Early college football bowl best bets from Steve Makinen

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Steve Makinen is our main numbers guy here at VSiN, and his weekly best bets are a “greatest hits” compilation of system matches, betting trends analysis, and his proprietary power ratings, which can only be found here at VSiN.com. Follow up with Steve’s weekly content, which is linked in the explanations for his picks.

 

When I last left off with you on my College Football Best Bets, I had a nice run on Conference Conference Championship week to go 5-2. We now move into bowl season, and here are my opinions on some of the early games.

College Football Odds | College Football Betting Splits | College Football Power Ratings

(odds as of December 14, 1:30 p.m. PT)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2023

Jacksonville State vs. LA Lafayette

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl- Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)

Jacksonville State played its first full season of FBS football this year and won eight games behind one of the nation’s best rushing attacks. Most prognosticators had the Gamecocks projected to be at or near the bottom of Conference USA at the outset of the season. Not only is this team playing like it belongs in FBS, but it’s also been assigned an opponent in the New Orleans Bowl that is on a downward trend, and at 6-6, probably doesn’t care nearly as much about the game in Louisiana-Lafayette.

ULL has struggled in bowl games lately, going just 1-5 ATS in its last six, and it can be easily argued that those were better teams. JSU also made my hot list for the bowl season while going 7-2 ATS in its last nine games. I am intrigued as well by the coaching experience difference here as JSU head coach Rich Rodriguez has coached in 11 prior bowl games while ULL’s Michael Desormeaux has only coached one. In bowl games since 2016 that have a difference of at least 10 bowl games coached between the opposing head coaches, the more experienced one is 37-20 SU and 39-17-1 ATS (69.6%).

Finally, looking at the huge line move in this game towards JSU, in bowl games between 1992-2022 that had closing lines more than four points off of their opening line, the team that the line moved towards is 35-19-1 ATS (64.8%).

Let’s lay the 3.5 points with Jacksonville State (+/1)

 

Miami (OH) vs. Appalachian State 

Avocados from Mexico Cure Bowl – Exploria Stadium (Orlando, Florida)

I really felt like I had enough reasons to back Miami (OH) as the underdog in the Cure Bowl against Appalachian State, but I’m worried about the RedHawks’ offensive production without QB Aveon Smith in the lineup. He took over for Brett Gabbert after injury, but he is also on to the transfer portal now.

One thing I do believe I can count on is the Miami (OH) defense, as that unit allowed just 16.2 PPG this season. They will need to be extra sharp to keep their team in the game. Head coach Chuck Martin has seen his team go Under the total in its last four bowl games too.

I think bettors are thinking along the same lines as me, as nearly 80% of the handle at DraftKings was on the Under as I wrote this. The total has moved from 51.5 at opening to 45.5 currently. Regardless of the reason, bettors have been right at a 75-56-1 (57.3%) rate on totals moving 4.5 points or more since I first started studying bowl games in 1992. In the 2022-23 bowl season, bettors drove the totals off their opening numbers by 4.5 points or more in 11 games, going 7-4.

Let’s go UNDER 45.5 in Miami (OH)-Appalachian State

 

UCLA vs. Boise State

Starco Brandos LA Bowl Presented by Stifel – SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California)

Some late line movement this week has me really considering UCLA now in the LA Bowl matchup against Boise State. Not only are the Bruins playing what could almost be considered an enhanced bowl game in their home city at a better stadium, but I believe they have the defense to shut down Boise State in this game.

The Bruins were stout against the run all season in a loaded Pac-12, allowing just 67.8 RYPG and 2.4 YPR. They held Cal’s potent ground game to just 124 yards in the season finale. I think that aspect alone makes this a tough matchup for the Broncos.

Plus, this is one of a handful of games where we have the coaching experience differential fitting into a nice line range system, with Chip Kelly having five bowl games under his belt and Spencer Danielson coaching #1: It is in games that are expected to be tight that the coaching difference really stands out, as first-time bowl coaches are just 14-24 SU and 12-24-2 ATS (33.3%) over the last eight seasons in games with lines in the +4.5 to -4.5 range. I think this is sort of against the grain, but I like UCLA here and expect Kelly’s team to play much better than it did in its bowl game last year.

Let’s lay the 4 points with UCLA (+/- 0.5)

 

California vs. Texas Tech

Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl – Independence Stadium (Shreveport, Louisiana)

There are only four bowl teams that allowed more points than Cal this season and only three teams in the country that allowed more passing yards per game. That makes them immediately susceptible to getting routed in a bowl game if you ask me.

Texas Tech was a little off this season, but I recall being very impressed by the job head coach Joey McGuire did in getting his team ready for the bowl game last year versus Ole Miss. The Red Raiders really came to play. This Independence Bowl matchup also boasts some nice trends from recent years. First, favorites own a 10-6 ATS edge in the last 16 Independence Bowl games. Second, regarding conference bowl trends, prior to the 2015 bowl season, Pac-12 teams playing as underdogs in bowl games were very rare. Lately, and for good reason, the regularity has ramped up.

That hasn’t been good news for the league, as Pac-12 teams are on a slide of 3-19 SU and 7-15 ATS as dogs. They’ve also struggled against the Big 12, as Big 12 teams haven’t lost back-to-back ATS bowl games vs. the Pac 12 since 2002, going 25-12 SU and 23-14 ATS since. In a battle of 6-6 teams, in the end, I just think Texas Tech is better.

