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MC&J: Picks against the spread for the first 12 games of college football’s bowl season

Bowl season kicks off on Friday morning with the Bahamas Bowl.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Navy at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Season ATS: 96-105-5 (48-55-2 National, 48-49-3 B1G)

Unlike last year, this year MC&J is heading into bowl season with a record under .500. Luckily there are over 40 bowl games this year, giving us plenty of opportunities to move to the winning side for the season. This will be the first of four MC&J bowl picks articles over the next couple weeks.

Bowl games 12/16 - 12/21:

(All lines courtesy of Draftkings Sportsbook.)

Bahamas Bowl: Miami (OH) v. UAB (-11) - Friday 12/16 11:30 a.m. - ESPN

Can we go back to the Bahamas Bowl being sponsored by Popeyes? How much fun would it be if any points scored were as random as ordering at Popeyes? Maybe you get a couple extra points on a touchdown. Or instead of field goal points you get safety points. Just chalk it up to Popeyes being Popeyes.

Last year Miami earned their first bowl win since 2010 when they beat North Texas 27-14. It is going to be really tough for the RedHawks to make it two in a row since they are taking on a UAB team that has one of the best running backs in the country. DeWayne McBride ran for 1,713 yards and 19 touchdowns this year. McBride rushed for 200 yards in three games this year, including 272 yards in the 37-27 win over Louisiana Tech to close out the regular season. The Blazers are better on both sides of the football.

UAB 34, Miami (OH) 20

Cure Bowl: No. 25 UTSA v. No. 24 Troy (-2) - Friday 12/16 3:00 p.m. - ESPN

After a warmup with the Bahamas Bowl, we get a really good matchup in the Cure Bowl, with the Conference USA champs taking on the winners of the Sun Belt. UTSA will be looking for their second straight 12-2 season, while Troy is enjoying their first winning season since 2018.

The strategies in this game will be a little different, as UTSA is all gas and no brakes on offense, while Troy has a defense that is only giving up 17.5 points per game. The Trojans have found a bit of rhythm on offense of late, scoring at least 34 points in each of their last three games.

Last year the Roadrunners lost the Frisco Bowl to San Diego State. I think this year Jeff Traylor’s team caps off the year with their first bowl win in school history. Quarterback Frank Harris and favorite traget Zakhari Franklin are just a little too much for Troy in this game.

UTSA 38, Troy 27

Fenway Bowl: Cincinnati v. Louisville (-1) - Saturday 12/17 11:00 p.m. - ESPN

I’m not gonna lie, I hate pretty much everything Boston. As a Yankees fan, I think Fenway Park is a dump. If you can’t have a bowl game without having both sidelines on the same side of the field then you don’t get to have a bowl game. Nobody is going to shed any tears over Boston not getting a bowl game.

This game was already looking spicy when the matchup was announced since this marks the first time since 2013 that the Keg of Nails has been up for grabs. Things got even hotter when it was announced that Cincinnati was hiring Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield to replace Luke Fickell, who was hired as Wisconsin’s new head coach. Former Ohio State assistant Kerry Coombs will be Cincinnati’s interim coach in this game. Louisville will be coached by a man who knows plenty about winning in Boston, former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch.

Not only will Louisville have an interim head coach, they’ll also be without quarterback Malik Cunningham and leading wide receiver Tyler Hudson, as both have opted out of this game after declaring for the NFL Draft. The Cardinals aren’t quite the same team without the dynamic Cunningham. It feels like the Bearcats care a little more about this game, and will rally around Coombs before Satterfield takes over.

Cincinnati 28, Louisville 20

Las Vegas Bowl: Florida v. No. 14 Oregon State (-10) - Saturday 12/17 2:30 p.m. - ESPN

Florida beat Utah in Gainesville to start the year, then didn’t do much else, finishing the regular season with a 6-6 record. A mediocre Gator squad has gotten even worse heading into this game, as quarterback Anthony Richardson has opted out of playing after declaring for the NFL Draft. Starting for Florida in Las Vegas will be Ohio State transfer Jack Miller III.

Oregon State quietly had a good 9-3 season, with their losses coming to USC, Utah, and Washington. The Beavers closed out the regular season with a dramatic comeback win over Oregon in the Civl War. Running back Damien Martinez is just 30 yards away from 1,000 yards for the season.

The Gators lost to Vanderbilt this year. That should tell you just how much work Billy Napier has to do if he wants to get Florida back to respectability. I can’t see a short-handed Gators team keeping it close against an Oregon State squad looking for their first 10-win season since 2006.

Oregon State 33, Florida 17

LA Bowl: Washington State v. Fresno State (-3.5) - Saturday 12/17 3:30 p.m. - ABC

It’s obvious how different of a team Fresno State is when quarterback Jake Haener is healthy. Haener missed a game at Boise State earlier in the year and the Bulldogs lost 40-20. Fresno State returned to Boise with Haener for the Mountain West Championship Game and beat the Broncos 28-16.

Cameron Ward was really good in his first season in Pullman, passing for over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns. Former Wisconsin running back Nakia Watson also made an impact in his first year with the Cougars, rushing for 736 yards and eight touchdowns.

After losing four straight games to fall to 1-4 to start the season, the Bulldogs have won eight straight games. Fresno State has been really good in bowls lately, winning their last three dating back to 2017. Haener and running back Jordan Mims are going to be a little too much for Washington State to handle.

