The Free Analysis page Leans were 6-5 in Week 13 (1-5 on Friday and 5-0 on Saturday) and are now 80-66-2 for the season after going 169-116-4 last 2 seasons. The sides with a 4 points or more differential from the line (i.e. the Leans) were 4-5 and the totals Leans were 2-0 (I counted the Temple Team Total Over Loss as a side since the total difference in my total prediction from the line was 9 points and the game did go over) and are 24-17 this season after going 29-8-1 last season.

 

The record of all Free Analysis sides was 16-32-1 ATS in week 13 and the totals were 36-16.

 

The record on all Free Analysis sides is now 2879-2690-100 ATS since 2013, which is very good picking nearly every game over 10-plus years. The Free Analysis sides in which my predicted margin was 4 points or more away from the line (i.e Leans) are a profitable 884-743-32. Totals on the Free pages are now 2673-2537-55 in the 9-plus seasons I’ve been tracking them. Starting in 2022 I choose selected Leans on totals and those are now 53-25-1.

 

The spreads posted are the consensus lines at the time I posted each analysis.

College Bowl Games

Jacksonville State vs
UL Lafayette

Sat, Dec 16 11:15 AM PT

Rotation: 203, Odds: UL Lafayette +3, Total: 60

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Lean – Louisiana-Lafayette (+3)  30   Jacksonville State  29

Jacksonville State had a great first season at the FBS level, going 8-4 and 8-3-1 ATS. Louisiana-Lafayette, meanwhile, needed to win to earn this bowl game, which is being played in their home state, but they are without their top two quarterbacks.

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ #3 quarterback Chandler Fields was the starter last season and he appears to have improved significantly given his 71% completion rate over the final 3 ½ games after dynamic freshman Zeon Chriss was injured (opening game starter Ben Wooldridge was injured in week 3). Fields’ compensated yards per pass play is 0.3 yppp worse than the team’s average and he’s not nearly the runner that Chriss was (548 yards on 65 runs) – so the Ragin’ Cajuns attack projects to be 0.4 yards per play worse than their season rating, which puts them 0.1 yppl worse than an average FBS offense. UL-Lafayette is projected to gain 410 yards at 5.6 yppl in perfect dome conditions against a better than average Jacksonville State defense that’s yielded just 5.0 yppl to a collection of teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average defense.

The Gamecocks had to rely on their defense most of the season because the offense was 0.6 yppl worse than average (5.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team). However, Zion Webb got nearly all the snaps at quarterback the last 5 games after splitting time with Logan Smothers pretty evenly the first 7 games of the season. Webb rates better than Smothers in compensated yards per pass play (but still at -0.6 yppp) and especially in the run game, where he’s contributed 713 yards on 106 runs (6.7 yprp to Smothers’ 4.9 yprp). Smothers certainly could play but Webb got all the snaps in their season-ending loss to New Mexico State, and I’ll assume it will be Webb all the way in this game (unless he struggles). The Gamecocks are just 0.2 yppl worse than average with Webb at quarterback and I project 432 yards at 5.8 yppl in this game against a Louisiana defense that rates at 0.2 yppl worse than average – but is better defending the run (0.1 yprp better than average) than defending the pass (0.5 yppp worse than average), which benefits them against a run-heavy Jacksonville State offense. At first glance, you might expect the ULL defense to be worse without LB Kendre’ Gant, who had 6 sacks and 6 other tackles for loss, but Tyler Guidry started in his place in the final regular season game and had 2 sacks, which gives him 5 sacks for the season despite starting just that one game.

The edge for Louisiana-Lafayette in in projected turnovers (+0.7 points) and in special teams (+2.4 points). Jacksonville State’s been about average in special teams but they’ll be without their kicker, who handled both place-kicking and kickoffs, and ULL is good in special teams with an average starting field position from kickoffs differential of +1.3 yards, a +4.6 net punting differential, and a kicker that missed just one field goal all season. I’ll lean with Louisiana-Lafayette at +3 points or more.

Georgia Southern vs
Ohio

Sat, Dec 16 8:00 AM PT

Rotation: 213, Odds: Ohio +3.5, Total: 48.5

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Georgia Southern (-3.5)  25   Ohio  22

Ohio is without their top two quarterbacks and their top two running backs, as starting QB Kurtis Rourke and running backs Bangura and Allison have hit the transfer portal while backup QB CJ Harris is injured. Parker Navarro will be behind center and I expect a lot of quarterback runs, as Navarro has 192 yards on 23 runs in his career and just 87 yards on 27 career pass plays. Bangura and Allison combined for 4.0 ypr this season, so losing them is not a huge problem and I think Navarro will top 100 yards rushing against a poor tackling Georgia Southern defense that gave up 5.6 yards per rushing play this season (against teams that would average 5.0 yprp against an average team) and allowed 5.8 yprp to quarterbacks, including 85 yards on 10 runs to the only running quarterback that they faced (Georgia State’s Darren Grainger). The Eagles’ pass defense is even worse (1.1 yards per pass play worse than average) but I’m not expecting much through the air from Navarro, as he’s never proven that he can throw the ball effectively and the Bobcats are without their 2 most efficient receivers, as Miles Cross (7.6 yards per target on 79 targets) has transferred while star WR Jacoby Jones (147 yards on 13 targets in 3 games) was injured early in the season. I project 331 yards at 5.0 yppl for Ohio in this game but there is obviously a lot of variance in that forecast.

Georgia Southern’s offense was 0.1 yppl worse than average in the regular season (5.8 yppl against FBS teams that would allow 5.9 yppl to an average attack) and the possible absence of top RB Jalen White isn’t really an issue given that backup OJ Arnold’s 5.8 ypr is a bit better than White’s 5.6 ypr average. Ohio’s defense didn’t give up many points (15.9 per game against FBS foes) but they were just 0.1 yppl better than average in the regular season (4.8 yprp allowed to teams that would average 4.9 yppr) and will be without LB Keye Thompson, who was second on the team in tackles and third in total tackles for loss. I project 360 yards at 5.7 yppl for Georgia Southern’s offense.

The math favors Georgia Southern by 5 points but Ohio applies to a 75-27 ATS bowl situation that plays on underdogs with a significantly better defense.

California vs
Texas Tech

Sat, Dec 16 6:15 PM PT

Rotation: 211, Odds: Texas Tech -3, Total: 58

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Texas Tech (-3)  29   California  27

Cal won their final 3 games of the season to qualify for a bowl game, including wins over good teams Washington State and 33-7 at UCLA in the final game. Four of Cal’s six losses were to ranked teams Washington, Oregon State, Utah and Oregon and their other two losses were by just 1 point to USC and by 4 points to Auburn in a game they should have won (3 missed field goals). Auburn was the worst team that Cal lost to and that was before Fernando Mendoza took over at quarterback. Mendoza started the last 7 games after Sam Jackson and Ben Finley failed to ignite and offense that also includes RB Jaydn Ott, who ranks 5th in the nation in rushing yards per game and was names 1st-Team All-Pac 12. Mendoza has been 0.9 yards per pass play better than average (6.3 yppp against teams that would allow 5.4 yppp to an average QB) while Jackson and Finley combined to rate at 1.4 yppp worse than an average FBS quarterback (Jackson was -2.4 yppp and Finley -0.4 yppp). The Golden Bears’ offense was 0.1 yards per play better than average for the season, but they are +0.6 yppl with Mendoza behind center.

The Texas Tech defense is also 0.6 yppl better than average but they should be a bit worse without NT Jaylon Hutchings, who is out with injury. Hutchings ranks 5th on the team in tackles, which is impressive for an interior lineman, and his 7.5 total tackles for loss leads the team. The Red Raiders’ normally good run defense gave up 325 rushing yards at 8.1 yprp to Texas in the week 13 game without their run-stuffing nose tackle and Ott could find some holes to run through in this game. I project 438 yards at 5.8 yppl for Cal in this game.

Texas Tech is not as good with their current quarterback Behren Morton, who has averaged just 5.3 yppp since taking over for the injured Tyler Shough in week 4. I decided to exclude that bad performance off the bench against West Virginia after Shough got hurt (just 3.5 yppp on 39 pass plays) but Morton is still 0.4 yppp worse than an average FBS quarterback in his 7 starts. The rushing attack with Tahj Brooks (1443 yard at 5.4 ypr) is better than average but the Red Raiders’ attack rates at 0.2 yppl worse than average with Morton at quarterback and with starting LT Monroe Mills deciding to transfer.

Cal’s defense had trouble against elite offensive teams Washington, Oregon State, USC, and Oregon (7.7 yppl allowed) but they were good against everyone else (5.2 yppl allowed) and overall the Bears rate at 0.4 yppl better than average (6.0 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.5 yppl against an average team). Cal will also be without a key defender, as top tackler Kaleb Elarms-Orr has decided to transfer. His numbers, aside from tackles, weren’t particularly impressive and I still rate the Bears’ defense at 0.3 yppl better than average heading into this game. That unit is projected to yield just 379 yards at 5.2 yppl to the Red Raiders.

Cal has a significant edge from the line of scrimmage but Texas Tech is very good in special teams, which could become even greater if Cal PK Mateen Bhaghani doesn’t play. Bhaghani made 8 of 9 field goals and all 27 extra points after taking over for Michael Luckhurst, who made just 3 of 9 field goals and missed 3 extra points in the first 4 games. Bhaghani has entered the transfer portal but coach Wilcox said that doesn’t necessarily mean that a player won’t play in the bowl game and Bhaghani is listed as the kicker on the bowl game depth chart while some other transfer portal players are not. I’ll assume that Bhaghani is going to be the placekicker for Cal. The math favors Cal by 1 even with Tech’s special teams edge, but the Bears apply to a 12-57-1 ATS bowl game situation that is based on their strong finish to the regular season. I’d still rather take 3 with the Bears but I’m not going to bet against that strong situation.

UCLA vs
Boise St.

Sat, Dec 16 4:30 PM PT

Rotation: 209, Odds: Boise St. +4.5, Total: 48.5

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UCLA (-4.5)  28   Boise State  20

Boise State will be without both of their quarterbacks, as Maddux Madsen is injured and Taylen Green decided to transfer. I’ll assume that Boise’s #3 QB CJ Tiller will perform a bit below the average level of other recent Boise first time starters, which is still a bit better than average for an FBS quarterback. That works out to 1.0 yards per pass play worse than this year’s two quarterbacks (about 3 points). The transfer of leading receiver Eric McAlister (9.7 yards per target) is offset by the absence of Stefan Cobbs, who averaged just 5.5 YPT as the #2 WR target before getting injury a few weeks ago. Both McAlister and Cobbs have been out since week 11 and the pass attack has been considerably better since then, as the average YPT of those two receivers is lower than the average YPT of the entire wide receiver corps. The key to the Boise offense is star RB Ashton Jeanty, who averaged 6.2 yards per rush and 12.5 yards on 44 targets catching passes out of the backfield (caught 39 for 552 yards). I’m sure you’ll see a lot of Jeanty both on the ground and through the air in this game in hopes of putting less pressure on the inexperienced quarterback.

The Bruins’ defense has played at an elite level this season, allowing just 4.8 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 6.2 yppl against an average team, but they’ll be without Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Laiatu Latu, who had an incredible 21.5 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks. UCLA will also be without starting defensive backs Kamari Ramsey and John Humphrey, who both entered the transfer portal, and a couple of backups (DL Gary Smith and S Nimmo). I value those losses as worth 3.0 points to the Bruins’ defense (mostly due to Latu).

UCLA lost 5-Star recruit freshman quarterback Dante Moore to the transfer portal, but Moore struggled (53.5% completions) and Ethan Garbers (66.4% completions on 134 passes) has been a better overall quarterback this season. UCLA was just average offensively this season but they’re a bit better with Garbers and the likely absence of leading rusher Carson Steele is not an issue given his 4.7 ypr average against FBS teams, which is lower than T.J. Harden’s 5.0 ypr average in those games (656 yards on 131 runs). Boise State’s defense is intact, but the Broncos are just average defensively (5.9 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl) and UCLA is projected to gain 423 yards at 6.0 yppl in perfect dome conditions.

Boise State’s projection is variable given the unknown of a quarterback with no college experience and with UCLA being down 3 starters. My algorithm to project the impact of defensive players being out has historically been good but who knows how Tiller will perform. I think rating him as a bit better than an average FBS quarterback is reasonable given Boise’s history of average or better quarterbacking but there is a still a lot of variance in the projected 310 yards at 4.9 yppl for the Broncos.

This game is being played in Los Angeles and I get UCLA by 7.8 points without adding anything for proximity, which often isn’t worth anything if the opponent is not traveling far (Boise is just one time zone away). I think UCLA would be a profitable play (i.e. 52.5% or more) at -4, so I’ll lean with UCLA if the line drops to -4 or less.

Miami Ohio vs
Appalachian State

Sat, Dec 16 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 205, Odds: Appalachian State -6.5, Total: 43

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Appalachian State (-6.5)  23   Miami-Ohio  19

Lean with Miami-Ohio if they get to +7 (-115 or better)

Miami-Ohio won their final 5 games, including the MAC Championship game, after star quarterback Brett Gabbert was lost for the season to injury and now the RedHawks may have to rely even more on their stellar defense and elite special teams now that late-season starting QB Aveon Smith has decided to transfer. Third string QB Henry Hesson will get the start and I’ll assume he’s a downgrade from Smith. Smith is a bad passer (just 50% completions) but he was effective in the read-option run plays, as the running backs were much more productive in that type of offense. Hesson was listed as a pro-style quarterback coming out of high school, so I’ll assume he won’t be running the offense that Smith ran down the stretch. I’ll assume that the rushing attack will go back to the low level that they were when Gabbert (also a pro-style QB) was the quarterback (i.e. 1.1 yards per rushing play worse than average) and that Hesson is the same as Smith in the pass game (although it wouldn’t take much for him to be better). For the season, Miami was 0.5 yards per play worse than average offensively and I’ll rate their attack at 1.0 yppl worse than average heading into this game.

Appalachian State’s defense was horrible the first half of the season, but that unit improved later in the year when EJ Johnson became the starting nickleback and freshman Santana Hopper became the starting nose tackle. Johnson barely played the first 7 games (just 1 tackle) but he averaged 6.3 tackles (3rd on the team) and 1.0 passes defended over the final 6 games of the season and the pass defense was 0.5 yppp better in those 6 games than it was in the first half of the season. Hopper earned 2nd team freshman All-American honors despite starting just 5 games and the run defense went from 1.8 yards per rushing play worse than average the first 8 games to 0.1 yprp worse than average the final 5 games with Hopper starting (and with Johnson’s support in the run game from his NB/Safety position). Appalachian’s defense was 0.5 yppl worse than average this season but I rate that unit at just 0.1 yppl worse than average with their current lineup. Miami is projected to gain just 253 yards at 4.6 yppl in this game, which includes and adjustment for heavy wind (16 mph) and rain that is expected throughout the game.

Miami-Ohio won 11 games this season and one of those was in their opener at Miami-Florida while the other was by just 4 points to a good Toledo team. Good defense and great special teams is the reason the RedHawks were winning with Smith and quarterback and they could win this game for the same reasons. Miami yielded just 15.8 points per game and 4.9 yppl to a collection of FBS opponents that would combine to average 5.2 yppl against an average FBS defense.

Appalachian State’s offense has been 0.6 yppl better than average in Joey Aguilar’s 12 starts at quarterback and they should be better without leading rusher Nate Noel, who has decided to transfer – probably because his playing time was being cut by younger and better players. Noel averaged 4.8 ypr against FBS opponents this season but new lead back Kanye Roberts has averaged 5.7 ypr against FBS teams and has also been more effective as a receiver (7.3 yards per target on 15 targets to Noel’s 4.3 YPT on 20 targets). I project 390 yards at 5.7 yppl for the Mountaineers in this game.

Appalachian has a significant advantage from the line of scrimmage (assuming Hesson is as bad in the pass game for Miami as Smith was), but the RedHawks have a huge edge in special teams. Miami’s special teams prowess begins with Lou Groza Aware winner Graham Nicholson, who made all 23 of his field goals, including 8 from 40 yards or more (the backup was also 3 for 3) but they were also +8.3 yards in net punting differential, +3.0 in kickoff yard line differential and +5 in blocked kicks. Special teams matter more in low scoring games and partially explains how Miami could be outgained in their 12 games against FBS opponents yet outscore those teams by 8.2 points per game while going 10-2 straight up (much like Iowa, who has the best special teams rating in the nation).

Overall, the math favors Appalachian State by 6 points, but Miami applies to a 75-27 ATS bowl game situation that plays on underdogs with the significantly better defense. Miami-Ohio would be a Lean at +7 points or more (-115 odds or better).

New Mexico St. vs
Fresno St.

