College Football Picks: College Football Bowl Game Picks, Part 1

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IDecember 15, 2021

College Football Picks: College Football Bowl Game Picks, Part 1

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    The 2021 college football bowl season is finally upon us, and it's the most wonderful time of the year for the sport. This season, we have a total of 44 bowl games to enjoy—18 more than we had a year ago—so it should be quite the fun bowl season. 

    Since there are so many bowls, you might be wondering which teams to pick in each game. That's where we come in to help. Let's run through and pick each bowl game from Dec. 17-30. 

    This is just part one of our bowl picks guide—part two, which includes the College Football Playoff semifinals and other New Year's Six games, will come later. 

    Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook

Pre-Christmas Bowls, Part One

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    Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo  
    Dec. 17, Noon ET (ESPN)
    Line: Toledo (-10)
    Pick: Toledo

    Toledo finished the season 7-5 and third in the MAC West. Middle Tennessee, meanwhile, got the Bahamas Bowl bid after going 6-6, and the Blue Raiders needed a 27-17 road win over FAU the last week of the season to become bowl-eligible. 

    This one will be close, but Toledo's offense, led by running back Bryant Koback and quarterback Dequan Finn, has more firepower to get a late score for the win. 

    Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina 
    When: Dec. 17, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
    Line: Coastal (-10.5)
    Pick: Coastal 

    Both of these teams had pretty successful seasons in 2021. NIU made it to the MAC Championship Game and defeated Kent State 41-23 to win the conference outright. Coastal, meanwhile, finished 10-2, with its losses coming by a combined five points.

    The Chanticleers are a 10.5-point favorite for a reason—their explosive offense. Coastal ranks sixth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 40.4 points per game. NIU's defense allows 32.7 points per game, so I expect Coastal QB Grayson McCall to have a big day. 

    Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State
    When: Dec. 18, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: App State (-3)
    Pick: WKU

    This one should be a pretty entertaining game to kick off the first full Saturday of bowl season. WKU's offense has been lighting up defenses all season. The Hilltoppers are ranked second nationally in scoring offense, averaging 43.1 points per game. WKU QB Bailey Zappe has thrown a C-USA record 56 touchdown passes this season, and he leads the nation in passing yards by over 1,000 yards. 

    App State's defense only gives up 19.3 points per game, so this is likely one of the best defenses WKU has faced this season. I don't see Zappe slowing down anytime soon, though, especially in his last game as a Hilltopper. 

    Celebration Bowl: South Carolina State vs. Jackson State
    When: Dec. 18., Noon ET (ABC) 
    Jackson State (-10, via ESPN)
    Pick: Jax State 

    Former Pro Bowl defensive back turned college football coach Deion Sanders has his Jackson State program rolling in year two. He led the team to an 11-1 season capped off with a SWAC championship over Prairie View A&M. I don't expect Jackson State to slow down in this game whatsoever, so I'll pick the Tigers here to close out the season strong. 

    New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Fresno State
    When: Dec. 18, 2:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Fresno State (-11.5)
    Pick: Fresno State 

    After it looked like we might not, we will get to see Fresno QB Jake Haener play for the Bulldogs for one last time this season. Earlier this month, Haener entered his name in the transfer portal before the Bulldogs named Jeff Tedford as their next head coach. Haener returned to bowl practices after apologizing to Fresno State fans days later. 

    The QB is one of the more exciting and tough players at the position. If you haven't seen him play all season, I highly encourage you to watch his game Saturday against UTEP. Haener should add even more stats to an already incredible season. On the year, he's thrown for 3,810 yards and 32 touchdowns while averaging 8.5 yards per pass. Haener should have no problem going up against the Miners, who didn't face many prolific passing offenses in Conference USA. 

    Independence Bowl: UAB vs. BYU
    When: Dec. 18, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
    Line: BYU (-7) 
    Pick: Cougars

    BYU had quite the successful season in 2021, finishing 10-2, along with a perfect 5-0 record against Pac-12 teams. The accomplishment prompted some to joke on Twitter that by default, BYU is the real Pac-12 champion. UAB finished 8-4 and second in the C-USA West. 

    I like BYU in this one, and with a win, the Cougars will reach 11 wins for the second consecutive season—and for the first time since Bronco Mendenhall did so in 2006 and '07.

    LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty
    Dec. 18, 5:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Liberty (-8.5)
    Pick: EMU

    Liberty started the season 7-2, but the Flames dropped their last three regular-season games. Eastern Michigan, meanwhile, became bowl-eligible with a win over Toledo in early November. 

    Although Liberty is the favorite, I like Eastern Michigan. Had the Flames not dropped their last three games, I'd probably pick them. 

