College football bowls best bets: Betting advice for every game


Overall records
Connelly: 31-20-2 (1-1 in bowls)
Steele: 33-42-1 (3-4)
Johnson: 35-25-1 (1-1)
Kezirian: 47-36-1 (0-1)

Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook, unless otherwise noted. All times Eastern.

SoFi Hawai'i Bowl

Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors vs. BYU Cougars (-1.5, 64)

(8 p.m. Dec. 24 on ESPN at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu)

Steele: Most bowls have a split crowd, but Hawai'i will be playing in its home stadium. BYU QB Zach Wilson went 18 of 18 passing in a 49-18 bowl win last season. Wilson missed four games midseason but has returned to form. BYU was the only team in the country to open with four Power 5 opponents and pulled upsets of Tennessee and USC. Hawai'i lost twice at Boise, including in the Mountain West title game. BYU beat that same Boise team, but it was against a backup QB. Hawai'i is 4-4 straight-up and 3-5 ATS in this bowl. Hawai'i went to the run-and-shoot, and head coach Nick Rolovich goes with the hot hand at QB between Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro. In its past six regular-season games, Hawai'i averaged 188 yards per game rushing, and the offensive line allowed just 22 sacks on 588 pass attempts. BYU's defense has recorded just 12 sacks. Hawai'i beat two Pac-12 teams at home this season, and BYU is just 1-5 as a favorite this season.

Lean: Hawai'i +1.5

Kezirian: Who doesn't love betting the Hawai'i Bowl? It is an "island game" (pun intended), serving as your lone college football action on Christmas Eve. On that merit alone, it often finds a way into your betting portfolio, but I still think there is value on BYU's offense. The Hawai'i defense ranks 103rd out of 130 schools in defensive efficiency. The Warriors played better down the stretch, but I am going to chalk that up to facing weak offenses. Their final three regular-season opponents (UNLV, San Diego State and Army) have offensive efficiency that ranks worse than 90th. This is still a defensive unit that can get torched by BYU. I also think Hawai'i should score and considered the game total over, but I am slightly more confident in isolating BYU's team total. There is a chance that BYU's physicality could bother Hawai'i, much like we saw Boise State do in the Mountain West title game when the Warriors mustered only 10 points.

Pick: BYU team total over 33 points (FanDuel)

Walk-On's Independence Bowl

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs vs. Miami Hurricanes (-6, 49.5)

(Dec. 26, 4 p.m. on ESPN at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana)

Steele: Sometimes a bowl game just comes down to motivation, and this one appears to be clear. Miami came off a bad loss to FIU and the next week managed just 57 yards in the second half in a loss to Duke. The Hurricanes are already down multiple players, as two defensive ends and wide receiver Jeff Thomas have announced they will skip the bowl, and more could follow. Offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson will also miss the game with an injury. Miami figures to have a handful of fans make the 1,125-mile trip, while Louisiana Tech fans have a short drive.

Louisiana Tech has options on offense, and Skip Holtz is a perfect 5-0 straight-up in bowl games with the Bulldogs, including a 35-18 win over Illinois in 2014. Play this game in September and I am taking the Hurricanes by a couple TDs, but this game is in Louisiana, and a highly motivated Tech team has a great shot at pulling the upset.

Pick: Louisiana Tech +6

Johnson: This is one of the more mind-boggling spreads to me in bowl season. Anybody that has been doing projections throughout the season knows this number is way too low. Even those that don't do their own numbers recognize this line to be low. So how do you quantify the motivation levels of a Miami team coming off of a disappointing 6-6 season? The market seems to believe it is worth roughly six points relative to my projection (Miami -11.6).

The Hurricanes dropped six games this season, but five were one-score games and they were dealing with a quarterback shuffle for a good portion of the season. Miami actually beat five bowl teams, and now they go up against a 9-3 Louisiana Tech squad that faced the 141st strength of schedule (yes, 141st; there were FCS programs that played tougher competition this year). The Hurricanes have a few position players on the offensive side of the ball that are questionable, but I'm still getting a defense that ranked No. 12 in adjusted success rate and No. 4 in havoc rate at an extremely cheap price. If they no-show, then so be it. But I'm trusting the numbers and betting the Canes.

Pick: Miami -6

Quick Lane Bowl

Pittsburgh Panthers (-10.5, 49) vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles

(Dec. 26, 8 p.m. on ESPN at Ford Field in Detroit)
Steele: Pitt is the stronger team and has a significant edge on defense. Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass III has completed 68% of his passes with 22 TDs and 10 INTs, and running back Shaq Vann missed three games but still ran for 691 yards. Pitt was a power-running team last year and averaged 5.6 YPC, but this year the Panthers threw 53% of the time and averaged only 3.5 YPC. Pitt's defense, led by defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, has 49 sacks, while the Eagles' defense has only 19 sacks.

For my bowl confidence contest, I am high on Pitt winning this game, but I like Eastern Michigan against the spread. Pitt is just 2-6-1 ATS as a double-digit favorite, and Eastern Michigan is 6-1 ATS as a double-digit 'dog.

Lean: Eastern Michigan +10.5

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman

North Carolina Tar Heels (-5, 53.5) vs. Temple Owls

(Dec. 27, Noon on ESPN at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland)
Steele: Mack Brown did a great job in his first year back in Chapel Hill taking over a team that was 2-9 last season and getting them to a bowl. North Carolina is an underrated team, as all six losses were by seven points or fewer, and the Tar Heels faced 10 Power 5 teams and Appalachian State (Temple faced just two Power 5 teams). I give a slight edge on defense to Temple but a large edge on offense to North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have a deep running back corps, their true freshman quarterback Sam Howell led the ACC in passing and they have dangerous receivers in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. While the Tar Heels average 111 yards above their opponent's average, Temple's offense averages 26 yards per game fewer than opponents allow. The clincher is Brown is 13-8 in bowl games and Rod Carey is 0-6.

Pick: North Carolina -5

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Michigan State Spartans (-4.5, 49.5) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

(Dec. 27, 3:20 p.m. on ESPN at Yankee Stadium in New York)
Steele: Michigan State enters this game needing a win to avoid a losing season. Just like last year, the Spartans have a solid defense that allows only 319 yards per game, but they have struggled to run the ball (3.5 YPC) and quarterback Brian Lewerke has thrown too many interceptions (12) and only 16 TDs.

