Bowl season starts Friday, and I wanted to provide some thoughts on each game, and how I am thinking of picking these matchups in a confidence pool that I participate in.
I divided the games into four categories, but my opinions could change based on news and information that comes out between now and the kickoff for each game. I also might change my picks later in the bowl season if I need to catch-up to people in front of me in the contest. Remember, you’re trying to beat opponents in the field and not just get the most points you can. There’s a lot of game theory in these kind of contests.
I recommend listening to the Trash & Treasure podcast, which I recently appeared on to discuss some of my bowl thoughts and strategies for betting on these games. I also started a Twitter thread to share my wagers for each game that I bet on. This article will mostly feature my straight-up picks, but I might hint at some sides that I’m considering to bet against the spread.
Most confident picks
SMU over Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 21: SMU -3 is one of the two games I have bet at the time of this article being published. I’m fading Florida Atlantic because they’ll be without Lane Kiffin, who left for the Ole Miss job. The game is also in FAU’s home stadium, which I don’t think will get the Florida Atlantic players excited.
Appalachian State over UAB in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21: Appalachian State also lost their coach, Eli Drinkwitz, who bolted to Missouri, but that shouldn’t stop them from winning this game as 16.5-point favorites. Keep in mind that App State lost former coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville before their bowl game last season and easily won. O-line coach Shawn Clark has already been named Appalachian State’s permanent head coach for next season. That’s a positive sign and a big reason why this will end up being my most confident straight-up pick.
UCF over Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 23: I’m not going to overthink this because UCF is a 17.5-point favorite. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Knights don’t cover because they have played in New Year’s Six games the last two seasons and could view the Gasparilla Bowl as a big downgrade, leading to an unmotivated showing in this contest.
North Carolina over Temple in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27: North Carolina is only a four-point favorite, but I’m going to pick them with confidence and likely bet on them closer to when this game is played. I like the motivation angle for the Tar Heels of making a bowl game in Mack Brown’s first season back in Chapel Hill. Also first-year Temple Head Coach Rod Carey was 0-6 in bowl games when he led the program at Northern Illinois.
Texas A&M over Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27: The line for the game opened Texas A&M -4 and is now sitting at -7. Texas A&M only won seven games this season, but their losses were against Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and LSU. I wouldn’t be surprised if this line went up if Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard skipped the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
LSU over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 28: The line for the first College Football Playoff game is LSU -14. I’ll be tempted to bet on Oklahoma at that number, but I still believe the Tigers will win and move on to the championship game.
Florida over Virginia in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30: The third-biggest point spread of all the bowl games is this New Year’s Six matchup between Florida and Virginia. The Gators are 14.5-point favorites, and while Virginia should be motivated, I don’t think that’s enough for them to pull out the outright upset.
Cincinnati over Boston College in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 2: Boston College will be without the head coach, starting quarterback and starting running back that they had from this past regular season. I’ll be picking Cincinnati unless some relevant news or info comes in before this game is played.
Tulane over Southern Miss in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 4: Tulane’s Willie Fritz gained some interest from the bigger programs that had job openings, but he’s staying with the school. That should be a big boost for a team that has a strong offense.
Louisiana over Miami (OH) in the LendingTree Bowl on Jan. 6: Louisiana’s Billy Napier was another head coach that was a rumored target for bigger programs, but he didn’t make the jump. I would expect for his team to win as 14-point favorites.
Favorites I will likely pick
BYU over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24: Most teams would be distracted by a bowl game in Hawaii, but BYU is a disciplined program and will be focused for this game.
Miami over Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26: This seems like a good spot to take Louisiana Tech because I can’t imagine kids who go to school in South Florida being excited about spending Christmas in Shreveport, Louisiana. However, the line for this game has been bet down to Miami -6, so that factor is baked into the line. I’m still going to take the more talented team despite some situational angles going against the Hurricanes.
Pittsburgh over Eastern Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26: Pittsburgh is a double-digit favorite, so I’m going to roll with them to win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Eastern Michigan covered. This game is in Detroit, so the Eagles should have a home-field edge and are likely the more motivated team with an opportunity to compete against an ACC program.
Penn State over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 28: Memphis lost Mike Norvell to Florida State, resulting in Ryan Silverfield being promoted to head coach — which might not be a huge downgrade for the Tigers. However, I would expect Penn State to play with a chip on their shoulder because they were left out of the Rose Bowl. Penn State wins this game but might not cover the 6.5-point spread.
California over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 30: I believe both teams will be motivated for this game, so I’ll side with the 6.5-point favorite in this one. Illinois has to be thrilled playing in a bowl game for the first time since Lovie Smith took over the program, but Cal will want to have a better showing after their embarrassing Cheez-It Bowl performance from last season. Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers looks healthy and likely to play.
Arizona State over Florida State in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31: I considered making this a toss-up game, but since talented Florida State running back Cam Akers just declared for the NFL Draft, my view changes. I believe Arizona State will take this game seriously with second-year coach Herm Edwards and freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels wanting to make a statement.
Utah over Texas in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31: I originally thought that Texas would be the side to pick because Utah had a shot of making the Playoff and lost in the Pac-12 title game. However, Texas is probably not too excited about being in the Alamo Bowl after failing to meet their lofty goals this season. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is 11-2 in bowl games and can boost his team’s Pac-12 standing by beating a team like Texas.