Sat, Dec 16 2:45 PM PT

Rotation: 207, Odds: Fresno St. +4, Total: 51

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New Mexico State (-4)  27   Fresno State  26

New Mexico State has had a great season, going 10-4 with a 21-point win at Auburn last month. Fresno, meanwhile, stumbles into bowl season off 3 straight losses and without their head coach Jeff Tedford, who has taken leave to deal with health issues. The market appears to have overreacted to recent results and the math and situation lean with Fresno here.

Bowl underdogs of 3 points or more coming off 3 or more losses are 21-11 ATS over the years and Fresno State applies to a 59-23-3 ATS bowl underdog situation that plays on teams the ended the regular season with an upset loss. Those trends tend to work when the math model also shows value, as they reflect the market overreacting to near term results. Fresno was 8-1 with wins over UNLV, Boise State and at Purdue before their recent skid and these teams are evenly matched based on the metrics from the entire season.

New Mexico State’s offense has an edge over the Fresno defense, as the Aggies have been 0.7 yards per play better than average for the season (6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team). That attack isn’t quite as good without receiver Trent Hudson, who entered the transfer portal after ranking second on the team in receiving yards while averaging 9.0 yards per target in 13 games against FBS competition. Jonathan Brady was just ahead of Hudson in reception and receiving yards and averaged 10.0 YPT but the #3 targeted WR, Kordell David, averaging a pathetic 4.1 yards on 42 targets and he’ll likely be getting more targets with Hudson out. There are some productive receivers after David and the math worked out to an adjustment of just 0.25 yards per pass play, which equates to about 0.7 points. Quarterback Diego Pavia also lead the team in rushing and the Aggies averaged 6.3 yards per rushing play. Fresno’s run defense is better than the average defense that New Mexico State faced this season, but overall the Bulldogs’ stop unit is 0.2 yppl worse than average. I project 6.1 yprp, 6.9 yppp and 402 yards at 6.5 yppl for the Aggies’ attack in this game (which included the forecast of low winds).

Fresno State’s offense struggled this season, rating at 0.6 yppl worse than average, and they’re a bit worse without starting left tackle Jacob Spomer, who was lost for the season to injury in week 11. Fresno’s starting quarterback Mikey Keene is healthy again and will be the man with backup Logan Fife in the transfer portal. The two were nearly identical in compensated yards per pass play. New Mexico State is 0.4 yppl worse than average defensively after adjusting for their outlier game against Liberty (714 yards on 10.5 yppl allowed) and the Bulldogs are projected to gain 368 yards at 5.6 yppl.

The difference in projected total yards (33 in favor of NMSU) justifies the current line but Fresno State has good special teams and the math favor the Aggies by just 2 points. The situation favors Fresno a bit (worth about ½ a point). I don’t see enough value to play either side here, but I’d rather have the dog.

Western Kentucky vs
Old Dominion

Mon, Dec 18 11:30 AM PT

Rotation: 201, Odds: Old Dominion -6.5, Total: 49.5

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Note: The line was 6.5 on Monday morning when I updated the analysis and sent it to subscribers. The line then went down to 4.5. Either way, it was a no play for me.

Old Dominion (-6.5/-4.5)  28   Western Kentucky  24

Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed will miss this game, along with 3 starting offensive linemen and 3 starters on defense. However, I think the market has overreacted.

I don’t blame Reed, who has NFL aspirations, for sitting this one out with the possibility that 4 of the 5 opening day offensive linemen will not play. Veteran LT Mark Goode has been out since week 9 while RT Wes Dorsey, C Vincent Murphy, and LG Quantavious Leslie have all entered the transfer portal and I’ll now assume that all of them will not play – although being in the portal does not exclude a player from playing in the bowl game and coach Helton stated that most of the guys that entered the portal will play in this game. Turner Helton will likely get the nod to start at quarterback and I expect the typical drop off from a multiple year starter to a new starter – although Helton did complete all 8 of his passes in mop-up duty this season. WKU’s offense was 0.1 yppl better than average this season but I now have them rated at 0.8 yppl worse than average with Reed and more than half the starting line presumably out.

Old Dominion’s defense also has a significant absence, as All-American LB Jason Henderson will miss this game due to injury. Henderson led the nation in tackles (again) with 170 stops, including 19.5 total tackles for loss. He’s a big reason while Old Dominion had one of the best run defenses in the nation (4.1 yards per rushing play allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.1 yprp against an average team). Safety Terry Jones (#3 tackler) has entered the transfer portal and I suspect he’ll pass on playing in the bowl game. Old Dominion’s defense was 0.2 yards per play better than average for the season, but I rate the Monarchs’ D at 0.1 yppl worse than average without Henderson. The strength of the ODU defense is still defending the run, but Western Kentucky is a pass heavy team, and I don’t think that’s going to change with the backup quarterback in, as Helton reportedly has a very good grasp of the offense (the head coach is his uncle). I have Western Kentucky tallying 368 total yards at 5.1 yppl in this game.

Old Dominion relies on their defense to win games, as their offense rates at 0.8 yppl worse than average after adjusting for the outlier game against Marshall when RB Kadarius Calloway ran for 236 yards on 11 runs (he averaged a more modest 5.3 ypr in his other games). Calloway is banged up and may not play (he missed their season final and ran for just 71 yards on 20 runs in weeks 11 and 12 after missing week 10) but the Monarchs are still a better than average rushing team and Western Kentucky’s defensive weakness is defending the run (210 yards at 5.6 yprp allowed to teams that would average just 4.9 yprp against an average defense). ODU’s pass attack is terrible (1.6 yppp worse than average) and I suspect that they’ll focus on running the ball and hope that their defense can play well enough without their star linebacker to win.

Western Kentucky has a few defensive players in the portal, who may or may not play in this game. Safety Talique Allen led the team in tackles (just 50) but I don’t think he’s a significant loss (same for LB Baker). CB Upton Stout had a team-leading 9 passes defended in 7 games and is reportedly headed to Michigan, but the Hilltoppers’ pass defense was better in the 5 games that he missed. I adjusted a bit for Stout being out and rate Western Kentucky’s defense at 0.3 yppl worse than average. I project 399 yards at 5.4 yppl for ODU in this game.

After all the adjustments I come up with Old Dominion by 4 points and 51.7 total points.

UTSA vs
Marshall

Tue, Dec 19 6:00 PM PT

Rotation: 215, Odds: Marshall +13, Total: 53

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Note: I released Marshall as a Best Bet when the line was +13. Now there are substantiated rumors that UTSA QB Frank Harris may not play due to nagging injuries and the line has dropped to 7.5 points. Harris did not have a good season (0.7 yards per pass play worse than average) but I would make the UTSA offense 4.7 points worse if he doesn’t play – and I’d still prefer Marshall plus the points. I’d make it Marshall 22 – UTSA 24 if Harris doesn’t play.

1-Star Best Bet – *Marshall (+13)  22   UTSA  28

The line on this game has gone from 8.5 to 13 points and I think that move is unjustified and has supplied us with enough line value to take the big dog with a solid defense.

Marshall’s starting quarterback Cam Fancher has decided to transfer but Fancher was 0.8 yards per pass play worse than average and had a 3.6% interception rate. Cole Pennington is expected to start this game and he was 1.3 yppp worse than average in his two starts and threw 6 interceptions on just 79 passes. He shouldn’t be that bad going forward, given that he completed 66% of his passes in his two starts and had just 12 passes defended against him, which equates to 2.5 interceptions (3.2% rate). Leading receiver Caleb Coombs has decided to transfer, but Coombs averaged only 5.6 yards per target while the rest of the wide receivers combined to average 7.6 YPT and Pennington averaged 7.4 yards per pass play in the week 13 game that Coombs missed. The Herd’s star running back Rasheen Ali is expected to play rather than opting out, but his absence wouldn’t be that significant, as his 4.9 ypr against FBS teams this season isn’t that impressive (although it’s better than his backup). The run attack will be hurt by Fancher’s absence, however, as he ran for 487 yards at 6.0 yard per run (excluding sacks). Overall, Fancher is only worth about 2.2 points and the line on this game moved much more on the news that he was transferring.

UTSA will be without the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, edge rusher Trey Moore, who has decided to transfer and will not play in this game. Moore has 14 sacks and the next best on the team was 4 sacks. I calculate that Moore is worth 1.5 points and I think that’s on the conservative side. Moore being out is worth nearly as much as Fancher being out for Marshall and I project 342 yards at 4.8 yppl for the Thundering Herd in this game, which includes the absence of one of Marshall’s starting offensive linemen.

Frank Harris is a legend at UTSA, and he has a couple of really good seasons in 2021 and 2022. However, he lost a lot of receiving talent and a big play receiver did not emerge in 2023. Harris completed 65% of his passes but he averaged a sub-par 11.5 yards per completion and averaged only 6.7 yards per pass play against teams that would combine to allow 7.5 yppp to an average FBS quarterback. Harris completed 70% of his passes and averaged 12.4 ypc last season, so he’s declined significantly without a pair of last year’s top receivers. Harris did improve after he returned from a 2-game absence in week 6 and I’ll use the numbers over this final 8 games (-0.3 yppp) for my projection in this game. UTSA’s offense has been 0.1 yppl worse than average in the 8 games since Harris returned from injury and Marshall’s defense is also 0.1 yppl worse than average.

UTSA is expected to score 33 points based on the market spread and total (13 and 53), but the Roadrunners only averaged 31.7 points per game this season against a schedule of teams with an average defensive rating that is 0.4 yppl worse than average Marshall’s defense (i.e. about 3 points per game). UTSA racked up a lot of points against some bad defensive teams, but they averaged only 24 points in 5 games against teams that were 0.3 yppl worse than average or better defensively and are projected to score just 28.5 points in this game against a solid Marshall defense.

My math favors UTSA by just 8 points, which is close to the opening line of 8.5 points. I don’t understand why the line has moved 4.5 points given that UTSA loss of the best defensive player in their league is just as costly as Marshall being without Fancher. All the adjustments for player absences are only worth 0.5 points in the Roadrunners’ favor so there is clearly line value on the side of Marshall.

I also think this bowl game against a 6-6 Sun Belt team may be tough to get up for, as UTSA had aspirations of winning their conference and being the group of 5 representative for a New Year’s 6 bowl game. Pre-New Year’s bowl favorites of 8 points or more (excluding the major bowls) are just 52-97-3 ATS over the years, including 15-44-3 ATS for a team that is coming off a loss (UTSA lost by 13 to Tulane in their finale). UTSA applies to a 2-24 big bowl favorite off a loss situation and Marshall applies to a 69-25-2 ATS bowl situation that plays on low scoring teams (that angle is 11-1 on dogs of 9 points or more).

Marshall is a 1-Star Best Bet at +12 points or more (Strong Opinion to +11).

South Florida vs
Syracuse

Thu, Dec 21 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 218, Odds: Syracuse -2.5, Total: 58.5

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Strong Opinion – Under (58.5) – Syracuse (-2.5)  28   South Florida 23

I understand that Syracuse has an interim coach (who will remain on the staff) and that this game is being played close to South Florida’s home, but the Bulls are a bad team that got their 6 wins against other bad teams. The best team that USF beat all season is Rice, who is about 6 points worse than an average FBS team, and the Bulls have lost 4 games to teams that I rate worse than Syracuse (and one to a team I rate about the same). Syracuse is 6-6 too, but the Orange have beaten 3 teams that are better than South Florida (Purdue, Pitt, and Wake Forest) and haven’t lost to a team as bad as the Bulls.

USF has been 0.4 yards per play worse than average offensively, (5.9 yppl against teams that would allow 6.3 yppl to an average team) and they’re at a disadvantage against a solid Syracuse defense. The Orange are down a couple of defenders, as Leon Lowery and Terry Lockett have transferred. Lockett is replaceable but Lowery was second on the team in total tackles for loss. My algorithm suggests that those two are worth 1.3 points in a game in which USF will have close to 80 snaps. However, star LB Marlow Wax has been practicing and when asked about his NFL plans has said that he’s focused on the bowl game. Safety Justin Barron, who was also an opt-out candidate, has also been practicing and is on the depth chart as the starter for the game. Veteran DC Rocky Long, who did a great job turning the defense around this season, has stayed on to coach the defense for the bowl game and that unit still rates at 0.3 yppl better than average without Lowery and Lockett, which is 0.7 yppl better than USF’s offense. I project just 392 yards at 5.0 yppl for the Bulls in this game, which equates to about 23 points. USF only faced one better than average defense all season (UTSA) and they scored just 21 points in that game (and 24 points against the next best defense they faced – Western Kentucky, who is worse than average).

The projected points for USF could be even lower if Syracuse limits the possessions by running the ball 80% of the time with the Wildcat duo of TE Dan Villari and RB LeQuint Allen. Starting QB Garrett Shrader is out due to surgery on his shoulder and the Orange went exclusively to the Wildcat offense in week 11 vs Pitt and week 12 against Georgia Tech when Shrader was injured and racked up an average of 293 rushing yards and 25 points per game. Running the ball more, which I certainly expect with an unproven quarterback atop the depth chart (Braden Davis is listed at QB1 and has 1 career pass), makes the USF defense better given how horrible they are defending the pass (2.1 yppp worse than average) compared to their run defense (0.4 yprp worse than average). In fact, if Syracuse runs the ball 70% of the time, which I expect, the USF defense would be 4.3 points better than normal, as teams have averaged 55% pass plays against them this season. A run-oriented game-plan should work pretty well, but the Orange wouldn’t be taking full advantage of South Florida’s defensive weakness.

Villari was originally a quarterback prospect at Michigan before transferring to Syracuse and being converted to a tight end, and he’s completed 19 of 22 passes – although for just 122 yards. He’s capable of beating USF’s porous secondary with downfield throws if they stack the box to stop the run, but thus far they haven’t trusted him to throw the ball down the field. It may also be Davis getting most of the snaps at quarterback, but I still think the Orange would run the ball 70% or more of their plays. I’d prefer it if they went with the Wildcat because I know the level of their offense when they’ve done that (0.5 yppl worse than average). I have no idea how bad, or good, Davis would be in his first start, but I have the Orange pass attack averaging 5.9 yppp in this game with the run game at 5.6 yprp – for a total of 386 yards at 5.7 yppl, which should net them around 28 points. I would have bet on Syracuse in this game if Shrader were healthy and I’m projecting nearly 7 points less for the Orange without Shrader, who would have torn apart that horrible USF secondary. I still think Syracuse is the right side but the under is where the value is at – unless Davis is much better than expected and they let him throw it 30 times rather than running the ball 70% of the time, as I expect.

 

Strong Opinion Under 57 points or more.

Georgia Tech vs
UCF

Fri, Dec 22 3:30 PM PT

Rotation: 220, Odds: UCF -4.5, Total: 64.5

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2-Star Best Bet – **OVER (64.5) – UCF (-4.5)  40  Georgia Tech  33

UCF was just 6-6 in the regular season but the Golden Knights outgained their opponents by 100 yards per game and 7.2 yards per play to 5.9 yppl. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is 6-6 but was outgained by their opponents.

Georgia Tech is a slightly better than average team because their offense has been 0.9 yards per play better than average (6.3 yppl against FBS teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average team) – although Haynes King continued his habit of throwing interceptions (15) that he started while at Texas A&M. King now has 25 interceptions throw in his 580 career passes, which is a very high percentage (4.3%, compared to 2.9% national average).  UCF’s defense was 0.3 yppl better than average this season but the Knight’s best defensive back, CB Corey Thornton, has transferred. Thornton is worth 1.4 points according to my metrics, as he had 25% of the Knight’s passes defended this season. I project 450 yards at 6.6 yppl for the Yellow Jackets in this game.

UCF’s offense should easily surpass what Georgia Tech’s offense puts up, as the Knights are better offensively, at 1.4 yppl better than average (7.2 yppl against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl), while the Yellow Jackets’ defense was 0.5 yppl worse than average this season (6.4 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl) and will be without their best defensive player, edge rusher Kyle Kennard, who transferred to South Carolina. Kennard’s 6 sacks and 11 total tackles for loss will not easily be replaced given that no other Yellow Jackets defensive player had more than 2 sacks and 8 total TFL. He’s worth 0.2 yppl and 1.6 points to the Yellow Jackets already bad defense. UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee was a bit better in his 8 games than backup Timmy McClain was. UCF is projected to gain 583 total yards at 8.0 yppl in this game, which is not far-fetched given that they averaged 7.2 yppl against teams that were 0.7 yppl better defensively than Georgia Tech is without Kennard.

Georgia Tech does have an advantage in special teams but overall the math favors the Golden Knights by 11.5 points. That would normally qualify as a Best Bet but UCF applies to a 12-57-1 ATS Bowl game situation and a 3-28 ATS situation. There is still overall value on UCF in this game based on the historical performance of my math model and the situational analysis but the better play is on the Over, as both teams should move the ball well in this game and easily surpass their scoring averages.

