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Odds and Ends

Against the Spread Picks: Dec. 21-23 bowls

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: December 21, 2020, 4:39 pm ET

In the table below, you'll find the Adjusted Thor Line (ATL). ATL is a system based on power ratings, computer models and real-time betting data that I devised for determining line value. ATL does not consider injuries, COVID absences, or situational spots. That's where the handicapping comes in.

The lines in the table below are from the perspective of the home team.

All lines courtesy of PointsBet Sportsbook. My picks are in bold.

Date Game Underdog Favorite PB Line ATL ATL side Line value
12/21 Myrtle Beach Bowl North Texas Mean Green Appalachian State Mountaineers -20.5 -22.0 Appalachian State Mountaineers 1.5
12/22 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Nevada Wolf Pack Tulane Green Wave -3 -5.4 Tulane Green Wave 2.4
12/22 Boca Raton Bowl Central Florida Knights BYU Cougars -4.5 -2.2 Central Florida Knights 1.3

 

Monday, December 21

 

Appalachian State Mountaineers (-20.5) vs. North Texas Mean Green

ATL: Appy -22.0

Myrtle Beach Bowl

Brooks Stadium

Conway, South Carolina

1:30p EST 

ESPN

 

The Myrtle Beach Bowl makes its debut on Monday, kicking off the 2020 bowl season. It hosts the first-ever meeting between Appalachian State (8-3) and North Texas (4-5).

The Mean Green go bowling despite a sub-.500 record due to the NCAA’s rule this year that gives every team bowl eligibility. HC Seth Littrell’s progress has slowed since nine-win seasons in 2017-2018. Heading into this game, he’s 31-30 in Denton.

Appalachian State was brutal against the spread this year, going 2-9 ATS. I generally don’t like laying big numbers, especially with a team that hasn’t been doing well covering them, but I’m going to make an exception here. My numbers like the favorite, and I don’t see any reason to contradict them.

North Texas is an undeserving bowl team and wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for circumstance. The Mean Green rank No. 106 SP+. In Appy’s five games against teams ranked SP+ No. 99 or lower, they averaged a 22.6 PPG win margin. That's pretty close to my adjusted line of Appy State -23.0.

North Texas has a middling offense (SP+ No. 65) that is made marginally interesting due to the presence of star WR Jaelon Darden (74-1190-19). But UNT’s has been abysmal on both defense (No. 119) and special teams (No. 111) this season, with the defense also dreadful situationally, on third down and in the red zone.

Appalachian State boasts one of the G5’s best special teams. And the Mountaineers’ offense is extremely efficient, particularly on third down.

The Mean Green played only one team close to Appalachian State’s (SP+ No. 24) quality this fall, getting annihilated 65-35 by SMU (No. 36) in September.

The Mountaineers’ three losses came to Marshall, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana, two top-30 SP+ teams and another in the top-50. North Texas isn’t equipped to compete with an engaged Appy State.

And Appy State is a program that has prioritized bowl season since arriving in the FBS in 2015, going 5-0 SU in bowl games. During that span, Appy State ranks behind No. 3 in the FBS behind only Clemson and Boise State in road wins. 

The Mean Green have had a happy-to-be-here quality in bowl season, going 2-7 all-time. This team is inarguably the worst of that bunch, a team arguably in the bottom-20 FBS team in talent. 

I think Appy State rolls.


Tuesday, December 22

 

Tulane Green Wave (-3) vs. Nevada Wolf Pack

ATL: Tulane -5.4

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Albertsons Stadium

Boise, Idaho

2:30p EST

ESPN

 

A matchup of teams that ended the regular season heading in opposite directions. Nevada is 1-2 in their last three games after a 5-0 start, with losses to Hawaii and San Jose State. Tulane went 4-1 down the stretch after starting 2-4, with the only loss in the last five games coming to SP+ No. 42 Tulsa. 

