Bowl betting guide for Thursday: From the Military through the Holiday

Welcome to the Dec. 28 portion of the Action Network’s 2017-18 College Football Bowl Preview. Make sure you subscribe to our Degen and Juice podcast for even more in depth analysis.

This preview integrates 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, which you can download through the [App Store] or [Google Play].

All lines taken from Pinnacle as of Dec. 26, 2017.

Military Bowl

Teams:  Virginia v Navy
Location:  Annapolis, Maryland
Date:  December 28th, 1:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Navy -1 Virginia -2 Virginia -0.5 55


Notes: Virginia Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has a plethora of experience preparing for the option, which was evident in Virginia’s upset win over Georgia Tech earlier in the season. Virginia should also have the motivational edge, as they make their first bowl appearance since 2011. Unfortunately, they will not get to play on a neutral field, as Navy will host the Wahoos for this bowl in Annapolis. Both coaches know each other personally, as Mendenhall recruited Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s son, who played this year as a senior at BYU. Navy leads the all-time series against Virginia 27-11, although they have not played since 1994.

Some may question the motivation for the Midshipmen, after losing a snowy battle to Army for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy on December 9th. which marked the sixth loss in their final seven games. However, I never doubt the motivation of a Service Academy, and think we see a very engaged Navy squad playing in their home stadium.

Looking at the advanced stats, you can see why this spread sits at close to a pick’em. Virginia’s offense and Navy’s defense each rank 101 in the S&P+ ratings, and the other side of the ball doesn’t provide much contrast either, as Navy’s offense (32nd in S&P+) rates similarly to Virginia’s defense (39th in S&P+). I previously mentioned Mendenhall’s penchant for facing triple option offenses, and Virginia’s win over Georgia Tech. However, if you look a little deeper at that November 4th game, the Wahoos caught the Yellow Jackets in a horrendous situational spot between games with Clemson and Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech still rushed for 220 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and even amassed 179 yards through the air. I think Navy’s offense, which ranks higher than Georgia Tech’s in total offense, yards per play, and rushing yards per attempt, will have similar success.

Navy’s rushing attack ranks second in stuff rate and third in power success rate, which should cause problems for a Virginia defense that ranks 99th in stuff rate and 60th in power success rate. Navy should control the line of scrimmage, consistently preventing Virginia from getting penetration, while continuously moving the sticks. Once Virginia starts to sell out against the run, Navy quarterback Zach Abey can also take advantage downfield, similar to what TaQuon Marshall did.

The Pick: Navy -1.5

Camping World Bowl

Teams: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: December 28th, 5:15 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Ok St -4 Ok St -9 Ok St -5 63


Notes: A number of defensive players for Virginia Tech could play on Sundays in the future, led by junior linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who has 14 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Most analysts project the Butkus Award Finalist as a first round selection, but he still hasn’t decided if he will enter the NFL Draft. Regardless, Edmunds will want to put on a show against the electric Oklahoma State offense, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington.

These coaches have a great deal of familiarity with one another, as Mike Gundy and Justin Fuente both played quarterback in the Oklahoma prep ranks. In fact, during Gundy’s time as an assistant at Oklahoma State in the early 1990s, he tried to recruit Fuente to Stillwater, but Fuente eventually committed to play for Howard Schnellenberger at Oklahoma. As a result, I expect fully engaged sidelines in a game each coach might want just a little more.

Motivation aside, I bet this game based solely on the advanced metrics. I noticed one common theme in all three Oklahoma State’s losses this season: poor grades in passing downs success rate. This stat examines efficiency in passing downs by determining if a play succeeded in either a first down or a touchdown. Generally, most consider a score of 45-percent as average. In victories over Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas, Oklahoma State scored 72 percent, 55 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Conversely, in the Pokes’ losses to TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State, they only had passing downs success rate scores of 24 percent, 34 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Defensively, Virginia Tech ranks 20th in passing downs success rate and seventh in passing success rate overall. Rudolph should connect with Washington for a few explosive plays, but the Hokies’ secondary should shut down enough third down conversion attempts to pull off the upset.

Useless Trend

  • Oklahoma St is 6-1 ATS out of conference since 2016

The Pick: Virginia Tech +4

Valero Alamo Bowl

Teams: TCU vs. Stanford
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Date: December 28th, 9:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
TCU -2.5 TCU -4.5 TCU -4 49


Notes: Both of these teams made numerous appearances in the weekly CW9 betting preview articles. The improved play of Stanford sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello helped the Cardinal to a 5-2 record when he started or took a majority of the snaps; Costello was particularly critical in victories over Washington and Notre Dame. Even Stanford’s close loss to USC in the Pac-12 Championship gave Cardinal fans hope for the future.

Heisman runner-up Bryce Love dealt with nagging injuries for most of the season, most notably in a loss to Washington State. However, after a full month of rest, a healthy Love should exploit a TCU defense that ranks 59th in defending rushing explosiveness.

TCU’s defense often gets mentioned  as one of the best in the country, ranking 14th in defensive S&P+, but the inability to defend explosive passing plays led to two losses against Oklahoma this season. TCU ranks 126th nationally in defending explosiveness, 119th against passing explosiveness, and 125th in standard downs explosiveness defense. In other words, TCU possesses a boom or bust defense that gets plenty of stops, but also allows plenty of big plays against talented offenses. Stanford’s offense, which ranks eighth in offensive explosiveness, should take advantage, especially with a confident K.J. Costello and a rested Bryce Love.

From a total perspective, I would consider the over, especially since these teams boast two of the better special teams return units in FBS. Stanford ranks second in overall special teams, thanks to a punt and kick return units that each rank in the top 15 nationally. TCU ranks 16th overall in special teams, primarily due to a kick return unit that ranks first in return success. Expect some instant points through explosive plays on both special teams units.

Useless Trends

  • Stanford is 21-3 SU after its last 24 losses
  • TCU is 2-6 ATS in bowl games since 2008

The Pick: Stanford +2.5

San Diego County Credit Holiday Bowl

Teams: Washington State vs. Michigan State
Location: San Diego, California
Date: December 28th, 9:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Wash St -2.5 Wash St -3.5 pk 45.5


Notes: Most college football players and coaching staffs would view a trip to sunny San Diego to end the season in a positive light, but don’t tell that to Michigan State after not receiving an invite to the Outback Bowl.

Judging by the reactions of this young Michigan State roster, many players expected to play in a more prestigious bowl on January 1st. As for motivation for Washington State, they lost this same bowl last year as a near double-digit favorite against Minnesota. The Wazzu fans quickly bought up their entire ticket allotment for that game and I expect a heavy fan presence there again this season.

From a pace perspective, Washington State should benefit from their up-tempo style, the likes of which have given Michigan State’s seventh ranked S&P+ defense fits this season. The Mike Leach Air Raid game plan will have many similarities to those utilized by Notre Dame and Ohio State, who both handled Sparty with ease.

Despite missing their top two wide receivers, I favor the Cougars in a shootout, as Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke should make a few mistakes against a Washington State defensive line that ranks third in adjusted sack rate (although Hercules Mata’afa will not play in the first half due to a targeting suspension) and a linebacker unit that ranks sixth nationally in havoc rate.

Useless Trends

  • Wazzu is 11-4 ATS as an underdog since 2015
  • Sparty is 9-17-1 ATS as a favorite since 2015

The Pick: Washington State +2, Over 46

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