2018 College Football Bowl Betting: Odds, Picks for 4 Saturday Games (December 22)

2018 College Football Bowl Betting: Odds, Picks for 4 Saturday Games (December 22) article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Brady White and Cole McDonald

College football’s bowl season rolls on with four games on Saturday before a three-day lull in the calendar.

We’ve covered every game from top to bottom — trends, metrics, mismatches, motivation and so much more. Find our staff’s favorite bets for each below, too.

College Football Bowl Betting Odds and Picks for Saturday

JUMP TO: Wake Forest-Memphis (-3.5) | Houston-Army (-6.5) | Troy-Buffalo (-1) | Hawaii-Louisiana Tech (-1)

2018 Birmingham Bowl Betting Odds: Wake Forest-Memphis

  • Odds: Memphis -3
  • Over/Under: 73
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 22
  • Time: 12 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Friday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets.

Memphis and Wake Forest have the third-highest over/under of bowl season, but might each be without their best offensive weapons.

Memphis running back Darrell Henderson is gone to prep for the NFL Draft, while Wake wide receiver Greg Dortch is out with a finger injury suffered in the Demon Deacons’ season finale.

Will the Tigers’ running game remain its biggest strength, or will Wake’s end-of-season run propel it to bowl victory?

Odds Movement for Wake Forest-Memphis

By Danny Donahue

Early action on Memphis moved this line up from -4 up to -6. Since then, more money has come in on Wake Forest to bring the line down. While both sides have seen close to 50% of bets, the 62% of dollars behind the Deacons have been enough to move their line back to +3.

A similar back-and-forth has taken place with the total. While early action raised the number up as high as 74.5, sharp bettors have stepped in and pushed it down to 73. Only 36% of bets are on the under, but they’ve accounted for 52% of dollars wagered.

Trends to Know for Birmingham Bowl

By John Ewing

Wake Forest finished the season 6-6. Teams with a .500 or worse record have gone 80-60-2 (57%) against the spread in bowl games since 2005 according to our data from Bet Labs.

By Evan Abrams

We’ve finally made it. The first bowl game this season with an over/under in the 70’s.

Since 2005, the over is 20-16 (55.6%) in bowl games with a total of 70 or more, going over the total by 2.7 points per game. When two teams meet in that spot both scored 40 points or more in their last game entering the bowl, the over is hitting by 6.8 points per game.

Can Wake Get a Red Zone Stop?

By Stuckey

The Wake Forest defense was absolutely atrocious in the red zone all season long, allowing teams to score on a shocking 94.6% of trips (only ECU allowed a higher clip). Teams punched it in the end zone 30-of-37 times. Memphis is tied for 16th in red zone offense at 90%, including a near 75% clip at finding pay dirt.

How much will that red zone efficiency go down without Henderson, the program’s first ever unanimous All-American? The importance of Henderson’s loss can not be understated.

The future NFL back finished second in the nation in rushing yards, third in average at a silly 8.9 yards, tied for first in touchdowns (22) and led the nation in scrimmage yards per game.

Without him, will Memphis see a drop off in its rushing attack that finished No. 1 overall in explosiveness. Wake certainly hopes so as it ranked 99th defending rush explosiveness.

What Does Memphis Have Behind Henderson?

By Steve Petrella

It’s impossible to replace a back like Henderson right away. But Memphis has a solid offensive line that should still help move the ball on Wake.

Patrick Taylor Jr. had 1,012 yards (5.7 per carry), 15 touchdowns and a better efficiency rating than Henderson, albeit much less explosiveness. Tony Pollard had 443 yards (7.3 per carry) and better efficiency metrics than both.

Pace, Pace, Pace

By Stuckey

These are two of the fastest teams in the country in terms of pace.

Wake ranks third in plays per minute; Memphis is 25th. Both teams rank in the top eight in possessions per game. That’s a big reason why this total is so high.

Who’s More Motivated?

By Stuckey

I give the edge to Wake.

Even though Wake has won bowl games each of the past two seasons, while Memphis has lost both under current head coach Mike Norvell, I think the Demon Deacons will be more up for this game after how each of the two respective seasons ended.

Memphis suffered a fourth loss in two seasons to UCF and its second straight conference championship loss, even with a huge lead and no McKenzie Milton playing for the Knights.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest’s bowl hopes looked dead in the water before they pulled out two huge road upsets over the final three games to get to six wins. I think Dave Clawson will have this group ready to play.

And while Wake won two of its final three games on the road against bowl teams (and one earlier in the year against a Tulane), Memphis only defeated one bowl team all season: Houston in its regular season finale in a game it blew up late against a Cougar team playing its backup quarterback.

