College Bowl Games
Sat, Dec 17 11:00 AM
Rotation: 201, Odds: New Mexico -7.5, Total: 59.5
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New Mexico Bowl
Saturday, December 17 – 11 am Pacific
NEW MEXICO (-7 ½) 33 Texas-San Antonio 20
Strong Opinion New Mexico (1-Star Best Bet at -7 at -115 odds or better)
Lean Under (58 ½)
New Mexico continues to rise under coach Bob Davies and the Lobos upped their record to 8-4 this season to earn another chance to win a bowl game on their home turf. New Mexico lost in this bowl game last season 37-45 to Arizona but the Lobos did cover the spread and should do so again this year with a comfortable victory a bad UTSA team whose most impressive win was against a Middle Tennessee State team that is about 8 points worse than an average FBS team. The five FBS teams that the Roadrunners were able to beat have an average rating of 14.5 points worse than average, which is a prime example of how diluted the bowl games are nowadays.
UTSA averaged 30 points per game, but that average is very misleading given the 365 total yards per game (in regulation) and 5.3 yards per play that the Roadrunners average. Those raw numbers aren’t horrible but they are when you consider that UTSA faced a schedule of teams that would combine to allow an average of 445 yards per game and would give up 6.4 yards per play to an average attack. My offensive rating for the Roadrunners is even worse because I dampen the affect of outliers, and in this case, UTSA’s yards per play average was skewed by the 11.3 yppl they averaged against Southern Miss. UTSA averaged 5.0 yppl or less in 6 of their 11 games against FBS teams.
New Mexico is a bad defensive team that has allowed 6.5 yppl and rates at 1.0 yppl worse than average after adjusting for schedule strength. The Lobos don’t give up as many points (32.4 per game) as would be expected from that defensive yppl rating because their opponents averaged 8 fewer plays than average. San Antonio quarterbacks Dalton Sturm and Jared Johnson, who has been getting snaps lately, should decent success through the air in this game as their pass rating (1.9 yards per pass play worse than average) is only a bit worse than New Mexico’s pass defense (1.5 yppp worse than average), but the Roadrunners’ ground attack is projected to average only 4.6 yards per rushing play. Overall, my model projects just 295 total yards at 5.2 yards per play for the Roadrunners in this game, which should net them around 20 points.
New Mexico’s Pistol offense led the nation in rushing this season and the Lobos averaged 7.0 yards per rushing play while averaging a decent 6.8 yards per pass play. Overall, New Mexico averaged 466 yards at 7.0 yards per play but they did so against teams that would allow 6.4 yppl and their 37.8 points per game was against a schedule that would allow 35.0 points to an average team. In basic terms, New Mexico’s offense isn’t nearly as good as they look on the stats sheet.
The Lobos are still good enough to score a good number of points in this game, although I do expect them to fall short of their season average for yards and yards per play against a pretty decent UTSA stop unit. The Roadrunners are actually average in run defense and their sub-par pass defense (6.4 yards per pass play allowed to quarterbacks that would average 5.5 yppp against an average defense) won’t be fully exploited by a Lobos’ attack that runs the ball 77% of the time. New Mexico is projected at 6.3 yards per rushing play, well below their season average of 7.0 yprp, and 428 yards at 6.5 yards per play.
Overall, the math favors New Mexico by 12 points in this game and I’ve added a couple of points to a 46-7-1 ATS bowl angle that applies to the Lobos. I’ll consider New Mexico a Strong Opinion at -9 ½ or less and I’d play the Lobos in a 1-Star Best Bet at -7 at -115 odds or better.
I also favor this game to go Under the total, as both teams run their offense at a slow pace and both teams played higher scoring games than their stats would project, which has led to a higher over/under number. The total was set too high because New Mexico’s games have averaged 70 total points. However, New Mexico has faced a schedule of teams that combine to average 60 total points and UTSA is actually a lower than average total scoring team, as their 58 total points per game is actually only 54.5 total points per game in regulation (45 points were scored in 5 OT loss to UTEP) and their opponents combine to average 63.6 total points per game in regulation – so the Roadrunners are actually 9.1 points per game lower scoring than average. The compensated points model projects 58.3 total points but my model projects even less than that, as UTSA is not expected to average the 5.4 points per red zone opportunity that they’ve averaged. An average offensive team averages 4.9 points per RZ and UTSA’s offensive numbers would projects only 4.7 points per RZ, which is a difference of 2.6 points per game from the randomly high 5.4 points per RZ they averaged this season. New Mexico averaged 5.6 points per RZ on offense and on defense and those numbers should regress towards the mean as well – although not as much, as option teams tend to be more efficient in general and New Mexico’s defense traditionally has a higher than average points per RZ. Overall, the higher than projected points per red zone of these two teams in the regular season made them both higher scoring than they should have been and my model adjusts for that variance and projects only 52 ½ total points. I’ll lean Under the total and would consider the Under is a Strong Opinion at 59 points or higher.
