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Betting Against the Spread: Best Bets for December Bowl Games


College football’s bowl season usually features some fantastic matchups and intriguing situations. It's also one of the toughest times to wager potentially with so many factors to consider.

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Related: Ranking All 40 College Football Bowls for 2016 From Must-See to Must-Miss 

First off is motivation and that's the most important. There are some teams that just don't want to be at the bowl game and the players will tell you as much in their quotes. On the other hand, you've got a lot of teams highly motivated to close out the season with a win.

The second thing to consider is coaching continuity. There are several schools that are losing their coaches while others will be trying to impress their new bosses. Once again, make sure to read between the lines to see how motivated those players are when it comes to their new coach. Finally, location must be considered. Some teams are playing really close to home and that'll help with an advantage.

The one other thing to consider is when you should place your wager on the game. Quite often teams suspend players for quarters, halves or games for transgressions they commit after they have arrived at their bowl site. If you lock your bet in too early, then you may lose value when that team's star player is out. If you lock your bet in too late though, then you may lose value that came out with the opening line. All that said, let's take a look at these games and see what factors you need to consider.

Note: All games below are from Dec. 17-27; all times are ET.

New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico (8-4) vs. UTSA (6-6)

Dec. 17, 2 p.m., ESPN
Line: New Mexico -6.5
Total: 62.5

Motivation Levels: Both teams should be really excited to be in this one. UTSA is playing in its first bowl game in program history while New Mexico will be at home. Neither team should have any issue getting up for this one.

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Selection: The Roadrunners have had issues slowing down the run, which is a huge problem against the Lobos. UTSA has a balanced enough offense though to make things interesting. The over is probably the play here with a slight lean to New Mexico.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Las Vegas Bowl: Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)

Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m., ABC

Line: Houston -4

Total: 54.5

Motivation Levels: Houston was supposed to be playing in the New Year’s Six and we've seen what the Cougars can do when they aren't motivated. Tom Herman is gone and you have to think that affects his former team. San Diego State, meanwhile, is close to home in Las Vegas and is looking to finish with two straight wins.

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Selection: This is a fascinating matchup as Houston has one of the best run defenses in the country. The offense should be able to move the ball on a on a San Diego State team that has allowed 121 points in its last three games. The Aztecs have run the ball on a lot of teams while shutting down the opposition’s ground game. Lean to SDSU, who is happy to be in Vegas, especially if the line stays above a field goal.

Confidence Level: Lower third

Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)

Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Line: Toledo -1

Total: 58

Motivation Levels: Neither team should have an issue to get up for this even matchup. Both squads have their strengths and will be tested by the opponent.

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Selection: Toledo's offense is probably better, but Appalachian State has the better defense. The Mountaineers haven't seen an offense like the Rockets though. Small lean to the Appalachian State in this one, who should be able to get things going on the ground.

Confidence Level: Lower third

AutoNation Cure Bowl: UCF (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)

Dec. 17, 4:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Line: UCF -6

Total: 49.5

Motivation Levels: Both teams will be happy to be in Orlando, although UCF will be more ecstatic considering how close to home the Knights are and how they won zero games last year.

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Selection: The Knights are coming into this one losers of two straight and three of their last five. The Red Wolves dug themselves out of an early winless hole to get here. The one thing these two teams are known for is defense. UCF is extremely inconsistent offensively. I think Arkansas State is worth a look as well as the under. ASU held each of its last six opponents to 24 points or fewer.

Confidence Level: Lower third

New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)

Dec. 17, 9 p.m., ESPN

Line: Southern Miss -4.5

Total: 58.5

Motivation Levels: These two teams are playing close to home in a game that each will thinks it can win so I don't expect motivation to be an issue for either side.

Selection: ULL brings the defense while Southern Miss brings the offense to this intriguing matchup. I think this one is an over despite the fact that ULL has struggled to score consistently. The good thing is that the Ragin’ Cajuns have put up 108 points in their last four games. Southern Miss has allowed around that many in its last three. In the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, this

game should provide a lot of points.

