Bowl Primer and Opt Out Tracker

By Chas Parada

“It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiiiiiime, of the yearrrrrrrrr!” We get day bowl games, midweek bowl games, playoff bowl games, and Mayo and Cheez-It bowl games in the next few weeks. As I am sure many will be betting on these games or picking games for bowl pools, the goal is to provide some information to help you make these picks and hopefully make some scratch while doing so!

The 2022-2023 college football season was a big-time success. Last year was the first time I lost in bowl season, but I was on the end of some VERY rough beats. I have had some great success in the past and will look to get back to it. As I am no analytical genius, I base most of my bets on perceived motivation, current coaching situations, and opt-outs, all in addition to edges I see based on on-field performance, coaching, or conference-based matchups. Without further to do…

December 17

Fenway Bowl: Louisville vs Cincinnati +1.5, 39.5

This game is currently a mess. Scott Satterfield has accepted the Cincy job for next season… LEAVING LOUISVILLE. There are several opt-outs from very crucial players as well. While the Green Monster looms in the background of this game, this game could be quite ugly, with high winds and rain expected.

Opt-Outs/Coaching Changes: *takes a deep breath* This might take a while. Luke Fickell is moving to the Big Ten, accepting the Wisconsin job, which leaves Kerry Coombs in charge. Coombs was the special teams coordinator. Evan Prater will be making his second career start in place of the injured Ben Bryant. Aside from losing Fickell, the Bearcats will have an array of talented pass catchers out in this game with only one of their top five receivers playing, the most important being future NFL tight end Josh Whyle. Finally, All-AAC First Team Center, Jake Renfro, has entered the portal and will not be participating.

The Louisville offense takes a massive hit due to opt-outs. Star QB Malik Cunningham, starting RB Tiyon Evans, and best receiver Tyler Hudson will not be participating. Louisville will also be down two other running backs. In addition, all-ACC Third Team CB Kei’Trel Clark will not be playing. With Satterfield milling around the other sideline, Super Bowl champ and current director of player development Deion Branch will take on head coaching duties.

When Cincinnati has the ball: Analysis in these sections will be a little light for this game. Prater was a highly regarded QB recruit out of high school, and it is easy to see why. He has elite size and mobility, but without his top targets, I worry about the Bearcats’ ability to move the rock in the air amidst the weather conditions. The onus will be put on the ground to score points against a stout Louisville defense.

Led by Yasir Abdullah on the edge, Louisville has been home to one of the most underrated defenses in the country. The defensive line has been beastly and caused problems for opposing quarterbacks all year. However, they have limited quality drives all year, which with Cincinnati, we will likely see a lot of punting.

When Louisville has the ball: Malik Cunningham’s backup, Brock Domann, is a fine backup, but Cunningham’s dynamism kept the Louisville offense functioning this year. Domann was a JUCO All-American. With a lack of running back carries in this game, I am intrigued to see what this offense looks like.

Cincinnati does not have the talent they had in the playoff last year, but they maintained a very high level of play. Cincinnati will have a significant edge here, but I will watch live to see how Domann looks early.

Who Wins? I don’t know? I would have to imagine Louisville plays pissed off here, and they have the most dominant side on the field with their defense. I enjoy this game every year, but I fully expect this to come close to 2018 Cheez-It Bowl levels of ugliness. Louisville wins 17-9.

Bets: Hope for an early score and target a couple live unders, Under 35 +160, Louisville at low confidence in bowl pools, and Louisville in spread pick ’ems.

Las Vegas Bowl: Florida vs Oregon St -9, 53

Great matchup! A long-time favorite of The Sharp Side, Jonathan Smith, has his best team that he’s had since taking the head coaching in Corvallis. Billy Napier has had a bit of an up-and-down year, but he has the Gators taking on a good team in a bowl game.

Opt-Outs/Coaching Changes: Former Ohio St QB Jack Miller III will start for NFL draft-bound Anthony Richardson. Miller, a former 4-star, was in legitimate competition with Richardson. Florida will also be without O’Cyrus Torrence and Justin Shorter. Shorter was the second leading receiver, and Torrence is being mocked in the first round as a guard. Not much in the way of opt-outs for the Beavers. They will be down starting corner Rejzohn Wright and possibly star running back Damien Martinez, who got banged up in the Civil War.

When Florida has the ball: Expect a steady dose of Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne. Obviously, Richardson has played an essential part in it, but the Gators’ rushing attack has been explosive all year long. Losing Richardson’s legs hurts, but I think the Gators could have an edge, as the offense could look different than the tape has shown. Jack Miller likely will not show the juiced-up arm that Richardson possesses, but I expect a little more consistency in the passing game.

Another reason I expect Miller to look adequate because the Beavs rush defense is a mess. Florida SHOULD run all over them, as the Beavers have shown for most of the year, posting poor success rates and EPA numbers against the rush. Despite this, the Beavers have had an excellent pass defense this season.

When Oregon St has the ball: Damien Martinez is an absolute star. As a fan of the Saints, the balance and abilities remind my untrained eye of Alvin Kamara. If healthy, he will be the focal point of the Oregon St game plan. Unfortunately for the Beavers, the passing game has been a bit of a mess when stepping up in competition, but that ultimately has not mattered much.

Florida’s defense has been not good, but they have pieces that profile as run-stoppers. Gervon Dexter deciding to play in this game is important, despite declaring for the NFL draft. Despite having these pieces, however, they have been destitute in short-yardage situations and against the run. As a result, the Beavers will run the rock all game.

Who wins? Florida wins in a high-scoring affair. I like the amount of time to prep some creative offense with Miller.

