College Football Odds, Predictions, Best Bets: Our Top 7 Picks for Thursday’s Bowl Games (Dec. 30)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images. Pictured: Braelon Allen.
- Another weekday means another weekday full of college football bowl games.
- With four bowl on the docket today, our staff broke down three of them, and they are aligned on two.
- Check out all of our staff's top picks for Saturday's bowl games below.
Our wild run of bowls continues Thursday, as we’re blessed with four games, with the first starting before noon and the last running through 10:30 p.m. ET.
With mid-morning college football on the schedule, our staff obviously had to get involved. Our best bets kick off with the 11:30 a.m. ET Duke’s Mayo Bowl between North Carolina and South Carolina, where our writers think it will be Mack Brown who gets doused with mayonnaise after the game.
Then, our senior writer, Stuckey, takes us up to Nashville for a quick breakdown of Tennessee vs. Purdue in the Music City Bowl at 3 p.m. ET.
To close things out, four of our experts — that’s right, four — are aligned on the same side in the Las Vegas Bowl between former conference title hopefuls Wisconsin and Arizona State.
Our staff is united in a big way today, so get ready to jump in. And be sure to check back tomorrow for more bowl and College Football Playoff coverage.
Thursday 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.|
North Carolina vs. South Carolina
Mack Brown has gone 14-9 historically in bowl games, and with quarterback Sam Howell playing, all signs point to him moving to 15-9.
Howell averaged 260 passing yards per game and tossed 23 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Josh Downs played the role of his main target, totaling over 1,200 receiving yards this season while hauling in eight touchdowns.
The Tar Heels’ rushing attack was one of the most underrated groups, finishing sixth in the nation in Success Rate. Running back Ty Chandler averaged 6.1 yards per carry and rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. He will match up against a South Carolina defense that ranks 129th in Stuff Rate and 114th in Line Yards.
After a rather disappointing 6-6 finish for the Tar Heels, they will match up against a South Carolina squad that was lucky to finish with a bowl berth. The Gamecocks will bring out Zeb Noland under center after he started the season as a graduate assistant coach.
South Carolina’s offense averaged just 21 points this season and was shut out in the final game of the season against Clemson.
With Spencer Rattler not being available until next season, the Gamecocks lack the weapons needed to keep up with a North Carolina offense that has an opportunity to score everytime it possesses the ball.
Pick: North Carolina -9.5
North Carolina -9.5
Thank you, Sam Howell. From all my heart, as a die-hard UNC fan, thank you for everything you did for the University of North Carolina and the joy you brought to me watching you play.
Personal love for UNC aside, this is an amazing spot for North Carolina.
As soon as Howell announced he’s playing, I grabbed -9.5 as fast as possible for as much as I could get down on it. While having a down year as a team, Howell has silently dominated once again. Howell finished the season with 2,851 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
While South Carolina’s pass defense has respectable ranks, it will find it hard to defend the run. Ranked 99th in Def. Rush Success and 114th in Line Yards, UNC running back Ty Chandler will have his way on the ground.
The Tar Heels are top-15 in both rushing metrics thanks to Chandler and Howell’s dual-threat scrambling abilities.
South Carolina rode the success of its defense to a 6-6 record, no thanks to its offense. While UNC’s defensive ranks are putrid, SC is shockingly worse in every matchup.
This is shaping up to be a dominant rout for UNC in what will be Howell’s last game. South Carolina is simply outmatched in every aspect.
The Tar Heel quarterback will look to remind everyone why he is going to be drafted in the first round and help build back his case to be the first quarterback off the board.
Pick: North Carolina -9.5
Tennessee vs. Purdue
This will mark Purdue’s first bowl game in three years since it went to this same bowl in Nashville in 2018.
It ended up getting destroyed by Auburn, and I think we could see a similar result against another SEC team in Tennessee, which will also enjoy a major home-crowd advantage here.
For Purdue, all eyes were on the status of a pair of potential early-round NFL Draft picks in defensive end George Karlaftis and wide receiver David Bell. Now, both have declared for the NFL Draft and will not play in the Music City Bowl.
Bell is just an enormous loss for a pass-heavy offense that has no running game to speak of. Throw in the fact that it appears Purdue’s second-leading receiver, Milton Wright, will also miss this bowl, and I don’t think the Boilermakers can exploit a Tennessee defense that has struggled in the pass efficiency department (outside the top 100 in Passing Success Rate).
On the other side of the ball, Purdue will sorely miss potential first-round draft pick Karlaftis, who is a menace off the edge. Not only will they miss his playmaking ability, but he also commands so much attention from opposing offenses, which opens up opportunities for other defenders to make plays in an aggressive defensive scheme.
I also think Purdue’s defensive metrics are a bit inflated as a whole after playing a very easy schedule of opposing pass offenses, including Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, UConn, Wisconsin, and Illinois — which all rank outside the top 100 in passing offense.
Hendon Hooker and company should have plenty of success moving the ball up and down the field. When Purdue stepped up in class against Ohio State, it got absolutely roasted.
Also, keep in mind that the Vols will also hold a major advantage on special teams with superb return man Velus Jones and outstanding punter Paxton Brooks. Conversely, Purdue struggles in both the punting and return departments.
The SEC has had a very underwhelming start to bowl season, but I think Tennessee is primed to give the conference its first win and cover.
Pick: Tennessee -6
Wisconsin vs. Arizona State
I’m pretty sure it’s a legal obligation for sports bettors everywhere to gamble on the Las Vegas Bowl. I will happily throw my money on red and lay the points with Wisconsin.
