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NY Post
New York Post
16 Dec 2023

NextImg:College football picks and predictions Saturday: Hawaii Bowl, Cure Bowl

Part 1 of the Post Action College Bowl Guide. Part 2, picking the final 21 bowl games including the CFP semifinals, will run on Dec. 27. 

In just one year, bowl season will feel even less significant.

With the arrival of the 12-team College Football Playoff, the remaining games will be stripped of several high-profile teams, further watering down bowls — 41 this season, featuring 22 teams without a winning record — whose stakes evaporated long ago.

It is an important step, signaling progress in a sport which couldn’t find room for an undefeated ACC champion in a four-team playoff.

It is also inconsequential. 

Bowls aren’t for the fans, who are invited to travel around the country to watch their schools play in empty stadiums. They are for awkward-sounding sponsors. They are for TV channels with time slots to fill. They are for us, for anyone with a sportsbook account.

That will never change. Hopefully.

The Eagles have lost four straight games, all coming against teams playing in a bowl. Their worst performances came earlier in the year against the best two defenses they faced (Wisconsin, James Madison). Now come the Bobcats, ranked fourth in the nation in total defense.

A de facto home game isn’t enough to help the Cajuns, who went 2-5 against bowl teams, have lost three of their past four games, will be without starting quarterback Zeon Chriss and will try to stop Rich Rodriguez’s third-ranked ground game with a defense allowing more than 167 yards rushing per game.

The MAC champs are a live dog, owning the conference’s best defense in two decades. The RedHawks haven’t given up more than 16 points in the past five games.

The Aggies’ only loss in nearly three months came when quarterback Diego Pavia was knocked out with an injury. The physical, dual-threat — who threw for three touchdowns in a blowout win at Auburn — is expected to return for this game.

Poor quarterback play has forced Chip Kelly to rely on his defense this season. That unit may struggle without defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn — who jumped to USC — against the Mountain West champs’ top-20 attack.

The Golden Bears have won three straight games to reach their first bowl in four years. A coin-flip game features two of the nation’s best running backs in Tech’s Tahj Brooks and Cal’s Jaydn Ott, but the latter draws the far more favorable matchup against the nation’s 95th-ranked run defense.

Jaydn Ott Getty Images

Take the points. All but two of the Monarchs’ games this season have been decided by one possession, including seven games by four points or fewer.

The Roadrunners are making their fourth straight bowl appearance under fourth-year head coach Jeff Traylor. They have lost each game, failing to cover the spread each time.

The Orange are less than a month removed from firing their head coach. The Bulls are led by Alex Golesh, whose first year in charge produced more wins than the program had earned in the previous three seasons combined, thanks to freshman dual-threat Byrum Brown.

Neither team performs as expected. The Knights are 2-6 against the spread as a favorite. The Yellow Jackets are 6-2 against the number as an underdog. 

The Trojans will benefit from the absence of Duke’s head coach and quarterback, but their offense isn’t prepared for one of their toughest matchups of the season. Troy averaged 35.3 points against defenses ranked 77th or worse. It put up 18.4 points against the others. 

Even during his failed tenure at Tennessee, Butch Jones was ready for bowl season, winning his past four appearances. If this game is as close as the spread suggests, it could come down to the Red Wolves’ Dominic Zvada, who hasn’t missed a kick of at least 40 yards since the season opener.

Butch Jones

Butch Jones Getty Images

The Dukes don’t need new Indiana head coach Curt Cignetti on the sidelines. The nation’s top-ranked run defense is enough against the option attack of Air Force, which has lost four straight games.

Come to bet against the Panthers, who have lost five straight games by an average of 23.2 points. Stay to see the final game of Aggies quarterback Levi Williams, who is skipping his senior season to begin Navy SEAL training.

Farewell, Lending Tree Bowl. We hardly knew ye. R.I.P. (2019-22).

The Utes weren’t equipped to play in the toughest conference in the nation this season, but they went undefeated against teams ranked outside the top 20. Their 22nd-ranked defense should smother the Wildcats, who averaged just over 12 points in six games against top-35 defenses.

Don’t count out the Chanticleers, even without the departing Grayson McCall. Coastal Carolina — which won six of its seven games against bowl teams and went 5-2 against the spread as an underdog this season — won three of five games using backup quarterbacks, who will face the nation’s worst red-zone defense.

The Gophers’ (5-7) good grades (academic progress rate) earned them the only bowl invitation for a sub-.500 team, but they don’t belong here. That will be clear — especially without quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, who entered the transfer portal — against the Falcons, who have won five of their past six games, played in this bowl last season and won at Minnesota in 2021.

JT Daniels’ disappointing six season-run at four different schools is officially over, with the former top-rated recruit retiring due to concussions. Rice can still air it out against the Bobcats’ defense, ranked 105th in passing yards allowed, 120th in completion percentage allowed and 114th in points allowed (33.8).

Excluding a seven-point effort against Michigan — the nation’s top defense — the Rebels have averaged nearly 37 points per game. UNLV (5-1 against the spread as an underdog) will have plenty of shots against the second-worst red-zone defense in the nation. 

Best bets: Miami (OH), Duke, James Madison

This season: 103-98-4 (19-22-1)

2014-22 record: 1,150-1,082-25