College Football Odds, Best Bets: Our Staff’s Top Picks for Saturday’s Bowl Games (Dec. 18)
G Fiume/Getty Images. Pictured: Malik Willis (7) of the Liberty Flames.
- Another college football Saturday is upon us, but this time, it's full of bowl games.
- Our staff broke down nine bets for three of Saturday's biggest games, including Western Kentucky vs. App State and Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan.
- Check out all nine of our staff's best bets for Saturday's games below.
After having only one college football game last Saturday, we’re blessed with six today. And they’re not just any college football games — they’re postseason bowl games.
The action starts earlier than a typical Saturday slate at 11 a.m. ET and runs through 9:15 p.m. ET. You know what that means: wall-to-wall Saturday college football to bet once again.
Our staff prepared for this moment all year, and they came through with nine best bets for three of Saturday’s biggest games:
- Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl
- UAB vs. BYU in the Independence Bowl
- Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan in the LendingTree Bowl
So, check out all of our 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 from now through January.
Now let’s go bowling!
Saturday College Football Bowl 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.|
Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State
Bailey Zappe is that ex-girlfriend I just can’t quit.
Granted, not all the blame rests on his shoulders, but leading the team to two of my biggest betting losses this season hurts. Not covering against Michigan State and losing in the conference championship with a +1400 ticket will haunt me forever.
Alas, unlike my actual ex, Zappe is someone I’ll gladly run back to.
Even with an announcement in coaching and some grad transfers moving on after this season, the majority of Hilltoppers return for one last ride into the sunset.
Zappe and company campaigned one of the best offensive passing performances with the signal-caller finishing the season with 5,545 yards and 56 touchdowns.
His top two targets, Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley, combined for an incredible 3,017 yards and 26 touchdowns. Look for them to add onto their totals as App State will struggle to contain both of them.
Like WKU, App State also broke my heart on championship weekend. Riding a futures ticket with confidence backing their defense, the Mountaineers once again let Louisiana cruise to a 24-16 victory.
The defense is still legit with top ranks in most defensive metrics, but this is a unit that can be exposed through the air — exactly what WKU will look to do behind a gunslinger in Zappe.
I grabbed WKU +3 in hopes that the offense can comfortably give it a lead with prayers its defense can get a stop or two. I will look to add onto this position with any +3.5 in the market.
I may be 0-2 backing Zappe with big bets, but let’s see if he can make things right this time out.
Pick: Western Kentucky +3
Appalachian State -3
By Shawn Burns
The Boca Raton Bowl kicks off a great day of college football with Western Kentucky taking on Appalachian State in a matchup between two of the most explosive offenses in the country.
Western Kentucky has the top passing offense in the nation, led by the one and only Bailey Zappe, who finished with 56 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.
Zappe has a chance to break the all-time single-season FBS yardage record and the single-season touchdown record with a strong performance against App State.
The Hilltoppers offense has been electric and a joy to watch all season, but the defense will need to step up against the Mountaineers. Western Kentucky was torched by UTSA in the Conference USA Championship game, allowing over 300 yards rushing and 49 points.
Appalachian State fell short in the Sun Belt title game to Louisiana, but it was still another great season for a program that prides itself on winning championships. It was App’s seventh consecutive season with at least nine wins, and it’s shooting for its seventh consecutive bowl victory.
The Mountaineers have a strong offensive line and a talented group of running backs who will be a challenge for Western Kentucky defensively. They rank 37th in the country in rushing yards per game and average 4.7 yards per carry.
App State allows only 20 points per game, which is 16th in the country, and it’s 21st in yards per play. The pass defense has been strong, but it hasn’t seen anything like Bailey Zappe and the Western Kentucky passing attack.
This will be a competitive game, and I’m looking forward to seeing Zappe attempt to make history against a talented and well-coached defense.
Western Kentucky will play well offensively, but the App State rushing attack will control the game and the Mountaineers defense will secure just enough stops to win.
Pick: Appalachian State -3
It’s always important to play psychologist leading into these bowl games and try to figure out what the motivation will be for each side.
These two teams are hard to gauge, as they both had very successful seasons but are coming off a disappointing loss in the conference championships.
The one motivation factor I’m the most confident in is that Western Kentucky will want to get Bailey Zappe the single-season touchdown record. He has tossed 56 touchdowns this year and needs five to break Joe Burrow’s record. No matter what the score is, Western Kentucky will do everything it can to get him the record.
Zappe will have all of his receivers available, led by All-American Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley. They combined for 26 touchdown catches this year.
