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MC&J: College football bowl season kicks off on Saturday

Our resident gambling expert has picks for the first 10 bowl games.

UCF v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Season ATS: 113-103-1 (54-62-1 National, 59-41 B1G)

After a solid regular season, we hope to add some winners to our record during bowl season. There are over 40 bowl games on this year’s schedule, and I’ll have picks for them all. There will be a number of picks articles that trickle out over the holidays, so keep your eyes out for them!

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Georgia Southern (-3.5) v. Ohio

Saturday 12/16 11:00 a.m. ET - ESPN

The first game of bowl season this year takes place in Myrtle Beach between Georgia Southern and Ohio. The Bobcats will be looking to extend their winning streak in bowl games to five, with the streak dating back to the 2017 Bahamas Bowl when they beat UAB 41-6. A win over Georgia Southern would give head coach Tim Albin 10 wins for the second-straight season.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats, there are a few key offensive players that won’t be making the trip to Myrtle Beach with the team. Quarterback Kurtis O’Rourke and running backs Sieh Bangura and O’Shaan Allison all have decided to enter the transfer portal. The trio combined to rush for all of Ohio’s 14 touchdowns on the ground this season. Starting behind center in place of O’Rourke will be Parker Navarro.

The bad news for Georgia Southern is they’ll still have to go up against Ohio’s nasty defense. The Bobcats had one of the best scoring defenses in the country this year, allowing 30 points in just one game. Despite not having much production returning on offense for the bowl game, Ohio’s defense has the ability to put the team in position to win this game, especially since they’ll be going up against Georgia Southern quarterback Davis Brin, who committed a bunch of turnovers this year.

Not only can Ohio cover this game, I think they can win it outright.

Ohio 23, Georgia Southern 14

New Orleans Bowl: Jacksonville State (-3) v. Louisiana

Saturday 12/16 2:15 p.m. ET - ESPN

Originally Jacksonville State wasn’t supposed to be eligible for a bowl game since this is their first year as an FBS team, but Rich Rodriguez’s team is allowed to play in a bowl game this year since there weren’t enough teams with records of at least .500 to fill the spots. The Gamecocks love to run the football, as they had five players rush for at least 280 yards this year.

The Ragin’ Cajuns slumped at the end of the season, losing three games in a row before beating Louisiana-Monroe 52-21 to secure the magical sixth win needed for bowl eligibility. Louisiana will be making their second New Orleans Bowl appearance under head coach Michael Desormeaux, and seventh trip to the bowl game in school history. In those previous six bowl games in New Orleans, the only loss for the Ragin’ Cajuns came in 2016 to Southern Miss.

Despite a sluggish finish to the season, Louisiana did get some good quarterback play from Chandler Fields in the final three games of the regular season, with Fields tossing seven touchdowns and just one interception. It’ll be interesting to see if Fields can build on those recent games with some extra practices leading into the bowl game. With the past success for Louisiana in the New Orleans Bowl, I think they’ll put forth a strong effort and edge the Gamecocks on Saturday afternoon.

Louisiana 31, Jacksonville State 28

Cure Bowl: Miami (OH) v. Appalachian State (-6.5)

Saturday 12/16 3:30 p.m. ET - ABC

After beating Toledo earlier this month in the MAC Championship Game, Miami (OH) will now take on the runner-up from the Sun Belt Conference, Appalachian State. As if the RedHawks didn’t already have enough trouble moving the football on offense, they’ll be without backup quarterback Aveon Smith, who entered the transfer portal recently. Likely to start for Miami in this game behind center is Henry Hesson.

Appalachian State quarterback Joey Aguilar can really sling it, tossing 33 touchdowns this season. Aguilar is going to face one of the toughest defenses in the country, as the RedHawks haven’t given up more than 20 points in a game since losing to Toledo in October. One thing the Mountaineers have been great at in the past is putting up points in bowl games, scoring at least 31 points in each of their previous seven bowl appearances.

