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D'Eriq King
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Odds and Ends

Against the Spread Picks: Dec. 29-30 bowls

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: December 28, 2020, 8:12 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 favorite. 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 Bowl Underdog Favorite PB Line ATL
12/29 Cheez-It Bowl Miami Hurricanes Oklahoma State Cowboys -2.5 1.2
12/29 Alamo Bowl Colorado Buffaloes Texas Longhorns -9.5 -8.9
12/30 Duke's Mayo Bowl Wake Forest Demon Deacons Wisconsin Badgers -7 -8.1
12/30 Music City Bowl Missouri Tigers Iowa Hawkeyes N/A -15.3
12/30 Cotton Bowl Oklahoma Sooners Florida Gators -3 2.8

Tuesday, December 29

Cheez-It Bowl | Camping World Stadium | Orlando, Florida

Miami Hurricanes (+2.5) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

ATL: Miami -1.2

4:30p CST | ESPN

 

Miami received a shot in the arm in the lead-up to this game when star QB D'Eriq King announced he was returning to campus in 2021, taking advantage of the NCAA’s paused eligibility clock this year.

With Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and numerous other Clemson Tigers expected to move onto the NFL after the season, King and the Hurricanes believe they’ll be ACC title contenders in 2021.

That work starts here, against Oklahoma State. I was a little surprised to see the Hurricanes catching a field goal in this spot, but I think that can be explained by Miami’s no-show in the finale against UNC in conjunction with Oklahoma State blowing Baylor's doors off in their most recent game.

UNC was a terrible matchup for Miami. The Hurricanes have a brutal run defense, a defect the Tar Heels mercilessly picked on in a 62-26 slaughter.

Last year’s Oklahoma State team would have lit up Miami’s front-seven. Not this bunch. Cowboys RB Chuba Hubbard opted-out earlier this month, and backup LD Brown has been out with an injury. That’s elevated RB3 Dezmon Jackson into a bellcow role. On the season, Okie State ranks No. 110 in offensive rushing success rate. Not what we expected coming in.

Okie State’s passing offense, in terms of efficiency, is average nationally. And that’s with star WR Tylan Wallace, who was fed 86 targets prior to missing the win over Baylor with an injury. The Cowboys’ next-highest targeted receiver has 58. Wallace has said he intends to play in this game, which would buck a trend of many fellow 2021 NFL Draft prospects.

Miami faced several NFL-caliber receivers this year: UAB’s Austin Watkins, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell, Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick, FSU’s Tamorrion Terry, Pittsburgh’s Jordan Addison, NC State’s Emeka Emezie, and UNC's duo of Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Per 247Sports, Miami held that group of eight to an average of 4.5 receptions for 80 yards and 0.4 TD. 

If Wallace plays, and Miami holds him to less than 100 yards, the Hurricanes have a really good chance of winning this game. Oklahoma State simply doesn’t have the explosion in the backfield to take advantage of Miami’s achilles heel -- they’ll have to try to go strength-on-strength and try to win through the air.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s No. 13 SP+ defense has only one big weakness -- it gets gouged for an inordinate amount of big plays, ranking No. 100 defensive IsoPPP and No. 104 in defensive marginal explosiveness (hat-tip to ESPN’s Bill Connelly). Okie State can get indiscriminately nicked for huge gains both on the ground and through the air.

Miami’s No. 30 offense can struggle with efficiency at times, but it makes up for it by being highly explosive, ranking No. 20 in IsoPPP, No. 28 in marginal explosiveness and No. 38 in explosive play rate. That group should rip the Pokes for several big plays.

Miami dealt with COVID-19 issues earlier this season, but its roster is healthier now than it’s been in awhile. That’s good, because the Hurricanes need to weather the opt-outs of OLB Jaelan Phillips and DE Quincy Roche, who rank first and second on the team in sacks and TFL. 

