College Football Wednesday 12/27 Bowl Game Best Bets
We’re onto bowl season in college football, and the Wednesday slate this week is loaded with electric matchups. In this article, our staff has you covered with our favorite bets of the day including the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Holiday Bowl, and Texas Bowl. Check out the Lineups YouTube page where we break down every bowl game in detail. Let’s get to work. Find the latest opt-out and injury information for the bowl season with our tracker.
Jacob Wayne’s Record: 28-29-1 (-2.0 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 18-16-1 (+0.4 units)
Duke’s Mayo Bowl – North Carolina vs. West Virginia
In terms of starting production, an argument can be made that North Carolina has been the most negatively affected by departures as they will be without Drake Maye, Cedric Gray, and Tez Walker. Losing their three most impactful players for an already reeling team spells doom, let alone having to go against a Mountaineer squad who retains a majority of their core.
As of writing, West Virginia will only be without star center Zach Frazier who is arguably one of the best centers in the nation. While that is certainly a loss in production, it’s not drastic enough to lose faith in WVU’s ability to move the ball against a weak UNC defense. For a comprehensive list of opt outs, transfers, and injuries, you can read it here as Lineups football analyst Jacob Wayne continues to update it.
Speaking of UNC’s defense, it was another year of disappointment under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik as they continued to post poor metrics over the full length of the season. They finished the year ranked 69th in Def Success Rate, 62nd in Def Explosiveness, and 79th in Havoc.
They did excel in limiting opposing red zone production, ranking 39th in Def Points per Opportunity, yet their key losses from the transfer portal and opt outs revert that metric to league average at best. Especially without star linebacker Cedric Gray, an elite presence who manned their middle.
To make matters worse for UNC, West Virginia’s offense remains relatively intact and brings an elite ground game that is poised to run wild against their front seven. Like their metrics as a whole, UNC’s front seven has struggled to defend the run and ranks 71st in Def Rush Success Rate, 91st in Def Rush PPA, and 60th in Def Rush Explosiveness.
That plays right into WVU’s hands as they call the run at the fifth heaviest rate in the nation and rank 24th in Rush Success Rate, 12th in Rush PPA, and 22nd in Rush Explosiveness. Potentially losing running back CJ Donaldson Jr looks bad at first, but his backup Jahiem White has played much better on far fewer carries.
As for the Mountaineer defense, their metrics mirror the Tar Heels poor numbers yet get the benefit of defending against a UNC offense without Drake Maye. In an offense that relies heavily on efficiency over explosiveness, playing a backup quarterback doesn’t exactly bode well for their chances of generating any sort of consistency. Expect the UNC offense to stall out while the Mountaineers steadily pull away against a weak Tar Heel defense.
Best Bet: West Virginia -6.5
Holiday Bowl – Louisville vs. USC
After waiting for three and a half years, Miller Moss will finally get his first opportunity to start a game at quarterback for USC. Caleb Williams has opted out as the presumed top pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, and while that resulted in some significant line movement towards Louisville in this game, I’m excited to see Moss get a chance to prove himself under the lights.
While USC has seen multiple starting offensive players opt out or enter the transfer portal, this offense is deep at the skill positions. Running back Austin Jones is very capable – he has averaged 5.3 YPC for his career at USC – while Zachariah Branch and Tahj Washington are dependable wide receivers. Freshmen Duce Robinson and Ja’Kobi Lane will get an opportunity for more playing time, as well.
The Trojans aren’t the only team in this game with significant losses on offense, though, as Louisville’s RB Jawhar Jordan and WR Jamari Thrash have opted out as they enter the NFL Draft. Isaac Guerendo is a strong replacement for Jordan as the lead back, but Thrash is a huge loss for the passing offense as the only receiver on the team averaging over 2 yards per route run. The offense loses significant potency without their dynamic deep threat.
USC’s defense has been a sore spot for the past two years, but the ship is finally being righted with the firing of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Former UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn has arrived after leading the 17th-ranked scoring defense this season. His exact role is unclear, but at the very least he should bring some much needed intensity to a group that has sorely lacked hustle and consistency.
Jeff Brohm led Louisville to an impressive 10-3 season and an ACC Championship berth, but they also benefited from a very easy schedule. The Cardinals were 5-1 in one-score games and got the benefit of facing Duke without Riley Leonard. Meanwhile, USC was just 7-5 this year, but the Pac-12 was arguably the best conference in the country this season and the Trojans should benefit from a few weeks to reset before this game.
The national narrative has shifted hard against Lincoln Riley and this program as a whole, and I believe they’ll enter this game with a chip on their shoulder. This is a quasi home game in San Diego, so we can expect a strong USC contingency, and Riley has spoken about the importance of this game for recruiting efforts. Let’s buy low on USC here.
Best Bet: USC +7
Texas Bowl – Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma State
In bowl season, understanding who is actually playing is oftentimes even more important than handicapping matchups, and Texas A&M’s roster has been decimated. Wide receivers Ainias Smith and Evan Stewart won’t be active, leaving third-string freshman quarterback Jaylen Henderson with an offense missing its top two pass-catchers.
The defense, meanwhile, will be without several starters including five-star defensive tackle Walter Nolen and star linebacker Edgerrin Cooper, who is PFF’s highest graded linebacker in the country. Texas A&M had an elite run defense this season, ranking fourth in success rate, but that advantage will be neutralized with so many players opting out or hitting the transfer portal.
That’s huge for an Oklahoma State offense that leans on its star running back, Ollie Gordon II, this season’s Doak Walker Award winner. Gordon announced he will be back at Oklahoma State next season after leading the Power Five with 1,614 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He was bottled up against an elite Texans run defense in the Big 12 Championship, but he should find much more success here.
Oklahoma State also found its identity with quarterback Alan Bowman after three different quarterbacks saw snaps earlier in the year. Once Bowman became the starter, Oklahoma State went 7-2 in conference play on their way to a Big 12 title berth. Bowman was turnover prone at times this season, but he at least provided stability for the team on his way to over 3,000 passing yards.
Texas A&M’s coaching staff is also in disarray – former head coach Jimbo Fisher was fired during the season and interim head coach Elijah Robinson will be off to Syracuse where he’ll be their new defensive coordinator. Robinson will still be the interim coach for this bowl game, but it’s fair to wonder how invested he’ll be given he already accepted that new position.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy is one of my favorite coaches in the country, and he’s a consistently great bet in bowl games where he has gone 11-6 ATS (64.7%). The Cowboys exceeded expectations with their 9-4 record this year, and this is a huge opportunity for a ten-win season. While Texas A&M opened as a favorite, it’s clear that Oklahoma State is the more motivated, intact team and I’m betting on them coming out of Houston with a win.
Best Bet: Oklahoma State -2