Welcome to part three 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 December 24th
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Teams: Utah vs. West Virginia
Location: Dallas, Texas
Date: December 26th, 1:30 PM EST
|Utah -6.5||Utah -6||Utah -3.5||57|
Notes: Regardless of the outcome, West Virginia will leave Texas a winner, as Will Grier announced that he will return next season. With the departures of Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield, Grier will headline the Big 12 quarterbacks in 2018. However, Grier is still listed as doubtful for this bowl game after having surgery on a broken finger. A healthy Grier would easily move the line four points in favor of the Mountaineers. In addition to Grier’s likely absence, West Virginia will not have the services of their leading rusher Justin Crawford, who averaged 5.6 per carry.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 15, 2017
Utah has also dealt with injuries at quarterback, but Tyler Huntley will return after missing the final game of the season. Huntley should take advantage of a West Virginia defense that ranks 114th in opponent yards per play, especially since I expect him to have all day to find his target against a Mountaineers’ defense that ranks 109th in sacks. While the first half under in the early game the day after Christmas does sound tempting, Utah should put up points without much resistance against a West Virginia team that ranks 103rd nationally in S&P+ Defense. Lastly, I don’t generally like to lean on trends, but I certainly don’t mind siding with the coach that has a far superior bowl track record.
- Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is 10-1 SU in bowls
- WVU is 1-7 ATS in bowls since 2008
The Pick: Utah -6.5
Quick Lane Bowl
Teams: Duke vs. Northern Illinois
Date: December 26th, 5:15 PM EST
|Duke -5.5||Duke -4||NIU -3.5||47.5|
Notes: In one of the more amazing feats of the season, Duke overcame a midseason six-game losing streak to make a bowl. The Blue Devils rebounded from those six consecutive losses (most of them close) to win their final two games, securing their fifth bowl in the past six years. Northern Illinois could have the motivational edge in this matchup after missing a bowl last season for the first time in a decade.
This game should feature plenty of defense, as both teams rank in the top 25 in total defense, opponent third down conversions, and points per game allowed. Don’t expect too many huge plays on offense, as Duke ranks 105th and Northern Illinois ranks 115th in generating explosive plays. The under should definitely get strong consideration, but 47.5 is not too far off from my projection of 51. Both defenses are elite against passing attacks, but Northern Illinois has the better numbers against the rush, ranking second in defensive rushing success rate and 12th in defensive Rushing S&P+. The Northern Illinois defensive line, which ranks 11th in adjusted sack rate, should create a few turnovers through pressure on Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who has thrown 11 interceptions this season.
Special teams should also play a role, as Duke kicked starting kicker/punter Austin Parker (35 PAT attempts, 17-21 on field goals, 61 punts) off the team for an academic violation. William Holmquist, who attempted a total of one PAT, zero field goals and zero punts this season, will get the start.
Duke says William Holmquist probably will take over as both kicker and punter in the Quick Lane Bowl vs Northern Illinois https://t.co/BqLYk2rqfw
— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) December 15, 2017
- Duke is 3-0 ATS in their past three bowls
- Northern Illinois is 0-4 ATS in their past four bowls
The Pick: Northern Illinois +5.5
Teams: Kansas State vs. UCLA
Date: December 26th, 9:00 PM EST
|KSU -6.5||UCLA -2.5||KSU -1||63.5|
Notes: Bill Snyder, who got his overdue revenge against Texas A&M in the 2016 Texas Bowl, will have revenge on his mind again as Kansas State will look to avenge a 40-35 loss to UCLA in the 2015 Alamo Bowl. Just take a look at the fireworks that came during the postgame handshake between Jim Mora and Bill Snyder.
Jedd Fisch will serve as UCLA’s interim head coach before Chip Kelly takes over in 2018, but Bill Snyder will still want this even with Mora gone. As for UCLA’s motivation, the Bruins won their finale against Cal to gain bowl eligibility, but quarterback Josh Rosen will reportedly miss the bowl game after suffering a concussion late in the season. Freshman Devon Modster will get the start, having only attempted 45 passes with two touchdowns in mop up duty this season, which you must keep in mind when looking at UCLA’s offensive advantages over the Kansas State defense in the advanced metrics.
