The Best Bets of Bowl Season

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OXFORD, MS – NOVEMBER 29: Bo Wallace #14 of the Mississippi Rebels drops back to pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during their game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Streeter Lecka Getty Images North America

Bowl season is a magical time of year for sports fans…and degenerate gamblers alike. We’re given the gift of college football every single day from the 26th of December all the way through January 4th, creating the perfect excuse to eat and drink ourselves stupid with the season’s final games.

Those 6-6 records feel like distant memories with every school, regardless of record, headed to the postseason looking to capitalize on a final send off. That’s all well and good, for the student athlete and alums but the real key to bowl season for the rest of us is making money.

Forget those bowl pools, confidence points be damned there are pointspreads and totals worth attacking with vigor. Clay promised you an 18-0 bowl season, a run for the ages where man becomes legend. I on the other hand take a much more modest approach to picking winners; hoping these five inners can get us to the window.

5. Virginia Tech vs Cincinnati: Military Bowl

Defense wins championships…well ok in Virginia Tech’s case having the nation’ssecond most efficient stop unit barely punched their ticket to the postseason given an offense that usually went in reverse. Frank Beamer’s 2014 Hokies edition was a far cry from his national championship teams. Aside from an inexplicable 6-3 loss to Wake Forest, Tech’s other 5 losses came against squads headed for the postseason. Their only defeat by more than 7 all year came at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes meaning one more play here or there and 6-6 becomes 8-4. The Hokies rush defense, pass defense, and total defense numbers all rank significantly better than the Bearcats. Cincinnati got hot down the stretch, winning 7 straight games that included a share of the American Athletic conference championship. However every win isn’t equal and racking up W’s against SMU, South Florida, Tulane, UConn, Temple, and Houston is hardly a ringing endorsement for Cincinnati’s killer instinct. To the Bearcats credit they did hold off ECU at home but gave up 48 points in the process. By all accounts it looks like Tommy Tuberville will lean on Gunner Kiel as his starting quarterback for the game rather than the dual threat upper classmen Munchie Legeaux. Kiel threw for over 3000 yards in his first season including 30 TD’s to 11 INT’s but was prone to inconsistency when under pressure. Tech only allowed 1 team all season long to throw for more than 276 yards, the same ECU Pirates that pushed Cincy to the absolute brink. I don’t love the offensive firepower that Tech will bring to the table but that’s exactly why they’re listed as a FG underdog instead of the favorite. Give me a top 25 caliber defense in terms of yards per play allowed vs a Cincy side ranking 92nd in the same category against a much softer schedule. In my opinion the wrong team is favored here…

The Pick: Virginia Tech +3 and moneyline

4. Clemson vs Oklahoma:€“ Russell Athletic Bowl

This bowl game had all the potential in the world to be one of the most exciting non Big 6 games…until talented freshman QB DeShaun Watson was forced under the knife to repair his torn ACL. What we’re left with is Cole Stoudt under center, the football equivalent of coal in your Christmas stocking. I’ve been critical of Stoudt all year, yes he who completed 62% of his attempts but for only 5.91 yards per attempt highlighted by his 10 interceptions to only 6 TD’s. Anyone who watched the Clemson QB realizes that final scores in the games where he was involved were misleading, covered up by the nation’s most efficient defense. Vic Beasley headlines an outstanding defensive line that held opponents to only 4.1 yards per play, a mark good enough for 2nd in the entire nation. There was a reason Clemson was 8-3 to the under this year holding opponents to less than 100 yards per game on the ground while stifling passing attacks at the same time. Oklahoma gets the services of starting QB Trevor Knight back for the bowl although it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll respond when put under duress at game speed considering the injuries he dealt with to close the regular season. During the year Oklahoma had one of the nation’s more balanced offenses, running the ball for 269 YPG while gaining just over 200 through the air. Defensively the Sooners had their problems vs high flying Big XII passing attacks, fortunately that’s something they won’t encounter against Clemson.

I know we’ve already lost some value from the market peak at 54 but I personally made this total 48.5 and think it will be a grind it out type slugfest from Orlando where the winning side may only need to muster 21 points for the win. All we can hope for is that Stoudt and Knight avoid the dreaded pick 6.

The Pick: Clemson and Oklahoma U53

3) Florida St vs Oregon:“ Rose Bowl

Every year a team underachieves in the pointspread department forcing books to adjust their power rankings considerably. Welcome to a day in the life of the defending champs Florida State Seminoles that compiled a 3-10 ATS mark, tied for the worst winning percentage in all of college football. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise because we predicted such a scenario in our OKTC season preview given all the Winston and defending champ hype bound to surround them.

