College Football Bowl Game Best Bets Saturday (12/16/23): Expert Picks & Predictions

Get college football best bets for the Saturday slate. This article features an analysis of New Mexico State vs. Fresno State, Jacksonville State vs. Louisiana, and Miami OH vs. Appalachian State.

College Football Saturday 12/16 Bowl Game Best Bets

We’re onto bowl season in college football, and the Saturday 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: 26-27-1 (-1.8 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 17-15 (+0.5 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 26-10-1 (+15.2 units)

New Mexico Bowl – New Mexico State vs. Fresno State

I mean, did you really think we weren’t going to bet on Diego Pavia in a bowl game? Head coach Jerry Kill led the Aggies to a 10-4 record in his second season, and they fell just short in the C-USA championship. New Mexico State has a dynamic power running scheme led by Pavia, a dual threat magician who was a blast to watch every week. Even Auburn struggled to contain this attack in New Mexico State’s 31-10 win.

Fresno State ranks just 86th in tackling according to PFF, and Pavia’s running will put them in a constant bind. He tweaked his shoulder against Liberty in the C-USA championship game, but all indications are that he’s good to go for this game. Pavia led the team with 851 rushing yards and six touchdowns, but this is a deep backfield with multiple contributors.

Meanwhile, Fresno State is a pass-heavy team, ranking eighth in the FBS with 41 pass attempts per game. However, there are real health concerns with quarterback Mikey Keene after he dealt with multiple injuries at the end of the season. With backup Logan Fife in the transfer portal, that’s even more precarious. Fresno State ranks outside the top 100 in rushing success rate, so they can’t attack a weak New Mexico State run defense.

Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford stepped away to deal with personal health issues, and this team ended the year with a thud, losing its final three games by an average of almost 16 points per game. The Bulldogs started 5-0, but those five wins came against a miserable strength of schedule – Purdue, Eastern Washington (in OT), Arizona State, Kent State, and Nevada. Fresno State was overvalued all year with a 5-1 record in one-score games.

One fascinating quirk of this bowl is New Mexico State is playing this game just a few hours down the road at the stadium of their arch nemesis, the University of New Mexico. It should be a homefield advantage for the Aggies, and there’s real animosity from Pavia toward UNM after they didn’t offer him a scholarship. Those added factors only help our case here.

This spread has steamed up from 2.5 to 3.5, and it’s even touching 4 at a couple of shops as I’m writing this. 3 is obviously a key number, but we’re never getting back there, and I believe there’s blowout risk here. As long as we’re under 6 on the spread and Pavia is on the field, I’m happy to back a New Mexico State team that should have the clear motivational edge.

Best Bet: New Mexico State -3.5

New Orleans Bowl – Jacksonville State vs. Louisiana

While some bowls feature plenty of opt outs due to the transfer portal and NFL Draft prep, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl remains relatively unscatched. As of writing only Louisiana’s starting linebacker Kendre Gant has opted out due to the transfer portal.

That makes the cap for this game much easier as Jacksonville State is in a position to cap off their year with a win. They have massive advantages on both sides of the ball, advantages that have already been reflected by the market after getting steamed up to as high as -3.5 in some shops.

That is a drastic difference from their opening number of +2.5, now flipping to a favorite with indicators pointing towards this number continuing to climb. Especially if stud edge rusher Jaylen Swain decides to play, a productive pass rusher who missed their season finale due to injury.

Speaking of their defense, that may very well be the best unit on the field as the Gamecocks have backed a brunt of their success on the backs of their defense. They finished the year ranked 13th in Def Success Rate, 26th in Def Points per Opportunity, and 44th in Havoc. Limiting Explosiveness has been an issue but the Ragin Cajuns are not equipped to exploit it.

The issue for Louisiana is that their offense revolves around their ground game and that is exactly what the Gamecocks have excelled at stopping. The Ragin Cajuns finished the year ranked 28th in Rush Success Rate, 36th in PPA, and 43rd in Explosiveness. That directly goes against a JVST front seven who clocks in at fourth in Def Rush Success Rate, third in PPA, and 15th in Explosiveness.

Speaking of the run, that is an area that the Gamecocks also have a massive advantage in on the other side of the ball. Calling the sixth heaviest rush play rate in the nation, the Gamecocks have excelled at moving the ball down the field and are in a position to do so again against a Louisiana front seven who ranks 121st in Def Rush Success Rate and 95th in PPA.

Establishing the run and stopping the opposing ground game will be the top priority for the Gamecocks, a script that suits them well per their advanced metrics. Should they get Jaylen Swain back on their defensive line, then expect JVST to also halt the Ragin Cajun pass attack as well.

Best Bet: Jacksonville State -3

Cure Bowl – Miami (Ohio) vs. Appalachian State

This year’s Cure Bowl features one of the best Group of Five matchups you’ll see all year; the MAC champion RedHawks against the Sun Belt runners-up, the Mountaineers. It was a huge bounce-back season for both programs, who fell short of their respective goals in 2022, and each side will be looking to cap things off with a bowl win over a very solid opponent.

Miami will look to do so with a defense-first approach. Not only is quarterback Brett Gabbert done for the year, but backup Aveon Smith, who started and won the MAC Championship Game against Toledo, is in the transfer portal and presumably will not participate. Smith completed just six passes on 16 attempts in that win over the Rockets, but he provided a serious threat on the ground, lifting a usually-anemic RedHawks ground game to nearly 200 yards against a very solid defense.

That being said, Chuck Martin, in his 10th season running the program, has already shown his ability to adapt the offense. Gabbert was much more of a pure passer than Smith, but the team just kept winning regardless of who was at the helm this season. That was, of course, due in large part to that excellent defense, the country’s 22nd-best by EPA per play. They absolutely clamped down a Toledo offense that had scored 30 or more points in four straight games, allowing just 14 in that conference-clinching upset win.

Appalachian State is a good offense, ranking in just about the same tier of EPA as Miami’s defense, but their specific strengths and weaknesses might make this a tough matchup. Their prolific air offense will be going up against a really good Appalachian State secondary and solid pass rush; the RedHawks have two players with double-digit sacks, two more with eight or more, and three with multiple picks. Furthermore, the Appalachian State ground game might not be enough to exploit a relative weakness for Miami. On the other side of the ball, their run defense just might be so bad that Miami is able to move the ball even with a diminished passing threat.

When it comes to projecting bowls in this day and age, the transfer portal and opt-outs have to be a massive consideration. The portal is hitting Appalachian State much harder than Miami; the RedHawks are essentially just losing Smith, so that whole defense is staying intact. Star linebacker Matt Salopek, the MAC player of the year, was considered by many to be a transfer risk, but he’s sticking around. Similarly, kicker Graham Nicholson, the first MAC player to be honored with the Lou Groza Award, is back after previously hitting the portal; he set an FBS record this season with 25 consecutive kicks made.

Conversely, several significant offensive skill contributors will be out for the Mountaineers, which could hurt their depth just enough to flip the script and allow Miami to pull off the upset, or at least cover this fairly sizable spread.

Best Bet: Miami +6.5

I've been a huge sports fan for as long as I can remember and I've always loved writing. In 2020, I joined the Lineups team, and I've been producing written and video content on football and basketball ever since. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. My goal is to tell enthralling stories and provide meaningful insight on the sports I write about while helping you cash some bets along the way.

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