Happy Bowl Season! While the ‘Cats aren’t bowling this time around, that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. With sports gambling now legal in Illinois (and several other states across the U.S.), you can easily have some skin in the game if you choose to. After three years of handicapping the college football bowl season for Inside NU, Avery and Matt are back for one last hurrah before entering the real world.
Please note that all picks were made before any games begun. If you choose to, please bet responsibly!
Toledo (-10) vs. Middle Tennessee
Zimmerman: Okay, like every year, this is the stage of bowl play where I’ve seen maybe 30 snaps from each team throughout the year. Does that stop me from capping and betting them, though? Of course not. This battle between Toledo and Middle Tennessee kicks us off, and it’s not the most enticing game, but the Bahamas Bowl is known to give us some great moments. The Rockets ended this year on a scorching hot run that included three wins and a whopping plus-79 point differential. The line opened at eight before boosting up to 10, so this strikes me as a great sell-high situation with a little extra juice. Go with the Blue Raiders.
Pick: Middle Tennessee +10
Albert: While I’ve seen some MTSU play, I haven’t seen particularly much of either team like Avery. I know that 10 points is a lot to give, but when a team is decidedly better, I’m content to treat them as such. I’m eating the points in hopes of a 2+ touchdown win. Ride the hot hands and join the Rocket ship.
Pick: Toledo -10
Coastal Carolina (-10.5) vs. Northern Illinois
Zimmerman: Any way you look at it, this Coastal team is not on the same level as the Huskies. Northern Illinois’ 9-4 season is boosted by the fact that it was one of the luckiest teams in college football this year, winning 2.8 more games than expected based on second-order wins. The Chanticleers are a quality team, ranked nearly 60 places higher than NIU on The Action Network’s Power Ratings, and there’s an even great discrepancy in S&P+. Back them to smash the Huskies.
Pick: Coastal Carolina -10.5
Albert: Coastal Carolina is a team who I have made a point of watching this year off the back of their success last season. I agree with the sentiment of Avery that these two teams are not on the same level, with the Huskies being dramatically worse than CCU. My pick is Coastal Carolina, but I’ll go one further and suggest you take an alternative line at -13.5 or 16.5 at plus odds because I think they can pull it off.
Pick: Coastal Carolina -10.5, 13.5 and 16.5
Boca Raton Bowl
Appalachian State (-3) vs. Western Kentucky
Zimmerman: The Hilltoppers have an electric offense guided by Bailey Zappe, but they faltered in a big way against UTSA in the C-USA Conference Championship. While App State and WKU are on similar levels, reflected in the three-point spread, I expect the more physical team to excel in Boca Raton. The Mountaineers kept it tight against a really good Louisiana team to end the year and they dominated lesser teams. They’ll do that again to close out the year.
Pick: App State -3
Simply put, I don’t think that the Hilltoppers will be able to hold pace with App State. In the early bowls especially, talent and enthusiasm matter, and to me, App State has the edge in both. I’m expecting a two-possession App State win, but will settle for the line at -3 to be safe.
Pick: App State -3
New Mexico Bowl
Fresno State (-11.5) vs. UTEP
Zimmerman: Simply put, I have absolutely no interest in backing a team that lost four of five games to close out the season. That’s the situation that UTEP finds itself in, while Fresno State won four of five to finish its season. By any metric, the Bulldogs are a much stronger team, and despite this line shifting by a full three points in favor of the Miners since opening at 14.5, I’m comfortable placing my money behind a squad that is deeper and more talented at nearly every position group.
Pick: Fresno State -11.5
Albert: Look, I understand that you need to play off momentum, but I can’t fault the Miners for losing to UTSA or UNT. I’m not saying they are the best team of all time, but they don’t need to be to cover an 11.5-point spread. I’m expecting UTEP to lose outright, but cover. Good teams win, great teams cover.
Pick: UTEP +11.5
BYU (-7.5) vs. UAB
Zimmerman: Another incredibly fortunate team this year, BYU won nearly two extra games compared to what was expected based on second-order wins. The Cougars are a gritty team with quality coaching and an electric playmaker in Tyler Allgeier, who made one of the best plays all season, but UAB isn’t too shabby, and it finds itself with nearly two wins less than it was expected to get. Even if you subscribe to the ideology that a team can make its own luck, this is a solid Blazers team, and I believe they can make this a game.
Pick: UAB +7.5
Albert: Somewhat like Northwestern, I think that BYU perennially outperforms expectations. And I mean no disrespect to UAB, because they are a good team. I’m expecting the Provo crew to respect the Blazers and win decisively late with a late score to push it to a -two-possession game. I’m taking BYU.
Pick: BYU -7.5
Liberty (-9) vs. Eastern Michigan
Zimmerman: I return once again to the concept of second-order wins when looking at this game. EMU is fortunate to even be in a bowl game with a 7-5 record and a +2.1 differential in wins versus expected wins. Liberty enters the contest on a three-game losing streak in games against quality teams, but the Eagles do not represent a quality opponent. Malik Willis will dominate against an underwhelming EMU defense to boost his draft appeal and pick up some nice confidence entering the draft.
Pick: Liberty -9
Albert: Avery’s been responsible, offering data to bolster his claims. I, however, normally use the eye-test bolstered by stats. For this game, we both come to the same conclusion. I’ve got some serious worries about EMU, so I’m expecting Liberty to run away with it.
Pick: Liberty -9