Bettor’s Guide: Picking winners for all 39 college bowl games

Starting Saturday, there will be 39 bowl games over 18 days, a gambler’s dream. No wonder they call this the most wonderful time of the year.

Wall-to-wall football can be found any day of the week with the College Football Playoff mixed in earlier than usual, on Dec. 29, followed by the national championship game Jan. 7.

The playoff may expand at some point — higher-ups are already acknowledging the need to go to eight teams — but for now, let’s just enjoy the insanity that is bowl season.

CURE (Saturday)
Tulane (-3¹/₂) over Louisiana-Lafayette: What better way to kick off the festivities than two teams you’ve never watched that are a combined one game over .500?

NEW MEXICO (Saturday)
North Texas (+7¹/₂) over Utah State: Last quarterback with the ball wins. Mason Fine of North Texas and Jordan Love of Utah State combined for 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions.

LAS VEGAS (Saturday)
Fresno State (-5) over Arizona State: We’ve set the Over/Under on references to Arizona State coach Herm Edwards’ “Hello, You Play to Win the Game” speech at five.

CAMELLIA (Saturday)
Georgia Southern (-3) over Eastern Michigan: Don’t tell Georgia Southern bowl games are meaningless. A victory sends the Eagles to their first 10-win season as a FBS program.

NEW ORLEANS (Saturday)
Middle Tennessee (+7) over Appalachian State: Always take the team with emotion on its side. MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill, who has thrown 105 career touchdown passes, will play his final game for his father and coach Rick.

BOCA RATON (Tuesday)
Northern Illinois (+2¹/₂) over UAB: Stop UAB’s ground attack, you stop the Blazers. Few teams are better against the run than Northern Illinois, which allows just 2.69 yards per rush. Only Michigan State and Clemson allow fewer.

FRISCO (Wednesday)
Ohio (-3) over San Diego State: Ohio’s electric offense, ranked 10th nationally and averaging 41.2 points a game, put up a combined 61 points against superior foes Cincinnati and Virginia.

Marshall (-2¹/₂) over South Florida: USF is at home, but that hasn’t helped the Bulls of late, losing two straight in their own building by an average of 27 points. Marshall’s quality run defense — it didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all season — will make South Florida one-dimensional, paving the way to the Thundering Herd’s seventh straight bowl victory.

BAHAMAS (Dec. 21)
Toledo (-5¹/₂) over FIU: This is a bowl worth keeping. Who wouldn’t want to go to the Bahamas in mid-December?

Western Michigan (+12) over BYU: The blue turf at Albertsons Stadium is the most interesting aspect between two underwhelming teams that have lost six of their previous nine games combined.

Wake Forest (+4) over Memphis: Take away Darrell Henderson, arguably the best running back in the country, and Memphis might not be bowl eligible. After declaring for the NFL draft, Henderson’s status is iffy.

Army (-3) over Houston: Army doesn’t have 10 wins by accident. Its defense, which held Oklahoma’s top-ranked offense to 21 points in regulation, allows just 18 points a game, 13th-fewest in the country, and the triple-option attack is tricky to defend, averaging 296.3 yards per game on the ground.

Troy (+2¹/₂) over Buffalo: Experience matters this time of year. So does being at home. Troy has both of those advantages over Buffalo.

HAWAII (Dec. 22)
Hawaii (-1) over Louisiana: It’s the “Sack Daddy,” Louisiana stud defensive end Jaylon Ferguson, against the fifth-ranked passing quarterback in the country, Hawaii’s Cole McDonald. Bowl games are about showdowns like this one.

Boston College (+3) over Boise State: When in doubt, ride the best player on the field, and that player is without question Boston College running back AJ Dillon.

QUICK LANE (Dec. 26)
Georgia Tech (-6) over Minnesota: Minnesota faced two run-heavy quarterback teams and allowed a whopping 813 yards on the ground in a pair of lopsided losses to Illinois and Nebraska. Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall is going to have a post-Christmas feast.

CHEEZ-IT (Dec. 26)
TCU (pick) over California: It’s apropos this bowl game is named after a cheese snack. A few quarters of watching these scoring-challenged offenses will make you queasy.

Temple (-3¹/₂) over Duke: This game could be played in Durham and the student body would be too preoccupied with Zion Williamson highlights to notice.

Miami (-3¹/₂) over Wisconsin: It’s the Disappointment Bowl, two preseason top-eight teams that became afterthoughts by November after getting embarrassed by actual contenders. The Yankees must be thrilled to host these underachievers.

TEXAS (Dec. 27)
Vanderbilt (-4) over Baylor: With a plus-eight turnover margin and the SEC’s least-penalized team, Vanderbilt doesn’t beat itself. Baylor, minus-9 in giving up the ball, does.

