College Football Best Bets 12/30/22 Bowl Games: NC State vs Maryland, Pittsburgh vs UCLA, and Clemson vs Tennessee

The college football bowl slate on Friday is loaded with goodness, and I can’t wait for these games to get underway. We’re breaking down every single bowl game on the Lineups YouTube channel, where you can get further analysis on every game over the weekend. In this article, I’ll break down my favorite plays from some of the games on Friday. Let’s get to work.

College Football 2022 Record: 15.5-9.5 (+5.88 units)

Duke’s Mayo Bowl: NC State Wolfpack vs. Maryland Terrapins

NC State enters this game with a new look on offense, most notably with longtime quarterback Devin Leary on his way out through the transfer portal. However, the Wolfpack had been without him for a few weeks, and they’ll get back standout freshman quarterback M.J. Morris here.

Morris led NC State to a 2-1 record through his two games earlier this season, and while he only completed 59.8% of his passes this season, he had a stellar 7:1 TD:INT ratio. It will help Morris that Maryland ranks just 92nd in sack rate on passing downs, while NC State ranks 28th in sack rate allowed on passing downs, so he will have time in the pocket.

For Maryland, the opt outs were significant. All three of the elite wide receiver trio of Rakim Jarrett, Jacob Copeland, and Dontay Deamus have opted out, leaving Taulia Tagovailoa without about 39% of his passing yardage. With those players out, he’ll be going against an NC State front seven that can get after it.

The Wolfpack still bring lights out front seven talent such as Drake Thomas (declaring for the draft but playing), Isaiah Moore, Davin Vann, and Payton Wilson into this game. Behind that corps, they ranked 30th in havoc this season, and Maryland ranked just 78th in havoc allowed. That will create issues for Tagovailoa, especially without his reliable receivers.

NC State is the clear play for me for those reasons, especially when you factor in the motivational edge. The Wolfpack players have been itching to play in a bowl game after their game last year was canceled due to COVID related complications. Dave Doeren is a masterful coach, as well.

Matt also did a great job of convincing me on the under here on our YouTube video. With the Maryland offense more limited than usual and the NC State offense working with a relatively inexperienced quarterback against a Maryland defense that ranks 36th in finishing drives allowed, I don’t envision a ton of points here.

Best Bet: NC State ML and Under 46.5

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Pittsburgh Panthers vs. UCLA Bruins

This would have been an awesome bowl game between two of the better teams in their respective conferences this season, but the handicap here almost entirely comes down to which players will actually be available for their respective teams.

Pitt’s defense had an outstanding season, ranking 12th in overall success rate and 8th in EPA, but the absences for this game are significant. DL Calijah Kancey and LB SirVocea Dennis, the team’s two-highest graded defenders per PFF, have both opted out.

In addition, DE Deslin Alexander, S Brandon Hill, and DE John Morgan are unavailable while DE Habakkuk Baldonado, although not officially ruled out, seems like a longshot with his recent injuries and his draft declaration.

Meanwhile, QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and RB Zach Charbonnet have been practicing, and the expectation is they will play here. UCLA’s run game is already a lot for opponents to handle, but they will steamroll an undermanned Pitt front seven.

With QB Kedon Slovis back in the transfer portal, the Panthers will rely on some combination of Nick Patti and Nate Yarnell, who have a combined 32 pass attempts this season. They will also be without RB Israel Abanikanda, who led the ACC in rushing, and multiple offensive linemen.

The line for this game opened at UCLA -3.5, and I played it there with the full expectation of coming back in on Pitt at an inflated number once DTR and Charbonnet were announced to not be playing. However, they appear to be a full go, and that means UCLA should be too, even at this inflated number.

I’m expecting Charbonnet, in particular, to have one more huge showcase game before he heads off to the NFL. If you play PrizePicks or have access to college football player props in your market, I’d consider his rushing yardage and touchdown props to be very much in play here.

Best Bet: UCLA -7.5 (play to -9.5)

Orange Bowl: Clemson Tigers vs. Tennessee Volunteers

This is the ultimate Orange Bowl between two teams who wear orange as their primary color. That’s not the only thing these teams have in common. They were both top five in the country after the first two months of the season before faltering down the stretch. They will also both have different starting quarterbacks in this game.

For Tennessee, Joe Milton will get the start as Hendon Hooker suffered a season-ending ACL tear. As a Michigan fan, I can tell you Milton is as inconsistent as they come, and he looked rough in limited action this year. In the start against Vanderbilt, he completed just 11 of 21 passes for 147 yards, and he went just 1-9 on passes 20+ yards downfield.

Milton clearly didn’t have the chemistry or timing down with his receivers to run the offense, and that was a death sentence as Josh Huepel’s offense is all about timing. Clemson will muddy up that timing with their ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, particularly with top WRs Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt opting out.

Clemson will be without stud DE Myles Murphy and LB Trenton Simpson, who opted out for the NFL, but they still have Bryan Bresee, KJ Henry, and Tyler Davis on the line of scrimmage as well as LB Jeremiah Trotter and CB Nate Wiggins. There’s plenty of remaining talent on this defense.

The Tigers will also send some different blitz looks at Milton, which will make his life difficult. He went 3-10 against the blitz in that Vanderbilt game, and he doesn’t have the consistent pocket awareness or accuracy on the move to navigate the blitz.

For Clemson, Cade Klubnik will somehow just now make his first start. Dabo Swinney’s loyalty to D.J. Uiagalelei throughout the season was a detriment to the team’s success and a knock on him as a coach, but Klubnik is in a great position to succeed against a Tennessee secondary that has struggled.

Tennessee ranks 98th in PFF coverage, and defensive coordinator Tim Banks relies on a ton of soft shell coverage. The Vols also rank 82nd in pass play EPA/play allowed and 92nd in pass play success rate allowed. Meanwhile, their run defense is top 25 in success rate and EPA allowed.

Klubnik will have a ton of success through the air, though, particularly as the Vols get basically no pass rush. They ranked 107th in sack rate, and leading pass-rusher Byron Young was held to just three pressures across his final four games.

Klubnik had an elite 91.3% adjusted completion rate against UNC, and there’s no reason he can’t replicate that here. He’ll thrive on play-action passing and be throwing the ball all over the yard against an overmatched pass defense that got exposed several times this season.

Dabo Swinney is 11-7 straight up and 12-6 ATS in bowl games throughout his career, and I suspect he’ll add another notch in the win column to both of those records here. It was a fun season for Tennessee, but they’re a different team without Hendon Hooker and their receivers, and the spot screams Clemson here.

Best Bet: Clemson -6 (play to -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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