Pre-Christmas Bowl betting: From the Bahamas to Hawaii

Pre-Christmas Bowl betting: From the Bahamas to Hawaii article feature image

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 weekly bowl previews.

The following previews contain 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 on 12/20

Bahamas Bowl

Teams: Ohio vs. UAB
 Nassau, Bahamas
Date: December 22nd, 12:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Ohio -7 Ohio -6 Ohio -5 58.5


Notes: UAB is one of the biggest stories in all of college football in 2017, as their preseason win total was set around 3 by bookmakers. That was before freshman running back Spencer Brown took Conference USA by storm with almost 1,300 total rushing yards. The question for head coach Bill Clark and the Blazers is if they are satisfied with an 8-4 record, or if they are still hungry after not having a program on the field during the past few seasons. UAB was one of the hottest underdog teams until finishing the regular season with an ATS loss at Florida and a push against UTEP. Complacency may have set in with the players, and the Bahamas is a fine place to kick up your feet.

Ohio was a tough team to figure out, as they failed to win the MAC East thanks to a loss against Akron late in the season. That was quite the head-scratcher, as it directly followed a win over Toledo, the current MAC champions. Going -5 in net turnovers in the final games against Akron and Buffalo will result in losses.

Based on the advanced stats, it seems UAB will have rough day moving the ball on the ground.  Ohio, which ranks ninth in defending rushing success rate, should limit UAB’s Spencer Brown and mobile quarterback in A.J. Erdely. Neither team passes the ball well enough to be a major factor in this game, so look for the Bobcats’ seventh ranked rushing success rate offense to move the chains with greater efficiency than UAB.

Head Coach Frank Solich’s Ohio team has won field position all year, as Ohio ranks seventh in starting field position (thanks to their 14th ranked Special Teams). That should continue against UAB, which ranks 111th defensively in starting field position. This game has the makings of Ohio controlling the line of scrimmage, clock and field position.

Although, I must admit that the UAB promotional videos are fairly entertaining.

Useless Trends:

  • 7 of the last 8 UAB games have gone under
  • Ohio is 4-1 ATS in its past five bowl games

The Pick: Ohio -7

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Teams: Wyoming vs. Central Michigan
Location: Boise, Idaho
Date: December 22nd, 4:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Wyoming -3 CMU -2 Wyoming -2 45.5


Notes: Wyoming QB Josh Allen, who missed the last two games of the season with a shoulder injury, is currently listed as probable for this Bowl game. Head coach Craig Bohl needs the 2016 Josh Allen to return for a Cowboys victory, which would require Wyoming to get healthier (and more efficient) on the offensive line, where they rank 94th in adjusted sack rate.

Central Michigan comes into this game white hot, winning five straight games against upper-tier MAC competition, including wins over Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. Quarterback Shane Morris, a fantastic playmaker for the Chipps, racked up 2,900 yards in the air to go along with a 26-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ration.

These teams are equal in the efficiency department, but a huge contrast in offense explosiveness exists, as Central Michigan ranks 12th in the nation in offensive IsoPPP (measures explosiveness),  significantly better than Wyoming’s 113th ranking. The Cowboys do rank third overall in limiting explosiveness, but they excel much more defending the run. Wyoming’s defense is pedestrian against the pass, ranking 42nd in adjusted sack rate, 48th in Passing S&P+, and 70th in limiting passing explosiveness.

Shane Morris and the Chipps should have no issues moving the ball through the air. However, Central Michigan needs to overcome their terrible Bowl reputation, and prevent any mishaps on their 113th ranked Special Teams unit.

Useless Trends:

  • Central Michigan is 5-0 ATS in its last  five games
  • 5 straight Central Michigan overs have hit
  • Wyoming is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games

The Pick: Central Michigan +3.5

Birmingham Bowl

Teams:  South Florida vs. Texas Tech
Location:  Birmingham, Ala.
Date:  December 23rd, 12:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
USF -2.5 USF -4 USF -8 66


Notes: Plenty of signs point to South Florida lacking motivation for this year’s Birmingham Bowl. The Bulls can’t be too thrilled about playing in the same Bowl they competed in last year, where they notched a 46-39 win over South Carolina. Plus, South Florida failed to meet their goal of beating UCF in order to compete for the AAC Championship in 2017. Before the season started, they expected to make a much more prestigious Bowl in the postseason.

Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury sat on one of the hottest coaching seats for most of the season, but the Red Raiders qualified for a Bowl by winning six games. Their defense did see a substantial improvement from last season, thanks to defensive coordinator David Gibbs. However, you can still expect this total to stay on the rise until kick.

