Bowl Games! They’re college football’s weirdest tradition, amounting to an exhibition postseason for all but four schools. The earliest slate of 2017 bowl games, which take place on December 16th, range from the interesting (Oregon vs Boise State) to the intriguing (Troy vs North Texas) to the very concerning (WKU vs Georgia State).
Betting on bowl games is notoriously difficult, because teams might not be doing specific game prep, star players might elect to sit out, and they generally take place at neutral sites, but they shall be broken down and handicapped one and all. The lines below are available on Bovada.
New Orleans Bowl: Troy (-7) vs North Texas
As much as I love that North Texas offense, and I do love that North Texas offense, Troy (10-2 SU, 5-7 ATS) proved perfectly capable against Arkansas State to end the season, won the Sun Belt handily, and only lost in the opening week (to Boise State) and the week after beat LSU, both of which are understandable. North Texas (9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS) has been good recently, but struggled against Florida Atlantic, and Troy is considerably better than #THEfaU on defense.
My pick: Troy (-7) to cover.
Cure Bowl: WKU (-6.5) vs Georgia State
God, Georgia State (6-5 SU, 4-7 ATS) is bad. To say that they’re lucky to be a bowl team is an understatement; three of their six wins — and not one of their losses — came by less than one score. I wouldn’t call Western Kentucky (6-6 SU, 3-9 ATS) a good team by any measure, but they do a good job of floating just below replacement level in most categories, while Georgia State is just truly dreadful on offense.
Both these teams have been struggling against the spread in recent weeks, with Western Kentucky 3-9 this season and Georgia State 1-5 in its last 6 games. This pick purely comes down to how much Georgia State will struggle to score, even against a relatively average team like Western Kentucky.
My Pick: Western Kentucky (-6.5) to cover.
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon (-7.5) vs Boise State
Perhaps the most important element of this game is the departure of Oregon head coach Willie Taggart, the elevation of Mario Cristobal to head coach, and the incoming “early signing period” that has functionally become the new National Signing Day for top recruits. Since Taggart’s departure, Oregon (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) has been haemorrhaging recruits, and institutional resources and attention will be focused on limiting losses in college football’s second most-important competition.
Furthermore, is Boise State (10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS) not a better football team than Oregon? The Ducks are slightly more effective on offense, but are far from the Chip Kelly days of yore, and the Broncos are more balanced. Justin Herbert is great and everything, but you can’t make a bet because of one player, unless he’s DeShaun Watson-caliber.
My pick: Boise State (+7.5) to cover.
New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs Colorado State (-5.5)
One of those lopsided games where everything’s great when the ball is going one way — i.e. when Colorado State (7-5 SU, 4-8 ATS) is on offense — and unwatchable when it’s going the other way. Colorado State is markedly the better team. Their defense is awful, but it’s not as bad as Marshall’s offense, which is 91st in yards per game. You’d be forgiven for thinking that any team that loses 9-7 to UTSA is beyond saving, at least in terms of watchability.
Watchability isn’t value, however, and Colorado State is 0-5 ATS in its last five games. That puts them well behind Marshall, who were 8-4 ATS (7-5 SU) this year. Colorado State did go against some crazy lines (failing to cover a 32.5-point spread against San Jose State is not a real blemish on your record), but still: getting blown out by Air Force as the favorite doesn’t look good.
My pick: Marshall (+5.5) to cover.
Camelia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs Arkansas State (-3.5)
Arkansas State (7-4 SU, 7-4 ATS) has been much better than their record would suggest, and unlike a lot of their mid-major brethren, their doing it on the fun side of the ball, averaging 498 yards per game with Justice Hansen absolutely slinging it. Middle Tennessee (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS) is fine, a .500 team if I ever saw one, and this line is crazy short.
Justice Hansen is a gunslinger, in every sense of the word. His 15 interceptions and 8.4 yards per attempt suggest a volatility that bettors might be uncomfortable with, but I’m not sure Middle Tennessee’s defense has what it takes to force those turnovers.
My pick: Arkansas State (-3.5) to cover.