Start or Sit (NFC Home Games)
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Bowl season is upon us, which means we have 42 more games to bet over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, betting on bowl games is nothing like betting on regular-season games. It’s much more difficult because you need to consider so many other factors.
There are teams playing under interim coaches who might’ve spent more time trying to find their next job rather than preparing for the game. Players with NFL futures may opt-out of playing in the bowl game, meaning you need to figure out how valuable that player is and how it impacts the team. Plus, you know, there’s that whole “do they even want to be there” angle that you rarely need to consider in the regular season but becomes a significant factor in a bowl game.
So my advice is this: don’t go into bowl season thinking you will win money. You might, but you probably won’t. Even if you won all season long, it doesn’t mean you have any idea what’s going to happen now. So just have fun and try to hold on to some of your winnings from the regular season.
LA Bowl — Saturday, Dec. 18: Utah State is one of the better stories of the 2021 season, but it can be a difficult team to handicap. The Aggies won the Mountain West with an unexpected 46-13 thrashing of San Diego State. It was a game that showed the volatility of this Aggies offense. On the one hand, Utah State averages 2.48 points per possession, which ranks 45th nationally, but the team’s success rate of 49.5% ranks only 89th. This is primarily due to the explosive nature of Utah State’s offense. It ranks 31st nationally in my explosiveness metric, and when it’s hitting those big plays, it’s tough to stop.
There’s a good chance the Aggies will hit them against the Oregon State defense. While the Beavers have been above average at stopping big plays, they aren’t as good against the pass, ranking 57th. Utah State’s passing offense ranks 12th. I see this as a situation in which both offenses find success and neither team is ever capable of pulling away from the other. Oregon State 34, Utah State 31 | Utah State +7
Frisco Bowl — Tuesday, Dec. 21: This is far and away one of my favorite bowl matchups of the season, as these two have been among the best Group of Five teams all season long. San Diego State came up short of a Mountain West title while UTSA won Conference USA, and now two good teams with conflicting styles battle.
After seeing what Utah State did to it, I have some concerns about the San Diego State defense, but this should be a better matchup for the Aztecs. While the UTSA offense is balanced and can beat you in multiple ways, it all flows through Sincere McCormick and the run game. San Diego State has one of the best rush defenses in the country, ranking second in EPA and first in success rate. That, at a minimum, should keep the Roadrunners within range. UTSA 24, San Diego State 23 | San Diego State +2.5
New Orleans Bowl — Saturday, Dec. 18: I have far too many questions about Louisiana to trust it as a favorite in this spot, and the fact my numbers tell me this spread is a couple of points too large to begin with only helps. Nearly every starter from Louisiana’s 2020 team returned this year to win another Sun Belt title and possibly earn a New Year’s Six berth before riding off into the sunset. They accomplished the first goal but missed out on the New Year’s Six, and then coach Billy Napier left to take over at Florida. I can’t help but wonder if those who remain will look at the New Orleans Bowl as a letdown.
Meanwhile, Marshall is finishing its first season under Charles Huff. While it came up short of winning its division, it has a chance to prove itself against a conference champion here and build “momentum” for 2022. I’m taking the points with the Herd, but I’m not against going with the moneyline if you’re feeling frisky. Louisiana 27, Marshall 24 | Marshall +5
Myrtle Beach Bowl — Monday, Dec. 20: It’s too many dang points! Old Dominion is another nice story for the 2021 season. The Monarchs did not play in 2020 due to COVID and I guess those fresh legs worked out for them. The early-season rust saw Old Dominion start 1-6, with its sole win against FCS Hampton, but the Monarchs won their final five games to attain bowl eligibility.
Tulsa is playing well, too, as the Golden Hurricane won three straight to finish the year to get to 6-6, but there’s a betting trend with this Tulsa team that’s difficult to ignore. As underdogs, Tulsa was 4-0 against the spread. As favorites, it was 3-5. Compare that to Old Dominion, one of the best teams in the country against the spread all season long, going 9-3. Only Michigan and Pitt were better. Tulsa 28, Old Dominion 24 | Old Dominion +9.5
Independence Bowl — Saturday, Dec. 18: In the regular season, especially in conference play, I prefer betting unders to overs. They hit more often. That changes in bowl season. While there’s no clear trend to identify, overs are much more profitable during bowl season and this is one spot we can exploit. I’m not entirely sure how this game will play out. BYU could blow the Blazers out of the water here and completely overwhelm them, but if that happens, I see the Cougars getting into the mid-40s on their own. That would certainly help with the over.
I can also see UAB moving the ball successfully on this BYU defense. The Cougars rank 90th nationally in success rate against the run and 94th in EPA. In other words, there are routes to success available to both offenses. I don’t see either coaching staff not taking this game seriously, so I’m banking on a high-scoring affair. BYU 34, UAB 24 | Over 54.5
Cure Bowl — Friday, Dec. 17: I love Northern Illinois. It’s a fun team to watch and an excellent story. After going winless in 2020, the Huskies rebounded to win the MAC and did so in consistently dramatic fashion. Seven of their nine wins were of the one-score variety, and on the season, the Huskies allowed more points than they scored despite finishing 9-4.
But as fun as they’ve been, this is a terrible matchup for them. Both of these teams love to run the ball and both are effective in doing so. The difference is stopping the run on defense. Coastal can and has done so all season. Northern Illinois hasn’t. The Huskies rank 128th nationally in defensive EPA against the run and 127th in success rate against the run. They won’t get enough stops in this game to stay within range of the spread. Coastal Carolina 37, Northern Illinois 24 | Coastal Carolina -10.5
Armed Forces Bowl — Wednesday, Dec. 22: I’ve run out of room in The Six Pack, but I have one more pick for the week to come. If you want to know what it is, you’ll have to check out my SportsLine page.
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