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Betting Against the Spread: Best Bets for December Bowl Games


College football bowl season is honestly one of my favorite times of the year. And while there are some awesome matchups that the casual fan will scoff at; the important thing to remember when handicapping these contests is that motivation is the No. 1 factor.

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Related: Ranking All 41 College Football Bowls for 2015 — From Must-See to Must-Miss

There are some teams that love their postseason location and matchup, while others just can’t seem to get motivated for their bowl, whether it’s because of where they are or what team they are playing. Pay attention to quotes from the players and coaches to get a sense of which category each team falls. It also is important that you pay attention to the news leading up to the game because frequently teams are suspending players for various things from academics to breaking team rules.

Below you will find some of my favorite picks in the December bowl slate, not including the Dec. 31 College Football Playoff games or the Peach Bowl, which is part of the New Year’s Six.

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)

Dec. 19, 3:30 p.m. ET

It's the Holy War in Las Vegas with BYU and Utah getting back together. These two teams do not like each other at all and there's already a little bit of controversy. Utes fans were not happy that Cougars fans got more tickets for the game. On the field, there's no bigger news then Bronco Mendenhall coaching BYU for one more game after taking the same job at Virginia. The Cougars have won three of their last five and are playing well offensively despite the loss of dual-threat QB Taysom Hill earlier in the year. Utah has lost two of its last three after emerging earlier in the season as a potential College Football Playoff participant. Running back Devontae Booker won’t play for Utah and he was a big part of the offense. Both teams have a solid defense, so points may be hard to come by. These two rivals have played 11 unders in their last 19 meetings. SELECTION: Under 54 (Lean to BYU +2 as well)

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Cure Bowl: San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6)

Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET

This is the game that makes me believe in the bowl system. Yes, the records are poor, but this is the rare game where both teams want to be there. San Jose State is one of those 5-7 teams that got invited to a bowl game, but the Spartans are a talented bunch. Tyler Ervin is a running back that would get more love if he played for a Power 5 conference. Nick Arbuckle led Georgia State down the stretch to four straight wins, which got the Panthers into the postseason. The defense also did its part, shutting down Georgia Southern’s potent ground-oriented offense, holding the Eagles to just 203 yards in the regular-season finale. The question is can a Georgia State defense that struggled for most of the season make it two strong showings in a row? This should be one of the more entertaining and enjoyable bowls to watch, as both sides are motivated and have offensive weapons. SELECTION: Over 56

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6)

Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

While there will be fireworks in some bowls, others will be defensive struggles. Akron scores 24 points per game while allowing 21.5. The Zips just don't get beat too often on the ground, allowing 89.8 yards rushing per game, including a total of 208 yards over their last three contests. The problem with Akron is on the other side of the ball, where consistency eluded the Zips’ attack. The Aggies played good defense even though they cracked a bit to end the year. The time off will clear their heads and allow them to get back to their early-season form. Utah State's offense is inconsistent, relying on the run in some games while getting quarterback Chuckie Keeton more involved in others. Akron has gone under in 13 of its last 18 games as an underdog, including six of seven this season. SELECTION: Under 48.5

Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo (9-2) vs. Temple (10-3)

Dec. 22, 6 p.m. ET

It's been an incredible season for the Owls who beat Penn State and had the full attention of the college football world on Halloween when they nearly knocked off Notre Dame. Temple's defense has been its calling card all year long and it's a unit that could find some success against Toledo. The Rockets put up good numbers in the MAC, but it’s not exactly a conference known for defense. Toledo's defense could struggle trying to contain Temple QB P.J. Walker and RB Jahad Thomas. Toledo head coach Matt Campbell took the job at Iowa State a few weeks ago, but offensive coordinator Jason Candle has already been named as his replacement. Meanwhile Temple’s Matt Rhule is staying, and he will help lead his Owls to their 11th win of what has been a memorable season. SELECTION: Temple Moneyline

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St. Petersburg Bowl: UConn (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3)

