This article is part of our Bowl Game Pick 'Em series.
Bowl season is here and we've got a fun and full slate of games to entertain us during the holiday season starting Friday with Middle Tennessee and Toledo kicking us off in the Bahamas Bowl. This article will be your guide in navigating Confidence Points-style pools where you pick the winners and assign point values for each selection. The higher the point value, the higher the confidence you have in that team winning straight up. So, 42 points would be used for the game you're the most confident in and 1 point would be the game you view as the biggest toss-up. I also bake some game theory in towards the bottom and single out some teams with upset potential against teams that many of your league-mates may be laying 15+ confidence points with. Let's dig in.
42.) Alabama (-13.5) vs. Cincinnati
With this being a playoff game, I'm hoping this game is more competitive than the spread indicates. But I have a hard time seeing Cincinnati hanging with the Tide for 60 minutes even with Alabama losing John Metchie in the SEC Championship game.
41.) Fresno State (-11.5) vs. UTEP
The only thing that could complicate this is Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener's status, but his return to the program after flirting with the transfer portal suggests he'll give it a go in this game and cap off a strong season. UTEP is one of the worst bowl-eligible teams this year, ranking 92nd in SP+. Don't overthink this one, Fresno State offers a nice way to hang a big number to your ledger in the first weekend of bowl games.
40.) Tulsa (-9.5) vs. Old Dominion
Old Dominion was a nice story this year, reaching bowl eligibility after not playing in 2020. However, this is not a good team by essentially every measure. Tulsa, meanwhile, isn't going to wow you but it's a solid team across the board. This one is a mismatch and confidence pickers should feel good about backing Tulsa with 35+ confidence points.
39.) Toledo (-10) vs. Middle Tennessee State
I'll continue to pick against C-USA here and back Toledo, which is one of the heaviest favorites on the board. The Rockets rank 61st in the nation in SP+ compared to MTSU checking in at 89th, which is a significant differential. Toledo has a strong scoring offense (23rd) and Middle Tennessee will have a difficult time keeping up.
38.) Liberty (-8.5) vs. Eastern Michigan
Like the Fresno State pick above, this hinges on Liberty's quarterback, Malik Willis, playing in this game. The line suggests that he will be playing, though, and that's more than enough to back the Flames with plenty of confidence. Willis is far and away the best player in this game at the most important position and will be able to take advantage of Eastern Michigan's shaky defense (82nd in PPG/A). Liberty, meanwhile, is solid defensively (30th) though it's worth noting that it played an easy schedule (103rd).
37.) Boise State (-7.5) vs. Central Michigan
The Broncos weren't great in Year 1 post-Bryan Harsin but they were still solid overall, checking in at 36th in the final SP+ rankings. The 7-5 record belies their overall performance and they still ended up ranking 23rd in average point differential with some tough, narrow losses in there. As long as Boise State doesn't let Lew Nichols run roughshod, this should be a comfortable win for the Broncos.
36.) Tennessee (-4.5) vs. Purdue
In terms of sheer entertainment value, this one has the potential to be one of the most fun non-New Year's Six games. Both teams have high-powered offenses and turned in strong overall seasons despite ranking in the top 11 in strength of schedule. Purdue not having David Bell takes a significant piece away from the passing game and while Milton Wright looks like a solid Next Man Up candidate, Bell's absence leaves 26% of the team's targets unaccounted for. Tennessee should be at full strength on the other side of this one and could win by double-digits.
35.) North Carolina (-8.5) vs. South Carolina
South Carolina has some good things going for it right now; the wins over Florida and Auburn gave the team some late-season momentum and the program just picked up commitments from Spencer Rattler and Austin Stogner, which gives the Gamecocks a chance to compete in the SEC next season. However, this is still a lackluster roster and now it has to go up against a talented UNC team that has a chance to end a disappointing season on a high note. Sam Howell has to play in order for you to back North Carolina with this many points, but the expectation is that he will indeed be available. North Carolina's talent edge, especially at quarterback, will guide it to a comfortable victory.
