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Weekly Picks

Friday's Bowl ATS Predictions

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Armed Forces Bowl

Pittsburgh (-3) vs. Houston

 

Straight Up:

 

 
 

Pittsburgh Panthers logo

 

Against the Spread:


 

 
 
Pittsburgh Panthers logo
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

Analysis: If you like interim coaches during bowl season, you’re going to love this matchup.

 

Houston surprisingly ejected HC Tony Levine after a decent 21-17 run in order to hire ascending Ohio State OC Tom Herman. Since Herman wanted to finish out the season with the Buckeyes, DC David Gibbs will serve as coach in this one. Pittsburgh was abandoned on the altar by Paul Chryst, who bolted to Wisconsin. The Panthers hired Michigan St. DC Pat Narduzzi, but he also won’t take over the helm until later this month. Instead, Pitt will be directed by OC Joe Rudolph.

 

The Cougars have faced the 103rd-ranked schedule in the country, but still struggled to become bowl eligible, ultimately costing Levine his job. To be fair, they lost four games by one possession. Houston was outstanding as an underdog under Levine’s watch, winning eight of their last 10 against the spread as ‘dogs. Houston is also 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games out of conference.

 

Houston's middling offense ranked No. 62 in the nation despite playing a horrid schedule. A rudderless passing attack improved when QB Gary Ward Jr. took over as starter in early October. But that’s by degrees—it finished No. 70 in the country. Because of mediocre QB play, star Houston WR Deontay Greenberry has just 756 yards one season after finishing with 1,202. Greenberry will reportedly declare for the draft after this game.

 

Remember way back in September when Pittsburgh opened 3-0 and RB James Conner was being talked about as a darkhorse Heisman contender? The wheels fell off immediately, and Pittsburgh went 1-6 in their next seven. The Panthers needed to knock off both Syracuse and Miami at the end of the season to become bowl eligible.

 

The Panthers’ shoddy defense won’t get tested in this game, and it’s offense figures to roll over Houston’s defense, which ranked misleadingly high (No. 12) due to its keep-away offense and poor schedule. Houston hasn’t faced a back like Conner (1,675 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns), nor a receiver like star sophomore Tyler Boyd (1,149 yards and eight scores). Pittsburgh heads into the Narduzzi era with a blowout win.

            

 

TaxSlayer Bowl

Tennessee (-3.5) vs. Iowa

           

 

Straight Up:

 

 
 

Iowa Hawkeyes logo
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 
 
 
Iowa Hawkeyes logo

 
 

 
 

 

 

Analysis: If you’re a true draftnik, you won’t skip this game between ho-hum 7-5 schools. It features one of the best individual matchups of bowl season: Iowa LT Brandon Scherff, a potential top 10 pick in April, will square off with stud Vols' true freshman DE Derek Barnett. In his first collegiate season, Barnett ranks No. 5 nationally with a ridiculous 20.5 tackles for loss. He’s also in the top 20 in sacks. Can the grizzled vet—and elite NFL prospect—slow him down?

 

The game itself admittedly isn’t as interesting as that specific matchup. The line is a little confusing: Who parsed the stats and came to the conclusion that Tennessee was better? I see equivalent talent on both sides, with Iowa enjoying a few matchup advantages and a coaching edge. I’m calling for an upset that I don’t think should be perceived as an upset, in other words.

 

An underrated Iowa defensive line featuring perhaps three future pros figures to cave in Tennessee’s shaky offensive line and make life difficult for QB Josh Dobbs. That development would mitigate WR Pig Howard’s impact on the game. Controlling the line of scrimmage would also allow Iowa to coral stud young RB Jalen Hurd. The Hawkeyes have used that formula to rank No. 19 in the country in defense.