Bets: Florida +300, Over 53, Florida at medium confidence in bowl pools, Florida +9 in spread pick ’ems

December 16

Bahamas Bowl: Miami OH vs UAB -10, 44

Rule number one of bowl season is no unwatchable bowl games. The wind is usually a significant factor in this game, but for two sides that emphasize running the ball, this might not matter as much as it generally does. UAB made headlines after hiring Trent Dilfer as the head coach going forward. Despite this, Dilfer will not be coaching this bowl game, and interim coach Bryan Vincent will look to finish with a winning record. Miami comes into this game business as usual with no mass exodus of coaches or players.

Opt-Outs/Coaching Changes: UAB has hired Trent Dilfer for next season, but the Blazers will have the same coaches on the sideline in Nassau as they have had the previous twelve games. Miami OH will be missing Second Team All-MAC CB John Saunders and starting guard Caleb Shaffer.

When Miami OH has the ball: After starter Brett Gabbert went down, dual-threat quarterback Aveon Smith stepped in and went 5-3 as a starter. The run-heavy offense struggled to consistently move the ball, struggling in rushing explosiveness and success rate. Going up against a very stout UAB defense, I expect some Miami struggles in the run game and to ultimately face third and longs consistently throughout the game.

As mentioned above, stopping the run is paramount to slowing the Redhawks offense. When facing dual-threat QBs, the Blazer defense has struggled a bit, allowing 568 yards to LSU, 494 to UTSA, 359 to FAU, and 390 to Liberty with Salter starting. Going in the Blazers’ favor is that this is a much worse offense than the teams listed above.

When UAB has the ball: Offensively, the Blazers do one thing: pound the rock with DeWayne McBride. The leading rusher in the country, McBride, will be playing on Sundays. Dylan Hopkins is good enough for the offense to be adequate. If Hopkins drops back, watch Trea Shropshire. He is the deep threat of the Blazers and the go-to play action target. Turnovers have killed this team all year, causing them to lose games when they should not have.

This season, Miami has been prone to giving up explosive plays on the ground; however, in MAC play, they were great overall against the run. McBride poses one of their most demanding tests of the season. He is a future pro, and Hopkins is also a good runner out of the pocket.

Who wins? Rule number two of bowl season is to fade the MAC, the talent in the conference is poor, and while the MAC provides great midweek football, the teams are a noticeable step down.

Even with the coaching change imminent, I do not see a massive motivation drop off, as the staff that has been there all year will be on the sidelines in Nassau. UAB has been disappointing this season because the team’s talent level remained high after last year. While struggling with mobile quarterbacks, the Miami OH offense is a far cry from LSU or UTSA.

Bets: Over 44, UAB at high confidence and UAB -11 in spread pick ’ems.

Cure Bowl: UTSA vs Troy -2, 55.5

After getting through the Bahamas Bowl, we are lucky to get this excellent palate cleanser. This is among my most anticipated non-CFP matchups of bowl season. The Frank Harris-led, high-octane Roadrunners offense takes on the best Group of 5 defense owned by the Troy Trojans. These two conference champs are off incredibly dominant showings in those games dispatching North Texas and Coastal Carolina, respectively, with relative ease.

Opt-Outs/Coaching Changes: Troy’s second leading receiver, Jabre Barber, may miss due to injury. He did not play in the Sun Belt Championship. More importantly, UTSA will be down an important running back, Brenden Brady, and offensive coordinator and play-caller extraordinaire, Will Stein. Stein accepted the Oregon offensive coordinator job, meaning that tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Justin Burke will be assuming offensive coordinator duties.

When UTSA has the ball: Thanks to Frank Harris, who announced he will be returning to UTSA for his seventh year, and Will Stein, the Roadrunners’ offense has been one of the best in the country, regardless of conference. Taking the play caller away from the offense will certainly have a negative effect, but Frank Harris is creative enough off-script to lessen that blow. He is the ultimate equalizer. His ability to pick up first downs with his legs and arm has made it incredibly difficult for teams on third downs. Receivers Zakhari Franklin and Josh Cephus are matchup nightmares for DBs. Brenden Brady will be out, so CUSA Freshmen of the Year Kevorian Barnes will take on starting duties.

Troy’s front seven has been beastly in conference play, but I worry about how they have looked when the level of competition has stepped up. While they absolutely detonated Coastal’s offense in the first half, the Jamey Chadwell rumors flying around could have adversely affected the Chants’ offense. UTSA will be able to match the physicality, and Troy has struggled with pass explosiveness this year, which favors UTSA.

When Troy has the ball: Troy’s offense erupted against Coastal Carolina, taking advantage of good field position and a very soft defense. Gunnar Watson has done a solid yet unspectacular job of running the offense. While struggling to run the rock most of the season, Watson has done enough to get Troy to this point. To move the ball, Troy needs to be able to pass the ball effectively. UTSA has been soft against the pass since Week 1 against Houston.

Troy has been poor on third downs this season, but that is not the stickiest and most descriptive statistic. Troy has been excellent on early downs, which indicates success, but UTSA’s defense has also been great on early downs. Therefore, neither team will likely win the game based on this matchup.

Who wins? Despite losing Will Stein, UTSA maintains an offensive edge in this game. They have shown an ability to consistently move the ball all season long, which will remain the case in this game. I am confident that UTSA can win in a lower-scoring fight, and if the game script does get a little crazy and we see points, the Roadrunners have too much firepower to lose a shootout here.

Bets: UTSA +100, UTSA at medium confidence and UTSA in spread pick ems

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