College Football Odds, Picks, Predictions: Our Top Bets for the Bahamas Bowl & Cure Bowl (Dec. 17)

College Football Odds, Picks, Predictions: Our Top Bets for the Bahamas Bowl & Cure Bowl (Dec. 17) article feature image

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: A Cure Bowl sign.

  • Bowl season is finally upon us, and our staff came prepared.
  • Collin Wilson and Stuckey broke down both Coastal Carolina vs. Northern Illinois in the Cure Bowl and Toledo vs. Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl.
  • Read on for both of their breakdowns and betting picks for each game.

We made it.

After a wild, COVID-influenced 2020 season and a back-to-normal 2021 year, we're blessed with another bowl season. But this time, we have 42 bowls for all 84 bowl-eligible teams.

Two of those bowls will kick off the college football postseason today. If you feel like a kid waking up on Christmas morning, don't worry — that's perfectly normal. We feel the same way.

First, Toledo and Middle Tennessee kick off the postseason in the Bahamas Bowl for some midday action at noon ET. Then, Coastal Carolina and Northern Illinois go to battle in the Cure Bowl for the first night game of bowl season at 6 p.m. ET.

Our senior writers, Collin Wilson and Stuckey, feel the same excitement as everyone else, and they broke down both games to open up the best time of the year.

So, check out both of their full betting breakdowns and picks below. And be sure to stick with us all the way through the National Championship, because we'll have betting previews and more for every single bowl game.

Happy bowling!

Friday College Football Best Bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college football staff is targeting from today's slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

12 p.m. ET
Toledo -10 · Under 50
6 p.m. ET
Coastal Carolina Team Total Over 37
Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo

Friday, Dec. 17
12 p.m. ET
Toledo -10 · Under 50

By Stuckey

Bahamas Bowl
Friday, Dec. 17 · Nassau, Bahamas

What better way to kick bowl season off than with a noon ET kick on a Friday in Nassau for the Bahamas Bowl between Toledo and Middle Tennessee State.

The Rockets finished with a 7-5 record on the season, failing to meet high expectations as the preseason MAC favorite with a win total of 9.5. However, they really came on at the end of the regular season by winning four of their final five games with the one loss coming by three points.

Close losses really cost Toledo all year. The Rockets finished 0-4 in one-possession games with all four coming by three points or less against bowl-eligible teams. This easily could've been a 10-win team had a few bounces gone their way in those coin-flip games.

Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders finished 6-6 on the season, exceeding their preseason win total of five. They became bowl eligible in the regular-season finale with a fourth-quarter comeback win over Florida Atlantic.

The first two things I always look at when handicapping a bowl game are player/coach availability and motivation. There doesn't appear to be any concern with the former, and I believe both teams should have plenty of motivation here.

Middle Tennessee hasn't won a bowl game since 2017, and this will mark its first appearance in one since 2018. After having three of its final five contests canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 last year, I expect an inspired effort from a team that exceeded expectations looking to finish with a winning record.

For reference, six-win teams have been very kind to bettors in bowl games against teams that finished above .500. I assume getting to over .500 does indeed offer some motivational edge in general.

  • Six-win teams have gone 68-48-2 (58.6%) against the spread in bowls since 2005 against winning teams.
  • As underdogs: 45-25-1 (64.3%) ATS, covering by just under a field goal per game.
  • Teams coming off a win to get to six wins have been even more profitable at 26-11-1 (70.3%) ATS.

However, I don't really see the motivational edge in this specific instance against a Toledo team that hasn't won a bowl game since 2015.

I expect this senior-laden team to be hungry to secure its first bowl victory, especially considering how well it played down the stretch, including a dominant win over Akron in a regular-season finale that didn't mean much from a bowl eligibility or conference standpoint.

So, where does the betting value lie from a spread and total perspective? Let's take a closer look at both teams before digging in there.

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Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

Middle Tennessee's resume isn't all that impressive when you take a closer look. Five of its six wins came against teams that didn't make a bowl, including:

  • Monmouth
  • UConn
  • Southern Miss
  • Florida International
  • Florida Atlantic

That lists contains one FCS school and four FBS teams with a combined 10-38 record. The Blue Raiders did have one impressive victory over Marshall, but they were outgained by almost 200 yards and averaged 1.5 fewer yards per play.

So, how did they pull off that upset win? Turnovers. Marshall had six turnovers in the game compared to MTSU's two.

That's actually been a major storyline of the Blue Raiders' season, as they rank sixth nationally in turnover margin, primarily as a result of an FBS-high 31 takeaways.

The Middle Tennessee defense has intercepted a very respectable 16 passes, which ranks in the top 10 nationally. It's also had extremely good fortune in the fumble department, recovering 15-of-20 opponent fumbles. No team in the country had more fumble recoveries or return touchdowns than the Blue Raiders.