Phillips and Roche are arguably Miami’s two best defenders. Despite their absence, I like Miami. The Hurricanes don’t always deal with expectations well, but they’ve been pretty good under HC Manny Diaz when counted out, going 4-1 ATS as an underdog during his tenure.

The Hurricanes are 1-7 ATS in bowl games since 2010 and got embarrassed in a 14-0 shutout against Louisiana Tech in the Liberty Bowl last year, Diaz’s first season as boss. Diaz is plenty motivated to make a statement here, and so is his star quarterback King. Oklahoma State had a wildly disappointing season and HC Mike Gundy is probably looking forward to reshuffling the deck in the offseason.

I like the Hurricanes to spring the small upset.


Alamo Bowl | Alamodome | San Antonio, Texas

Colorado Buffaloes (+9.5) vs. Texas Longhorns

ATL: Texas -8.9

8:00p CST | ESPN

 

Texas is returning to the Alamo Bowl after blowing out No. 12 Utah 38-10 in last year's game. Much was expected of this year’s team after that showing, with a bundle of returning talent returning. But Texas underachieved, going 6-3, beating only two teams that finished above .500, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

Outside of face-of-the-program QB Sam Ehlinger, the Longhorns don’t look much like the team that opened the season. Texas’ opt-out list is as extensive as any team in bowl season: WR Brennan Eagles (team’s leading receiver), LT Samuel Cosmi (potential top-15 pick in April), OLB Joseph Ossai (No. 1 on team with 11 TFL -- nobody else has more than four), DL Ta’Quon Graham (leads team in snaps for interior DL, No. 2 in run stuffs), S Caden Sterns (likely Day 2 pick in April) and S Chris Brown (team leader in tackles). 

In total, 17 Longhorns are listed as out for the season due to either injury, illness or personal decision. One of them is starting center Derek Kerstetter, who was lost for the season to an ankle injury earlier this month. “We’ll play the shell game a little bit and give a lot of those guys some opportunities there to show if they are ready," HC Tom Herman said earlier this month, speaking of a newly-inexperienced offensive line, now without two stallwarts.

Colorado, on the other hand, only had a couple of little-used offensive backups opt-out (RB Ashaad Clayton and WR Keith Miller III). Which isn’t to say that Colorado will be at full strength.

Colorado will also be without star LB Nate Landman (team leader in tackles), who suffered a season-ending injury in the Utah game. The Buffs’ defense immediately cratered without him, coughing up 28 unanswered points to the Utes in the second half of a 38-21 loss.

Starting Colorado OL Kary Kutsch is listed as questionable due to COVID-19. Starting QB Sam Noyer is also listed as questionable with a shoulder injury suffered in the loss to Utah.

Noyer was able to return against the Utes after suffering that injury, so you would assume he’d play. He’d better, because backup QB Tyler Lytle entered the transfer portal after Colorado lost to Utah.

Texas’ big edge in this game is its explosive, No. 12-ranked offense (41.3 PPG, No. 22 IsoPPP, No. 20 marginal explosiveness) matching up against a decent Colorado defense that nevertheless has a propensity to give up big plays, ranking No. 122 in defensive IsoPPP and No. 102 in marginal explosiveness against.

But most of the big plays Colorado gives up are on the ground (the Buffs actually rank No. 8 in passing marginal explosiveness against), and Texas isn’t quite as dangerous in that facet (No. 40 rushing marginal explosiveness). Though, to be fair, Bijan Robinson has been an upgrade over Keontay Ingram in that department.

Losing Eagles hurts in the passing explosion department, as he not only led the Horns in catches and receiving yards, but ranked tops among the top-three targeted receivers in yards per target and yards per catch. The loss of Cosmi and Kerstetter are detrimental to both the rushing and passing attacks.

Colorado’s offense has an old-school pro-style feel to it, ranking No. 17 in the FBS with 218.4 rushing yards per game while the passing attack ranked No. 86 with 202.6 YPG. Buffs RB Jarek Broussard is a keeper, a workhorse who churned out 813 yards and three TD in only five games.

