College Football Odds, Best Bets: Our Staff’s 5 Favorite Picks for New Year’s Day Bowl Games
Emilee Chinn/Getty Images. Pictured: The Ohio State Buckeyes.
- New Year's Day and college football are a perfect pairing.
- With five games on Saturday's docket, our staff shares its five favorite bets.
- Check out all five picks for Saturday's college football bowl games below.
There’s a certain tradition that comes with the beginning of the year, and every college football fan and bettor knows exactly what it is: New Year’s Day college football.
This is one of our favorite days at The Action Network, as we attempt to start the new year out on the right foot by picking some winners and taking a trip to Green Dot City.
This year is no exception, as our staff has five picks for four of Saturday’s biggest games:
- Penn State vs. Arkansas (Outback Bowl)
- Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame (Fiesta Bowl)
- Iowa vs. Kentucky (Citrus Bowl)
- Utah vs. Ohio State (Rose Bowl)
I mean, is there a better way to start off the new year than with the Granddaddy of Them All? We think not.
Check out all five of our staff’s best bets below, and be sure to come back for the Texas Bowl on Jan. 4 and the National Championship — because we’ll be back with more analysis and more picks.
New Year’s Day 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.
|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.|
Penn State vs. Arkansas
By Doug Ziefel
This matchup represents what may be the most important factors when handicapping a bowl game: opt-outs and motivation.
Sam Pittman’s Arkansas Razorbacks want to crown a successful season after finishing 3-7 last year. As far as the two factors go, they will have no opt-outs and have all of the motivation to finish strong.
Penn State is coming off a tough campaign as it battled through the gauntlet that was the Big Ten Conference. It was built on a dominant defense, but that defense will not be anywhere near full strength for this game.
The Nittany Lions will be missing a starting defensive tackle, starting linebacker, and starting safety, as they have all opted out of this game.
Though, in terms of opt-outs, the biggest comes on the offensive side for Penn State. Star wide receiver Jahan Dotson has declared for the NFL Draft and will not play in this game.
Dotson is a big loss for this Penn State team, as he was the backbone for what was a mediocre offense. The Nittany Lions had no semblance of a rushing attack this season, and they will now face a healthy Razorbacks defense that can key in on the reserve receivers that Penn State is left with.
On the other side of the ball, the Arkansas rushing attack should be amplified as those Penn State starters who opted out are made up of two of the team’s top four tacklers.
I expect K.J. Jefferson and Trelon Smith to have consistent success and help put Arkansas in the driver’s seat early on. Woo pig sooie!
Pick: Arkansas ML -130
Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame
With Brian Kelly leaving for Baton Rouge, newly-appointed head coach Marcus Freeman took over the reins in South Bend. I like the hire and think the Fighting Irish will show up here.
However, I think Oklahoma State will as well, so I don’t see a motivational edge on either side.
And the Pokes will certainly hold an experience edge when it comes to preparing for a bowl, as this will mark Freeman’s first, while Gundy has been around the block. Some betting trends out there do suggest this matters when there is a significant bowl experience advantage.
The latter has also enjoyed plenty of against-the-spread success during bowl season, going 10-5 ATS (30.5% ROI) since 2005, per Action Labs. He’s covered those 15 games by an average margin of just under five points per game.
Notre Dame will also be without star safety Kyle Hamilton in addition to running back Kyren Williams, who really came on toward the end of the year. Those are major losses on each side of the ball.
It’s also worth noting that Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who was recently hired for the same position at Ohio State will coach the Cowboys in this bowl.
Ultimately, I just think Notre Dame is overvalued in the market due to some misleading results at the end of the year against poor teams.
The Fighting Irish went 11-1 on the season, which included a perfect 3-0 record in one-possession games. More telling is they either trailed or led by four or less in the fourth quarter in seven of their 12 games. They certainly benefited from some good fortune late in games.
For the season, the Irish went 6-1 against bowl teams. That sounds very impressive — and is considering how much Notre Dame lost from last year’s team — but it’s a bit misleading when you dig a little deeper.
Let’s take a look at those seven games:
- Beat Wisconsin without stud running back Braelon Allen, who basically became the entire Wisconsin offense late in the year. The final score also doesn’t paint the picture of how that played out, as the Irish trailed going into the fourth quarter.
- Faced Toledo without quarterback Dequan Finn (who was much better than the early-season starter). ND trailed going in the fourth and held on for a three-point victory at home.
- Defeated Purdue by 14 (four-point game in fourth).
- Lost to Cincinnati at home.
- Beat Virginia Tech by three on the road in a game it trailed going into the fourth.
- Victory over North Carolina by 10 in a game ND led by four in the fourth and was outgained in.
- Blew out Virginia without Brennan Armstrong.
Virginia without Armstrong is not a bowl-caliber team. He’s essentially its entire team. That means Notre Dame faced only one bowl-caliber team over its final seven games, and that was a disappointing 6-7 UNC team that finished with more yards.
Since a home loss to Cincy, ND had seven wins, and not one came against a team that finished with a winning record.
It even faced Georgia Tech without quarterback Jeff Sims and needed overtime to beat Florida State in two of its contests against teams that didn’t qualify for a bowl.
I don’t think Oklahoma State isn’t getting enough respect in the market after its loss in the Big 12 title game. The Pokes still have a top-three defense nationally, per my numbers, and an offense that improved down the stretch.
I think the Pokes defense can dominate this game, especially up front against a ND offense that ranks in the bottom 20 nationally in Havoc and sacks allowed. OK State ranks in the top five in both.