34.) Florida (-6.5) vs. Central Florida
Florida might seem like a team playing out the string after a lackluster season that saw its coach get fired. I'm willing to bet the opposite, though, and side with a team that ended up ranking 27th in SP+ despite an underwhelming W-L record. UCF is at a significant disadvantage in the trenches here. Look for Florida to bully its neighbor.
33.) Minnesota (-3.5) vs. West Virginia
The Gophers have been one of the toughest teams to figure out all season but despite all the injuries and head-scratching losses, the numbers point to them winning this one comfortably. Minnesota ranks 20th in SP+ and West Virginia sits at 72nd. We don't want to be completely beholden to one metric but that's a differential that's hard to ignore. Based on projections, the line should be closer to -9.5 than -3.5.
32.) Georgia State (-4.5) vs. Ball State
By the numbers, Ball State is the worst bowl-eligible team this season, ranking 102nd in SP+. That doesn't mean Georgia State is primed to crush the Cards, but this is an under-the-radar Panthers team with an impressive resume that includes a win over Coastal Carolina and narrow losses on the road to Auburn and Louisiana.
31.) Wisconsin (-7) vs. Arizona State
Don't let the Badgers' late-season flop against Minnesota distract you from just how good Wisconsin was down the stretch. Prior to that game, Wisconsin had won seven straight games by an average of 21.6 points. Look for star running back Braelon Allen and a stout defense to carry the Badgers to an easy win out in Vegas.
30.) North Carolina State (-1) vs. UCLA
UCLA has had its moments throughout the year but North Carolina State is several cuts above. NC State ranks 13th in SP+ while UCLA checks in at 38th. The Wolfpack's three losses came by a combined 18 points and two of those losses were by three points or less. UCLA beat up on the bottom of the PAC-12 towards the end of the season to pad its record but I expect to see the Bruins' true colors here against a physical and talented Wolfpack.
29.) Mississippi State (-8.5) vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech's 118th-ranked pass defense is going to have a tough time keeping Mississippi State under 30 points in this one. And, unlike most Mike Leach teams, this Mississippi State defense actually has some backbone. Texas Tech doesn't have what it takes on offense to hang with the Bulldogs.
28.) Clemson (+1) vs. Iowa State
Hey look, an underdog! Clemson was fairly at the brunt of a lot of criticism this season after the offense couldn't seem to get in gear despite having plenty of on-paper talent. The Tigers turned a corner down the stretch, winning five straight to end the season while scoring at least 30 points in each of those games. Iowa State similarly underwhelmed preseason expectations, turning in a 7-5 record with one win against ranked opponents in four tries. Clemson is the more talented side by a significant margin and despite this game being a rare non-playoff appearance for the Tigers, expect them to take care of business here.
27.) Ohio State (-6.5) vs. Utah
There's no doubt Utah will be fired up for its first Rose Bowl appearance after ending the season with resounding victories over Oregon in a two-week span. On the other side, Ohio State may be getting the "are they going to try?" treatment from the books as this spread would have been much larger during the regular season, even on a neutral field. Ohio State has shown some weakness against its more physical opponents (Oregon, Michigan) and Utah is plenty physical. However, Ohio State's offense is still the best in the country when at full strength and Utah isn't built to play in a track meet. As long as Ohio State doesn't get pushed around by Utah's run game, this should be a comfortable victory for the Buckeyes.
26.) Miami (FL) (-2.5) vs. Washington State
This is another game where the spread doesn't quite reflect how these two teams have played this season. Miami ranks just outside the top 30 in SP+ while Washington State checks in at 58th, right in the same neighborhood as teams like Liberty and Virginia Tech. Now, the 'Canes have a high-profile opt-out from star receiver Charleston Rambo, but quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has shown he can command the offense regardless of the supporting cast. Washington State has a high-profile opt-out in its own right as well with Max Borghi sitting out. This game could get funky, which usually steers me towards using fewer confidence points, but I like Miami's chances at winning this one by closer to a touchdown.
