Yes, Georgia Southern, App State, and Texas State won't be bowling this year. That is, unfortunately, the reality of being a fan of G5 football. And the politics of bowl tie-ins are such that this is the fourth consecutive year that Louisiana and Arkansas State will be heading to New Orleans and Mobile, respectively. However, South Alabama made it to the Camellia Bowl with a 6-6 campaign this season after getting shut out of a bowl last season despite a 6-6 record.
Bowl games can be tough to predict because of the extended time off and questionable levels of motivation for some teams. I don't think the latter will be an issue for these teams - they're probably just happy they actually got an invite, the extra practice time, and some sweet bowl swag.
If you're a few dollars short on some last-minute Christmas gifts for your family members, consider some of these bets before settling for anything but the best gifts.
New Orleans Bowl - Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns vs. Nevada Wolf Pack
December 20th, 11 A.M. ET, ESPN
Best Bet: Louisiana (-1)
Nevada opened as a one-point favorite but the line has gone back-and-forth a bit. My initial lean on this game was to go with Nevada. The Cajuns defense was one of the worst in FBS during the regular season, and the Wolf Pack feature a powerful running game with two players who may eclipse 1,000 yards on the season with a decent effort in the bowl (QB Cody Fajardo, 997 yards, and RB Don Jackson, 932 yards).
But if the Cajuns do have a strength on defense, it is along the defensive line. Christian Ringo (19.5 tfl, 10.5 sacks) was maybe the most disruptive defender in the Sun Belt this year and as a whole, the line ranked sixth in standard down line yards and 12th in opportunity rate. With this favorable matchup plus the home-field advantage of playing in New Orleans, the Cajuns should win its fourth straight New Orleans Bowl.
Camellia Bowl - South Alabama Jaguars vs. Bowling Green Falcons
December 20th, 9:15 P.M. ET, ESPN
Best Bet: Under 54
This game might feature the two worst offenses of the bowl season. Bowling Green is reeling after losing its last three games of the season, including a 51-17 drubbing at the hands of NIU in the MAC Championship game. Without preseason All-conference QB Matt Johnson, the offense hasn't been as explosive as many had anticipated. Sophomore James Knapke has been decent at times in his stead, but he hasn't been very efficient and certainly isn't the playmaker that Johnson is.
The South Alabama defense is the best unit on the field (49th in defensive S&P+) and will have more than two weeks to gameplan for Falcons WRs Roger Lewis and Ryan Burbrink, who combined for 129 catches for 1675 yards and eight touchdowns. The Jaguars know those two guys are where Knapke wants to get the ball, and if he can't get it to those playmakers I'm not convinced the Falcons offense will have enough juice to put up 27+ points.
The Jaguars were terrible at finishing drives all year, scoring a touchdown once in the red zone just 48.7% of the time, 112th in the country. BGSU wasn't much better, getting a TD on just 51% of red zone drives, 106th in the country. With both offenses more likely to kick field goals (or turn the ball over) than score touchdowns, the under of 54 should be a solid moneymaker.
GoDaddy Bowl - Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Toledo Rockets
January 4th, 9:00 P.M. ET, ESPN
Best Bet: Arkansas State ML (+135)
The Red Wolves are currently three point dogs (the line has gone everywhere from PK to Toledo -3.5) but if you want to bet on them, I think there's more value in the moneyline.
As long as Arkansas State QB Fredi Knighten protects the football, the Red Wolves offense should be able to keep pace with Toledo. He and Michael Gordon running the option in the backfield (1839 rushing yards, 23 TDs combined) is a nightmare for almost any defense, much less one as average as Toledo's (73rd in def. S&P+).
But will the Red Wolves be able to get a stop when they need it? Toledo's offensive line ranked fourth in the country in opportunity rate at 48.4% and 12th in stuff rate at just 14.6%. The Rockets have one of the most consistent, efficient running games in the country.
While the over of 66 probably isn't a bad pick either, I like the Red Wolves' ability to keep it close all game. From there, Arkansas State has the experience (three straight GoDaddy Bowl victories) a team needs to give you confidence in it pulling the small upset.
Find another good bet I haven't mentioned? Leave it in the comments!