Prior to losing the four defensive starters to opt-out -- Ossai, Graham, Sterns and Brown -- Texas had very little pass rush, and fielded a roughshod pass defense. Those areas aren’t likely to be better against the Buffs. And while the run defense is solid overall, it can get gouged for long jaunts (No. 66 rushing marginal explosiveness against).

Longs run are what Colorado’s offense is built around -- the Buffs rank No. 16 in rushing explosion. And it stands to reason that especially without Ossai and Graham in the front-seven, Jarek Broussard should rip off his fair share of long sprints.

This is a tough handicap. Tom Herman is a great bowl coach, 4-0 SU in his career, and 3-0 ATS since taking over the Longhorns in 2017. He also has the more talented squad here, with a stud senior quarterback who may or may not be playing in his last collegiate game.

But Texas sustained so many personnel losses during this down season that we aren't going to be seeing the best version of the Longhorns -- and it’s also difficult to envision the group we're getting giving its best effort.

Give the motivation edge to the underdog, one of the few Pac-12 teams to accept a bowl invite, probably because Colorado hadn’t played in one since 2016 -- Karl Dorrell’s first season incited legitimate excitement in Boulder. 

 

I think Broussard will have a huge game. And I do think there is some value on the Colorado side. My number is a little south of the PointsBet line, but remember: ATL does not take into account injuries or opt-outs or the like -- it’s telling us that if Texas played as it has on average, and Colorado did too, the Longhorns should be favored by 8.9 points.

But Texas is dealing with substantially more personnel losses than Colorado. If those were factored into my line, the Horns would be favored by less than a TD. As is, this line is near double-digits -- and the Longhorns went 0-3 ATS as double-digit favorites this season. I’ll side with Colorado to stay close enough to stick within the number. Because of all the defensive studs who are out, I will also be on the OVER (currently 63.5 on PointsBet).


Wednesday, December 30

Duke's Mayo Bowl | Bank of America Stadium | Charlotte, North Carolina

Wisconsin Badgers (-7) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

ATL: Wisko -12.1

11:00a CST | ESPN

 

Wisconsin enters losers of three of four, a once-promising season derailed in part by a particularly aggressive COVID-19 outbreak. The Badgers started the season with dominant wins over Illinois and Michigan, but scored seven-or-fewer points each time in a three-game tailspin as the roster dealt with the virus.

Wisconsin snapped that skid by beating Minnesota 20-17 in OT in the finale, a lethargic showing in which many backups on both teams saw the field.

The Badgers haven’t played a quality football game since November 14 (the 49-11 win over Michigan), but I’m going to be laying a touchdown in bowl season with them anyway.

Wisconsin’s COVID issues required the Badgers to play without several key contributors during the latter stages of the season. Against Wake, Wisconsin will be getting back leading rushers Jalen Berger and Nakia Watson, as well as starting offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen -- who all missed the Minnesota game.

Starting QB Graham Mertz is also healthy after getting knocked out of the win over the Gophers due to an upper-body injury. Wisconsin also lists starting wide receivers Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor as starters on the bowl game depth chart after each missed the last two games. Davis and Pryor, however, were also listed on the depth chart for the previous two games and should be considered questionable.

In contrast to week’s past, this time it’s Wisconsin’s opponent that has to deal with more vacated talent on gameday than the Badgers do. Wake Forest of course lost WR Sage Surratt to opt-out before the season, and RB Kenneth Walker III to an opt-out last month. Then the Deacs suffered their biggest loss yet when likely Round 1 pick DE Carlos “Boogie” Basham opted-out before the bowl game.

Basham’s loss is an enormous one, particularly in this matchup. Even with the fearsome edge rusher out there leading the team in TFL and sacks this fall, Wake had another poor defense, ranking No. 72 SP+. Basham’s defection severely compromises Wake’s front-seven.