25.) Miami (OH) (-3) vs. North Texas
This has more to do with North Texas than anything. Despite UNT playing spoiler to UTSA's undefeated season, the Mean Green still sits near the bottom of the SP+ ranks among bowl-eligible teams. It lost convincingly to the majority of respectable teams on its schedule. Miami (OH) isn't anything special, ranking 73rd in SP+, but it's solid on both sides of the ball.
24.) BYU (-7) vs. UAB
These are two tough, physical teams with strong defenses and run games. BYU is the better side overall, though, and even though SP+ views these sides similarly (BYU 41, UAB 45), this is one of the spots where I'll divert from that metric. The Cougars have advantages across the board and it will be difficult for the Blazers to hang with them over 60 minutes.
23.) Georgia (-8.5) vs. Michigan
This game actually has the seventh-widest spread of any bowl game. I don't view it that way at all, though, hence the mid-range confidence points. Michigan is one of the hottest teams in college football, coming off of statement wins over Ohio State and Iowa to land the No.2 spot in the playoff. The Wolverines also have the scariest pass rush duo in the country with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo collapsing the pocket seemingly every passing down.
The biggest storyline in this game, in my opinion, is how Michigan's offense performs against Georgia's defense. Georgia's defense was considered one of the best of all time before being humbled yet again at the hands of Alabama. The way that Alabama gave Georgia trouble was something that Michigan has yet to prove it has in its arsenal: an explosive passing game. Michigan bludgeoned teams with the run all year and asked quarterback Cade McNamara to be a game manager. Michigan attempted 27.6 passing plays per game and averaged 8.3 yards per pass. That's decent efficiency but it's average in terms of overall passing yardage. Michigan will have to change its offensive philosophy to have success against Georgia's defense, but even with additional time to prepare, it's difficult to see that happening. I have Georgia winning this game by six points.
22.) Texas A&M (-5) vs. Wake Forest
Wake Forest had trouble stopping the run all season, ranking 115th in the nation in that category despite not really facing a who's who of rushing offenses. Now the Deacs will be tasked with Devon Achane and company as they run behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. The only thing stopping me from going with more is A&M's quarterback situation with Zach Calzada in the portal and Haynes King still on the mend from a foot injury.
21.) Virginia Tech (+1) vs. Maryland
SP+ has this one as a two-point victory for Virginia Tech and I tend to agree. Virginia Tech is dealing with more internal upheaval than Maryland going into this game with a coaching change shaking things up in Blacksburg, but the Hokies are the more talented side. The X-factor here is Maryland's passing game commanded by Taulia Tagovailoa, who finished 12th in the nation in passing yards per game. He has a penchant for turning the ball over, though, with 11 interceptions. As long as Virginia Tech keeps a lid on Maryland's passing game, it will be in a good position to win this one outright. There's also the matter of Virginia Tech suffering some attrition at receiver for this one, but Maryland's porous pass defense (108th) helps smooth over some concerns there.
20.) Army (-3.5) vs. Missouri
Missouri seemed to fix its run defense woes late in the season, ranking 34th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game in November after being routinely gashed on the ground in the first eight games. That's still not enough to convince me that the Tigers will be able to effectively stop Army's triple-option attack, though. I'll lean with Army with moderate confidence.
19.) Boston College (-3) vs. East Carolina
Boston College's edge at quarterback steers me in the Eagles' direction. SP+ has this as a close game and views these teams as relatively equal but I'm not sold that fully accounts for the Phil Jurkovec effect after he missed the bulk of the season. Boston College wins this one by more than a field goal.
18.) Virginia (-2) vs. SMU
SMU is dealing with a swath of absences from key players like Reggie Roberson and Danny Gray heading into this game. That leaves the Mustangs light on firepower as they try to keep up with the high-flying Cavaliers led by quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Both programs are in the midst of coaching transitions so it's likely for the best to leave this game under 20 confidence points, but Virginia looks to be closer to full strength heading into this contest.
