Bowl season is right around the corner, and with that said, it’s time to examine which games are the best bets, and which ones to stay away from. This year’s college bowl slate falls into three buckets – Sure Things, If Your Feeling Lucky, and Save Your Money.
Like the 1985 John Cusack movie ‘The Sure Thing,” these are elusive, so this is as close as you’re going to get this college bowl season.
Independence Bowl: Florida State (-14) over Southern Miss (over/under, 50.5)
While Jimbo Fisher leaving for Texas A&M makes this interesting, taking the ‘Noles at -14 is a pretty safe bet. They truly had the season from hell and are looking to end on a good note. The smart play here is Florida State, although the over/under of 50.5 seems to be a bit on the high side.
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona (-4.5) over Purdue (over/under, 63)
This is an interesting matchup pitting Khalil Tate against a stingy Purdue Defense allowing just 19.3 points per game. Tate looked unstoppable in the middle of the season, but came back down to earth a bit in the past couple of weeks. He’ll be heathier by the time this matchup rolls around though, and Purdue hasn’t seen anything like him, or the type of offense Arizona runs, this season. Arizona at -4.5 is as good as it gets and take the under.
Music City Bowl: Northwestern (-8.5) over Kentucky (over/under, 51)
This one may be the easiest of them all. Northwestern ended this season on a tear, winning its last 7 games after starting 2-3. Kentucky has been outscored 86-30 in its last two games. Expect Northwestern to cover easily, and keep it relatively low scoring. Take the under.
Tax Slayer Bowl: Louisville (-6) over Mississippi State (over/under, 63)
Lamar Jackson is playing every bit like the Heisman Trophy winner he was last season (maybe even better). He’s shown himself to be human at times this year, especially against good defensive competition. It won’t matter in this game. Without quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, it will be almost impossible for the Bulldogs to keep pace. Take the over here, and most of that will come from Louisville.
Peach Bowl: Auburn (-10) over UCF (over/under, 63)
UCF deserves all the credit in the world for how quickly they’ve been able to turn things around under Scott Frost, but facing this Auburn team is a tall order – just ask Alabama or Georgia (the first time, at least). UCF’s defense has looked suspect the past couple of weeks, and if Memphis can hang 55 on them, just imagine what Kerryon Johnson and the rest of the Auburn offense might do. At the rate UCF can score, Auburn at -10 points might be generous, and the ‘over is as close as you might ever get to printing your own money.
If You’re Feeling Lucky…
Sugar Bowl: Clemson (+2) over Alabama (over/under, 47.5)
I expect this line to change before game time, but Clemson at +2 makes sense for a variety of reasons. Clemson looks like the new class of college football, and Alabama hasn’t looked like themselves lately. Both teams are going to have trouble scoring, and a slugfest favors Clemson because of the talent they have up front. This is looking like it will be a defensive battle, so take Clemson and the under for sure.
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech (+6.5) over Oklahoma State (over/under, 62.5)
Oklahoma State has one of the most electric offenses in college football, so taking the over here may seem like a no-brainer. However, you can point to a few occasions this season where teams have been able to slow them down, and Virginia Tech has the talent on defense to do it. This will be a lower scoring game than most are expecting, and that type of matchup favors the Hokies.
Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State (+5) over Oregon (over/under, 63)
This game is another one featuring a high point total, as we so often see in college football. It may end up being a shootout, so taking the over is smart. The sudden departure of Willie Taggart may have Oregon feeling a little deflated. Boise State, who usually plays well in bowl games even against Power 5 competition, might be a safe bet.
Holiday Bowl: Michigan State (+4.5) over Washington State (over/under, 44.5)
Washington State was upset by Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl last year, when the Gophers defense held Luke Falk and Washington State to just 12 points. Michigan State’s defense could do something similar. Even with a relatively low over/under, take the under.
Orange Bowl: Miami (+6.5) over Wisconsin (over/under, 45)
The initial line must have failed to take into account the fact that this is effectively a home game for Miami. While they have not looked good at all over last two games, they will bring into this one some extra motivation, something Wisconsin may lack after falling out of the playoff. Stay away from the over/under in this game.
Save Your Money
Rose Bowl: Oklahoma (-1) over Georgia (over/under, 59)
Oklahoma has been a scoring machine all season, but they have never faced a defense like Georgia’s. On the other hand, Georgia has also never faced an offense like Oklahoma’s. Betting on either team here is risky, and betting the over/under is even more risky. You’d be smart to stay as far away from this one as possible.
Fiesta Bowl: Penn State (-3) over Washington (over/under, 56)
Penn State looked like world-beaters at the beginning of the season before falling to Ohio State and Michigan State in consecutive weeks. The same could be said for Washington before they lost to Arizona State, and later Stanford. These teams have very similar strengths and weaknesses, making matchups like these very difficult to predict.
Cotton Bowl: Ohio State (-7) over USC (over/under, 64.5)
The outcome of this game will depend entirely on which Ohio State/USC team shows up. If you are going to bet on this, take the under.
Alamo Bowl: TCU (-2) over Stanford (over/under, 46.5)
Stanford was competitive in their conference title game, which is more than can be said about TCU. Both these teams have looked good at different points in the season, but have lacked consistency. Inconsistency is never something you want to bet on. But if you feel compelled, take the over. This has potential to be a high-scoring affair.
Outback Bowl: Michigan (-8.5) over South Carolina (over/under, 42)
Why is Michigan such a big favorite? They’re riding a two game losing streak and starting another new quarterback. South Carolina could very well upset them, but don’t bet on it. The under is mildly attractive, even with the lowest point total of bowl season.