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NC State vs. Kansas State Pop-Tarts Bowl 2023 Betting Analysis: Avery Johnson’s Coming-Out Party

Avery Johnson Kansas State Wildcats v TCU Horned Frogs
Quarterback Avery Johnson #5 of the Kansas State Wildcats runs up field against of the TCU Horned Frogs. Peter Aiken/Getty Images/AFP

The top sportsbooks have released their betting odds for the upcoming Pop-Tarts Bowl between NC State and Kansas State.

For your best bets, I will recommend betting on K-State.

Top Pick


North Carolina State Wolfpack vs. Kansas State Wildcats

Thursday, December 28, 2023 – 05:45 PM ET at Camping World Stadium


Key Absence

NC State is expected to miss its defensive centerpiece, linebacker Payton Wilson. Reportedly, Wilson is planning to opt out of the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Wilson is known to be excellent at stopping the run and rushing the passer. In the regular season, he amassed 138 tackles and six sacks. While pass coverage isn’t his strength, his high IQ makes him useful in this area as well.

In terms of intangibles, he brings effort, energy, and veteran leadership. In bowl season, where effort is important, Wilson’s intangibles are perhaps what his team will miss most.

Moreover, starting nose tackle CJ Clark has entered the transfer portal and will likewise miss this game.

K-State Offense’s Absences

Now, NC State backers will want to say that K-State will miss key pieces to its offense and therefore will lack the capacity to take advantage of NC State’s holes on defense.

There are two key absences to note. One is the offensive coordinator, Collin Klein. Klein accepted the same job at Texas A&M. The second is the starting quarterback, Will Howard, who entered the transfer portal.

Replacements

I contend that K-State’s offensive absences do not matter because these losses are replaceable.

Freshman Avery Johnson will start at quarterback in place of Howard, and offensive line coach Conor Riley will act as interim offensive coordinator in place of Klein. This sets up perfectly well for K-State to be motivated.

A freshman, Johnson will want to make a strong impression as the hopeful future starting quarterback of this team. Riley will want to earn the offensive coordinator job, which would be a big promotion for him.

Let’s discuss each in turn.

Avery Johnson

Johnson was a talented, four-star recruit who has shown this talent in the regular season. His 166.2 passer rating is no joke: it is the outcome of several strong appearances that he made.

Southeast Missouri State, Texas Tech, TCU, Houston, and Baylor have all been victimized by his passing ability. He also rushed for a combined total of 163 rushing yards against TCU and Texas Tech, plus he ran for 32 yards on five carries against both Southeast Missouri State and Missouri.

Johnson’s Targets

Similar stories can be told for the pass-catchers who he’ll have to rely on. 

Jayce Brown, for example, will be his top target. Brown amassed 96 receiving yards against Kansas before catching five passes for 69 yards against Iowa State.

Conor Riley

A very experienced and well-reputed offensive line coach, Riley surely thinks of himself as a candidate for the offensive coordinator position.

A hire from within, Riley would bring continuity to the K-State offense, in addition to his experience and competence.

DJ Giddens

Kansas State’s starting contributors to its rush attack are primed to take advantage of NC State’s crucial absences at linebacker and nose tackle.

DJ Giddens led K-State with 1,075 yards on 5.5 YPC. He ended the season strong, with three straight 100-yard rushing performances, with the last one coming against Iowa State’s 36th-ranked rush defense.

Does K-State’s Rush Defense Matter?

Wolfpack backers will want to point to the problems in Kansas State’s run defense.

It is true that the Wildcats, in their regular-season finale, allowed a lot of big plays on the ground in what was a huge output from Iowa State’s rush attack. The defensive coordinator did help K-State players be in position to make plays, but they simply couldn’t tackle.

The transfer portal will be, as regards this bowl game, a good thing for K-State because the players who have quit their team will have entered the portal and will not play in this game.

Expect a K-State defense, therefore, that is more motivated than the one that embarrassed itself in the regular season finale. This is not to say that K-State’s rush defense was very good at all before that Iowa State game. However, teams run the ball well against Kansas State and still don’t even come close to winning.

For example, TCU’s running back ran for 100 yards in a very efficient performance, but his team still lost to K-State 41-3. NC State, which anyhow lacks a running back who approaches Giddens’ caliber, can have a good game on the ground, but it won’t mean anything.

Brennan Armstrong

With MJ Morris in the transfer portal, NC State is going to start Brennan Armstrong at quarterback out of necessity.

Armstrong is not a good quarterback. He is mistake-prone, as evident in his high interception total. Moreover, he struggles with his deep ball and has trouble connecting on big plays in general. Hence, he repeatedly struggles to reach 200 yards passing.

NC State’s offense won’t have nearly enough productivity to keep up with K-State.

Takeaway

I do think the total looks low and, especially in view of K-State’s offensive potential, lean “over,” in case you want to play the total. But if you’re looking for the best single bet for this game, then K-State is the way to go.

The spread at -3 is a joke because the Wildcats will win this one easily with their two-dimensional offense that NC State lacks the effective weapons to keep up with.

NCAAF Pick: Kansas State -3 (-110) at Bet365

*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.

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