UCLA proved all year that they can come back from any deficit, including a 34-point margin in a comeback win against Texas A&M. UCLA ranks 24th in yards per play, 14th in passing touchdowns, and 38th in third down conversion percentage. Kansas State’s defense ranks 73rd in opponents yards per play, 90th in passing touchdowns allowed, and 91st in third down conversions allowed. Kansas State ranks 114th in defensive passing success rate, which could cost them a potential lead against a Bruin offense that has weapons even without Rosen. UCLA ranked 26th in Passing S&P+ during the season.
- UCLA is 1-5 ATS out of conference since 2016
- Kansas State is 2-7 ATS in bowl games since 2003
The Pick: UCLA +6.5
Walk-On’s Independence Bowl
Teams: Southern Miss vs. Florida State
Date: December 27th, 1:30 PM EST
|FSU -16||FSU -12||USM -3.5||49|
Notes: Quite an interesting season from Florida State, highlighted by Jimbo Fisher jetting off to Texas A&M, rescheduling a game with ULM to keep their bowl streak alive, and hiring Willie Taggert from Oregon as the new head coach. Odell Haggins took over as interim coach for the bowl after serving as a position coach (defensive tackles) for the Seminoles since 1994. Haggins will prep Florida State for 1,000-yard running back Ito Smith and 1,000-yard wide receiver Korey Robertson of Southern Miss. Both teams come into the bowl winners of three straight games, but Florida State had a much tougher strength of schedule (15th vs. 119th).
The Florida State players should not lack any motivation, as a win would result in the program’s 41st consecutive winning season. Southern Miss should come in with a chip on their shoulder as double-digit dogs, especially with plenty of media touting an easy FSU victory. The advanced stats favor Florida State in many categories, but Southern Miss can at least protect quarterback Kwadra Griggs, ranking 14th in sacks allowed. Griggs has a 15-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while only getting sacked 10 times on 240 pass attempts. Southern Miss, which ranks 36th in passing explosiveness, will face a Florida State defense without star safety Derwin James, who will sit in advance of the NFL Draft.
The value lies with the Golden Eagles, as my power ratings and S&P+ make this game significantly lower. With the public perception steaming the Florida State number, we will look to the Kwadra Griggs-Korey Robertson connection for the cover.
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) November 25, 2017
- FSU is 7-1 ATS out of conference since 2016
- USM is 2-6-1 ATS in bowls since 2006
The Pick: Southern Miss +17
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Teams: Iowa vs. Boston College
Location: New York
Date: December 27th, 5:15 PM EST
|Iowa -2.5||BC -2||Iowa -3.5||46|
Notes: Iowa has not won a bowl game in their past five attempts, giving the Hawkeyes plenty of motivation against a Boston College team that won four of their last five games, thanks to a plus-10 in net turnovers. With 35 degree temperatures, 10 mph cross-winds, and a slight chance of a wintry mix, this game sets up as an absolute bruiser. Both offenses struggle to consistently move the ball, with Boston College ranking 95th and Iowa 102nd in offensive S&P+. Additionally, each defense matches up extremely well in the few areas where each offense does actually rank inside the top 100.
The advanced metrics fit each other like puzzle pieces that make up a beautiful portrait of an under. Boston College can move the ball on the ground, ranking 16th in Rush S&P+ and 44th in rush explosiveness, but Iowa ranks 21st in defending rush explosiveness. Iowa’s offense can move the ball efficiently through the air, ranking 30th in Passing S&P+, but BC excels in defending the pass, ranking 10th in Passing S&P+ defense and 19th in passing success rate defense. With favorable defensive matchups and two offenses that sit outside the top 100 in yards per play (Boston College 5.10 and Iowa 5.12), I expect this game to stay under the total. Iowa has the much better redzone defense, ranking 20th in opponents points per attempt. The Hawkeyes should bring enough defense to keep the Eagles off the board.