Confidence Level: Lower third

Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan (6-6) vs. Tulsa (9-3)

Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Tulsa -12.5

Total: 68.5

Motivation Levels: Tulsa will be ecstatic to be in this bowl game after playing really well this season. I'm not quite sure about Central Michigan, losers of six of its last nine games, and can chalk up an early win over Oklahoma State that shouldn’t have happened as the reason why the Chippewas are in the postseason in the first place.

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Selection: Tulsa should roll in this one. Yes, the Golden Hurricane allow more than 30 points per game, but they are in a better place than CMU. The Chippewas’ Cooper Rush is a solid QB who will put up some numbers, but I can't get behind his team here. Tulsa should win fairly easily, especially if its defense makes the trip to South Beach.

Confidence Level: Top third

Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (10-3)

Dec. 20, 7 p.m., ESPN

Line: Western Kentucky -5

Total: 79

Motivation Levels: I don't see an issue with either team's motivation here. WKU head coach Jeff Brohm has already left to take over at Purdue so that could be a detriment the Hilltoppers.

Selection: This is a high number, but it may not even be high enough. These two teams average more than 84 points and nearly 1,000 yards per game combined. Memphis has had issues on defense, something that definitely could be an issue against WKU. In terms of a side, I think Memphis could be worth a look, but I'm not in love with it. The over is probably your best play here.

Confidence Level: Bottom third

Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-5)

Dec. 21, 9 p.m., ESPN

Line: BYU -9

Total: 56.5

Motivation Levels: Old Mountain West rivals play each other in this one. These two faced off 76 times previously with the last meeting coming in 2010. I don't see an issue with either side's happiness in this one.

Selection: I'm highly disinterested in this game and probably not wagering in it. BYU has the better defense, but Wyoming has the better offense. Probably have no play in this one.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho (8-4) vs. Colorado State (7-5)

Dec. 22, 7 p.m., ESPN

Line: Colorado State -13.5

Total: 65

Motivation Levels: Idaho is playing near home while Colorado State closed the season winning four of its last five games. These two should be really happy to be there.

Selection: Not going to lie, but this is probably another game that will not be on my card during bowl season. If anything, I have a small lean to the Vandals, who will have plenty of motivation playing close to home. This one could also be an over with each team able to put up points against susceptible defenses.

Confidence Level: Lower third

Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Old Dominion (9-3)

Dec. 23, 1 p.m., ESPN

Line: Old Dominion -4

Total: 64.5

Motivation Levels: These might be two of the happiest teams in all of the postseason. ODU is playing in its first-ever bowl game while the Eagles are in the postseason for the first time since 1987.

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Selection: The Monarchs have the better team all around. Eastern Michigan has had to deal with a lot of injuries. The short line scares me because I feel like ODU should win this one rather easily. EMU has lost to the Monarchs in each of the the last two years.

Confidence Level: Top third

Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech (8-5) vs. Navy (9-4)

Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Louisiana Tech -4.5

Total: 66.5

Motivation Levels: For the first time ever, I have to wonder what Navy's motivation is after losing to Temple and Army. The loss to their rival may have been the final straw. The Midshipmen are relying on their third-string QB, who hasn’t show much so far. Louisiana Tech though wants to prevent a three-game losing streak of its own.

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Selection: Any time teams get extra time to prepare for the triple option, they play better against it. I like Louisiana Tech to win as the Naval Academy is going to struggle to slow down this Bulldogs attack.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Dollar General Bowl: Ohio (8-5) vs. Troy (9-3)

Dec. 23, 8 p.m., ESPN

Line: Troy -4

Total: 49.5

Motivation Levels: I'm going to assume both teams want to be there. Each closed the regular season losing two of their last three.

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Selection: Troy is probably the better team in this matchup, as the Trojans have solid balance on offense and a good enough defense to slow down an Ohio team that can't really pass the ball very well. I like Troy to win despite Frank Solich being on the other sideline.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii (6-7) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-4)

Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN

Line: N/A

Total: N/A

Motivation Levels: This has been a subpar Hawaii team while MTSU will probably enjoy a chance to get some sun while on the islands.