Wake opened the year 7-1, but wide receiver Scotty Washington missed the past four games, wide receiver Sage Surratt missed the past three and the Demon Deacons lost three of their last four. Surratt is out, and both Washington and quarterback Jamie Newman are questionable.

Wake Forest was ranked only 83rd on defense, allowing foes 19 yards per game above their season average. Michigan State took on the tougher schedule, but I can't trust that offense getting over a field goal. Dave Clawson is a perfect 3-0 straight-up in bowls at Wake.

Lean: Wake Forest +4.5

Kezirian: This isn't so much a play on Wake Forest as it is a play against Michigan State. Anyone who read this column during the regular season knows I faded Sparty as often as possible. I had high expectations for this team and actually played their season win total over but jumped ship early once their offensive ineptitude crystallized. The Spartans rank 100th in the nation in yards per play and 78th in offensive efficiency.

I also think Wake Forest's style will serve as an advantage. The Demon Deacons averaged 83.7 plays per game (No. 1 in the nation), which should allow Wake to soften a strong Sparty defense and find some big opportunities. Of course, all of this is contingent on Newman. The star quarterback is questionable with a right leg injury but is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart. I am optimistic he plays.

Pick: Wake Forest +4

Johnson: Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman is expected to start, but he's still technically questionable for the game. He has more upside than backup Sam Hartman, but Hartman has plenty of games under his belt and started the majority of the games last season. My projection is Wake Forest +1.3, so I'm certainly thrilled taking four points against a Sparty team that only averaged 22 per game on offense and ranked 98th in yards per play (5.0).

Sparty will be tough to run the ball against, but their pass defense has allowed over a 61% completion rate (ranks 75th) and nearly seven yards per attempt. The Demon Deacons finished the season averaging eight yards per pass attempt and rank 16th in passing success rate. I don't put much into the coaching matchup in this particular game because I'm still a Mark Dantonio believer, but the tone surrounding the Michigan State program as of late certainly isn't a positive one, and Dave Clawson has led Wake Forest to three straight bowl wins. I'm fine with seeing a fourth or at the very least a close game that gets us a cover.

Pick: Wake Forest +4

Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas A&M Aggies (-7, 53.5)

(Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m. on ESPN at NRG Stadium in Houston)

Steele: Texas A&M is just 7-5, but all five losses were to teams currently ranked in the top 13. Isaiah Spiller has done well to fill a void at running back (869 yards rushing), and quarterback Kellen Mond is a dangerous dual-threat player. Despite facing three of the top offenses in the country, the Aggies' defense held opponents to 78 yards per game below their season average.

Oklahoma State has an average defense and is led on offense by Chuba Hubbard, the nation's leading rusher. Quarterback Spencer Sanders missed the final two games, and the Cowboys' offense averaged just 305 yards and 18 points per game over that span. There is a chance Sanders could return, but the Cowboys will be without top receiver Tylan Wallace, who was lost for the year after Week 8.

Jimbo Fisher is 6-2 in bowl games and last season led A&M to an easy 52-13 win over NC State. The Aggies are in Houston for this, so they should have a solid crowd edge and use this as a springboard for 2020.

Lean: Texas A&M -7

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

USC Trojans vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (-1.5, 52.5)

(Dec. 27, 8 p.m. on FS1 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego)
Steele: I find it challenging to pick a side in this game, so I will focus on the total. Iowa has been an under team most of the year and has held opponents to 81 yards per game below their season average. Only three quarterbacks Iowa has faced this year rank in the top 20 in pass efficiency, and those teams averaged 441 yards vs. Iowa, while the other nine foes put up 259 yards per game. USC's Kedon Slovis is No. 10 in pass efficiency and threw for 352 yards per game in his nine starts. The Trojans averaged 33.2 points and 462 yards per game and were held below 27 points only once. They have an elite wide receiver corps and put up 30 points against a tough Utah team. USC's defense, however, has been plagued by injury and is allowing opponents 13 yards above their season average while giving up 34 points per game the last four games. This is Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley's last chance to impress NFL scouts.

Lean: Over 52.5

Connelly: My pick here doesn't have to do with SP+, it has to do with second-order wins, which I wrote about for Chalk back in October.

Basically, if you add up a team's postgame win expectancy figures, you end up with an expected win total. For some teams, expected and actual win totals can differ drastically, which suggests that regression to the mean is coming at some point.

Said regression probably isn't going to start in bowls, though. When teams with "lucky" win totals (actual wins > second-order win totals) face teams with "unlucky" ones, the lucky teams are a crazy 37-15-1 ATS over the last 10 years and 21-6-1 over the last five. This trend applies to Iowa-USC, among a few others. Iowa's second-order win total was 7.6, but the Hawkeyes went 9-3. USC's win total (eight), meanwhile, was slightly below its projected 8.2. So let's ride with Iowa here and see what happens.

Pick: Iowa -2.5

Kezirian: This comes down to the eye test, and simply put, the Trojans have far superior talent. While I have been impressed with Iowa at times this season, the Hawkeyes still have too many limitations for my liking. I don't see a scenario where they keep up with USC's speed on offense. The Trojans ranked 14th in the nation with 6.4 YPP and I expect chunk plays. USC ranks 12th in the nation in offensive efficiency, and now has had a few more weeks to groom true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. He took over midseason and seemingly has improved every single game.

The Hawkeyes will score some against USC's occasionally weak defense but I doubt they can slow down USC's receivers enough.

Additionally, USC figures to have avoided significant distractions with its coaching staff. The university decided to bring back head coach Clay Helton, and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is also returning after flirting with Texas and other suitors. He is a major reason for Slovis' development, and overall the situation bodes well for USC in this bowl game.

Pick: USC +2.5

Johnson: My projection for the total in this matchup is 55.5. USC ranked eighth in offensive success rate fielding one of the best -- if not the best -- wide receiver units in the country. On the other side, Iowa graded out 40th in success rate after adjusting for strength of schedule, which probably surprises people. It's obviously tough going up against Big Ten defenses week after week, but the Hawkeyes were more efficient moving the ball than it appeared. Their problem was head coach Kirk Ferentz's conservative play-calling and decision-making. Iowa led the nation in field goal attempts per game (2.8) and makes (2.4). The Hawkeyes seemingly shut it down and played for the field goal every time they got into the red zone, and I need two hands to count the times I was screaming at the screen when Ferentz kicked on 4th-and-1 this year.