— NewEraPinstripeBowl (@PinstripeBowl) December 14, 2017
- Iowa is 1-4 ATS in their past five bowl games
- BC is 8-0-1 ATS in their last nine games
The Pick: Iowa -2.5
Foster Farms Bowl
Teams: Arizona vs. Purdue
Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
Date: December 27th, 8:30 PM EST
|Arizona -4||Arizona -6||Purdue -1.5||65|
Notes: I love capping this Arizona team because it involves copious amounts of Khalil Tate highlights. Before we dive into whether or not Purdue’s defense can set the edge, let’s look at Tate dicing up Washington State’s 16th ranked Rushing S&P+ defense.
Khalil Tate = "Desert Vick" ??
✅10+ yards per carry
*Only player in last decade to do both*
✅NCAA QB Record: 327 yds vs CUpic.twitter.com/txC8JwXrOu
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) December 11, 2017
Arizona will play in their fifth bowl in the past six years, so Purdue might have the motivational edge, as the Boilermakers have not played in the postseason since the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2013. Although most know Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm as an offensive coach, the Purdue defense led the charge in 2017, ranking 18th in points allowed per game (19.3), sixth in defensive Rushing S&P+, and 16th in limiting pass explosiveness. Keep in mind the Boilermaker linebackers rank 16th in the nation in havoc rate, and a key turnover or two could swing this likely shootout.
Arizona and Khalil Tate have the ninth rated S&P+ Offense, primarily due to their second ranked rushing explosiveness. Purdue’s defense ranks 92nd in defending rush explosiveness, and they do not face quarterbacks in the Big Ten like Khalil Tate. However, in their season opener, Purdue did face Lamar Jackson, who racked up 378 yards through the air and 105 on the ground. All of Lamar Jackson’s 20-plus yard gains came through the air, as Louisville called a pass-first game plan, and averaged a fantastic 6.17 yards per play. Expect a similarly productive day out of Khalil Tate, but more so on the ground.
The Pick: Arizona -3
Teams: Missouri vs. Texas
Date: December 27th, 9:00 PM EST
|Missouri -2.5||Texas -0.5||Missouri -4.5||60.5|
Notes: Capping Texas football in 2017 was no easy task. The Longhorns covered against their toughest opponents (USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State), while suffering straight up losses to Maryland and Texas Tech. Texas will not have two key players in this bowl (NFL Draft preparation), and other junior starters could follow with a successful scout grade. However, head coach Tom Herman should have his team motivated, as he looks to get the seniors a victory in the program’s first bowl game since 2014.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Missouri Tigers, who started with five straight losses before finishing with six straight wins. The strength of schedule tells part of the story, as Missouri played Georgia and Auburn early before facing only teams outside of the S&P+ top 80 in their final six games. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who departed for the Central Florida head coaching gig, will be replaced by UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch after the Bruins and Tigers wrap up their seasons. Keep an eye on Missouri early if you plan on live betting, as Heupel had full control over the offense, and offensive line Coach Glen Elarbee also left Mizzou for UCF.
Uncertainty still exists for Texas in regards to who will start at quarterback between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger. However, Missouri has zero doubt as to who will start under center, as Tiger QB Drew Lock comes into this bowl white hot. Lock ended the regular season with a 43-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Missouri’s Passing S&P+ ranking of 16th and pass explosiveness rank of fifth should frustrate a Texas secondary that ranks 97th in defending pass explosiveness. However, the Longhorns do have one of the better defensive back havoc rates in the nation, ranking seventh. As a result, Texas should give up chunks of yards in the passing game, but look for their opportunistic defense to snag a few of Drew Lock’s passes.
I will have most of my money in this game invested in live bets, but ultimately, the team with the better third down conversion rate (Missouri, fifth), sack rate (Missouri, 23rd), and yards per play (Missouri, eighth) should find a way to get us to the window.
- Texas is 5-1-1 ATS against winning teams in 2017
- Texas is 5-2 ATS in their last seven non con games
- Missouri is 1-7 ATS in their last eight in December
The Pick: Missouri -2.5