Dec. 26, 11 a.m. ET

It'll be an early Saturday for these two teams who are set to play the day after Christmas in Florida. Both schools have a real good defense, which should take over in this one. The Huskies have scored just 17.8 points per game while allowing 19.8. UConn has scored just 30 points in its last three games combined. The Huskies  just don't have a lot of talent on offense. The good thing for them is that their defense was able to take over games. They held Houston to 17 points in a 20-17 win on Nov. 21. Marshall's offense experienced the typical ups and downs with a freshman quarterback at the helm. UConn has played in nine unders in its 12 games this season. SELECTION: Under 44 and Marshall Moneyline

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Sun Bowl: Miami (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Dec. 26, 2 p.m. ET

There should be plenty of fireworks in this one with offense being the clear strength of each team. The Hurricanes won four of their last five, a stretch that started with the benefit of an awful call by the ACC officials in the road win against Duke. Miami went on this run thanks to timely offense and just enough defense. Brad Kaaya has all his weapons around him and should be able to move the ball against Washington State. The Cougars allow the same amount of points as their opponent (28.8). They both do it in different ways though, as Miami gets beaten up on the ground while the Cougars get gashed through the air. The problem here is that Washington State just doesn't run the ball. The Canes held three straight opponents to fewer then 200 passing yards. I like them to finish the year off in style. SELECTION: Miami +3

College Football Top 25: Miami

Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7)

Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ET
Motivation is a factor in this bowl, as the Chippewas get to play real close to home against a Power 5 team. They've already tested themselves against Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Michigan State. They held their own in each of those contests so this game won't intimidate them. The Chips have a potent passing attack led by Cooper Rush. Minnesota has been ravaged by injuries and coaching changes. The Golden Gophers have lost four of their last five and continue to be lifeless in certain areas of their offense. Central Michigan’s defense isn't anything special, but I just don't think Minnesota can take advantage. CMU is 9-3 ATS this season including 5-1 as an underdog. This is one of my favorite plays of bowl season. SELECTION: Central Michigan +6.5

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Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor (9-3) vs. North Carolina (11-2)

Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET

This might be the best bowl game of the non-New Year’s Six. Baylor has announced that Chris Johnson is going to start at QB, but there is talk that Jarred Stidham is working his way back and could be available. The Bears’ QB issues have forced them to rely on the ground game. Baylor enters this game having lost three of its last four, scoring just 38 points in losses to TCU and Texas. The Bears have turned the ball over 15 times in their last four contests. North Carolina on the other hand, enters this game following a loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. You might be saying that motivation could be an issue with the Tar Heels, but I think quite the opposite. This is a very good offense that beats you through the air and on the ground. I'm not a believer in Baylor's defense. I think the squad out of the ACC gets the win. SELECTION: North Carolina +2

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Texas Bowl: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. LSU (8-3)

Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
The good news for Tigers fans is that Les Miles will be back next year and a horrendously stupid move has not been made. LSU limped to the finish, losing three of its last four as the offense sputtered and the defense struggled. Teams knew to gang up on Leonard Fournette at the line because the passing game wasn't up to snuff. Texas Tech, meanwhile, has won two straight shootouts, beating Kansas State and Texas. The Red Raiders’ offense is cruising right now and might be able to move the ball on LSU's defense. Texas Tech is close to home and should be highly motivated to take down an SEC team. SELECTION: Texas Tech +7

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Belk Bowl: NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)

Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET

Two explosive offenses take the field in the Belk Bowl. NC State and Mississippi State average more than 400 yards of offense and 33 points per game. The Wolfpack put up 41 on Clemson and 34 on North Carolina, showing that they can move the ball against better talent. Mississippi State's defense enters this one having allowed 88 points in the last two games (Arkansas, Ole Miss). On the opposite side of the ball, the Bulldogs have the offense to put up points on an NC State team that's been leaky defensively. The Tigers and Tar Heels posted a combined 101 points against the Wolfpack in their last two outings. Mississippi State record-setting quarterback Dak Prescott will want to end this season with a bang. SELECTION: Over 58.5

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.