Tulane most recently knocked off (No. 53 SP+) Memphis 35-21 on Dec. 5, 2020. Nevada comes in off a 30-20 loss to San Jose State on Dec. 11, 2020 in Las Vegas, a game the Wolf Pack blew a second-half lead.

Tulane’s improvement during the latter portion of the season coincides with strides made by true freshman QB Michael Pratt (18/5 TD/INT rate). But the strength of Tulane’s offense is its running game, which ranks No. 23 in success rate and No. 18 in the FBS with 218.9 rushing yards per game.

Nevada’s run defense, which ranks No. 51 in success rate, may have issues keeping Tulane off the field. 

Nevada QB Carson Strong ranks No. 10 in the FBS with 2,587 passing yards this season. The Wolf Pack’s one-dimensional offense can move the ball through the air, but uses the run game like a get-me-over pitch.

Tulane has an extremely aggressive defense which ranks No. 26 in havoc rate and No. 12 with 3.36 sacks per game. PFF says Green Wave DL Cam Sample is the most-valuable defensive linemen in college football (with the highest PFF wins above average ranking). And edge rusher Patrick Johnson holds the school’s career record for sacks. Those two have combined for 19 TFL and 12 sacks in 11 games this year.

Because Nevada doesn’t run (No. 125 standard downs run rate), Tulane’s defense can pin its ears back and try to get after Strong.

HC Willie Fritz has turned around Tulane in short order. His teams also come into bowl games prepared. Fritz’s Mean Green have won both bowls they qualified for, beating Louisiana 41-24 in the 2018 Cure Bowl and beating Southern Miss 30-13 in last year’s Armed Forces Bowl. 

Here are Fritz’s comments about playing in this game -- does this sound like a man who doesn’t care about the result of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?:

“I am so proud of everyone in our program that have dedicated themselves all season to allow our team the opportunity to compete in a bowl game. Everyone from the players to the coaches to the staff have played a key role in getting our team to this point. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will provide our student-athletes with a first-class bowl experience and we look forward to the challenge of competing against a great opponent.”

Tulane will have to play without offensive coordinator Will Hall, who was hired at Southern Miss. But they beat Memphis right after Hall accepted that job. I don't expect the offense to be effected.

This should be a high-scoring game. I trust Tulane’s uber-efficient running game, highly-active defense and determined coaching staff to polish off a season-ending win against a one-dimensional opponent.


Central Florida Knights (+4.5) at BYU Cougars

ATL: BYU -2.2

Boca Raton Bowl

FAU Stadium

Boca Raton, Florida

6:00p EST

ESPN

 

This is a big step up in competition for BYU, who must travel across the country to take on UCF in Florida. The Cougars didn't deal well with a similar situation recently, losing to Coastal Carolina, the only top-30 SP+ team BYU played this season, 22-17 earlier this month in Conway.

UCF (SP+ No. 18) lost three games this fall, all by single-digits -- an eight-point loss to SP+ No. 42 Tulsa, a one-point loss to SP+ No. 53 Memphis, and a three-point loss to SP+ No. 9 Cincinnati. Catching 3.5 points in this matchup, UCF's propensity to keep things close even against strong competition gives confidence.

BYU started the season 9-0, with talk of potentially crashing the playoff party. Then came that loss to Coastal Carolina. The next week, BYU beat San Diego State 28-14 in a non-cover. For the Cougars, this bowl destination probably counts as a disappointment. 

Not so with UCF, which suffered their second loss of the season way back on Oct. 17. UCF bounced back from that and finished 4-1 down the stretch, with the near-miss against mighty Cincy counting as the only loss.

Interestingly, BYU is actually 0-8 in school history in the state of Florida. Last year, BYU's season ended with a loss to San Diego State in the finale and a loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. This year, the Cougars' dream season was ended by Coastal Carolina, and I think the Cougars' gas tank may be tapped.


