Check out VSiN staff and guest picks for college football bowl season, sortable by game
In less than 24 hours, Scott Satterfield went from being Louisville’s coach in the upcoming Fenway Bowl to the coach of the opposing team. The strange situation with Satterfield and a few other higher-profile coaches is a microcosm of the chaos being unleashed in college football.
Alabama’s Nick Saban appeared on numerous TV shows over the weekend to talk about favorites and underdogs while shamelessly lobbying for a playoff spot. Deion Sanders, better known as “Coach Prime,” took the Colorado coaching job, named his son the starting quarterback and immediately told the current players to consider transferring. Jimbo Fisher failed to coach Texas A&M to bowl eligibility but is a favorite to keep his job instead of getting a buyout of $85 million.
While coaches are always on the move in December, player free agency is now in full effect. The transfer portal attracted more than 1,000 players by Monday.
The future will bring a new frontier. Multiple conferences are realigning, the playoff will expand from four teams to 12 in 2024, and—last but not least—there’s essentially no salary cap in the NIL era with big-money boosters allowed to do business out in the open.
This bowl season is wildly unpredictable for a variety of reasons, which is why oddsmakers in Las Vegas were slow to post opening lines on most games. Bettors are better off being conservative and not risking getting burned.
Bowl handicapping is more complex than ever. Motivation is always a major factor -- which teams are on a business trip and which teams are on vacation -- but player opt-outs for the NFL Draft and the transfer portal have become equally important points of emphasis.
With all that in mind, I made plays on three bowls after opening lines surfaced Sunday and Monday. The first goal is to get the best of the number and try to guard against getting stuck with a bad number if something surprising develops in the next few weeks.
As for the Fenway Bowl in Boston on Dec. 17, DraftKings opened Louisville as a 2-point favorite against Cincinnati. Satterfield stunningly left the Cardinals on Monday and will take over the Bearcats program, creating an assortment of angles to consider, so I’ll pass on the game for now.
Satterfield’s move and Louisville’s impending hire could impact the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2. DraftKings opened LSU -6.5 against Purdue and the line moved to -8. Louisville’s top target is reportedly Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, a former star quarterback for the Cardinals. If Brohm bolts and key players transfer, the Boilermakers could get obliterated in the bowl game.
I will eventually add several bowl bets, but here are the first three plays:
Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29
Washington (+6) over Texas: Michael Penix Jr., the nation’s leading passer with 4,354 yards, announced he’s returning to the Huskies as a sixth-year senior. Washington won its last six games to finish the regular season 10-2 for first-year coach Kalen DeBoer, who took an offense that averaged 21.5 points per game in 2021 and elevated it to 40.8 PPG this season. DeBoer is an outstanding coach, and the jury is out on Texas’ Steve Sarkisian. The Longhorns have a location advantage in San Antonio, where they won the Alamo Bowl in 2020 and the MVP of the game was running back Bijan Robinson. After rushing for 1,580 yards this season and solidifying his status as an elite NFL prospect, it seems unlikely Robinson wants to play in this bowl again. If Robinson sits out, the Huskies will be live dogs.
Sugar Bowl, Dec. 31
Kansas State (+4) over Alabama: Five offensive linemen, including starting left guard Javion Cohen, are among 11 Crimson Tide players to hit the transfer portal. It makes no sense for quarterback Bryce Young and outside linebacker Will Anderson, each projected to go in the NFL Draft’s top 10, to play in the bowl. Alabama is obviously capable of winning with backup quarterback Jalen Milroe, but the team’s motivation will be in question. On the rare occasions Saban was not coaching in a playoff or title game, his Tide teams lost in the Sugar Bowl to Utah (2009) and Oklahoma (2014). The Wildcats beat TCU to claim the Big 12 title and run their winning streak to four, and coach Chris Klieman will have his players fired up for this opportunity.
Rose Bowl, Jan 2
Utah (-2.5) over Penn State: After DraftKings opened this as a pick’em game, money showed on the Pac-12 champions. The Utes displayed their toughness in Las Vegas, falling behind 17-3 and outscoring USC 44-7 the rest of the way as Cameron Rising passed for 310 yards and coach Kyle Whittingham’s defense dominated. Whittingham’s team is making back-to-back bowl trips to Pasadena, after blowing a 14-point lead in a 48-45 loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions are not as talented as those Buckeyes, and Penn State’s top defensive player—cornerback Joey Porter Jr.—is skipping the bowl for the draft. I’ll go with Whittingham over Lions coach James Franklin any day, and laying less than a field goal is a fair price.
Season: 46-45-2 against the spread