College Bowl Mania’s Most Confident Picks

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Posted in: College Football

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College football bowl season has arrived in what always seems to become a slate filled with winning underdogs and wild finishes.

ESPN has brought the wildly popular Capital One Bowl Mania game back for fans to pick the winners.

You can play one version where only winning matters. But the more challenging version of the game requires you to rank each of your picks by how much confidence you have in them.

So what would the individual with the most confidence points get in the end? Well, a perfect score gets you $1 million. But even without perfection, the winning entrant is rewarded with National Championship Game tickets for next season and a $5,000 Amazon gift card.

So there’s plenty to play for, even if all that’s on the line is some office pool money and bragging rights.

But today I’m going to talk about the teams you need to put a lot of confidence points on. These teams rank from New Year’s Six juggernauts to Group of Five darlings.

The spreads for these games will also be found below, courtesy of Bovada.

Fresno State (vs Arizona State), Las Vegas Bowl

The Bulldogs come in as five-point favorites at the moment. But they’re being underappreciated by the books and bettors.

This could very well be the best group of five team west of Orlando and they’re playing an average team from a below-average Power Five conference. The Bulldogs are one of the healthiest teams in the country, ranked 10th overall by S&P up against the 54th-ranked squad.

And Arizona State not only is playing the winners of the Mountain West Conference (over Boise State). They’re also doing so without their best player.

WR N’Keal Harry is sitting out this Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. That will seriously affect the passing game that’s ranked 44th by S&P. Putting that up against the rankings’ No. 13 passing D will be dangerous.

The Sun Devils should be able to keep the pocket clean for Manny Wilkins. But on the other side of the ball, the defense has three of their top six tacklers trying to recover from injury in time to play Saturday.

That could be a huge hit for the 92nd-ranked S&P defense that has the 113th ranked success rate. Fresno is 37th and 21st in those categories. The Bulldogs are 16th in passing with Marcus McMaryion (25 TDs-3 INT) and their offense isn’t even their strength.

The fact they’re a top-10 defense and have better ball control should allow them to gradually pull away from the Sun Devils.

Appalachian State (vs Middle Tennessee), New Orleans Bowl

There’s a lot to like about App State (-7) as a complete unit. This is the No. 13 team, according to S&P.

That’s 48 spots higher than where the Blue Raiders are.

The Mountaineers’ defense has top-10 numbers all the way across the board. There’s no star pass-rusher, but collectively, this team swarms the ball in all three phases. Middle Tennessee doesn’t have the personnel to match up with them and are pedestrian, if not worse, in all major offensive categories.

They’ll come in as the 81st-ranked offense in the country and have scored 30 points only once in its last five games. They do have a couple impressive wins over UAB and Marshall. They played Kentucky fairly close (11 points) too.

They may have to rely on their defense too much though. And nothing about App State’s offense sticks out as particularly alarming in terms of deficiencies. They may not make as many key 3rd downs as you’d like, and the Blue Raiders aren’t going to allow many.

But I just don’t see the Mountaineers needing more than 24-27 points to pull out a comfortable victory.

Clemson (vs Notre Dame), Goodyear Cotton Bowl

Whatever Notre Dame accomplished this year they should be commended for. A perfect regular season is never easy for any team in the FBS.

But that doesn’t mean they have the track record, personnel, overall talent, strategy, or even momentum to beat Clemson (-11).

The Tigers haven’t exactly been playing electric offenses all year. But you’d have to think the balance Notre Dame has found on offense wouldn’t be allowed by probably the best defensive line in the country.

The Fighting Irish look to be at least lightly out-matched on offense pretty much everywhere. Putting 36 on Syracuse is one thing, but Clemson is on top of pass defense, defensive efficiency, touchdown rate, and a few other rankings.

The Tigers statistically are the most well-balanced team in the country. Trevor Lawrence is a main talking-point around the country and a superstar in the making. But RB Travis Etienne might be the best player on the offense.

And then on the other side, they have six players with at least seven tackles-for-loss and 10 guys with multiple sacks. That’s mind-boggling to me.

