Bowl Season is here, and it arrived in a hurry. Seriously, the confetti had barely stopped falling from the ceiling of so many different conference championship games before Appalachian State and North Texas kicked off in the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Monday.
Now, as is the case every season, picking bowl games is different than picking regular-season games. There are so many other factors you have to consider. You never know how motivated a particular team might be playing in a game, and that takes on even more significance this season when a lot of teams might just be ready to get the nightmare 2020 season over with. There are also different approaches between different coaches. Some view bowl games as another game on the schedule they’re trying to win and approach it with that mentality. Then there are the coaches who look at bowl games as an opportunity to get more practice time in and maybe play some different people with an eye toward the coming season.
Then there are the matchups themselves. That’s what we’re trying to figure out when it comes to picking bowl games, and after all of that, I still have some picks I like for the upcoming week of games. So let’s get right down to it.
Games of the Week
No. 18 Miami vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Cheez-It Bowl — Tuesday, Dec. 29: As the spread suggests, this is a fairly even matchup, which naturally pushes me toward the underdog. I’m pushed even further in that direction when considering that Oklahoma State will be without star running back Chuba Hubbard, who opted to begin preparations for the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the good news for the Cowboys is that receiver Tylan Wallace currently plans to play. Still, the offense isn’t what has made the Cowboys successful this season — it’s their defense. But while the Cowboys rank 22nd in the country in points allowed per drive at 1.55, I’m not sure this is a great matchup for them.
Against the run, Oklahoma State’s defense ranks 47th nationally in success rate and 50th in yards allowed per carry. Not elite, but still pretty good. However, when we look at how Oklahoma State does against mobile QBs like Miami’s D’Eriq King, they aren’t nearly as successful. The success rate drops to 47.1%, and that ranks 96th nationally. I think King will prove to be the difference here. Miami 28, Oklahoma State 24 | Pick: Miami +2
No. 20 Texas vs. Colorado
Alamo Bowl — Tuesday, Dec. 29: I mentioned how different coaches take different approaches to bowl season, and that’s certainly been the case with Tom Herman, who has always been one of those coaches who gets his team fired up for big games but can sometimes suffer letdowns in the smaller ones. Well, Herman thinks bowl games are big games. That’s part of the reason why he’s been able to go 4-0 both straight up and ATS when coaching in bowls (Herman’s Houston team lost the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl, but he’d already left for the Texas job). So that’s part of the reason why I like the Longhorns here.
The other reason is I’m just not sure what to make of Colorado. The Buffs had an unexpectedly delightful season, going 4-1, but I’m not sure how impressive a 4-1 season it was. They didn’t blow anybody out, and their offense has been one-dimensional. The Buffs ran the ball 59.7% of the time this year (ranking 15th nationally), but they weren’t especially good at it. They ranked 43 in yards per carry at 4.75, but their overall success rate of 39.9% ranked 88th. In other words, they were dependent on big plays in the run game. Well, while Texas has plenty of problems defensively, it’s been solid against the run, ranking 42nd nationally in success rate and 26th in yards per carry. I’m not sure how much room the Buffs will find on the ground, and that will make it difficult for them to cover. Texas 37, Colorado 24 | Pick: Texas -9.5
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Lock of the Week
Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State
Georgia State Panthers
LendingTree Bowl — Saturday, Dec. 26: This is a classic matchup of offense against defense. We have a Georgia State team averaging 32.7 points per game against a Western Kentucky team scoring only 18.8 points. On the other side of the ball, Georgia State has allowed 32.9 points per game while Western Kentucky allows only 24.1. I don’t know how to predict the manner in which this thing will shake out as far as the spread is concerned, but I’m confident in the Georgia State defense’s ability to make this into a shootout. This is a team that held only two opponents to fewer than 20 points all season — one was Appalachian State in a strange game, and the other was South Alabama. In their other seven games, they allowed 37.9 points per game. I don’t think Western Kentucky is strong enough offensively to score that many, but they’ll score enough to get us over this total. Georgia State 31, Western Kentucky 27 | Pick: Over 50.5
Underdog of the Week
Hawaii vs. Houston
New Mexico Bowl — Thursday, Dec. 24: Houston went 3-4 this season, and coach Dana Holgorsen said the team is likely to be without 15 to 20 players for this game. Some of it’s due to COVID-19, and some to academics. Dana has also been one of those coaches who tends not to take bowl games all that seriously. As a head coach, Dana Holgorsen’s teams have gone 1-6 ATS in bowl games. The only time a Holgorsen team covered was when West Virginia crushed Clemson 70-33 in the 2012 Orange Bowl. In other words, if it isn’t a major bowl game, Dana’s not too worried about winning the game. I don’t think he’s going to consider the New Mexico Bowl (in Texas) to be a major bowl game. Hawaii 34, Houston 31 | Pick: Hawaii +10.5
MAC Fade of the Week
Marshall vs. Buffalo
Camellia Bowl — Friday, Dec. 25: Maybe it isn’t fair, but I have a natural inclination toward fading the MAC in bowl season. The results usually don’t favor MAC squads in the postseason. The conference is only 7-10-1 ATS over the last three years, and while Buffalo is one of the best teams in the MAC, this doesn’t strike me as a great matchup for the Bulls. Buffalo has had one of the most explosive offenses in the country, but as I told you last week when I picked Ball State against Buffalo, a lot of that success came against horrible defenses. Marshall’s defense, which ranks 17th nationally in SP+, is far and away the best defense the Bulls will have faced. The Marshall defense also ranks 20th nationally in success rate against the run, where Buffalo specializes. That and the fact Jaret Patterson isn’t likely to be at 100% if he plays makes me lean heavily toward the Herd here. Marshall 27, Buffalo 24 | Pick: Marshall +4.5
Make-up Game of the Week
No. 12 Coastal Carolina vs. Liberty
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Cure Bowl — Saturday, Dec. 26: One other factor you have to consider during bowl season is how much more public action there is on games than you might find in a typical week. The fan who might bet on their favorite team during the season and maybe a couple of other games suddenly finds a desire to bet on bowl games because they’re on constantly during the holiday season. This fan will be drawn to teams with numbers next to their name like Coastal Carolina — a team that has become something of a critical darling, and a team I like a lot. It’s just, it’s also a team being overvalued in this spot because of it. Also, when it comes to motivation, I can’t help but feel Hugh Freeze has a point he wants to make. Freeze probably thought he’d have a much better chance at landing one of those open SEC jobs this winter and was passed up by both for Shane Beamer and Bryan Harsin. Freeze might want to show those schools that they made a mistake in passing on him. I don’t know if that’s enough to pull off an upset, but it should be enough to cover. Coastal 31, Liberty 28 | Pick: Liberty +7.5
Games of the Week
Lock of the Week
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