Welcome to bowl season, the best time of the year. We all know the college football market moves a lot, and that’s especially true during bowl season with opt-outs, the transfer portal moves and coaching chances.
Like any other sport, it’s paramount to get the best price possible when betting on college football.
I’m here to help you navigate the bowl season market by providing a few lines I’m buying right now.
The hope for this piece is to beat the market, get the best price possible, and in the long run, save you some money with closing line value. To do that, we’ll utilize our Action Network PRO projections, ESPN’s SP+ and my own projections to create a consensus.
You hear all the time, “Process over results.” The best way to know if the process is working is by closing line value (CLV), meaning how many points did you beat the closing line by?
I’ll be keeping track of exactly how many points we’ve beaten the market by in recent weeks:
- Bowling Green +2.5 → +2.5 closing line
- UCLA -18.5 → -20 closing line
- Louisiana +24 → +24.5 closing line
- Washington State -4 → -4 closing line
- Boise State -15.5 → -17 closing line
- Kansas State -11.5 → -12 closing line
- Air Force -1 → -2.5 closing line
- Utah +3 → +2.5 closing line
- Michigan -16 → -16.5 closing line
Now, let’s dive into bowl season.
Southern Miss vs. Rice
Former Conference USA foes meet at Hancock Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, for the LendingTree Bowl on Dec. 17.
Southern Miss comes in at 6-6 but covered five of its last six games and was one of only two teams to beat Tulane this season.
USM has a fantastic defense, which is the main reason why it made its way to a bowl game. The Golden Eagles allowed only 5.2 yards per play and ranked 14th in Success Rate Allowed and 22nd in EPA/Play.
Rice has been shuffling through a bunch of different quarterbacks throughout the season.
It started out with Wiley Green in the opener. Then, he got hurt, and the Owls went to TJ McMahon, which is when they went on their run in the middle of the season. However, McMahon got knocked out of the game against Western Kentucky and has not returned.
It’s been a mixture of a couple of freshmen in Shawqi Itraish and AJ Padgett the past few games, which has not worked out well. Since McMahon went down, the Owls have scored just 24 points in their last two games and averaged only 4.6 yards per play.
Defensively, Rice has been putrid all season. It has allowed a whopping 6.2 yards per play while ranking 123rd in EPA/Play Allowed and 120th in Finishing Drives. It’s been bad against both the pass and the run, as it sits outside the top 100 in both Passing and Rushing Success Rate Allowed.
Southern Miss’ offense runs the ball on 54.9% of offensive plays. It also lost starting quarterback Ty Keyes in October for the season, but Trey Lowe has filled in nicely as a starter for three games. He has put up an 80.6 PFF passing grade with nine big-time throws compared to three turnover-worthy plays. He should be able to throw on a secondary that ranks 114th in EPA/Pass Allowed.
As you can see, all three models have Southern Miss projected above -7, so I’d grab -5.5 now before this closes at -7.
Middle Tennessee vs. San Diego State
The main reason San Diego State won three of its last four games just to reach bowl eligibility is because of its defense. The Aztecs played some incredible ball, allowing just 5.0 yards per play while ranking 13th in EPA/Play and 12th in Finishing Drives Allowed.
Over their final nine games of the season, only two teams scored more than 14 points against them: Fresno State and San Jose State.
Middle Tennessee is a pass-happy offense that throws the ball 55.5% of the time. Quarterback Chase Cunningham has been pretty bad, however. His PFF passing grade sits at 65.6, and he’s averaging only 6.9 yards per attempt to go along with 15 big-time throws and 18 turnover-worthy plays.
The main problem has been his offensive line, which ranks 119th in terms of a PFF pass-blocking grade. That has translated to Cunningham playing from a crowded pocket on 33% of his dropbacks.
That’s a problem against San Diego State, which ranks top-25 nationally in both pass-rushing and coverage grade, per PFF.
Middle Tennessee has also struggled to run the ball, as it’s averaging only 3.3 yards per carry (113th in FBS) and ranks 98th in Rushing Success Rate and 95th in EPA/Rush. It’s going to be a long Christmas Eve for the Blue Raider offense.
On the other side, San Diego State’s offense has shown some flashes of greatness toward the end of the season.
It put up a combined 77 points against San Jose State and New Mexico behind stellar performances from quarterback Jalen Mayden, who took over the starting job in Week 6. He’s averaging 8.9 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns in seven starts.
Mayden will be key in this game because Middle Tennessee’s defensive weakness comes in its secondary, which ranks 91st in Passing Success Rate Allowed and 81st in passing explosiveness allowed.
Mayden is also a big-time threat on the ground, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
All three projection models are showing decent value on San Diego State, so I would grab it at -1.5 now before it moves.
Memphis vs. Utah State
Memphis and Utah State meet in Dallas two days after Christmas for the Servpro First Responders Bowl.
Memphis finished with a disappointing 6-6 record, but four of its six losses came by one score or less. The only time it lost by more than 10 points came in the first game of the season at Mississippi State.
The Tigers offense has been very well-balanced, but the play of quarterback Seth Henigan has been the key to their success. Henigan has been a slightly above-average quarterback, putting up a 77.9 PFF passing grade while averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.