Basham is rightfully known for his pass-rushing. But his loss will also hurt an already dreadful Wake Forest run defense that ranked No. 91 in the FBS with 191.0 YPG allowed, along with No. 100 in defensive rushing success rate, No. 104 in defensive marginal efficiency against the run and No. 123 in power success rate.

Does that sound like a recipe for stopping a Wisconsin offense that is returning to full strength to you? 

Getting Jalen Berger back is huge for Wisconsin -- he averaged 5.93 YPC in comparable touches to Garrett Groshek’s 4.80 and Nakia Watson’s 3.60. Berger easily leads the team in lowest stuff rate and highest percentage of five-plus yard carries, and he’s the only runner of the top-three who hasn’t fumbled. And this should be noted too: Van Lanen, who Wisko is getting back from injury, has statistically been both Wisconsin’s best run-blocker and pass-blocker this year.

Though Wake Forest finished 4-4, and further put up an impressive 6-2 ATS (.750) record, the Deacs finished with postgame win expectancies of over 26% just three times -- in wins over FCS Campbell, Virginia (SP+ No. 53) and Syracuse (No. 111).

Wake has a decent passing offense, but it is taking an enormous leap up in competition here playing Wisconsin’s No. 5 SP+ defense, a unit that admirably kept bringing it all season even as the offense imploded under the weight of the COVID absences during the three-game losing streak.

Wisconsin is 4-1-1 ATS in its last six bowl games, and it has a nice matchup to keep the good times rolling. I like the Badgers big.


Music City Bowl: CANCELED

Iowa Hawkeyes (N/A) vs. Missouri Tigers

ATL: Iowa -14.3

 

This game was canceled on Sunday due to COVID issues on the Missouri side.

It would have been interesting to see Iowa as a two-TD favorite in bowl season, as the Hawkeyes have never been favored by more than seven points in a bowl game (1986 against SDSU, a non-cover win). Iowa closed the regular season on a six-game winning steak.

Missouri's defense, which allowed 49.3 PPG in its last three games, would have been playing without star LB Nick Bolton, who left the team after the regular season to start preparing for the NFL draft. The No. 3-ranked inside linebacker on Mel Kiper’s 2021 NFL Draft board, Bolton ranked fifth in the SEC with 95 tackles during the regular season, adding five sacks and six passes defended.

Iowa’s defense, led by Outland Trophy finalist DT Daviyon Nixon, came into bowl season ranked No. 3 SP+. That unit ranked No. 2 in yards per play allowed (4.34) and No. 10 in points allowed (16 PPG), one of the best defenses Iowa has fielded in recent years.


Cotton Bowl | AT&T Stadium | Arlington, Texas

Oklahoma Sooners (+3) vs. Florida Gators

ATL: UF -0.2

6:15p CST | ESPN

 

Oklahoma’s offense may not be quite as dangerous as it’s been the past four years, when it was led by Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts, but the Sooners’ defense is much improved. 

Oklahoma has never had a problem recruiting athleticism, and that’s finally started to manifest for HC Lincoln Riley on the defensive side of the ball. He has a nasty front-seven that ranks No. 6 in the FBS with 3.8 sacks per game and No. 3 with 90.6 rushing YPG allowed.

That group is going to provide a legitimate challenge for Florida QB Kyle Trask, a Heisman finalist along with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith. Trask leads the nation in passing yards per game (375.0) and passing TD (43). But he lacks mobility, and, against the Sooners, will lack his singular offensive superstar.

Stud Florida TE Kyle Pitts announced after the SEC title game loss to Alabama that he was leaving the team to declare for the NFL Draft. The favorite for the Mackey Award, Pitts was Florida’s second-leading receiver and the team-leader in touchdown catches.

Pitts’ absence is a load off the shoulders of Oklahoma DC Alex Grinch, who won’t have to worry about double-teaming the surefire top-15 pick in April. That’ll open more coverage resources to make sure the man on OW Kadarius Toney always has help over-the-top. Toney leads the Gators with 87 targets, 70 catches and 984 yards. 

