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Odds and Ends

Against the Spread Picks: Dec. 23-25 bowls

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: December 23, 2020, 3:54 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. Check the bottom of the column for my adjusted spreads for the remainder of the bowl slate. 

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

Date Game Underdog Favorite PB Line ATL
12/23 New Orleans Bowl Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Georgia Southern Eagles -6.5 -4.0
12/23 Montgomery Bowl Florida Atlantic Owls Memphis Tigers -9 -6.4
12/24 New Mexico Bowl Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Houston Cougars -11 -13.2
12/25 Camellia Bowl Marshall Thundering Herd Buffalo Bulls -4.5 1.8

 

Wednesday, December 23

New Orleans Bowl | Mercedes-Benz Superdome | New Orleans, Louisiana

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (+6.5) vs. Georgia Southern Eagles

ATL: GSU -4.0

2:30p EST | ESPN

 

The 20th New Orleans Bowl won’t look the previous editions, with only roughly 3,000 fans permitted inside Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first-ever meeting between Georgia Southern and Louisiana Tech.

The in-state Bulldogs will travel about 300 miles to New Orleans, roughly half the distance of the Eagles. Louisiana Tech HC Skip Holtz will try to improve on his 8-3 SU record in bowl games and extend his six-game bowl winning streak.

To do that, he's going to have to make due without a key offensive contributor. The Bulldogs’ season finale against TCU didn’t go as planned, as LTU got rolled 52-10 and lost starting QB Luke Anthony to a gruesome leg injury, a compound fracture of the right tibia and fibula.

If there’s good news for Tech, it’s that Anthony (221 attempts) split some of his snaps with Aaron Allen (97) this fall, so the Bulldogs’ quarterback situation isn’t exactly going to fall off a cliff. Statistically, Allen completes a slightly higher percentage of his passes and gets sacked a little less, but Anthony gains more yards per pass.

That loss isn’t enormous. The bigger one of bigger note for LTU is WR Adrian Hardy (33-440-4), who opted out to focus on NFL Draft prep. Hardy was the Bulldogs' big-play receiver, while Smoke Harris and Cee Jay Powell are possession guys with lower drop rates. Since Allen isn’t a chucker anyway, he should do fine with the station-to-station stuff with Harris and Powell.

On that note, the Bulldogs would do well to keep the ball out of harm's way as much as possible, because Georgia Southern ranks No. 2 in the FBS with 22 takeaways, 14 INTs and eight fumble recoveries. 

The Eagles have offensive injury issues of their own. QB1 Shai Werts has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury and is doubtful, QB2 Justin Tomlin is done for the year following ankle surgery, and QB3 Miller Mosley has gotten a majority of practice reps in the lead-up to this game.

At running back, veteran stalwarts J.D. King and Wesley Kennedy III are both out with injury, which has elevated Logan Wright (565 yards and four TD on 6.4 YPC) into a larger role.

Georgia Southern’s triple-option offense ranks No. 5 in the nation with 262.5 rushing YPG, but in part because of injuries, it never completely got going this year, topping 27 points just three times.

Louisiana Tech, ranked SP+ No. 112, playing without their starting quarterback and top receiver, is a classic ugly dog in bowl season. But HC Skip Holtz, who is going for his 150th career victory, is taking on a team that plays up and down to its competition -- nine of GSU’s 12 games this season were decided by one possession.

Holtz’s Bulldogs have been assassins in bowl season, going 7-1 ATS in their last eight. This is another prime ambush spot.


Wednesday, December 23

Montgomery Bowl | Cramton Bowl | Montgomery, Alabama

Florida Atlantic Owls (+9) vs. Memphis Tigers

ATL: Memphis -6.4

6:00p CST | ESPN

 

Willie Taggart’s first FAU team is brutal to watch offensively. Easily the team’s most reliable form of offense this year has been freshman QB Javion Posey scrambling around. Posey didn’t even see the field until the middle of the season. And then FAU inexplicably went back to vet Nick Tronti in the finale against Southern Miss and got upset. Talk about a team desperate to find an offensive identity.

Despite all that, despite the fact that I don't know which quarterback FAU will start against Memphis, and despite the fact that I don’t think much of Taggart as a coach, I’m backing the Owls in this game.

Memphis may be low on gas after losing HC Mike Norvell to FSU along with several contributors to the NFL over the offseason, as well as several key players to opt-out before the season and during it. As you may know if you’ve been reading this column all season, I’ve been fading Memphis (3-7 ATS) throughout the campaign.

For instance, at the running back position, since last season Memphis has lost Antonio Gibson and Patrick Taylor to the NFL and Kenneth Gainwell to opt-out. The previous year, the Tigers lost Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard to the NFL. Is it any wonder that Memphis sunk to No. 9 in the AAC in yards per rush and No. 10 in rushing yards per game this season?

Veteran QB Brady White also lost WR1 Damonte Coxie to opt-out earlier this fall. Calvin Austin III has emerged as a strong go-to receiver, and H-back Sean Dykes is an interesting weapon, but this much is clear: Memphis is far shorter on artillery than they’ve been in years.