The Over is a 2-Star Best Bet at 65 or less and 1-Star up to 66 points (Strong Opinion to 67 points).

James Madison vs
Air Force

Sat, Dec 23 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 225, Odds: Air Force +1.5, Total: 41

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James Madison (-2.5)  21   Air Force  20

James Madison edged out Penn State and UCLA for the best compensated run defense in the nation (3.5 yards per rushing play allowed to FBS teams that would combine to average 5.0 yprp against an average team) and that strength should serve them well against an Air Force team that runs the ball 85% of the time. Of course, defending the option is different than defending a traditional run attack and this season there was no correlation between the yprp average for Air Force as a function of the level of the run defense that they were facing (excluding Navy and Army, who know how to defend the option). In fact, there was a slightly negative correlation due to averaging 6.2 yprp against Wyoming and Boise State, the only two better than average run defenses that they faced (5.5 yprp overall in 9 games other than Navy and Army). I’m not going to assume that Air Force will run the ball better against JMU than they normally do – or even close to as good as usual – but I do think they’ll be relatively better against the Dukes’ strong front line than a traditional running team would be. James Madison being without star Jalen Green (15.5 sacks in 9 games) has significantly hurt the Dukes’ pass defense (just 3 sacks total in 3 games without Green), as they’ve been 0.7 yppp worse than average in those 3 games. However, Green’s absence has not hurt the run defense at all (just 2.9 yprp allowed in those games).

James Madison’s top 3 tacklers, Fisher, Walker, and Kamara – along with DL Carpenter and LB Jones – are all in the transfer portal (CB Logan withdrew from the portal), but there were reports that most of the players in the portal will play in this game and only DE Kamara (and offensive LG Miller) have opted out of playing (the rest are on the bowl game depth chart). With Kamara and Green out, I project 307 yards at 5.0 yppl for Air Force in this game (assuming QB Zac Larrier is out – although he may play).

James Madison quarterback Jordan McCloud had a great season, averaging 8.1 yards per pass play against FBS opponents that would combine to allow 6.8 yppp to an average quarterback. McCloud has entered the transfer portal but he has stated his intentions to play in this game – and top WR Elijah Sarratt is also on the depth chart despite his intention to transfer. JMU’s offense is 0.5 yppl better than average and they should move the ball pretty well against a mediocre Air Force defense that yielded 5.5 yppl to non-option teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average defense. I exclude their games against Army and Navy (on both offense and defense) because option teams defend option teams extremely well and including those games would not reflect how the Air Force offense or defense would perform against non-option teams. There is rain and wind expected in Fort Worth on Saturday but I still project 323 yards at 5.8 yppl for James Madison in this game.

The bad weather is likely to affect James Madison more, as wind and rain tend to affect the pass game and not the run game – unless the field is really slippery. With all things considered I get James Madison by 2.5 points and 41.5 total points. Air Force does apply to a 21-4-1 ATS situation that plays on bowl underdogs on a losing streak (AF lost their last 4 games after starting the season 8-0) and Military Academies are 39-15 ATS in bowl games and tend to play particularly well in Texas, where a disproportionate amount of men that serve tend to come from.

Coastal Carolina vs
San Jose St.

Sat, Dec 23 7:30 PM PT

Rotation: 233, Odds: San Jose St. -9, Total: 50.5

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San Jose State (-10)  29   Coastal Carolina  18

With Grayson McCall and Jarrett Guest both in the transfer portal, it looks like Ethan Vasko will get his fourth start. Vasko is a significant downgrade in the pass attack, as he’s been 1.0 yards per pass play worse than average (6.1 yppp against teams that would allow 7.1 yppp to an average QB) while the team was +0.8 yppp during the season. Vasko, however, is a good runner, as he added 257 yards on 33 runs in his 3 starts. Number 2 receiver Jared Brown has entered the transfer portal, but he had the lowest success rate (42.5%) of the wide receivers, aside from Tyson Mobley (30.8%), who is also in the portal. Those two combined to average 8.9 yards on 95 targets while the other 3 wide receivers combine to average 9.8 YPT on 156 targets. Coastal Carolina was 0.4 yppl better than average offensively for the season but I rate that unit at 0.6 yppl worse than average with Vasko at quarterback.

San Jose State’s defense is 0.2 yppl better than average overall but they are a bit worse than average defending the run (5.6 yprp allowed) and I expect the Chanticleers to run it more than they throw it with Vasko at quarterback. I project 319 yards at 5.0 yppl for Coastal Carolina.

San Jose State’s offense struggled early in the season against solid defensive teams but veteran quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and running back Kairee Robinson (7.2 ypr) put up big numbers against 6 worse than average defensive teams down the stretch (38.7 points per game). Overall, the Spartans were 0.6 yppl better than average offensively. Coastal Carolina was 0.4 yppl worse than average defensively for the season but they’re likely to be a bit worse in this game. The Chanticleers have two starters at linebacker in the transfer portal, and a backup defensive back. However, those 3 combined for 0 sacks, 6 tackles for loss and only 4 passes defended, which is not that significant (although the adjustment worked out to 0.8 points). It’s also possible that CB Juan Powell is still out (he missed the last two games but is on the depth chart as the starter) and his absence would be worth another point. I project 393 yards at 6.8 yppl for the Spartans in this game (I’m assuming he’ll play).

The math favors San Jose State by 12.2 points and 46.4 total points but I’ll call for an 11-point win due to big underdogs in bowl games historically doing better than expected – although that’s mostly when a power 5 conference team is a big favorite over a group of 5 conference team.

Utah vs
Northwestern

Sat, Dec 23 4:30 PM PT

Rotation: 231, Odds: Northwestern +6.5, Total: 40.5

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Lean – Utah (-6.5)  27   Northwestern  16

Northwestern somehow made it to a bowl game despite being outgained by 55 yards per game and 4.7 yards per play to 5.4 yppl. Being +10 in turnovers, including a lucky +7 in fumbles certainly helped and the Wildcats will need that luck to continue to stay within a touchdown in this game.

Northwestern’s offense is 0.8 yppl worse than average (4.7 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and they’ve been no better with Ben Bryant at quarterback, as he was just as bad (0.5 yards per pass play worse than average) as Sullivan was when Bryant was out with injury. Utah’s defense rates at 1.2 yppl better than average for the season but the injury to All-American DE Jonah Elliss (12 sacks in 10 games) hurt the pass defensive down the stretch, as the Utes generated just 5 total sacks in 3 games without Elliss. Utah will also be without their NFL-bound pair of safeties, Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki. That’s a lot of attrition but my algorithm still project the Utah defense to be 0.5 yppl better than average and they should be able to hold Northwestern well below their 22.3 points per game average (in regulation). I project the lowly Wildcats’ offense to manage just 272 total yards at 4.7 yppl (adjusted for playing a dome).

Utah’s offense will be without NFL bound safety/running back Sione Vaki, who joined the running back rotation late in the season and ran for 317 yards on 42 runs (7.5 ypr) while adding 203 receiving yards on just 14 targets. Taking out his numbers makes the rush attack 0.3 yards per rushing play worse and the pass attack 0.4 yards per pass play worse given the 4.4 yards per target of running backs Jackson and Glover. That works out to 2.5 points per game for a part time running back. Top WR Devaughn Vele is also not on the depth chart after opting out to prepare for the NFL draft combine. Vele averaged a modest 8.1 yards per target this season with their #1 QB Cam Rising out all season, but the other wide receivers combined for just 6.4 YPT. Losing WR Mikey Matthews to the portal doesn’t figure to be detrimental given his horrible 5.4 yards per target average. The wide receivers on the depth chart for the game combined for 6.2 YPT against FBS opponents, compared to the 6.7 YPT for all WRs, so that’s another downgrade to the Utes’ offense.

On a positive note, the best of the Utes’ quarterbacks, Bryson Barnes, will play in this game despite entering the transfer portal. Utah was average offensively this season (5.3 yppl against FBS teams that would allow 5.3 yppl) but they were 0.3 yppl better than average with Barnes at quarterback. However, with current personnel, including the absence of 2 starting offensive linemen, the Utah attack rates at 0.6 yppl worse than average.

Northwestern is an average defensive team (5.4 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl), which is worse than what Utah is used to facing and I project the Utes at 377 yards and 5.3 yppl in this game (adjusted for playing in a dome).

Utah is significantly worse without 3 of their 4 best defensive players and their most dangerous offensive weapon but the math still favors the Utes by 9.4 points in this game (with a total of 43.1 points). Northwestern applies to a 14-51 ATS bowl situation that plays against teams that played better than expected in their previous 3 games and I’ll lean with Utah at -7 or less despite the attrition.

South Alabama vs
Eastern Mich

Sat, Dec 23 4:00 PM PT

Rotation: 229, Odds: Eastern Mich +17, Total: 45

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South Alabama (-17)  30   Eastern Michigan  10

South Alabama will be without top running back La’Damian Webb (1007 yards at 5.4 ypr) and top WR Caullin Lacy, who caught passes for 1316 yards at 10.7 yards per target, which is tough to replace (the other WRs averaged 8.0 YPT). Starting quarterback Carter Bradley may also miss this game due to injury, as he’s reportedly been slow to recover from a knee injury that kept him out of the season finale. Desmond Trotter has a lot of starting experience behind center and I don’t think he’s much of a downgrade. Gio Lopez could also start, and he’s played at a comparable level too with his 5.4 yards per pass play in a start against a very good Troy pass defense (would allow 5.4 yppp at home to an average QB) being slightly better than Bradley’s compensated yards per pass play of -0.1 yppp. The Jaguars’ offense was average this season (6.1 yppl against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average team) but I rate the attack at 0.6 yppl below average without Webb and Lacy, which equates to close to 4 points.

Eastern Michigan’s defense doesn’t look too bad given the 24.1 points per game and 5.7 yppl they allowed in 11 games against FBS foes, but those opposing offenses would combine to average only 4.9 yppl against an average defense. I rate the Eagles’ defense at 0.5 yppl worse than average after accounting for the outlier against Toledo (8.9 yppl allowed), but they’ll be without two key defensive linemen in DE Mikah Coleman, who led the team in sacks, and DT Alex Merritt, who I value at a combined 1.4 points. I project 425 yards at 6.0 yppl for the Jaguars in this game, regardless of which quarterback starts.

Eastern Michigan’s starting quarterback Austin Smith has decided to transfer after completing just 57% of his passes and averaging only 4.6 yards per pass play against FBS opponents (that would allow 7.4 yppp to an average QB). As bad as Smith was, I do think the Eagles are likely worse without him, as backup Ike Udengwu averaged only 2.8 yards on his 30 pass plays this season (against teams that would allow 7.0 yppp). Udengwu, or #3 QB Cam’Ron McCoy aren’t likely to be that bad after taking first-team reps for a few weeks and I’ll call for the standard drop in production from an experienced starter to a backup (about 2 points).

South Alabama’s defense was really inconsistent this season, with a some very strong performances and a few really bad ones (8.5 yppl allowed to Tulane in their opener and 7.4 yppl allowed to Texas State in their finale). The Jaguars’ run defense was consistently strong (4.0 yprp allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.0 yprp) and Eastern Michigan’s horrible pass attack (2nd worst among FBS teams and likely worse with a backup quarterback) isn’t likely to take advantage of a sometimes bad secondary that was only exploited by good quarterbacks – they also allowed 5.0 yppp or less in 5 of their 12 games. Overall, the Jaguars’ defense was 0.3 yppl better than average and is intact for this game. The math projects just 199 total yards at 3.4 yppl for Eastern Michigan in this game, which is not too low given that the Eagles averaged just 223 yards at 3.5 yppl (with their starting quarterback) in their 3 games against better than average defensive teams Jacksonville State, Ball State, and Toledo, who collectively rate the same defensively as South Alabama.

The math would have predicted just 47 total points in this game (with a 1.0 boost for low winds) without any adjustments, but both offenses are likely to be significantly worse without key players and I now project only 40.8 total points with South Alabama getting most of them (the math favors the Jags by 22.2 points, 31.5 to 9.3). Eastern Michigan has been good as an underdog under coach Creighton (36-13-2 ATS getting 2 points or more), but they were just 4-3 ATS as a dog this season and they lost by 19 points or more in all 3 games against teams that were within 6 points of being an average FBS team or better (by 19 to Minnesota, by 21 to Jacksonville State, and by 26 to Toledo), which would include South Alabama – even without their two offensive stars.

Georgia St. vs
Utah St.

Sat, Dec 23 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 227, Odds: Utah St. -2, Total: 60.5

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Note: I released the under to subscribers when the total was 62 points. The total is now down to 58.5 points, which is just a Lean Under

1-Star Best Bet – *Under (62) – Utah State (-2.5)  30   Georgia State  24

Georgia State will be without RB Marcus Carroll, who ran the ball 274 times for 1350 yards. His 4.9 ypr isn’t particularly impressive but his backup KZ Adams averaged only 1.7 yards on his 35 runs. Adams transferred too and is not on the depth chart, which is positive for the Panthers, but Carroll also averaged 4.9 ypr last season and the back he shared time with in 2022 averaged just 4.1 ypr – so I expect a huge decline in running back production from the Panthers – even though Utah State is terrible defending the run. The Panthers will also be without their top receiver, Robert Lewis, who has transferred to Auburn. Lewis had 105 targets for 877 yards (8.4 YPT), which is significantly higher than the 6.6 YPT of the rest of the wide receivers. Georgia State was 0.4 yppl worse than average offensively but I rate them at 0.9 yppl worse than average without their best two offensive players (and a starting tackle).

Utah State struggled to stop the run this season (5.7 yprp allowed to teams that would average 4.9 yprp to an average team) but Georgia State doesn’t figure to run as much without Carroll and the Aggies defend the pass reasonably well (average on a national scale). I think Georgia State’s offense will struggle in this game without Carroll and Lewis and I project 364 yards at 5.2 yppl for the Panthers.

Utah State was much better offensively this season when Cooper Legas was at quarterback, as Legas was 1.2 yards per pass play better than McCae Hillstead, who had 164 pass play despite not being good. Legas is injured and not on the bowl depth chart while Hillstead is not 100% recovered from an injury that kept him out of the season finale. Veteran Levi Williams (formerly a part-time starter at Wyoming) is listed atop the depth chart after starting in the OT win over New Mexico. The Aggies’ offense averaged 6.5 yppl in that game but New Mexico has one of the worst defenses in the nation and would allow 7.3 yppl at home to an average FBS team – so the Aggies were actually 0.8 yppl worse than average offensively in that game. Williams is not much of a passer, but I don’t think he’s much worse than Hillstead was and he adds a running element (nearly 1200 rushing yards at 6.5 yards per scramble in his career). Overall, Williams is better than Hillstead but the Aggies will likely run the ball a lot more than usual (47 runs vs 30 pass plays in Williams’ start against New Mexico), which will eat more clock (their pace of play against the Lobos was significantly lower in that game than normal). I rate Utah State’s offense at 0.2 yppl worse than average with Williams at quarterback, which is only 0.25 yppl lower than their season rating.

Running the ball more, as I expect Utah State to do, makes Georgia State’s defense better, as the Panthers were solid against the run (5.1 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.1 yprp) while their pass defense was horrible (7.4 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would average 6.2 yppp against an average defense). If Utah State runs the ball the same percentage of the time as they did with Williams at QB against New Mexico then Georgia State’s defense is 1.6 points better than facing 53.2% pass plays, as they did in the regular season. I project 423 yards at 5.9 yppl for Utah State in this game.

The opening total of 63.5 points is close to the 62.8 points I would have projected using season stats from each team. However, Georgia State’s offense is 3.3 points worse without Carroll and Lewis, Utah State’s offense is 1.8 points worse than their season rating with Williams at quarterback and Georgia State’s defense is 1.6 points better due to the extra running that Utah State is likely to do in this game. I also expect 5 fewer total play from scrimmage due to the slower pace of play with Utah State running more (and a bit for the worse than normal weather expected), which is another 2.0 points. That’s 8.7 points of total adjustments on the total and I project just 54.1 total points in this game (and Utah State by 5.5 points).

The Under is a 1-Star Best Bet at 61 point or more (Strong Opinion to 59.5).

Arkansas St. vs
Northern Ill

Sat, Dec 23 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 223, Odds: Northern Ill +2.5, Total: 53.5

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Arkansas State (-3)  29   Northern Illinois  28

The Northern Illinois offense rates at 0.2 yppl worse than average for the season with Rocky Lombardi at quarterback but the pass game has been worse since week 6 without WR Kacper Rutkiewicz, who averaged a team best 8.2 yards per target through the first 6 games (the rest of the wide receivers were averaging 6.2 YPT through 6 games). The Huskies’ rushing attack is the strength of the offense and Antario Brown (1164 yards at 6.2 ypr) should have a strong game against a soft Arkansas State defensive front that has allowed 201 rush yards per game at 5.6 yards per rushing play (to teams that would average 5.0 yprp). Arkansas State’s defense is equally bad defending the pass and rated at 0.7 yppl worse than average this season overall (-0.8 yppl without LB Mackey, who transferred). NIU is without their starting C, who decided to transfer, but WR Trayvon Rudolph took his name out of the portal and is expected to play. I project 413 yards at 6.1 yppl for the Huskies in this game.