 

Kirk Ferentz is a gambler’s dream in bowl season. He’s led Iowa to a 5-1 ATS record in the school’s last six bowl games. The Hawkeyes, whose fan base travels extremely well, are also 6-2 ATS in their last eight neutral site contests. The betting public hasn't learned its lesson with this team, though, and so Iowa has once again been installed as a bowl underdog.

 

Behind a vicious offensive line, Iowa will look to feed Mike Alstott-lite RB Mark Weisman (802 yards, 14 touchdowns). The Hawkeyes will grind out a convincing, low-scoring victory.

 

 

Valero Alamo Bowl

UCLA (-1.5) Kansas State

 

 

Straight Up:

 

 
 
 
Kansas St. Wildcats logo

 

Against the Spread:


 

 
 
 

 
 
Kansas St. Wildcats logo

 
 

 

Analysis: That Kansas State enters this game as an underdog speaks not to an accurate reflection of this specific matchup, but to another example of why Vegas always wins. Bettors see the azure sky blue and the sun gold, recognize the national brand, and put their money behind the sexy combination of HC Jim Mora and QB Brett Hundley. How many Brink’s trucks were sent to Vegas labeled “UCLA” to hammer the opening line of Kansas State -3.5 all the way to UCLA -1.5?

 

I think a whole lot of people are going to lose cash on this game.

 

As I mentioned in the Bowl Confidence Pool Primer, this is a terrible draw for NFL-bound QB Brett Hundley (3,019 yards, 21/5 TD/INT ratio, 70.4-percent completion percentage). If you’re a regular reader of Rotoworld's NFL Draft section, you know we’ve never been as high on Hundley as the rest of the industry. Hundley is easy to dream on: He’s big (6-foot-3, 226), and has quick feet and a big arm. We think his weaknesses make him easy to scheme against, however. Hundley isn’t terribly accurate, and you can force him into making debilitating mistakes when you get in his face. Hundley drops his eye level at the mere idea of pocket fracture. When analysts talk about his mediocre pocket presence, this is what they’re discussing; a tendency to panic when he should be standing tall and waiting on his receiver’s routes to develop.

 

Against poor defenses, these infirmities rarely manifest; if Hundley isn’t pressured, he really does look like a young Randall Cunningham. He’s outstanding in the short-to-intermediate passing game, and his star receivers Jordan Payton (63 passes for 896 yards and seven scores) and Devin Fuller (57 receptions for 428 yards and one touchdown), and running back Paul Perkins (1,378 yards and seven touchdowns) manufactured plenty of yards after the catch on his behalf this season. When harassed, however, Hundley moves off his spot automatically as though listening to directions in a game of Twister. Instead of keeping his eyes up while scrambling, like the Texas A&M version of Johnny Manziel, Hundley forgets his progressions and makes snap decisions, some of which turn into crippling turnovers, others of which merely result in a loss of down. This shortcoming is particularly devastating in Hundley's case, because he isn’t a natural reader of defensive tea leaves. To sum up: Hundley doesn’t anticipate well, and he doesn't react well to chaos. Imagine sitting next to an inebriated math genius at a blackjack table. This man has never heard of blackjack, and he doesn't know the rules of the game. You keep expecting him to pick it up and accumulate massive stacks of chips, but this man keeps standing on 12s against a face card, or hitting on 16s against single-digit cards, smiling and cackling his way through the entire dance. Hundley is the drunk Srinivasa Ramanujan.

 

Pigskin wizard Bill Snyder has been breaking down Hundley’s game film for nearly a month, and I expect the Wildcats to aggressively attack and confuse Hundley with exotic blitz packages. UCLA’s offensive line crumbles under waves of pressure, which is why good defenses have reasoned out the Bruins’ puzzle so thoroughly this year. Stanford’s 31-10 beatdown of UCLA is the most recent example of this, but do you remember UCLA’s string of one-possession wins over Virginia, Memphis and Texas to open the year? Do you remember the losses to Utah and Oregon? Do you remember the two- and three-point escapes against California and Colorado, respectively?

