Friday has a pair of bowl games as we head towards Christmas weekend.
The marquee college football bowl game matchup for today is the Gasparilla Bowl between ACC contender Wake Forest and SEC team Missouri. The Tigers needed to win their final game of the regular season against Arkansas to qualify for a bowl and now they are looking to make it two staight under Eliah Drinkwitz.
Before that 6:30 PM EST kickoff, Houston travels to Shreveport, Louisiana to face the local school Louisiana Ragin' Cajun in the Independence Bowl. The Cougars struggled all season as a favorite and fell short of AAC Championship expectations, will they get up for this game?
Here are our two best bowl bets for Friday's slate:
Louisiana vs. Houston Prediction and Pick
While Houston has the higher end talent on their side with Nathaniel 'Tank' Dell catching passes from quarterback Clayton Tune, I lean towards the Ragin Cajun side, who has far more motivation and a more than capable defense to limit explosive plays from the Cougars.
Louisiana's defense is top 50 in success rate this season, but also top third in the country in explosive play defense. That's the bread and butter of this Houston offense, which is reliant on big plays with Dell at receiver, who has 103 receptions and 15 touchdowns on 1,354 yards. It's worth noting that Louisiana also has a top 25 pass defense in terms of success rate. While Houston is a capable rushing team, the team loves to push the ball down the field and Louisiana can limit that.
So, how can Louisiana keep up when they have the ball? Houston's defense has been shaky this season, middle of the pack in terms of success rate and yards per play allowed. More importantly, Houston is bottom 10 in terms of penalty yards and has routinely underwhelmed as a favorite this season. Not to mention, Holgorsen has been a mess during bowl games over his career.
There is plenty of talent on the Cougars, but they frequently falter when expected to win. Enter Louisiana, who has a solid offensive line and will be playing three hours away from campus in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Ultimately, I don't trust Houston to win with margin, 1-7 ATS as a favorite is a massive red flag, and has a coach that is constantly not interested in coaching in bowl games, 2-7 over his career. So I'll take the local team to stay close and have a chance to win.
PICK: Louisiana +7, ML (+230)
Missouri vs. Wake Forest Prediction and Pick
The best unit on the field will be the Missouri defense, which is 16th in success rate and 40th in terms of EPA/Play against an SEC schedule, per gameonpaper.com. While there are opt outs on the defensive side of the ball, including NFL hopefuls Isaiah McGuire and Martez Manuel, I do believe that this unit can hold down this struggling Wake team.
Sam Hartman missed the early part of the season due to a health concern, but returned midway through the season and looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the country. However, the back half of the season was showed some flaws on the offensive line. Overall, the team is outside the top 100 in terms of sacks allowed and will be up against it against a legitimate SEC front, even with some opt outs.
The Tigers were somewhat unlucky this season, giving Georgia its biggest scare all season but coming up short, and losing one score games to Auburn (should have won in overtime) and Kentucky. The offense leaves a ton to be desired, and will be without stud receiver Dominic Lovett, who had 846 yards, but the Wake Forest defense allowed 30 or more points in each of their final five games, including porous offenses like North Carolina State and Syracuse.
Missouri won its final regular season game against a rival to get into a bowl game, and the team showed up last year under Drinkwitz against Army as underdogs and won outright. I think we see a similar effort here. Not to mention, there are rumblings that Hartman could hit the transfer portal after the game and he could have one foot out the door.
PICK: Missouri +2.5, ML (+130)
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.