Well, the Iowa offense gets a breath of fresh air seeing a banged-up USC defense that ranked 111th in success rate. The only defense the Hawkeyes saw that ranked worse this season was Rutgers (112th). I anticipate the Hawkeyes and Ferentz convert a few more drives into touchdowns in this matchup, and while their defense ranked top-30 in most metrics, they have to go up against an offense that rates better than the majority of teams they faced. I'll be rooting for points.

Pick: Over 52

Cheez-It Bowl

Air Force Falcons (-3, 67.5) vs. Washington State Cougars

(Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. on ESPN at Chase Field in Phoenix)
Steele: When a pure passing team takes on an option team, I usually go with the over, as neither team can imitate the other teams' offense anywhere near the level of what they are facing. This is that type of matchup and has some key numbers that back the over. Washington State has struggled to stop the run, allowing 4.9 yards per carry on the ground, and matches up with an Air Force offense that rushes for 293 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Air Force has a solid defense, but the Achilles' heel is pass defense, where it ranks just No. 95 in my pass defense rankings. And Washington State's Anthony Gordon has thrown for 5,228 yards and 45 touchdowns while completing 72% of his passes. The last team with the ball wins.

Pick: Over 67.5

Kezirian: Will Air Force punt? I'm honestly not sure it will. Wazzu has a horrendous defense (107th in defensive efficiency). It ranks 123rd in YPP allowed and 108th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (5.0), which is obviously a critical stat when facing the Air Force flexbone offense. The Falcons should carve up this suspect defense with chunk plays and minimal resistance. The Cougars have a powerful offense and they could pull off the win, so I feel more comfortable opting for the Air Force team total.

Pick: Air Force team total over 35 (FanDuel)

Johnson: I won't overthink this one with my projection coming in at 71.2 and a matchup showcasing two offenses that both ranked top-six in success rate. The fact that Washington State's rush defense ranks 113th in adjusted line yards, 119th in stuffed rate and 106th in opponent yards per rush now face a nearly unstoppable Falcons option attack is enticing. Air Force's rushing attack ranks No. 2, No. 6 and No. 19 in those same metrics, respectively.

The same advantage that the Falcons have in the running game the Cougars have through the air on offense. Their Air Raid led the country in passing against the 46th toughest schedule, and the Falcons' pass defense ranked 77th despite facing a schedule that ranked only 88th. This is a battle of strengths versus weaknesses on both sides of the ball, and it pushed me over the edge with my projection higher anyway.

Pick: Over 68

Camping World Bowl

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-4, 55) vs. Iowa State Cyclones

(Dec. 28, Noon on ABC at Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida)
Steele: Last year I picked Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff, and they went 12-0 and indeed made the playoff. This year I called for a 10-2 season, and again the Irish performed as I expected. You could make the argument that this year's squad is just as good as last year's team. Last year the Irish defense held opponents to 66 yards per game below their season average, and this year it is even better at 86 yards per game below. Notre Dame has averaged 4.9 yards per carry this year and allowed just 12 sacks.

Iowa State running back Breece Hall had just 84 yards rushing after five games, but took control of the job and rushed for 758 yards over the final seven contests. Quarterback Brock Purdy has completed 66% of his passes for 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Iowa State faced six bowl teams this year and went 1-5 in those games, with the lone win a two-point victory over Texas. I expect Notre Dame to win the game, and the line is reasonable around a field goal.

Pick: Notre Dame -4

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Memphis Tigers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (-6.5, 60.5)

(Dec. 28, Noon on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Steele: I pegged Memphis for a New Year's Six bowl game appearance in my magazine. The Tigers didn't let me down. Quarterback Brady White was much improved, finishing No. 9 in the FBS in pass efficiency. Running back Patrick Taylor, who ran for 1,122 yards in 2018, missed eight games, but Kenneth Gainwell stepped in and rushed for 1,425 yards and had 532 yards receiving. Those two are joined by dangerous wide receivers Damonte Coxie and Antonio Gibson. Memphis allowed 398 yards per game in conference play.

Penn State's offense is led by quarterback Sean Clifford, wide receiver KJ Hamler and tight end Pat Freiermuth. The defense is led by All-American candidates DE Yetur Gross-Matos and LB Micah Parsons. Head coach James Franklin is 4-4 in bowl games and will face off against Ryan Silverfield, who had the interim tag removed and will be coaching his first game as Memphis' permanent head coach.

In the four-team playoff history, the Group of 5 team is 3-2 straight-up in New Year's Six bowl games. In the 2016 Cotton Bowl, Wisconsin was a 7-point favorite and won by eight points to cover, and I will call for a similar result here.

Lean: Penn State -6.5

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (-3.5, 51.5) vs. Western Michigan Broncos

(Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. on ESPN at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas)
Steele: Western Michigan beat both teams that made it to the MAC title game (Central Michigan and Miami) by more than two touchdowns. The Broncos had three MAC losses on the road by just 5.6 points per game. Western Michigan has a potent offense with quarterback Jon Wassink and the MAC's running back of the year in LeVante Bellamy. However, the Broncos' defense did allow foes 27 yards per game above their season average despite the presence of MAC defensive player of the year Treshaun Hayward.

WKU had few expectations coming in but went 8-4, pulling five upsets along the way, including a 45-19 rout of Arkansas. Its offense is led by Arkansas transfer Ty Storey, who completed 68% of his passes. WKU's defense held opponents to 61 yards per game below their season average. This game is a toss-up in my power ratings, so I will take the underdog.

Lean: Western Michigan +3.5

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Mississippi State Bulldogs (-4, 62.5) vs. Louisville Cardinals

(Dec. 30, 4 p.m. on ESPN at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee)
Steele: Louisville has some breakaway threats on offense in quarterback Micale Cunningham (20 passing TDs, six rushing TDs), running back Javian Hawkins (1,420 yards rushing) and wide receiver Tutu Atwell (1,125 yards receiving). The rest of the edges and the matchup favor Mississippi State.