17.) Air Force (+1.5) vs. Louisville
This is not the matchup Louisville was hoping to see as the Cardinals' shaky run defense now has to figure out how to stop the nation's top rushing attack. Air Force averages 342 rushing yards per game and punched in 42 rushing scores on the year while Louisville ranked 75th against the run. Run game isn't the end-all-be-all, but it matters more when there's a team that only runs the ball against a team that has hardly proven it can stop it. If Malik Cunningham doesn't go hero-mode here (a possibility), Air Force will bully its way to a win.
16.) Kansas State (-1) vs. LSU
LSU is another team just waiting for the season to end after a tumultuous 2021 that saw a coach firing and multiple quarterbacks hit the portal in addition to some defensive stalwarts get injured or opt-out. Kansas State is the better side even when the teams are at full strength, but when LSU is possibly having to start a quarterback with no playing experience at this level – either Matt O'Dowd or Tavion Faulk – it's hard to see the Tigers winning this one outright.
15.) Notre Dame (-2) vs. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State had an excellent season but its shortcomings reared their head in the Big 12 Championship Game. Notre Dame, meanwhile, was the more complete team all year and ended the season on an absolute tear, outscoring its final four opponents 162-23. Even with a coaching change (which actually may be a net-positive in terms of the team's effort here) and Kyren Williams getting ready for the draft, the Irish will be in good shape to win this one.
14.) Western Michigan (-3.5) vs. Nevada
This has everything to do with the tumultuous last couple of weeks in Nevada that was highlighted by a coaching departure and several key players hitting the portal and punctuated by Carson Strong's decision to sit this one out and start preparing for the NFL Draft. Western Michigan would have had a shot to keep this close if Nevada was at full strength, but Nevada is far from that and the Broncos should be able to take advantage and win outright.
13.) Wyoming (-3) vs. Kent State
Wyoming lives to make its opponents uncomfortable with its physical brand of defense and smashmouth style on offense. That does not bode well for Kent State as it ranks 106th in the nation against the run while Wyoming's run game ranks 28th. That's not to say Kent State can't run the ball or that Wyoming is completely overwhelming against the run, however. The Dustin Crum factor for Kent State also keeps this on the lower end of the confidence spectrum but I expect the 'Pokes to come out on top.
12.) Michigan State (-1.5) vs. Pittsburgh
There are (pending) high-profile opt-outs on either side of this one that change the entire complexion of this matchup. This line seems to suggest Kenny Pickett will not play for Pittsburgh, which would be a massive hit to the offense and the overall watchability of this game. On the other side, Kenneth Walker has decided to sit this one out as a running back who projects to be one of the first players off the board at his position in the draft. That leaves a hole for Michigan State but not to the extent Pickett would for Pitt.
Michigan State's Achilles Heel all season has been its pass defense. I fear that a Kenny Pickett-less Pittsburgh wouldn't be able to take advantage in this spot. If that condition is met, Sparty should win this game. If Pickett does play, I'd take Pittsburgh for 15 confidence points.
11.) Western Kentucky (+3) vs. Appalachian State
This might be my favorite game of the entire bowl season. I consider myself an adopted App State fan thanks to my love of Boone, and the team is fun to root for. On the other side is an eminently likable Western Kentucky team that had the second-best offense in the country this season in yards and points per game.
App State has shown some cracks this year in its secondary, and there's arguably no better team to exploit those cracks than the Bailey Zappe-led Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers will not be held under 35 in this one and getting into track meets like that is not Appalachian State's recipe for success.
10.) Houston (+3) vs. Auburn
This is a classic case of one team looking to go Big Game Hunting in its bowl game while the other is looking to just end the season. That isn't reflected in the line, necessarily, but I see Houston as a worthy opponent with more to play for in this spot. The Cougs have a significant edge at quarterback with Clayton Tune over Auburn's T.J. Finley. It felt like Auburn's near-win over Alabama was its last gasp of effort for the year.