I’ll lay the 3-points with Texas Tech (+/-1)

 

GA Southern vs. Ohio U

Myrtle Beach Bowl – Brooks Stadium (Conway, South Carolina)

I recall getting behind Ohio U last year in its bowl game because I felt the Bobcats were off a special season and had a talented quarterback ready to lead them to victory over Wyoming. Well, this year’s season wasn’t quite as special and for the bowl game, as they scored just 22 PPG, and their talented quarterback has hit the transfer portal, resulting in a huge line moved towards the opponent Georgia Southern. The Eagles have gone from 1.5-point dogs at opener to 3.5-poitn favorites currently.

If you recall from an earlier pick I made, in bowl games between 1992-2022 that had closing lines more than four points off of their opening line, the team that the line moved towards is 35-19-1 ATS (64.8%). GSU put up 30.9 PPG, and having witnessed in first hand versus Wisconsin, QB Davis Brin can really sling it all over the field. I don’t think the mediocre Bobcats’ offense can keep up without QB Kurtis Rourke. If you look back in this bowl series, favorites have prevailed SU and ATS in all three prior Myrtle Beach Bowl games. I look for #4 here.

Let’s lay the 3.5-points with Georgia Southern

 

Howard vs. Florida A&M

Celebration Bowl – Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

I have to admit I’m a bit nervous because I like so many favorites on opening day of the bowl season, but to me, it feels like oddsmakers are telling up outright which teams are better. In the Celebration Bowl, I think the line falling a bit short of what I thought it would is a telling sign.

On paper, Florida A&M is on a different level from Howard, with a won a major won-lost record difference (11-1 vs. 6-5). However, if you go through the season logs of both teams, you will see that Howard played a much tougher schedule and even faced two bowl FBS teams this year, losing 33-23 to Eastern Michigan and 23-20 to Northwestern. Those are some pretty strong losses for an FCS team and may be signaling that Howard is better than the 6-5 record indicates.

If you recall last year’s game in this bowl series, NC Central of the MEAC stunned Deion Sanders’ Jackson State squad 41-34 as a 14-point dog. That game made the MEAC representative 5-1 SU and ATS in the last six Celebration Bowl games. With both teams always getting up for this game, it makes it tough to lay points, in my opinion.

Let’s go Howard +7 (+/-1.5)

 

MONDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2023

W Kentucky vs. Old Dominion 

Famous Toastery Bowl – Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC

The first-ever Famous Toastery Bowl offers up a unique matchup between Western Kentucky and Old Dominion, and I would have to think that as most bettors take a surface look at this game, they have to be seriously wondering if the right team is favored. I’m here to say they are, and its mostly due to personnel issues and excitement level for the game.

By the looks of it, WKU can’t be that thrilled with a trip to Charlotte for a Monday afternoon bowl contest after going to New Orleans and South Florida in the last two years. Three of the Hilltoppers’ starting offensive linemen have left via the transfer portal. You don’t see much about that because it is typically the QBs that draw the attention, but this is a big enough cluster where it will affect the offense. They weren’t playing well down the stretch as it was as WKU won its final game SU and ATS to snuff out a five-game ATS losing streak.

There are a few trend/system angles that support my backing of ODU here as well. First, playing in the small underdog role of less than 7 points has not been kind to CUSA teams (WKU) in bowl games, with a record of 11-28 SU and 12-27 ATS since 2001. The Monarchs have to be thrilled to be in a bowl game this year after going 3-9 in 2022. Teams that won 0-3 games (25% or less) the prior season and qualified for a bowl game the next are 34-12-2 ATS (73.9%) over the last eight bowl seasons when matched against a team not in that situation. I think someone knows something here, and there’s a reason ODU is favored.

Let’s lay the 2.5-points with Old Dominion

 

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2023

TX-San Antonio vs. Marshall 

Scooters Coffee Frisco Bowl – Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)

In another game that has seen the line climb higher on the favorite, UTSA is a 13-point favorite against Marshall in the Frisco Bowl, played in its home state nonetheless. My question is whether or not it is even enough?

In my humble opinion, Marshall could realistically be the worst team playing in a bowl game this season. Besides being outscored by 5 PPG, look at the way the Herd closed their season. In their final eight games, all against bowl teams, they were 2-6. The two wins came against 6-6 clubs. In four of the games, they were held to 9 points or fewer, and they lost by at least 11 five times.

 Frankly, the Roadrunners deserve better than this matchup. If you’re looking for trend angles from me, consider that favorites are on a run of 8-1 SU and ATS in Marshall bowl games, and in the last 37 bowl games featuring a team from the AAC, favorites are 25-12 ATS. This Mashall team doesn’t look to be the one with a lot of underdog fight.

Let’s lay the 13-points with UTSA

 

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2023

Syracuse vs. South Florida 

RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl – FAU Stadium (Boca Raton, Florida)

South Florida is another team that wasn’t expected to do much in 2023, except by people like myself who had the Bulls as Over their season win total prop. They even went without expected starting QB Gerry Bohanon for the entire campaign. However, backup Byrum Brown stepped in and had a huge season as a dual-threat quarterback, culminating with a big effort in the bowl-clinching season finale win over Charlotte.

Recalling that USF was 1-11 last season, teams that won 0-3 games (25% or less) the prior season and qualified for a bowl game the next are 34-12-2 ATS (73.9%) over the last eight bowl seasons when matched against a team not in that situation. Brown leads his team into the Boca Raton Bowl against a 6-6 Syracuse team that expected better after a 4-0 start to the season. How do I know the Orange expected more? Well, they fired their head coach before the season ended. A win for them won’t save what turned into an ugly season. My suggestion to Syracuse players? Enjoy the stay in Boca.

Let’s take the 3-points and some ML action with

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As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.