaving the pocket. Iowa does have a fantastic defense, but the majority of that is against the pass. The Hawkeyes are 107th in defensive stuff rate. Iowa lost against a mobile quarterback in Trace McSorley in Week 9.
Once Fitzgerald gets the running game going, it will open passing lanes against an Iowa defense that is just 56th in defensive pass completion rate. Joe Moorhead had plenty of success as offensive coordinator at Penn State against Iowa in 2016 and 2017.
VRBO Citrus Bowl
Kentucky vs. Penn State
- Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
- The Line: PSU -6.5
- The Pick: Penn State
- Confidence: 8
The news of linebacker Josh Allen playing in the Citrus Bowl is huge boost for the Wildcats, who will be taking on quarterback Trace McSorley in his last collegiate game. Expect high-quality, NFL-caliber defense in this game with both teams in the top 10 in overall havoc.
The difference in this game is Penn State’s passing attack, paired with red zone efficiency. The Nittany Lions are sixth in red zone offense compared to Kentucky at 100th. Penn State also has a slight edge in passing downs, where the Wildcats are 88th in efficiency and 81st against explosiveness.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
LSU vs. Central Florida
- Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
- The Line: LSU -7.5
- The Pick: LSU
- Confidence: 37
Central Florida makes another New Year’s Six game, this time against a team that is heavily motivated to snap its 25-game winning streak. LSU coach Ed Orgeron has mentioned the winning the streak, also saying the seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M and Citrus Bowl loss last season are motivation for the game.
UCF did beat Memphis in the AAC Championship, but in doing so gave LSU plenty of game tape for preparation of quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. The quarterback had four rushing touchdowns in the red zone and will be the primary focus for the LSU defensive front seven.
The Tigers played the toughest strength of schedule according to S&P+, and should bring plenty of skill in the trenches to win this game.
Ohio State vs. Washington
- Tuesday, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
- The Line: Ohio State -6.5
- The Pick: Ohio State
- Confidence: 19
This will be Urban Meyer’s last game at Ohio State. While there is motivation on the Buckeyes side, plenty of motivation exists for a Washington team that is loaded with seniors that have never played in the Rose Bowl, including quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. While The Action Network Power Ratings make this game Ohio State -5, there is reason to believe this will be a close one.
The Buckeyes are led offensively in the passing game, as quarterback Dwayne Haskins is third in efficiency and first in completion rate in all of FBS. The Huskies defense is first in the nation against pass explosiveness and ranks 15th in defensive back havoc.
Haskins will be able to move the chains — it’s the red zone where both teams struggle. Washington and Ohio State rank 111th and 119th red zone offense, respectively. This should be a Washington cover, but Ohio State will have enough rushing and special teams to get the Urban Meyer a retirement victory.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Texas vs. Georgia
- Tuesday, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET
- The Line: Georgia -11.5
- The Pick: Georgia
- Confidence: 31
This is the classic “SEC team misses national title chance” letdown spot. It is almost the easiest money all bowl season to take the underdog, and that underdog happens to be Tom Herman in this game.
This SEC trend goes deep, including the past two Auburn bowl losses, top 10 Mississippi State and Ole Miss both losing New Year’s Six games in 2014, and No. 3 Alabama losing a Sugar Bowl that was not for the national title in 2013.
The curse is real, and Georgia fits the profile after missing the College Football Playoff only to get Texas in a New Year’s Six. We would have the highest confidence in the Bulldogs for a regular season game, but we scale back on the confidence points in a spot that favors the Longhorns against the spread.
Editor’s note: The opinions on these games are from the individual writer and are based on his research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.