Please note: Houston has long been my bowl season kryptonite
9.) UTSA (-2.5) vs. San Diego State
San Diego State is like a rich man's version of Wyoming in terms of playstyle but this matchup is much more even than the Wyoming-Kent State matchup as SDSU and UTSA rank right next to each other (56th, 57th respectively) in SP+. I give UTSA the edge here, though. The Roadrunners' explosive and balanced offense will be a problem for the Aztecs. Maybe San Diego State can limit Sincere McCormick-less ground game, but then the script may flip towards Frank Harris turning it loose against a poor Aztec secondary. San Diego State is not a catch-up type of team and an early deficit could put it in serious trouble. Meep Meep.
8.) Arkansas (+2) vs. Penn State
We're entering true toss-up territory at this stage of the article. Penn State is a lot better than its record indicates and Arkansas may be worse. Arkansas is also down star receiver Treylon Burks.
Still, Arkansas is adept at stopping the pass and its unique alignments on defense could confuse Sean Clifford, even if he has Jahan Dotson as a safety valve. And if the passing game isn't working for Penn State, it doesn't have much of a run game to turn to. I'll side with KJ Jefferson and Arkansas here, but I'm not strong on it.
7.) Marshall (+5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
This is a tricky one and Louisiana clearly had the better season but I think Marshall, at full strength, will be up to the challenge against a distracted Cajun team that is dealing with opt-outs and coaching turnover.
6.) Oklahoma (-4.5) vs. Oregon
This is a battle of teams that never quite looked as good as their rankings would indicate for most of the season. Both teams' seasons ended with a thud and have also endured shocking coaching changes. In other words, here's how this one looks on paper:
I expect this to be a close game, thanks in part to a significant amount of departures and opt-outs on Oklahoma's side, but one that the Sooners ultimately win. Oklahoma has the significantly better offense and quarterback while Oregon is shorthanded on defense. That should be the difference here, but even if you disagree with my side here, I wouldn't put many confidence points into this matchup.
5.) Kentucky (-3) vs. Iowa
This one isn't too different than Oregon-Oklahoma in that their seasons played out in similar fashions. Both started hot, got over-ranked, then humbled.
I side with Kentucky's overall athleticism and edge at quarterback when breaking down this matchup. Iowa has gotten by all year on forcing turnovers, and that's a key detail as Kentucky has struggled to take care of the ball, but as long as the Wildcats don't melt down in that facet, they'll hold on for the win.
4.) Hawaii (+7) vs. Memphis
Memphis has no business giving a touchdown to any bowl team. The Tigers have been mercurial throughout the season and the team that beat Mississippi State in Week 2 is not the one we see now, and I don't mean that in a good way.
I view this as a game theory play. Use Hawaii at a low confidence number as a hedge against those who see the touchdown spread and put 20+ on Memphis.
3.) Mississippi (+1) vs. Baylor
The line already suggests that Matt Corral will sit this one out and start getting ready for the draft. Even with that in mind, I would not be shocked to see Mississippi find a way to win without him. A month of Lane Kiffin dialing something up in the event of a no-Corral bowl game should get you excited for this game. If you're on Baylor here, that's fair, but I wouldn't use double-digit points on the Bears even if Corral is out.
2.) Northern Illinois (+10.5) vs. Coastal Carolina
NIU gets nearly no respect from the advanced metrics or the oddsmakers despite being the MAC champions. SP+ seems to disrespect the MAC, in general, this bowl season and has the Huskies ranked as the 100th-best team while Coastal Carolina checks in at 25th. I think Northern Illinois is better than that and has managed to put together a strong season despite some key injuries. I give them a puncher's chance here, certainly to hang within 10 and even win outright. In a field where Coastal backers will likely be putting 30+ confidence points on the Chants, getting different and going with NIU could be a major windfall if the Huskies pull this off.
1.) Utah State (-7) vs. Oregon State
This is another hedge play as I think the public will see the P5-G5 matchup and the seven-point spread and go with Oregon State. I think Utah State has a legitimate shot at the upset here. The Mountain West champs have a dangerous passing attack led by the Logan Bonner-Deven Thompkins connection that will be tough for Oregon State to keep a lid on for all four quarters.
Oregon State ranks outside the top 80 in both passing offense and passing defense and if Utah State can get out to an early lead, OSU will be in a tough catch-up script that it does not thrive in.