This game will feature two of the most run-heavy teams in the country. Wisconsin had the eighth-highest rush rate in the country, and Arizona State ranks 21st.
The Sun Devils have run the ball very well, ranking seventh in Rushing Success and sit 12th in the country in yard per carry at 5.3.
But this Wisconsin defense is the best in the nation at defending the run. The Badgers rank first nationally in Rushing Success and Line Yards. They have allowed just 61.1 rushing yards per game and 2.0 yards per carry — both the lowest marks in the nation.
On top of that, Arizona State’s top two backs in Rachaad White and DeaMonte Trayanum will not play in this game.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels has been lethal with his legs but has struggled to pass the ball, throwing for just 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
After a slow start to the season, Wisconsin really hit its stride with the emergence of freshman running back Braelon Allen. In games Allen has at least 10 carries, the Badgers are 7-1. He averaged 132.5 yards with 11 touchdowns in those eight games.
Expect Allen and the Badgers to move the ball over a Sun Devils defense that is 47th in Rushing Success and 62nd in Line Yards and will be without its second-leading tackler as well as two starting cornerbacks.
Pick: Wisconsin -6
Wisconsin and Arizona State head out west for a late-night kickoff in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday night.
I’m backing the Badgers to win this game, and win it big.
When I look at these two teams, I see one team that ended its season with wins in seven of its last eight, and I see another that limped to the finish line, losing three of its final six.
The team that finished strong and improved significantly as the year went on is the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin has been stout defensively throughout the year, but it’s on the offensive side where the Badgers started to show significant improvement.
Running back Braelon Allen emerged as one of the most explosive backs in the country, and I simply don’t see the ASU defense having any sort of answer for him.
When the Sun Devils faced a power running team in Oregon State late in the year, the Beavers went for 237 yards on the ground in a dominant win.
On the other side of the ball, this Wisconsin defense should continue to stuff the run, as it has done all season. Expect Jayden Daniels to be swarmed with pressure all game, making it very difficult for him to find his weapons down the field.
Plain and simple, Wisconsin is the far more physical team in this game, and the Badgers have a long track record of showing up for bowl games. On Wisconsin.
Pick: Wisconsin -6
Wisconsin (8-4) heads to its 20th consecutive bowl game to face Arizona State (8-4) in the Las Vegas Bowl. The matchup will feature a late kickoff at Allegiant Stadium.
The Badgers are 5-1 in bowl games under Paul Chryst, whereas the Sun Devils are 1-1 in the postseason under head coach Herm Edwards.
This marks the fifth meeting between the two programs with the Sun Devils leading the all-time series, 3-1.
Wisconsin arrives in Las Vegas relatively unscathed, missing safety Collin Wilder to a back injury. Wilder, an All-Big Ten honorable mention, will surely be missed, but the Badgers have veteran depth to lean on at the safety position.
Arizona State comes into the postseason with significant personnel issues.
The Sun Devils will be without the services of their two best running backs after Rachaad White (15 touchdowns) declared for the NFL Draft and DeaMonte Trayanum (6 touchdowns) entered the transfer portal. White and Trayanum rushed for 1,006 and 402 yards this season, respectively.
Arizona State will also be without linebacker Darien Butler and cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Jack Jones.
Wisconsin is a ground-and-pound offense. The Badgers rank 118th in passing offense but 14th nationally in rushing offense. The Wisconsin rushing attack averages 215.4 yards per game on the ground and has scored 25 rushing touchdowns this season.
Lead running back Braelon Allen will be relied upon extensively, as he has solidified his spot as the feature back.
The Badgers are ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, allowing a national low of just 236.7 yards per game. Unsurprisingly, the Badgers are also ranked first in the nation in Defensive Success Rate.
Arizona State is going to have an incredibly difficult time moving the ball against this top-ranked defense, especially without its top two running backs.
This matchup bodes very well for Wisconsin on both sides of the ball. Chryst has an excellent track record of coming into postseason games focused and walking away with the win.
The key to this matchup is going to be the Wisconsin defense shutting down a depleted Arizona State offense.
Look for the Badger ground attack to wear the Sun Devils down on the way to a cover. Lay the points in Las Vegas.
Pick: Wisconsin -6
By Shawn Burns
The Las Vegas Bowl has an interesting Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup with Wisconsin facing off against Arizona State.
Both teams finished with identical 8-4 records, and the Badgers are six-point favorites even though the Sun Devils may have more of a home-field advantage due to their proximity to Las Vegas.
Wisconsin has a strong tradition of having elite rushing attacks, and this season was more of the same as the Badgers finished 14th in the country by averaging 215 yards per game.
They once again had a massive offensive line that helped freshman running back Braelon Allen rush for over 1,000 yards, including seven games of over 100 yards.
The Wisconsin defense was one of the best in the country and finished ranked No. 1 in total defense and second in yards per play. Arizona State will need to play a great offensive game to have consistent success against the Badgers defense.
The Sun Devils finished tied for third in the Pac-12 but are headed into this game shorthanded without their top two running backs and multiple starters in the secondary.
Arizona State will need a big game from quarterback Jayden Daniels, who is talented with his arm and legs but had an inconsistent season.
Arizona State’s defense was strong against the run this season, allowing only 3.6 yards per rush, but it allowed over 200 yards on the ground to Utah, which plays a similar style to Wisconsin.
It will need to hold up for 60 minutes against the unrelenting power run game of Wisconsin to have a chance to win.
Wisconsin will pound the ball with its ground game, and its defense will dominate by making Arizona State one-dimensional. The Badgers will pull away in the second half and cruise to a double-digit victory.