2021 College Football Bowl Confidence Draft: Ianniello & McGrath’s Favorite Picks
Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Graham Mertz (5) and the Wisconsin offense.
If you haven’t been following, Action Network analysts Mike Ianniello and Tanner McGrath have created a heated rivalry. Each week, Ianniello and McGrath bet different sides on a college football game, arguing their picks in a head-to-head column.
To end the season, the two engaged in a fantasy-style bowl pick draft, wherein they drafted their top straight-up picks for this year’s bowl games. Whichever writer wins more games will ride off into the sunset with their own personal “bowl win.”
Given Ianniello won the season series, 6-4, he earned the right to pick first.
Current Leaderboard & Betting Results
Betting results updated as of Saturday, Jan. 1.
Bowl Game Draft: Recap
Cotton Bowl · Dec. 31
Ianniello: This is the biggest spread of any bowl game, and rightfully so. Cincinnati is absolutely deserving of a playoff spot, but Alabama is still in a different class. Don’t overthink this; Nick Saban’s team is the clear first pick.
Bahamas Bowl · Dec. 17
McGrath: Not only is Middle Tennesee bad, but the Blue Raiders are also without their first- and second-string quarterbacks. Four of Toledo’s five losses this season came by three points or less, and it led the MAC in scoring offense and defense.
Liberty Bowl · Dec. 28
Ianniello: There is no better motivation than cold hard cash. Mike Leach believes he is still owed $2.5 million from his time at Texas Tech and sued the school to try and get the money he feels he is owed. This game is personal for him, and I expect him to run it up.
Cure Bowl · Dec. 17
McGrath: Northern Illinois cannot keep doing this. It’s won twice as a double-digit underdog. But the Huskies are bottom-10 in every defensive metric, and they will get shredded by Grayson McCall and the nation’s top offense in Success Rate.
Las Vegas Bowl · Thursday, Dec. 30
Ianniello: Wisconsin won seven of its last eight games by an average margin of victory of 21.6. That stretch corresponds with the emergence of star running back Braelon Allen.
The Badgers have gotten back to their identity of running the ball and playing elite defense. Wisconsin is No. 1 in the country in Defensive Success Rate and has won six of its last seven bowl games.
Armed Forces Bowl · Wednesday, Dec. 22
McGrath: Army’s triple-option is second nationally in Rush Success Rate. Mizzou’s defense is fifth-to-last in Rush Success Rate. Need I say more?
Orange Bowl · Friday, Dec. 31
Ianniello: Alabama beat Georgia with big plays through the passing game.
Michigan does not have the same ability to throw the ball as Bama and instead relies on running the ball, which plays right into the strength of the Bulldogs defense.
LendingTree Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 18
McGrath: This line opened at Liberty -6.5 and closed at -9.5. Liberty’s offensive line is the weak link, but EMU’s defensive line — which ranks last in Stuff Rate and 120th in Havoc — can’t take advantage of that.
Hawaii Bowl · Friday, Dec. 24
Ianniello: Hawaii’s program is in disarray right now. Reports have leaked of players accusing head coach Todd Graham of verbal abuse and “killing their love of football.”
Hawaii’s starting quarterback and running back have already transferred, and Memphis should light up this defense.
Rose Bowl · Saturday, Jan. 1
McGrath: Buy low and sell high spots for these two. Utah is coming off two blowouts of Oregon, while Ohio State is coming off a devastating Michigan loss.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl · Thursday, Dec. 30
Ianniello: What could be better than watching 70-year-old Mack Brown get a bucket of mayo dumped on him?
Sam Howell was banged up late in the year but should be healthy now after a month off. North Carolina ranks fourth in Rush Success and 13th in Line Yards and will have plenty of success against a South Carolina team that is 99th in Rushing Success on defense and 113th in Line Yards.
LA Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 18
McGrath: Oregon State is top-10 in almost every offensive metric. Utah State is bottom-10 in almost every defensive metric.
Gator Bowl · Friday, Dec. 31
Ianniello: Texas A&M will be without Zach Calzada and Isaiah Spiller, but the Wake Forest defense is 116th in Rush Success and 89th in Pass Success, so whoever is playing for the Aggies should be able to move the ball.