San Diego St.
Sat, Dec 17 12:30 PM
Rotation: 203, Odds: San Diego St. +4, Total: 51.5
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Las Vegas Bowl
Saturday, December 17 – 12:30 pm Pacific
Houston (-4) 24 San Diego State 23
Lean San Diego State (+4)
Lean Under (51 ½)
When Houston is focused and healthy they are tough to beat, which helps explain upset wins over Oklahoma and Louisville. The Cougars also lost twice as favorites of 17 points or more, including a 22 point loss to lowly SMU, and they suffered a letdown in a loss at Memphis the week after their big win over Louisville. Which version of Houston is going to show up for this game? A case can be made that playing a minor Bowl on the first day of the Bowl season is not likely to inspire a team that played in the Orange Bowl last year (upset Florida State) and was ranked as high at #6 in the polls early this season. The Cougars also lost their head coach to Texas, although the hiring of offensive coordinator as the new head coach is popular among the players. But, how will that coaching change affect how the players view this game? I’m inclined to think that this game will be viewed as an unwanted consolation prize by Houston players while San Diego State will be thrilled to be facing a team of Houston’s caliber after earning their way to this bowl game by winning the Mountain West Championship game.
San Diego State wins the old fashioned way, with a relentless two-man rushing attack and solid defense. The Aztecs averaged nearly 300 rushing yards per game at 6.8 yards per rushing play with Donnell Pumphrey leading the way with 2018 yards at 6.1 ypr while being spelled by Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington, who combined for 1428 yards at 8.0 ypr. Pumphrey needs 108 yards to break Ron Dayne’s NCAA career rushing record and he’ll be fired up to accomplish that feat in his home city of Las Vegas. Quarterback Christian Chapman is below average at 6.2 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average quarterback but he’s only thrown 6 interceptions all season and has a standout big play receiver in Mikah Holder (21.9 yards per catch) to keep defenses honest if they put too many men at the line of scrimmage to defend the run.
Overall, I rate the San Diego State attack at just 0.3 yards per play better than average and their run-heavy game plan doesn’t match up particularly well against a Houston defense with a very strong defensive front led by freshman phenom Ed Oliver, who had 19.5 total tackles for loss this season. Houston only allowed 4.3 yards per rushing play this season (to teams that would combine to average 5.2 yprp against an average team) and the Cougars’ pass defense is 1.0 yppp better than average if I exclude the 5 games that star pass rushing linebacker/end Tyus Bowser missed in the middle of the season. Bowser had 7.5 sacks in just 7 games and his late season return was a big factor in the Cougars’ win over Louisville (he has 1 sack and 4 quarterback hurries). I only included the games in which Bowser and starting CB Brandon Wilson played (he missed week’s 4 through 6) and I project San Diego State to average a modest 5.1 yards per rushing pay and only 4.9 yards per play in this game.
Houston’s offense is led by Greg Ward Jr, who had to throw a lot more often because the rushing attack went from great last year to below average this season (4.3 yprp against teams that would allow 4.9 yprp). Ward’s passing numbers weren’t great, as he averaged 6.8 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.7 yppp) but he is good at moving the chains and doesn’t make many mistakes (just 9 interceptions in 11 games on 435 passes). Ward’s low interception percentage will be put to the test against a San Diego State defense that was among the national leaders in interceptions for a 2nd consecutive year thanks to Damontae Kazee, who picked off 8 passes last season and 7 more so far this season, to lead a team that accumulated 22 interceptions in 13 games. San Diego State rates at 0.5 yards per play better than average, allowing 5.1 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team and that unit has an edge over a Houston offense that was 0.1 yppl worse than average (5.6 yppl against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl). Houston does run a lot of plays, however, as Ward consistently finds ways to get first downs, and I project 390 total yards at 5.2 yards per play for the Cougars in this game.