And that’s especially fortunate, because Oklahoma’s top CB, Tre Brown, opted-out.

Pitts missed three games this season. Florida won the Arkansas game 63-35 but finished with a 59% postgame win expectancy. And without Pitts against LSU, Florida got upset 37-34. The team consistently played down without him. Which makes sense -- he's a next-level stud.

Oklahoma had an uncharacteristically rough 1-2 start to the season. Since then, they’ve won seven straight games (6-1 ATS). The Sooners beat four teams in the SP+ top-41 during that time. Over the same stretch, Florida beat only one such team.

In part, that’s why Oklahoma is 3-0 SU and ATS against ranked teams this season. Per ESPN, Alabama, Ohio State and Cincinnati are the only other three teams in the FBS who won three games or more without a loss to ranked teams this season.

Oklahoma hasn’t often entered bowl matchups in recent memories with the superior defense, but that’s the case here. Florida’s defense ranks No. 31 SP+ and just got lit up for 605 yards and 52 points by Alabama.

The Gators have sent numerous defensive backs to the NFL in recent years, but the secondary has struggled this season, ranking No. 100 in the FBS with 258.3 YPG allowed and No. 97 in completion percentage allowed. 

This is a plum matchup of Oklahoma redshirt freshman QB Spencer Rattler, who has settled down since his bumpy start. Rattler threw five combined interceptions in OU’s two losses against Kansas State on Sept. 26 and Iowa State on Oct. 3, and in the first half against Texas on Oct. 10. 

Over the last six-and-a-half games -- the stretch where Oklahoma won seven straight -- he’s thrown only two. In addition to Rattler’s improved play, the Sooners’ offense got a huge shot in the arm when RB Rhamondre Stevenson returned from suspension. The bruising runner has 479 yards and six touchdowns in five games. 

Oklahoma is on a tear to end the season and has very high hopes for 2021. Florida very recently had playoff dreams but finished the season with two-straight losses, and then learned that HC Dan Mullen was getting hit with a show-cause penalty by the NCAA and TE Kyle Pitts was pulling out of this game. With Trask, Toney, Trevon Grimes and numerous others expected to move onto the NFL after this season, the vibe around Florida is totally different than the vibe around Oklahoma at the moment.

I like the Sooners to pull the upset.


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 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 Bowl Underdog Favorite PB Line ATL  
12/31 Armed Forces Bowl Mississippi State Bulldogs Tulsa Golden Hurricane -2.5 -7.0  
12/31 Liberty Bowl Army Black Knights West Virginia Mountaineers -7 -7.8  
12/31 Arizona Bowl Ball State Cardinals San Jose State Spartans -9.5 -1.6  
12/31 Texas Bowl Arkansas Razorbacks TCU Horned Frogs -4.5 -3.4  
1/1 Peach Bowl Cincinnati Bearcats Georgia Bulldogs -7 -5.8  
1/1 Citrus Bowl Auburn Tigers Northwestern Wildcats -3.5 3.6  
1/1 Rose Bowl Game Notre Dame Fighting Irish Alabama Crimson Tide -20 -14.0  
1/1 Sugar Bowl Ohio State Buckeyes Clemson Tigers -8 0.3  
1/2 Gator Bowl NC State Wolfpack Kentucky Wildcats -2.5 3.1  
1/2 Outback Bowl Ole Miss Rebels Indiana Hoosiers -6.5 -3.4  
1/2 Fiesta Bowl Oregon Ducks Iowa State Cyclones -4.5 -3.1  
1/2 Orange Bowl North Carolina Tar Heels Texas A&M Aggies -7 -1.9  
1/11 CFP National Championship TBD TBD TBD TBD  

2020: 59-62-1 (48.4%) ATS*

Bowls: 3-7 (30.0%) ATS*

Lifetime (2014-Present): 599-531-17 (53.2%) ATS*

*Through: Bowl games played on Dec. 28


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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!