    LA Bowl: Utah State vs. Oregon State
    When: Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
    Line: Oregon State (-7) 
    Pick: Utah State

    The Aggies are coming off a successful 10-3 season with a Mountain West championship after defeating San Diego State in the title game 46-13. Oregon State, meanwhile, finished 7-5 and third in the Pac-12 North. Although Oregon State is 3-0 all-time over Utah State, with their last meeting coming in 1998, I like the Aggies to finish off a great season strong here. 

Pre-Christmas Bowls, Part Two

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    New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana vs. Marshall
    When: Dec. 18, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Louisiana (-5.5)
    Pick: Ragin' Cajuns

    The Ragin' Cajuns had yet another great season in 2021, as Louisiana defeated App State in the Sun Belt Championship Game. The victory brought Louisiana to 12-1, the first 12-win season in school history. 

    The Cajuns will be without their head coach, Billy Napier, as he has since accepted the head coaching job at Florida. Interim OC Tim Leger and interim DC Wes Neighbors will coach them for the bowl game. 

    Marshall finished the year 7-5. I think Louisiana's offense has too much firepower for the Herd's 76th-ranked total defense. 

    Myrtle Beach Bowl: Old Dominion vs. Tulsa
    When: Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Tulsa (-9.5) 
    Pick: Tulsa 

    Both of these teams enter this bowl game 6-6, as Old Dominion needed a 56-34 victory over Charlotte to become bowl-eligible. Tulsa, meanwhile, did the same thing with a win on the road against SMU in the last week of the regular season. 

    Tulsa is 5-0 in 2021 when it puts up at least 24 points. Tulsa shouldn't have a problem doing that against Old Dominion, which gives up 27.6 points per game. I like the Golden Hurricane in this one. 

    Potato Bowl: Kent State vs. Wyoming
    When: Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    Wyoming (-3) 
    Pick: Kent State

    My favorite part about the Potato Bowl is not only the bowl game's mascot, a dancing potato named Spuddy Buddy, but the glorious Famous Idaho Potatoes ads as well. But I digress. Kent State, as I mentioned above, made it to the MAC Championship Game this season but lost to NIU. I think the Golden Flashes will be eager to finish the season on a high note here, so I'll take Kent State, but this one will likely be close. 

    Frisco Bowl: UTSA vs. San Diego State
    When: Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: UTSA (-2.5)
    Pick: San Diego State 

    Yes, I realize this is likely an unpopular pick after UTSA had such a great season, finishing 12-1, but hear me out. I'm going with the Aztecs here because of their defense. The Aztecs allow just 19.5 points per game, and this is likely one of the best units UTSA has faced.  

    San Diego State is second in the nation in rushing defense, giving up just 79.5 yards per game. And it is also inside the top 20 in total defense, allowing 321.5 yards per game. UTSA finishing 13-1 on the season to complete its best season in school history would be awesome, but I like the Aztecs in this one.  

    Armed Forces Bowl: Missouri vs. Army
    When: Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Army (-3.5) 
    Pick: Army

    This game will likely feature heavy running games for both offenses. Army's triple-option scheme ranks second in the nation in rushing offense, behind fellow triple-option school Air Force. Missouri, meanwhile, will be playing with running back Tyler Badie for the last time. The senior running back is a big reason the Tigers are bowl-eligible, as he rushed for 1,604 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. 

    Still, I like Army in this one—the Black Knights are 13th in rushing defense, allowing just 111.3 yards per game. 

    Frisco Football Classic: North Texas vs. Miami (Ohio)
    When: Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Miami (OH) (-3)
    Pick: North Texas 

    Going to have to go with the North Texas Mean Green, who finished the regular season 5-0. Its last victory was an upset win over UTSA, too. I think North Texas can keep its late-season momentum going into this bowl game.

    Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Florida 
    When: Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Florida (-6.5)
    Pick: Florida

    Although these two teams have played each other just twice, in 1999 and 2006, things got heated between them in 2018. That was when former Knights AD Danny White reportedly refused Florida's offer to host two home games and play one at UCF's stadium. White wanted a tradional home-and-home. 

    This game should be a pretty good atmosphere, too—on Dec. 4, it was reported that the bowl sold out its allotment of 65,000 tickets already. Florida will be coached by its interim head coach Greg Knox, who led the Gators to a 24-21 victory over Florida State. I like the Gators offense in this one. If UCF upsets Florida, though, Knights fans will enjoy it for a long time to come. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Bowls

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    Hawaii Bowl: Memphis vs. Hawai'i
    When: Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Memphis (-7.5) 
    Pick: Memphis

    Memphis is favored in this one, and a big reason for that is likely the Rainbow Warriors defense compared to the Tigers offense. Memphis' offense puts up 30.1 points and 435.8 yards per game. The Rainbow Warriors defense allows 31.4 points and 446.0 yards per game. I'll go with Memphis in this one, but I think Hawai'i can cover the 7.5-point spread. 