While I do think that San Diego State cares about this game more than Houston does it’s certainly possible that the Cougars could be fired up to send senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. out in style in his final game. I’ll just stick with the math, and the math favors Houston by only 1 point with 47 total points. I’ll lean with San Diego State at +3 or more and Under 50 points or higher.
Sat, Dec 17 2:30 PM
Odds: Arkansas St. +6.5, Total: 51
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Saturday, December 17 – 2:30 pm Pacific
Central Florida (-6 ½) 27 Arkansas State 20
This game is being played in UCF’s former home stadium but there isn’t enough evidence to suggest playing close to home is an advantage in a bowl game. I’m sure that UCF will have more crowd support than Arkansas State, but what kind of reward is a bowl game in which you don’t even get to leave the city to attend? UCF should be rewarded for going 6-6 after losing all 12 games last season and I believe they’ll play hard for first-year head coach Scott Frost, who quickly took himself out of the running for the head coaching vacancy at Oregon, where he used to be the offensive coordinator. I’m sure that his players appreciate that loyalty and will give a great effort in this game to try to finish above .500 for the season.
Arkansas State, however, is no pushover, as the Red Wolves have a solid defense and a capable quarterback in Justice Hansen, who took over after two blowout losses to start the season. Arkansas State actually lost their first four games of the season, including a loss to FCS team Central Arkansas before winning 7 of their final 8 games to capture a share of the Sun Belt title. The key to the turnaround for Arkansas State was a defense that rebounded from two ugly performances to start the season (allowed 8.0 yards per play combined to Toledo and Auburn) and turned into a better than average unit – on a national scale. After getting burned for multiple big pass plays in those first two games the coaching staff made a change at free safety that solidified the secondary. The Red Wolves allowed just 4.8 yards per pass play in the 9 games with the current starting defensive secondary (CB Brown missed the week 4 loss to Central Arkansas, who averaged 7.0 yards per pass play in that game), which is good even when taking into account that the opposing quarterbacks faced on those games were mostly not very good (that group would combine to average just 5.3 yppp against an average defense). Only one time in those 9 games did Arkansas State allow 5.0 yards per pass play or more and no team averaged more than 5.4 yards per play against the Red Wolves over the last 10 games of the season. The run defense isn’t likely to be as good without the services of 340-pound defensive tackle Waylon Robinson, who is out with a knee injury, and possibly DL Chase Robison, who is listed as questionable. I don’t still don’t expect UCF’s below average attack (5.0 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team, and the same rating with Milton at QB) to move the ball with any consistency in this game and I project just 4.8 yards per play for the Golden Knights in this game.
UCF has an even better defense, which was a major reason I played on the Knights so many times this season. That defensive unit yielded just 4.9 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average defensive team and they have a solid advantage over Arkansas State’s offense.
The Red Wolves switched quarterbacks in week 3 after struggling offensively the first two weeks and Justice Hansen has averaged 7.3 yards per pass play, which made up for a sub-par rushing attack that managed just 4.5 yards per rushing play (against teams that would allow 5.4 yprp). Hansen’s numbers aren’t actually that great considering he faced teams that would combine to allow 7.1 yppp to an average quarterback and overall the Red Wolves rate at 0.4 yards per play worse than average offensively with Hansen at quarterback. My math projects only 4.7 yards per play for Arkansas State in this game.
The projected yardage is pretty close in this game but UCF has an advantage in projected turnovers and on special teams and overall the math favors the Knights by 6 ½ points with a total of 46 ½ points. There is no value on the side and the under has just a 52.0% chance (at under 50 points) based on the historical performance of my model in bowl games. That’s below the 52.4% necessary to cover the standard -110 odds so I have no opinion on the side and I’d only lean Under at 51 points or higher.
Sat, Dec 17 2:30 PM
Rotation: 209, Odds: Toledo -1, Total: 60
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Saturday, December 17 – 2:30 pm Pacific
Appalachian State (+1) 31 Toledo 30
My math model picks this game 30.3 to 30.1, so there really isn’t any value on either side or the total in this game, and I don’t have any bowl angles that apply to this game. While this isn’t a game worth betting, it should be a game worth watching, as Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside is one of the best quarterbacks that nobody has heard of. Woodside completed 69% of his passes and leads the nation with 43 touchdown passes, against just 9 interceptions, while averaging 9.2 yards per pass play. Woodside faced a collection of mediocre to bad defensive teams this season that would combine to allow 7.2 yppp to an average quarterback and this game will be the first time all season that he’s faced a good pass defense.