The Arkansas State offense was horrible the first three games with Shrout and Dailey at quarterback, but Jaylen Raynor upgraded the position starting in week 4 and the Red Wolves have averaged 6.3 yppl and 33.2 points per game in Raynor’s 9 starts. I rate that attack as average on a national scale after adjusting for outliers and strength of opposing defenses. NIU only allowed 21.2 points per game, and they are 0.3 yppl worse than average after adjusting for the mostly bad offensive teams that they faced (0.4 yppl worse than average without pass-rusher Gumbs, who transferred). I project 392 yards at 6.2 yppl for Arkansas State in this game.

Arkansas State has a significant advantage in special teams and the math favors the Red Wolves by 0.7 points with 56.3 total points.

Troy vs
Duke

Sat, Dec 23 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 222, Odds: Duke +7.5, Total: 44.5

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Troy (-7.5)  24   Duke  19

Duke had potential to be really good this season with a good offense and a very good defense, but starting quarterback Riley Leonard was injured and the Blue Devils promising season, which started with a 28-7 win over Clemson, ended with 4 losses in the last 6 games with mostly backup quarterbacks. Texas A&M was impressed enough with the job that head coach Mike Elko did that they hired him away from Duke. A significant number of starters have transferred, including Leonard, two offensive linemen, and 5 defensive starters (plus a key backup). Troy lost their head coach but just one starter has decided to transfer, and the Trojans certainly deserve to be more than a touchdown favorite in this game.

Duke will continue to start Grayson Loftis at quarterback and the Blue Devils have managed to average 31.5 points in his 4 starts. That average is misleading given that they averaged just 5.2 yards per play (against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl to an average offense). Loftis only completed 53% of his passes and he’s not the runner that Leonard was (394 yards on just 51 runs). He may also be without his top 2 running backs. Jordan Waters transferred and Jaquez Moore’s status is unclear given that he entered the portal and then decided to come back to Duke. I’ll assume Moore will play and that would be significant given his 5.9 ypr average (5.3 ypr for Waters). I rate Duke’s offense at 0.5 yppl worse than average while Troy’s defense is 0.6 yppl better than average even without leading tackler LB Jayden McDonald, who has entered the transfer portal but is on depth chart. Some teams don’t update their depth chart but it’s possible that he’ll play in this game. I’ll assume for now that McDonald is out, but that All-American Javon Solomon (16 sacks) will play, although it’s possible he opts out to prepare for the Senior Bowl and the NFL draft combine. I project just 263 yards at 4.6 yppl for the Blue Devils in this game.

Troy averaged 6.2 ypl and averaged 31 points per game but the Trojans are just 0.1 yppl better than average after adjusting for defensive units faced. Duke was 0.8 yppl better than average this season but I rate that unit as average without 6 key defenders, who are worth a combined 3.8 points. Troy is projected to gain 402 yards on 5.8 yppl.

The line appears to have adjusted to all of the Duke defections, as I get Troy by 9 points with a total of 44 points. However, Troy applies to a 14-74-1 ATS bowl situation that is 0-13 ATS when applying to a favorite of more than 7 points so I’d rather have Duke in this game – although not enough to call it a Lean.

Bowling Green vs
Minnesota

Tue, Dec 26 11:00 AM PT

Rotation: 235, Odds: Minnesota -2, Total: 44.5

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Minnesota (-2)  26   Bowling Green  23

Minnesota’s starting quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis has decided to transfer, and Cole Kramer has been named the starter. However, Kaliakmanis was terrible this season as he completed just 53% of his passes for 5.4 yards per pass play. I suppose Kramer could be worse but I’ve decided to make no adjustment in Minnesota’s passing game, which was 0.5 yppp worse than average. It appears that RB Darius Taylor will play after missing most of the season. Taylor led the team in rushing (591 yards at 5.7 ypr) despite playing in just 4 games (1 carry in a 5th game).

Bowling Green will be without two starting defensive backs, as top CB Jalen Huskey has transferred (worth about a point) while S Trent Simms will miss his 4th straight game due to injury. Bowling Green only allowed 23.5 points per game and 5.4 yards per play this season but they there were 0.2 yppl worse than average after adjusting for opposing offenses faced and I rate that unit at 0.4 yppl worse than average without two starting defensive backs. Star pass rusher Cashius Howell entered the transfer portal a couple of days ago but has been practicing with the team and is reportedly likely to play. I project 349 yards at 5.9 yppl for the Gophers in this game (adjusted for perfect dome conditions).

Bowling Green’s offense rates at 0.6 yppl worse than average (5.4 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team). Backup running back Ta’ron Keith (390 yards at 5.9 ypr) has left the program but Terion Stewart, who ran for 762 yards at 6.1 ypr in 9 games has missed final 3 games due to injury and has been seen on the sidelines in street clothes, indicating that he won’t be playing. His absence is significant with Keith also gone, as #2 on the depth chart, Jaison Patterson has averaged just 4.2 ypr on his 234 career runs, including only 123 yards on 34 runs (3.4 ypr) this season.

Minnesota’s defense was worse than average on a national scale defending the run and the pass and overall the Gophers surrendered 6.1 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yppl against an average stop unit. Word is that NFL bound S Tyler Nubin will opt out of this bowl and he’s worth 1.2 points according to my algorithm. Also not listed on the availability report were defensive starters Darius Green, Maverick Baranowski and Devon Williams (while CB Tre’Von Jones is listed as questionable). I project 337 yards at 5.8 yppl for Bowling Green.

The math now favors Minnesota by 3.2 points with a total of 49.0 points.

Texas State vs
Rice

Tue, Dec 26 2:30 PM PT

Rotation: 237, Odds: Rice +3.5, Total: 59.5

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Lean – Over (59.5) – Texas State (-3.5)  35   Rice  29

Both teams should be excited to be playing in a bowl game, as this is Texas State’s first bowl game ever and Rice needed to win their final two games to earn an additional game.

Texas State’s turnaround in coach CJ Kinne’s first season was due to a significant overhaul in personnel, as Kinne used the transfer portal more than any coach in the nation aside from Deion Sanders at Colorado. Kinne’s brand of offense, which lead FCS team Incarnate Word to a 12-2 season in 2022, worked well for the Bobcats, who averaged 36 points and 6.3 yards per play (against teams that would allow 6.2 yppl to an average team). Rice is 0.6 yppl worse than average, which is a bit worse than what Texas State faced on average this season, but the slow pace of the Owls’ offense should result in a few less plays than normal for the Bobcats, who I project at 459 yards at 6.5 yppl in this game.

Well-traveled former top recruit QB JT Daniels (starter at USC and Georgia) was having a solid season for Rice before retiring due to concussions and backup AJ Padgett, who started the final 3 games, is a significant downgrade, as he was 1.2 yards per pass play worse than average (Daniels was average in compensated yppp, which is good for a Rice QB). The Owls’ rush attack picked up as the season progressed, as they managed just 51 ground yards at 2.4 yards per rushing play in their first 4 games against FBS opponents (that would allow 4.6 yprp to an average team) and averaged 161 yards at 6.1 yprp (vs teams that allow 5.1 yprp) in their final 7 games. I rate the Rice attack at 0.4 yppl worse than average heading into this game (-0.1 yppl for the season).

Texas State’s defense is 0.8 yppl worse than average (6.0 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average just 5.2 yppl against an average team, so the Owls should be able to move the ball at a decent clip. I project 393 yards at 6.1 yppl for Rice in this game.

The math favors Texas State by 7.0 points with 64.2 total points. The situation favors Rice a bit, but I would lean with Texas State if the line gets to -3 or less, but I do Lean Over 60 points or less.

Kansas vs
UNLV

Tue, Dec 26 6:00 PM PT

Rotation: 239, Odds: UNLV +13, Total: 64.5

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Note: The line on Kansas went down to 7.5 with rumors of KU quarterback Jason Bean being sick. He was sick but not sick enough not to play. The line was 13 when I released the Best Bet on the Over to subscribers.

1-Star Best Bet – *Over (64.5) – Kansas (-13/-7.5)  41   Nevada-Las Vegas  31

I see a lot of points being scored in this game. The elite Kansas attack should score consistently against a porous UNLV defense that really struggled against better than average offensive teams, while UNLV, with a young star quarterback and All-American WR, should score a higher-than-average number points against a good, but not great Kansas defense.

Kansas averaged 32.3 points and 7.0 yppl this season and they were better with Jason Bean at quarterback, as Bean’s median compensated yards per pass play rating (I used a median to dampen the affect of the 14.7 yppp he had against Cincy) is 1.2 yppp better than Jalon Daniels, who started 3 games before his back issues started, and 2.0 yppp better than Cole Ballard, who played most of 2 games when Bean was injured. Not only was Bean great (9.2 yards per pass play) but the Jayhawks averaged 221 yards at 6.1 yards per rushing play on the ground and overall rate at 1.5 yppl better than average offensively (adjusted down from average for the positive outlier against Cincy; 11.0 yppl).

UNLV’s defense allowed 6.2 yppl to teams that would combine to average just 5.5 yppl against an average team and that unit was picked apart by the 3 better than average offensively teams that they faced – giving up a combined 8.1 yppl to Michigan, San Jose State and Boise State, who collectively are 0.8 yppl worse than the Jayhawks’ offense. Two of those games were with star safety Jerrae Williams playing (he missed 8 games) and overall the Rebels’ defense was the same in the games he missed as the games he played in. Kansas only faced two bad defensive teams with Bean at quarterback and they scored 48 points against Missouri State (just 0.2 yppl worse than UNLV on defense) and 49 points against Cincy (0.2 yppl better on defense than UNLV). I project 542 total yards at 8.2 yppl in this game for the Jayhawks, which includes the adjustment for playing in a dome.

UNLV’s offense struggled the first two weeks before Jayden Maiava took over at quarterback early in week 3. Maiava averaged 8.3 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.8 yppp to an average QB) and the Rebels were 0.4 yppl better than average offensively with Maiava on the field. They’re actually better than that given that the coaching staff went heavily to the run game with big leads in many games this season. UNLV ran the ball 56% of the time with Maiava on the field but they ran it only 50% of the time when they didn’t have a big 4th quarter lead, making their offense 0.2 yppl better (offense +0.6 yppl with 50% pass plays). The pace of play is also higher for UNLV when they face another good team (because they run less) and they extra 3.4 plays expected in this game because of the faster pace adds 2.3 points to the total points projection, which is certainly not in the line.

The Kansas defense is 0.3 yppl better than average (5.9 yppl allowed to FBS teams that would combine to average 6.2 yppl against an average team) but I project 436 yards at 6.2 yppl for the Rebels in this game.

Based on all games for the season, without adjustments, the math would have predicted 64.7 points in this game in a dome. However, Kansas is better offensively with Bean at quarterback (they were last season too) and only 55% of the pass plays for Kansas against FBS opponents this season were from Bean – so the offense gets a significant upgrade using his metrics vs the overall team’s yards per pass play. UNLV’s offense is 0.3 yppl better with Maiava than it was overall this season and another 0.2 yppl on top of that for throwing the ball more against better teams, which equates to 3.3 points better than their season rating – and UNLV’s faster pace against better teams also gives Kansas more plays from scrimmage (adding 1.3 points to the total). I get 72.2 total points – and favor KU by 11.5 points (made it 10 because they apply to a 23-58 ATS big bowl favorite situation) – and I’ll play Over for a 1-Star Best Bet at 66 points or less.

Note: There was some speculation that Maiava may decide to transfer but there is a video of him practicing with his teammates from a few days ago (Dec 18), which I will take as a sign that he’s playing. Also, it appears that the initial report of Maiava being in the transfer portal on 12/4 was due to another Maiava (from BYU) entering the portal that day. It appears to be sloppy reporting that started those rumors. I certainly hope so.

Texas A&M vs
Oklahoma St.

Wed, Dec 27 6:00 PM PT

Rotation: 247, Odds: Oklahoma St. -3, Total: 54

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Lean – Over (54) – Oklahoma State (-3)  33   Texas A&M  27

With Connor Weigman out with injury and Max Johnson in the transfer portal it will be Jaylen Henderson at quarterback. Henderson was the quarterback for the Aggies in their final 3 games and averaged 7.3 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 7.0 yppp to an average quarterback. That’s only 0.4 yppp worse than the team average but Henderson will be without the team’s top receiver Ainias Smith, who caught passes for 795 yards at 9.9 yards per target. The #2 receiver Evan Stewart will also be out due to transfer, but he didn’t play much with Henderson, as he missed 3 of the final 4 games and got just 1 target in the game he tried to play. WR Noah Thomas (29 catches for 359 yards at 9.0 YPT) will reportedly also not be playing in this game, which leaves two receivers that were in the regular rotation – Jahdae Walker and Moose Muhammed. Those two did combine to average 9.5 yards on their 77 targets. The problem is lack of experience beyond those two, however, TE Jake Johnson transferring (6.7 YPT on 35 targets) will give more targets to TE Max Wright, who averaged 8.4 yards on his 22 targets with a significantly better success rate (52% to 41%). The A&M rush attack is 0.2 yprp worse than average and I rate the Aggies’ attack at 0.4 yppl worse than average heading into this game.

A&M should still move the ball at a decent rate in a domed stadium against an Oklahoma State defense that was 0.3 yppl worse than average this season (6.7 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.4 yppl against an average defense). I project 396 yards at 5.6 yppl for the Aggies.

The Oklahoma State was in the experimental stage the first few weeks of the season with 3 different quarterbacks vying for the full-time job. Alan Bowman won that battle, as Rangel and Gundy combined for a horrible 4.8 yards per pass play on 69 pass plays. From week 4 on with Bowman entrenched at the position the Cowboys averaged 32.2 points and 458 yards per game at 6.4 yppl (against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl). Oklahoma State has a pass heavy attack but RB Ollie Gordon II ran for 1614 yards at 6.3 ypr.

The Texas A&M defense allowed just 21.3 points and 5.1 yppl to a schedule of teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average defense. However, the Aggies are shorthanded on that side of the ball for this game. The Aggies has had nearly half of their key defensive players opt out or transfer. There is still talent on the roster but the unit that will be out there for this game hasn’t played together in a game and my algorithm projects that they’ll be about 6 points worse than the defense they fielded during the regular season. I project 450 yards at 6.7 yppl for Oklahoma State in this game (adjusted for playing in a dome).

The math favors Oklahoma State by 6.5 points and 60.4 total points. I’ll lean Over 55 points or less.

North Carolina vs
West Virginia

Wed, Dec 27 2:30 PM PT

Rotation: 243, Odds: West Virginia -6, Total: 58

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1-Star Best Bet Team Total – West Virginia TT Over (31.5 -120)

1-Star Best Bet at Over 30.5 at -165 or better, Over 31 at -150 or better, or Over 31.5 -135 or better

Alternate play, if your book doesn’t have Team Totals, is 1-Star Over 59.5 or less

Lean – West Virginia (-6)  39   North Carolina  27

North Carolina’s quarterback Drake Maye and top WR Tez Walker have both opted out of this bowl to prepare for the NFL draft combine. Walker missed the first 4 games but led the team in receiving yards with 699 while averaging 9.9 yards per target. The pass attack didn’t get any better because they lost WR Kobe Paysour to injury after 5 games and he averaged 10.4 YPT. Now both are out, as are the top two tight ends, who combined for 864 yards at 9.8 yards per target (#3 TE averaged 9.3 YPT on 17 targets). There are only 3 wide receivers and one tight end available for this game that got a pass thrown to them this season, which certainly makes it tougher for Conner Harrell, who is expected to get his first career start (just 6 career pass attempts). Harrell will certainly be hindered by those absences and should be a significant downgrade from a two-year starter. The Tarheels’ pass attack was 1.3 yards per pass play better than average and the worst UNC quarterbacks still rate at 0.5 yppp better than average, which is also about the difference between an inexperienced quarterback and a multi-year starter. With the further downgrade of the receiving corps, I rate the North Carolina aerial attack at 0.3 yppp worse than average. The Tarheels’ rush attack is 0.7 yards per rushing play better than average (+0.6 yprp without starting C Gaynor, who opted out), so I still expect a decent offensive performance from the Heels, who should be able to run the ball on West Virginia.

West Virginia’s defense was only 0.2 yppl better than average for the season and they should be a bit worse without starting DT Mike Lockhart and backup safety Hershey McLaurin, who lost his starting spot mid-season and decided to transfer. I project 398 yards at 6.0 yppl for North Carolina, as the Heels should be able to run the ball consistently well against a worse than average WVU run defense (5.5 yprp allowed to FBS teams that would average 5.3 yprp against an average defense) that is without a starting tackle that had 9 tackles for loss.

