College Football Odds, Picks & Best Bets for Saturday’s Gator Bowl, Outback Bowl & Fiesta Bowl (January 2)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: Breece Hall (left) and Brock Purdy (right).
The College Football Playoff semifinal games might be over, but bowl season definitely isn’t.
After all, Saturdays are for college football, right?
We have four college football bowl games scheduled for today, including the Gator Bowl between Kentucky and NC State, the Outback Bowl between Indiana and Ole Miss, the Fiesta Bowl between Iowa State and Oregon, and the Orange Bowl between North Carolina and Texas A&M.
Click any of our picks below to skip to that specific betting analysis.
Reported odds come via DraftKings unless otherwise noted and have been updated as of Friday evening. Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing on Thursday afternoon.
Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Kentucky
Kentucky ML (-128)
Don’t be fooled by the drastic differences in the records of these teams. Kentucky, going for its third straight bowl victory, suffered four of its six losses against teams that finished in the top eight of the College Football Playoff rankings.
The Cats had a much tougher schedule than an NC State team that beat up on the bottom feeders of the ACC. The Wolfpack also got very fortunate in close games, notching a 4-0 in one-score results.
From a matchup perspective, I think Kentucky holds a few advantages here. The strength of the NC State defense, which has struggled overall, is its pass rush. The Wolfpack rank in the top 10 in sacks and tackles for loss.
They run a unique 3-3-5 defense that features blitzes and stunts coming from all over. Nose tackle Alim McNeill is a monster in the interior who will absolutely play at the next level. He frees up so much room for Payton Wilson — who led ACC in tackles — to operate.
However, that advantage is neutralized against a Kentucky team that has an elite offensive line and doesn’t really rely on its passing game.
The Wildcats are a full ground-and-pound team that should be able to efficiently move the ball between the tackles against an NC State defense that allowed over 275 yards per game on the ground in its three losses.
Kentucky also has familiarity with the unique NC State 3-3-5 scheme, as it saw a similar one earlier this year against Mississippi State.
On the other side of the ball, NC State’s offense has been very inefficient all season. It’s relied on explosive passing plays through the air, but that’s exactly what Kentucky’s bend-but-don’t-break defense prevents. The Cats were one of the best teams in the nation when it comes to defending pass explosiveness.
I grabbed BBN on the moneyline at -130, but you can find it the Cats at -128 at BetMGM. Grabbing Kentucky -2.5 is fine, but I recommend taking the moneyline in meaningless bowls rather than laying under 3 points — especially because teams are prone to go for the 2-point conversion more frequently.
Outback Bowl: Indiana vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss Team Total Over 27.5
Ole Miss and its powerhouse offense head into the Outback Bowl with the 12th-ranked scoring offense in the country. The Rebels are putting up an average of 40.7 points per game and gaining an average of 562.4 yards per game, which ranks it third in FBS total offense.
These team offensive stats are particularly impressive when you consider that all of this was accomplished on an SEC-only schedule, no cupcakes necessary. Corral has been the driving force behind the on-field performance and ranks eighth in FBS passing efficiency.
The Ole Miss defense is a liability, though. It allows opposing teams to print points, ranking 121st in FBS scoring defense, giving up an average of 40.3 points per game. The Ole Miss defense does allow the offense to see the field quite often, however.
The Hoosier defense has been rock solid all season. It ranks 15th in scoring defense, allowing only 19.4 points per game. But the story takes a twist when looking at Indiana’s passing defense. The Hoosiers rank 59th in FBS passing defense, giving up 226 yards through the air per game. The Indiana defense will have to buckle down to counter the non-stop Rebel aerial attack.
Ole Miss baits all of its opponents into a passing battle, and I don’t think this game will deviate from that approach. The Rebels win games by outgunning the opposition behind Corral’s arm.
I like Ole Miss at +8.5 a lot here, but I like the over of the Rebel team total at 27.5 more. My model projects Ole Miss as a two-point underdog, and while I do think there’s value there, I think that the team total derivative of the current spread is a bigger value proposition.
Ole Miss is going to put up points like it has all season, and I think it blows by the team total in the third quarter. Take the Ole Miss team total over 27.5 up to 30 points.
Ole Miss ML & Oregon ML Parlay (+815)
I love two-game parlays with this much upside that also have separate kickoffs so there’s an opportunity to hedge out in the second game.
Ole Miss is one of the most fascinating teams in the country, somehow ending its 2020 regular season campaign averaging and allowing over 40 points per game.
I have supreme confidence that given extra time to prepare, Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will find a way to exploit a fairly stout Indiana defense.
On defense, Ole Miss simply doesn’t have the personnel to slow opposing attacks, but Indiana is trotting out a quarterback with exactly one game of starting experience.
As a result, I believe the game plan will once again be conservative for the Hoosiers, which gives Ole Miss a shot at holding them in the 30s. If Matt Corral and company need to only score 35 points to win, I love that proposition.