The key for him in this game is going to be throwing the ball deep because Utah State ranks 123rd in explosive passing allowed. Henigan owns an 85.0 PFF passing grade on throws over 20 yards in the air, and 40% of his attempts this season have come on balls over 10 yards in the air.
Memphis has an average rushing attack, but it’s worth noting Utah State defense has been very poor against the run. The Aggies are allowing 5.1 yards per carry (121st in FBS) while ranking 119th in rushing explosiveness allowed and 96th in EPA/Rush Allowed.
Utah State quarterback Logan Bonner is out for the season, which means Cooper Legas has been handling the snaps over the second half of the season.
Legas has been a below-average quarterback, averaging only 7.0 yards per attempt with a 64.5 PFF passing grade. That’s not good news when the best way to beat the Memphis defense is through the air.
The Aggies’ run game has not been much better. Utah State ranks 114th in Rushing Success Rate and 105th in EPA/Rush, while Memphis ranks top-30 in rushing explosiveness allowed and EPA/Rush Allowed.
Most importantly, Utah State’s offense sits 110th in Finishing Drives.
All three projection models have Memphis projected above -13, so I would grab it at -10.5 now.
Kansas vs. Arkansas
Kansas will play its first bowl game since 2008 when it takes on Arkansas in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 28.
The Razorbacks already have had a few opt-outs with linebacker Bumper Pool and wide receiver Jadon Haselwood choosing to not play in the bowl game, but the big news is that quarterback KJ Jefferson has decided to return for another season.
Arkansas has been an unlucky team as well, as four of its six losses have come by three points or less.
With Jefferson under center and Raheim Sanders in the backfield, the Razorbacks should be able to run all over this Kansas defense. Kansas has given up over 5.5 yards per carry in three straight weeks, and Texas ran for 427 yards against it on Nov. 19.
For the season, Kansas ranks 122nd in EPA/Rush, 120th in Defensive Line Yards and 124th in Stuff Rate.
Sanders is averaging a whopping 6.5 yards per carry with an 88.3 PFF rushing grade and 40 runs of at least 10 yards. Jefferson, meanwhile, has over 100 carries himself, averaging 5.2 yards per carry with 24 runs over 10 yards. The Hogs should be able to run all over this defense.
Jefferson is having an outstanding season as a passer as well, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt with an 83.3 PFF passing grade and a 76.6% adjusted completion percentage.
Kansas ranks 107th in EPA/Pass Allowed, so even though Jefferson doesn’t have his top target, he should be just fine moving the ball through the air.
Luckily for the Jayhawks, they boast a stellar offense. However, that unit relies heavily on a consistent run game.
Quarterback Jalon Daniels has returned from injury and had a good game against Texas but was very poor against Kansas State. He averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt against the Wildcats to go along with a 50.6 PFF passing grade.
Additionally, since Daniels’ return, the Kansas rushing attack has generated just 3.7 yards per carry. It’ll need to kick the running game into high gear because that’s how teams beat Arkansas.
All three projection models have Arkansas projected at -7 or above, so I would grab the Razorbacks at -4.5.
Pick: Arkansas -4.5
Oklahoma vs. Florida State
Oklahoma finished the season a disappointing 6-6 in Brent Venables’ first season at the helm in Norman, but it’s been one of the unluckiest teams in college football.
In games that Dillon Gabriel started and finished, the Sooners went 6-4 with all four losses coming by one score or less.
Gabriel had a solid first season in Norman, putting up a PFF passing grade of 80.6, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt with 24 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.
However, the strength of Florida State’s defense comes in the secondary, which ranks 16th in EPA/Pass Allowed. That means Oklahoma is going to have to get things done on the ground.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, they will be without star running back Eric Gray, who has declared for the NFL Draft.
Freshman Jovantae Barnes has shown himself to be a capable backup and possesses big-play ability with 11 runs of at least 10 yards on less than 90 carries this season.
He also has a really good offensive line blocking in front of him, as Oklahoma ranks 39th in Offensive Line Yards and owns the 14th-best run-blocking grade, per PFF.
Florida State sits 79th in Rushing Success Rate Allowed, 83rd in EPA/Rush Allowed and 111th in Defensive Line Yards, so it hasn’t found a way to stop the run at all.
Additionally, the Seminoles rank 91st in Finishing Drives Allowed, so the Oklahoma offense will without a doubt be able to keep up with Florida State’s offense by putting up touchdowns instead of field goals.
Led by Jordan Travis at quarterback, the Seminoles offense has been outstanding this season. Travis is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt to go along with an 86.4 PFF passing grade and 22 big-time throws compared to seven turnover-worthy plays.
However, he’s started to fade a bit down the stretch.
Image via PFF
The Florida State rushing attack has been the catalyst for the offense, ranking ninth in Rushing Success Rate and second in EPA/Rush. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma defense has been below average against both the run and the pass.
With Gabriel under center, Oklahoma will have plenty of backdoor opportunities, as he hasn’t lost a game by more than seven points this season.
All three projection models have this game projected pretty close to a pick’em, so I’d grab Oklahoma +7.5 now.