Five Bets to Make While Enjoying Bowl Season

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: bowl season, outside of the playoffs, is a collection of meaningless exhibitions that don't matter. In the NIL and transfer portal era, one could argue that bowls will continue to feel increasingly irrelevant as more players skip bowl games to make transfers and try to protect their draft stock or NIL deals.

But I don't want to make that argument or come off as a cynical fan. Because bowl season to me — outside of the playoffs and maybe the Rose Bowl — is not usually about what's at stake. Instead, it's an excuse to watch some football throughout the day and maybe catch a wild ending, see an amazing individual performance, or watch a team play a unique style of football.

With fun and enjoying the games in mind, I'd like to offer five possible bets for the next week-and-a-half of bowl season. Don't think of these as expert opinions. This is action made with entertaining or interesting football in mind. If these bets hit, it probably means the game was good or you saw something that you don't see every week during the regular season if you focus mainly on top 25 contests.

Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 22
Air Force (+5.5) vs. Baylor

The NIL era isn't going to be kind to service academy football, as their players are forbidden by the government from making NIL deals and the coaches can't top up on experience or fill in roster holes in the transfer portal.

Those factors make what Air Force is doing all the more impressive. The Falcons have now won 9 games or more in three of the last four seasons under longtime coach Troy Calhoun. Like other service academies, they run the ball a lot as part of an option offense, but theirs is a bit more dynamic than Army's or Navy's. If they can keep the ball a while against a 6-6 Baylor team that played inconsistently all season, it's probably going to be a fun watch if you're like me and enjoy the nostalgia of a team grinding out drives on the ground.

Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 27
East Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina (+8)

I always enjoy when bowl games, regardless of where they're being played, can produce a regional matchup. Even better when those teams have never played before, like one between East Carolina and Coastal Carolina. And yet there's a bit of a chaotic element to this game for Coastal, with it coming after the departure of their coach and being the final game for star QB Grayson McCall, who has hopped into the transfer portal along with several other teammates.

Both teams are pretty bad on defense, so I'm thinking it'll be close with lots of points and several big plays.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28
North Carolina vs. Oregon - over 72 total points

Did someone mention lots of points? This game should have them. Both quarterbacks — Drake Maye for UNC and Bo Nix for Oregon — are expected to play and have had excellent and entertaining seasons. Oregon's defense is worse against the pass than the run, which should play into the Tar Heels' pass-happy hands. But North Carolina might have the worst defense you've ever seen from a 9-win, Power 5 team. I'm not sure if Oregon can cover the 15 points they're laying, but I can absolutely see each team scoring in the 40s.

Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29
Washington (+4) vs. Texas

In the aftermath of USC and UCLA making the choice to leave the Pac-12 in the summer, the conference had a veritable football resurgence this season, albeit one that still didn't result in a playoff bid for the league. Washington, which was sixth in the preseason media poll, but finished 10-2, was a huge reason the league looked so good. And the biggest reason for Washington's success was the lefty passing of Michael Penix, Jr., who led the country in passing and has announced his return for 2023. Meanwhile, Texas' top two running backs, Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, are sitting this bowl out to prepare for the draft.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 31
Iowa vs. Kentucky - under 31 total points

And now, for something completely different. This should be an absolutely horrifying matchup for a neutral fan, but it's so bad that it's become intriguing. Calling Iowa's offense terrible is an understatement and Kentucky has had moments of looking just as bad. The Wildcats won't have likely first-round NFL pick Will Levis. So why am I looking forward to this game? Because I can't wait to bet an under on a total so low that it defies logic.

As I wrote a few years ago, we don't have to overstate the importance of the normal bowl game to enjoy them. In these five games, I think there's potential for interesting football and fun action.

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