Texas A&M’s defense is fourth in the country in Success Rate and has way more talent than the Demon Deacons.
Texas Bowl · Tuesday, Jan. 4
McGrath: I haven’t believed in LSU all season, as it can’t run the ball. Kansas State’s ground game is top-notch. Plus, I’m questioning LSU’s motivation.
Independence Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 18
Ianniello: BYU went 10-2 this season, led by running back Tyler Allgeier, who paced the country with 20 touchdowns.
The Cougars just signed Kalani Sitake to a contract extension, and UAB is probably disappointed after failing to reach the conference title game for the first time since 2017.
Outback Bowl · Saturday, Jan. 1
McGrath: As our first underdog pick, I took the Hogs because I knew it would irk Penn State alum Mike Ianniello.
However, I also believe Arkansas is the better all-around team, while PSU’s offense consists entirely of Clifford-to-Dotson deep shots. Our betting power rankings make Arkansas the favorite as well.
Music City Bowl · Thursday, Dec. 30
Ianniello: This game will basically be a home game for Vols in Nashville.
Hendon Hooker announced he is returning to Tennessee next season, while Purdue’s two best players — wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis — have opted out of this game.
Camellia Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 25
McGrath: Our betting power rankings make Georgia State a nine-point favorite rather than just -3.5.
The Panthers were the hottest Sun Belt team down the stretch, while Ball State is nothing more than a middling MAC team.
New Mexico Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 18
Ianniello: This pick is assuming Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener is going to play after removing his name from the transfer portal.
UTEP got off to the best start in program history before finishing the year in free-fall, dropping four of its final five games.
Fenway Bowl · Wednesday, Dec. 29
McGrath: My favorite pick in this game is the over.
But in a shootout between two good offenses and two bad defenses, Virginia is the offense to trust. I love SMU, but Tanner Mordecai and Co. underachieved this season after starting off hot.
Boca Raton Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 18
Ianniello: Bailey Zappe leads the nation with 56 touchdown passes and needs four touchdowns to tie Joe Burrow for the single-season record. He has thrown at least four touchdowns in six straight games, and I’m confident Western Kentucky will make sure he gets the record here.
The Hilltoppers defense is second in the country with 19 interceptions, and Chase Brice has thrown 25 interceptions in the last two years.
Cheez-It Bowl · Wednesday, Dec. 29
McGrath: I am a proud member of Clemson Faders Anonymous, and the Tigers finished 4-8 against the spread this season. Clemson is bad at football, and I love Brock Purdy to win the Cheez-It Bowl.
Arizona Bowl · Friday, Dec. 31
Ianniello: Boise State needs quarterback Hank Bachmeier to play, but if he does, the Broncos should have success against the 77th-ranked pass defense.
Central Michigan has an awesome offense, but Andy Avalos is a defensive guy and has a unit that ranks top-30 in Success Rate against the run and the pass.
Birmingham Bowl · Tuesday, Dec. 28
McGrath: I trust in Dana Holgorsen’s defense — even more so considering Auburn will be without Bo Nix and four other players who entered the transfer portal.
Fiesta Bowl · Saturday, Jan. 1
Ianniello: Notre Dame should be highly motivated to make a statement here after the way Brian Kelly left.
This team is clearly fired up for new head coach Marcus Freeman, and it will play hard for its new coach while Oklahoma State is likely disappointed it missed a playoff spot by a few inches.
Frisco Bowl · Tuesday, Dec. 21
McGrath: Meep Meep!
Myrtle Beach Bowl · Monday, Dec. 20
Ianniello: Ricky Rahne’s squad is one of the hottest in the country, winning five straight games to end the year and reach bowl eligibility.
The win streak happened after the switch at quarterback to Hayden Wolff, which opened up both the passing game and the running game behind Blake Watson.
Tulsa is unable to run the ball, and Davis Brin has as many interceptions as touchdowns this year.
Holiday Bowl · Tuesday, Dec. 28
McGrath: Dorian Thompson-Robinson will struggle against a Wolfpack defense that ranks first in pass rush and sixth in Pass Success Rate. UCLA has a great ground game, but NC State also ranks sixth in Rush Success Rate.
