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Mark Lindquist

Bowl Predictions

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ATS Confidence Pool Picks

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Every year, I join an ATS confidence pool which begins midway through bowl season, covering the final bowls before Christmas through New Year’s. The appeal of doing a pool this way is that it allows you to focus on the wheat separated from the chaff. These are (ostensibly, anyway) the best bowl matchups. Lines referenced are the Vegas Insider consensus as of Friday, December 21. Our weighted ATS picks follow below.


1. Holiday Bowl (December 31) -- Northwestern +7  Utah -- This one gives us a headache just thinking about it.  Both the Wildcats and Utes possess strong defenses and generally play close games. This is the kind of spot that should play for the Wildcats, though. They don’t have the offense that can keep up in a shootout, but they should be more than happy to have it out with field position in what should be a phone booth fight kind of a game. Our major trepidation here comes in opposing Kyle Whittingham, who is something of a bowl wizard (he’s 12-1 all-time in bowl games). We ultimately prefer to take the points in what we view as a likely close game.

2. Belk Bowl (December 29) -- Virginia +5.5 South Carolina -- We’ll say up front, we really have enjoyed the offensive development we’ve seen out of the Gamecocks this season. It hasn’t been perfect, but QB Jake Bentley threw nine more touchdown passes than a year ago while bumping up both his yards-per-attempt and his completion percentage. What sways us toward the Cavaliers, then? That would be Virginia’s pass defense, which ranks an S&P+ No. 27. That defense should be able neutralize Bentley. He might still be able to pop them for some longer passing plays, but if UVA can nullify South Carolina’s offensive strength they don’t have the caliber of running game that would be needed to keep the offensive flow going.


3. Fiesta Bowl (January 1) -- UCF +7 LSU -- We like the Knights, here, but not enough to put any sort of significant confidence points on their fair name. While UCF will be without star QB McKenzie Milton in this one, we think they’ll be able to scrape together a respectable game plan with backup-turned-starter Darriel Mack by the time of kickoff. Expect it to be a run-heavy attack. LSU possesses an S&P+ No. 66 run defense when it comes to limiting efficient attacks. That’s UCF’s clear strength (S&P+ No. 20) with Milton out. While Mack might not be able to do much as a passer  in this spot -- we do like that the Tigers will be without star corner Greedy Williams -- RBs Adrian Killins and Greg McCrae are going to do wonders to make his life easier when the game flow does necessitate some passing flourishes. It’s possible that the Knights are simply out-talented here, of course, and that’s why we’re not weighting this one higher. We do enjoy that they’re dealing with an OK-but-no-great-shakes LSU offense in this spot.


4. Military Bowl -- Cincinnati -5.5 Virginia Tech -- Disregard the names, because this is not a Virginia Tech team which is on solid footing, at all. The Hokies needed to win their final two games just to make it into this bowl. Cincinnati was on the verge of even big things up until UCF handled them in the penultimate game of the campaign, but they’ve had more than enough time to lick their wounds from that sour defeat. S&P+ ranks their defense as the No. 19 unit in the country. Unless Virginia Tech QB Ryan Willis is able to hit consistently on some bigger plays -- Cincinnati does struggle to contain more explosive passes at times -- the Hokies are going to be in trouble.


5. Sugar Bowl (January 1) -- Georgia -13 Texas -- We really like Georgia in this spot, but are tempering our confidence points against the double-digit spread due to our respect for Texas HC Tom Herman’s ever-transcendent ability to cover as a large underdog. Respect out of the way, we think that Texas will have issues running the ball, meaning that Sam Ehlinger will be forced to throw into the teeth of what’s one of the best pass defenses in the country. Offensively, our expectation is that UGA QB Jake Fromm should be able to do damage against a Texas defense ranked S&P+ No. 95 against pass explosion.


6. Cheez-It Bowl (December 26) -- Cal -1 TCU -- The name is just spectacular, and we’re hoping for some fun commercials. That’s about the extent of our expectation for this game. Jokes aside, Justin Wilcox has done a phenomenal job to build up the Golden Bears in just two years, particularly on the defensive side. The Horned Frogs, too, offer up a nice defense. There’s little to say about the offenses of either team. We’re looking forward to seeing TCU WR Jalen Reagor and Cal RB Patrick Laird. Beyond that, shrug. This won’t be a particularly palatable watch, but we do like Cal’s defense enough to take them as a slight favorite in this spot. We never seriously considered assigning double-digit confidence points to this game.