He will also have offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, who will coach the bowl game despite taking a job at Texas Tech. Western Kentucky had the second-highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 43.1 points per game.
For App State, it should have plenty of success running the ball with Nate Noel and Camerun Peoples against a weak Western Kentucky rush defense that ranks 98th in Success Rate.
Quarterback Chase Brice tends to be very boom-or-bust when throwing the ball. He can bomb it around for touchdowns but will also throw plenty of interceptions, both of which are good for an over.
Both teams should be able to move the ball here, and with Zappe on the verge of history, the Hilltoppers will continue to air it out regardless of the game script.
Pick: Over 66.5
Western Kentucky Team Total Over 31
By Alex Hinton
Western Kentucky ranks second nationally in scoring offense at 43.1 points per game. The Hilltoppers have scored at least 31 points in every game this season and have scored at least 34 points in each of the last nine games.
WKU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley will be leaving for Texas Tech to take the same position, but he will coach in this game. The same goes for wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley and offensive tackle Mason Brooks, who have entered the transfer portal but will still play.
The Hilltoppers will have the gang together for one last ride, including record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe. The graduate transfer quarterback leads the nation with 5,545 yards and 56 touchdowns. His top target is All-American wide receiver Jerreth Sterns, who has 137 receptions for 1,718 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tinsley has hauled in 80 passes for 1,299 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Western Kentucky will be going against an Appalachian State defense that is pretty solid but can be susceptible through the air. The Mountaineers are 91st in passing down explosiveness allowed. App State also allowed 291 passing yards to Coastal Carolina and 270 to Marshall.
One thing we know about Western Kentucky is that it’s going to keep firing. The Hilltoppers throw it 50 times per time, and I do not expect that to change with Zappe on the verge of history. Zappe needs five touchdown passes to break Joe Burrow’s single-season record for passing touchdowns.
We ride with Zappe Hour one last time.
Pick: Western Kentucky Team Total Over 31
UAB vs. BYU
From a motivation perspective, I think UAB has a clear edge here. Bowl games are still important to the program, and I think the Blazers will be excited to play a top-25 team.
Meanwhile, BYU feels a bit slighted after getting passed up for a New Year’s Six bowl with the AD even saying they came up a half-yard short. I’m not sure how excited the Cougars are to play in this bowl against a Group of Five team.
UAB also has a regional advantage here.
From a matchup perspective, the BYU defense has been underwhelming all year from an advanced metrics standpoint, and injuries haven’t helped.
The UAB passing offense has been much better since Dylan Hopkins took over at quarterback, and I think it can hit some explosive plays here.
I also believe UAB will control the line of scrimmage against a vulnerable BYU front that ranks 96th in Standard Down Line Yards. That should open up the ground game for DeWayne McBride, who I have a sneaking suspicion will play (questionable, injury).
McBride, who averaged just under seven yards per carry, is one of the best backs in the country you’ve never heard of. Also, on passing downs, Hopkins won’t have to worry much about pressure against a BYU defense that ranks 114th in Sack Rate.
On the other side of the ball, the BYU offense has been very good this year. It should have some success but will be missing its starting tight end and third-leading receiver. That will hurt against a very talented UAB defense that I think can get enough stops to win this game outright.
It’s all about Mr. McBride. Give me the Blazers in a game I project under a field goal.
Pick: UAB +7
UAB plays at a very slow pace, but its offense was very efficient this season, averaging 5.9 yards per play and ranking 24th in EPA/Play.
The Blazers have a rush-heavy offense behind one of the best running back tandems in Conference USA in DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr., who both have carried the ball over 100 times this season and both are averaging over 5.0 yards per carry.
So, it makes sense that UAB rushes the ball at the 11th-highest rate in the country when it finished the regular season as the fifth-best rushing offense in college football in terms of EPA/Rush.
UAB will be able to run the ball all over BYU, which has not only been below average against the rush from a Success Rate standpoint (91st), but it’s also been susceptible to giving up big plays in the running game, ranking 58th in rushing explosiveness allowed.
The BYU offense is why it’s currently sitting at 10-2. The Cougars have an efficient and incredibly explosive offensive, averaging 6.6 yards per play.
Its rushing attack, led by running back Tyler Allgeier, has been lethal this season, as he’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has BYU ranking inside the top 25 in Rushing Success Rate.
He also has an incredible offensive line blocking for him, as BYU has the 10th-best run blocking grade, per PFF, and sits top-25 in Offensive Line Yards.
