Welcome to Bowl Season!
There are 43 games left in the FBS college football season and we are going to savor every single second of them.
One of the busiest stretches of the postseason kicks off the bowl slate on Friday and Saturday. There are eight games that primarily feature Group of Five schools. Oregon State is the only power-conference team set to take the field over the next 48 hours.
The Cure Bowl between Coastal Carolina and Northern Illinois is the first marquee matchup set by ESPN's Group of Five bowl matchmakers.
Friday's opener in the Bahamas Bowl pits Middle Tennessee against Toledo in what could be one of the biggest mismatches of the postseason.
You will see a combination of mismatches and enticing showdowns over the next week before the Power Five teams show up on your television screens.
Below is a look at the first two games of bowl season. Saturday predictions will be added later on Friday.
College Football Bowl Picks
Overall Record: 99-86
Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo (-10.5) (Over 49.5)
I'm starting bowl season with a double dose of picks!
Toledo owns one of the biggest mismatches in the first week of bowl season against a Middle Tennessee side that became bowl eligible thanks to a second-half comeback in its regular-season finale.
Toledo is 7-5, but it could have put together more wins had it closed the deal against Notre Dame, Northern Illinois or Central Michigan.
The Rockets won their final three MAC games in convincing fashion against some of the worst teams in the conference. They put up 49 points on both Bowling Green and Akron and scored 35 points versus Ohio.
Middle Tennessee gives up 367.4 total yards and 25.8 points per game, but those averages were eclipsed by some of the best programs on its schedule. The Blue Raiders gave up over 40 points to Liberty and Western Kentucky and five of their six defeats were by seven points or more.
The Blue Raiders struggled when they faced a higher level of competition, while Toledo raised to the level of its toughest opponents.
Toledo is the much better team and dual-threat quarterback Dequan Finn has the potential to run all over Middle Tennessee and allow the Rockets to come close to hitting the over on their own.
Northern Illinois (+11) vs. Coastal Carolina
Coastal Carolina should beat Northern Illinois, but the Cure Bowl will be much closer than the 11-point spread suggests.
Northern Illinois went from 0-6 in 2020 to the MAC champion in 2021 and it has plenty of motivation to finish off its season with a bowl victory.
The Huskies had a knack for playing in close games throughout conference action. They had seven of their nine games decided by eight points or less. The two exceptions were a loss to Western Michigan that did not matter to NIU's standing to get to the MAC Championship Game and an 18-point win in Detroit over Kent State.
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi and NIU's multi-pronged rushing attack has the potential to put up yards against a Coastal defense that gives up 133.9 rushing yards per game.
NIU's biggest concern is its defense. The Huskies gave up 447.8 total yards and 32.7 points per game. That is why some people believe Coastal is the play here.
The MAC champion just knows how to stick around in games and it will not let Coastal run away with the contest with so much motivation to finish strong.
Boca Raton Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State (Over 66.5)
Western Kentucky has all sorts of motivation to put up high totals in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Hilltoppers quarterback Bailey Zappe is 289 passing yards away from breaking the single-season FBS passing yards record.
Zappe has 5,545 passing yards and 56 touchdowns. He leads an offense that averages 43.1 points per game.
App State's offense averages 34.2 points per game, but it will do most of its damage on the ground. That will help the over since WKU has a rushing defense that concedes 161.3 rushing yards per game. The Hilltoppers were scorched by UTSA in the Conference USA Championship Game. App State could follow that path to putting up a high total against WKU's fast-strike unit.
New Mexico Bowl
UTEP (+11.5) vs. Fresno State
We have no idea if Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener will play.
Haener entered the transfer portal and then opted to return to Fresno State once Jeff Tedford was hired for the 2022 season. Fresno State is using an interim head coach in the New Mexico Bowl.
Fresno State still has an impressive running back in Ronnie Rivers, but it has more unknowns around it than UTEP.
The Miners could stick with the Bulldogs, especially if Haener is not playing or is not focused after his venture into the transfer portal.
Keep an eye on UTEP wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who has 1,330 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The Miners will look to Cowing to create a handful of big plays. The sophomore produced back-to-back 170-yard games in November and he has eight 100-yard performances this season.
UAB vs. BYU (-6.5)
BYU was on cruise control for the final month of the regular season.
The Cougars produced three double-digit wins and scored at least 34 points in each of their last four games.
The No. 13 team in the nation has better offensive numbers across the board than UAB, but the Blazers can be tough on defense.
BYU needs to get running back Tyler Allgeier going early to hand UAB its fourth loss against a bowl-eligible team.
Allgeier will be the best player on the field in the Independence Bowl and BYU should get enough stops against an average passing defense to pull away by more than one score in the second half.
Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty (Under 58.5)
Liberty's offense, led by NFL draft prospect Malik Willis, has been underwhelming in the last month.
The Flames faded with 42 points in their last three games. All of those contests went under the projected total.
Eastern Michigan is an average-at-best MAC offense and it had the under hit in each of its last three conference contests and it might struggle against a Liberty defense that allows 315.3 yards per game.
Willis could be playing with mixed motivation because he has struggled over the last month and is facing a not-so-flashy opponent in Mobile, Alabama.
All of those factors should lead to a low-scoring drab affair in the middle of the Saturday slate.
Utah State vs. Oregon State (Under 67.5)
Utah State and Oregon State both average over 32 points per game, but the under may be the better play in the inaugural LA Bowl.
Oregon State will try to dictate the pace through 1,250-yard running back B.J, Baylor against a Utah State defense that gives up 162.6 rushing yards per game. The Aggies gave up high ground concessions Boise State, BYU and Wyoming in their three losses.
Baylor could be the kryptonite to Utah State's defense and his success could lead to a low-scoring game in which Utah State's offense does not get going.
New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana (-4) vs. Marshall
Louisiana is coming off an emotional high from sending off Billy Napier with a Sun Belt championship.
The Ragin' Cajuns promoted from within, so there should not be any unfamiliarity with the coaching staff and it has the added bonus of making the short trip from Lafayette to New Orleans.
The Sun Belt champion was a 5.5-point favorite earlier this week, but it has now dropped to a 4-point favorite. I like that number even more. Look for the Ragin' Cajuns to control the game on the ground.
Louisiana has a trio of top rushers that helped the team average 191.9 rushing yards per game. Marshall gives up 188.6 yards per contest and it could be hurt from the start by Levi Lewis and Co.