West Virginia has an underrated offense, as the two games they played without quarterback Garrett Greene were horrible (4.0 yppl against Pitt and Texas Tech). Greene averaged 8.0 yards per pass play against FBS teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback and he added 700 yards on the ground at 7.0 yards per run (not including sacks, which I include in pass plays). West Virginia rates at 1.1 yards per play better than average for the season with Greene in the game and the Mountaineers scored 34 points or more in 6 of their last 7 games and should top that in this game.

The Mounties’ leading rusher CJ Donaldson has decided not to play in this game, but that is a boost to the offense given that Donaldson averaged a sub-par 4.7 ypr while Jahiem White gained 792 yards (just 6 fewer than Donaldson) on only 97 runs (74 fewer than Donaldson) for 8.2 ypr (8.0 ypr vs FBS teams). Donaldson left because White had already become the featured back in recent weeks, running for 337 yards on 38 carries in the final two regular season games. Leading receiver Devin Carter is banged up and could possibly miss this game but Carter’s 8.8 yards per target was lower than the 9.4 YPT that the other 5 wide receivers averaged this season.

North Carolina’s defense was 0.1 yards per play worse than average and I rate that unit at 0.5 yppl worse than average without leading tackler Cedric Gray, who has opted out to prepare for the NFL combine, and CB Alijah Huzzie, who led the Tarheels in interceptions (3) and total passes defended (9) but is out with an injury. I project 523 yards at 7.6 yppl for West Virginia in this game (with an adjustment for their starting center being out), as White and Greene should both put up big numbers against a weakened UNC defense that wasn’t good even with Gray and Huzzie.

I really don’t understand the low total on this game, as 56 points is just 3.2 points higher than the national average of 52.8 total points. North Carolina’s games against FBS opponents averaged 59.8 points (excluding points scored in OT) while West Virginia’s FBS games averaged a total of 57.3 points, including 63.8 total points in the game in which Garrett Greene was at quarterback. Both team’s total points scored were well above the national average. I understand that Drake Maye and some receivers are out for UNC, but North Carolina’s defense is also without two of their best players and West Virginia’s offense was significantly better if you exclude the two games without Greene. I have North Carolina’s defense gaining 41 fewer total yards than the prediction before any adjustments were made but I have West Virginia gaining 71 more yards than the non-adjusted prediction.

West Virginia faced 5 average or worse defensive teams this season (Houston, Oklahoma State, BYU, Cincinnati, and Baylor) and the Mountaineers averaged 554 total yards at 7.8 yppl in those games – so the 523 yards at 7.6 yppl that I project in this game is not unreasonable. That should net West Virginia around 40 points and the math projects 27 points for North Carolina. A 22-4-1 ATS bowl dog on a losing streak situation favor UNC a bit, so I’ll call for a 12-point win.

There is significant value on the over, but most of it comes from West Virginia’s offense, which continues to be underrated and is even better now with White as the featured back. West Virginia’s offense exceeded their Team Total in 9 of 10 games with Greene at quarterback (I excluded the game he was injured early in the first quarter) and I expect the Mountaineers to go over their team total again in this game against a worse than average North Carolina defense that allowed 7 of 11 opponents to exceed their team total, including 5 of the last 6. I also prefer the West Virginia Team Total Over, rather than the game over because it’s possible that North Carolina’s offense is much worse than I project.

Based on the historical performance of my math model on sides and totals in bowl games, West Virginia has a 65.6% chance of scoring 31 points or more and 59.0% chance of scoring 32 or more points.

West Virginia’s Team Total is a 1-Star Best Bet at Over 30.5 at -165 or better, Over 31 at -150 or better, or Over 31.5 -135 or better.

The alternate play, if you don’t have Team Totals, is 1-Star Over 59.5 or less for the game.

Virginia Tech vs
Tulane

Wed, Dec 27 11:00 AM PT

Rotation: 241, Odds: Tulane +10.5, Total: 44.5

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Virginia Tech (-10.5)  29   Tulane  16

Tulane will be without the starting quarterback, their top three receivers and three defensive starters, including 2 that were 1st Team All-AAC, and now I see some value on Virginia Tech.

With quarterback Michael Pratt opting out to prepare for the NFL combine, it will be either Kai Horton (in the transfer portal but will play) or Justin Ibieta getting the start behind center for the Green Wave. Ibieta was ahead of Horton on the depth chart last season and has completed 26 of 39 career passes – and looked good in his only start last season versus Houston (5 completions on 5 pass plays for 57 yards) before getting injured. I’ll assume that both will perform at the same level that Horton did in two starts early this season when Pratt was hurt, which is 0.7 yards per play worse than average and 0.8 yppp worse than Pratt’s rating. I also must adjust for the absence of receivers Chris Brazell, Lawrence Keys (injury) and Jha’Quan Jackson (transfer portal), who combined for 1749 yards at 9.9 yards per target. The remianing receivers trying to fill the void combined to average just 7.1 YPT this season and the aerial attack struggled when Jackson was out in recent games and should be horrible without all 3 starting receivers and Pratt. I rate the Green Wave attack at 0.9 yppl worse than average (-0.1 yppl before adjustments).

I expect Tulane will try to run the ball more than normal given that Virginia Tech’s defense is 0.4 yards per rushing play worse than average and 1.0 yppp better than average defending the pass. I project Tulane with 258 yards at 4.6 yppl in this game, which includes an adjustment for the rain that is now expected throughout the game.

Virginia Tech’s offense started the season poorly, but Kyron Drones took over for an injured Grant Wells in week 3 and the offense improved significantly. Drones is about the same as Wells in compensated yards per pass play (+0.4 yppp) but Drones takes off running rather than forcing throws into coverage and the result was not only nearly 800 rushing yards at 6.6 yards per run, but he also threw just 3 interceptions in 10 starts. The Hokies’ offense was 0.7 yppl better than average with Drones at quarterback. Starting TE Dae’Quan Wright is not going to play but his 7.6 yards per target and 39% success rate is worse than backup Benji Gosnell, who averaged 8.9 YPT with a 58% success rate.

Tulane’s defense was 0.4 yppl better than average (5.1 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.5 yppl against an average team). Defensive line stars Devean Deal and Keith Cooper Jr. are both in the transfer portal but are reportedly going to play (both on the depth chart), but 3 other key defensive starters are not on the depth chart and will not play. The Green Wave will be without All-Conference DE Darius Hodges, All-Conference CB Jarius Monroe and starting S DJ Dougles. Those 3 are worth more than Deal and Cooper would have been worth. I rate the Green Wave defense at 0.1 yppl worse than average without those their 3 starters and project Virginia Tech to gain 397 yards at 6.3 yppl.

Overall, the math favors the Hokies by 13.1 points with a total of 45.4 points.

Louisville vs
USC

Wed, Dec 27 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 245, Odds: USC +7.5, Total: 58

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Strong Opinion – Over (58) – USC  30   Louisville  35

Lean – USC (+7.5/+7)

USC will be without likely #1 pick in the NFL draft, Caleb Williams but backup Miller Moss was a highly recruited player out of high school and has been in the system for two years. In two years of mop up duty in Lincoln Riley’s offense Moss has completed 35 of 46 passes and averaged 10.2 yards per pass. Most of that was against bad defensive teams but his compensated numbers are still really good and Lincoln Riley’s non-Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks were 1.7 yards per pass play better than average, which is what I’ll project Moss to be in this game.

Top running back MarShawn Lloyd has also opted out and his 7.1 yards per rush and 232 yards on 19 pass targets will be missed. However, the backup running backs combined for 6.0 ypr. Receiver Brendon Rice also decided to forgo the bowl game and he averaged 11.0 yards on his 72 targets this season. Tahj Washington led the team with 963 yards and 14.2 YPT and is going to play in this game before heading to the NFL. USC’s offense was 2.3 yards per play better than average this season (7.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.2 yppl to an average team) but I project them to be 1.4 yppl better than average with current personnel (0.9 yppl worse).

Louisville’s defense is 0.5 yppl better than average, accounting for facing Florida State’s 3rd string QB in the ACC Championship Game. LB/S Benjamin Perry is a game-time decision after being injured against Florida State and I’ll assume he’s out. I project 390 yards at 6.6 yards per play in this game.

Louisville’s offense was 0.7 yppl better than average, gaining 6.1 yppl against FBS teams that would combine to allow 5.4 yppl to an average team. Top RB Jawhar Jordan is out but his 5.7 ypr against FBS opponents (he had 135 yards on 7 runs against FCS team Murray State) isn’t much more than the 5.6 ypr that backups Guerendo and Turner averaged against FBS teams (149 runs for 837 yards).

USC’s defense was not as bad as their reputation, as the 6.1 yppl that the Trojans allowed was against teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average FBS defense. The unit will be worse without S Calen Bullock, who was third on the team in tackles and second on the team with 9 passes defended. Top CB Christian Roland-Wallace has declared for the NFL draft but there is no confirmation that he won’t play in this game. Starting CB Domani Jackson is out, but he only had 3 passes defended in 11 starts (and no sacks or TFL), so his absence isn’t that important (neither is LB Tackett Curtis, who lost his starting job in week 9). If I assume that Roland-Wallace is out then Louisville would be projected to gain 501 yards at 7.2 yppl for the Cardinals in this game.

I think the adjustment for Caleb Williams being out was overblown given how good even Riley Lincoln’s worst quarterbacks have been but the Trojans’ defense has been weakened by opt-outs, particularly if Roland-Wallace is out. I get Louisville by 8.5 points and 67.0 total points, but Louisville applies to a 19-58-2 ATS bowl favorite of more than 7 points situation while USC applies to a 60-23-3 ATS bowl situation that is based on their late season slide. There is obviously lots of variance in my projection regarding how good Moss will be in place of Williams but I’m certainly comfortable enough in my projection for a Strong Opinion on the Over.

The Over is a Strong Opinion at 60 points or less.

Note: The Lean on USC +7.5 was sent out before the additional defensive players opted out for USC. The situation is still strong enough to make the Trojans a profitable play (i.e. 52.5% or better) at +7 or more – so they are still a Lean.

SMU vs
Boston College

Thu, Dec 28 8:00 AM PT

Rotation: 249, Odds: Boston College +10.5, Total: 47

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Southern Methodist (-10)  30   Boston College  22

I don’t know how fired up SMU players will be to be playing a .500 Boston College team when they were hoping for a New Year’s 6 bowl game as the highest rated Group of 5 team (they fell 1 spot short to Liberty). SMU’s only two losses were in September road games at Oklahoma and at TCU while BC rolls into this game on a 3 game losing skid by an average margin of 20 points. Recent results are not an indication of the Eagles struggling in this game as Bowl underdogs on a 3 games or more losing streak are 9-1 ATS against a team that has comes into the bowl game on a straight up and spread win streak – and 8 of those 10 slumping dogs won straight up.

SMU’s offense was playing at an elite level for a 5 week stretch from week 9 through week 13 but quarterback Preston Stone was injured and Kevin Jennings managed just 5.7 yards per pass play against Tulane in the AAC Championship Game win (the offense averaged only 5.1 yppl). Jennings isn’t bad but he was 0.2 yppp below average on his 60 pass plays this season and hasn’t shown the big-play ability that Stone had (15.5 yards per completion for Stone and just 11.5 ypc for Jennings).

I do expect Jennings to post good numbers in this game against a bad BC pass defense (7.6 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average just 6.3 yppp against an average defense) that is even worse now without two injured starters in the secondary, including their only good defensive player. Cornerback Elijah Jones was injured in week 10 and will miss this game after missing the final 3 games of the regular season. Jones was Boston College’s only impact defensive player, as he had 5 interceptions and 13 total passes defended in just 9 games. Next on team in total passes defended is just 3 and one of the three players who accomplished that, safety Cole Batson, is also out with injury. In the 3 games without Jones the Eagles allowed 9.5 yards per pass play and allowed a 5.7% higher completion percentage than they had in the 9 games with Jones. I don’t think the pass defense is going to be that bad, but I value Jones and Batson at 2.5 points in this game – mostly due to Jones, who has 5 of the team’s 8 interceptions and 38% of the team’s total passes defended. BC is also worse than average defending the run (5.8 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.4 yprp) and SMU will likely lean on the ground game more than usual as they did against Tulane in Jennings only other start. I project 417 yards at 6.4 yppl for SMU in this game, with an adjustment for the wind and rain expected in Boston on Thursday morning.

The Boston College offense rates at 0.1 yppl worse than average and will be up against an SMU defense that’s been 0.7 yppl better than average this season (4.7 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average defense). I project just 337 yards at 4.8 yppl for the Eagles.

The math favors SMU by 9.2 points and 51.6 total points without adjusting for this game being played in the Eagles’ home city, which is probably worth a bit.

Rutgers vs
Miami Fla

Thu, Dec 28 11:15 AM PT

Rotation: 251, Odds: Miami Fla +2.5, Total: 41.5

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Miami-Florida (+2.5)  21   Rutgers  18

With this game being played in Yankee Stadium, I suspect they’ll be significantly more Rutgers’ fans (from nearby New Jersey) than Miami fans that are willing to leave the warmth of Florida to travel to the cold of the Bronx. However, I’d still rather have the ‘Canes here, as I think the line has overadjusted.

With star QB Tyler Van Dyke transferring, and backup Emory Williams injured the start at quarterback for the Hurricanes will go to Jacurri Brown. Brown didn’t play at all this season, but he struggled in the pass game last season – averaging just 3.2 yards on 53 pass plays. Brown is a good runner, as he tallied 286 yards on 48 runs in 2022. Miami actually won the lone game in which Brown started and played throughout, beating Georgia Tech 35-14 with the offense averaging 6.0 yards per play, but he was terrible in every other appearance. I adjusted based on his overall offensive performance versus Van Dyke’s numbers from last season and then adjusted down more for all of the other Hurricanes’ offensive players not playing in this game, which includes WR Colbie Young and two starting offensive linemen (C Lee and RG Cohen), who are pursuing the NFL.

Miami ran the ball about two-thirds of the time when Brown was in the game last season, including 41 runs against 20 pass plays in the game he started, and I expect a similar ratio in this game, which will help given that I project Miami to gain considerably more per run play than per pass play with Brown at quarterback. The pace of play will also be much lower with significantly more run plays, which lowers the total points projection by 3.1 points.

Rutgers has a good defense (0.4 yppl better than average) but star CB Max Melton has declared for the NFL draft and he is skipping this game. His absence makes the Scarlet Knights’ defense only 0.2 yppl better than average but it probably won’t matter nearly as much in this game with Miami likely running the ball a lot. I project 314 yards at 5.0 yppl for the Hurricanes.

Miami’s defense was 0.5 yppl better than average this season but not having their two best defensive backs puts them close to average heading into this game. Starting safeties Kamren Kinchens and James Williams have announced their intention to enter the NFL draft and Kinchens has already stated that he won’t play in this game. There has been no official announcement from Williams, but I’m going to assume he’s out too.

Rutgers isn’t likely to take full advantage of Miami’s back end with a quarterback that’s completed just 47.8% of his passes this season, but Miami’s two safeties are also good in run support (leading tackler and #3 tackler) and RB Kyle Monangai (1099 yards at 5.1 ypr) should benefit. Rutgers’ offense is 0.5 yppl worse than average for the season and Miami still has some great players on that defense, including Francisco Mauigoa (#2 tackler, including 17 tackles for loss) and Rueben Bain, who had 7.5 sacks. I project just 259 yards at 5.0 yppl for Rutgers.

Overall, the math favors Miami by 3.6 points with 39.0 total points, but it’s possible that Jacurri Brown could be worse that I project.

No Carolina St. vs
Kansas St.

Thu, Dec 28 2:45 PM PT

Rotation: 253, Odds: Kansas St. -2.5, Total: 47.5

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Kansas State (-2.5)  26   NC State  23

With Will Howard in the transfer portal it will be Avery Johnson at quarterback for Kansas State. Johnson was given plenty of plying time over a 3 game stretch from week 7 through week 9, as the two quarterbacks shared time. Howard eventually reclaimed the full-time job but Johnson was just as effective throwing the ball, as he completed 66% of his 35 passes an average more yards per pass play than Howard did for the season. Johnson’s compensated yards per pass play was 0.2 yppp better than Howard against FBS competition. When Johnson was in the game the Wildcats ran the ball 67% of the time, although that percentage went down to 63% run plays against TCU and Houston after 31 of 40 plays he was in versus Texas Tech were runs. Running the ball more isn’t a bad strategy against a Wolfpack defense that’s much better defending the pass (0.7 yppp better than average) than they are defending the run (average). The Wildcats’ offensive pace was also significantly lower in those 3 games with Johnson getting multiple possessions and I suspect the pace will be slower than normal in this game with more running expected. I should mention that Kansas State’s to two receivers, WR Phillip Brooks and TE Ben Sinnott have both opted out to prepare for the NFL. Brook and Sinnott combined for 8.0 yards on 158 targets while the next 4 wide receivers and next 2 tight ends combined for 8.5 YPT on 140 targets. I don’t think either will be missed. NC State All-American LB Payton Wilson was practicing with the team but has decided to skip the bowl game to focus on getting ready for the NFL combine.  Wilson had 138 tackles (nearly twice as much as the next on the team), including 17.5 for loss (6 of those being sacks) and he had 9 passes defended (3 of them interceptions), which is really good for a linebacker. My algorithm suggests that Wilson is worth 2.2 points. I project 357 yards at 6.3 yppl for Kansas State.

