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MC&J: The Independence Bowl highlights the start of college football’s bowl season

Picks for the first nine bowl games being played between Friday and Monday.

VIrginia v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Championship Week ATS: 4-6 (3-6 National, 1-0 B1G)

Season ATS: 108-83-5 (52-46-2 National, 56-37-3 B1G)

After struggling in the final week of the regular season, the conference championship games weren’t all that kind to MC&J. No worries, since we still have a pretty impressive record heading into bowl season, where we’ll have over 40 games to make picks for. Stay tuned over the next couple weeks, as we’ll have about four different picks articles during the holidays, with each one predicting around 10 bowls.

Bowl games 12/17 - 12/20:

(All lines courtesy of Draftkings sportsbook.)

Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee v. Toledo (-10) - Friday 12/17 12:00 PM EST - ESPN

I’ll be honest, I know pretty much nothing about Middle Tennessee, other than Rick Stockstill is in his 143rd year coaching there. It feels like the Blue Raiders always come into bowl games at either 6-6 or 7-5 and more often than not end up getting destroyed. Middle Tennessee is 2-6 in bowl games under Stockstill, with all six of those losing being by 14 points or more.

I feel like Toledo is a lot safer play here. The Rockets gave up more than 30 points just once in MAC play this year, which is pretty wild considering how many points were scored in the conference this year. Plus, Toledo has running back Bryant Koback, who ran for 1,274 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. Jason Candle leads the Rockets to their first bowl victory since 2015.

Toledo 41, Middle Tennessee 24

Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois v. Coastal Carolina (-10.5) - Friday 12/17 6:00 PM EST - ESPN2

I really underestimated Northern Illinois heading into the MAC Championship Game. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. The Huskies shut down a high-scoring Kent State offense, playing keep away with the football thanks to one of the best rushing attacks in the country. Northern Illinois held the football for 40 minutes and rushed for 286 yards.

This isn’t quite the same Coastal Carolina team that we saw running through opponents to start the season. I know Grayson McCall missed a couple games due to injury, but five of the last six games for the Chanticleers were decided by 14 points or less. Coastal Carolina is averaging nearly 500 yards per game, I just don’t know if they’ll be able to get close to that total since Northern Illinois will try to control the time of possession. This feels like a game that will be decided by a touchdown or less.

Coastal Carolina 34, Northern Illinois 31

Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky v. Appalachian State (-3) - Saturday 12/18 11:00 AM EST - ESPN

Western Kentucky is one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch. The problem the Hilltoppers have is UTSA put out the blueprint on how to beat them. Not only did the Roadrunners beat Western Kentucky in early October, they did it again in the Conference USA Championship Game. UTSA held onto the ball for nearly 37 minutes and rushed for over 300 yards. Bailey Zappe can’t put points on the scoreboard if he doesn’t have the football in his hands.

Appalachian State reminds me a lot of UTSA. They have a strong running game with Nate Noel leading the charge, as well as a solid quarterback in Duke transfer Chase Brice. While the Mountaineer defense will give up some yards and points to Western Kentucky, they’ll make stops when they have to. Appalachian State wins their seventh-straight bowl game.

Appalachian State 48, Western Kentucky 37

New Mexico Bowl: UTEP v. Fresno State (-11.5) - Saturday 12/18 2:15 PM EST - ESPN

Jake Haener was supposed to follow head coach Kalen DeBoer to Washington, but the quarterback changed his mind and will now stick around in Fresno for another year. That’s pretty much all the information I need when it comes to picking this game. Haener was one of the best quarterbacks in then country this year, throwing for 3,810 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Dana Dimel led quite the turnaround at UTEP this year. After going 5-27 in his first three seasons with the Miners, UTEP went 7-5 and are going to their first bowl game since 2014. The Miners ran out of gas towards the end of the season though, losing four of their last five games. I’m just having a hard time seeing UTEP keeping pace with a very strong Fresno State team.

Fresno State 38, UTEP 21

Independence Bowl: UAB v. No. 13 BYU (-7) - Saturday 12/18 3:30 PM EST - ABC

BYU will be the first ranked team to play this bowl season. Their prize for going 10-2 and being ranked 13th in the country is a trip to Shreveport! I don’t know how they are going to be able to contain their excitement. Luckily the Cougars have been able to handle their business lately in bowl games, going 3-1 under Kalani Sitake.