The problem for BYU, though, is that a lot of its impressive rushing stats were put up against some pretty bad run defenses. The best run defense the Cougars faced was Baylor, and they averaged only 2.8 yards per carry in that game.
The strength of UAB’s defense is in its front seven, where it excels in stopping the run. The Blazers allowed only 3.0 yards per rush during the regular season, which was the eighth-best mark in the country.
UAB also is top-25 in Rushing Success Rate Allowed and Defensive Line Yards, but possibly the biggest stat of all is that the Blazers sit third in the country in rushing explosiveness allowed. So, they should be able to slow down BYU’s rushing attack.
I only have BYU projected at -1, so I love the value on UAB at +6.5.
Pick: UAB +6.5
BYU had major pieces to replace from last season, including quarterback Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Cougars still flourished with a whole new group.
BYU finished the season 10-2 while going 5-0 against Pac-12 competition. It defeated the Pac-12 champion in Utah as well as the Mountain West champion in Utah State.
And how do the Cougars get rewarded for all of their success over Power Five competition and conference champions? With a trip to the Radiance Technologies Independence bowl to face off against UAB.
BYU averaged 6.6 yards per play against FBS competition this season, which ranked sixth in the nation.
The offense put up nearly 450 yards and 31 points per game behind the arm of Jaren Hall, who averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt and tossed 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
BYU thrived in winning the turnover battle all season long, as the defense accumulated 14 interceptions and recovered five fumbles.
UAB had high hopes this season but dropped games to Georgia, Liberty, Rice, and UTSA to finish 8-4 on the season.
The Blazers were the most penalized team in the nation, averaging 9.3 penalties that totaled 92 yards per game. That will come back to bite them in a matchup against an extremely efficient BYU offense that beat six Power Five programs through various methods.
The Cougars have too many playmakers, including running back Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
BYU won’t lack any motivation in this matchup as it looks to reach 11 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 15 years.
Pick: BYU -6.5
Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan
By Doug Ziefel
While it may be the LendingTree Bowl, the Liberty Flames will not be lending any favors to the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
The Eastern Michigan defense may be in for a long day against the potent Liberty offense.
Led by star quarterback Malik Willis, who leads the team in both passing and rushing yards, the Flames averaged nearly 31 points per game and 418 yards per game. They will now be facing an Eagles defense that surrendered 29 points per game and ranked 107th in opponent yards per play.
We should see a majority of the Flames damage come on the ground as they rush at nearly a 53% rate.
Willis and running back Joshua Mack will have very little resistance; Eastern Michigan was one of the worst defenses at stopping the ground game all season. It allowed 5.1 yards per rush and just over 205 yards per game, which both ranked 112th in the nation.
On the other side of the ball, the pass-centric Eagles will be met by stout Liberty defense. The Flames did a tremendous job of limiting their opposition both on the ground and through the air, ranking 12th in opponent yards per play.
Eastern Michigan quarterback Ben Bryant will be in for a long day. The Flames allowed the third-fewest passing yards per game, ranked 20th in opponent completion percentage, and had the fourth-highest Sack Rate in the country.
This one should be all Liberty, as it holds the edge in every facet of this matchup. I would play this up to -10.
Pick: Liberty -8.5
The Liberty Flames square off against the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Liberty looks to secure its third bowl victory in as many FBS seasons after transitioning from FCS in 2019.
In the midst of a massive coaching shuffle this season, Liberty emerged victorious by retaining head coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze was mentioned for a variety of jobs initially but agreed to an extension through 2028 after going 25-10 in his first three seasons in Lynchburg.
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis will be using his last game to showcase his talent after being projected as a first-round draft pick by a number of pundits before the season. Willis has accounted for a program-record 35 (24 passing and 11 rushing) touchdowns this season.
Liberty ranks 41st in the nation in scoring offense, putting up 31.8 points per game this season. A porous Eastern Michigan defense that ranks 82nd in scoring defense, allowing 27.8 points per game, will have a tough time containing Willis and company.
The Flames will separate themselves from the Eagles on the ground in this game. Behind Willis’ running prowess, Liberty ranks 52nd in the nation in rushing offense.
The Flames are averaging 176.92 yards per game on the ground juxtaposed against an Eastern Michigan team that ranks 113th in rushing defense, giving up almost 200 yards per game on the ground alone.
Freeze has a strong track record of maintaining team motivation in the postseason with a record of 5-1 in bowl games. Willis will look to make one final statement to bolster his case as a top QB consideration for the upcoming NFL Draft.
I’m projecting Liberty as 13.5-point favorites in this matchup. Lay the points in Mobile.