Brennan Armstrong was back at quarterback down the stretch and played much better in the final 3 games than he did in the first 5 games of the season (MJ Morris played the 4 in between then was shut down to preserve his redshirt and has since entered the transfer portal). Armstrong ended up being a bit better than Morris in compensated yards per pass play and he also adds the rushing attack with 549 yards on 96 runs (95 yards on 22 runs for Morris). NC State’s offense was 0.3 yppl worse than average for the season and I rate them at -0.2 yppl with Armstrong at quarterback. That rating would have been better if not for NC State running the ball much more with Armstrong in the game. In fact, like Kansas State, I expect a slower pace of play than the season norm for the Wolfpack, as they averaged 1.74 plays per minute over the final 3 games, compared to 2.00 plays per minute for the season.

Kansas State will be without half of their starting secondary, as S Kobe Savage and CB Will Lee have transferred and are not on the depth chart, as is the case for DE Nate Matlack, who was second on the team in sacks (4) and 3rd in total tackles for loss (7.5) while not starting one game. Those 3 are worth 2.4 points according to my algorithm that is based on their stats. I rate the Kansas State defense at 0.3 yppl better than average with current personnel and project NC State to gain 333 yards at 5.4 yppl.

After all the adjustments the I come up with Kansas State by 4.7 points and 49.1 total points. Kansas State applies to a 23-63-2 ATS bowl situation so I’ll make it Wildcats by 3 points.

Arizona vs
Oklahoma

Thu, Dec 28 6:15 PM PT

Rotation: 255, Odds: Oklahoma +2.5, Total: 62.5

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Lean – Arizona (-2.5)  34   Oklahoma  28

I would have favored Oklahoma by just 1.5 points if the Sooners were at full strength for this game, but the Sooners will be without star quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who has transferred, and two NFL caliber offensive linemen.

Gabriel had a great season, ranking 7th in the nation in compensated yards per pass play (9.0 yppp, which is 2.7 yppp higher than average). I’ll assume that 5-Star recruit, Jackson Arnold will play at the level of Gabriel’s 2022 level (his first year in the system), which is 1.2 yppp worse than Gabriel’s 2023 rating. Two NFL bound offensive linemen have opted out and another, who got 5 starts, has transferred, and I value the OL losses at 1.6 points. Oklahoma should still have a good offense with Arnold at quarterback, as I rate that attack at 0.5 yppl better than average (+1.4 for the season with Gabriel).

Arizona’s young defense significantly improved this season, and the Wildcats were 0.6 yppl better than average on that side of the ball, while being equally good defending the run and the pass. Oklahoma is projected to gain 400 yards at 5.8 yppl in perfect dome conditions.

The Wildcats will be without OT Jordan Morgan, who opted out to prepare for the NFL combine, but everyone else will play. Arizona’s offense averaged 6.8 yppl this season against teams that would combine to allow 5.3 yppl to an average attack and they were a bit better in 8 games with Noah Fifita at quarterback. Fifita completed 74% of his passes and averaged 7.9 yards per pass play against mostly good defensive teams that would combine to allow just 5.6 yppp to an average quarterback. The Cats are also 0.4 yards per rushing play better than average and I project 455 yards at 6.4 yppl against an Oklahoma defense that’s 0.9 yppl better than average (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.4 yppl).

The math favors Arizona by 5.7 points with 61.0 total points and I’ll lean with Arizona at -2.5 -120 or better.

Clemson vs
Kentucky

Fri, Dec 29 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 257, Odds: Kentucky +5, Total: 47.5

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Lean – Kentucky (+5)  20   Clemson  21

Lean – Under (46.5)

Clemson will be without 4 defensive starters, as DT Orhorhoro, LB Trotter Jr. and CB Wiggins have opted out to prepare for the NFL draft while S Makuba has transferred. The Tigers were 1.4 yards per play better than average defensively in the regular season and I project them at 0.9 yppl better than average without the 4 defectors. Kentucky’s offense is much better running the ball (6.0 yprp against teams that would allow 4.9 yprp) than they are throwing it (-0.4 yppp) but they still choose to throw the ball 56% of the time. Clemson is only 0.7 yprp better than average against the run, and projected to be just 0.3 yprp better than average with current personnel, and they’ve been 2.4 yppp better than average defending the pass (1.7 yppp better than average with current personnel), yet I still think Kentucky will stick to throwing it more than running it, as they had just one game all season in which they ran the ball more than they threw it (when they averaged 9.1 yprp against Florida). Star RB Ray Davis has decided to turn pro but has indicated that he intends to play in the bowl game. I project 271 yards at 5.0 yppl with winds in the teens throughout the game.

Clemson once again had a worse than average offense, on a national scale, as the Tigers managed to gain just 5.2 yppl against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average FBS attack. Number 2 receiver Beaux Collins has left the program, but he’s not that vital. Collins averaged 7.0 yards per target and the other 4 Clemson WRs that were in the rotation averaged 6.7 YPT. Kentucky’s defense is 0.6 yppl better than average and they should be intact, as the only NFL bound defender, CB Andru Phillips, has indicated that he intends to play in this game.

Clemson should control the ball for most of the game against a Kentucky defense that is designed to be bend-but-don’t-break. Kentucky allows a high percentage of completions (67%) while trying to avoid getting beat by big plays. Clemson’s pass attack is well-suited to beat a defense like that as long as they don’t turn it over, as the Tigers complete 63% of their passes for just 9.9 yards per completion. They’ll take the easy short throws all night long. Kentucky’s style of defense and inconsistent pass game is why the Wildcats were -11.4 in average plays differential this season – which should be worse in this game against a methodical Clemson offense and a defense that forces a lot of 3-and-outs. Clemson has a +11.8 average play differential. I project 349 yards at 4.8 yppl for the Tigers.

These teams should be pretty close in yards per play but Clemson should run a lot more plays from scrimmage and are less likely to turn the ball over. Kentucky does have better special teams (the FG kicking is 1.3 points better per game) and overall the math favors Clemson by 4.5 points and 40.7 total points.

While Clemson being favored by 5 points is pretty fair, the situation is strongly in favor of Kentucky. The Wildcats apply to a 75-14-1 ATS bowl situation while Clemson applies to a 12-59-1 ATS situation that is based on their late-season spread win streak. I’ll lean with Kentucky based on the situation.

Oregon St. vs
Notre Dame

Fri, Dec 29 11:00 AM PT

Rotation: 260, Odds: Notre Dame -6, Total: 41.5

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Lean – Oregon State (+6)  21   Notre Dame  23

Oregon State is without starting quarterback DJ Ulagaleilei, top running back Damien Martinez (1185 yards at 6.1 ypr), their top wide receiver Anthony Gould (9.2 yards per target), their TE Jack Velling (438 yards at 8.8 YPT) and 3 starting offensive linemen. On defense, the Beavers are without what amounts to 3.5 starters – leading tackler LB Mascarenas-Arnold, S Akili Arnold, LB Calvin Hart Jr., and CB Jermod McCoy, who started 5 games, but had a team-leading 9 passes defended. Their excellent place-kicker (made 13 of 14 FGs) is also gone.

Ben Gulbranson, who started 8 games last season, will be the quarterback and he was 0.5 yards per pass play better than average in 2022, which is 1.5 yppp worse than Ulagaleilei. He should be worse than that without their best WR and starting TE. The running back taking most of the load with Martinez out is Deshaun Fenwick, who ran for 500 yards at 5.6 ypr this season. The Oregon State offense was 1.5 yppl better than average this season (6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 5.3 yppl to an average team) and I have that unit rated at just 0.1 yppl better than average heading into this game. The Beavers’ defense was 0.9 yppl better than average this season and I rate that unit at 0.4 yppl better than average for this game.

Notre Dame will be without star QB Sam Hartman, their top 3 wide receivers, their top 2 tight ends, and 4 starting offensive linemen who combined for 44 of the 60 OL starts this season. WR Chris Tyree is the big loss at receiver, as he averaged 13.1 yards on his 37 targets while Flores and Merriweather combined to average 8.6 YPT on 79 targets. The 3 starting wide receivers for this game, combined for 710 yards at 9.7 yards per target, so the receiving corps is still good. The issue is not having Hartman, who elevated the pass attack from a compensated yards per pass play range from +0.8 yppp to +1.1 yppp from 2018 through 2022 to +2.1 yppp this season. The best guess for first time starter Steve Angeli is in that pre-Hartman range but with a negative adjustment for the receivers and offensive linemen that won’t be playing (I come up with a -0.1 yppp rating for this game). Top running back Audric Estime (1225 yards at 6.2 ypr against FBS opponents) will be replaced but backups Love, Price and Payne, who combined for 578 yards at 5.0 ypr against FBS teams – although Love and Price are listed as co-starters and combined for 5.9 ypr (Payne, at 3.5 ypr, is listed as a backup but should get a handful of carries). I have the Irish offense also rated at +0.1 yppl better than average after all of the adjustments.

On defense the Irish will be without 3 starters (LB Liufua, CBs Hart and Harper) and reserve edge rusher Nana Osafo-Mensah. Those losses are not all that bad, as those 4 players combined for just 8 sacks, 11.5 other tackles for loss and only 8 passes defended. Notre Dame’s best defensive players are all on the depth chart and expected to play. There is still an adjustment to be made but I rate Notre Dame’s defense at 1.0 yppl better than average for this game.

There is obviously a lot of variance involved in a prediction of a game with so many players out, but I come up with Notre Dame by 4.8 points with a total of 44.0 points, which includes a positive adjustment for what is expected to be a very calm afternoon in El Paso.. Oregon State does apply to a 75-14-1 ATS bowl situation that won this bowl season with Duke, another team with a lot of changes in the roster. I’ll lean with Oregon State plus the points based on the situation, which has a 54.2% chance of working based on the historical performance of trends with a similar statistical significance.

Memphis vs
Iowa St.

Fri, Dec 29 12:30 PM PT

Rotation: 261, Odds: Iowa St. -7, Total: 57.5

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Note: This game was the first bowl Best Bet that I released a few weeks ago when the line was -7. Iowa State is now a 10.5 point favorite but there is still value on the Cyclones – just not enough for a Best Bet unless the line drops to -10 (which it might). Strong Opinion at -10.5 or -11.

2-Star Best Bet – **Iowa State (-7)  38   MEMPHIS  21

Memphis is 9-3 but the Tigers are not a good team. Memphis has been outgained in their 11 games against FBS opponents and they have been very fortunate to face a couple of teams that were not close to their best. They played Arkansas State in week 2 before the Red Wolves benched ineffective quarterbacks Shrout and Dailey (combined 3.8 yards per pass play on 71 pass plays) for Raynor (a good runner and passer), and they faced UAB without Jacob Zeno (74% completions) and instead went up against the Blazers #2, #3 and #4 quarterbacks. Memphis still allowed 6.6 yards per play to FBS teams that would combine to average 5.3 yppl against an average team (adjusted for opposing QB’s faced) and today they’ll be without starting S Cameron Smith, who led the team with 3 interceptions and was 2nd in total passes defended with 9.

The Tigers’ offense is only 0.3 yppl better than average but their top two offensive linemen have entered the transfer portal, including LT Makylan Pounders, who gave up just 1 sack all season. I rate the Memphis attack at just 0.1 yppl better than average without their two offensive line stars and that was a conservative adjustment.

Iowa State averaged 6.4 yppl and allowed just 5.1 yppl against a good schedule of teams and rated at 0.9 yppl better than average on both sides of the ball after adjusting for schedule strength. However, the Cyclones are not as good as their very good compensated yards per play differential of +1.8 yppl, as that was skewed by their 16.6 yppl to 4.9 yppl week 13 game against Kansas State in which they had a handful of huge plays. Iowa State has a -11.7 plays per game differential (mostly due to the 31 plays to 102 plays discrepancy in that win at Kansas State), due to the big plays on offense and bend but don’t break defensive philosophy. Iowa State’s compensated line of scrimmage rating for the season is 10.0 points per game better than average, which takes play differential into account, and that rating is +8.6 points after adjusting for outliers, which I do in my model. Memphis, by contrast, has a line of scrimmage rating of -8.4 points (-9.9 without their two OL stars) and had just one higher than average LOS rating all season (+2.2 points in their 4-point loss to a good SMU team).

Iowa State is even better now that Abu Sama has taken over at running back Sama lead the team in rushing by a comfortable margin despite just 72 runs, as he averaged 8.5 ypr. I don’t expect him to maintain that average, but he did average 6.1 ypr even if you exclude the 276 yards on 16 runs against Kansas State. The other two running backs saw the writing on the wall and transferred, which is no loss given their poor production (just 4.3 ypr on 189 runs). The Iowa State run game would be 0.5 yards per run better if you just replaced those 189 runs with the average ypr of all Cyclones’ running backs (5.3 ypr), which is what I decided to do even though it’s very likely that Samu is better than 5.3 ypr given his 6.1 ypr average even without his best game included. The Cyclones’ big play attack should move the ball very well against the horrible Memphis defense while the Memphis offense (+0.3 yppl) is likely to struggle against a very good Iowa State defense that is 0.7 yppl better than average without CB TJ Tampa, who opted out.

My math favors Iowa State by 17 points, even with 2.5 points being given to Memphis for playing in their home stadium – even though Iowa State may have more fans in the stands (they Cyclones have a history of travelling well). The true line is in between the market line and my math model prediction, and I calculate the true line as ISU by 13.6 points (adjusted for the line move) based on the historical performance of my model vs the market line in bowl games. There is still good value on the Cyclones at -10 or less and Iowa State is a 2-Star Best Bet at -7 -120 or better and 1-Star up to -10 points (Strong Opinion at -11).

Missouri vs
Ohio St.

Fri, Dec 29 5:00 PM PT

Rotation: 263, Odds: Ohio St. -3, Total: 49

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Lean – Ohio State (-3)  30   Missouri  23

Ohio State will be without starting quarterback Kyle McCord, who transferred, and reports are that All-American WR Marvin Harrison Jr. will not play. Harrison averaged 10.4 yards per target on 117 targets despite being double-teamed more than any receiver on the team. The rest of the wide receivers combined for just 8.4 YPT, so his absence is significant for Devin Brown, who will get his first start at quarterback. Brown didn’t look particularly good when he did get an opportunity to play (7.4 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 7.3 yppp to an average QB), but he also didn’t play with the starting receiving group in the mop-up duty he got. I’ll assume the standard difference between a 1st-year starting QB and his backup and add the adjustment for Harrison being out. WR Fleming has transferred, but he averaged only 6.3 yards on his 43 targets this season, which is 2.2 YPT lower than the next lower WR on the team – so his absence is a plus. While the pass game won’t likely be as good, the Buckeyes will have star RB TreVeyon Henderson, who averaged 6.2 ypr and has said he intends to play in this game. Ohio State’s rushing attack was just average for the season (5.0 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 5.0 yprp to an average team) but they were +0.4 yprp in the games that Henderson played (-0.9 yprp in the 3 games he missed). The Buckeyes’ offense was 1.3 yards per play better than average in the regular season (6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl) and I rate their attack at +0.8 yppl without their quarterback and star receiver.

Missouri has no players opting out and no key players transferring. Only injured defensive starters LB Ty’Ron Harper and CB Ennis Rakestraw are expected to miss this game and those two aren’t particularly impactful. West Virginia’s defense allowed just 21.8 points per game and was 0.7 yppl better than average (5.5 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.2 yppl against an average defense) and I rate that unit at 0.5 yppl better than average without their two injured starters. I project 428 yards at 6.4 yppl for Ohio State in this game (adjusted for playing in a covered stadium).