Bet to Watch

By Collin Wilson

The loss of Henderson cannot be understated. The Memphis workhorse averaged 8.9 yards per carry with a highlight yards per opportunity of 12.15. That is one of the best in the nation in a stat that looks at how often Henderson generated big plays on the ground.

Even with backup Patrick Taylor Jr. having more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, the explosiveness factor will be missing from the Memphis ground attack. With an adjustment for Henderson, The Action Network power ratings make this game Memphis -3.5, around where the spread is now.

It has been an up and down season for Wake Forest, starting with the three game suspension of 2017 quarterback Kendall Hinton. Freshman Sam Hartman was steady in holding the position most of the season with a 16-8 touchdown to interception ratio.

After an injury to Hartman, Wake Forest played the majority of November under Jamie Newton, who posted a better completion rate in 101 attempts. Newton’s best performance came in the bowl-clinching victory over Duke, when he went 18-of-23 for 177 yards with four touchdowns.

I will take the Demon Deacons in what should be a shootout. Memphis’ track record against competent passing offenses has led to their losses this season. Those games include Central Florida (twice), Missouri and Tulane.

Collin’s Pick: Wake Forest +3.5

JUMP TO: Wake Forest-Memphis (-3.5) | Houston-Army (-6.5) | Troy-Buffalo (-1) | Hawaii-Louisiana Tech (-1)

2018 Armed Forces Bowl Betting Odds: Army-Houston

  • Odds: Army -5
  • Over/Under: 60
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 22
  • Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Friday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets.

If the NFL is a copycat league, college football is its free-spirited counterpart.

There’s plenty of copying that goes on, sure. But there are different ways to cultivate dynamic offenses and win games — Houston and Army are the antithesis of each other and still each put up points.

The Cougars run the most plays per minute of any team in the country, and play at one of the 10 fastest paces of any team in the last 15 years. Army is the opposite — the Knights rank second-to-last in plays per minute thanks to a triple-option offense that drives opposing defenses to madness.

They average nearly two fewer possessions per game (9.83) than the second-slowest team in that regard, Washington (11.46).

Which will win out here — tortoise or hare?

Odds Movement for Army-Houston

By Danny Donahue

Within a day of this line opening, Army had moved from -5 to -3. Since then, however, 76% of bets and 68% of dollars behind Army have brought the line back to its opening number of -5.

The total has seen some significant movement as well, falling by more than a touchdown from its opener at some books. After being released at 67.5, it’s now listed at 60 thanks to 80% of bets and 71% of dollars on the under.

Trends to Know for Armed Forces Bowl

By John Ewing

Service academies are 16-8 (against the spread) ATS in bowl games since 2005 and 6-1 ATS when favored.

By Evan Abrams

Service academies have won nine consecutive bowl games straight up when listed as favorites dating back to 1990. In that span, they are 8-1 ATS, but Army has only one of these nine games, facing North Texas in the 2016 First Responder Bowl, where the Black Knights needed overtime to survive.

Talent Gap

By Steve Petrella

Talent is paramount in college football. And recruiting rankings matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But do they in this game?

Houston has the 51st-most talented roster in the country, per 247Sports’ team talent composite. Army comes in at 126th. It’s the biggest gap in this bowl season.

The trouble for Houston is talent doesn’t always win out when you’re playing Army. The triple option is designed precisely to neutralize the talent gap the bigger schools will always have over service academies that can’t recruit the best athletes and will always be undersized at the line of scrimmage.

But if you believe in talent winning out (i.e. no team in the recruiting ranking era, since 2002, has won a national title without averaging a top-15 class over the previous four years) Houston has a major edge.

Houston Without Two Stars

By Steve Petrella

Houston will be without defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who is prepping for the NFL Draft. He’ll be a top-10 pick in all likelihood.

But the more important loss is probably star quarterback D’Eriq King, who injured his knee in November and gave way to Clayton Tune for the season finale.

Tune played one full game for the Cougars — he went 18 of 43 for 256 yards and three scores. But he only ran for 12 yards on 13 carries; a dynamic quarterback has been essential to Houston’s offense for years now.

Tune, a true freshman, is nowhere near the athlete King is, but he’s gotten all the snaps with the first team during bowl practice.

Third Downs Will Be the Difference

By Stuckey

Army finished No. 1 in the nation in third-down conversion rate. And believe it or not, its defense also finished in the top 3 in that same category. And while Houston has an excellent third-down offense (top 20), its defense ranked 110th.

Expect Army to convert without much resistance on all of its third-and-short situations against a Houston defense that ranks 100th in third-and-short success rate.

