Posted in: College Football
The college football season has flown by as all great things tend to do. But for those betting on the great game, bowl season is a perfect time.
The holiday season is stuffed with bowl games starting December 15th and running through January 7th, when the national championship will be played in Santa Clara, California.
Along the way, there will be several games featuring teams that deserved better.
But I’m not talking about the Georgia Bulldogs or other teams that may play with less effort given the game they’re slotted in. I’m talking about teams that have something to prove but still are vastly greater than they’re given credit for.
Some are from traditionally powerful conferences. Others are Group of Five schools with a chip on their shoulder. But what they all have in common are stats that show they’re worth a second look from bettors this bowl season.
Each spread mentioned can be found on Bovada. So here are the teams, starting with my favorite of the bunch.
The 8-4 Tigers have been vastly underrated and are easily my No. 1 pick on this list.
They’ll be up against 6-6 Oklahoma State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl (12/31, 3:45 EST). They’re currently favored by 7.5 points (-110). I think they should be two-touchdown favorites.
This is a team with a second-tier college quarterback in Drew Lock. They have four reliable wide receivers if they’re all healthy for bowl season. And Larry Roundtree III and Damarea Crockett have combined for 1,721 rush yards and just under 5.0 yards-per-carry.
And they’ll be going up against a defense ranked 99th by FEI for efficiency. Being 122nd in turnover rate and 110th when it comes to giving up a touchdown after a first down, the Cowboys are not built to halt drives once they start churning downfield.
Missouri counters that with a top-40 red zone offense and a top-20 third-down unit.
Oklahoma State will score their share of points. Any Mike Gundy offense will. And their wins over Texas and West Virginia were impressive. They are also a better team than they’re given credit for and rank 29th in FEI offense.
But they’ve yet to play a run defense like Mizzou. The Tigers are 7th against the run according to S&P and will be quite the challenge, even for a back as talented as Justice Hill (5.9 YPA).
Missouri obviously hasn’t played many offenses up to this level. But when FEI has them with the 14th-best defense and offense, you know they’re very balanced. As in balanced enough to be a New Year’s Six team.
And no matter how much it may sound like making an excuse, they should have another top-15 win against Kentucky. A bad pass interference call gave Kentucky another shot at the end of the game that they made the most of. But they shouldn’t have gotten another opportunity.
Right now, it’s easy to consider the Tigers the No. 2 team in the SEC East. And this year, that actually means something.
UCF may have the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl spot this year. But there are a few others who need to be acknowledged. Fresno State (11-2) is one of them.
Not only are they having a superb two-year run, but they did it despite being in the same conference with Group of Five darlings, Boise State. They avenged their loss to them earlier in the season by beating them 19-16 in overtime for the Mountain West Conference Championship.
They’re ranked 14th overall by FEI, ahead of teams like West Virginia, Florida, Washington State, and Texas. Their defense is spotted 17th and held teams to 14 points or less on nine occasions.
And sure enough, in keeping with the theme of balance, they’re ranked 18th by FEI on offense. Up and down the stat sheet, this team is dominant. 4th in completion percentage, top-20 in S&P passing, top-25 on third downs, you name it.
Their run-game may be their only major flaw. But Ronnie Rivers has improved as of late and averages just under five yards a carry. And with Arizona State—their Mitsubishi Motors’ Las Vegas Bowl (12/15, 3:30) opponent—ranked 99th in S&P rush defense, this might be his big break.
The Sun Devils have been a nice story this year. I didn’t think the Herm Edwards experiment would work and it has. At least it has in the weakest Power-Five division.
But Fresno is probably the best team they’ve played aside from Washington. And with star wide receiver N’Keal Harry not even playing because of preparation for the draft, there’ll be a different wideout taking the limelight.
That will be KeeSean Johnson, the aptly named WR with over 1,300 receiving yards and nearly 100 grabs.
Fresno may not have that much more to play for. But they are the healthier team, the hotter team, and the more well-rounded one. That’s why they’re 4.5-point favorites (-105) and probably would be more if every single one of Arizona State’s losses weren’t by seven points or less.
The Bulldogs are equipped with the 5th-best run defense and 13th-best pass defense. They’re one of the scrappiest teams around, don’t let up big plays, and get key stops at important times. They will make some serious noise come December 15th.
This team pulled a Jekyll and Hyde on bettors all year.