    Camellia Bowl: Georgia State vs. Ball State
    When: Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    Georgia State (-4.5)
    Pick: Georgia State

    The Ball State Cardinals made history last year when they picked up their first win in a bowl game in the 2020 Arizona Bowl. Now, Ball State is looking to make history again and win consecutive bowls for the first time.

    Georgia State has been to three consecutive bowls under head coach Shawn Elliott. The Panthers have won their last three games, too, including a 42-40 upset win over Coastal Carolina on the road on Nov. 13. Although I think this one will be close, I'll go with Georgia State.

The After-Christmas Bowl Flurry, Part One

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    Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nevada
    When: Dec. 27, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Western Michigan (-3.5)
    Pick: Western Michigan 

    Nevada will be playing this one without its head coach Jay Norvell, who accepted the Colorado State Rams head coaching job earlier this month. Not only that, but an 11 a.m. Detroit kick means the Wolf Pack players will be kicking this one off at 8 a.m. local Nevada time. 

    I like Broncos QB Kaleb Eleby, who's thrown for 3,115 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season, and the Western Michigan offense in this one. 

    Military Bowl: Boston College vs. East Carolina
    Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    Line: Boston College (-3) 
    Pick: BC

    Boston College earned this Military Bowl bid after going 6-6 on the year, ending the season with back-to-back losses to Florida State and Wake Forest. ECU, meanwhile, went 7-5, marking its first winning season 2014. 

    I like Boston College in this one—quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who missed most of the 2021 season rehabbing a hand injury, is returning for 2022 and will play in this game. I think he can have a big day against the Pirates' 72nd-ranked passing defense. Perhaps Jurkovec can start a 2022 Heisman conversation early with a big performance in this one. 

    Birmingham Bowl: Houston vs. Auburn
    When: Dec. 28, Noon ET (ESPN) 
    Auburn (-3) 
    Pick: Auburn

    This bowl game should be entertaining. Houston finished the year 11-2, losing to Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game. Auburn was only 6-6 on the year under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin, but hung with Alabama for four overtimes in the Iron Bowl, losing 24-22 in a thriller. 

    Although Houston's offense is prolific, averaging 37.3 points per game, Auburn's defense is likely the most physical unit Houston has played all year. I like QB T.J. Finley and Auburn's offense in this one, too, so I'll go with the Tigers in a close one. 

    First Responder Bowl: Air Force vs. Louisville 
    When: Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Louisville (-1.5) 
    Pick: Air Force

    Louisville earned this bowl game after finishing 6-6, including disappointing losses to Kentucky, Virginia and NC State. Air Force, meanwhile, is 9-3 and has a chance to reach double-digit wins for the second time in three seasons. I don't think Louisville's rush defense, which allows 156.7 yards on the ground per game, will match up well with the Falcons' top-ranked rushing offense. Air Force, running the triple-option, averages 342 yards on the ground per game. 

    Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State
    When: Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET
    Line: Mississippi State (-8) 
    Pick: MSU 

    This one should be pretty entertaining for one reason—Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach was the head coach of Texas Tech from 2000 to '09. 

    While his time in Lubbock was quite the success, leading the Red Raiders to 10 straight bowl appearances and an 84-43 record, his tenure ended on a low note. In December 2009, Leach was fired days after the school suspended him as it investigated abuse allegations of one of his players, the son of former ESPN broadcaster Craig James.

    Leach even brought up that Tech still "owes" him for the 2009 season and added it was the last time the school won nine games while discussing the upcoming game. 

    I like Mississippi State in this one—Tech will be led by interim head coach Sonny Cumbie after firing Matt Wells earlier in the season. 

    Holiday Bowl: UCLA vs. NC State
    When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (Fox) 
    Line: NC State (-1) 
    Pick: NC State

    UCLA is bowl-eligible for the first time since Chip Kelly became the Bruins' head coach in 2018. The Bruins finished 8-4 on the season, including three straight wins to close it out against Colorado, USC and Cal. 

    NC State, meanwhile, with a victory over the Bruins can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2002. UCLA's offense, led by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet, averages 36.5 points per game. But NC State's defense has held opponents to just 19.7 points per game. 

    I think this one is close throughout, but the Wolfpack defense can come up with a late-game stop to win it. 

    Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia vs. Minnesota
    When: Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    Line: Minnesota (-4) 
    Pick: Minnesota

    Minnesota is slightly favored in the first-ever meeting between these schools, likely due to its stout defense. The Golden Gophers are ranked fourth in total defense, allowing just 284.8 yards per game. West Virginia's offense, meanwhile, is 77th.