I expect plenty of negative plays on passing downs, as Notre Dame should struggle to run on Oklahoma State’s stout run defense on early downs, especially without its starting running back.
As long as Spencer Sanders doesn’t give this game away, a la the Big 12 Championship game, the Pokes should get this done.
I’m going to wait to see if a +3 pops in the market before kick but will have a position regardless and like Oklahoma State at +1.5 or better.
Pick: Oklahoma State +2
Notre Dame -1
The Fiesta Bowl has potential to be one of the best games of bowl season when Notre Dame meets Oklahoma State.
Notre Dame will be without two key players in running back Kyler Williams and safety Kyle Hamilton. But rest assured, the Irish roster is fired up to play under new head coach Marcus Freeman.
The Notre Dame players are so freaking excited for the announcement of new head coach, Marcus Freeman, I love it!
The strength coach was so excited he even rushed the intro 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/wa5jcExhs7
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) December 3, 2021
Oklahoma State will be without its defensive coordinator after Jim Knowles left for the same job at Ohio State. He was a huge contributor to the success behind a Cowboys defense that ranked sixth in points allowed this season.
But the Oklahoma State offense has been suspect away from home this season. Star running back Jaylen Warren will be back for the Cowboys, but the group ranked 112th in Rushing Success Rate and 119th in Line Yards.
Running the ball against a Notre Dame front seven is no easy feat. That would leave the bulk of the load on the arm of quarterback Spencer Sanders, who has thrown six interceptions over the last two games, including four in the Big 12 Championship.
Notre Dame’s biggest concern is keeping quarterback Jack Coan upright. The one chink in the Oklahoma State defense’s armor is getting defensive pass rush, as the group ranks 115th nationally in that area.
The Irish defense put the clamps on the last month of the season, allowing 23 total points over its final four games.
Notre Dame ranks fourth in the nation in tackling and will slow down the Oklahoma State rushing to propel the Irish to a 1-0 start in the Freeman era.
Pick: Notre Dame -1
Iowa vs. Kentucky
Iowa and Kentucky square off in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on New Year’s Day. This is an intriguing game between two physical teams that both lean on strong defenses.
In a game between two opponents that are pretty similar, I see some value on the Hawkeyes as a three-point underdog.
As poor as Iowa’s offense looked to close the year, you have to think that three-plus weeks of prep for this bowl game will help the unit gain some cohesion.
Spencer Petras will need to lean on his tight ends as Kentucky has been stout all year against the run, and running back Tyler Goodson has opted out of this one.
On the other side of the ball, forcing turnovers and creating some Havoc in the backfield will be paramount for the Hawkeye defense.
This is where I think Iowa can really give itself some chances. Will Levis has thrown 12 interceptions on the season, and the Hawkeyes secondary has been a ball-hawking group all year, combining for 23 picks.
Expect Iowa to win the turnover battle and give Petras and the offense some short fields to work with.
Lastly, special teams is an area in which the Hawkeyes have been phenomenal all season. Kicker Caleb Shudak is 23-of-27 on field goals for the season, which could be very important in a game where touchdowns will be hard to come by.
Iowa has also been dangerous in the return game, and punter Tory Taylor has been very solid at flipping the field all season.
Look, if you like an up-and-down high-scoring affair, then watch a different bowl game. It may be ugly, but I trust Kirk Ferentz to have his team fired up to win its fourth consecutive bowl game.
In a game I make a coin flip, I’ll roll with the Hawkeyes and the points.
Pick: Iowa +3
Utah vs. Ohio State
By Shawn Burns
Pac-12 champion Utah (10-3) matches up against the Big Ten East’s Ohio State (10-2) in the 108th Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Utah enters the game after whooping Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship. Ohio State enters the game coming off of a demoralizing loss to Michigan in the last game of the regular season.
Don’t let the conference title sway you when betting this game — Ohio State is the better team and will be the more motivated squad after losing to Michigan for only the second time in 17 contests.
Look for the Buckeyes to release pent-up aggression in Pasadena.
Ohio State will be without the services of a handful of NFL hopefuls. However, Chris Olave has been practicing, although there’s no guarantee he will play.
There have been a couple of other notable absences in practice leading up to the game, and this has likely led to the line moving from -8 to -4. The Utes look to start the game with all of their future NFL players suited up.
The Ohio State defense has a favorable matchup against the Utah offense even with its interior depth concerns. The Buckeyes rank 24th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 20.9 points per game.
Utah is a running team, and this suits an Ohio State defense that has had success in defending the run and been trouble against the pass.
Ohio State has the 19th-ranked rushing defense in the country, allowing just 118.5 yards per game. Utah has an excellent rushing offense, ranking 13th nationally, averaging over 215 yards per game, but Ohio State will be able to get it off the field to give its offense a chance.
Offense is where the Buckeyes will separate themselves from the Utes. Behind redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud, the Bucks boast the top-ranked scoring offense in the nation, averaging 45.5 points per game.
The Ohio State fun facts don’t stop there. The Buckeyes rank first in points per opportunity and second in Offensive Success Rate. This explosive Ohio State team will have the clear advantage over a Utes defense that ranks 32nd in Defensive Success Rate.
Look for Ohio State head coach Ryan Day to have his team motivated to avenge a heartbreaking loss to rival Michigan. Stroud and the Buckeye offense will be able to pass their way to a cover in Pasadena.
Lay the four points.