Selection: Without a line in this one, it's hard to make a pick. I think there will be plenty of points of this one depending on Blue Raiders QB Brent Stockstill's availability. His backup also is banged up, so MTSU could have issues on offense.

Confidence Level: N/A

St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (5-7)

Dec. 26, 11 a.m., ESPN

Line: Mississippi State -13

Total: 58.5

Motivation Levels: The RedHawks started out the year 0-6 and finished things off with six straight victories. Mississippi State is here because of its APR scores. The edge in this respect goes to the MAC school.

Selection: This one could go one of two ways. Either Miami wins outright in a huge upset because Mississippi State has no interest in being in St. Petersburg the day after Christmas or the Bulldogs crush the MAC team. In the end, you could take the underdog plus the points yet have Mississippi State in your confidence pools.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland (6-6) vs. Boston College (6-6)

Dec. 26, 2:30, ESPN

Line: Maryland -1

Total: 43.5

Motivation Levels: Ugh, how excited to still be playing could these 6-6 teams be despite some obvious flaws?

Selection: This is the classic case of a horrendous offense (Boston College) vs. an awful defense (Maryland). On the other side, you have a mediocre Terrapins offense against a really stout Eagles D. I think this is an under even though those are hard to bet in the postseason. We could see a 16-13 game... that is if you actually watch it.

Confidence Level: Lower third

Independence Bowl: NC State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

Dec. 26, 5 p.m., ESPN2

Line: NC State -4.5

Total: 44

Motivation Levels: Vanderbilt should be really happy to be in Shreveport, as the Commodores go bowling for the first time under head coach Derek Mason. NC State is still reveling in its upset of archrival North Carolina to close the regular season (and become bowl eligible).

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Selection: I really like Vanderbilt and have played the Commodores whenever I can this season. NC State is so flaky with Ryan Finley at quarterback. I'll lean to the team out of the SEC to cover the spread and potentially win the game outright.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army (7-5) vs. North Texas (5-7)

Dec. 27, 12 p.m., ESPN

Line: Army -10.5

Total: 49

Motivation Levels: Army is going to be interesting, as the Black Knights haven’t been to a bowl game since 2010. On the other hand, they already won their biggest game of the season in beating Navy, so who knows how focused they’ll be. North Texas beat Army 35-18 back on Oct. 22.

Selection: North Texas had extra time to prepare for Army the first time these teams got together and won outright as nearly 18-point underdogs. The Black Knights turned the ball over a whopping seven times in the loss at home. That won't happen again, but I think the Mean Green are more excited for the rematch given the circumstances. The Black Knights may still win but they won't cover.

Confidence Level: Middle third

Military Bowl: Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Temple -13

Total: 40.5

Motivation Levels: Temple lost head coach Matt Rhule, but his coordinators will still be coaching this game. This is a team that was disappointed in its loss to Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl last year. Wake Forest is happy to be playing, especially given its issues on offense.

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Selection: Temple wins this one easily. Even with Rhule already off to Baylor, these Owls should be fine with the coordinators running the show. Wake Forest will not be able to put up much on the scoreboard.

Confidence Level: Top third

Holiday Bowl: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Dec. 27, 7 p.m., ESPN

Line: Washington State -7.5

Total: 60

Motivation Levels: Minnesota just suspended 10 players and has lost two of its last three games. Washington State is trying to prevent a three-game losing streak to close out the season. Mike Leach won't let his team not be ready for this one.

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Selection: I think Washington State gets the win. Minnesota will be without some key players due to the suspensions.

Confidence Level: Top third

Cactus Bowl: Boise State (10-2) vs. Baylor (6-6)

Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Boise State -7

Total: 67

Motivation Levels: This one could feature two unmotivated teams. The Bears are on a long losing streak and have checked out for a while now. Boise State is coming off of a loss at Air Force, which prevented the Broncos from playing in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.

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Selection: I'll fade Baylor whenever I can. These Bears are ready for the offseason. Boise State should win this one rather easily.

Confidence Level: Top third

— 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.