The Cougs will really miss Ed Oliver and their other two starters on the defensive line. Just look at what Navy’s triple option attack did against Houston without Oliver: 67 rush attempts for 349 yards. (5.2 per carry).

In the last five games of the season, Houston had one of the worst run defenses in the country, allowing 6.1 yards per carry. For context, only four FBS teams allowed more than 6.0 yards per carry this year.

And not only does Army’s defense rank No. 1 in that same category, Army actually also ranks No. 1 in the nation in average third down distance on both offense and defense.

And if for whatever reason the Black Knights don’t convert on third and short, they should have no issues going for it on fourth down. Army also led the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage at a stunning 86.1% on 36 attempts (tied third nationally).

Who’s More Motivated?

By Stuckey

Even though Army won this same bowl last season, it’s a service academy. I personally never worry about motivation with the Black Knights, who have won their bowl game in each of the past two seasons under head coach Jeff Monken.

Conversely, Houston has lost each of its past two bowl games in 2016 and 2017 under Major Applewhite, who I’m sure will want to get his first bowl win as a head coach. On the surface, you would think Houston would be motivated.

However, given all their injuries and the Oliver situation, I’m not sure this team will be that excited to face the Army triple-option attack — even in Texas — especially considering how the run defense looked in the latter part of the season.

A Case for the Under

By Stuckey

I know the total has dropped, but I still don’t think it’s low enough. Given its unique style, oddsmakers really struggle to set both spreads and totals for Army.

We know it will control the clock and dominate time of possession. The Black Knights averaged 20 more plays per game than their opponents, which I expect them to do against Houston.

Just look at what that ball control did to the most explosive offense in the country in Oklahoma in Norman — held the Sooners to 21 points in regulation because they only touched the ball seven times.

The clock will be speeding throughout this one, as it does with most Army games — and it will keep the sticks moving to keep this under 60.

Stuckey’s Pick: Under 60

Bet to Watch

By Collin Wilson

In terms of stability, these two teams are heading in opposite directions. Army has put together another fantastic campaign at 10-2, winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, and almost notching the upset of the season over Oklahoma.

Houston has had its share of negative news on and off the field. Ed Oliver will not play in this game after Coat-Gate and the decision to sit out for the NFL Draft.

The Cougars lost three of their last four games with an injury to quarterback D’Eriq King against Tulane. King had 50 total touchdowns before the injury, leaving large shoes for backup Clayton Tune.

After a season-ending loss to Memphis, 52-31, Cougars head coach Major Applewhite fired his defensive coordinator. The defensive staff is now in preparation to take on a triple-option attack of Army.

When handicapping an Army game, you always start with the defensive line of the opponent. Houston ranked 42nd in opportunity rate and 73rd in stuff rate for the season, with a large portion of those statistics coming with Oliver in the lineup.

The defensive line was just 72nd in havoc on the season, all of which translate to not plugging gaps against the rush or causing disruption in the backfield.

I’m backing Army in this spot, as there are plenty of statistical advantages in third down, havoc, passing downs defense. The Black Knights are first in the nation in third-down conversions at 55.6%, compared to the Cougars who are bottom 20 in third-down defense at 44.7%.

This could cause a serious issue with time of possession, where Army ranks first in the nation to Houston ranking dead last. Houston will need to make each possession count, as it could be limited similar to what happened to Oklahoma earlier this year.

Tune has his work cut out for him as Army ranks 28th against passing downs explosiveness and is third in the nation at defensive back havoc. Expect Army to impose its will on both sides of the ball and win a third straight bowl.

Collin’s Pick: Army -5

JUMP TO: Wake Forest-Memphis (-3.5) | Houston-Army (-6.5) | Troy-Buffalo (-1) | Hawaii-Louisiana Tech (-1)

2018 Dollar General Bowl Betting Odds: Buffalo-Troy

  • Odds: Buffalo -1
  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 22
  • Location: Mobile, Ala.
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Friday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets.

The 2018 Dollar General Bowl will pit two of the most improved Group of 5 teams in the country when Troy and Buffalo meet in the Trojans’ home state.

Buffalo came up just short of the MAC title behind future NFL quarterback Tyree Jackson, while Troy’s offense struggled mightily in its last two games.

Odds Movement for Buffalo-Troy

By Danny Donahue

Troy seems to have attracted both sharp and square bettors alike, as it’s drawing 59% of bets accounting for 78% of money. That backing has dropped this line from +3 to +1.

The betting action on the under has been awfully similar, as it’s fallen from 53.5 to 49.5 behind 56% of bets and 88% of dollars.