Sun Bowl · Friday, Dec. 31
Ianniello: The Miami football program seems to have an injection of life after the hire of Mario Cristobal from Oregon.
It got off to a rocky 2-4 start as the transition from D’Eriq King to freshman Tyler Van Dyke took place at quarterback. After Van Dyke settled in, the Hurricanes won five of their last six games with the quarterback throwing 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Citrus Bowl · Saturday, Jan. 1
McGrath: Iowa is so fraudulent, and the Hawkeye voodoo will not bail it out this time. Iowa’s supposedly “elite defense” is outside the top 90 in both Havoc and pass rush.
New Orleans Bowl · Saturday, Dec. 18
Ianniello: After losing Week 1 at Texas, Louisiana rallied off 12 straight wins, capped off with a Sun Belt Championship.
Marshall ranks just 113th in rush rate and throws the ball a ton. That will be difficult against a Ragin Cajuns secondary that ranks 15th in Passing Success Rate.
Pinstripe Bowl · Wednesday, Dec. 29
McGrath: This pick is gross. But the Hokies are missing four starters, three of them on defense. Taulia Tagovailoa will pass all over a shorthanded defense.
Quick Lane Bowl · Monday, Dec. 27
Ianniello: This game opened Nevada -6 and has swung all the way to Western Michigan -4.5.
Nevada coach Jay Norvell left for Colorado State, and quarterback Carson Strong and tight end Cole Turner have declared for the NFL and opted out. Three of Nevada’s top four wide receivers are also in the transfer portal.
This game is in Detroit and will be a Western Michigan home crowd in MAC country.
Alamo Bowl · Wednesday, Dec. 29
McGrath: Oregon is too one-dimensional. Anthony Brown can’t throw the ball. Oklahoma is in turmoil, but Caleb Williams can still create explosive plays and the Sooners will win on the back of them.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl · Tuesday, Dec. 28
Ianniello: Look for Minnesota to stop the West Virginia rushing attack and force Jarret Doege to beat it with his arm, which he has struggled to do.
The Gophers will run the ball and out-physical the Mountaineers to secure the win.
Gasparilla Bowl · Thursday, Dec. 23
McGrath: A seven-point favorite shouldn’t be going this late in our draft.
I would never lay seven points with Florida, but the Gators should end their unfortunate season with a victory.
Peach Bowl · Thursday, Dec. 30
Ianniello: If Kenny Pickett plays for Pitt, this could be a lopsided affair.
Michigan State ranks just 106th in Passing Success, and Pickett and Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison lead the seventh-best passing attack in the country.
The Panthers defense ranks 17th in Rushing Success and eighth in Line Yards and should be able to limit the damage by Kenneth Walker III.
Sugar Bowl · Saturday, Jan. 1
McGrath: I love Baylor’s ground game. The Bears can run the ball better than anyone in the nation, which creates a level of week-to-week consistency rarely seen among college football teams.
Matt Corral will score, but the Ole Miss defense is weak, and I trust the team less as a whole.
Frisco Football Classic · Thursday, Dec. 23
Ianniello: North Texas finished the year winning five straight games and with an against-the-spread mark of 9-2-1, the third-best cover rate in the country.
The Mean Green are 29th in Rushing Success behind workhorse back DeAndre Torrey, and Miami (Ohio) struggled to stop the run.
This game is like a half-hour from the North Texas campus and will basically be a home game for the Mean Green.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl · Tuesday, Dec. 21
McGrath: I was high on Wyoming in the preseason, but then the Cowboys drastically underachieved.
Kent State has an electric offense that led the MAC in total offense. And while Kent State’s defense is horrendous, the Wyoming offense is even worse.
Military Bowl · Monday, Dec. 27
Ianniello: Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec announced he will return next season and is projected to be a first-round pick. After a month off, he should be fully healthy and look more like himself after struggling to regain form returning from injury.
Holton Ahlers will also return for East Carolina and is terrific, but Boston College is 11th in coverage grade and has allowed over 300 yards passing just once all season.
First Responder Bowl · Tuesday, Dec. 28
McGrath: With the last pick in the draft, I am trusting in the triple option. I will be taking no questions at this time.