Appalachian State has yielded just 5.0 yards per pass play this season to quarterbacks that would average 5.8 yppp against an average defense and the Mountaineers secondary will challenge Toledo’s receivers. Appalachian did allow Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya to average 13.0 yards per pass play against them in week 3, but they also held Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs to just 5.6 yppp in an overtime loss at Tennessee and it’s likely that performance against Miami was an aberration – although we’ll find out today. The math projects 7.1 yards per pass play and 443 yards at 6.2 yards per play for Toledo in this game, which should net them around 30 points.
Appalachian State runs an option offense out of the pistol formation and throws the ball much more often than a typical option attack. Quarterback Taylor Lamb is in his 3rd season as the starter and does a good job of running the attack. Lamb is a mediocre passer (6.8 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average QB) but he makes good decisions and the Mountaineers ground attack averaged 260 yards at 6.2 yards per rushing play (against teams that would allow 5.5 yprp). Toledo is bad defending both the run and the pass and overall the Rockets allowed 6.1 yards per play to teams that would combine to average only 5.3 yppl against an average defensive team. Appalachian should run their offense will in both facets and the Mounties are projected to average 6.7 yards per play and to rack up 409 total yards.
Overall, the math picks this game even and I see both offenses having success. I can’t predict a tie so I’ll pick the better defensive team to win by a point and hope that Appalachian is not disappointed to be coming to Mobile, Alabama for a second straight year. If I were a player I’d be a bit disappointed if I found out that my bowl destination was the same as the previous year, especially when it’s one of the less exciting cities to host a bowl game (no offense Mobile. I’m sure it’s lovely there but kids don’t dream about a trip to Mobile, Alabama – twice). I have no opinion on the side or the total.
Sat, Dec 17 6:00 PM
Rotation: 211, Odds: UL Lafayette +6, Total: 59
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New Orleans Bowl
Saturday, December 17 – 6 pm Pacific
Southern Miss (-6) 30 UL Lafayette 24
Lean Under (59)
Southern Miss was favored 7 times this season against an FBS opponent, by an average of 15.2 points, and the Eagles won just 3 of those 7 games while losing 3 times as a double-digit favorite. Southern Miss also won as a dog at Kentucky and ended the regular season with a 15 point win as a 15 point dog against Louisiana Tech. To say that the Eagles are volatile is an understatement. The inspired upset win over the Bulldogs earned Southern Miss the right to play in a bowl game, so they should be pretty excited to be here. UL Lafayette, meanwhile, has a good history playing close to home in the New Orleans Bowl, which the Ragin’ Cajuns won 4 years in a row, 3 times as an underdog, before missing out on a bowl game last season. ULL has actually never lost a bowl game, as those 4 New Orleans Bowl victories are their only bowl games in program history. Coach Mark Hudspeth obviously knows how to get his team ready for a bowl game and the Ragin’ Cajuns have been a pretty trustworthy team this season (8-4 ATS). However, teams that have a good regular season spread record are generally not good bets in bowl games and UL Lafayette actually applies to a negative 8-43 ATS bowl situation. I’m not interested in playing Southern Miss based on that angle because my math model indicates that the spread is too high.
These teams are evenly matched from a yards per play perspective, as I rate Southern Miss at 0.3 yards per play worse than average on offense and 0.9 yppl worse than average on defense while ULL rates at 1.0 yppl worse than average offensively and 0.2 yppl worse than average on defense. Both defenses are 0.1 yppl better than the opposing offense and my math model projects both teams with 5.6 yards per play. The Eagles do have a pretty sizeable edge from the line of scrimmage, however, based on their extreme play differential. The Southern Miss plays a risk-reward style of defense that gives up a lot of big plays but also gets a lot of 3-and-outs (24% on 3rd down conversions allowed is extremely low). Those two characteristics lead to a lot of opponent’s drives with very few plays, which has led to Southern Miss having a +21.6 plays differential. My model projects the Eagles to run 17 more plays than UL Lafayette will run and for the total yards to be 441 yards to 348 yards in favor of Southern Miss.