Trends to Know for Dollar General Bowl

By John Ewing

Buffalo went 9-4 (against the spread) ATS in the regular season. Bettors shouldn’t expect the Bulls to cover just because they have recently.

Since 2005, teams with a 60% or better ATS win rate have gone 141-166-5 (45.9%) ATS in bowl games.

What Happened to Troy’s Offense?

By Steve Petrella

The Trojans lost quarterback Kaleb Barker in Week 6, paving the way for Sawyer Smith. Their offense averaged at least 6.3 yards per play in three of his first four games as the starter, and Troy’s ground game remained strong.

But in Troy’s final two games — albeit against two of the Sun Belt’s best defenses in Texas State and Appalachian State — the Trojans scored 22 total points and had 443 total yards. In two games!

Special Teams Could Be the Difference

By Stuckey

The MAC had some really bad special teams play this season across the board, including Buffalo — which struggled on the often-forgotten about third unit.

It’s easier to hide those issues in a conference filled with teams dealing with similar issues, but those deficiencies get magnified against teams with elite special teams. And Troy certainly fits that mold.

Just take a look at some of the differences between these two teams:

  • Troy ranks fifth in net punting (41.83 yards); Buffalo ranks 85th.
  • Troy ranks ninth overall in average kick return yardage (25.06 yards); Buffalo ranks 114th.
  • Buffalo kicker Adam Mitcheson is just eight of 12 on field goals this year and has missed SEVEN extra points, including a costly one in the MAC Championship. Tyler Sumpter hasn’t been spectacular for Troy, but he’s been solid, connecting on 18 of 24 field-goal attempts and all 39 extra points.
  • Buffalo has had an NCAA-worst SEVEN kicks blocked this year; Troy has had zero.
  • Amazingly, Buffalo has also had an NCAA-worst three punts blocked; Troy has had zero.

From an S&P+ perspective, Buffalo ranks 124th in the country on special teams. And Troy ranks 11th. That’s a staggering discrepancy, which could ultimately decide which team will win (and cover) in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl.

Who’s More Motivated?

By Stuckey

I think both teams are motivated here, so I don’t see an edge. Buffalo is looking for its first ever bowl win (0-2 all-time). The question becomes how well do the Bulls respond to that devastating blown lead in the MAC Championship Game?

While Troy has a much richer bowl pedigree, including wins in each of the past two seasons in bowls (including one at this very bowl), I think the Trojans will be motivated to get to 10 wins in front of a crowd that should be heavily in their favor.

Bet to Watch

By Stuckey

I’m keeping this simple here and rolling with the small dog playing in its home state with the better defense and special teams units.

I also think Troy can move the ball through the air against a vulnerable Buffalo pass defense that ranks 119th defending pass explosiveness, especially now that it will have a very healthy receiving unit.

Stuckey’s Pick: Troy +1

By Collin Wilson

Neal Brown is still the coach at Troy as he returns to the Dollar General Bowl after a victory in this spot over another MAC team in 2016. The Trojans packed Ladd-Peoples with 32,000 two years ago and expect to have the support of the crowd in this game, as well.

Troy is very familiar in this venue, highlighted by a 38-17 victory over South Alabama in Week 9.

Statistically both teams defensively cancel out the strength of their opponent offensively. Troy is fourth in rushing explosiveness, but Buffalo ranks 28th against explosiveness on the ground.

Buffalo, led by quarterback Tyree Jackson, is first in the nation in passing downs explosiveness. Troy will be able to contain the air explosiveness of Jackson with a defense that ranks 19th against pass explosiveness.

There are a couple of differences that will have us backing the Trojans in this game. Troy is 11th overall in havoc, and those numbers will be needed against Buffalo, which relies more on the pass than the rush.

Speaking of the rush, Troy is 15th in S&P+ rush defense giving the Trojans an advantage no matter the Buffalo scheme.

We look to back Troy with defensive and special teams advantages, but also take a look at the under. The total has dropped below The Action Network projection of 53 because of how often both teams run the ball.

In passing downs run rate, Buffalo is 17th compared to Troy at sixth, translating to plenty of ground game and clock churning in this contest.

Collin’s Pick: Troy +1

JUMP TO: Wake Forest-Memphis (-3.5) | Houston-Army (-6.5) | Troy-Buffalo (-1) | Hawaii-Louisiana Tech (-1)

2018 Hawaii Bowl Betting Odds: Louisiana Tech-Hawaii

  • Odds: Hawaii -1
  • Over/Under: 61
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 22
  • Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Friday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets.