Florida continued the tradition of Power Five conference title game losers laying an egg in their bowl game. Those teams are now 3-8 straight up in the last two seasons, and Iowa State is primed for a letdown as well. The rumors surrounding Matt Campbell have the potential to distract not only the players but also the staff.
Oregon is in a more stable position and is excited to return to a major bowl game for the second straight season.
I loved what I saw from Tyler Shough this season, and I think the Anthony Brown short-yardage package has the potential to help the Ducks pull the outright upset in this spot. I had a number in my mind for this parlay of 6:1, so once I punched it in and saw north of 8:1 on the payout, I had to pull the trigger.
Fiesta Bowl: Iowa State vs. Oregon
Iowa State -4
Quarterback Brock Purdy has been fairly efficient, throwing the ball for 7.7 yards per attempt, but he was the main reason Iowa State lost in the Big 12 title game, as he threw three picks. Going into the game, he had only thrown six all season long, so that was an uncommon performance from Purdy.
However, the Iowa State offense doesn’t entirely run through Purdy. The Cyclones also have a dynamic running game, led by running back Breece Hall.
The standout, who averages a ridiculous 5.9 yards per carry and has led the Cyclones to a ranking of 25th in Rushing Success, per College Football Data. The senior running back will be called on a lot, as Oregon’s weakness on defense is in its front seven.
The Ducks rank 88th in Defensive Rushing Success and are allowing 4.2 yards per carry. Hall will be the best running back they’ve seen since Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson, who ran all over them for 226 yards and two touchdowns. If the Ducks can’t slow down Hall, it’s going to be a long day on defense.
Despite its 4-2 record, Oregon’s offense was incredibly efficient this season. Oregon gained a whopping 6.6 yards per play, which was top-15 in the country.
The reason for its success? The run game.
The Ducks rank third in Rushing Success Rate and gain 4.9 yards per rush as a team. However, this is going to be the best rush defense they’ve seen all season long, as Iowa State sits top-20 in both Defensive Rushing Success and explosiveness, per College Football Data. They held Oklahoma’s rushing attack to under 4.0 yards per carry, so they should be able to slow down Oregon’s rushing attack.
I have the Cyclones projected as -7.45 favorites, so I think there’s value on Iowa State at -4.5 or better.
Iowa State -4
This Oregon team was inconsistent all season and only found itself in the Pac-12 Championship game because Washington had COVID-19 issues. In that championship game, Oregon gained just 243 total yards but benefited from three USC turnovers.
Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough has been up and down all season, and Oregon clearly doesn’t fully trust him. Shough attempted only 15 passes in the Pac-12 title game, and backup Anthony Brown got his first playing time of the season, tossing two touchdowns himself.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy also struggled in the conference championship game, but that was uncharacteristic for him. Purdy had thrown 17 touchdowns and six interceptions prior to the game and was named first-team All-Big 12.
Purdy has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American Breece Hall, who led the country in rushing yards. Tight end Charlie Kolar and wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson were both named first-team All-Big 12 as well.
The Oregon defense has been brutal this season after suffering a ton of opt-outs before the season. The Ducks defense ranks 82nd in Defensive Success Rate, and teams have found success through the air and on the ground against them.
Oregon allowed 267 rushing yards to UCLA and 269 to Oregon State this season. Hall averaged 130.5 yards per game and had 19 touchdowns in 11 games. Oregon is really going to struggle to slow him down in this one.
It’s hard for me to trust Shough when his own coaching staff doesn’t appear to. The Iowa State defense has been terrific all season, and Purdy should bounce back from his performance last week.
Iowa State is in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time in program history and will be motivated to cap off one of the best seasons in school history.
I’ve admittedly been higher on Oregon than the market pretty much all year long, but my numbers have Iowa State as only a 1.2-point favorite. Where Oregon has really struggled this year is holding onto the ball (bottom-10 in fumbles lost per game), but fumbles are mostly random and not really predictive.
When Oregon isn’t coughing the ball up, it moves it really effectively. The Ducks rank 12th in Success Rate, 24th in explosive play rate, and 19th in touchdown rate. Quarterback Tyler Shough also ranks 12th in Expected Points Added per play at the position.
The defense struggled out of the gate because of several important opt-outs, but it has improved down the stretch. Oregon just held USC to only 4.5 yards per play in the Pac-12 championship game, which was easily the Trojans’ worst offensive performance of the year from that perspective. In the game before, Oregon held California to only 3.4 yards per play.
Iowa State has been efficient this year, but I would give the slight edge to Oregon’s offense in this game. The Ducks rank higher in EPA per play, Success Rate, and explosive play rate. Oregon’s offense is the best unit in this matchup on either side of the ball, and I just think the value is on Oregon in a game I view as closer to a coin flip.