It’s not truly bowl season until The Cure kicks off.
That’s the Sun Belt champion vs. the Conference-USA champion. Even The Cure lead singer Robert Smith would echo college football fans’ sentiments by thinking this is “Just Like Heaven.”
UTSA is a 2.5-point favorite, but we’d go Troy and the points here because we’re firmly Sun Belt worshipers, as you’ll see in two of our games in this first Three Bets of the bowl season.
Prediction: Troy -2.5 over UTSA (-110 at Golden Nugget)
Watch: Friday 3 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
Cooking Rice Under A Lending Tree
Let’s start with the fact that the Rice Owls are playing the Lending Tree Bowl with a 5-7 record. We could stop there, but why should we?
The Owls are on either their third or fourth quarterback, depending on whether freshmen Shawqi Itraish or JD Padgett play. Not that it matters which one plays, because Rice scored only 24 points in its last two games and averages only 4.6 yards per play.
Are we done piling on the Owls? Oh no. Opposing offenses have fried Rice’s defense to the tune of 33.8 points a game—the 13th-worst among FBS teams. The numbers degenerate from there: allowing 7.7 yards per pass and 5.0 yards per rush.
The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, meanwhile, own one of the better defenses in the country, allowing only 3.7 yards per rush and 23.5 points a game. The Golden Eagles covered in five of their last six games and are one of two teams to beat AAC champion the Tulane Green Wave this year. To be clear, that’s a Tulane team playing the USC Trojans in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Ignore Southern Mississippi’s 6-6 record. The Sun Belt is one of the most competitive conferences in the country. The seven teams it sent bowling this year is a conference record, trailing only the SEC, ACC Big Ten and Big 12. Since the College Football Playoff era began in 2014, the Sun Belt’s bowl winning percentage is .649—better than any other FBS conference.
Rice is cooked. Even the Lending Tree Bowl doesn’t deserve this game.
Prediction: Southern Miss -6.5 over Rice (-110 at BetMGM)
Watch: Saturday 5:45 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
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Marshall Law Reigns In Myrtle Beach Bowl
That was in 2015, producing a 16-10 Marshall victory. And given UConn’s season, they’d take something that close, because when the Huskies lose, they lose grotesquely. Five of UConn’s six losses this year came by double-digits—and by an average of 26 points.
This partially explains how UConn has a minus-16.8-point difference on the road. That Marshall comes in to the Myrtle Beach Bowl riding a four-game winning streak in the competitive Sun Belt begins the explanation on why the Thundering Herd deserves 10-point favoritism.
Marshall has one of the best—if not most underrated—defenses in the country. The Thundering Herd allow an average of 18.4 points-per-game. That’s 10th in the country, better than the likes of Alabama Crimson Tide, Penn State Nittany Lions, Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Clemson Tigers. They allow only 88 yards a game on the ground, surrendering only eight rushing touchdowns.
Given the fact UConn has the seventh worst offense in the country (301 yards and 19.4 points per game), this is no trip to the beach for the Huskies to avenge that 2015 loss.
Prediction: Marshall -10 over UConn (-110 at Caesars).
Watch: Monday 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
Where Did All The Players And Points Go?
We’ll depart the Sun Belt Conference as we try avoiding the Florida Gators’ runaway carousel transfer portal. Black holes don’t suck this much light out of a neighborhood. The Gators come into their Las Vegas Bowl game with the Oregon State Beavers minus 15 players entering the transfer portal.
That doesn’t count the four players—led by quarterback Anthony Richardson—bypassing the game to prep for the NFL Draft. It also doesn’t count the two players dismissed for various rules violations or the numerous injuries infesting the Gators.
This means the Gators leave quarterback matters in the hands of Jack Miller III, who makes his first collegiate start in a bowl game minus two of his prime weapons: receivers Justin Shorter and Xzavier Henderson, who are questionable with injuries. Miller also gets the offensive keys against one of the better rushing defenses in the country. The Beavers allow only 114 yards a game on the ground—20th in the nation.
This puts the onus on running backs Montrell Johnson Jr. (144-827-10) and freshman Trevor Etienne (110-705-6) to keep the Gators relevant here.
As for Oregon State, it brings in the No. 27-ranked rushing offense, one producing 33 rushing touchdowns and an average time-of-possession of nearly 33 minutes a game. Much of this comes courtesy of freshman running back Damien Martinez (156-970-7). The All-Pac-12 runner surpassed 100 yards in six consecutive games.
This all translates into a game of trench warfare, where two conservative offenses answer the call from 1970 and turn back the clock. You could take the Beavers, who opened as five-point favorites and were promptly bet up to 10-point favorites after Richardson’s defection was announced. But if you don’t trust Oregon State to score its first victory over an SEC team, the Under-53 offers a tasty alternative.
Prediction: Under-53 (-110 at Caesars)
Watch: Saturday 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, FuboTV
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