You won’t identify many material advantages in the advanced stats for either team, with both ranking high in explosiveness and low in defending it. However, South Florida does own a significant advantage in generating pressure, ranking 9th in adjusted sack rate; Texas Tech ranks much lower at 116th. Expect Texas Tech QB Nic Shimonek to utilize plenty of quick passing routes in the game plan to avoid pressure. I anticipate an entertaining, high scoring affair that will offer plenty of value on both sides in the live betting markets. All stats aside, Texas Tech played a much tougher schedule and brings the motivation edge into Birmingham

Useless Trends

  • Texas Tech is 2-7 ATS in their past 9 Bowl games

The Pick: Texas Tech +2.5

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Teams:  vs. San Diego State
Location: Ft. Worth, Texas
Date: December 23rd, 3:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
SDSU -6.5 SDSU -8 SDSU -3.5 45.5


Notes: San Diego State head coach Rocky Long has a long history of success against option teams, winning twice this year against New Mexico and Air Force. The Aztecs were a high selection in our confidence pool rankings, but the current point spread sits close to my power numbers; S&P+ makes this slightly lower at -3.5. From a motivation standpoint, Army may have already won their Super Bowl with a Dec. 9 victory over Navy for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy.

Army has been quite fortunate in 2017, going 3-1 in games decided by three points or less. The Black Knights rank 116th in Rushing S&P+ Defense, which has to excite one of the best running backs in the nation, Rashaad Penny. San Diego State ranks fifth in rushing explosiveness, which could spell doom for an Army rush defense that ranks 88th in limiting rushing explosiveness and 125th against power success rate. Penny should have a little extra motivation to drag Army defenders into the end zone, as he looks to beef up his NFL draft stock

The Pick: San Diego State -6.5

Dollar General Bowl

Teams: Toledo vs. Appalachian State
Location: Mobile, Ala.
Date: December 23rd, 7:00 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Toledo -7.5 Toledo -9 Toledo -3 62


Notes: This is a great matchup between MAC champions Toledo and co-Sun Belt champions Appalachian State, featuring App State senior quarterback Taylor Lamb and Toledo senior quarterback Logan Woodside. Toledo will be seeking revenge against a Mountaineers team that defeated them in the 2016 Camellia Bowl by a score of 31-28. In that close to dead even matchup last year, neither team surrendered a turnover, and App State barely won the final yardage by a margin of 416-374. A missed 44-yard Toledo field goal with three minutes left in the fourth quarter was ultimately the difference.

Toledo is dynamic through the air, ranking 13th in Passing S&P+, fifth in passing success rate, and eighth in passing explosiveness. This Toledo offense moved the ball against a defense as talented as the Miami Hurricanes earlier this season. The best way to keep Woodside from dictating the score of this game is by utilizing a power rush attack on offense, which has been the Achilles heel for the Toledo defense this season. Ohio manhandled Toledo 38-10, rushing for 393 yards at an average clip of 7 yards per carry. The Miami Hurricanes put up 254 yards on the ground at an average of 9.8 yards per carry, and Tulsa even rushed for an amazing 423 yards at an average of 6.2 yards per rush.

Appalachian State owns a powerful ground attack, putting up rushing yard totals of 357 and 323 against Lafayette and Georgia State, respectively. The Mountaineers rank 13th in rushing explosiveness and should take advantage of a Toledo defense that ranks 97th against rush explosiveness. No matter how many points Toledo’s explosive offense can rattle off, App State should keep this within one score behind a heavy dose of running back Jalin Moore.

Useless Trends

  • Toledo is 18-11-1 as a favorite since 2015
  • Unders are 7-1 after last 8 App St byes (extra prep)

The Pick: Appalachian State +7.5

Hawaii Bowl

Teams: Houston vs. Fresno State
Location: Honolulu
Date: December 24rd, 8:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Houston -2.5 Houston -0.5 Fresno -0.5 49.5


Notes: After the shenanigans of the Mountain West Conference allowing Boise State to host the championship game immediately following a loss to Fresno State, the Bulldogs’ consolation prize for finishing as the runner-up is a trip to Hawaii (for the second time in two months). Jeff Tedford shocked everyone in his first year at Fresno State with a West Division title. The Bulldogs will take on Houston, who stumbled in losses to Tulane and Tulsa, but did get an enormous win at South Florida.

While some may know Houston has future pro Ed Oliver at defensive tackle, it’s actually the Fresno State defense that ranks 15th overall in S&P+. Specifically, the Bulldogs rank second in limiting explosiveness, and seventh in power success rate defense. As a result, Houston should struggle to establish any sort of ground attack, and will need to rely on moving the ball through the air. D’erie King, the third quarterback to take snaps for Houston in 2017, has been an improvement over Kyle Allen and Kyle Postma. King has a 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while averaging 10.32 yards per attempt.

I expect a close battle on Christmas Eve, but Fresno has the advantage of already traveling to Hawaii this year, winning 31-21 on November 11th. I will look to play Fresno State live at plus-3 or better if the current spread never moves up from plus-2.5. Fresno has the better overall defense, and its offensive line ranks first in the nation in adjusted sack rate, which should give Marcus McMaryion all day to run or throw on a soft Houston secondary that ranks 80th in passing success rate defense.

Useless Trends

  • Fresno State is 1-7 ATS in bowl games since 2004

The Pick: Fresno State +2.5

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

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