Take Air Force, Two Overs in College Bowls
The college football bowl season is chugging right along with 13 in the next six days. We take a look at three that you should wager on.
With this week’s edition of College Football Bowl game bets, we’ve got bowls named after pirates and an unappreciated service academy producing the nation’s best pilots and navigators running an offense straight out of ancient Sparta.
We have more coaching carnage. And we have a team that rang up 710 yards and 34 first downs in a game earlier this year—yet somehow lost.
We’re not sure how you score 63 points and lose, but it’s safe to say it has to do with lacking that quirky little element we like to call “a functioning defense.”
Pirates, grounded pilots and points. The bowl season chugs on.
Not Smart to Bet Against Air Force in THIS Bowl
Is it the mountain air? The Mountain West Conference? The counterintuitive image of the Air Force Falcons being the best ground-pounding team in the nation? Why are the Falcons’ underappreciated yet again in a bowl, much less the Armed Forces Bowl?
Last year, Air Force went into the almost-as-appropriately-named First Responders Bowl as 1.5-point underdogs to the Louisville Cardinals. The Falcons soared out of Dallas as 31-28 winners, en route to a 10-3 season.
Despite the fact Air Force is back again at 9-3, there are no lessons learned here. Air Force flies back to Texas—Fort Worth, this time—as anywhere from four to 4.5-point underdogs to a Baylor Bears team that staggered down the stretch, losing its last three games to finish 6-6. That’s not all the Bears lost. Head coach Dave Aranda fired defensive coordinator Ron Roberts after the season, assuming play-calling duties for the Armed Forces Bowl.
It’s not like Aranda doesn’t get defenses; he was a Division I defensive coordinator for seven years and the defensive Svengali for LSU’s 15-0 national-championship team three years ago. But Aranda picks up the clipboard against Air Force’s relentless triple-option offense, one that leads the FBS in rushing at 331 yards a game. Stopping fullback Brad Roberts (1,612 yards, 15 TDs) is No. 1 on Aranda’s to-do list, since Air Force is 9-1 when Roberts cracks three-figures.
While stopping Roberts is atop Aranda’s clipboard, our clipboard shows Air Force has covered three consecutive bowl games and are 4-1 ATS in its last five. That tells us the Falcons play bowl games for keeps—an underrated trait this time of year. It shows the Falcons 20-10-1 ATS as an underdog since 2014. And it shows a Baylor team that—despite 6-4, 350-pound All-Big 12 noseguard Siaki Ika—is thoroughly mediocre stopping the run.
We’ll keep drinking up that mountain air Kool-Aid—as we watch Air Force grind out another 10-win season.
Prediction: Air Force +4 (-110 at Caesars)
Watch: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
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Gasparilla Bowl Promises Plundering of Points
How can you not love a bowl named after a pirate? The Gasparilla Bowl is named after late 18th and early 19th-century pirate Jose Gaspar, who went by the nom de guerre Gasparilla when he was terrorizing the western coast of Florida. The folks of Tampa know a good hook (see what we did here?) when they see one, building a whole week of events around ol’ Jose.
Speaking of plunder, that’s what Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has done to opposing defenses this year. Harman comes into his final game for the 7-5 Demon Deacons carrying a statistical treasure chest of 3,421 yards passing and 35 touchdowns. He’s tied for the ACC career touchdown record at 107 with former Clemson Tigers standout Tajh Boyd.
Hartman has pillaged opposing defenses for 300 yards or more in his last six games and nine of 11 overall. He has his first mate, receiver A.T. Perry, who caught 11 touchdowns this season.
The Missouri Tigers are ripe for plundering. Yes, they sail into the Gasparilla Bowl on the wave of winning four of their last six. They remain the only team to stay within one score of the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs, losing 26-22.
But they also come in minus defensive ends Isaiah McGuire (7.5 sacks), DJ Coleman (4.5 sacks) and safety Martez Manuel (four sacks), all of whom opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Other defections include leading receiver Dominic Lovett (56 catches, 846 yards).
And yet, there’s a reason 6-6 Missouri is in this game aside from quarterback Brady Cook (2,504 yards, 13 TDs). Because conversely, Wake Forest’s defense would embarrass Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. The Demon Deacons surrendered more than 1,500 yards their last three games and more than 30 points in each of their last five. Having starting corners Gavin Holmes and JJ Roberts hit the transfer portal doesn’t help a defense allowing nearly 273 yards a game through the air.
All of the total trends here with these two fire cannonades at the Under of 59.5. But none of those trends take into account all of the above. We are going to set sail with Captain Hartman’s cannon arm and shiver our timbers with the Over.
Prediction: Over-59.5 (-110 at BetMGM)
Watch: Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
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Houston, There’s No Problem Scoring Here
We’re going to stay contrarian as we visit Ice Station Shreveport for the Independence Bowl, where the Weather Channel forecasts a high of 29 for Friday’s game starring the Houston Cougars and Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Noted weather chaser Jim Cantore is not expected to attend the coldest Independence Bowl in 22 years.
But Houston QB Clayton Tune will be there, he of the 3,845 yards and 37 TDs, a total that co-led the nation with a couple guys probably more familiar to you: Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams of the USC Trojans and two-time Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Yes, this Tune plays in that neighborhood, conducting an offense averaging 37.2 points and 463.6 yards a game.
His primary target, Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, declared for the NFL Draft, but will also be there. This Tank was virtually unstoppable this season, catching 103 passes (No. 3 in the nation) for 1,354 yards (also third) and a nation’s best 15 TDs.
That constitutes the manic portion of the 7-5 Cougars. The depressive part starts with head coach Dana Holgorsen, who is 3-6 SU and 2-7 ATS in his last nine bowl games. It continues when the Cougars don’t have the ball, because Houston has a definite problem stopping anyone, allowing six yards a play, 33.8 points and 430 yards a game.
All you need to know about the Cougars’ defense is 77-63. That wasn’t their men’s basketball opener. It was their Nov. 5 loss to SMU, when Tune threw for 527 yards and seven TDs, ran for another 111 and a score—yet lost the game.
Back to the weather, which we bring up for two reasons: first, the 2000 Independence Bowl was played in a near blizzard. And yet, the Mississippi State Bulldogs needed 43 points and overtime to dispatch Texas A&M Aggies , 43-41. And second, because those frosty conditions would seemingly lead you to the Under-56.5 on a total that opened at 60. However, that likely 19-degree temperature at kickoff comes devoid of precipitation.
With these two defenses, it won’t come devoid of points. You could take Houston and give the seven points. But we don’t trust Houston’s defense to carry a Tune, so the Over of 57 is a hotter play.
Prediction: Over 57 (-110 at Golden Nugget)
Watch: Friday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
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