The Cardinals' defense allows opponents 56 yards per game above their season average, which is No. 107 in the country. Louisville allows 5.5 yards per carry on the year and has given up 7.0 yards per carry over the the past four games. That's good news for Mississippi State's Kylin Hill, the SEC's leading rusher, and mobile quarterback Tommy Stevens, who is back to full health.

Mississippi State did allow opponents 29 yards per game above their season average, but the Bulldogs were forced to suspend numerous defensive players throughout the year, with as many as five starters missing a game. Mississippi State is trying to avoid a losing season and has played the tougher schedule.

Pick: Mississippi State -4

Redbox Bowl

California Golden Bears (-7, 43) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

(Dec. 30, 4 p.m. on Fox at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California)
Steele: Illinois is 6-6 but has been outgained by 90 yards per game this season. The Illini offense averages just 3.8 yards per rush, completes 53.5% of its passes and gains 54 yards per game less than what opponents allow. The defense allowed Big Ten opponents 70 yards per game above their average. The Illini trailed Michigan 28-7 at the half, Wisconsin 20-7 late third quarter and Michigan State 31-10 in the fourth quarter but rallied for two wins. Illinois has a plus-11 turnover margin.

Cal has some bad stats (outgained by 62 yards per game), but there is a caveat. In games quarterback Chase Garbers started and finished, the Golden Bears were 6-0 straight-up (4-2 ATS) and outgained opponents by 18 yards per game. Cal also has a better defense, with a top-notch secondary and linebacker Evan Weaver, who led the nation in tackles. The Bears have taken on the tougher schedule and figure to have the crowd edge playing in nearby Santa Clara.

Lean: Cal -7

Connelly: How much is a late-season hot streak worth to you? Cal won three of its last four games to finish 7-5, while Illinois reached bowl eligibility in the mad comeback win over Michigan State and then lost its last two.

But neither team really changed all that much. A banged-up Illinois laid an egg against rival Northwestern, sure, but the Illini were 53rd in SP+ after the Michigan State win and finished at 59th. Cal, meanwhile, was 72nd at the beginning of November and 76th at the end. It's kind of wild, then, that the Golden Bears are nearly touchdown favorites.

Granted, SP+ doesn't account for injuries, and Illinois' injury list is much longer than Cal's; it does appear that QB Brandon Peters and WR Josh Imatorbhebhe are both practicing, though, which makes me feel better about their odds of playing. Still, SP+ says Illinois should be about a four-point favorite instead of a touchdown 'dog. So let's hope that Vegas is mis-identifying two momentum swings here and, despite the favorite-friendly 6.5-point line, go with the team in orange and navy blue.

Pick: Illinois +6.5

Capital One Orange Bowl

Florida Gators (-14, 54) vs. Virginia Cavaliers

(Dec. 30, 8 p.m. on ESPN at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida)
Steele: Florida's two defeats came to LSU and Georgia. The Gators looked stronger on offense once Kyle Trask took over at quarterback, and the defense, which suffered numerous injuries during the year, still held opponents to just 299 total yards per game and has most of its key players back.

Virginia allowed just 281 total yards per game over the first eight games, but yielded 481 yards per game over the past five after the secondary was struck by injuries. Virginia's offense relies on quarterback Bryce Perkins, who is the team's leading rusher and passer.

Last year the Gators blasted Michigan 41-15 in their bowl game. They will be looking to make a statement for next year and have large edges on both sides of the ball. Florida's last three wins have come by an average of 32 points.

Lean: Florida -14

Belk Bowl

Virginia Tech Hokies (-3, 47.5) vs. Kentucky Wildcats

(Dec. 31, Noon on ESPN at BkofAma Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina)
Steele: Kentucky was 2-3 when it lost its starting quarterback but went 5-2 after Terry Wilson shifted over from wide receiver and took over. Despite defenses knowing the Cats were going to run, UK's top-notch offensive line helped paved the way for 352 yards per game rushing in those seven games. And the Cats' defense held SEC foes to just 330 yards per game.

Virginia Tech was coming off a blowout home loss to Duke when it made a quarterback switch to Hendon Hooker. In his seven starts, the Hokies went 6-1 and averaged 36.8 points. I expected big things from the Tech defense this year, but it was not until it dedicated the Wake Forest game to long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster that the unit started to play to its potential. In the past four games Tech allowed just 276 yards per game, holding opponents to 115 yards per game below their season average. Foster knows how to stop the option, and I look for the defense to play inspired ball.

Lean: Virginia Tech -3

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

Florida State Seminoles vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (-5, 54.5)

(Dec. 31, 2 p.m. on CBS at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas)
Steele: I was initially looking at the over here, but running backs Cam Akers and Eno Benjamin both announced they are leaving early for the draft and sitting this one out. Arizona State will also be without wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who opted to prepare for the draft.

Florida State quarterback James Blackman had his ups and downs this year but finished the season strong and has a top-notch wide receiver in Tamorrion Terry. The Seminoles do play hard for interim head coach Odell Haggins, who will be retained by new head coach Mike Norvell.

Arizona State has a significant special teams edge, but the Sun Devils' five wins over Power 5 foes were by just 5.4 points per game. I like the underdog.

Lean: Florida State +5

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Navy Midshipmen (-2, 52) vs. Kansas State Wildcats

(Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. on ESPN at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee)
Steele: Navy played Army 16 days ago, while Kansas State has not played for 31 days. Navy has the edge at quarterback with electric Malcolm Perry, who just rushed for 304 yards against Army. Overall, Navy outgains opponents by 133 yards per game, and its much-improved defense this year is holding opponents to 89 yards per game below their season average.

Kansas State had a solid defense and outgains opponents by 11 yards per game, but its offense averages 54 yards per game below what opponents allow. Kansas State has faced the tougher schedule, playing 10 Power 5 teams, while Navy has faced just one in Notre Dame. When Wildcats head coach Chris Klieman was at North Dakota State, he had substantial success against option teams, and he has had a month to prep for the option. Kansas State also is my No. 3 rated special teams, and Navy checks in at No. 83.

