Best underdog bets for the first weekend of college football bowl season

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defensive back Davion Williams (14) celebrates with teammates after an interception for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Marshall Thundering Herd.
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Ricky Dimon

NCAAF· 1 month ago

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

College football bowl season is here. Sure we still have a while to go before the College Football Playoff and the rest of the New Year’s Six games take center stage, but this weekend can whet your appetite for bigger and better things to come. We have two bowls on Friday followed by six on Saturday.

Now, will there be any upsets to kick things off? Or at least covers by underdogs? Let’s take a look at a few underdog plays for the first week of the 2021 bowl festivities.

Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky ML over Appalachian State (+130)

The Boca Raton Bowl features two very successful teams in 2021, but both are reeling from one-possession losses in their respective conference title games. Western Kentucky was dominant down the stretch in the regular season only to fall short thanks to some untimely mistakes against UTSA; Appalachian State was kept at bay in a loss to Louisiana in the Sun Belt Championship. Both offenses beat their opponents in different ways. Led by Bailey Zappe, the Hilltoppers boast arguably the best passing attack in the nation. Zappe needs to throw for 288 yards in his final game to break the all-time NCAA passing yards record (and 5 touchdowns to break that record, too). WKU’s playbook should be wide open for him. Western Kentucky has posted at least 41 points in eight of its last nine games and it is second in the nation in standard downs’ success rate.

App State’s offense is much more hit-or-miss, but it does run the ball extremely well and controlling the line of scrimmage shouldn’t be an issue against a Western Kentucky defense that struggles to get stops. However, if the Mountaineers fall behind early and Chase Brice is forced to consistently make big-time throws, their chances of winning and covering will take a considerable hit. Western Kentucky is 5-1 ATS in its last six games, with the lone blemish coming in a game in which the Hilltoppers really gifted 14 points to their opponent and left at least 13 points off the board themselves. They won’t do that in a bowl game; Zappe won’t let that happen.

Check out our full game preview for Western Kentucky vs Appalachian State

Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl: Utah State Aggies +7.5 over Oregon State Beavers (-110)

The inaugural JKLA Bowl features two teams that weren’t supposed to be much of a factor in their respective conferences but proved all of those preseason expectations wrong throughout the 2021 campaign. Utah State enters into this game fresh off winning the Mountain West Conference title in head coach Blake Anderson’s first season at the helm of the program. Led by QB Logan Bonner, the Aggies are an explosive offense capable of scoring at any moment thanks to their lethal downfield passing attack that averages 306 passing yards per game. Against an Oregon State defense that can be carved up through the air, the Aggies could certainly pull off the upset in this one. At the very least they can keep it close.

One concern is that Oregon State has been running the ball at an elite clip all season long. The Beavers have no problem taking the air out of the ball with extended scoring drives. Obviously scoring drives of any kind aren’t great when you are on the other side, but at least they run the clock and shorten the game. That always helps an underdog on the point spread, at least relative to quick-strike football. The recipe for head coach Jonathan Smith’s team to control this matchup is to consistently gain 4+ yards on the ground and put itself in good situations on 3rd down. This is a matchup in which both teams should have success doing what they do best. As such, expect a tight contest – giving the value to the team catching points. Utah State has consistently outperformed its expectations this year and the market still hasn’t quite adjusted to that.

Check out our full game preview for Utah State vs Oregon State

At Pickswise we offer free expert College Football Picks and College Football Predictions for every bowl game, including our College Football Parlay picks each week.

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