The Bowl season is upon us, finally. Aside from the NCAA tournament, this is my favorite time of the year. We get to watch teams from all over the country travel to mostly warm-weather cities and play in games sponsored by major companies, making everyone but the players richer in the process!
It’s the kind of stuff America was built on, so why not get in on the action? As long as you aren’t a student-athlete, you too can profit off this American tradition. This installment will cover both the Friday bowl games and the two early Saturday games, as article #2 will cover the remaining four Saturday games. Note, we are only picking against the spread for bowl season (ATS), so no score predictions will accompany the picks. Good luck and happy holidays!
All lines courtesy of FanDuel Online Sportsbook
The Bahamas Bowl
Buffalo (7-5) vs Charlotte (7-5)
The Charlotte 49ers (C-USA) are coming in hot, winners of five straight. Their last loss was an October 19th game against a quality opponent, on the road in Western Kentucky. Though they’ve only beaten one quality opponent in that five-game streak, the 49ers Quarterback, Chris Reynolds, has rushed for an average of 106 yards on 15.6 attempts during that streak.
It’s a major change in strategy for the 49ers as Reynolds had previously rushed for just 35 yards per game on just 8.7 attempts per game. This change in strategy plus improved team defense has contributed greatly to the drastic turnaround from a 2-5 Season to a 7-5 finish and a bowl appearance.
The Buffalo Bulls (MAC) are 7-2 since quarterback Kyle Vantrease took over in the Miami of Ohio game. Though he doesn’t throw the ball at a high rate, he limits turnovers (7 TDs and 1 INT) on the season. Buffalo is a run-heavy team led by two speedy backs with great footwork and vision, Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks.
The duo averages around 5.4 YPC and has combined for over 2,600 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns on the year. The defense has been stronger as of late, as the Bulls have used their ball-control and dynamic rush offense to put opposing teams in a hole early, forcing them to try to pass their way back into games.
I typically love comparing O-lines to D-lines if one team has a big weakness where their opposition will have a big strength, I usually weigh that more heavily than anything else. That’s a trade secret in case you’re a lazy gambler and want to do minimal research. In this game, 93 yards at 5 YPC. Buffalo rushes for 254 yards per game at 5 YPC. This is a big mismatch in the game.
Combine that with the fact the Bulls only average 1.1 turnovers per game, while the 49ers average 1.4 turnovers per game. I’m taking the Buffalo Bulls here to get out to a big lead and hold on for a relatively safe victory.
Pick: Buffalo -6.5
The Frisco Bowl
Kent State (6-6) vs Utah State (7-5)
Utah State is coming into this game a seven-point favorite. They have faced two ranked opponents in 2019, losing both by an average of 35.5 points. They are led by Jordan Love, who averages a nice 7.1 YPA but has just 17 touchdowns to his 16 INTs. Utah State is high on the variance scale, averaging 1.9 turnovers per game on offense, but 1.9 on defense as well. Offensively and defensively, they are middle of the road.
Kent State is another middle of the road team who is riding a three-game win streak coming into Bowl season. Their last three losses were all within one score, so their record may not do this team justice for how competitive they really are. Quarterback Dustin Crum has passed for 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2019 while rushing for 560 yards and five touchdowns. This team turns the ball over at just .9 turnovers per game, while their defense averages 1.3 turnovers per game.
Given the stat about Kent State starting 3-6 and winning out to make a bowl, combined with the fact they haven’t lost a game by more than seven points since their October 5th game to Wisconsin. Kent State’s weakness is their rushing defense, but Utah State only rushes the ball about 22 times per game between their two top backs. The rushing attempts may spike for the game, given the recent reports that Jordan Love and two other teammates were recently busted for possession of Marijuana.
A suspension is possible prior to the game. I believe Utah State will try to stay balanced in this game and establish the run early, but their mistakes on offense and in the passing game may come back to bite them. I like this game to be very close and believe Kent State will cover.
Pick: Kent State +6.5
The New Mexico Bowl
Central Michigan (8-5) vs San Diego State (9-3)
Central Michigan is coming off a loss in the MAC Championship game to Miami of Ohio. Following their lopsided loss to Buffalo, Central Michigan went on a nice three game winning streak. Following a beatdown of Toledo, The Chippewas simply couldn’t finish the job in the MAC title game.
Quarterback Quintin Dormady has led this team down the stretch to a strong finish. He averages a whopping 8 YPA and has 14 TDs and 6 INTs on limited action this season. The Chippewas are led by their rushing duo of Kobe Lewis and Jonathan Ward, who have combined for over 2,000 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns.
The rushing efficiency between the two is strong (5.85 YPC) and they currently rank 44th in the nation on offense. Turnovers (fumbles especially) have been an issue though.
The Chippewas average 1.9 turnovers per game, while the defense averages 1.4 takeaways per game, so the variance is high. The Chippewas also come into the game with seven players out with an injury and three questionable for the game.
San Diego State, on the other hand, is a defensive-focused team. They average just 12.8 points against (4th nationally). It’s a team with a defensive identity who thrives on controlling the ball and limiting turnovers. The Aztecs average just .6 turnovers on offense per game but force 1.8 takeaways on defense. It’s a great ratio.
Though the Aztecs may be without leading rusher, Juwan Washington (knee), but they’ve got plenty of backs to spare with Chase Jasmin, Chance Bell, and Jordan Byrd averaging around 4.2 YPC. Quarterback Ryan Agnew doesn’t exactly push the ball downfield with his 6.4 YPA, but he’s been relatively efficient with 11 TDs and 5 INTs on the season.
Central Michigan averages a whopping 188 yards rushing on 38 attempts per game. It’s reasonable to expect they should be able to find some success on the ground, even against a defense as stout as San Diego State.
That being said, the key here is limiting turnovers. I’m not sold on the Central Michigan defense and believe San Diego State should be able to control the tempo of this game. The line is close, but given San Diego State’s ability to shut teams down, I could see this game snowballing in their favor.
Pick: San Diego State -3.5
The FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl
Liberty (7-5) vs Georgia Southern (7-5)
Georgia Southern is coming off another decent season, utilizing a modified triple-option attack to drive their offense. Their defense, however, has been underwhelming. Conversely, the Eagles only turn the ball over .8 times per game and their defense forces 1.4 takeaways per game. Georgia Southern is limited in the area of passing, averaging just 73 yards passing per game.
Shai Werts, the quarterback, manages the offense well, given their schemes, as he’s thrown for 9 touchdowns and zero interceptions on the year. Though the numbers seem efficient. Werts is completing just 53% of his pass attempts. This team loves to run (52 attempts per game) and does that at a solid clip (5 YPC and 260 R-YPG).
Liberty is similar in their balance, though different by the means in which they achieve it. Liberty has one of the country’s most prolific passing offenses (290 P-YPG) and ranks 32nd in points scored. Their rushing defense is atrocious. Per game, the defense allows 193 yards. Liberty has a positive, but small, turnover differential. They average nearly one defensive interception per game.
The formula for both teams is simple. For Liberty, they need to get out to a lead, make some stops early, and try to get Georgia Southern to abandon their standard strategy and attempt to beat Liberty through the air. Liberty’s secondary is great at forcing interceptions.
For Georgia Southern, their strategy is the same as it is every week. They need to play their ball-control game, run their triple option, and take advantage of this terrible Liberty rushing defense.
I like low variance when picking these games, and though I believe Liberty won’t ever let this game get away from them, I simply have no faith in their defense’s ability to stop Georgia Southern on the ground.
Pick:Georgia Southern -4