Lean: Kansas State +2

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Wyoming Cowboys (-7, 48) vs. Georgia State Panthers

(Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona)
Steele: Wyoming quarterback Sean Chambers ran for 567 yards and 10 touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry in eight games before a knee injury ended his season. The Cowboys do have a 1,000-yard rusher in running back Xazavian Valladay, but they have averaged just 281 yards and 15 points per game in backup quarterback Tyler Vander Waal's starts.

Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington ran for 603 yards through eight games and the first half against ULM before suffering an injury. He has started the last three games playing on a torn ACL and has minus-5 yards rushing during that span. The Panthers have a 1,000-yard rusher in running back Tra Barnett, but as a team they went from averaging 275 yards rushing to 157 over the past three games.

Georgia State allows 5.3 yards per carry, a 65% completion percentage to passers and 50 yards per game above what their opponent normally gains. Wyoming has no such struggles on defense, as the Cowboys allow just 2.9 yards per carry and held opponents to 73 yards per game below their season average in conference play.

Lean: Wyoming -7

Valero Alamo Bowl

Utah Utes (-7.5, 54.5) vs. Texas Longhorns

(Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN at the Alamodome in San Antonio)
Steele: Utah had a playoff berth in its grasp but lost in the Pac-12 title game to Oregon and landed here. The Longhorns are just 90 minutes away from San Antonio, but will their fans travel after a disappointing 7-5 season?

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley is No. 5 in the FBS in pass efficiency, and running back Zack Moss averages 6.2 yards per carry. The only edge at any position for Texas is at wide receiver, where the Horns are led by Devin Duvernay. Utah has large edges on defense, where the Utes were No. 2 in the country holding opponents below their season average by 159 yards; Texas allowed foes 18 yards per game above their average.

Both coaches have found success in bowls. Utah's Kyle Whittingham is 11-2 straight-up in bowls. Texas' Tom Herman is 3-0 straight-up in bowls and 11-5 ATS as an underdog with 10 outright upsets. I like the Utes to win this by about a touchdown, and with the spread over a TD, this is a lean to the underdog.

Lean: Texas +7.5

Vrbo Citrus Bowl

Michigan Wolverines vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-7.5, 59)

(Jan. 1, 1 p.m. on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

Steele: Alabama has a couple of matchups that I like here. The Tide have a massive offensive line that was among the finalists for the Joe Moore Award, and Michigan has an undersized defensive front that got pushed around by Ohio State's O-line. Michigan's defense will play a lot of man-to-man and is prone to giving up big plays to game-breaking wide receivers, which is good news for Tide pass-catchers DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle.

The Wolverines' defense is No. 7 in the country and holds opponents 108 yards per game below their season average. Alabama was solid as well, holding the opposition to 69 yards per game below their average. Michigan also has an edge at quarterback and has played a much tougher schedule this year. The Wolverines' most significant advantage might be in the level of motivation; they have something to prove after losing their three biggest games of the season, while the Tide missed out on the playoff for the first time and now find themselves in a non-New Year's Day Bowl game.

Lean: Michigan +7.5

Outback Bowl

Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Auburn Tigers (-7, 52.5)

(Jan. 1, 1 p.m. on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)
Steele: Minnesota is in this bowl game because of its schedule. The Gophers played three weak nonconference foes and in their seven Big Ten wins faced six backup quarterbacks. Auburn, on the other hand, is in this game despite its schedule. The Tigers beat Pac-12 champion Oregon in the opener, and their losses were at Florida, at LSU and at home against Georgia, where they had a 329-251 edge in yardage in a one-score loss. Auburn was 8-2 ATS against bowl teams while Minnesota went just 2-4 ATS.

Minnesota has a solid quarterback in Tanner Morgan, a deep corps of running backs, a massive offensive line, two 1,000-yard receivers and an All-American defensive back in Antoine Winfield Jr. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix has improved as the season has gone on, and running back JaTarvious Whitlow had 114 yards rushing in the regular-season finale against Alabama after being limited to 81 total yards rushing the previous three weeks. With an elite defensive line led by defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Auburn has the edge at the line of scrimmage and is the much more battle-tested team in this game.

Pick: Auburn -7

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual

Oregon Ducks vs. Wisconsin Badgers (-3, 51.5)

(Jan. 1, 5 p.m. on ESPN at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)
Steele: Just a few short years ago, Oregon was a finesse team built with speed on the perimeter and lived on big plays. But Mario Cristobal, an ex-offensive line coach, wanted the team built around power and strength at the line of scrimmage. While Wisconsin has its usual large and powerful offensive line, it is the Ducks' unit that is one of four finalists for the coveted Joe Moore Award.

The Badgers have a tough defense led by linebackers Chris Orr and Zack Baun that holds opponents to just 3.4 yards per carry. Oregon's defense is also stingy against the run, allowing 3.2 yards per carry, and is led by linebacker Troy Dye and freshman sensation Kayvon Thibodeaux, who led the team with nine sacks. While Wisconsin has the best running back on the field in Jonathan Taylor, the Ducks have the edge at quarterback with a future first-round draft pick in Justin Herbert (32 TDs, 5 INTs this year). I think the wrong team is favored here.

Pick: Oregon +3

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Georgia Bulldogs (-7.5, 41.5) vs. Baylor Bears

(Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
Steele: This game figures to be about defense. Georgia's defense is the best in the SEC and ranks No. 4 in the country, holding opponents 133 yards per game below their season average. Baylor recorded 43 sacks and held teams to 359 yards per game. The Bears also allowed just 16.9 points per game in regulation (31 points in OT).

As for the offenses, Baylor was down to No. 3 quarterback Jacob Zeno in the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma but almost pulled off the upset. But the Bears will have quarterback Charlie Brewer, who threw for 20 TDs and six INTs, and they do have dynamic playmakers in receiver Denzel Mims and running back John Lovett. Georgia has one of the nation's best running backs in D'Andre Swift, but quarterback Jake Fromm went from completing 67% of his passes for 30 TDs last year to a 60% completion percentage and 22 TDs this season. Baylor was just 1-11 two years ago and will not take this opportunity for granted. I will side with the underdog in a tight game.