That yardage advantage is offset somewhat by the Eagles’ horrible special teams, which is even worse without the services of their star placekicker Parker Shaunfield, who had missed just 1 kick all season before missing the final 3 games of the regular season with a quad injury that might also keep him out of this game (he’s questionable). Shaunfield is pretty valuable given that the backup kicker has only made field goals of 25 yards or shorter and has missed 2 of 12 extra points. Shaunfield has a rating of +1.04 points per game (based on points added/subtracted based on the distance of field goals made and missed) while backup Brauchle has cost his team 2.9 points in 3 games. That’s a difference of 2 points per game!
My math model favors Southern Miss by just 1 ½ points if Shaunfield is out and by 3 ½ points if he’s ready to return from his injury, but either way the line value is clearly on the side of Lafayette. However, that 8-43 ATS bowl situation that applies to ULL balances out that line value and I have no opinion on the side. I will lean with the Under and would consider the Under a Strong Opinion if the total goes up to 60 points or higher.
Mon, Dec 19 11:30 AM
Rotation: 213, Odds: Tulsa -13, Total: 69.5
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Miami Beach Bowl
Monday, December 19 – 11:30 am Pacific
*UNDER (69 ½) – Tulsa (-13 ½) 37 Central Michigan 24
Tulsa’s games averaged 72.9 points this season but the total on this game should not be close to 70 points. Tulsa’s went to overtime 3 times and their average total points in regulation is a couple of points lower at 70.8 per game. However, that was done with an average of 163.1 total plays (in regulation) per game (excluding kneel downs, spikes, and special teams runs or passes) and this game is projected to have just 143.8 total plays from scrimmage. Those 19.3 fewer plays are projected to result in 115 fewer yards and 10.9 fewer points. Central Michigan plays at a very slow pace (2.05 plays per minute of possession) and that will result in about 2 fewer possessions per team than in a normal Tulsa game, in which the Golden Hurricane averaged 2.82 plays per minute and their opponents averaged 2.54 plays per minute in a league with a lot of up-tempo offenses (2.31 plays per minute is average). The total is high because of Tulsa’s high average total points per game, as Central Michigan games averaged just 54.2 points in regulation, but this game isn’t likely to get to Tulsa’s average of 70.8 total points per game (in regulation) with 19 fewer plays against a team with a sub-par offense. There were also 7 defensive touchdowns in Tulsa games this season (5 in C. Mich games), which is higher than normal and added positive variance to their total points per game average.
Tulsa will be able to move the ball, as the Hurricane have been 0.4 yards per play better than average (6.2 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) while Central Michigan has been 0.3 yppl worse than average defensively (6.0 yppl against teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average defense) and now rates as 0.6 yppl worse than average without All-MAC CB Amari Coleman, who reportedly won’t play and is a game-time decision at best (I’ll assume he doesn’t play). With Coleman out, I project 507 yards at 6.7 yards per play for Tulsa, which is 13 fewer than their average total yards per game in regulation.
Central Michigan isn’t likely to move the ball very well, as the Chippewas have been 0.4 yppl worse than average offensively for the season (5.7 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl) and have been 0.5 yppl worse than average without top WR Jessie Kroll, who was lost for the season in week 4. The offense would be even worse if top running back Devon Spalding could not play, as Spalding’s 5.2 ypr against FBS competition is much better than the 3.4 ypr average of the other two backs. Central Michigan ran for just 118 yards total in 2 games without Spalding, at a pathetic 2.5 yards per rushing play. Spalding is listed as questionable but he did play in the team’s regular-season finale and I expect he’ll play in this game.
Tulsa’s defense has been 0.1 yppl worse than average for the season (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.4 yppl against an average defense), but that average is skewed upward by their inability to defend the option offense. Tulsa allowed an average of 397.5 rushing yards at 7.6 yards per rushing play to Tulane and Navy, who both run option offenses, and just 4.1 yprp against non-option teams (excluding garbage time yards against their backups), which is more indicative of how they’ll defend Central Michigan’s traditional rushing attack. Taking out those two games against option teams would result in a rating of 0.3 yppl better than average for Tulsa’s defense, a difference of 2 points per game and another reason why there is value on the under. Tulsa is likely to be without DE Jeremy Smith, which affects the pass rush a bit and is worth about ½ a point based on his stats. The math projects a modest 350 yards at just 5.1 yards per play for Central Michigan in this game, which is 28 yards below their average per game in regulation. The Chippewas only averaged 24.5 points per game in regulation against FBS teams and the math projection of 22.4 points is certainly reasonable.