 

The Wildcats allow 21.8 points per game, ranking No. 27 in the country, and grade out No. 36 in the NCAA in total defense, surrendering 361.3 yards a pop. They’ve excelled against every team except those that spread the field and give their quarterbacks time to throw—KSU coughed up 553 yards to TCU and 583 to Baylor.

 

UCLA has neither the skill-position depth nor the consistent quarterback play of the Horned Frogs or Bears. But even if the defense lets them down, Kansas State could simply outscore UCLA in a shootout. The Wildcats rank No. 19 nationally with 283.2 passing yards per game and are tied for 21st by scoring 35.8 points per game. QB Jake Waters has thrown for 3,163 yards and a 20/6 TD/INT ratio while rushing for 471 yards and eight scores. His favorite target WR Tyler Lockett is one of the nation’s most dangerous playmakers. He’s accrued 93 catches for 1,351 yards and nine touchdowns.

 

The overrated Bruins are 4-8 ATS this season. The Wildcats beat them by double digits and finish 10-3.

           

 

TicketCity Cactus Bowl

Washington (-5.5) vs. Oklahoma State

 

Straight Up:

 

 
 
 
 
Washington Huskies logo

Against the Spread:


 

 
 
 
Washington Huskies logo

 
 

 
 

 

 

Analysis: If judged by their first and last games of the season, Oklahoma State would be a top-20 team. The Cowboys gave No. 3 Florida State all it could handle in a narrow 37-31 loss in August. A little more than three months later, OSU shocked Oklahoma in the regular season finale as a two-touchdown underdog in Norman to win Bedlam. The problem was everything that happened in between.

 

Oklahoma State beat five straight non-bowl teams after losing to FSU, but then lost five straight heading into the OU game. They would have missed the postseason had they not caught the collapsing Sooners off guard. OSU's skid was no fluke: The Pokes lost by 33 to the TCU, 24 to West Virginia, 34 to Kansas State, 21 to Texas, and 21 to Baylor. The Cowboys would have lost to Oklahoma, too, had the Sooners done the smart thing at the end of the game and kicked away from dynamic returner Tyreek Hill, essentially Oklahoma State’s only source of offense. About that: Hill has since been kicked off the team. Washington couldn’t repeat Oklahoma’s mistake if they wanted to.

 

The Cowboys can’t run the ball, ranking No. 102 in the country with 135.3 rushing yards per game. And that was with Hill, who was forced for much of the season to play out of position in the backfield. Outside of him, no player on the roster with more than 15 carries averaged so much as four yards per carry. Oklahoma State also can’t protect the quarterback, yielding 3.1 sacks per game, 114th in the country. That’s really bad news against Washington’s star-studded defense that averages 3.5 sacks per game. QB Daxx Garman finished with a 12/12 TD/INT ratio on 54.9-percent completions. OSU rank No. 59 in the nation in passing, though a chunk of its yards came while desperately flinging around the ball in the second half of blowouts.

 

Washington’s offense has taken off since RB Dwayne Washington returned from injury. A former receiver, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound sophomore with a 4.4 forty scampered for 383 yards and five scores over the school’s final three games. Once he solidified that position, star OLB Shaq Washington was able to move back full-time to defense, strengthening both units. Since the beginning of November, the Huskies have averaged more than 30 points per game against its Pac-12 foes. That’s really bad news for a Pokes’ defense that gives up 32 points per game, ranking No. 100 in the country.

 

This one could get ugly quick.

 

 

Regular Season Record: Straight-Up: 98-53 (64.9%); Against the Spread: 82-68-1 (54.7%)


Bowl Record: Straight-Up: 17-10 (62.9%); Against the Spread: 16-11 (59.2%)


Overall Record: Straight-Up: 115-63 (64.6%); Against the Spread: 98-79-1 (55.4%)


 

*Note: Record doesn't include bowl games played on Thursday.

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!