Missouri’s offense was only 0.1 yppl worse than Ohio State’s offense, as the Tigers averaged 6.8 yppl against teams that would allow 5.6 yppl to an average team, and that unit is intact for this game. Ohio State’s defense will be without starting S Lathan Ransom, who is injured (played just 8 games) and possibly top tackler LB Tommy Eichenberg, who is questionable to play. I don’t think either is particularly important, as despite leading the team in tackles, Eichenberg has just 2.5 total tackles for loss and no passes defended while Ransom was 10th on the team in tackles and defended just 3 passes. It’s possible that a couple of defensive players could be late opt-outs but most of the key players have already indicated that they’re playing and the Buckeyes defense should be pretty close to as good as they were in the regular season, which was among the best defensive teams in the nation. Ohio State yielded just 11.0 points and 4.2 yppl (with starters in the game) to teams that would average 5.8 yppl against an average defensive team and I project 354 yards at 5.6 yppl for Missouri with a 50% chance that Eichenberg is out (he doesn’t make much of a difference whether he plays or not).

The math favors Ohio State by 6.8 points with a total of 53.4 points and the Buckeyes apply to a 44-11-1 ATS bowl situation. I’ll lean with Ohio State at -3 or less.

Mississippi vs
Penn St.

Sat, Dec 30 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 265, Odds: Penn St. -5, Total: 48.5

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Penn State (-5/-4.5)  26   Mississippi  23

This game is going to be determined in a battle of strength versus strength between the Ole Miss offense and the Penn State defense.

Mississippi’s attack has been 1.0 yards per play better than average this season (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and is intact for this game, aside from injured RT Micah Pettus. Penn State’s defense was one of the nation’s best this season, yielding just 11.8 points per game and 4.0 yppl (with starters in the game) against teams that would gain 5.7 yppl against an average stop unit. It looks like just two Penn State defenders won’t play in the game, as DE Chop Robinson has stated that he’s skipping this game and CB Johnny Dixon hasn’t been seen at practices that were open to the media. CB Kalen King, a likely first-round NFL draft pick, is set to play, as are LB Jacobs and CB Hardy. Penn State is projected to be 0.2 yppl worse without those two players and I project 348 yards at 5.4 yppl for the Rebels, which includes the positive adjustment for playing in a dome.

Penn State is offensively challenged, as the Nittany Lions managed just 5.4 yppl against teams that would combine to allow 5.4 yppl to an average attack. The Rebels’ defense only allowed 22.3 points per game and 5.4 yppl, despite giving up 10.1 yppl to Georgia) and they held every mediocre or worse offense they faced to 21 points or fewer. Only LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia topped 24 points against Mississippi and the only other teams to top 21 points were good offensive teams Georgia Tech (23 points) and Alabama (24 points). Ole Miss will be without pass-rusher Cedric Johnson, who has opted out of the bowl. Johnson had 5.5 sacks, which tied for the team lead, and is worth 0.8 points based on my algorithm. I still rate the Rebels’ defense at 0.5 yppl better than average without Johnson and project 409 yards at 5.4 yppl for Penn State in this game.

The math favors Penn State by 3.7 points with 49.4 total points and the Nittany Lions apply to a 19-57 ATS bowl situation.

Toledo vs
Wyoming

Sat, Dec 30 1:30 PM PT

Rotation: 271, Odds: Wyoming -4.5, Total: 44.5

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Lean – Toledo (+3.5)  22   Wyoming  21

Toledo would have been a solid favorite in this game, but Wyoming became the bettors’ choice when Rockets’ dual-threat QB Dequan Finn decided to enter the transfer portal. That would not have been enough for me to favor the Cowboys in this game, but Wednesday night news that MAC Player of the Year RB Peny Boone was entering the transfer portal will make it tougher for the Rockets – especially with Wyoming players likely to give an inspired effort in hopes of sending their beloved head coach Craig Bohl to retirement with a victory in his final game.

Boone ran for 1400 yards at an impressive 7.2 yards per rush while backup Jacquez Stewart averaged a sub-par 4.7 ypr on his 101 runs this season. Finn averaged 7.5 yards per pass play against FBS opponents that would combine to allow 6.8 yppp to an average FBS quarterback and he also ran for 656 yards on 109 runs (not including sacks, which I count as pass plays). Backup Tucker Gleason should get the start in this game, and he started two games and played most of 3 games last season and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by this opportunity. Gleason has been 0.3 yppp worse than average on his 152 career pass plays (6.7 yppp against teams that would allow 7.0 yppp) but he’s also a good runner, averaging 7.25 yards average on his 36 career runs, which is higher than Finn’s average (although I won’t assume he’s a better runner based on 36 runs). Toledo was 0.6 yards per play better than average offensively this season, but I rate the Rockets’ attack at 0.6 yppl worse than average without Finn and Boone (although Boone has not officially announced that he won’t play in this game, as of Friday) and their starting left guard.

Wyoming’s defense has been 0.4 yppl better than average this season (5.2 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.6 yppl) and they haven’t lost any significant players (only a CB that wasn’t starting down the stretch). I project 299 yards at 4.8 yppl for Toledo.

Wyoming’s offense is predicated on the running of Harrison Waylee, who averaged 5.9 ypr and gained 856 yards on 9 games. The Cowboys struggled to run the ball in the 3 games that Waylee missed but were 0.3 yprp better than average with their star back. Quarterback Andrew Peasley adds the running attack but he’s a very inconsistent passer- having a couple of games averaging over 10 yards per pass play and a couple of games averaging 2.3 yppp or less. Overall, Peasley was 0.9 yppp worse than average throwing the ball but he only threw 5 interceptions on 241 pass attempts, as he takes off running rather than forcing throws into coverage.

Toledo’s defense was 0.1 yppl better than average this season (5.0 yppl allowed to FBS teams that would combine to 5.1 yppl against an average defense) and the Rockets’ stop unit appears to be intact for this bowl game. I project 336 yards at 5.3 yppl for Wyoming.

The math favors Wyoming by 3.2 points with 42.2 total points and Toledo applies to a 76-15-1 ATS bowl underdog situation that is 2-1 so far this season (won with Duke and Kentucky lost with Oregon State). I’ll lean with Toledo at +3 or more based on the strong situation.

Georgia vs
Florida St.

Sat, Dec 30 1:00 PM PT

Rotation: 269, Odds: Florida St. +20, Total: 44

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Georgia (-20)  31   Florida State  10

Florida State may have been deserving of a playoff spot but they were not one of the best 4 teams in the nation – even with star QB Jordan Travis. Now the Seminoles will be fighting not to get embarrassed in a game in which they’ll be without a handful of key players.

Florida State’s offense went from very good to mediocre to bad as they went from Heisman Trophy candidate QB Jordan Travis to backup Tate Rodemaker to third-stringer Brock Glenn, who totaled 30 yards on 25 pass plays in the ACC Championship game against Louisville. Brock can’t possibly be that bad, as he does have a scholarship to a good program and was rated as the #20 to #25 quarterback coming out of high school last year. Glenn will be without the team’s top 3 receivers, as wide receivers Coleman and Wilson (combined 91 catches for 1275 yards) and tight end Jaheim Bell (39 catches for 503 yards) have all opted out. The Seminoles will also be without their top two running backs, as top rusher Trey Benson opted out and #2 back Lawrence Toafili is out after having surgery. The #3 and #4 backs have averaged around 5.0 ypr in recent years for FSU, and about that this season against FBS opponents, and that would be a huge downgrade from Benson and Toafili, who combined for 1316 rushing yards at 6.1 ypr in 11 games against FBS foes.

Georgia’s defense was 1.4 yppl better than average this season and they will apparently be without just one starter for this game (LB Jamon, Dumas-Johnson, who started 9 games). I project only 204 yards at 3.6 yppl for FSU in this game assuming Glenn isn’t nearly as bad as he was against Louisville.

Florida State’s defense played at an elite level this season and was 1.3 yards per play better than average (adjusted for facing Miami and Florida’s backup QBs, and a few other adjustments) but the Seminoles will be without what amounts to 5 ½ starters, including star DE Jared Verse and top CB Renardo Green, who defended 14 passes. That unit should still be good, as there is still plenty of talent remaining, but I rate them at just 0.6 yppl better than average for this game.

Georgia’s offense was 1.7 yppl better than average with their starters in the game during the regular season and it looks like they’ll only be without one starting offensive linemen and TE Brock Bowers, who led the team in receiving. Bowers may not be much of a loss, as backup TE Oscar Delp averaged 9.5 yards on his 24 targets against FBS opponents, which is the same average as Bowers. Georgia’s pass offense was 0.3 yppp worse in the 3 games that Bowers missed so I’ll make that adjustment. I project 408 yards at 6.5 yppl for the Bulldogs.

After all the adjustments I get Georgia by 21.5 points and 41.9 total points but it’s possible that Glenn could be better than expected. I’ll pass.

Auburn vs
Maryland

Sat, Dec 30 11:00 AM PT

Rotation: 267, Odds: Maryland +6.5, Total: 47.5

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Strong Opinion – Maryland (+6.5)  26   Auburn  27

Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland’s 4-year starting quarterback, won’t play in this game but I think the adjustment made by the market was too much and didn’t take into account how much Auburn’s defections are worth.

Auburn was better when quarterback Payton Thorne was on the field and backup Robby Ashford has transferred. However, the Tigers’ only impactful receiver, Ja’Varrius Johnson, entered the transfer portal and is not on the depth chart for this game. That’s huge, as Johnson averaged 13.3 yards on 26 targets against 11 FBS opponents while the rest of the receivers combined to average only 6.1 YPT. Replacing Johnson’s 26 targets with the average of the rest of the receivers is a difference of 0.7 yards per pass play, which equates to 1.9 points per game. Auburn’s offense was 0.2 yards per play better than average for the season (5.6 yppl against FBS opponents that would combine to allow 5.4 yppl to an average team) and I rate that unit as average with Thorne but without Johnson.

Maryland’s defense was 0.4 yppl better than average in the regular season (5.0 yppl allowed, excluding garbage time, to teams that would average 5.4 yppl against an average defense) and I rate that unit at 0.2 yppl better than average without starters LB Barham and CB Still. Still isn’t as important in predictive metrics, as he had just 7 passes defended and 5 other players on the defense have at least that many. He was valuable because 5 of those 7 passes defended were interceptions, but future interceptions are predicted using passes defended (and/or completion percentage allowed) so while 5 interceptions is worth about 20 points his passes defended is worth only about 6 towards a prediction of future interceptions – which is why he’s not as valuable as he might seem. I have Maryland’s defense rated a bit better than Auburn’s offense and I don’t think the significance to Johnson being out for Auburn is reflected in the market. I project 363 yards at 5.6 yppl for the Tigers in this game.

Maryland was 0.6 yppl better than average offensively this season but should be significantly worse without 4-year starting QB Taulia Tagovailoa. Billy Edwards is in line to get the start behind center, and he’s not been good throwing the ball when given the opportunity to play in the past. Edwards has averaged only 3.9 yards on his 65 career pass plays and he was 2.7 yppp worse than average in his one career start, last season against Northwestern, when he averaged only 4.3 yppp against a defense that would allow 7.0 yppp on the road to an average QB (game was played at Maryland). Edwards has shown some ability to run, as he ran for 93 yards on 12 runs in his lone start and has averaged 7.8 yards on 29 career runs, excluding the 10 yards on 12 QB sneaks this season (6 went for touchdowns). I expect more running with Edwards at quarterback (and better running) but project a drop of 1.6 yppp from Tagovailoa, who was 0.8 yppp better than average this season. Maryland’s offense rated at 0.2 yppl worse than average in Edwards’ start last season against Northwestern and I project the Terrapins’ attack to be 0.2 yppl worse than average with Edwards at quarterback for this game (could be better given that the Maryland offense was better overall this season than it was last season).

Auburn’s defense was disappointing this season, rating at just 0.4 yppl better than average (5.9 yppl allowed to FBS teams that would average 6.3 yppl against an average defense) and they’ll be significantly worse heading into this game. The Tigers will be without 4 starters, as CB DJ James, CB Nehemiah Pritchett, DT Marcus Harris, and S Jaylin Simpson are all not on the depth chart for this game. I calculate those losses as worth 0.53 yppl (3.6 points) and project the Tigers’ defense to be 0.1 yppl worse than average for this game. I predict Maryland’s offense to gain 386 yards at 5.9 yppl, as the Terrapins should run the ball really well against a defense that was just average against the run in the regular season (5.4 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.4 yprp against an average defense) and is without their best interior defensive lineman. I don’t expect much from Edwards in the passing game, but it will help having 2 of 4 starters in Auburn’s defensive backfield out (as well as 8 game starter Pritchett, who has transferred).

I would have favored Maryland by 1.7 points before all the adjustments for transfers and opt outs. Obviously, Tagovailoa is the most significant player not playing (worth 6.6 points) but Auburn lost a lot of defensive talent (3.6 points worth) and their only explosive receiver (1.9 points). Maryland’s other defections, aside from Tagovailoa, are only worth 1.6 points. I get Auburn by just 1.0 points and 52.8 total points and there is just no way to justify Auburn being favored by nearly a touchdown in this game.

Maryland is a Strong Opinion at +6 points or more and a Lean down to +4.5 points.

Wisconsin vs
LSU

Mon, Jan 1 9:00 AM PT

Rotation: 273, Odds: LSU -10, Total: 56

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Louisiana State (-10)  34   Wisconsin  26

Jayden Daniels had the best season of any quarterback in the history of college football. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. He not only had one of the best passing seasons of any quarterback in history – 10.6 yards per pass play against FBS teams that would allow 5.8 yppp to an average quarterback, which was better than Joe Burrow’s compensated yppp average in 2019 – but he also ran for 1209 yards on 108 runs (not including sacks, which are included in pass plays) and only threw 4 interceptions. LSU had the best compensated yards per rushing play in the nation, easily had the best compensated yards per pass play rating, and their overall offensive rating with Daniels in the game (+3.6 yards per play) was 1.2 yppl better than the next best offense this season (Oregon) and the best I’ve recorded in my 38 years of data (barely better than Oklahoma in 2018).

LSU’s running backs were just 0.3 yprp better than average and backup quarterback Garrett Nussmeier has been 1.8 yppp better than average on 118 pass plays in two years under Brian Kelly. That’s a very good pass rating and the difference in the offense when taking out Daniels’ running and inserting Nussmeier’s very good +1.8 yppp rating (that would be 21st best in the nation) amounts to about 14 points per game and that adjustment goes up a bit when you add in the extra chance of interceptions. The overall adjustment for Daniels being out is more than 15 points – by far the most for one player in all the years I’ve been handicapping. The rest of the offense is expected to play, and I rate that unit at +1.0 yppl for this game, which is still very good (would rank 20th in the nation).

Wisconsin’s defense was only 0.3 yppl better than average this season and they’ll be without starting CB Jason Maitre, starting DE Rodas Johnson, and #3 tackler LB Jordan Turner. Former starting CB Alexander Smith has missed the last couple of games with an injury but he is listed as the backup on the depth chart and I’ll assume he’ll play. I rate the Badgers’ defense as average without those 3 starters and project 467 yards at 7.0 yppl for the Tigers in this game.

With star RB Braelon Allen (984 yards at 5.4 ypr) opting out to get ready for the NFL combine, and Chez Mellusi (306 yards at 6.0 ypr) injured it will be Jackson Acker and Cade Yacamelli getting the work at running back in this game. Those two combined for just 4.1 ypr on their 87 runs and I expect a significant drop in yards per run play. However, I also expect Wisconsin to throw the ball about 60% of the time in this game without Allen, so the overall impact of not having Allen (and starting C Bortolini) isn’t as much as it would be if the Badgers ran it 47% of the time as they did in the regular season.

Tanner Mordecai will be at quarterback and while he was better than backup Braedyn Locke (who played 3 ½ games while Mordecai was injured), the pass attack was still 0.6 yppp worse than average with Mordecai pulling the trigger, as he averaged just 5.7 yppp against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average quarterback. Not having receivers Skyler Bell and Chimere Dike, who both hit the transfer portal, should not be an issue given that those two combined for just 6.3 yards per target on 99 targets while the rest of the wide receivers also averaged 6.3 YPT. The Badgers’ offense was 0.4 yppl worse than average in the regular season and I rate that attack at -0.6 yppl for this game even with more throwing expected.

LSU’s defense was not great this season (6.2 yppl allowed to FBS teams that would average 6.1 yppl against an average defense) but that unit is intact now that CB Sage Ryan has withdrawn from the transfer portal and is practicing with the team for this game. I project just 381 yards at 5.3 yppl for Wisconsin’s offense.

The math favors LSU by 8.2 points, with 60.8 total points.

Iowa vs
Tennessee

Mon, Jan 1 10:00 AM PT

Rotation: 275, Odds: Tennessee -6, Total: 35.5

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Lean – Iowa (+6)  18   Tennessee  19

Iowa’s offense was more dreadful than normal this season and finally got OC Brian Ferentz fired for his years of ineptitude. I expect Iowa to be a dangerous team next season with a competent offensive coordinator to go along with their perennially strong defense, but for now it’s Ferentz still in charge of an offense that managed just 16.6 points per game and only 4.1 yards per play this season (against teams that would allow 5.6 yppl to an average offense). The offense is a bit worse with Deacon Hill at quarterback (-1.6 yppl) and they could be without star C Logan Jones, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury. Jones played against Michigan in the Big 10 Championship Game but is not listed on the depth chart for this game. Confusing matters is that Jones participated in interviews this week and there was no mention of him not playing (I’ll assume he’s 50% to play).