7. Peach Bowl (January 1) -- Florida +6.5 Michigan -- When speaking with my podcast co-host, Thor Nystrom, earlier this week, we fell on different sides of this game, with Thor on Florida and your faithful correspondent on Michigan. Since that conversation, Michigan LB Devin Bush and RB Karan Higdon announced that they would not be playing in this bowl. We’ve known for weeks that star defensive lineman Rashan Gary would not be playing in the game. Loathe as we are to flip from the Wolverines, we are more loathe to lose money. Congratulations, Gators, we like you, now. If there’s one small sliver of light for UM -- we don’t think it will matter, here -- Shea Patterson has announced that he will be returning for the 2019 season.


8. Sun Bowl (December 31) -- Pitt +6 Stanford -- You have to something better to do on your New Year’s Eve than watch this game. That said, we like Pitt by a fair amount, here, mainly due to their running game behind Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. That ground game is Pitt’s one saving grace. Stanford’s one saving grace offensively is their ability to occasionally blast off for a big play, but it happens less often than you would think. Especially in the running game. Somehow, a Bryce Love-led attack ranks just No. 63 in rushing explosion. Their other advanced rushing metrics are considerably worse than that. Stanford can do some things with K.J. Costello and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the passing game, but they do not do them nearly often enough for it to make up for the near complete lack of a rushing attack. We’re not pounding the drum for Pitt as anything more than an average ACC team, but Stanford’s no more dynamic.


9. Rose Bowl (January 1) -- Ohio State -6.5 Washington -- As much as we adore the work of Coach Pete over in Seattle, we like Dwayne Haskins to make a major statement before making a potential draft declaration (the winds are blowing toward a declaration). For the Buckeyes, the key in this contest will be to maintain drives, because they figure to be mostly limited in terms of ripping off longer passing plays. Washington possesses the nation’s best pass defense against explosion. They’re only an S&P+ No. 51 against aerial efficiency, though. Ohio State ranks No. 3 on the offensive side of that coin. We would not be stunned if Washington hung closer than expected, but in the same breath, we think that OSU’s one specific advantage in efficiency is going to show out as the game wears on.


10. Alamo Bowl (December 28) -- Iowa State +3.5 Washington State -- As regular readers and listeners of the Rotoworld College Football Podcast may be aware, your faithful correspondent resides in Pullman, Washington, and is very well-acquainted with the Cougars. This one’s a trap. One problem for WSU, in a roundabout way, is that they close each regular season with the Apple Cup, a game which Washington State has a tendency to lose. So the most recent film Matt Campbell and crew are watching right now is of Washington State being shut down offensively. The Cyclones are a nightmare team for WSU. They play in the most offensively-explosive conference in the country and Campbell has specifically built his defense to stop the Air Raids and spreads of the world. It shows. Iowa State possesses an S&P+ No. 23 pass defense.


11. Pinstripe Bowl (December 26) -- Miami -3 Wisconsin -- The Hurricanes have not had a good week to say the least, with Miami being shown up by Florida repeatedly at the start of the early signing period and several just-plain-strange stories cropping up in the preceding days. All of it has been enough to make you wonder whether HC Mark Richt truly has grasp on the reigns, here. Not all is sunshine and roses on the Wisconsin side, though, as QB Alex Hornibrook has been ruled out for the contest due to recurring concussion symptoms (always a scary proposition). Both of these are exceedingly disappointing outfits, but we prefer Miami, which still possesses an elite defense -- and most notably, here, an elite run defense. Jonathan Taylor’s not going to be running wild in this spot.


12. Citrus Bowl (January 1) -- Kentucky +6.5 Penn State -- This is not the Nittany Lions team of a year ago. That much has become clear. Last year’s team saw a perfect troika in QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley and OC Joe Moorhead. With Barkley and Moorhead gone, McSorley has struggled to truly spark in the passing game, with Penn State entering this bowl game with an S&P+ No. 65 passing attack. Kentucky has serious issues on offense outside of star RB Benny Snell, but they also have a rock-solid awesome defense (S&P+ No. 11!). McSorley will get his yards on the ground, and Miles Sanders could have a nice game, but don’t expect a ton of points on the scoreboard from either squad. We’ll take the rock-solid awesome defense in that case.


13. Music City Bowl (December 28) -- Purdue +4 Auburn -- Just how much does Auburn want to even play in this game? Just how much does Auburn want to play football at all? A year ago, the Tigers had motivation issues against UCF after they came up just short of a Playoff berth. And then they dragged themselves to a 7-5 2018 season. Jarrett Stidham is heading to the draft, Gus Malzahn appears to just be living on a hot seat, and more than anything, we imagine that this entire crew just wishes it was 2019 already. Purdue, meanwhile, will be riding into this game on the joyful high of HC Jeff Brohm opting not to jump ship over to Louisville. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Boilermakers sprung the outright upset.



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Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.
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