When analyzing this MTSU team, it all starts with the defense, which improved dramatically as the season progressed and actually finished 24th in the country in yards per play allowed.

The Blue Raiders are led by safeties Reed Blankenship and Gregory Grate Jr. on the back end in addition to edge rusher Jordan Ferguson and a very reliable cornerback in Quincy Riley, who missed some time earlier in the season.

They can be pushed around a bit up front and will give up a high completion percentage. However, they are an opportunistic group that doesn't give up many explosive plays and buckles down in the red zone.

While the defense ranks 24th nationally in yards per play allowed at 5.1, the offense has been equally as bad — also averaging exactly 5.1 yards per play — the 24th-worst mark in FBS.

The ground game has been particularly poor (3.5 yards per rush) in part due to an offensive line that struggles to generate a push up front.

Also, a rotating cast of characters at quarterback hasn't helped an already inconsistent passing attack despite some fairly good balance at wide receiver.

Middle Tennessee is currently down to its third and fourth options at quarterback after Chase Cunningham suffered a season-ending injury and NC State transfer Bailey Hockman retired from football. That forced the Blue Raiders to turn to freshman Nick Vattiato as the starter for the final four games of the season. He showed some flashes but ultimately finished with only five touchdowns to six interceptions.

Vattiato also got benched in the season finale in favor of sophomore Mike DiLiello, who led MTSU to that comeback win against FAU. He wasn't great throwing the ball, but he does bring a bit more mobility to the position.

Regardless of who Middle Tennessee goes with at quarterback, this is an offense that prefers to pass but can't really do so effectively.

Toledo Rockets

Similar to Middle Tennessee, Toledo goes as its defense goes.

The Rockets came into the year with one of the most experienced defenses in the country and a unit I had ranked in the top 25 nationally in the preseason.

They had one or two head-scratching performances but mainly lived up to the hype, finishing in the top 25 in both Rush and Pass Success Rate while ranking 14th in yards per play allowed.

There really are no holes on the Toledo defense after the addition of Penn State transfer Judge Culpepper provided some much-needed additional bulk on the interior. Some of the names to look out for include:

  • Dyontae Johnson and Jonathan Jones are rock solid at linebacker.
  • Samuel Womack is an outstanding cover cornerback, and Quinyon Mitchell has become a very reliable No. 2.
  • Jamal Hines and Desjuan Johnson are menaces off of the edge.
  • Zachary Ford and Nate Bauer give Toledo two extremely experienced safeties who simply don't make mistakes.
  • Tycen Anderson, who missed some time early in the season, is the most talented defender on the roster. He can play slot or safety and will likely play at the next level.

It's an extremely veteran group that doesn't miss many assignments or tackles. There's also excellent depth, especially in the secondary.

However, unlike Middle Tennessee, Toledo actually has a fairly competent offense that improved as the season progressed, primarily due to a switch at quarterback from Carter Bradley to freshman Dequan Finn, who is the more mobile of the two and has played significantly better overall since taking over as the full-time starter.

Toledo has a run-first offense that features running back Bryant Koback. The junior ran for just under 1,300 yards this year at a clip of 6.7 yards per carry. Everything starts with the ground game for the Rockets.

The offensive line does a tremendous job in terms of run blocking (top-25 in Line Yards) but does struggle in pass protection, ranking 117th in Sack Rate. However, that shouldn't be a major issue against a Middle Tennessee defense that grades out below-average in getting to opposing quarterbacks.

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Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo Betting Pick

With motivation being a wash in my eyes, I think Toledo is the play here.

I just can't see the Middle Tennessee offense doing much against an excellent Rockets defense that has an advantage in almost every matchup.

And on the other side of the ball, Toledo should move the ball on the ground with the power-rushing attack of Koback and Finn's mobility. MTSU also can't really take advantage of Toledo's primary weakness on offense in pass protection.

I also think the Blue Raiders defense got very fortunate in the turnover department this season. Regression certainly looms against a Toledo offense that simply doesn't turn the ball over, finishing with an FBS-low six turnovers on the season.

Keep in mind this game is being played in the Bahamas, which means winds could become a major factor. The current forecast calls for 15-20 mph winds, which might make passing and field-goal kicking a bit more difficult. That should heavily favor Toledo, which has the clearly superior rushing offense and defense.

In regard to the total, I like the under down to 50 in a game I think Toledo dominates with its defense while controlling the clock with methodical run-heavy drives.