While BYU has seen success recently in bowl games, UAB has struggled, going 1-3 in bowl games under Bill Clark. The Blazers have one of the best run defense in the country, but will be tested by Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for 1,488 yards and 20 touchdowns this year. As if slowing down Allgeier wasn’t tough enough, BYU also has talented quarterback Jaren Hall taking the snaps. Even though I like the toughness UAB has shown this year, they aren’t going to be able to slow down the Cougars enough to beat a ranked team for the first time since 2011.

BYU 38, UAB 24

LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan v. Liberty (-8.5) - Saturday 12/18 5:45 PM EST - ESPN

I feel like I’m missing something here since I like Liberty by at least 10 points. The Flames did lose their final three games of the regular season, but those losses came to Ole Miss, Louisiana, and Army. We should get a better performance out of Malik Willis, who has one more college contest to showcase his skills before likely being a first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Willis threw for 2,626 yards and 24 touchdown, while added 820 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.

Even though Eastern Michigan has lost all three bowl games they have appeared in under Chris Creighton, all three of those losses have come by four points or less. Ben Bryant has been a solid quarterback for the Eagles this year, I just don’t know if he is quite ready to match what we’ll see from Willis and the Flames. Eastern Michigan will leave this game still searching for their first bowl win since 1987.

Liberty 41, Eastern Michigan 27

LA Bowl: Utah State v. Oregon State (-7) - Saturday 12/18 7:30 PM EST - ABC

Instead of the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl, this should be the Gary Andersen Bowl. Not only did Andersen have two stints at Utah State as head coach, he also spent three years at Oregon State’s head coach. Andersen won’t coach either team in this game, as Utah State instead will have Blake Anderson, who is in his first year with the Aggies.

Oregon State plays really balanced football, passing for 213 yards per game, while running for 217 yards per contest. It makes you wonder why the Beavers were just 7-5 this year. B.J. Baylor is impressive, rushing for 1,259 yards and 13 touchdowns this year. Baylor will look to have another big game against a Utah State defense that surrendered over 160 yards per game on the ground.

There’s always surprises during bowl season. I think the first “upset” we are going to see is Utah State winning this game. The Aggies come into this game hot, winning seven of their last eight games, including the Mountain West Championship Game against San Diego State. If Logan Bonner can find success against the tough Aztec defense, I see no reason they can’t against Oregon State.

Utah State 31, Oregon State 28

New Orleans Bowl: No. 23 Louisiana (-5.5) v. Marshall - Saturday 12/18 9:15 PM EST - ESPN

After going 12-1 this season with their only loss coming in the regular season opener against Texas, Louisiana doesn’t even have to leave the state for their bowl game. Sure, the Ragin’ Cajuns won’t have head coach Billy Napier, who is off to Florida, but they still have quarterback Levi Lewis and a pretty nasty defense.

Marshall played a lot of close games this year, with four of their five losses coming by seven points or less. The Thundering Herd had a problem with turnovers, as quarterback Grant Wells threw 12 picks this year. Marshall would be wise to try and highlight running back Rasheen Ali, who ran for 1,241 yards and 20 touchdowns this year.

This will be Louisiana’s sixth trip to the New Orleans Bowl since 2011. The Ragin’ Cajuns have posted a 4-1 record in the Big Easy. I see no reason why they can’t run their record to 5-1, as they are the better team. Marshall has a solid team, they just don’t have quite enough to match what is Louisiana’s best team in school history.

Louisiana 31, Marshall 21

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Old Dominion v. Tulsa (-9.5) - Monday 12/20 2:30 PM EST - ESPN

These two teams feel pretty evenly matched to me, so I’m not sure why Old Dominion is such a big underdog. Both teams are 6-6, the only real difference is Tulsa plays in a little better conference. Don’t sleep on Old Dominion though, as the won their last five games after opening up the season 1-6. Aside from Buffalo, all of ODU’s losses this year have come to teams that are playing in bowl games.

We all saw Tulsa earlier in the season against Ohio State. The Golden Hurricanes caught a sleepy Buckeye team and hung around. Tulsa also made it tight against Cincinnati before winning their final three games of the year to become bowl eligible. Quarterback Davis Brin makes too many mistakes though, tossing 16 interceptions on the season. I’m not going to go as far to say that Old Dominion is going to win outright, but I do think they keep this game close.

Tulsa 28, Old Dominion 24

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.