Get college football best bets for the Friday slate. This article features an analysis of Kentucky vs. Clemson and Missouri vs. Ohio State.
College Football Friday 12/29 Bowl Game Best Bets
We’re onto bowl season in college football, and the Friday slate this week is loaded with juicy matchups. In this article, our staff has you covered with our favorite bets of the day. Check out the Lineups YouTube page where we break down every bowl game in detail. Let’s get to work.
Jacob Wayne’s Record: 28-29-1 (-2.0 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 18-16-1 (+0.4 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 27-11-1 (+15.1 units)
For up-to-date injury and transfer portal information this bowl season, consult the Lineups bowl tracker.
Gator Bowl – Kentucky vs. Clemson
Many had Clemson pegged as a dark-horse national title contender this season (myself included), and its season did not go according to plan with an 8-4 finish. However, I fully expect Dabo Swinney to have his team ready for the Gator Bowl, and he’s been a great bet in bowl games with a 12-7 ATS (63.2%) record.
Cade Klubnik was expected to be a Heisman candidate this season, and that was far off from the reality. However, he has the opportunity to end his season on a high note against a Kentucky defense ranked 123rd against the pass by success rate. Klubnik should be able to put together consistent drives against an underwhelming defensive backfield.
Devin Leary was a similarly disappointing quarterback this season for Kentucky, and a 56% completion rate left a lot to be desired. He also had 21 turnover-worthy plays, with eight of those centered in his final three games. Clemson lost some defensive starters, most notably cornerback Nate Wiggins and safety Andrew Mukuba, but the pass defense should still be very strong after ranking second in EPA and success rate.
Leary was especially poor under pressure this season, completing just 34.4% of his passes with 5.3 yards per attempt and a horrendous 9.3% turnover-worthy play rate. Clemson lost defensive lineman Ruke Orhorhoro and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., but this is still an incredibly deep and talented front seven.
Xavier Thomas led the team with 39 pressures per PFF, and he could be a game wrecker against Courtland Ford, an inexperienced player who is getting the start at right tackle with Jeremy Flax out. Defensive tackles Tyler Davis and Peter Woods could also dominate an interior offensive line missing guard Kenneth Horsey.
As Kody will masterfully explain below, this isn’t expected to be a high-scoring game overall, but I see Clemson’s offense as having a much easier path to points than Kentucky’s. 5 is a fairly dead number on the spread, so I’d recommend waiting to see if this drops at all closer to kickoff, but you can also parlay the Clemson ML with Iowa State on Saturday, a heavy favorite who I love in their game against Memphis.
Best Bet: Clemson -5
Gator Bowl – Kentucky vs. Clemson
In what should be renamed the disappointment bowl, both Clemson and Kentucky underwhelmed per their preseason expectations. Clemson more so than Kentucky as they were largely pegged to make the ACC Championship, yet stumbled out of the gate due to their lack of downfield success on offense. Kentucky cleared their win total over, yet failed to beat the upper echelon of the SEC.
That same offensive struggle will be on full display once again as Cade Klubnik has to continue to maximize on efficiency but with his backup receivers. That spells potential disaster, most likely being half a step off throughout the contest as he tries to produce the same above average Pass Success Rate that he did throughout the season.
With Success Rate expected to tick back, as well as already ranking 133rd in Pass Explosiveness, Clemson’s offense will be prone to stalling out which greatly helps a weak Kentucky defense. The Wildcats secondary ranks 120th in Def Pass Success Rate, 72nd in Def Pass PPA and 22nd in Def Pass Explosiveness.
Better yet for the Wildcats, they are also well equipped to slow down the Tigers ground game as their front seven has been their lone source of consistency all season long. Kentucky comes into the contest ranked 47th in Def Rush Success Rate, 31st in Def Rush PPA, and 12th in Def Rush Explosiveness. Those impressive marks are more than enough to take advantage of a weak Clemson rush attack, a unit whose production was relatively bottled up in the trenches.
On the other end, Devin Leary was largely expected to elevate the Kentucky pass attack yet failed to do so over the full course of the season. Even when throwing against Clemson’s backup corners, expect Leary to struggle yet again as the Wildcats pass attack ranks 91st in Pass Success Rate and 68th in Pass PPA.
One shocking piece of news that came out of the Bluegrass State is that star running back Ray Davis will be giving it a go. A much needed boost for Kentucky’s offensive production, yet it’s wildly expected that his snap count will be severely limited. Production may be tough to come by for him anyways as the Tigers front seven is also elite in their efforts to stop the run, ranking seventh in Def Rush Success Rate.
With Cade Klubnik having to try and find production with an underwhelming group of pass catchers, as well as their defense being in a position to shut down the Wildcats anemic offense, take the under in what should be a defensive slugfest. This number has already crashed down from 48 to 44.5, making it vital to play this no lower than the key number of 45.
Best Bet: Under 46.5
Cotton Bowl – Missouri vs. Ohio State
As always with bowl season, let’s start off with a simple question: Who wants it more? Let’s proceed to the simple answer: Missouri. Ohio State has had what most programs would consider a great season, but it’s really the norm, or dare I say, the bare minimum in Columbus these days. This is already OSU’s third-straight season with at least 11 wins, and the Cotton Bowl will be its 10th straight New Year’s Six appearance, an incredible accomplishment that nobody in the country can match.
All of this serves to support the point that excellence, except of the very highest order, has become ordinary for the Buckeyes. Most teams would be inherently amped up to play a game of this magnitude. Ohio State probably isn’t. Several key players, including quarterback Kyle McCord and wideout Julian Fleming, have already opted to transfer, while superstar wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. seems to be opting out. It’s also hard to know how much we’ll see of other NFL-bound stars like edge rusher JT Tuimoloau, tight end Cade Stover, and linebacker Tommy Eichenberg.
Conversely, Missouri is in this to win it. The Tigers will be featuring the star duo of Brady Cook and Luther Burden, who should be able to link up consistently against a potentially depleted Ohio State defense. They’re the biggest headliners, but essentially every healthy Mizzou player is suiting up for a game that could mean a lot for the program.
At 10-2, the team has already secured its first double-digit win season since 2014, and could win their first bowl and finish ranked for the first time since that same year. They also haven’t finished this high in the polls since 2013, when they won none other than the Cotton Bowl and ended up ranked fifth. After sitting exactly at .500 for each of his first three seasons in Columbia, year four has been a huge step up for head coach Eli Drinkwitz, and he will want to cap it off on a high note.
As far as the matchup itself, it’s hard to know if Ohio State can exploit Mizzou’s greatest weakness, their air defense, with a new quarterback throwing to a diminished array of receivers. The contrast to one of the best QB-wideout batteries in the country is extremely stark, and Cody Schrader, the SEC’s leading rusher, will help lend balance to a well-rounded Mizzou offense. This unit will give an OSU defense that could be missing some of its best player all they can handle in more, and lead the team to a big, well-deserved win.
Best Bet: Mizzou ML (-102)