Fresno State 30, Washington State 23

LendingTree Bowl: Rice v. Southern Miss (-6.5) - Saturday 12/17 5:45 p.m. - ESPN

There are always a few bowl games that look awful. This is one of those games. Rice is 5-7 and only here because they get good grades. Southern Miss had to win their final game of the regular season against Louisiana-Monroe to get to six wins.

One thing about Southern Miss, they covered a bunch of games this year, posting 8-9 wins ATS depending on what lines you had. If that wasn’t enough, they also have Frank Gore Jr. at running back. I’m confident the Golden Eagles can find success against a Rice defense that allowed 33 points per game this year.

Southern Miss 37, Rice 21

New Mexico Bowl: SMU (-3.5) v. BYU - Saturday 12/17 7:30 p.m. - ABC

This game feels like the first team to hit 50 points will win. Tanner Mordecai of SMU and BYU quarterback Jaren Hall each threw for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns this year. Mordecai won’t have his full arsenal of weapons though, as Rashee Rice has already declared for the NFL Draft and opted out of this game. Rice was four catches shy of 100 receptions for the season.

Even though there are questions as to whether Hall will be able to play because of injury, I like the Cougars in this game. While SMU is the flashier team, BYU feels like the tougher team. In a game where there will be a ton of points, I’ll gladly take a few with the team that plays at least a little bit of defense.

BYU 45, SMU 38

Frisco Bowl: North Texas v. Boise State (-10.5) - Saturday 12/17 9:15 p.m. - ESPN

I don’t really get North Texas. After making it to the Sun Belt title game, the Mean Green fired head coach Seth Littrell, who was 44-44 in seven seasons in Denton. The Frisco Bowl will be the sixth bowl game North Texas had made in that span. While the Mean Green haven’t won any of those bowl games, who do they think is going to do a better job?

Boise State might have lost to Fresno Stat in the Mountain West Championship Game, but the Broncos still finished the regular season with a 9-4 record. Taylen Green has done a solid job in replacing quarterback Hank Bachmeier. Expect George Holani to have a big game against a Mean Green defense that isn’t very mean. Boise State rolls over a North Texas team that will probably be a little lost without Littrell.

Boise State 41, North Texas 24

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Marshall (-10) v. UConn - Monday 12/19 2:30 p.m. - ESPN

Jim Mora Jr. has done a great job getting UConn to six wins. Prior to this year, the last time the Huskies won at least six games in a season was back in 2015 when Bob Diaco was head coach. That being said, I’m not dumb enough to pick the Huskies here. UConn still has a tough time getting much offense going, so a Marshall defense that allows less than 300 yards per game shouldn’t have much trouble keeping the Huskies off the scoreboard.

The Thundering Herd come to Myrtle Beach having won four straight games, and they had a huge upset early in the year when they beat Notre Dame in South Bend. Not only did Khalan Laborn rush for 1,423 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, Rasheen Ali returned for the last two games of the regular season. Ali ran for 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. The running game of the Thundering Herd is going to wear out UConn.

Marshall 27, UConn 10

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Eastern Michigan v. San Jose State (-3.5) - Tuesday 12/20 3:30 p.m. - ESPN

We are living in a world where Eastern Michigan has won eight games in a season. The last time the Eagles won at least eight games in a season came back in 1986 when they won 10 games and the California Bowl. Eastern Michigan not only won at Arizona State, they won their last three games of the regular season. Samson Evans ran for 1,084 yards and 13 touchdowns this year to power the offense of the Eagles.

After transferring from Hawai’i following last season, Chevan Cordeiro was really good for the Spartans this year, throwing 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The issue with San Jose State’s offense is they have a hard time running the football, averaging just 92 yards per game on the ground.

Eastern Michigan just feels like a little more well-rounded team than San Jose State. The Eagles will be eager to snap a four-game bowl losing streak, as they still haven’t won a bowl game since 1986. Plus, Chris Creighton’s team is a little more familiar with playing on funky colored turf like they’ll see in Boise.

Eastern Michigan 24, San Jose State 20

Boca Raton Bowl: Liberty v. Toledo (-5) - Tuesday 12/20 7:30 p.m. - ESPN

Liberty lost head coach Hugh Freeze to Auburn, but is bringing in Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell. The Flames must have known Freeze was on the way out since they dropped their final three games of the regular season.

After closing out the regular season with two losses and limping into the MAC Championship Game, Toledo righted the ship a bit by beating Ohio 17-7 in Detroit. Quarterback DeQuan Finn hasn’t quite been as good as we saw when the Rockets took on the Buckeyes because he has been dealing with an ankle injury. Luckily Finn will have some time to rest his ankle before this game, and should be ready to showcase his skills before possibly hitting the transfer portal.

Toledo 37, Liberty 23

New Orleans Bowl: Western Kentucky v. South Alabama (-4.5) - 9:00 p.m. - ESPN

South Alabama lost just two games this year by a combined our points. The offense of the Jaguars had a great mix with quarterback Carter Bradley and 1,000-yard rusher La’Damian Webb. Not only has the South Alabama offense been good, the defense has been stout, giving up just over 300 yards per game.

At first it looked like Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed wouldn’t play in this game after entering the transfer portal. Then Reed changed his mind and withdrew his name, deciding to stay with the Hilltoppers. Even though Western Kentucky can put up plenty of points, the offense doesn’t seem quite as potent as they were with Bailey Zappe at quarterback. If you look at the wins by the Hilltoppers, most of their victories came against teams with losing records. South Alabama just feels like the right choice here.

South Alabama 38, Western Kentucky 27

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