During the college football season, the Stadium staff will provide weekly betting picks and advice in this roundtable. Here are our thoughts on the bowl games.
Note: The odds for these picks are from Dec. 15, when this article was published. The numbers could change due to information like players opting out, coaching changes or other factors. You can listen to a full bowl preview on the Sharp Lessons podcast and follow Stadium Bets on Twitter for more sports betting content.
1. What is your favorite pick against the spread?
Alex Symonds, Stadium Senior Producer: Georgia State (-4.5) over Ball State in Camellia Bowl on Dec. 25
Of all the bowl games on the betting slate, this one has the largest point spread discrepancy with my personal power numbers. I believe the main reason for this difference are the results when these teams played their only common opponent: Georgia State lost to Army 43-10 as a 2.5-point favorite, while Ball State beat the Black Knights 28-16 as a 10-point underdog.
When looking at the full profile of both teams I keep coming back to this: Georgia State went 6-2 in a very tough Sun Belt, and Ball State’s four MAC wins came against opponents that went 11-21 combined in conference play. In addition, this game is on Christmas Day and is a much easier road trip for family and friends of Panthers players (83 of Georgia State’s players are from Georgia, Alabama or Florida) compared to the 600-plus mile trip for Ball State supporters. When you combine the on-field talent advantage with these other outside factors, betting Georgia State -4.5 is a no-brainer for me.
Ben Wittenstein, Stadium Social Media Producer: Notre Dame (-2) over Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1
As we talked about on the Sharp Lessons podcast, a big factor in betting these bowl games is figuring out teams’ motivations. Well, Notre Dame is going to have multiple motivating factors. The team seems to have rallied around new head coach Marcus Freeman, and it feels like they’d want to win this game for him — and also to metaphorically stick it to former coach Brian Kelly. OK State, on the flip side, is coming off a loss that took their chances at a playoff appearance off the table. The Fiesta Bowl will surely feel insignificant for Oklahoma State.
And just looking at pure numbers, we know the Cowboys’ defense is rock solid, but the Irish have been dominating teams down the stretch. They haven’t won a game by less than double digits since Oct. 9. Give me the team that will seemingly be going all out to win and cover the small spread.
Kate Constable, Stadium Host & Digital Producer: Notre Dame (-2) over Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1
This is a solid motivational spot for Notre Dame. Their former head coach Brian Kelly just jumped ship and took no more than a day before fully immersing himself in LSU culture — accent and all.
Meanwhile, DC and linebackers coach Marcus Freeman was promoted to head coach, energizing the team. Players love him and will be motivated to help him earn his first win as a head coach. On Oklahoma State’s side, they had high hopes of making it into the CFP before running into Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. This screams “letdown spot” for the Cowboys.
Nate Jacobson, Stadium Sports Betting Analyst: Notre Dame (-2) over Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1
This game is a perfect storm in which a motivated team plays a program that literally just fell short of the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame is re-invigorated after they promoted DC Marcus Freeman to be the new head coach, and his players were excited about the news. I expect a very focused Notre Dame team — who might want to show Brian Kelly it was a mistake to leave for LSU.
Oklahoma State had hopes of being in the College Football Playoff, but those dreams were dashed when they lost as a touchdown favorite to a Baylor team playing their backup QB. The Cowboys relied heavily on their defense this season, and they’ll be without DC Jim Knowles for this game, who is leaving for the same role at Ohio State. I like Notre Dame at any number under a field goal.
2. What is another bet you like?
AS: Army (-3.5) over Missouri in Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22
My Camellia Bowl breakdown veered into off-field factors. This one won’t. Army lives to run the ball: The Black Knights’ 703 rush attempts, 3,443 total rush yards and 44 rushing touchdowns are all either first or second-best in FBS. Meanwhile, Missouri lives to give up huge runs on defense. The Tigers allowed 5.48 yards per rush (119th in FBS), 229.3 rush yards per game (seventh-worst in FBS) and 30 rushing touchdowns (T-117th) during the regular season.
When Army’s offense is humming, it demoralizes the opposing defense, and if Missouri isn’t careful, this thing could get out of hand quickly like it did for Houston in the Cougars’ 70-14 defeat in the 2018 Armed Forces Bowl. I’m going to support the troops in this matchup.
BW: Iowa State-Clemson over 45.5 in Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29
As the old saying goes: “Things get crazy in the Cheez-It Bowl.” Clemson will be without famed defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who was hired by Oklahoma, and Iowa State will be without a plethora of defensive players, including three starters, due to the transfer portal. On top of that, the two teams combine to average about 59 points per game.