As gritty as Miami has been this year, this game against Appalachian State might be a little too tough of a hill to climb, especially since they’ll be starting a quarterback that hasn’t thrown a pass so far this season. I know the RedHawks have an outstanding defense, as well as a great kicker, but their defense will only be able to keep things close for so long before Aguilar and company put Miami in a hole they don’t have the firepower to dig out of.

Appalachian State 31, Miami (OH) 17

New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico State (-3.5) v. Fresno State

Saturday 12/16 5:45 p.m. ET - ESPN

Unlike last year, when they had to travel all the way to Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl, New Mexico State won’t even have to leave the state for this year’s bowl, with just over 200 miles between Las Cruces and Albuquerque. The Aggies were giving Liberty all they could handle in the Conference USA Championship Game before quarterback Diego Pavia was injured. New Mexico State would end up losing 49-35 to the Flames, but even with the loss the Aggies still reached the 10-win mark for the second time in school history.

Who would’ve thought that Fresno State would be the team entering this bowl game with health issues with their head coach? A couple weeks ago, head coach Jeff Tedford resigned because of health concerns, leaving Tim Skipper to coach the bowl game for the Bulldogs. Following a strong start to the season, Fresno State faltered down the stretch, losing their final three games.

I just don’t like the way quarterback Mikey Keene and Fresno State closed out the regular season. Even though the Bulldogs might rally around Skipper, it won’t be able to match how the Aggies are going to play for Jerry Kill, who many feel was slighted when he wasn’t included as a candidate for Coach of the Year. Pavia puts up a big performance in Albuquerque as New Mexico State win their home state bowl.

New Mexico State 33, Fresno State 23

LA Bowl: UCLA (-4.5) v. Boise State

Saturday 12/16 7:30 p.m. ET - ABC

This will mark the final game for UCLA as a member of the Pac-12, since the Bruins move over to the Big Ten starting next season. After it sounded like UCLA would move on from coach Chip Kelly, somehow Kelly survived the chopping block for now. While Kelly is still at UCLA, quarterback Dante Moore has entered the transfer portal, and star defensive end Laiatu Latu has declared for the NFL Draft.

It certainly has been a strange season for Boise State, who fired head coach Andy Avalos with a few games left, and then went on to win the Mountain West title. The Broncos will be without quarterback Taylen Green, who entered the transfer portal and has already committed to Arkansas. At least true freshman starting quarterback C.J. Tiller will have running backs Ashton Jeanty and George Holani to lean on in his first start.

2023 Mountain West Championship - Boise State v UNLV Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

UCLA’s motivation for this game feels non-existent. The Bruins don’t get to travel anywhere new for the game, and they’ve already had a few players decide to skip the bowl. On the other side, Boise State has played hard for head coach Spencer Danielson, who had the interim tag removed off his title earlier this month. The Broncos put together one last solid performance as they close out the season with five-straight wins.

Boise State 27, UCLA 20

Independence Bowl: Cal v. Texas Tech (-2.5)

Saturday 12/16 9:15 p.m. ET - ESPN

These two teams met back in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, with Texas Tech beating Cal 45-31 in San Diego. This year’s contest figures to look a lot different than nearly 20 years ago, since in their previous meeting Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie threw for over 500 yards. While passing was the preferred method of moving the football in the first meeting, this year figures to be pretty run-heavy.

Texas Tech received a boost heading into next season when running back Tahj Brooks announced he would be coming back to Lubbock for another season. Brooks ran for over 1,400 yards for the Red Raiders this season, and figures to see plenty of carries in this game. Trying to match Brooks will be Cal running back Jaydn Ott, who totaled 1,260 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Even though both teams were pretty solid in November to close out the regular season, I do like Texas Tech just a little bit more here. I’m not putting much stock in the 57-7 loss they suffered to Texas, since the Longhorns were on a mission to earn a playoff spot. Cal has definitely made some strides this year, but the Red Raiders are just a little better on both sides of the football and pull out a win in an entertaining game to cap off the first day of bowl season.

