Get college football best bets for the Thursday slate. This article features analysis and predictions for Rutgers vs. Miami, NC State vs. Kansas State, and Oklahoma vs. Arizona.
College Football Thursday 12/28 Bowl Game Best Bets
We’re onto bowl season in college football, and the Thursday 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: 30-29-1 (-0.0 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 27-11-1 (+15.1 units)
Pinstripe Bowl – Rutgers vs Miami
It feels as if I’ve said it a thousand times, and that might be because I have, but bowl season these days is all about gauging motivation. On Miami’s end, it’s hard to see where that motivation would come from. The Hurricanes are accustomed to success; they’ve been bowl-eligible in 10 of the past 11 seasons, sometimes resulting in trips to much more prestigious bowls than this one.
In a season that featured seemingly every type of loss, the Hurricanes will likely have little motivation to head up and play their best football of the year on a cold New York December day. Their transfer portal activity supports that notion, as quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is heading out, as are a whole litany of offensive contributors and both of Miami’s starting safeties.
On the other sideline is a team that will desperately want to win this game. Rutgers has been to just one bowl since 2014, and they made it to that one with a 5-7 record only due to a shortage of 6-6 teams. This year, the Knights are 6-6 and have definitely earned their spot. In front of what figures to be essentially a home crowd in nearby Yankee Stadium, Rutgers will have a sort of advantage in that way, and due to the fact that they’re far more accustomed to Northeastern winter weather than their opponents will be.
The enthusiasm for this game is reflected by their transfer and opt-out list; it’s a short one. Other than star corner Max Melton, a couple of backup o-linemen, and a few injured players, the Knights will be intact for this game. Most notably, star running back and Big Ten leading rusher Kyle Monangai will be back next year. As a North Jersey native, he’ll be fired up to bring his hometown school a bowl win in front of a friendly crowd that will presumably be filled with friends and family.
Even without the motivation factor, I’d be heavily considering Rutgers in this game. They finished a bit behind Miami in terms of EPA, ranking 55th in the country compared to 38th for the Hurricanes, but they did it in a much tougher conference, and that statistic is not opponent-adjusted. The Knights’ defense will be one of the toughest Miami has seen all year, especially against the pass, which could be an issue for Miami’s inexperienced quarterback Jacurri Brown.
Best Bet: Rutgers ML (-118)
Pop-Tarts Bowl – NC State vs. Kansas State
The beginning of the season went horribly wrong for quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who transferred over from Virginia before the year. He reunited with his former offensive coordinator Robert Anae, but the magic they captured two years prior didn’t show up right away. Armstrong was benched midway through the year, but he reentered the lineup in Week 11, and in his final three games, he threw for six touchdowns to no interceptions.
Armstrong will be facing a Kansas State defense facing two crucial defensive backs, Will Lee III and Kobe Savage, who are in the transfer portal. That doesn’t help matters for a defense that already ranked 125th in the country at stopping opponent explosive plays. Look for Armstrong to hit some big plays through the air while a deep Wolfpack backfield can go to work against a Kansas State defense that ranked 90th in yards per carry allowed.
The Wildcats will also be missing quarterback Will Howard, wide receiver Phillip Brooks, and tight end Ben Sinnott. That leaves them without their leading passer and their top two leading receivers. In addition, offensive coordinator left to join Mike Elko’s staff at Texas A&M. True freshman quarterback Avery Johnson gets the start with Howard in the portal, but he’s a run-first quarterback.
NC State has a far cleaner sheet than Kansas State in this game, although star linebacker Payton Wilson has opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Still, a defense that ranked 5th in tackling according to PFF is in place to stop what will likely be a very run-heavy offense with Johnson. NC State can give the true freshman a ton of issues with a defense that ranked 33rd in yards per carry allowed.
Dave Doeren has a chance to lead his team to their second double-digit win season in program history, and that isn’t lost on him. Doeren had the chance in the 2021 Holiday Bowl, but UCLA canceled on short notice due to COVID-19 concerns. That’s a sore subject for the Wolfpack, and they’ll be ready to capitalize on this opportunity. Bet on them springing the upset as short underdogs and the Wolfpack indulging in the Pop-Tart mascot after the game.
Best Bet: NC State +3
Alamo Bowl – Oklahoma vs. Arizona
A new era is beginning in Norman, Oklahoma with Dillon Gabriel off to Oregon and five-star freshman Jackson Arnold is set to make his first career start. Arnold played his high school football in Denton, Texas, which is just a few hundred miles away from San Antonio, where this game will be played. Along with some family and friends supporting Arnold, a heavy contingency of Oklahoma fans should be expected.
The Sooners draw a feisty Arizona team that far exceeded expectations this season, finishing third in the Pac-12 with a 9-3 record overall after being selected to finish 8th in the conference in the preseason media poll. Jedd Fisch did a fantastic job with this team and freshman Noah Fifita’s steadying presence under center helped buoy the offense all season.
Fifita, the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, certainly has the upper hand in terms of experience, but he’s facing a much tougher test against the Oklahoma defense. After leading some dominant defenses at Clemson, the Brent Venables defense started to show up in his second season at Oklahoma as the Sooners ranked top 30 in EPA and success rate while allowing just 22.2 points per game, which ranked 40th.
After some questions about their futures, linebacker Danny Stutsman and safety Billy Bowman announced they will return to Oklahoma next year, and they’ll play in this game. Stutsman leads the team with 46 run stops per PFF while Bowman led with six interceptions. Arizona could be without left tackle Jordan Morgan and wide receiver Jacob Cowing, so they’d be the much more affected unit.
Oklahoma will be without offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, but Seth Litrell was an offensive analyst this season at Oklahoma, and he’s replacing Lebby. The transition should be seamless, and I’d expect Lebby to install some different looks that the Arizona defense won’t be able to prepare for. Arizona’s defense was solid if unspectacular overall, ranking 69th in passing EPA/play allowed.
This profiles as one of the best games of bowl season, and Arizona has an incredible opportunity to secure their first ten-win season since 2014. However, Oklahoma has the better defense in this game with Stutsman and Bowman returning and Arnold presents a ton of upside that the Wildcats can’t fully prepare for. I love getting a full field goal on the spread with the underdog here.
Best Bet: Oklahoma +3