What does all this mean? Well now’s the perfect time to jump on the Noles as heavy underdogs. The burden of proof is off Jameis Winston’s shoulders, instead that large Heisman target sits on Mariota’s back instead. FSU, despite “limping” to the finish, finished the season as the only undefeated team from a power 5 conference which is no small feat. During the course of the regular season FSU endured massive injuries throughout their defense, meaning two positions (LB and D-Line) that are deeper and more experienced heading into the bowl season. The Seminoles also have another luxury in John Franklin III, a backup quarterback prospect that most of the nation knows nothing about but could be the team’s key to success if they’re to contain Mariota. Franklin was clocked at 4.38 in the 40 and will attempt to emulate the dual threat leading up to the national semifinal. While no one is stupid enough to think he can replicate everything Mariota brings to the table, Franklin does offer a valuable scout team option. On the Ducks side losing Ekpre Olomu in the secondary is substantial when matched up against a FSU offense averaging just under 300 yards passing a game. Even with Olomu in the mix the Ducks surrendered around 260 YPG through the air, a mark that left them 105th in the nation against the pass.

We know Mariota will get his yards against FSU but I think most of the country and oddsmakers are overlooking the fact that Jameis will have a field day himself connecting with Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary in the passing game while handing off to Cook and Williams. The biggest thing the Noles need to do if they’re to cover and have a chance to win outright is eliminate the turnovers, something they haven’t done all year with a -3 turnover ratio compared to Oregon’s +17. Personally I think the ACC hasn’t been given enough credit for overall league depth this year and FSU’s more difficult schedule in 2014 will have them poised for a chance to defend their title.

The Pick: Florida St +9

2. East Carolina vs Florida:“ Birmingham Bowl

College football is an interesting game…especially when you pit teams that do things very differently against one another with ample time to prepare. In this case one of the nation’s most prolific passing attacks led by a fringe NFL draft pick Shane Carden and his 551 pass attempts goes up against a Florida QB in Treon Harris that attempted a forward pass just 100 times himself. Normally you’d be worried about backing a team like ECU in this spot given a shaky AAC record of 5-3 but it’s their aggressive non-conference schedule against South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina that leads me to believe they can compete with the big boys. Ok, let’s be honest only Tech has a living breathing defense of that trio but ECU also showed big play potential in their season finale against a stingy UCF. Carden has a big strong arm and two very talented wide receivers in Cam Worthy and Justin Hardy that will allow him to stretch the field against Florida. I know what y’all are thinking: well UF did just fine against Jameis Winston. Look at a handful of other performances from the Gator’s secondary vs UGA and Alabama that Ruffin McNeil is sure to explore with his Pirates before attacking Florida. This Gators offense only eclipsed 30 points in offensive production twice in their last 8 games, covering as a TD favorite in this spot will require a bit more big play potential than they’ve grown accustomed to during the season. The other aspect that’s hard to avoid is simply from the motivation side; does a proud Gators football program see beating ECU in the Birmingham Bowl as the capstone to a successful season? I just can’t see it and backing the nation’s 3rd most prolific passing offense as a touchdown underdog is way too good for me to pass-up in this spot.

The Pick: East Carolina +7

1) Ole Miss vs TCU:“ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

I can already hear it now: the SEC bias narrative that will carry us into 2015 and well beyond. It wasn’t long ago we were talking about the Rebels as a potential playoff team themselves, led by one of the nation’s stingiest stop units. Of course that changed a bit during the rigors of conference play and Hugh Freeze’s landshark defense fell to 16th in the country in yards allowed. Fortunately handicappers don’t just look at raw numbers, adjusting every statistical category based on opponent meaning the Rebels still remain 3rd in overall efficiency. I think the biggest surprise for most is that Ole Miss actually has a very efficient offense as well, ranking 34th…but still 11 spots below their Chick-Fil-A opponent.

There’s no disputing the merits of TCU’s outstanding season, compiling an 11-1 record with a legitimate gripe about not being included in the inaugural college football playoff. It’s actually this gripe that gives me a compelling reason to fade the Frogs in this bowl game. Not only will it feel like an Ole Miss home game in the heart of SEC country but we have to consider the level of focus we’ll see from TCU as a whole, especially Trevone Boykin who had to be arguably frustrated by being skipped over for Heisman inclusion or any major post season awards. I’d normally go into X’s and O’s, finding matchup advantages somewhere on the field that benefitted the dog but quite personally I still believe they’re the better football team in nearly every facet of the game. Unless TCU is able to force turnovers consistently or find holes in the Ole Miss secondary I honestly believe this turns into a blowout…becoming the SEC West’s signature win for all of the 2014-15 bowl season.

The Pick: Ole Miss +3.5

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.