Overall the math favors Tulsa by 15 ½ points and a total of 60 ½ points and a simple compensated points model would project only 65.4 total points. That projection is higher because of the higher than average number of defensive touchdowns in the 24 games these teams played. Even with the higher than normal amount of defensive touchdowns there is no way to justify a total of more than 65 points in this game. I’ll go UNDER (69.5 points) in a 1-Star Best Bet at 68 points or higher (Strong Opinion down to 67 points).
Despite a bit of line value on Tulsa, I have no opinion on the side, as Central Michigan applies to a 33-8 ATS contrary bowl angle that pretty much balances out the bit of line value favoring the Golden Hurricane.
Tue, Dec 20 4:00 PM
Odds: Western Kentucky -6.5, Total: 81
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Boca Raton Bowl
Tuesday, December 20 – 4 pm Pacific
*UNDER (81) – Western Kentucky 41 Memphis 32
Lean Western Kentucky (-6 ½)
Western Kentucky has one of the best offensive units in the nation, as the Hilltoppers averaged 44.7 points on 526 yards at 7.7 yards per game against 12 FBS teams that would combine to allow 6.1 yppl and 34.4 points to an average offense. Western Kentucky probably won’t reach their average points total of 43 points in regulation against a Memphis team that is average defensively on a national scale (5.7 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average team) and 0.4 yppl better than the average defense that the Hilltoppers faced. The Western Kentucky offense is 0.2 yppl better with starting quarterback Mike White playing the full 60 minutes, which I assume he will, and my math projects 528 yards at 7.2 yppl for the Hilltoppers in this game.
Memphis averaged 39.5 points per game on 466 yards at 6.4 yppl against teams that would combine to allow 31.6 points and 5.9 yppl to an average team. That 39.5 points average was skewed by the 77 points the Tigers scored against Bowling Green, so they’re not quite as good offensively as their average points would suggest. The Tigers will also be facing a better defense than they’re used to seeing, as Western Kentucky is 0.3 yppl better than average defensively (5.4 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.7 yppl against an average team) and 0.5 yppl better than the average defensive rating of the teams that Memphis faced this season. The math projects 447 total yards at 5.9 yppl for the Tigers in this game.
Overall, the math favors Western Kentucky by 9 ½ points with a total of 73 points. The Over/Under on this game is considerably higher than the math projection and a compensated points model also projects 73 total points. Memphis games averaged 66.5 total points against a schedule of teams that combine to average 60.0 total points per game (59.4 in regulation) and Western Kentucky games averaged 70.5 points (67.2 in regulation) against teams that combine to average 61.6 total points (60.7 in regulation). So, Memphis is 7.1 total points higher scoring than average (in regulation) and Western Kentucky is 6.5 total points higher scoring than average. The average points per game is 56.4 so the compensated total points prediction would be 71.8, which is 56.4 + 7.1 + 6.5 + 1.8 points in adjustments (like factoring out the stats of the backups and applying opponent adjustments). A more complex points model comes up with 73 total points, which is the same as my stats based prediction. Western Kentucky and Memphis both ended the season with extremely high scoring games (Memphis 48-44 vs Houston and W. Ky 58-44 vs Louisiana Tech), but Western Kentucky only had 3 of their 13 games total more than 70 points in regulation and two of those were against Louisiana Tech, who is potent offensively and bad defensively. Memphis, meanwhile, had only 4 of their 12 games top 76 points, so it’s not like these teams are always playing extremely high scoring games.
I’ll play the UNDER as a 1-Star Best Bet at 80 points or higher (Strong Opinion down to 78) and I’ll lean with Western Kentucky at -7 or less.
