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Alex Kirshner kicks off bowl season with his college football picks

College football’s bowl season is underway, and I’m trying to use it to get safely above .500 and into the profit zone for the season. I’m 121-126-3 (49%) on the year, which I consider a solid performance in the context of this year but still not where I’d like to finish.

We’ve got a handful of intriguing games this weekend. I made these picks Wednesday and will provide the rationale for each so you can make the best judgment depending on line moves at the time you make your own picks. Hopefully we’ll profit together.

All wagers are for one unit.

New Mexico Bowl

Hawaii vs. Houston

BET: Over 60 @ -110

Both of these teams can score, and both have below-average defenses -- particularly Hawaii, which is 116th in Defensive SP+ and gave up point totals well into the 30s in most of its games against non-terrible offenses. Houston’s offense has some issues but is certainly not terrible, and I think the Cougars can connect on several explosive passing plays to find quick points.

Two of Houston’s better defensive players, linebacker Grant Stuard and end Payton Turner, opted out of the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. Their absences should make life a little easier on Hawaii. I would expect the Rainbow Warriors to score somewhere in the 20s as a low-end projection, and I think Houston shouldn’t have trouble getting to the low 30s. From there, we don’t need many more points to clear the 60 threshold and get our over.

Camellia Bowl

Marshall vs. Buffalo

BET: Marshall + 4.5 @ -110

The Thundering Herd have played a couple of really bad games in a row, getting shut out at home against Rice and then (more understandably) falling flat in the Conference USA Championship against UAB. They’ve scored 13 points in two games since November 14.

But I’m not sure this game shouldn’t be closer to a pick’em, given how bad Buffalo looked on both sides of the ball in a MAC Championship loss to Ball State. The Bulls have an awesome running game, but Marshall has one of the strongest rush defenses (and overall defenses) in college football. The Herd are 15th in Defensive SP+ and have looked like it even in their losses. I think they can find enough points to cover this spread against a MAC team, even if that team is probably the strongest in the MAC on a pound-for-pound basis.

First Responder Bowl

UTSA vs. Louisiana

BET: UTSA -13.5 @ -112

No disrespect to UTSA. The Roadrunners have put together a great season to bounce back from being one of the worst teams in FBS to going 7-4 in Jeff Traylor’s first season. But a lot of their successes have come against teams that can’t play much if any defense -- 51 points on Texas State, 37 on Middle Tennessee, 52 on UTEP, 49 on North Texas.

Against the Ragin’ Cajuns, the Roadrunners are at a sizable athletic disadvantage. I don’t think they can regularly run with Louisiana over 60 minutes, and I think that’ll particularly show up when the Cajuns have the ball. In a year, I might like UTSA to keep this a lot closer. Right now, I think the talent gap prevents this from being a particularly tight game.

LendingTree Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State

BET: Western Kentucky +3.5 @ -110

BET: Under 50.5 @ -110

I view this game as a tossup, and so I’m happy to get more than a field goal on either side of the ledger. Both teams are reasonably healthy, at least by 2020 standards, and haven’t had a lot of reported opt-outs ahead of the bowl game. WKU appeared to be one of the worst teams in FBS in the season’s early going, but in their last three games, they’re 3-0 and have treated some actual bad teams like you’d prefer to treat actual bad teams.

WKU’s defense is the best unit for either team, and the Hilltoppers’ offense is the worst. For that reason, I also like the under, with WKU’s extremely slow offensive pace (just 63.5 plays per game, 111th in the country) working to counteract Georgia’s tempo attack.

Cure Bowl

Coastal Carolina vs. Liberty

BET: Over 59 @ -105

Both of these teams operate at a fairly slow pace on offense, and that always gives me pause when picking an over. But I think there’s too much offensive talent in this game not to feel good about the teams combining to get into the 60s. Coastal’s triple-option attack has a downfield passing component that should make the Chanticleers too much for Liberty’s defense to handle, and Liberty’s offense is powerful enough to at least get well into the 20s.

The Flames have scored at least 28 on every team they’ve played except NC State, and as strong as Coastal is in the trenches, the Chants don’t have ACC beef. I expect Coastal to score plenty and for Liberty to be good enough to pull its weight toward the total. I envision something like a 35-27 game.

Article Author


Alex Kirshner covers college football for the Moon Crew newsletter. He is a co-author of The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA, and he lives in Washington, D.C.


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