This is shaping up to be decided by who can score last. The defenses of both teams — which were the strengths throughout the regular season — will both be depleted and without the personnel that made them great. Let’s bet on a fun shootout and hit the over at a fairly low number.
KC: Georgia-Michigan Under 44.5 in Orange Bowl on Dec. 31
Both teams are in the CFP because of their defense. Georgia ranks second, while Michigan is 13th. Prior to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, Georgia held its opponents to a touchdown or less in every game but four.
In their only loss of the season to Alabama, the Tide put up 41 points, embarrassing the Bulldogs. They pride themselves on the defensive end and that will return in this game. Michigan’s defense has also been outstanding, holding Iowa to only 279 yards of total offense in the Big Ten Championship. Look for this score to stay low.
NJ: Kansas State (-1) over LSU in Texas Bowl on Jan. 4
You’ll have to wait nearly three weeks for this game to be played, as it’s the second to last college football game of the season. But I’ve tied up my money on Kansas State in anticipation that the line will go up as we get closer to game day.
This is mostly a fade against LSU, who is transitioning from Ed Orgeron to Brian Kelly at head coach. LSU won Orgeron’s last game to become bowl eligible, but he won’t be coaching in this bowl game. LSU QB Max Johnson entered the transfer portal, and I don’t think the Tigers will put much effort into planning for this game with all the changes going on in Baton Rouge.
3. Which underdog of +200 or more on the moneyline has the best chance of an outright upset?
AS: Old Dominion (+270) over Tulsa in Myrtle Beach Bowl on Dec. 20
Handicapping bowl games is largely about motivation. Don’t believe me? Our own Nate Jacobson thinks so, and he’s A LOT smarter than I am when it comes to this stuff.
When it comes to this specific matchup, I believe Old Dominion’s players will be much more motivated to become the 2021 Myrtle Beach Bowl champions compared to their Tulsa counterparts. First off, ODU rallied to win five straight games after a 1-6 start just to make it to bowl eligibility. This comes after the school opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. With a win, the Monarchs will become just the second ODU team to finish the season with at least seven wins since the program moved up to the FBS in 2014.
On the other side, Tulsa is a 6-6 team whose players have had to answer questions all season about head coach Philip Montgomery’s job security. While Montgomery did land a two-year contract extension to stay at the school through 2024, he and his staff have likely been more concentrated on locking up their recruits before this week’s early signing period than game-planning for a matchup with the Monarchs.
BW: Utah (+205) over Ohio State in Rose Bowl on Jan. 1
Motivation, motivation, motivation. It’s weird to say someone doesn’t want to be in the Rose Bowl, but OSU comes as close as possible to a team that would be disappointed to be in Pasadena on Jan. 1. The Buckeyes had higher hopes for how the season was going to end, and had their sights on a semifinal berth before Michigan took them down.
Utah, on the other hand, was the surprise Pac-12 winner, and surely is happy as a clam to be playing on New Year’s Day. Plus, they’ve got a darn good football team. Ohio State has the talent to dominate teams, and can surely do it to the Utes under normal circumstances, but the motivation factor here tells me that taking Utah as a touchdown underdog in a West Coast game is a good value move.
KC: Arizona State (+220) over Wisconsin in Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 30
Wisconsin’s hopes of making it to the Big Ten Championship Game were derailed by a tough loss to Minnesota, which makes me think they’ll be coming into this one a little deflated. So, with the season over, why not go have a little fun in Vegas, right? Wrong. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s a long trip for the Badgers, whereas it’s a short plane ride over for Arizona State. This will have more of a home-game feel for the Sun Devils. Plus, I think Herm Edwards is a great coach who steps up big in spots like this.
NJ: Utah (+205) over Ohio State in Rose Bowl on Jan. 1
Every season, Ohio State’s goal is to at least reach the College Football Playoff so they can play for a national title — and they fell short this season. Because of that, I question Ohio State’s motivation in this game and I wouldn’t be surprised if key pieces on their team, specifically wide receivers, opt out of the bowl to pursue the NFL.
Utah is thrilled to be in this game for the first time in program history, and it showed with how they played in the Pac-12 title game. I would expect a lot of Utah fans at this game based on how they traveled to Las Vegas for the conference championship and wouldn’t be surprised if Utah closed as a smaller underdog than the +6.5 that is available as of this writing.