Tennessee’s defense was outstanding the first 7 games of the season, as the Vols yielded just 4.6 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl against an average defense. However, an injury to star CB Kamal Hadden turned that unit into one that was barely better than average over their last 5 games of the season. Hadden led the team in interceptions (3) and total passes defended with 11 (next best is 7 PD) despite playing in just 7 games and the Vols allowed 70% completions and 7.8 yards per pass play in 5 games without star cornerback (to QBs that would combine to average only 6.6 yppp against an average defense). Making matters worse is that 3 other full or part-time starters in the secondary, along with a couple of backups, have entered the transfer portal and won’t play in this game. Neither will DE Tyler Baron, who was second on the team in sacks (6) and third in total tackles for loss (10.5). Tennessee’s defense was 0.8 yppl better than average for the season and I rate that unit at 0.2 yppl worse than average for this game. Iowa isn’t going to take full advantage of the depleted secondary and I project the Hawkeyes with just 280 yards at 4.3 yppl in this game.

Tennessee’s offense was not nearly as good this season without receiving talent they had in 2022, but the Vols still managed to rate at 1.2 yards per play better than average offensively, which ranked 19th best in the nation. That attack won’t be as good in this game, however, as starting quarterback Joe Milton and top two running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small have all opted out (and starting OL Spraggins is injured). Nico Iamaleava will get the start at quarterback but losing Wright is just as detrimental to the offense, as his 7.4 yards per run won’t be replaced, although new lead back Dylan Simpson did average 5.5 ypr on his 86 runs this season and he is their best receiver among the backs. I rate the Volunteers’ offense at just 0.5 yppl better than average for this game.

Iowa’s defense was 2nd best in the nation in compensated yards per play, allowing just 13.2 points per game and 4.0 yppl (against teams that would combine to average 5.7 yppl against an average defense). That unit held every team they played to 4.5 yppl or less, including yielding just 3.5 yppl to Michigan. CB Cooper Dejean has been out since week 12 and will miss this game, but the Hawkeyes were even better in the 3 games that he missed – although I won’t assume they’ll be better than their season rating in this game. I project 349 yards at 4.5 yppl for Tennessee in this game.

The math favors Tennessee by just 1.7 points with a total of 38.1 points with the value appearing to come from the market not fully factoring in how important Hadden was to the Vols’ defense. Iowa also applies to a 78-28 ATS bowl situation that plays on the significantly better defensive team as an underdog. I’ll lean with the defensively superior underdog, which is historically a good play in bowl games.

Liberty vs
Oregon

Mon, Jan 1 10:00 AM PT

Rotation: 277, Odds: Oregon -17, Total: 67.5

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Oregon (-17)  43   Liberty  25

Oregon’s offense was the second-best unit in the nation (behind LSU) and the Ducks averaged 41.1 points on over 500 total yards per game at 7.8 yards per play (with QB Nix in the game) against FBS opponents that would combine to allow 5.3 yppl to an average offense. The unit will be weakened by two of their best players opting out – Remington Award (top center) winner C Jackson Powers-Johnson and top WR Troy Franklin, who caught passes for 1383 yards at 12.0 yards per target. The rest of the receivers combined to average 9.8 YPT but Franklin is worth a couple of points and Powers-Johnson will be hard to replace (I value him at 1.4 points, double the value of a normal offensive line starter). Oregon would still have the nation’s second-best offense without those two players and QB Bo Nix and NFL-bound RB Bucky Irving have stated that they will play in this game.

Liberty’s defense was 0.2 yards per play worse than average this season, rating average against the run and 0.4 yards per pass play worse than average defending the pass, which doesn’t bode well in this game against one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation operating a pass-heavy offense. Liberty will be without starting CB Preston Hodge and DT Kendy Charles, who both transferred. Hodge has 10 passes defended and will be missed, and the run defense was better in the 7 games that Charles played this season. I’ll assume #4 tackler Jerome Jolly will play after he missed the CUSA championship game with an injury (he’s on the depth chart). I rate the Flames defense at 0.5 yppl worse than average without Hodge and Charles. I project 540 yards at 8.6 yppl for the Ducks in this game, which includes the boost for playing in a covered stadium.

Liberty’s offense played at an elite level this season, averaging 40.8 points per game and 7.6 yards per play (with starters in) against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average attack. Oregon’s defense was 1.3 yppl better than average this season, allowing 5.1 yppl to teams that would combine to average 6.4 yppl against an average defense and they would have been better than that if opponents didn’t run 62% pass-plays against them. The Ducks will be weakened by the absence of NFL-bound CB Khyree Jackson (and a backup CB that transferred, which will hurt depth) but I still rate that unit at 1.1 yppl better than average (assuming there are no late opt outs that haven’t been announced as of Saturday night). I project 416 yards at 6.4 yppl for Liberty.

The math favors Oregon by 17.6 points with 68.2 total points.

Alabama vs
Michigan

Mon, Jan 1 2:00 PM PT

Rotation: 279, Odds: Michigan -2, Total: 45.5

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Michigan (-2) 23   Alabama  21

This game is a toss-up as far as I’m concerned. The math predicts Michigan by a bit more than the number but Alabama has a history of success against better teams and Michigan has failed in the playoffs in two other opportunities.

Alabama’s offense has been 1.3 yards per play better than average with Jalen Milroe at quarterback, averaging 6.4 yppl against FBS teams that would combine to allow 5.1 yppl, which doesn’t include their horrible week 3 game against USF when Milroe was benched. The Tide attack hasn’t been quite as good against elite defensive teams, as they were +1.0 yppl in games against Texas, Texas A&M, and Georgia (5.6 yppl against teams that would allow 4.6 yppl) and Michigan’s defense is on par with Georgia, as the best they’ve faced this season.

Michigan has yielded only 9.5 points per game on 4.1 yppl (not including garbage time when backups were in) to teams that would combine to average 5.4 yppl against an average defensive unit. That unit only faced one other elite offensive team and they gave up 24 and 6.5 yppl in that game to Ohio State, who rates about the same as Alabama offensively. The only other good offense that Michigan faced was Maryland and the Terps also scored 24 points, although on just 4.3 yppl. The Wolverines were 1.4 yppl better than average defensively in those two games against good offensive teams but they were just 0.6 yppl better than average against the Buckeyes. I project 305 yard at 5.6 yppl for Alabama in this game (not yet adjusted for weather).

Michigan’s offense averaged 36.7 points per game and 6.4 yppl (with QB McCarthy in the game) against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average attack. The average points scored was inflated by 5 defensive touchdowns and Michigan averaged just 4.9 yppl against the 3 elite defensive teams that they faced – Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa, who would combine to allow 4.1 yppl to an average team. Like Alabama, Michigan’s offense was 0.2 yppl worse, relatively against good defensive teams (+0.8 yppl) than it was overall (+1.0 yppl).

Alabama’s defense shouldn’t have any trouble limiting the Michigan running backs, as Corum and Edwards combined for just 4.3 ypr this season, and the Tide gave up just 3.9 ypr to running backs (excluding FCS team Tenn-Chattanooga and garbage time). Alabama’s only issue in run defense was against running quarterbacks, as Brown (USF), Milton (Tenn), Daniels (LSU) and Thorne (Auburn) combined for 457 yards on 51 runs (9.0 yprp). McCarthy can run but he doesn’t run often (39 runs for 297 yards), although I expect that he’ll run more in this game. The Bama pass defense yielded just 5.6 yards per pass play to quarterbacks that would combine to average 7.3 yppp against an average defensive team. However, the Tide were not quite as good against very efficient quarterbacks, rating at 1.5 yppp better than average in games against Texas, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia. I project 328 yards at 5.2 yppl for the Wolverines in this game (not yet adjusted for weather).

I have Michigan gaining 23 more yards from scrimmage but Alabama averaging 0.4 more yards per play. Overall the line of scrimmage stats are pretty even and I give Michigan an advantage in projected turnovers (1.3 points) and a bit of an edge in special teams. The math favors the Wolverines by 2.2 points overall, with 44.2 total points (with +0.8 points based on the early forecast).

Alabama is usually at their most dangerous when they’re not expected to win and that goes back to before the Nick Saban days. My database goes back to 1980 and the Crimson Tide are 57-30-1 ATS as an underdog or pick, including 49-18-4 ATS when you exclude games in which they had a win percentage of less than .550 (the not so good Bama teams in the era before Saban turned things around). Saban’s Alabama teams are 13-5 straight up and 13-4-1 ATS in games when not favored by more than 3 points, so they tend to play their best against other elite teams. Michigan is just 6-14 SU and 8-11-1 ATS from -3 to dog under Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines have done a good job getting over the hump against Ohio State in recent years but they still haven’t won a playoff game, losing 11-34 to Georgia in 2021 and getting upset by an inferior TCU team last season. Michigan also lost 16-35 to Alabama on New Year’s Day 2020. The math leans slightly with Michigan but I’d be reluctant to back the Wolverines. This game is a hard pass for me.

Texas vs
Washington

Mon, Jan 1 5:45 PM PT

Rotation: 281, Odds: Washington +4, Total: 63.5

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Texas (-4)  34   Washington  30

Star running back Jonathan Brooks was lost for the season in week 11 and the Longhorns have run it well in 3 games since (6.4 yprp). However, a 57-yard run by a rarely used back in garbage time against Oklahoma State contributed to that average and I don’t expect the active running backs, who combined for 5.3 ypr on 239 runs for the season, to match the production of Brooks – although I still rate the Longhorns’ ground attack at 0.7 yards per rushing play better than average. Brooks was also valuable in the passing game, as he caught 25 of 29 passes thrown to him for an average of 9.9 yards per target. The other backs combined for just 6.0 yards per target on 44 targets this season. Quinn Ewers was 2.0 yards per pass play better than average this season (8.1 yppp against teams that would allow 6.1 yppp to an average QB) but I rate the Longhorns’ pass attack at +1.8 yppp without Brooks. I value Brooks at 1.8 points, but Texas is still a very good offense without him (+1.4 yppl).

Washington’s defense was 0.9 yppl better than average during the regular season and the Huskies are particularly good defending the pass (5.9 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 7.2 yppp against an average defense). They’ve been even better, relatively, against elite quarterbacks but Ewers has been relatively better throwing the ball against elite pass defenses. I project 448 yards at 6.2 yppl for Texas, which includes the benefit of playing in a dome.

Washington’s offense started the season on a record-breaking pace, averaging 9.3 yards per play with QB Michael Penix in the game (against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average offense). Washington’s offense cooled down and ended the season at 2.0 yppl better than average (7.4 yppl against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl). Part of the reason for that slowdown was the absence of star WR Jalen McMillan, who was injured from week 4 through week 12 (0 catches in a few games he tried to play during that span). McMillan was still third on the team in receiving yards despite catching passes in only 5 games. He looked fully healthy in the Pac-12 Championship game, as he caught 9 passes for 131 yards on 13 targets against Oregon. With McMillan healthy, and dampening the affect of the early season positive outliers, I rate the Huskies’ offense at 1.9 yppl better than average.

The Texas defense is among the best in the nation defending the run (3.9 yprp allowed to teams that would average 5.3 yprp) and they’re 1.1 yards per pass play better than average. Washington’s offense is 60% pass plays during the regular season and they’re happy to throw the ball more rather than trying to run against the Longhorns, which makes the Texas defense not as effective. I project 409 yards at 6.7 yppl for Washington in this game.

Texas has elite special teams that are a couple of points better than Washington’s good special teams units (the FG kick is 1.0 points better) and overall the math favors Texas by 4.0 points with a total of 63.6 points. That’s right on market. Pass.

Washington vs
Michigan

Mon, Jan 8 4:30 PM PT

Rotation: 287, Odds: Michigan -5, Total: 56

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Lean – Washington (+4.5) over Michigan

Washington’s offense started the season on a record-breaking pace, averaging 9.3 yards per play in the first 4 games of the season with QB Michael Penix in the game (against teams that would allow 6.1 yppl to an average offense). Washington’s offense cooled down when WR Jalen McMillan got injured but the Huskies scored 71 points in their last two games against elite defensive teams Oregon and Texas with McMillan fully healthy again. McMillan tried to get back into the offense a couple of times in the middle of the season and came back a bit early for the Apple Cup game against rival Washington State (just 5 catches for 26 yards, mostly on screen passes). He’s looked fully healthy in the Huskies’ last two games with 14 catches on 19 targets for 189 yards. Having McMillan available gives quarterback Michael Penix 3 elite receivers to throw to along with star Rome Odunze (1553 yards at 11.9 yards per target) and Ja’Lynn Polk (1122 yards at 10.8 YPT). Jermie Bernard is a very good 4th receiver, as he’s caught 34 or 42 passes targeted at him for 10.0 YPT and Giles Jackson (only 5.3 YPT on 20 targets while McMillan was out) no longer plays. Having their full arsenal of wide receivers available makes it nearly impossible for an opposing defense to cover them all and Penix will make defenses pay for doubling Odunze with other explosive options in single coverage. Penix has averaged 8.9 yards per pass play for the season, against teams that would allow 5.8 yppp to an average quarterback (+3.1 yppp), but he’s been 3.8 yppp better than average in 6 games with McMillan (9.9 yppp against teams that would allow 6.1 yppp).

Michigan has yielded only 10.1 points per game on 4.1 yppl (not including garbage time when backups were in) to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average defensive unit. That unit registered 6 sacks against Alabama last week, but sacking Jalen Milroe is not that difficult, as he was sacked 44 times in the 13 games he played. It’s going to be markedly different in this game, as Washington was awarded the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best offensive line and should neutralize the Wolverines’ pass rush. Penix has been sacked just 10 times in 14 games (no more than 2 in any game) and his accuracy, especially in a dome, is very impressive (he easily led the nation is completion percentage on deep passes). If you watched the game against Texas you might have noticed a number of perfectly thrown balls down the field to receivers that were really well covered. It almost doesn’t matter how good a pass defense is, as Penix can still connect with receivers that aren’t open. That makes Washington’s offense relatively better against better defensive teams and Michigan can be beaten by a group of good receivers if their pass rush isn’t getting to the quarterback. The Wolverines gave up 8.7 yards per pass play to Ohio State and their elite group of receivers while registering just 1 sack. That game was the only game they played against a team with an elite group of receivers and an offensive line that can protect the quarterback (Ohio State allows just 5.2% sacks, which is good, but not as good as Penix’s 1.9% sack rate). The math, using the 6 games with McMillan and adjusting for playing in a dome, projects Washington to average 6.6 yards per play – although just 366 total yards because Michigan figures to control the ball and limit the Huskies’ possessions.

Michigan has averaged 37.0 points per game and 6.4 yppl (with QB McCarthy in the game) against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average attack. However, the average points scored was inflated by 5 defensive touchdowns (and an OT touchdown last week) and Washington’s defense (0.9 yppl better than average) is nearly as good as the Michigan offense was this season. I expect Michigan to stick with their run-first approach against a Washington defensive front that is just 0.4 yards per rushing play better than average, which is the same as the average rating of run defenses of all teams that the Wolverines faced this season. I heard mention, more than few times, about how poorly Washington ranked in pass defense, but those rankings are based on pass yards allowed and the Huskies not only faced 40.2 pass attempts per game, but they also faced a schedule of mostly very good passing teams. The reality is that Washington’s pass defense is very good, as they’ve yielded just 6.0 yppp this season to quarterbacks that would combine to average 7.5 yppp against an average defensive team. Holding Bo Nix (#2 in the nation in compensated YPPP at +3.5 yppp) and Quinn Ewers (2.1 yppp better than average) to a combined 6.9 yppp in their last two games is very impressive. JJ McCarthy doesn’t throw often but he’s very good when he does throw (+2.2 yppp). Michigan’s top two running backs, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, have combined for just 4.3 yards per rush this season, which is not good considering that they’ve faced teams that would allow 4.7 yards per rushing play to an average FBS team. Washington, while not great against the run, probably won’t be hurt too much by the Michigan run game. The Wolverines would be wise to throw the ball more than they do, even against a very good Washington pass defense, but I doubt that they will given that the Huskies aren’t as good defending the run as they are defending the pass. I project 397 yards at 6.0 yppl for Michigan.

Overall, the math favors Michigan by just 1.5 points with a total of 55.5 points, and Washington is now 5-0 straight up as an underdog under coach Kalen DeBoer with two of those being as dogs of 9.5 and 12.5 points. DeBoer is 10-1 ATS in his career as a head coach (previously at Fresno State) when not laying 3 points or more, so he’s always had his teams play their best against other good teams. I’ll Lean with Washington plus the points.