They beat the socks off a top-25 Boston College team. They got rocked by an average Minnesota squad. Taking out Iowa came just before that. Losing to Eastern Michigan was how they started off their non-conference schedule.
And of course, in the biggest twist of all, they took Ohio State behind the woodshed, beating them by 29.
I still believe this team has a ceiling ten feet higher than their 6-6 record shows. It’s funny that they’re matched up with 7-5 Auburn for the Music City Bowl (12/28, 3:30), considering the Tigers are probably the SEC’s biggest disappointment this year. The SEC opponent still comes in as four-point favorites (-110).
I don’t know if Purdue’s explosiveness, with freakish talents like Rondale Moore and D.J. Knox, will have as much as success against them. But the Boilermakers only four-point underdogs and always have the potential of blowing out a team even better than the one they’ll be playing.
They’re currently ranked 29th by FEI. That’s better than 17 power-five teams with better records. That includes Auburn.
They’re only 69th on defense. They’re 82nd when ranked by S&P. A lot of that damage is done by late-down passes. That will give Auburn QB Jarett Stidham some opportunities.
But he and the 72nd-ranked scoring offense haven’t exactly taken advantage of those chances much this year. His draft stock has plummeted because of it.
They’re more than capable of creating those through the air or on the ground. That’s mostly in part to Moore’s athleticism in and out of the backfield. He averages 11.3 yards rushing and receiving each. Now that’s some consistently big plays waiting to happen.
Auburn may be a quicker team than say, Minnesota, Iowa, or Wisconsin. But Moore and Knox are plenty quick enough to keep up with the perception of “faster” SEC players.
This is a group that flies way under the radar.
They took Penn State to overtime in Happy Valley. Each conference win they had was by an average of 22.25 points. They even won the conference championship game by double-digits.
Sure, they ended up losing the game versus the Nittany Lions. But their only real hiccup all year was versus Georgia Southern, another team that is being undervalued this postseason despite how their triple-option shrinks the talent gap.
App State (10-2) on the other hand has plenty of athleticism up and down their roster. I truly believe if they had played in the ACC this year, they would’ve come close to representing the weak Coastal Division in the conference title game.
They’re ranked 35th according to FEI and that’s indeed better than all the Coastal Division teams aside from Miami. It’s also much higher (64th) than their New Orleans Bowl (12/15, 9:00) opponent, Middle Tennessee.
But the clear difference is on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Brent Stockstill has had a very underrated career for the Blue Raiders, but this isn’t a particularly dynamic offense. Their rushing attack has been limited and is up against a team positioned 8th in stopping it.
Overall, App State is ranked 9th in S&P defense with 11 players who have at least three tackles for a loss. And against Stockstill, the Mountaineers will bring in a secondary allowing only 5.34 yards-per-attempt. Only Temple allows less.
The Mountaineers, at least for now, are favored by a touchdown (-105).
I’ve talked about balance a lot when discussing these teams. Miss State (8-4) doesn’t exactly fit into that conversation.
The Bulldogs have gone all season without generating much of a passing game. Nick Fitzgerald showed some signs of improvement recently but against poor competition.
And now he’ll be going up against an Iowa team that’s perennially stout (16th in 2018) on defense. But they’ve been playing defensive units of this caliber for the better part of the year and still managed eight wins. And that’s due to their own defense rarely giving much breathing room at all.
They only place behind Alabama in terms of defense. They’ve only given up over 20 points twice and held the Crimson Tide to the least amount of points (24) they’ve scored all year.
The Outback Bowl (1/1, 12:00) might be the most ground-and-pound game of the entire bowl season. And the Bulldogs are perfectly equipped to play it.
Their touchdown rate allowed is the best in the country and they are equipped with one of the best d-lines in the nation. Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons are both projected first-round draft picks, combining for 29.5 tackles-for-loss. They have the sixth-most overall.
And if nothing else, the Bulldogs can slowly grind this game away on the ground. Fitzgerald is a 1,000-yard rusher and there are two RBs (Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill) with over 500 yards and 6.3 a carry.
For Iowa, the only chinks in the defensive armor have come from teams that can out-muscle them. And there are so few teams who can do that. But the third-ranked offensive line of the Bulldogs has a better chance than most. That’s why they are 6-point favorites (-115).
They’re going to be one of the most physical groups the Hawkeyes have played.