MUSIC CITY (Dec. 28)
Auburn (-4) over Purdue: Don’t let Purdue’s victory over Ohio State overshadow losses to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Eastern Michigan.

Syracuse (+ 1¹/₂) over West Virginia: With quarterback Will Grier opting to pass on this bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft, West Virginia isn’t going to prevail without getting several stops from its sieve of a defense. That’s like asking a vegetarian to start eating only meat.

ALAMO (Dec. 28)
Washington State (-3¹/₂) over Iowa State: Colorful Washington State coach Mike Leach will have his top-ranked passing offense humming after the Apple Cup disappointment against Washington. Iowa State boasts the best defense in the Big 12, which, translated, makes it mediocre.

PEACH (Dec. 29)
Michigan (-7¹/₂) over Florida: Jim Harbaugh can post his first 11-win season in Ann Arbor with a victory, and in doing so, at least soothe the pain from that no-show loss at Ohio State.

BELK (Dec. 29)
South Carolina (-4) over Virginia: Highlighted by a 35-point outburst against Clemson, explosive South Carolina has scored at least 27 points in six straight games, and it will get that many in the first half against fading Virginia.

ARIZONA (Dec. 29)
Arkansas State (-1) over Nevada: Senior Justice Hansen, the Arkansas State leader in touchdown passes with 83, goes out a winner.

COTTON (Dec. 29)
Notre Dame (+11) over Clemson: Notre Dame, balanced offensively and strong defensively, is better prepared for this moment than it was six years ago when it was destroyed by Alabama in the BCS Championship game. Clemson’s star-studded defense has given up points to quality offenses — 35 to South Carolina, 26 to Texas A&M — and hasn’t faced a unit as potent as this one.

ORANGE (Dec. 29)
Alabama (-14) over Oklahoma: The moment Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy instead of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Crimson Tide players took to social media, tweeting the hashtag #Dec29, as the date for revenge. A motivated Alabama is a scary proposition.

MILITARY (Dec. 31)
Cincinnati (-5¹/₂) over Virginia Tech: After both teams had earlier games canceled, Virginia Tech paid Marshall $300,000 to position itself for a sixth victory, and a 26th consecutive trip to a bowl. Cincinnati will be the benefactor, facing a team that didn’t belong in the postseason.

SUN (Dec. 31)
Stanford (-6¹/₂) over Pittsburgh: Stanford was seven points away — the combined margin of defeats to Washington and Washington State — from playing in the Rose Bowl. Pittsburgh was the best of a sad bunch as the ACC Coastal champion.

REDBOX (Dec. 31)
Oregon (-3) over Michigan State: Viewers, especially those of sad-sack NFL teams in search of a franchise quarterback, will tune in to watch Oregon’s Justin Herbert face Michigan State’s stout defense. The ratings will plummet when the Spartans’ anemic offense has the ball.

LIBERTY (Dec. 31)
Missouri (-8) over Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State is college football’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, nearly knocking off Oklahoma and beating Texas and West Virginia, while getting routed by two of the league’s worst teams, Texas Tech and Kansas State. Missouri is stable by comparison.

HOLIDAY (Dec. 31)
Utah (-7) over Northwestern: Go against Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, 11-1 in bowl games, at your own risk.

GATOR (Dec. 31)
Texas A&M (-6) over N.C. State: In his first season in College Station, Jimbo Fisher nearly upset Clemson, knocked off LSU and finished second in the rugged SEC West. He adds to that résumé by notching the program’s first bowl victory since 2014.

OUTBACK (Jan. 1)
Iowa (+7) over Mississippi State: If you’re tired of spread offenses lighting up scoreboards like Christmas trees, this is the bowl for you. A field goal determines this slugfest of top-10 defenses.

FIESTA (Jan. 1)
LSU (-7¹/₂) over UCF: Motivation matters, just not enough to offset the loss of quarterback McKenzie Milton. Without the injured senior star, UCF can’t move the ball consistently enough against a defense as good as LSU’s.

CITRUS (Jan. 1)
Kentucky (+6) over Penn State: The Nittany Lions did little against quality defenses, handcuffed especially by Michigan State and Michigan. Kentucky’s eighth-ranked scoring defense will have similar success.

ROSE (Jan. 1)
Washington (+6¹/₂) over Ohio State: Washington’s elite secondary slows down Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes much the way it did Washington State’s Gardner Minshew.

SUGAR (Jan. 1)
Georgia (-11) over Texas: Georgia belonged in the playoff after nearly knocking off Alabama in the SEC Championship game and will prove it by undressing Texas, covering the spread in the first quarter.

Best bets: Army, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Syracuse, Alabama, Utah, LSU.

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