Wed, Dec 21 6:00 PM
Odds: Wyoming +10, Total: 57.5
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Wednesday, December 21 – 6 pm Pacific
Brigham Young (-10) 32 Wyoming 25
Lean Wyoming (+10)
I am a bit surprised at how high this line has gotten but upon further inspection the line is really not that inflated, as BYU should be better without quarterback Taysom Hill while Wyoming’s defensive injuries made a once solid unit very susceptible to the run late in the year. However, Wyoming’s defense played pretty well in their 24-27 MWC Championship game loss to San Diego State (covered as a 7 point dog) and the Cowboys have victories over good teams Boise State, Air Force, Colorado State and San Diego State in the regular season. The Cowboys are 6-1 ATS as an underdog this season and they apply to a 33-11-1 ATS bowl situation that is based on their two consecutive losses. In general, teams with a winning record that are off consecutive losses are 56-36-1 ATS as an underdog or pick in their bowl game and I’m sure the Cowboys are eager to bounce back with a victory to end their best season in years.
BYU played 5 games against bowl teams and went just 2-3 in those games with their two victories coming by just 2 points against Toledo and in double-overtime against Mississippi State. The Cougars’ streak of double-digit wins to end the regular season all came against bad teams – Cincinnati, Southern Utah, U Mass, and Utah State.
BYU’s offense was 0.4 yards per play worse than average this season, averaging just 5.3 yppl against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl to an average team, but I think the injury to Taysom Hill is a blessing for that attack. Hill is a good runner but he didn’t run as well this season as he had before his prior season ending injury and he is a sub-par passer. Hill still ran for 725 yards at 6.4 yards per rushing play and backup quarterback Tanner Mangum is not a runner (just 147 yards on 36 runs in his career). The rushing attack will suffer a bit without Hill, but star back Jamaal Williams, who missed 3 of the team’s final 5 games, proved he was healthy with 131 yards on just 18 runs in the season finale against a better than average Utah State defense. The passing attack with Hill as the trigger man averaged only 5.2 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average QB) but I expect a significant improvement with Mangum throwing the ball. Mangum stepped in for an injured Hill in the second half of their week 1 game against Nebraska last season (you might recall he threw the Hail Mary that beat the Cornhuskers on the final play) and put up solid numbers (6.4 yppp against teams that would allow just 5.8 yppp to an average QB, not including that Hail Mary). I don’t think Mangum will be 0.6 yppp better than average in this year’s system, as Hill was 1.0 yppp worse than his career rating in the new offense, which relies more on short passes. Mangum was 0.5 yppp better than Hill in the old system and I think that is the best way to compare the two quarterbacks. So, I’ll add 0.5 yppp to BYU’s projection – although it certainly could be more.
Mangum and the Cougars should move the ball much better than normal against a banged up Wyoming defense that lost 3 key defensive players in the second half of the season and went from mediocre to bad defensively. The pass defense was actually below average all season and stopping the run became an issue with the absence of defensive linemen Carl Granderson and Chase Appleby, and then LB D.J. May. I project 6.1 yards per rushing play, 6.7 yards per pass play and 450 yards at 6.4 yards per play for the Cougars in this game.
The strength of the Cougars was their defense, but that unit was only 0.1 yppl better than average (5.9 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.0 yppl) and the pass defense is 0.4 yards per pass play worse than average. BYU should be able to slow down Wyoming’s workhorse back Brian Hill (1767 yards at 5.5 ypr and 21 TD runs) but Cowboys’ quarterback Josh Allen averaged 7.6 yards per pass play this season (against teams that would allow 6.8 yppp) and I project him to average 7.5 yppp in this game. Overall, Wyoming is projected to tally 379 yards at 5.9 yppl but that number will rise if the coaching staff decides to take advantage of BYU’s defensive weakness and throw the ball more often than they normally do. If Wyoming gets down by double-digits late in this game, Allen can certainly lead his team to a backdoor cover.
Overall the math favors BYU by 8 ½ points with a total of 57 ½ points and the situation favors Wyoming a bit (as discussed above). I will lean with Wyoming at +10 points or more and I have no opinion on the total.
Thu, Dec 22 4:00 PM
Odds: Colorado St. -15, Total: 65
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Idaho Potato Bowl
Thursday, December 22 – 4 pm Pacific
Colorado State (-15) 39 Idaho 24
Both of these teams enter this game on a 7 game spread win streak and I really can’t pick a side. Colorado State is a much better team and the Rams hit their stride late in the season when opening day starting quarterback Nick Stevens regained his starting role after losing it after a horrific week 1 performance against Pac 12 power Colorado (Stevens totaled just 15 yards on 22 pass plays with 2 interceptions). Stevens got his job back with freshman Colin Hill was injured and he was incredibly efficient over those last 6 games as a starter – completing 72% of his passes for 10.1 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.7 yppp to an average quarterback). The Rams’ 3-headed rushing attack averaged 234 yards at 5.7 yards per rushing play and sets up Stevens in good play-action pass situations. CSU is projected to gain 502 total yards at 7.6 yards per play in this game against an Idaho defense that allowed 6.2 yppl this season to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average team. The Vandals do defend the run at a decent level (just 0.1 yprp worse than average) and Colorado State ran the ball 63% of the time over those last 7 games, so they match up relatively well in this game.