Texas Tech 34, Cal 27

Famous Toastery Bowl: Western Kentucky v. Old Dominion (-2.5)

Monday 12/18 2:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

Western Kentucky and Old Dominion are getting cheated. This used to be the Bahamas Bowl, but now it is being played in Charlotte. Instead of going to paradise they have to go to some unbelievably MID city. Then again, I guess the setting fits Old Dominion perfectly, since the Monarchs were 6-6 this year. Old Dominion does a lot of things well, they just aren’t great at much of anything.

Western Kentucky undoubtedly will have the two best players on the field on Monday. Quarterback Austin Reed followed up last season where he threw 40 touchdowns by tossing 31 touchdowns this season. Reed’s favorite target this year has been Malachi Corley, who caught 75 passes for over 950 yards and 11 scores. While a few starters on the offensive line are in the transfer portal, Old Dominion struggled to get to the quarterback this year.

Western Kentucky feels like the right side in this game. I know Old Dominion has a habit of playing teams tough, I just think the combination of Reed and Corley is going to be the difference in this one.

Western Kentucky 35, Old Dominion 31

Frisco Bowl: UTSA (-12.5) v. Marshall

Tuesday 12/19 9:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

If there was ever a time for UTSA to earn their first bowl win in program history, this would be it. Not only are the Roadrunners playing in their home state, they’ll be going up against a Marshall team that will have a new starting quarterback. Cam Fancher has entered the transfer portal, likely leaving Cole Pennington, son of former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington, to start in this game.

While there is a lot unknown about Pennington heading into this game, the same can’t be said for UTSA quarterback Frank Harris. The senior has been with the Roadrunners since 2019, and has accounted for 110 touchdowns during his college career. You just have to think Harris is going to be motivated to cap off his career by helping UTSA win their first bowl game.

UTSA v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I know 12.5 is a lot to lay, especially against a Marshall offense that isn’t too bad. Pennington hasn’t been good in his limited time on the field though, throwing six picks this year. Harris and company jump out to an early lead and keep their foot on the gas against a Marshall team that is probably more interested in their season being over than playing in a bowl.

UTSA 42, Marshall 21

Boca Raton Bowl: South Florida v. Syracuse (-3)

Thursday 12/21 8:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

Syracuse will be headed down to Florida for this game, but they won’t have head coach Dino Babers, who they fired. The Orange struggled offensively for most of the year, including a five-game stretch where they failed to score more than 14 points in a game. Aside from playing for an interim head coach, what is going to be the motivation for Syracuse?

Unlike Syracuse, it feels like South Florida will be excited to play in this game. The Bulls went 6-6 in Alex Golesh’s first season as head coach. Quarterback Byrum Brown was fun to watch this season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns. South Florida was inconsistent on defense at times, I’m just not convinced Syracuse can exploit the weakness.

South Florida will be well represented at this game since it’s not a far trip from Tampa. This feels like a game that Golesh will use as a springboard for next year, while Syracuse won’t have much direction until Fran Brown fully takes over. I think the wrong team is favored in this one.

South Florida 38, Syracuse 24

Gasparilla Bowl: Georgia Tech v. UCF (-4.5)

Friday 12/22 6:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

When UCF is on, they are really tough to stop. When they are off, things can get ugly. Luckily for fans of the Knights, this feels like a game they’ll be on in since it’ll be the final college game for quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. The Ole Miss transfer was injured for part of the year, which is why the Knights were only 6-6. As if slowing down Plumlee wasn’t tough enough, UCF also has running back R.J. Harvey, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

Georgia Tech put together a solid season to earn bowl eligibility. You can see the strides the Yellow Jackets have made, as they even pushed Georgia in their final game of the regular season. What is going to do in Georgia Tech in this game is turnovers. Haynes King threw 15 interceptions this year, which is bad news against an opportunistic Central Florida defense. This will be a fun game that will see the Knights pull away a little in the second half.

UCF 41, Georgia Tech 30