They’re going up against an O-line ranked 104th in line yards (which you can learn more about here). The Irish are also 118th in allowing defenses to stop plays at or behind the line of scrimmage (stuff rate). That makes them particularly susceptible to the Clemson front.

And I understand the hype about Notre Dame’s defense too. They are good and are light years better on the D-line than they were only two years ago. But they’ve played exactly one top-40 offense and none in the top-20. That’s compared to Clemson’s D (three top-40’s and a top 20)

After seeing what happened to Michigan against Ohio State, I want to see it before believing it with the Irish.

Missouri (vs Oklahoma State), Autozone Liberty Bowl

The Tigers (-8) were almost not on this list simply because I have a lot of respect for Oklahoma State’s potential in big games.

Still, the Missouri defense isn’t the same one the Cowboys played when they faced Texas or West Virginia. This is the 17th-ranked unit according to FEI and that means it’ll only be the second top-20 defense they’ve played.

The other was TCU, who they lost to 31-24. Those 24 points were 15.7 points lower than the season average in their other 11 games.

DL Tre’ Williams (five tackles-for-loss) is out for Mizzou after his arrest. Damarea Crockett, the team’s No. 2 rusher, may not play. And John Knox and Albert Okwuegbunam, the No. 2 and 3 receivers for Mizzou, are also questionable for the game.

That makes me cautious about jumping on an eight-point spread. But it doesn’t mean I have reservations about the Tigers winning with what is ranked the FEI’s 12th-best team.

They still have NFL prospect Drew Lock at QB and a 1,000-yard back in Larry Roundtree III. And they won’t necessarily miss all those players above. Only Williams will out for good.

The Cowboys do have some pieces on offense. But now that RB Justice Hill (5.9 yards-per-attempt this season) is out with broken ribs, the Cowboys won’t have their No. 2 playmaker on offense. Oklahoma State won’t have much more hope on the ground with the run defense they’re playing.

They’ll have to air it out with QB Taylor Cornelius and superb wideout Tylan Wallace and hope the Tigers’ lack of turnovers continues. That’s their only hope.

The 99th ranked FEI defense is not going to be one to hold back Lock, even if Crockett and one of the two injured WRs don’t play. This is the 15th-best offense with a splendid passing game that reflects many of the Big 12’s best.

The Cowboys are used to giving up these types of points and yardage. But not being able to join the shootout will doom them.

Georgia (vs Texas), Allstate Sugar Bowl

This is not an absolute lock of a game.

Georgia (-11.5) comes in having lost a very tough matchup against Alabama, in which they once again blew a second-half lead against them. But if Georgia executes half as well as they did early on in the SEC Championship, it’ll be smooth sailing.

This is the 2nd-best team according to FEI, with top-10 units on both sides of the ball. They don’t allow big plays from the run or pass with a strong front seven and a secondary led by All-American Deandre Baker.

Texas isn’t known as a very explosive offense anyway. Their receivers are the best position group on their team and even they don’t outmatch the Bulldogs.

There have been times where Georgia has let up some breathing room on the ground. But Texas has only received 4.1 and 2.9 yards-per-attempt from their top two carriers. Even with a consistent offensive line, they don’t hold much of a chance in the trenches with those numbers.

And on the other side of the ball, Georgia is pretty undervalued. They’re a top-five offense overall and likewise on both passing downs (second-and-eight or more, third or fourth down and five or more) and standard downs (all other situations).

Jake Fromm has become one of the better young quarterbacks in college football. He’s comfortable behind one of the most stacked offensive lines and accompanied in the backfield by a duo (DeAndre Swift and Elijah Hollyfield) that averages 6.6 yards a carry.

The Longhorns have a much better defense than most of their Big 12 counterparts. And they’ve had to handle some very athletic offenses. Two games against Oklahoma (1st-ranked by FEI), and one each versus West Virginia (6th), Oklahoma State (10th), Texas Tech (25th).

So they have plenty of experience against talented offenses. But this is probably the most physical one they’ve played up front and in the backfield. And they also gave up on average 40 points to those four other teams.

If they give up another 40, they’re likely to get left in the dust.

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