Pick: Baylor +7.5

TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl

Boston College Eagles vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (-7, 55)

(Jan. 2, 3 p.m. on ESPN at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama)
Steele: Boston College has been a dangerous underdog the past three seasons, going 14-2-1 ATS. But quarterback Anthony Brown was lost to injury and replaced by walk-on Dennis Grosel, who is completing just 48.6% of his passes. AJ Dillon ran for 1,685 yards but is sitting out this game after declaring for the NFL draft. And former head coach Steve Addazio was let go after an upset win over Pitt that got Boston College to the bowl. In addition, the Eagles' defense allows opponents almost 100 yards per game above their season average and ranks No. 120 in my pass defense ratings.

Cincinnati has three losses this year, but those came against Ohio State and Memphis (twice). Quarterback Desmond Ridder was banged up at the end of the year and sat out the first Memphis matchup. He returned in the AAC title game and threw for 233 yards. The Bearcats have a 1,000-yard rusher in Michael Warren and a significant edge on defense, as they hold foes 47 yards per game below their season average and are No. 8 in my pass defense ratings. Cincinnati will look like the Power 5 team in this one.

Pick: Cincinnati -7

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Tennessee Volunteers (-2, 51)

(Jan. 2, 7 p.m. on ESPN at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida)
Steele: At the start of the year, I had Tennessee No. 30 in my Power Poll and Indiana at No. 49. The Hoosiers looked like the much better team in early November after opening 7-2 and clinching that elusive bowl bid they just missed the past two years. Indiana then lost two of its last three (the only win came in OT over Purdue) and was minus-36 yards per game in those. Tennessee opened 2-5, including home upset losses to Georgia State and BYU. The Vols then won their last five games and held an edge of 101 yards per game in those.

Indiana has the edge at quarterback with Peyton Ramsey over the Vols' inconsistent Jarrett Guarantano. But I give Tennessee the edge at running back, wide receiver, both lines of scrimmage, linebacker, secondary and even special teams. I have Tennessee as the stronger and far hotter team at the end of the year and will ride that momentum here.

Lean: Tennessee -2

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Ohio Bobcats (-7.5, 58.5) vs. Nevada Wolf Pack

(Jan. 3, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho)
Steele: Ohio was a preseason favorite to win the MAC East but lost several close games, including a two-point loss to Marshall and three MAC games by a field goal each (one coming in OT). Despite a 5-3 MAC record, Ohio was plus-108 yards per game in conference games. The Bobcats have a powerful rushing attack that averaged 245 yards per game in MAC play. Ohio's defense is allowing teams 23 yards per game above their season average.

Nevada is 7-5, but the four losses came by a combined average of 44 points per game! Nevada allowed foes 31 yards per game above their season average and suspended three of its top 10 tacklers for the bowl and will be without its No. 3 tackler in the first half due to the fight in the UNLV game. Quarterback Carson Strong lost his starting job early but had a pair of 300-yard passing games in the final four weeks. Ohio is the stronger team, but with two below-average defenses, I think the total is a better value at only 58.5.

Lean: Over 58.5

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs. Tulane Green Wave (-7, 56.5)

(Jan. 4, 11:30 a.m. on ESPN at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas)
Steele: Willie Fritz took over Tulane in 2016 and implemented the spread option offense. Tulane incorporated more passing this year but still ran the ball 64% of the time, with LSU transfer quarterback Justin McMillan leading the team with 704 yards rushing. Tulane grinds out 250 rushing yards per game on 5.3 yards per carry. However, Southern Miss has a solid rush defense that has held foes to 111 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry and now has extra time to prep for the option.

Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham has completed 67.5% of his passes with 18 touchdowns, but also has 15 interceptions. Tulane has my No. 46 pass defense, allowing just a 53.6 completion percentage with 10 interceptions. Both teams limp into this game; Southern Miss dropped its past two games, and Tulane has lost five of six. Tulane rates only a slight edge in most of my rankings, and I am surprised that Southern Miss is a touchdown underdog.

Pick: Lean Southern Miss +7

LendingTree Bowl

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns (-14, 56.5) vs. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks

(Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama)
Steele: Miami trailed 14-10 at the half in the MAC title game but went on to beat Central Michigan 26-21. One significant edge Miami had all year was its special teams, but Louisiana counters with solid special teams to negate that advantage. Miami has been outgained by 75 yards per game this year, with the offense averaging 84 yards per game below opponent averages. Louisiana is at the other end of the spectrum, outgaining foes by 128 yards per game. Louisiana boasts a great offensive line, as the Cajuns average 6.4 yards per rush and allowed just 14 sacks. Miami's O-line paves the way for only 3.5 yards per rush with 28 sacks.

I have established the fact that Louisiana deserves to be a big favorite, but can it cover as a 14-point favorite? Louisiana has 10 wins this year and won those by 27.2 points per game. Miami has five losses, falling by 30.4 points per game in those defeats, with not a single loss by fewer than 14 points.

Lean: Louisiana Lafayette -14

Completed games

Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl

Buffalo Bulls (-6.5, 52.5) vs. Charlotte 49ers

(2 p.m. Dec. 20 on ESPN at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas)

Connelly: Both of these teams got hot late in the season. Charlotte won its last five and rose from 111th to 98th in SP+ to reach its first bowl, and Buffalo won five of its last six (the Bulls outgained Kent State by 95 yards in their lone loss) and rose from 113th to 84th. That the Bulls improved by more is the reason for them to be favored, but unless Charlotte goes into full "happy to be here" mode, six points is a lot.

This is a pretty interesting matchup of strength vs. strength (Charlotte O vs. Buffalo D) and weakness vs. weakness (Buffalo O vs. Charlotte D). If the 49ers find success against an aggressive, all-or-nothing Bulls pass defense, they could win outright. SP+ projects a 30-28 Buffalo win.

Pick: Charlotte +6.5

Steele: I am on the Joe Moore Award committee for choosing the top offensive line in the country, and Charlotte's unit got high praise on our conference calls during the season. Buffalo also has a solid offensive line, paving the way for 254 rushing yards per game and 5 yards per carry while allowing just eight sacks. The Bulls lost their starting QB in Week 5, and though Kyle Vantrease has thrown for just 155 yards per game in his seven starts, the team is 6-1 ATS in those games. Charlotte has the stronger pass game, but Buffalo has a good-sized edge on defense. Both teams rank near the bottom of my special-teams rankings.

