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The Las Vegas Bowl and Boca Raton Bowl headline early bowl season’s college football best bets, odds

With 41 bowl games over the next three weeks, we give you picks for the first eight bowl games.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-San Diego State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Last week ATS: 4-3 (4-2 National, 0-1 B1G)

Season ATS: 84-87-4 (38-38-1 National, 46-49-3 B1G)

After a week off to recharge the batteries for bowl season, MC&J is ready to toss up a lot of winners for the holiday season. The regular season ended up being pretty much a wash in terms of record, so bowl season will determine if this year was a failure or success.

New Mexico Bowl: UTSA v. New Mexico (-7) - 12/17 2:00 PM EST - ESPN

The bowl season kicks off on Saturday with the New Mexico Bowl. UTSA will be making their first bowl appearance in their sixth FBS season. What type of present do the Roadrunners get for their first bowl appearance? They get to place New Mexico on the Lobos home turf.

New Mexico will be playing in the New Mexico Bowl for the fourth time in school history, compiling a 1-2 record so far. Last year the Lobos opened up the bowl season as well, falling to Arizona 45-37. New Mexico has a ridiculous rushing offense, averaging 428 yards per game on the ground. Teriyon Gipson leads the Lobos with just over 1,200 rushing yards, while Tyrone Owens has added 1,084 rushing yards.

UTSA played Arizona State and Texas A&M tough this year, but I see the Roadrunners, who are giving up 190 yards per game on the ground to opponents, having trouble slowing down New Mexico. Not only should their potent rushing attack allow New Mexico to control time of possession, but it also should put UTSA in a hole they won’t be able to climb out of.

New Mexico 41, UTSA 27

Las Vegas Bowl: Houston (-4) v. San Diego State - 12/17 3:30 PM EST - ABC

It’s undeniable the Las Vegas Bowl is the most intriguing matchup of the early bowl schedule. Houston had dreams of other destinations during the bowl season, but losses to Navy, SMU, and Memphis thwarted those plans. The Cougars also recently lost head coach Tom Herman to Texas, leaving Todd Orlando as the interim head coach before he joins Herman at Texas.

San Diego State also had thoughts that they might have a shot at the New Year’s Six Group of Five bid, but a loss to South Alabama in the beginning of October dashed any of those hopes. There is no question that running back Donnel Pumphrey is what makes the San Diego State offense tick. The senior has rushed for 2,018 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. Last time out the Aztecs were able to avenge a loss a couple weeks prior to Wyoming to take home the Moutain West Conference Championship.

With Houston having designs of a bigger bowl game this year, along with the departure of Herman, backing the Cougars could be a dangerous proposition. Pumphrey is just over 100 rushing yards away from breaking Ron Dayne’s FBS career rushing record. The Aztecs find their way by Houston in this one.

San Diego State 34, Houston 31

Cure Bowl: Arkansas State v. UCF (-6) - 12/17 5:30 PM EST - CBS Sports Network

The Cure Bowl is fitting since if you are invested in this bowl game in anyway, you’re probably sick. Luckily there is a couple other games on that can make it so you don’t have to pay too much attention to this one.

The biggest story from this game is how much Scott Frost has turned around Central Florida in just a year. Last year the Knights were 0-12, and now they are bowling. On the other side, Arkansas State has now made a bowl game in six straight seasons. Last year the Red Wolves were handed their first loss during that stretch when they played Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl.

This is a home game for Central Florida since they are playing in Orlando, and while I’m not crazy about laying the points here, I think the Knights are the better football team.

UCF 28, Arkansas State 20

Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State v. Toledo (-1) - 12/17 5:30 PM EST - ESPN

Another fun matchup on Saturday will be between a couple teams that have scored wins over Michigan in the last 15 years. Not really relevant to anything, it’s just fun to remember that both Appalachian State and Toledo have beat Michigan in Ann Arbor. It will be interesting to see which style will win out in this one, as Toledo’s high-powered offense goes up against a stout Appalachian State defense.

Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside leads the FBS with 43 touchdown passes this year, but the Rockets can also run the football. Kareem Hunt has the third-most rushing yards amongst active FBS players with 4,855 yards. Just ahead of Hunt on that list is Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox, who has 4,960 rushing yards. Cox only has 847 yards this year since he has missed four games due to injury. Jalin Moore has stepped up in Cox’s absence, rushing for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Appalachian State has only allowed 10 passing touchdowns this year, but I can see Woodside tossing a few in this one. The Mountaineers have put together a fine season, but they won’t be able to secure their second bowl win in as many seasons over a team from Ohio.

Toledo 38, Appalachian State 31

New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi (-5) v. Louisiana-Lafayette - 12/17 9:00 PM EST - ESPN

Southern Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette will close out the first day of bowl season in the New Orleans Bowl. The Golden Eagles have to be wondering what could’ve been after starting with season with four wins in their first five games. Quarterback Nick Mullens missed a few games due to a thumb injury and a concussion, which Southern Miss.

The key for the Golden Eagles in this one will be to try and slow down running back Elijah McGuire, who has recorded three straight seasons of at least 1,000 rushing yards for the Ragin’ Cajuns. College football fans will also see a familiar face at quarterback from Louisiana-Lafayette, as LSU transfer Anthony Jennings will be taking the snaps.

This marks the fifth time in six years that the Ragin’ Cajuns have played in the New Orleans Bowl, with Louisiana-Lafayette winning four straight before not playing here last year. It’s hard to deny that Southern Miss is the better team, especially with Mullens healthy.

Southern Miss 37, Louisiana-Lafayette 28

Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan v. Tulsa (-13) - 12/19 2:30 PM EST - ESPN

Tulsa might be even better than their 9-3 record might indicate. Aside from their blowout loss when they came to Columbus early in the season, the only other two losses for the Golden Hurricanes came at the hand of Houston (38-31) and Navy (42-40). Tulsa comes into this game with one of the best offenses in the country, and have won five of six games.

On the other hand, Central Michigan is really struggling as they come into Miami, with the Chippewas having lost four of their last five. Cooper Rush has been solid as quarterback for Central Michigan this year, throwing for 3,299 yards and 23 touchdowns, but he won’t be able to keep pace with Dane Evans, James Flanders, and the rest of the Tulsa offense.

Tulsa 45, Central Michigan 27

Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis v. Western Kentucky (-5) - 12/20 7:00 PM EST - ESPN

Points will be aplenty in South Florida on Tuesday night. Memphis and Western Kentucky have two of the best offenses in the country, which should make this lower-level bowl game quite entertaining. Memphis is coming off a big win over Houston to close out the regular season. Quarterback Riley Ferguson has been strong in taking over for Paxton Lynch, throwing 28 touchdowns this year. Ferguson’s favorite target has been Anthony Miller, who caught 84 passes for 1,283 yards, and 11 touchdowns.

Western Kentucky’s Mike White has been even better than Ferguson this year, throwing for 4,027 yards and 34 touchdowns. It helps that White has a couple of stud wide receivers in Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris. The Hilltoppers can run the football as well with Anthony Wales, who rushed for 1,376 yards and 24 touchdowns.

In a game that is likely to go back-and-forth, I like grabbing the points here. Who knows where Western Kentucky will be at with Jeff Brohm already having left for Purdue. Memphis can match Western Kentucky on the scoreboard, and I feel like this will come down to a late field goal to win.

Memphis 41, Western Kentucky 38

Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (-8.5) v. Wyoming - 12/21 9:00 PM EST - ESPN

BYU has had the hardest luck of any FBS team this year. The Cougars have four losses by a combined eight points, and just lost 13th year senior Taysom Hill to an elbow injury. At least BYU has some experience at backup quarterback, as Tanner Mangum will be taking the snaps for the Cougars. And it certainly doesn’t hurt BYU has running back Jamaal Williams to shoulder some of the load.

Craig Bohl has done a tremendous job in Laramie since taking over, taking a team that went 6-18 in his first two seasons and turning them into a 8-5 team this year. Running back Brian Hill is the star of the Cowboys offense, rushing for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. Wyoming has slowed a bit in the stretch run though, losing three of their last four.

Even though Wyoming is a great story, their defense still leaves a lot to be desired. The combination of Mangum and Williams should be able to have no problems putting points up on the board, while the stingy BYU defense should be able to put the clamps on Hill and the rest of the Wyoming offense.

BYU 34, Wyoming 24