I will be previewing every 2020 bowl matchup in this space over the next few weeks. Check back on Tuesday for the next installment of the series. In the meantime, here's my adjusted lines for every bowl matchup that had been announced as of publication late Sunday afternoon.

Date Game Underdog Favorite PB Line ATL ATL side Line value
12/21 Myrtle Beach Bowl North Texas Mean Green Appalachian State Mountaineers -20.5 -22.0 Appalachian State Mountaineers 1.5
12/22 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Nevada Wolf Pack Tulane Green Wave -3 -5.4 Tulane Green Wave 2.4
12/22 Boca Raton Bowl Central Florida Knights BYU Cougars -4.5 -2.2 Central Florida Knights 1.3
12/23 New Orleans Bowl Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Georgia Southern Eagles -5 -4.0 Georgia Southern Eagles 1
12/23 Montgomery Bowl Florida Atlantic Owls Memphis Tigers -9.5 -9.4 N/A N/A
12/24 New Mexico Bowl Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Houston Cougars -11 -13.2 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 2.2
12/25 Camellia Bowl Marshall Thundering Herd Buffalo Bulls N/A -1.2 N/A N/A
12/26 Gasparilla Bowl South Carolina Gamecocks UAB Blazers N/A -8.1 N/A N/A
12/26 Cure Bowl Liberty Flames Coastal Carolina Chanticleers N/A -6.5 N/A N/A
12/26 First Responder Bowl UTSA Roadrunners Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns N/A -15.4 N/A N/A
12/26 LendingTree Bowl Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Georgia State Panthers -4 -2.2 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 1.8
12/26 Independence Bowl Army Black Knights N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
12/29 Cheez-It Bowl Oklahoma State Cowboys Miami Hurricanes N/A -0.2 N/A N/A
12/29 Alamo Bowl Colorado Buffaloes Texas Longhorns N/A -9.9 N/A N/A
12/30 Duke's Mayo Bowl Wake Forest Demon Deacons Wisconsin Badgers N/A -12.1 N/A N/A
12/30 Music City Bowl Missouri Tigers Iowa Hawkeyes N/A -14.3 N/A N/A
12/30 Cotton Bowl Oklahoma Sooners Florida Gators N/A -0.2 N/A N/A
12/31 Armed Forces Bowl Tulsa Golden Hurricane Mississippi State Bulldogs N/A 5.0 N/A N/A
12/31 Liberty Bowl Tennessee Volunteers West Virginia Mountaineers N/A -5.1 N/A N/A
12/31 Arizona Bowl Ball State Cardinals San Jose State Spartans N/A -3.6 N/A N/A
12/31 Texas Bowl Arkansas Razorbacks TCU Horned Frogs N/A -5.4 N/A N/A
1/1 Birmingham Bowl TBD TBD TBD TBD N/A N/A
1/1 Peach Bowl Cincinnati Bearcats Georgia Bulldogs N/A -4.8 N/A N/A
1/1 Citrus Bowl Northwestern Wildcats Auburn Tigers N/A -0.6 N/A N/A
1/1 Rose Bowl Game Notre Dame Fighting Irish Alabama Crimson Tide -19.5 -14.0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 5.5
1/1 Sugar Bowl Ohio State Buckeyes Clemson Tigers -8 -1.7 Ohio State Buckeyes 6.3
1/2 Gator Bowl NC State Wolfpack Kentucky Wildcats N/A 1.1 N/A N/A
1/2 Outback Bowl Ole Miss Rebels Indiana Hoosiers N/A -6.4 N/A N/A
1/2 Fiesta Bowl Oregon Ducks Iowa State Cyclones N/A -3.1 N/A N/A
1/2 Orange Bowl North Carolina Tar Heels Texas A&M Aggies N/A -2.9 N/A N/A
1/11 CFP National Championship TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD

2020: 56-55-1 (50.4%) ATS 

Lifetime (2014-Present): 596-524-17 (53.2%) ATS


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Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!