My power ratings have this one close to the line, so with the strong offensive lines, I will look to the over (the past five Bahamas Bowls have averaged 66.2 points per game).

Lean: Over 52.5

Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl

Utah State Aggies (-4.5, 65) vs. Kent State Golden Flashes

(7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 on ESPN2 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas)
Steele: This one figures to be a shootout, with Utah State allowing foes 33 yards per game above their season average and Kent State yielding 96 yards per game above. The Golden Flashes have a very underrated QB in Dustin Crum, who threw 18 TDS with just two interceptions and is the team's leading rusher with 560 yards. Aggies QB Jordan Love is an NFL prospect, but he had a 32-6 TD/INT breakdown last season with a tremendous supporting cast. With just one other returning starter on offense, this season he has only 17 TDs vs. 16 INTs, and Utah State has gone from 48 PPG to 28 PPG. Kent State has covered six in a row as an underdog versus non-Power 5 teams and is getting a full touchdown here. (The line was Utah State -7 before three players were cited for marijuana use Tuesday.)

Lean: Kent State +7

Celebration Bowl

Alcorn State Braves vs. North Carolina A&T Aggies (-2.5, 51.5)

(Noon Dec. 21 on ABC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
Steele: This is the fifth Celebration Bowl, which pits the champions from the MEAC and SWAC. North Carolina A&T is 3-0 in this bowl game, including a 24-22 win over Alcorn State last season. With Noah Johnson rushing for 1,080 yards, Alcorn State averaged 285 yards per game rushing and 6.2 yards per carry last season. Johnson went down with a season-ending injury this season, but his replacement, Felix Harper, was the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.

The Aggies' defense is coming off a game in which it held NC Central to 9 total yards of offense in a 54-0 shutout. My computer and average game grades both have NC A&T winning by 10 points, so there is some definite value here.

Pick: Lean NC A&T -2.5

New Mexico Bowl

Central Michigan Chippewas vs. San Diego State Aztecs (-3.5, 41)

(2 p.m. Dec. 21 on ESPN at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Johnson: Maybe the memory of the Aztecs' 27-0 loss to Ohio in last year's Frisco Bowl is still fresh in everyone's minds, as it isn't too often that a MAC school dominates a bowl game. My projection here is San Diego State -6.2, and though the turnaround season from Central Michigan is a great story (1-11 to 8-5 and a MAC title game appearance), it probably speaks more to the lack of talent in the MAC than the actual abilities of the team relative to the rest of the country. Remember: Central Michigan lost 61-0 to Wisconsin earlier this season.

Not only am I getting the more talented team (starting quarterback Ryan Agnew is probable), but I'm specifically buying Rocky Long's defense, which ranks ninth in the country in defensive efficiency (4.6 yards per play) and first in rushing yards allowed per play (2.7). With Long having multiple weeks to prepare his defense for a Chippewas offense that has been playing MAC competition the past few months (124th-ranked strength of schedule), I'm thrilled to buy low here at a cheap number.

Pick: San Diego State -3.5

Steele: San Diego State games have topped 41 points just twice this season -- and they average 32 PPG. Central Michigan has the edge on offense, with RBs Jonathan Ward and Kobe Lewis, but the Aztecs' defense is No. 6 in the country, holding foes to 110 yards per game below their season average. When you think of San Diego State, you think of RBs who rush for 2,000 yards (two of them in past four years), but this year the top RB is Juwan Washington, with just 500 yards and a poor 3.3 yards per carry. The Aztecs have a significant edge on special teams at No. 17 in my rankings, with Central Michigan at No. 76, and that hurt them in the MAC title game. Central averaged just 13.6 points per game versus the five toughest defenses. I like the Aztecs to win, but they are laying more than a field goal, so I will lean with the under.

Lean: Under 41

Cure Bowl

Liberty Flames vs. Georgia Southern Eagles (-5, 58.5)

(2:30 p.m. Dec. 21 on CBS Sports Network at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
Connelly: How much is a hot streak worth to you when a bowl break is involved? Georgia Southern began the season 1-3 and was ranked in the 100s in SP+ in late October, but excellent performances against Appalachian State, ULM and Georgia State not only drove the team to bowl eligibility but also lifted it to 89th in SP+. That's not bad, but do you lose your form with three weeks off?

Liberty, meanwhile, has basically been the same team for the past two months. The Flames were 91st in SP+ after six weeks and 87th at the end of the regular season. Their balanced and dangerous offense is the best unit in this game, and the connection of quarterback Stephen Calvert to receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden could have a field day against a shaky Georgia Southern pass defense. SP+ projects a near toss-up (Liberty by 0.2), which is almost a touchdown's difference with the betting market.

Pick: Liberty +5

Steele: Liberty is 7-5 despite facing the weakest schedule in the country. Hugh Freeze took over a 6-6 team and transformed Stephen Calvert from a QB that had 21 TDs and 18 INTs last season to a 26-5 ratio this season. Despite the schedule, Liberty allowed foes 4.7 yards per carry rushing and 26 yards above their season average. That does not bode well against the Georgia Southern option offense that ran for 261 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. The Eagles took on LSU and Minnesota in nonconference play, and their defense held foes to 63 yards per game below their season average. This is Liberty's first bowl, and I will go with the team that has the much stronger defense and has played the far tougher schedule.

Pick: Georgia Southern -5

Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl

SMU Mustangs (-3, 70.5) vs. Florida Atlantic Owls

(3:30 p.m. Dec. 21 on ABC at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida)
Steele: SMU is led by Texas transfer Shane Buechele (3,626 yards, 33 TDs, 9 INTS), and FAU is led by Oklahoma transfer Chris Robison (3,392 yards, 26 TDs, 6 INTs). The Owls won the Conference USA title this season, and their two nonconference losses were to Ohio State and UCF. SMU has just two losses this season, but the Mustangs were on the road to Memphis and Navy, who each had double-digit wins. The Owls have the better defense statistically, but the Mustangs had 50 sacks and took on the tougher schedule. I have been riding FAU all season, and though this team is a home underdog, head coach Lane Kiffin has accepted the job to coach Ole Miss. This should be a very competitive, high-scoring game.