Idaho’s offense is led by senior quarterback Matt Linehan, who played well down the stretch against mostly bad defensive teams but still posted below average numbers when compensating for the strength of opposing defenses. Linehan averaged 6.6 yards per pass play but faced teams that would allow 7.0 yppp to an average quarterback, and the Vandals’ rushing attack is of no help to him (4.5 yprp against teams that would allow 5.4 yprp). Overall Idaho’s attack is 0.6 yards per play worse than average (5.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team) and the Vandals are projected to gain just 348 yards at 5.6 yppl against a Rams’ defense that is 0.4 yppl worse than average (6.0 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.6 yppl).
Based on season stats the math would have favored Colorado State by 11.8 points but the Rams are better now with Stevens at quarterback and the math favors the Rams by 15 ½ points. CSU slowed down their pace on offense when Stevens took over, as they ran the ball more than they did earlier in the season, and Idaho also plays at a slow pace. Because of the slow pace by both teams that total on this game is lower than it seems it should be. My model actually predicts just 62 ½ total points but I don’t want to lean under given how efficiently both teams were scoring late in the season. I have no opinion on the side or the total on this game.
Fri, Dec 23 10:00 AM
Odds: Old Dominion -5.5, Total: 63.5
Game Analysis view matchup stats
Friday, December 23 – 10 am Pacific
Old Dominion (-5 ½) 31 Eastern Michigan 30
Lean Eastern Michigan (+5 ½)
Both of these teams must be extremely excited to be playing in a bowl game in the Bahamas. Not just because this is the only bowl game played outside of the United States, but also because Eastern Michigan hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1987 and Old Dominion has never been to a bowl game. Old Dominion enters this game as the ‘hot’ team, as the Monarchs have won and covered in 5 consecutive games, but that is not usually a good thing in bowl season – as such teams are often overrated. In fact, teams that won and covered their previous 3 or more regular season games are just 36-53 ATS as favorites in bowl games. In this case, Old Dominion’s strong finish has the Monarchs a bit overrated.
Old Dominion’s offense was scoring a lot of points at the end of the regular season but the Monarchs also faced a collection of absolutely horrible defensive teams and their offense was just 0.1 yards per play better than average for the season (with QB David Washington in the game) when adjusting for the strength of defensive units faced. ODU averaged 6.5 yards per play with Washington in the game but their opponents would combine to allow 6.4 yppl to an average offensive team. Eastern Michigan is a below average defensive team (6.1 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.6 yppl against an average defense) but the Eagles are actually better than the average rating of the defensive units that the Monarchs faced and my math projects 437 yards at 6.4 yppl for ODU in this game.
Eastern Michigan’s offense is led by senior quarterback Brogan Roback, who started the final 7 games of the regular season after missing the first three due to suspension and serving as a backup for two more games. Eastern Michigan averaged 6.0 yards per play in Roback’s 7 starts, against teams that would allow 6.2 yppl to an average team, which is slightly better than Old Dominion’s defensive rating of 0.3 yppl worse than average (5.7 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.4 yppl against an average team). Eastern Michigan would be wise to throw the ball more than usual, as Roback (6.9 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.9 yppp) should have good success against an ODU defense that is 0.6 yppp worse than average defending the pass (6.2 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would average just 5.6 yppp against an average defense). The math projects 418 yards at 5.9 yppl for Eastern Michigan.
Overall, the math projects Old Dominion with an edge of 19 total yards and an advantage of 0.4 in turnovers but the Monarchs have bad special teams units, which will help Eastern Michigan with field position. It all adds up to Old Dominion by 2 points and I’ll shave a point off of that for an 11-42 ATS bowl situation that applies to Old Dominion that is based on their 5 game win streak. I’ll lean with Eastern Michigan at +3 points or more and I also lean Under at 64 points or higher, as the math projects just 61 total points.