The 2018 Hawaii Bowl won’t be played on Christmas Eve this year. Instead, Hawaii will meet Louisiana Tech to wrap up an action-packed Saturday before a three-day lull in the bowl schedule.

Hawaii will bring its air-raid offense and porous defense to this game against a Louisiana Tech team with an opportunistic defense and offense that really sputtered down the stretch.

Odds Movement for Hawaii Bowl

By Danny Donahue

The public hasn’t made a clear play on this matchup, with each side seeing 50% of tickets. Sharper bettors, however, may be leaning toward Louisiana Tech, as the Bulldogs have drawn 70% of money and moved from +2 to +1.

As for the total, it’s jumped from 57.5 to 61 behind 76% of bets and 63% of dollars on the over.

Trends to Know for Hawaii-Louisiana Tech

By John Ewing

This is the fifth time since 2005 that Hawaii has played in the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors should enjoy home-field advantage, right? But in the previous four games, Hawaii went 2-2 straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS).

By Stuckey

— Hawaii is 4-3 all-time in bowl games in Hawaii.

— Skip Holtz has won four straight bowls in the past four seasons.

— Teams playing a bowl in their home stadium are 39-28 ATS since 1980.

Hawaii O-Line Faces Tough Task

By Stuckey

Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson should absolutely dominate the Hawaii tackles. Ferguson leads FBS in sacks (15) and is second in tackles for loss (23.5).

Ferguson has 42.5 career sacks, which is only 1.5 behind the all-time record held by Terrell Suggs (Arizona State) and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Arkansas State). The future NFL defensive end decided he would not sit out the Hawaii Bowl, and I expect an absolutely dominant effort as he chases the all-time NCAA sacks record.

Louisiana Tech is one of 15 teams to average at least three sacks per game. Hawaii’s subpar offensive line gave up an average of 2.85 sacks per game, which ranked 110th in the country.

Louisiana Tech Defense Has the Edge

By Stuckey

These are two offenses that love to throw the ball. Louisiana Tech ranks 110th in standard downs run rate and Hawaii ranks 128th.

But it’s Tech that should create a few disruptive plays on the defensive end. Not only does it rank in the top 10 in Adjusted Sack Rate, its secondary ranks in the top 10 in Havoc Rate. I anticipate a few turnovers created on the front and back ends of the La Tech defense against the pass-happy Hawaii offense.

On the flip side, while Hawaii does rank a respectable 39th in Adjusted Sack Rate, its secondary ranks 118th in Havoc Rate. I like Louisiana Tech, as I think its defense is built to make more game-changing plays in this battle of pass-happy offenses.

Good Defenses Owned Hawaii

By Steve Petrella

When Hawaii got off to its roaring start, we didn’t know just how bad the defenses it played were. The Rainbow Warriors averaged 7.75 yards per play in their first three games, all against teams that finished the year ranked 115th or worse in S&P+ defense.

But when the defenses started to get better, Hawaii struggled. It averaged 5.24 yards per play and didn’t top 23 points once in five straight midseason games against top-70 defenses, and lost four of those games. Those 5.24 ypp compared to 7.75 is the difference between Kansas State’s and Alabama’s offenses.

Louisiana Tech’s defense ranks 47th.

Bet to Watch

By Collin Wilson

Hawaii was the hot storyline coming into the season, with an upset victory in Week 0 and Cole McDonald getting whispers of a Heisman campaign. The Rainbow Warriors rode that wave as long as possible until it finally played a team ranked in the top 75 in S&P+ and started to fall apart, as Steve mentioned.

Hawaii snapped a four-game losing streak to end the season with one-possession victories over UNLV and San Diego State. Louisiana Tech has had its fair share of bad results, losing three of four heading into the Hawaii Bowl.

Although both teams prefer to pass with standard and passing downs run rate outside the top 100, both teams tend to move the ball at a slower clip. Hawaii is 105th in adjusted pace while Louisiana Tech is 94th.

I’ll be backing Louisiana Tech for a few key reasons. The Bulldogs are one of the least penalized teams in the nation and have protected the ball better than Hawaii on the season. Expect McDonald to get pressured and take some sacks as the Warriors offensive line is 81st in passing downs sack rate.

Louisiana Tech’s defensive front is 15th in sack rate with a defensive line havoc rate of 22nd. If McDonald can escape pressure, the Bulldogs are 11th in defensive back havoc.

Louisiana Tech has the better defense with a coach who knows how to prepare his players for a trip to the island. Hawaii’s terrible splits in field position should give the Bulldogs the extra edge needed for a victory.

Shop for the best number in the last college game before Christmas as the number floats around pk to Hawaii -1.

Collin’s Pick: Louisiana Tech +1

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