The first week of college football bowl games is in the books with underdogs going 3-6 straight up but 5-4 against the spread. The total landed Under in six of the nine.
Let’s break down three interesting matchups this week and which side of the spread is the best value at the best sportsbooks.
Boca Raton Bowl
Tuesday, December 20, 2022 – 07:30 PM EST at FAU Stadium
This is the second of two bowl games on Tuesday and shown on ESPN. It’s the first time in it for independent Liberty, while Toledo of the Mid-American Conference makes its second trip.
The Rockets upset Temple in 2015 – that’s the only win for MAC schools in four visits to the Boca Raton Bowl.
The big storyline is that Liberty begins life without highly successful head coach Hugh Freeze, who left for Auburn in a no-brainer move. Want to know how much contracts matter in college football? Freeze agreed to a new eight-year deal at Liberty in October, with an average salary of just under $5 million annually, making him one of the highest-paid Group of 5 coaches in the country.
He is widely regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the game, but you have to take an SEC job if offered. Freeze led Liberty to a 34-15 record in four seasons with the program.
He will be replaced on a full-time basis by former Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell, a great hire for Liberty, but co-defensive coordinator Josh Aldridge will coach the bowl game. This simply has to hurt the Flames offensively because Freeze called the plays.
Amid speculation swirled that Freeze might be leaving, the Flames faltered down the stretch and lost their last three games, including a shocking 49-14 blowout at home to New Mexico State in the finale.
Toledo won the MAC title with a 17-7 win over Ohio on Dec. 3, and the Rockets rushed for 236 yards. Liberty was really bad against the run in the season-ending skid. That should be the difference.
You can see the best lines and spread leans at OddsTrader. The lowest number on the Rockets is -3.5 at BetRivers, and they are taking a 66% lean on the spread.
NCAAF Pick: Toledo -3.5 (-113) at BetRivers
New Orleans Bowl
Wednesday, December 21, 2022 – 09:00 PM EST at Caesars Superdome
This is the lone bowl game Wednesday and televised by ESPN as Western Kentucky of Conference USA faces South Alabama of the Sun Belt.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Looks to be a classic matchup of a stellar offense in WKU against an excellent defense in USA. There have been guys left and right opting out of bowl games because they decided to transfer after the regular season, but I can’t remember what has happened with WKU.
Quarterback Austin Reed was named second-team Conference USA and the league’s Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Division II power North Florida. He was one of the nation’s top passers this year in throwing 4,249 yards (second nationally in regular season) and 36 touchdowns (fourth) while rushing for eight more. His 272 points responsible for were second-most in the FBS.
Reed said he was transferring and would have been in huge demand but has changed his mind and will stay and play in the bowl. That’s huge.
South Alabama Jaguars
Meanwhile, South Alabama finished 10-2, the program’s most wins since joining the FBS in 2012 – just three years ago, USA was 2-10.
Second-year coach Kane Wommack has done a fantastic job and the former Indiana defensive coordinator has put together a defense that gave up the third-fewest yards per game in the Sun Belt (304.5). Wommack’s team thrived in close games, winning five by seven points or fewer.
This will be close too, although South Alabama is taking a nearly 90% lean.
NCAAF Pick: Western Kentucky +4.5 (-115) at FanDuel
Friday, December 23, 2022 – 03:00 PM EST at Independence Stadium
First of two bowl games Friday and ESPN has the telecast between Louisiana of the Sun Belt Conference and Houston of the AAC – it’s the Cougars’ final game in that league as it will move to the Big 12 next year.
It’s the first time in this bowl for both, which one would think that Louisiana would have played in the in-state game only about 200 miles from campus previously.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
The Ragin’ Cajuns have played six bowl games within the state, but all in New Orleans. I’m not sure they will have much of a home-field advantage here as it’s a lower-tier bowl played on Christmas weekend.
Louisiana got bowl eligible with a 41-13 win at Texas State in the regular season finale – the team lost starting QB Ben Wooldridge to a season-ending injury on Nov. 10 vs. Georgia Southern. Backup Chandler Fields didn’t top 190 yards passing in the final two games in Wooldridge’s place.
Receiver Michael Jefferson (51 catches) and end Andre Jones (8.5 TFL) won’t play to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Houston QB Clayton Tune has accepted a spot in the Senior Bowl but is planning to play in his collegiate finale. Star WR Nathaniel Dell declared for the NFL draft but plans to play as well. That’s a terrific duo as both were named first-team All-AAC.
Dell is tied for the national lead in receiving touchdowns (16) and is second in receiving yards (1,354), receiving yards per game (112.8), and receptions per game (8.6).
Tune is tied for the national lead in passing touchdowns (37). He is second in points responsible per game (21.5), third in total offense (361.2), and fifth in passing yards (3,845) and completions per game (26.33).
UH coach Dana Holgorsen is just 3-6 in bowls as a head coach but his team is way more talented this time as long as it is motivated.
For this college football pick, we will use FanDuel because it has Houston at -6.5 whereas nearly all the other books have it at -7.
NCAAF Pick: Houston -6.5 (-118) at FanDuel