There are several factors that should be taken into account during bowl season. Among them are motivation, location of the game (some teams aren’t as excited when playing close to home) and coaching/coordinator changes which can cause distractions for a team during bowl preparation.
Paying attention to coach’s track records in bowl games is important as well. All those external elements are more important than your traditional breaking down the matchups on the field, such as offense vs. defense which you use to handicap during the regular season. I’ve seen plenty of examples where on paper a team should own an edge in the matchups on the field and in the trenches but due to lack of motivation, distractions and other factors, that team ends up losing in their bowl game. That is why I stress to be aware of all the factors listed above.
You also want to be aware of recent conference performance in bowl games. Since 2014, the MAC, ACC and Pac-12 have been the worst conferences ATS in bowl season, cashing at just a 45 percent clip or lower. Meanwhile, the ACC, Big Ten, Conference USA and SEC teams have cashed at 56 percent or better ATS over the last five bowl seasons.
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It’s important to consider each of the factors I mentioned above in arriving at your conclusion with each bowl matchup. Here are my picks for the opening week of bowl action:
Frisco Bowl — Kent State +4.5 vs. Utah State: This was not a great season for Utah State and although this is Jordan Love’s final game at QB, I don’t believe this venue or matchup will excite them.
Kent State should be excited to be here as they won their last three games to get into a bowl as the Golden Flashes ended the season on a 3-1 SU, 4-0 ATS surge and Kent State qualifies in a strong 21-7
ATS bowl trend involving teams that won three games or fewer last season and are bowl eligible the next season.
Kent State also covered each of their last five games as an underdog. Expect more of the same here. KENT STATE
New Mexico Bowl — Central Michigan +3.5 vs. San Diego State: Central Michigan enjoyed one of the biggest turnarounds this season going from 1-11 last season to 8-5 this season under first year CMU head coach Jim McElwain. They did it with a very potent and balanced offense and a much improved defense. The Chippewas also went 5-2 ATS as underdogs this season which is the role they find themselves in here.
CMU also falls into the 21-7 ATS bowl trend mentioned above. I worry about lack of motivation here for San Diego State playing a MAC opponent in a venue they play in regularly when traveling to play New Mexico in Mountain West play. The Aztecs’ offense is pedestrian at best and I think that will allow the Chippewas to hang around in this game and possibly pull off the outright win. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Camellia Bowl: — Florida International vs. Arkansas State, Total 62.5: I expect plenty of points in this game. Arkansas State averaged 33.7 points per game this season behind a strong passing attack led by freshman QB Layne Hatcher and the FIU defense struggled all season surrendering in particular vs. better offenses on their schedule.
On the flip side, the Panthers’ offense came to life down the stretch with QB James Morgan playing better and the team putting up 57 points in their last two games combined, including 30 against a good Miami defense. OVER
Gasparilla Bowl — Marshall +17.5 vs. UCF: Motivation is definitely a concern here for Central Florida. They are playing very close to home in a lesser bowl game than they’ve become accustomed to after B2B seasons of playing in the Peach and Fiesta Bowl against Auburn and LSU.
The UCF offense was still explosive but the defense struggled down the stretch and the Knights were just 2-7 ATS in their last nine games. Marshall has been one of the most reliable bowl bets in recent years with the Thundering Herd on a phenomenal 6-0 SU and ATS streak in bowl games under head coach Doc Holliday. MARSHALL
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