Lean: Over 70.5

Johnson: Kiffin's departure is official, and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is taking over the coaching duties in the interim. The Owls' "reward" after winning Conference USA was the Boca Raton bowl in their own backyard without a head coach. Players look forward to the bowl season and the opportunity to travel to a new place and celebrate their program; FAU doesn't get to do that. Meanwhile Sonny Dykes and the Mustangs just completed their historic 10-win season.

When it comes to my personal projection in this matchup, I make the Mustangs a 5-point favorite. This isn't generally a big enough discrepancy for me to lay -3, but combined with Kiffin's departure and the specific matchup advantages on the SMU side, it's a worthwhile wager. I think most people see FAU's 34.7 PPG and consider the Owls a top-20 offense (again, with Kiffin). Breaking their offense down to a per play basis, however, and FAU only ranks 54th in YPP (5.7) and 88th in success rate (43.1%). Defensively, the Owls rank outside the top 100 allowing pass plays of 30 or more yards. Well, Buechele and the Mustangs' offense rank No. 2 in passes of 30 or more yards. SMU also leads the country with 4.2 sacks per game, while FAU ranks 73rd in sacks allowed per game (2.2). All of this is the product of FAU's 115th-ranked strength of schedule (SMU 75th).

The Mustangs should find success through the air and create havoc on the defensive side of the ball against an offense lacking Kiffin's guidance. Combining everything together points to the SMU side -- which lines up with my projection -- and we have the added bonus of our opponent's coach leaving for a bigger gig in the SEC. Give me the Mustangs in this setup every time.

Pick: SMU -3

Camellia Bowl

Florida International Panthers vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (-2.5, 63)

(5:30 p.m. Dec. 21 on ESPN at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama)
Steele: Arkansas State has a dangerous offense. Despite losing QB Logan Bonner after four games, backup Layne Hatcher stepped in and threw for 314 yards per game, and wide receiver Omar Bayless is among the nation's receiving leaders with 1,473 yards and 16 TDs. The Red Wolves' defense was hurt by injuries all season and lost four defensive tackles for the season, leaving them vulnerable to the run (they allowed 224 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry). FIU is led by running backs Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell, who combined for 1,411 yards rushing. Should the Red Wolves stack the box, QB James Morgan is an NFL prospect who has hit 62% of his passes with a 39-10 TD/INT ratio in two seasons. Butch Davis is 6-3 in bowl games, and Blake Anderson is 1-4.

Pick: FIU +2.5

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

Boise State Broncos vs. Washington Huskies (-3.5, 49.5)

(7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 on ABC at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas)
Steele: Chris Petersen started his head-coaching career at Boise State in 2006 and was there until 2014, when he left for Washington. Boise State should have both talented QBs (Hank Bachmeier and Jaylon Henderson) available. The Broncos' defense is led by defensive end Curtis Weaver (13.5 sacks), and the unit held foes to 67 yards per game below their season average. QB Jacob Eason topped 300 yards passing once all season versus FBS foes and will be without his top receiver in tight end Hunter Bryant and left tackle Trey Adams, who are opting to sit this one out. The Huskies are holding opponents to 71 yards per game below their season average. I could make a case for both teams here, so with two solid defenses, I will lean with the under.

Lean: Under 49.5

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Appalachian State Mountaineers (-16.5, 48) vs. UAB Blazers

(9 p.m. Dec. 21 on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
Steele: UAB coach Bill Clark took over a team that had not played football for two years and guided it to a bowl game. The Blazers were C-USA champs last season, and this season, with a very inexperienced team, the Blazers got to the C-USA title game. UAB QB Tyler Johnston missed four games, and RB Spencer Brown had five games with two carries or fewer down the stretch. UAB should be healthier for this game, and its defense holds opponents to 294 yards per game. UAB's schedule is 127th in my rankings, but App State has played the 106th-toughest schedule. App State QB Zac Thomas and RB Darrynton Evans are both dynamic, but UAB has some big play WRs in Austin Watkins and Kendall Parham. App State was outgained in four of its wins this year, with a first-down deficit of 106-63. The talent gap is not as large as the spread, and Clark will have his Blazers motivated, while the Mountaineers have a head coach in his first career game.

Pick: UAB +16.5

Kezirian: UAB is arguably the biggest farce this bowl season. The Blazers rank 106th out of 130 in ESPN's Football Power Index and are bowl-eligible only because they've beaten the nation's worst teams. Seven of their eight FBS wins came against opponents that rank in the triple digits of FPI. They also beat Louisiana Tech at home, but the Bulldogs were relegated to a third-string quarterback and lost by six points in Birmingham. FPI ranks Conference-USA dead last among all 10 FBS conferences. The eight bowl-eligible schools are misleading.

Meanwhile, the Blazers face a ranked App State squad that sits 30th in FPI. It is a solid team that won at both North Carolina and South Carolina, and its lone loss came against a triple-option offense (Georgia Southern) in windy conditions. The Mountaineers did lose head coach Eliah Drinkwitz to Missouri, but the school promoted offensive line coach Shawn Clark to head coach. He is not the interim coach, so that bodes well for stability and avoiding potential distractions.

It's a big number, but App State was 5-4 ATS this season when favored by double digits, so the Mountaineers can certainly handle it. I have faith in a blowout, much like we saw in UAB's 49-6 loss in its conference title game.

Pick: App State -16.5

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

UCF Knights (-17, 61.5) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd

(2:30 p.m. Dec. 23 on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)

Steele: UCF was 13-0 in 2017 and 12-0 last season, coming up short versus LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. This season, the Knights are 9-3 and playing in the Gasparilla Bowl, and they could be in for a letdown. However, UCF could come out with a vengeance in nearby Tampa and make a statement. QB Dillon Gabriel had more TD passes (27) than McKenzie Milton did last season (25). UCF has a significant edge on offense, with plenty of explosive playmakers, and the Knights were No. 4 in the country averaging 537 yards per game. Marshall comes in No. 73 in that category, averaging 397 yards. Marshall was on course for the C-USA title game but lost to Charlotte and finished 7-1 in C-USA play. UCF is the stronger team and should win this game, but I am leaning with the 'dog here, as Marshall is 10-3 ATS the past 13 times it has been an underdog, and the Knights are on a 2-7 ATS run overall. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is 6-0 straight-up and ATS in bowls.

Lean: Marshall +17