And they’re about to take on a team that plays some slick defense. FAU defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt leads a unit that ranks No. 16 in the FBS in total defense and No. 9 in scoring defense, as well as lead’s Conference USA in sacks per game. Leavitt’s star pupil is Leighton McCarthy, a senior who moved from DE to OLB this season and has put up 12.5 TFL, nine sacks and seven hurries through eight games.

Memphis’ brutal running game -- No. 97 success rate, No. 108 marginal efficiency -- is due in equal parts to the depleted running back room and the shoddy offensive line. Memphis ranks No. 105 in havoc rate allowed and No. 106 in standard down line yards per carry.

FAU figures to dominate Memphis in the trenches, and shut down the Tigers’ running game. And with rain in the forecast and the pressure on Memphis’ White to find passing windows against an FAU pass defense that ranks No. 11 in the FBS with 175.6 passing yards allowed per game, the odds just don’t look great for Memphis’ offense to find traction on Wednesday.

Memphis has lost five consecutive bowl games, while FAU is 4-0 all-time in bowl season. Take the points.


Thursday, December 24

New Mexico Bowl | Toyota Stadium Frisco, Texas

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (+11) vs. Houston Cougars

ATL: Houston -13.2

2:30p CST ESPN

 

An interesting Christmas Eve matchup between former Power 5 head coaches Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen.

In short order, Graham shifted the identity of the Rainbow Warriors from the finesse, pass-happy, defense-optional squads they’d been under June Jones and Nick Rolovich to a layered offense built around spacing, tempo and running -- defense still optional.

That offense stars QB Chevan Cordeiro, a ballyhooed local dual-threat product from Saint Louis School (trivia: Cordeiro was previously Tua Tagovailoa's backup at Saint Louis) who threw for 1,947 yards with an 11/6 TD/INT rate on 62.1 percent completion but was sacked 26 times in eight games.

The Rainbow Warriors force you to defend every inch of the field horizontally. Cordiero leads the team with 450 rushing yards (618 on 7.6 YPC with sack yardage taken out, nearly 80 rushing yards per game) and seven touchdowns. All-purpose RB Calvin Turner leads the team with 29 receptions for 458 yards and five TD to go along with 271 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.

Houston ranks No. 15 in the country in sacks per game. Its 3-4 defense generates pressure by blitzing, with its defensive line ranking No. 102 in havoc rate, and the LB unit doing the heavy lifting with a No. 22 havoc rating. But each of those units will be without its best player against Hawaii.

Cougars LB Grant Stuard (AAC-leading 8.7 tackles per game, No. 2 on team with 6 TFL, tied for No. 1 with six run stuffs, leads defense with 382 snaps played) and DL Payton Turner (team leader with nine TFL and five sacks, tied for No. 1 with six run stuffs, No. 1 on the defense with a 6.0% havoc percentage; nobody else had even 2.5%) both opted out to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. That’s not great news for an SP+ No. 65 defense that allowed 33 PPG and around 420 YPG during the season. 

Hawaii has a rancid run defense (No. 115 success rate, No. 120 marginal efficiency, No. 116 with 230.9 rushing yards per game), but a really strong pass defense (No. 35 success rate, No. 21 completion rate against, No. 20 with 190.6 passing YPG against).

Houston’s offense, as with all Dana Holgorsen teams, is pass-first, with QB Clayton Tune throwing for 1,832 yards on a 13/7 TD/INT rate with 60.7% completions. Lead-back Kyle Porter averages only 4.1 YPC, and the Cougars average only 4.3 YPC as a team, with the team ranking No. 112 in rushing explosion. Houston doesn’t appear equipped to attack Hawaii’s biggest weakness.

Houston had higher hopes for 2020 but was snakebitten throughout the campaign, with an FBS-high eight games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. Even when the Cougars got on the field, continuity became a serious issue. 

Holgorsen has spent the past week trying to rally the troops using platitudes about being “COVID champions,” but it would seem his program is at a serious motivational disadvantage heading in. There’s also the simple fact that Hawaii HC Todd Graham is 5-4 in bowl games, while Holgorsen is 2-5.

I like the underdogs to give the favorites a scare in this one, and perhaps even win outright.


Friday, December 25

Camellia Bowl | Cramton Bowl | Montgomery, Alabama

Marshall Thundering Herd (+4.5) vs. Buffalo Bulls

ATL: Marshall -1.8

1:30p CST | ESPN

 

A tremendous reason to sneak away from the in-laws after you open presents on Friday afternoon.

This will be your last shot to see Buffalo star RB Jaret Patterson on the college gridiron -- and yes, on Tuesday, we learned that we likely will be seeing him, with Bulls HC Lance Leipold saying Patterson should be "ready and able to go" after Patterson worked out individually during practice earlier that day.

Patterson hurt his knee in the third quarter of Buffalo's disastrous 38-28 MAC title game loss to Ball State last week. Interestingly, Leipold added both that he didn't know if Patterson would require a knee brace against Marshall, and also that he wasn't yet sure if Patterson's usual usage would need to be cut down against the Herd. "Would I see a little more rotation? Possibly," Leipold said.

