Weekly Picks

Pre-Championship Bowl Picks

Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Before the College Football Playoff National Championship kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, the sport has two decidedly non-championship affairs to sort through. We'll get to those in one second.

Upon completion of Oregon's demolition of Florida State, and Ohio State's upset win over Alabama, sportsbooks opened the Ducks as 7-point favorites against Ohio State. That number was quickly bet up to Ducks -7.5. The over/under took even more heat, opening at 70.5 and getting hammered up to 73.5 in a matter of hours. The "Over" figures to continue drawing heavy interest, but will the betting public warm to Ohio State as kickoff draws closer?

Check back on Thursday for Rotoworld's comprehensive guide to the Championship Game, complete with analysis, an ATS prediction, and draft prospects to watch.

In the meantime, two early-week bowl games should provide plenty of offense to tide you over until the Ducks and Buckeyes take the field.

January 3

Birmingham Bowl

Florida (-7.5) vs. East Carolina           




Straight Up:


Florida Gators logo

Against the Spread:



East Carolina Pirates logo




Analysis: Draft fans, are you ready for ECU WR Justin Hardy vs. UF CB Vernon Hargreaves III? That matchup alone makes this game worth tuning in for.


Hargreaves, a projected future first-rounder and perhaps college football's best cover corner as a true sophomore, enters play with five interceptions and 23 pass breakups across the past two seasons. Hardy, who will get picked in the middle rounds in the spring as a slot maestro, is second in the country with 110 receptions and fifth with 1,334 receiving yards. Hardy broke former Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles’ record for FBS career catches. Broyles had 349; Hardy comes into this game with 376.


The 6-5 Gators fired Will Muschamp after the season and hired Colorado State HC Jim McElwain, who is focusing on recruiting and won’t take over the program until after this game. Interim HC D.J. Durkin will coach the Gators instead. It’s hard for me to believe the Gators will be overly motivated here. Three Florida underclassmen have already declared for the draft—RB Matt Jones, OG Tyler Moore and DE Dante Fowler—and at least a few more figure to follow them in the days following this game. QB Treon Harris had a run-in with the law recently and is considered “probable” to play.


But will a potentially disinterested Gators team have enough talent anyway to finish off the slumping Pirates? ECU was college football’s darlings earlier this season after upsetting Virginia Tech and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks, but are just 2-3 in their last five heading into this game.


The Pirates average 532 yards a game and 37.2 points per game. ECU QB Shane Carden (4,309 yards and a 28/8 TD/INT ratio) leads an explosive passing attack that averages 367.3 passing yards per game. East Carolina boasts an outstanding run defense—allowing an average of 3.3 yards per carry—but 350-pound ECU DT Terry Williams, perhaps the defense’s most important player, will reportedly miss this game.


This matchup is difficult to peg, with Florida’s anemic offense (ranked No. 106 in passing yards per game and No. 57 with an average of 30.5 points) and strong defense (No. 5 in the country in yards per play) facing ECU’s dangerous offense (No. 3 in passing offense, No. 15 with 37.2 points per game) and a terrible defense (No. 54 giving up 25.7 points per game). Williams’ absence concerns me -- Jones is going to have a big game -- but Florida’s potential of no-showing worries me more. The Gators can’t exploit ECU’s biggest weakness, its terrible pass defense. I’ll take the points.           



January 4



GoDaddy Bowl

Toledo (-4) vs. Arkansas State            




Straight Up:


Toledo Rockets logo

Against the Spread:



Arkansas St. Red Wolves logo



Analysis: Instead of asking Why is this game being played?, ask yourself if you have something better to do on a Sunday night in January than watching the country’s No. 19 (Toledo, 486.3 yards per game) and No. 21 (Arkansas State, 477.2 yards per game) offenses square off.


Toledo had the MAC’s best offense and averages 34 points per game. When healthy, sophomore RB Kareem Hunt has been dominant, rushing for 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns on a 7.9 yard per carry average despite missing three games. No opponent outside of the training room has held Hunt below 100 yards or five years per carry in a game this year. Rockets’ WRs Alonzo Russell and Corey Jones are dangerous weapons, with Russell a future NFLer.


Arkansas State’s disinterested defense gives up 4.5 yards per carry. Expect Hunt to spend most of the evening galloping in open field, supported by one of the best offensive lines of non-Power 5 schools. That line features all-league performers Greg Mancz (a Mel Kiper favorite), Josh Hendershot and Jeff Myers.


Arkansas’ run-first offensive attack would seem to be a poor matchup for Toledo’s strong run defense, allowing only 3.6 yards per carry. Fortunately for the Red Wolves, they can also pass. Dual-threat ASU QB Fredi Knighten has thrown for 2,874 yards and 19 touchdowns on 61.3-percent completions with a solid trio of receivers in Tres Houston, J.D. McKissic and Dijon Paschal. They take aim at a truly horrid Toledo pass defense that gave up 32 passing scores and ranks No. 122 in the country in pass defense. The Red Wolves are a top-25 offense nationally, averaging more than 36 points per game. Knighten and dynamic 5-foot-9 RB Michael Gordon, who is hazardous in the open field, have combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards and 24 ground scores this year. Tackling Gordon is like attempting to retain a fistful of minnows.


This is ASU’s fourth straight GoDaddy Bowl; they’ve won two straight, beating MAC foes Ball State and Kent State. So long as they haven’t grown bored with the formality, Arkansas State’s offense is dangerous enough to go score-for-score with Toledo, whose secondary can’t be trusted against any team capable of consistently moving the ball through the air.



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

Bowl Record: Straight-Up: 18-14 (56.2%); Against the Spread: 16-16 (50.0%)

Overall Record: Straight-Up: 116-67 (63.4%); Against the Spread: 98-84-1 (53.8%)


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

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