College Football Best Bets: Expert Predictions for This Weekend's CFB Bowl Games: Wake Forest shines behind Sam Hartman

Sam Hartman of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons
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Caleb Wilfinger


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Deputy Editor for Pickswise with years of experience handicapping and giving out winning picks. Lover of all US sports and Southampton FC. For Caleb Wilfinger media enquiries, please email

The 2022 college football regular season has drawn to a close and what a season it was. Bowl season is now in full swing, so we should have more great action in store over the next few weeks.

I finished the regular season with a 5-0 run on my best bets, which brought my 2022 record to 24-14-1 since Week 2. Let’s keep the momentum going in bowl season!

The postseason festivities continue on Friday with a number of intriguing matchups featuring Power 5 and Group of 5 teams alike. Let’s take a look at our best bets for this weekend’s action.

Be sure not to miss any of our college football analysis throughout the playoff season!

Gasparilla Bowl pick: Wake Forest Demon Deacons -1.5 (-110) vs Missouri Tigers

Both of these teams are particularly adept at beating opponents via one side of the ball, but I have to lean Wake Forest here given the number. The Demon Deacons’ offense is a well-oiled machine through the air, as Sam Hartman is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. Sitting at 9th in EPA per pass and 12th in passing success rate per College Football Data, Wake Forest is well equipped to see success against a strong Missouri defense. And if this game turns into a shootout, the Tigers don’t nearly have the level of offensive firepower to keep up. Missouri is 70th in success rate and 80th in EPA per play on offense, so I’m convinced the Tigers can take advantage of a poor Wake Forest pass defense that is outside of the top 100 in success rate. I’ll back the team with the better quarterback and skill position talent in this one.

Be sure to check out our full Wake Forest vs Missouri predictions

Independence Bowl Bowl pick: Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns vs Houston Cougars Under 57 (-110)

Considering that Louisiana won’t have most of its offense for this game, I expect it to struggle in the point-scoring department. Houston is a talented defense despite struggling to keep opponents off the scoreboard this season. However, the Cougars’ schedule was not favorable — including non-conference games at Texas Tech and UTSA and a game against Kansas at the peak of the Jayhawks’ early-season offensive hot streak. The Houston defense is not rated well from a metrics perspective, but it could be better than the numbers indicate. On the other side of the ball, this Louisiana offense should be less than the season stats indicate and even then the Ragin’ Cajuns were only 69th in EPA per play on offense.

The weather could also be a major factor this weekend, as most of the country will be hit with a blast of cold and windy conditions. While that might not make a huge difference to either defense, it does often lead to a more run-heavy game script on offense. This shouldn’t be an issue for a run-first Louisiana team and it could also give the Cougars’ defense a boost. as they will just primarily need to focus on stopping the run. All signs are pointing to an under as long as we are over the key number of 56.

Be sure to check out our full Louisiana vs Houston predictions

Hawaii Bowl pick: San Diego State Aztecs -6.5 (-110) over Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

With only a pair of bowl games on Friday, my 3rd best bet will focus on the lone game on Christmas Eve. San Diego State had a more difficult schedule than Middle Tennessee, but the Blue Raiders boast one of the most notable wins of the season among Group of 5 programs – a road victory over Miami. However, we now know that the Hurricanes are a bad team and it feels like the Blue Raiders have been overvalued since that win. Middle Tennessee has covered the closing number in just 2 of of its last 8 games, with 3 of those games being double-digit losses to UTSA, UAB and Western Kentucky. The Aztecs have been trending in the opposite direction, including impressive offensive showings against Fresno State and San Jose State. San Diego State has a top 50 passing offense by EPA per pass and success rate, which should thrive against a poor MTSU secondary.

Middle Tennessee has one of the 25 most pass-heavy offenses in the country, but it has not been very good through the air. After all, this is a team that is 76th in passing success rate and EPA per pass per College Football Data. These poor numbers all came against a strength of schedule that ranks 127 per Sagarin. It’s hard to see the Blue Raiders succeeding against a rock-solid San Diego State defense. The line is inflated, but it’s hard not to like the Aztecs at under a touchdown or better.

Be sure to check out our full San Diego State vs Middle Tennessee predictions

We offer a wide range of College Football Picks and College Football Predictions each week featuring the Power 5 teams and top matchups. Be sure to check out our College Football Best Bets for those top plays on this week’s schedule.

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