Auburn over Minnesota in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1: I debated about making Minnesota an upset pick in this New Year’s Day showdown because the try-hard Golden Gophers want this one bad, and I’m not sure how motivated Auburn will be in their first game since their emotional Iron Bowl win. That being said, I’m going to pick Auburn — but if I need to play catch-up in a contest, I may pivot to Minnesota.
Wisconsin over Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1: The line for this game opened at a pick ’em, but Wisconsin got the early money to drive the spread to Wisconsin -3. It’s now settled at Wisconsin -2.5, and I believe the Badgers are on the right side. I’m not as high on Oregon, and Wisconsin showed promise during the Big Ten title game.
Ohio over Nevada in the Idaho Potato Bowl on Jan. 3: I haven’t looked too close into this game because it’s on Jan. 3, but Ohio has been bet up to an eight-point favorite. I’m going to take the Bobcats with the line going in their favor.
Underdogs worth considering
Charlotte over Buffalo in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 20: I’m going to pick a 6.5-point underdog to win straight-up in the first bowl game of the season. It’s all about motivation as Charlotte will play in the first bowl game in school history, and coach Will Healy sure was excited when they clinched bowl eligibility.
Central Michigan over San Diego State in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21: The second game I bet on (so far) is Central Michigan +4 against San Diego State. CMU’s Jim McElwain took over a program that won one game in 2018, and the Chippewas bounced back with eight wins this season. I expect Central Michigan to be the far more motivated team against a San Diego State program that had a down year.
Liberty over Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 21: Another intriguing bet — but not an official wager yet for me — is Liberty plus the points. Liberty’s playing in a bowl game in Hugh Freeze’s first season in charge and rewarded him with a contract extension last week.
Iowa State over Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28: Iowa State went 7-5 this season, but lost a lot of close games and is probably better than their record indicates. The team should be excited with coach Matt Campbell signing a contract extension, which is why I’ll likely take Iowa State plus the points before this game is played.
Louisville over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30: Louisville has to be one of the most motivated teams heading into this bowl season. They bounced back from a disastrous two-win season in 2018 with seven wins this year. Yes, Mississippi State is more talented but the motivation for the Cardinals should factor into the breakdown of this game.
Michigan over Alabama in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1: I believe Michigan, specifically Jim Harbaugh, will be extra motivated to win this game and give his program some positive momentum going into the offseason. On the other sideline, I’m not sure how much Bama will care about playing in a non-College Football Playoff game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of their best players sat out.
Baylor over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1: Georgia returns to the Sugar Bowl for the second consecutive year. Last season, they lost to Alabama in the SEC title game with a chance to go to the Playoff — and they did the same this year by falling to LSU with a CFP berth at stake. UGA lost outright to Texas last season in a similar situation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happened New Year’s Day against a Baylor team that surprisingly won 11 games.
Kent State vs. Utah State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20: I was planning on picking Utah State because it would be a great chance for Aggies quarterback Jordan Love to showcase himself before the NFL Draft process. However, news broke Tuesday that Love and two other players were charged with marijuana possession, so I’m going to wait and see Love’s status for the game and track the line move before making a decision this Friday.
FIU vs. Arkansas State in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 21: FIU had a big victory at the end of the season against Miami, while Arkansas State has been motivated all season after the death of Wendy Anderson in August. I’m leaning towards taking the underdog FIU because I’m guessing most people in contests will side with Arkansas State.
Boise State vs. Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21: A lot will be made of Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen stepping down after the game. However, I expect Boise State to play well in this matchup and avoid the distractions of Las Vegas; the Broncos play in the Mountain West with UNLV and were in this bowl game two seasons ago.
Michigan State vs. Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27: Money has moved Michigan State to a 4.5-point favorite in this game, but I’m not sure how motivated they will be after a disappointing six-win season.
USC vs. Iowa in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27: I need more time to figure out this game. USC is bringing back Clay Helton, but could be making changes to their coaching staff.
Air Force vs. Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 27: Air Force is a 2.5-point favorite in this game. Washington State is probably the better team, but Air Force running a triple-option offense is likely the biggest reason that they are a favorite. I’m still undecided on how I want to pick this matchup.
Clemson vs. Ohio State in Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28: The second College Football semifinal is the most anticipated bowl game, but I’m not sure I’ll have any money on it. I don’t have a feel for this game, but I look forward to watching it play out.
Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl on Dec. 30: Western Kentucky has moved from a two-point favorite out to -3.5, so I would lean towards picking them, but I haven’t looked too closely at this game.
Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 31: Virginia Tech turned their season around after a poor start, while Kentucky overcame quarterback injuries to win seven games. I would lean Virginia Tech since they are favored by three points, but I don’t have much conviction in it.
Navy vs. Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31: Kansas State opened as a two-point favorite in this game, but now Navy is a 2.5-point favorite. Kansas State is one of the teams I circled to be motivated for a bowl coming off an eight-win season. I’m guessing Navy’s triple-option offense is the reason the favorite has flipped in this game.
Wyoming vs. Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 31: Wyoming is a touchdown favorite in this game, so I’ll probably end up picking them.
Indiana vs. Tennessee in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2: This could be a sneaky good bowl game between two teams coming off successful seasons. Indiana won eight games, and Tennessee rebounded after a rocky start to gain bowl eligibility.