Pick: Toledo -10 or better · Under 50 or better

Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina

Friday, Dec. 17
6 p.m. ET
Coastal Carolina Team Total Over 37

By Collin Wilson

Cure Bowl
Friday, Dec. 17 · Orlando, FL

Exploria Stadium in downtown Orlando will be the scene for the first night game of bowl season. The seventh edition of the Cure Bowl features MAC champion Northern Illinois against Sun Belt powerhouse Coastal Carolina.

Both head coaches are searching for their first bowl victory, and for the Chanticleers, a chance to avenge their 2020 overtime loss.

Head coach Thomas Hammock accomplished plenty of fresh goals after finishing 2020 without a single win in his first season. All of the Huskies' losses came against bowl teams, but a closer look at the wins suggests regression is coming. In seven conference wins, Northern Illinois had a winning margin of just 25 points.

The Huskies will have one of the biggest second-order win total numbers in the offseason but will first try to cap off a magical MAC Championship season at the Cure Bowl.

All eyes are on Grayson McCall, one of the best quarterbacks in college football, who may be hitting the transfer portal. The latest comments show his commitment to the Cure Bowl but indicate there may be a future outside of Coastal Carolina in 2022.

With McCall's efforts to win this game for the seniors and the staff, Northern Illinois and the college football consumers get to watch one of the elite quarterbacks in the sport.

Northern Illinois Huskies

Hammock is a former running backs coach and puts that on full display through the Huskies offense. Northern Illinois runs the ball on 64% of snaps with an even distribution of 11 and 12 formations.

This heavy-rush offense is top-10 in Rushing Success Rate and finds plenty of success in standard downs.

Jay Ducker has been the workhorse running back, accumulating over 1,000 yards and create 44 missed tackles. While Ducker is smooth in space, Clint Ratkovich has been the bruising red-zone force with an extra dose of explosiveness.

How about a 96-yard touchdown run by Northern Illinois' Clint Ratkovich, who the broadcast is calling a FB!

— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) November 24, 2021

The issues for the Huskies offense begin in passing downs, with a complete drop in Success Rate and efficiency from quarterback Rocky Lombardi. The junior has committed eight of his 11 turnover-worthy plays from a clean pocket.

Also on the struggle bus is the Northern Illinois defense, as nearly every single statistic sits outside the top 100 of all FBS teams. Specifically, the Huskies are 122nd in Standard Downs Success Rate.

Defensive coordinator Derrick Jackson has the inevitable task of getting his multiple 4-2-5 looks to give pause to the Chanticleers. Coastal Carolina is one of the best offenses in standard downs with a top-15 rank in Success Rate and explosiveness.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Quarterback Grayson McCall busted out on the scene as a freshman during the pandemic season of 2020.

Leading a complicated RPO scheme with 21 and 12 personnel has generated an top overall offensive rank in big play percentage, the number of 12-plus yard runs and 20-plus yard catches by number of attempts.

With wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh as the leader in targets, McCall has posted a 23:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Perfectly executed RPO by Grayson McCall to Jaivon Heiligh

— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) September 18, 2021

At running back, Shermari Jones has kept the Chanticleers in standard downs with an explosive drive percentage more than double the national average.

When Coastal Carolina is in scoring opportunities, rarely has the offense come away without a touchdown. Of the 41 scores by the Chants this season, only three have been field goals.

The defense rotates between three- and four-man fronts with success in limiting explosive plays with a top-25 rank in tackling.

Coastal defenders are 50th in Rushing Success Rate and a lower 72nd in Stuff Rate, suggesting any decent ground attack will have success against the Chanticleers.

Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina Betting Pick

McCall will be the hottest free agent on the market known as the transfer portal.

Coastal Carolina's top-10 mark in Standard Downs Success Rate contrasts the Northern Illinois' bottom-10 rank in the same category on defense.

With the top red-zone touchdown scoring rate in the nation, the Chants have generated 4.4 points for every possession that crosses the 40-yard line.

Both offenses move at the slowest tempo numbers in college football, but to counter Coastal's explosiveness, the Northern Illinois offense must put together efficient drives.

The Huskies have been above average in methodical drives all season, posting two-plus first down drives at a rate 7% higher than the national average. This comes from averaging 5.3 yards on rushing attempts and six yards in standard downs. The biggest area of struggle for Coastal is defending the run, leaving the current market number wide open for a Northern Illinois backdoor cover.

The Action Network projects this game at Coastal Carolina -14 with McCall under center, giving value to the current market number. The posted total has bounced in the low 60s, but the best bet is on the Chanticleers offense.

Northern Illinois has no defensive presence in stopping the rush, generating pressure on the passer or stopping the explosive play. Considering Coastal Carolina's touchdown scoring percentage in the red zone, a Chanticleers team total over is the safest way to avoid a Huskies offense that has fourth-quarter backdoor potential.

Pick: Coastal Carolina Team Total Over 37

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