    It might be interesting to see if Minnesota's defense can stop WVU's offense better than expected, thanks to the hiring of former Mountaineers assistant Kirk Ciarrocca. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck hired him earlier this month. While Ciarrocca won't be coaching in the game, he may give Fleck some pointers on WVU's play-calling and looks offensively.

The After-Christmas Bowl Flurry, Part Two

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Fenway Bowl: SMU vs. Virginia  
    When: Dec. 29, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: UVA (-2) 
    Pick: SMU

    SMU finished the year 8-4 and lost its head coach Sonny Dykes, who accepted the TCU job in November. Virginia, meanwhile, finished 6-6, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall resigned earlier this month. 

    SMU's offense averages 465.9 yards per game, and when the Mustangs put up over 466 yards, they are 6-0 overall. UVA is 121st in total defense, allowing 466 yards per game. I like the Mustangs in this one. 

    Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland vs. Virginia Tech 
    When: Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    Line: Maryland (-1) 
    Pick: Maryland

    Both of these teams finished 6-6 on the season and will be looking to finish the year out with a winning record. The Hokies will be without a number of starters for this game who are NFL draft-eligible, including WR Tre Turner, DT Jordan Williams, DE Amare Barno and OL Lecitus Smith. I like Maryland in a close one, with Terps QB Taulia Tagovailoa having a big day against the Hokies defense. 

    Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson vs. Iowa State
    Dec. 29, 5:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Iowa State (-1.5) 
    Pick: Clemson 

    How wild is it that Clemson is playing in the Cheez-It Bowl instead of a College Football Playoff semifinal? Yep, for the first time since 2014, there is a CFP without the Tigers. Although Iowa State's top-10 defense will give the Tigers' struggling offense some problems, I think Dabo can motivate his team to finish the season 10-3. Swinney is 10-7 in bowl games, too. 

    Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Oregon 
    When: Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Oklahoma (-4.5) 
    Pick: Oklahoma

    It's a little strange that these once-CFP contenders will be meeting in the Alamo Bowl, but this matchup should be fun. Not to mention former legendary Sooners head coach Bob Stoops will be Oklahoma's interim coach for this one. 

    Both teams will be without some stars on defense. Oregon will be without its star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux as he prepares for the NFL draft, and OU won't have defensive linemen Nik Bonitto and Perrion Winfrey. That being said, it's really hard for me to pick against Stoops on the sideline coaching this Sooners offense with QB Caleb Williams. Boomer Sooner all the way. 

Dec. 30 Games

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    Duke's Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs. South Carolina
    Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: UNC (-8.5) 
    Pick: UNC

    Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell, who is eligible for the 2022 NFL draft, is expected to suit up for UNC in this one. South Carolina will be without its leading rusher in running back ZaQuandre White so he can prepare for the draft, so I think this UNC offense will be too much for the Gamecocks to keep pace with the Tar Heels in this one. 

    Hands down the best part of this game is that there is a real possibility that there will be a Duke's Mayonnaise bath—in lieu of a Gatorade bath—for the winning head coach of this game.  The bowl game's executive director, Danny Morrison, said for this year's game, the bowl is offering $10,000 to the winning team's charity of choice if the team opts to dump mayo on the coach after the win. Heck yes! 

    Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. Purdue
    Dec. 30, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: Tennessee (-4.5) 
    Pick: Tennessee

    Unsurprisingly, Purdue will be without its leading receiver David Bell, who had 1,286 yards and six touchdowns on the season as he prepares for the NFL draft. I think that drastically limits what Purdue can do on offense, so I am going to go with the Vols in this one. 

    If the Vols get a win, this will be Tennessee's first bowl win since 2019, when Tennessee won the Gator Bowl.

    Peach Bowl: Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh 
    Dec. 30, 7p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    Line: MSU (-1.5) 
    Pick: Michigan State 

    For now as of this writing, it appears as if both playmakers for these opposing offenses, in Pitt QB Kenny Pickett and MSU running back Kenneth Walker III are uncertain about whether or not they will play. Obviously both have NFL futures to think about next year. It's hard to pick this one not knowing whether or not these guys will play, but I will go with Michigan State for now, assuming they both suit up. 

    Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Arizona State
    Dec. 30, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    Line: Wisconsin (-7) 
    Pick: Wisconsin 

    Arizona State running backs Rachaad White and Deamonte Trayanum will not play in this one, as White declared fo the draft and Trayanum opted to transfer elsewhere. Wisconsin's defense is first in the nation in total defense, as well as first in rushing defense. The Badgers shouldn't have a problem keeping ASU's offense off the field. 


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