Patterson, one of the nation's best backs, has rushed for 1,072 rushing yards and 19 TD in only six games -- but he had only 47 yards on 18 carries against Ball State. If Patterson is limited -- or has a late-week downturn in status -- the usage of RB2 Kevin Marks, who has 77 carries for 603 yards and six TD this year, would go up. Marks is a good back, but Patterson is Patterson.

Marshall's hopes for winning this game hinge on slowing the Patterson/Marks duo. Luckily, the Thundering Herd have a nasty defense, ranked SP+ No. 17. Marshall is specifically awesome against the run, ranking No. 2 with 88.9 rushing YPG allowed.

Marshall is one of the few G5 with a legitimate shot to slow Buffalo's run game. If the Herd can accomplish that, they've got this game won -- when Buffalo isn't running roughshod, they're left with a risk-averse passing offense, a mediocre defense and one of the nation's worst special teams units.

Marshall limps into this game with some serious offensive question marks, having lost 20-0 to Rice and 22-13 to UAB in the Conference USA title game the last two times out, both home games. Freshman QB Grant Wells, who played fabulous in the Herds' undefeated run up to that point, was abysmal in those two games, including five INTs against Rice.

Unfortunately for Wells and the Herd, reliable veteran Marshall RB Brenden Knox opted-out this week to focus on the NFL Draft. Knox's absence puts more pressure on Wells to have a bounceback showing in the bowl game.

But it doesn't necessarily have me begging off Marshall: By the advanced stats, Knox's backups have similar YPC, stuff rate % and 5+ yard gain % numbers. Knox's defection will make things a bit trickier for Marshall's play-callers, trying to mix in a perfect platoon, but most of what Knox does can be replaced without missing a beat (can you tell I'm going to have a tepid NFL Draft evaluation coming for the young man?).

Marshall comes into this game with huge edges on both defense and special teams, they played the tougher schedule, they're playing an opponent whose premier player is compromised, and they're the far more reliable bowl team -- the Herd are 7-1 ATS in their last eight bowl games, while the Bulls are 1-7 ATS in their last eight on a neutral site.

Give me the Herd to spring the small upset.


I will be previewing every 2020 bowl matchup in this space over the next few weeks. Check back on Thursday for the next installment of the series, which will break down the five bowl games being played on Saturday (Dec. 26). In the meantime, here's my adjusted lines for every upcoming bowl matchup with updated PointsBet spreads. If you have any college football ATS questions until then, you can always reach me on Twitter

Date Game Underdog Favorite PB Line ATL
12/26 Gasparilla Bowl South Carolina Gamecocks UAB Blazers -6 -9.1
12/26 Cure Bowl Liberty Flames Coastal Carolina Chanticleers -7 -4.5
12/26 First Responder Bowl UTSA Roadrunners Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns -14 -15.4
12/26 LendingTree Bowl Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Georgia State Panthers -3.5 -4.2
12/29 Cheez-It Bowl Miami Hurricanes Oklahoma State Cowboys -2 4.2
12/29 Alamo Bowl Colorado Buffaloes Texas Longhorns -11 -11.9
12/30 Duke's Mayo Bowl Wake Forest Demon Deacons Wisconsin Badgers -6.5 -9.1
12/30 Music City Bowl Missouri Tigers Iowa Hawkeyes -15 -16.3
12/30 Cotton Bowl Oklahoma Sooners Florida Gators -3 -0.2
12/31 Armed Forces Bowl Mississippi State Bulldogs Tulsa Golden Hurricane -2.5 -6.0
12/31 Liberty Bowl Army Black Knights West Virginia Mountaineers -7.5 -8.8
12/31 Arizona Bowl Ball State Cardinals San Jose State Spartans -7 -2.6
12/31 Texas Bowl Arkansas Razorbacks TCU Horned Frogs -5.5 -3.4
1/1 Peach Bowl Cincinnati Bearcats Georgia Bulldogs -7 -4.8
1/1 Citrus Bowl Auburn Tigers Northwestern Wildcats -3.5 3.6
1/1 Rose Bowl Game Notre Dame Fighting Irish Alabama Crimson Tide -19.5 -12.0
1/1 Sugar Bowl Ohio State Buckeyes Clemson Tigers -8 1.3
1/2 Gator Bowl NC State Wolfpack Kentucky Wildcats -2.5 2.1
1/2 Outback Bowl Ole Miss Rebels Indiana Hoosiers -6.5 -3.4
1/2 Fiesta Bowl Oregon Ducks Iowa State Cyclones -4.5 -4.1
1/2 Orange Bowl North Carolina Tar Heels Texas A&M Aggies -7 -2.9
1/11 CFP National Championship TBD TBD TBD TBD

2020: 57-55-1 (50.9%) ATS*

Bowls: 1-0 (100%) ATS*

Lifetime (2014-Present): 597-524-17 (53.3%) ATS*

*Through: Appalachian State-North Texas game on Dec. 21


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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!