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Brett Ciancia takes a look early bowl season action in college football and gives us his picks

First off, I want to thank all student-athletes who focused and sacrificed so much the past 6 months to play this great American sport.  And to the readers -- thank you to all who followed my work this season.  My weekly “Best Bets” feature here on OddsChecker has gone 37-28 (57%) ATS. 

My Heisman Trophy ballot is sent, conference champions were crowned, and we are off to bowl season:

Louisiana vs. UTSA

All that stands between Louisiana and an undefeated season is a last-second field goal by Coastal Carolina.  Unfortunately for the Ragin’ Cajuns, their rematch opportunity in the Sun Belt title game was cancelled.  Don’t forget, it was these Cajuns that dealt Big 12 runner-up (and New Years Six invitee) Iowa State a decisive 17-point loss – double the combined margin of Iowa State’s other two losses.

They’ve built their Top 20 ranked season on their pass defense, and their electric quarterback play by Levi Lewis.  Louisiana has the 3rd best pass defense in FBS in terms of quarterback rating – opponents have thrown just 8 touchdowns (to 15 picks) all season.  Meanwhile, Lewis has tossed 50 touchdowns to just 13 picks over his 2+ years as the starter.  This lines up with UTSA’s statistical weakness in pass defense.

Louisiana head coach Billy Napier is one of the top targets from the Power 5 level, but Napier remained committed to the Cajuns by signing an extension, and unofficially turning down the Auburn calls.

Look for a hungry team to take out cancelled-title-game frustrations on UTSA, who are now without their head coach due to medical reasons.


PICK:  LOUISIANA -13.5  @  -110

Miami vs. Oklahoma State

They are separated by just three spots in the final College Football Playoff poll, but their paths here were different.  Oklahoma State came into 2020 with Big 12 Title aspirations and was projected to have one of the nation’s best offenses with the trio of Spencer Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, and Tylan Wallace.  Instead, Sanders continued his freshman turnover ways, Wallace was injured at times, and Hubbard failed to get even 1/3 of his 2,000-yard 2019 campaign.  The offensive line struggled in both run push (bottom half FBS) and pass protection (bottom 30 in FBS).  After a 4-0 start, they are just 3-3 since.

A struggling offensive line is a worst nightmare when game-planning for Miami.  I spoke with Miami defensive coordinator Blake Baker back in the spring while preparing for my annual season preview book, and he stressed how his defense is designed to bring heavy pressure and a ton of blitz.  He meant what he said, as Miami has now finished in my Top 10 “Most Disruptive Defense” formula for the past three seasons.  The pass rush combo on the edges (Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips) led Miami to a Top 5 national rank in tackles for loss.

Some personnel hits to both rosters may wash out.  Hubbard is out, while Roche is also out.  But the true x-factor comes at quarterback with Miami’s D’Eriq King.  He is a true dual-threat averaging 250 yards/game in the air, and 50 yards/game on the ground.

Miami was ranked in the Top 10 for most of the season, but took two beatings to elite offenses Clemson and UNC.  Oklahoma State doesn’t have the offensive firepower to make it a third.


PICK:  MIAMI +3  @  -110

Texas vs. Colorado

There are no moral victories for close losses in football.  However, from a predictive sense, close losses certainly matter and Texas has three of them.  All three of their losses this season within one score.

Long-time starter Sam Ehlinger has gone through the whole life cycle of high expectations.  He had a surprise breakout sophomore season and the national media set the bar so ridiculously high, that they now call him “overrated.”  It’s unfair, as he has quietly put together one of the best quarterback seasons this year (33 Total TD to just 5 INT).  Among Power 5 quarterbacks, he is Top 5 in passing touchdowns and Top 10 in quarterback rating.

He will have to give one last heroic effort in the bowl game, considering the personnel losses are piling up for the Longhorns.  Two team captains quit before the Kansas State game, yet they still dropped 69 points and 600+ yards that day.  But four more players since then have quit including All-America Joseph Ossai.  This becomes either a chance for young talented players to step up and own their first opportunities – OR – an added distraction in the most distracting season we’ve seen.

Colorado is still unproven.  We’ve only seen them five times, and the last one was a blowout loss in the snow against Utah.  Two of the wins were by one-score or less, with the UCLA win coming with a gift-wrapped +4 turnover margin.  Worse, their defensive standout Nate Landman is done with a torn Achilles.


PICK:  TEXAS -9.5  @  -110


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