Bowl season is where a ton of variance comes into play.
With the emergence of the transfer portal, players leaving for the NFL Draft, and new coaching staffs taking over, bowl season has become more of an information-gathering session than a schematic breakdown when looking to bet on games. However, while it may be tricky at times, there can be value money-making opportunities with some underdogs being mispriced due to season-long metrics that aren't being factored into the glorified exhibition.
Here are three bowl underdogs I'm targeting through the first handful of bowl games this season as some teams look to finish the season on a high note, while their opponent may not bring the same intensity or be as prepared.
Best College Football Upset Picks
- Miami (Ohio) +205 vs. Appalachian State
- Fresno State +150 vs. New Mexico State
- South Florida (+135) vs. Syracuse
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Miami (Ohio) vs. Appalachian State Prediction and Pick
We are looking for variance in this column, so why not take a shot on a low total game between two Group of Five conference championship teams? Miami (Ohio) won the MAC Championship behind a top 20 defense in terms of EPA/Play, but have seen the odds move against them (out from the opener of +3.5 to +6.5) on the news that quarterback Aveon Smith hit the transfer portal.
That leaves only the third-stringer Henry Hesson available for the RedHawks in this one against a potent Appalachian State offense, who came up short in the Sun Belt title game against Troy.
While Appalachian State is top 10 in terms of EPA/Play with the big arm of Joey Aguilar guiding the offense at quarterback, he may be due for some harsh turnover regression. Aguilar's 33-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio is masking the fact that Pro Football Focus has him marked down as making 27 big-time throws to 28 turnover-worthy plays this season.
Can Miami pounce on a few mistakes and play some ball control to win this one, similar to how it got past Toledo in the conference championship game? The RedHawks have a staggering special teams edge in this one as well, bolstering the best special teams unit in the country per PFF while App. State is 117th.
Now that we are pushing towards a touchdown, I'm being more attracted towards the RedHawks as a live underdog.
PICK: Miami (+200)
It's worth noting that New Mexico State starting quarterback Diego Pavia didn't finish the CUSA Championship game due to an arm injury, which could throw this game into flux for the Aggies. Backup Blaze Berlowitz did look sharp in relief of Pavia and may keep the team on schedule on offense but Pavia's impact is one of the most notable in the country. Make sure to monitor his status leading up to this bowl game.
As for the Fresno State side, head coach Jeff Tedford is not coaching this game due to a health issue, but the team should be at full strength otherwise.
Given Fresno State's propensity to pass, and New Mexico's poor defense that is 106th in success rate, I believe the Bulldogs can move the ball easily on the Aggies' defense. New Mexico State has a formidable pass rush, 31 sacks on the year (25th nationally), but Fresno State counters that with an above-average pass-blocking unit, 41st in pass-block grading per Pro Football Focus.
I believe New Mexico State can score, but I'm curious if the team's run in the worst conference in college football this season, Conference USA, is inflating its standing in this one. Yes, there are some motivational factors at play like the fact that NMSU is closer to home and made the conference title game, but the team has been beaten up by poor competition all season while Fresno State played in a more difficult conference and had to start its backup at different points in the year.
The market is overbought on the Aggies, so I'll come back and look to see if the Bulldogs can get up for this one on Saturday.
PICK: Fresno State +150
Syracuse has fired its head coach and finished the season dropping six of its last eight games in conference play. Meanwhile, South Florida enters the Boca Raton Bowl under a first-year head coach and its first bowl game since 2018. The program is trending up while Syracuse is heading for a reset this offseason.
Meanwhile, this matchup should set up nicely for the Bulls, who bolster an incredibly aggressive defensive scheme that is top 10 in terms of tackles for loss this season and 41st in success rate. While the defense is prone to giving up big plays because of its aggressive style, outside the top 120 in both explosive run and pass defense, Syracuse doesn't operate that way on offense. Syracuse is 79th in terms of yards per play this season and 92nd in EPA/Play.
On the other side, Syracuse's defense has beaten up outmatched opponents, but the speed and big play ability of USF's offense should put the Orange in trouble. South Florida has scored 35 or more in six games this season and plays at the fourth-fastest pace in the country. The team's style may be a culture shock to the Syracuse defense -- for what it's worth the team was destroyed by North Carolina, who is 10th in terms of plays per minute, 40-7 -- and the Bulls are live for an upset.
PICK: South Florida +130
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.
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