2021 Bowl Game Picks Part 1

It is incredibly difficult to correctly predict 44 bowl game winners. It would be incredibly difficult to predict just 10 bowl winners. Especially in this day and age when you don’t even know what players will be playing in the game. Between the transfer portal and sitting out for the NFL Draft, it is a mystery who will actually be putting the uniform on when kickoff rolls around. Also, some of these teams won’t even have the coaches that guided them through 2021 on the sidelines, and in some cases, they won’t even have their replacement coaches either.

With all that being said, I am going to attempt to do the impossible: correctly predict all 44 bowl games. Some say I am crazy to even try this. Maybe I am. Or maybe I just have a really good idea of who is going to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Here are my picks against the spread for each 2021-22 college football bowl game.

Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs Toledo

We kick off bowl season with a defensive-focused Toledo team taking on MTSU. Toledo gave up the 28th-fewest points per game this season so to me this comes down to one thing: can Middle Tennessee State score enough points to win. Toledo gave up an average of 14 points in its wins and 30.8 points in its losses. MTSU is a very balanced offensive yet unspectacular offensive team. Their quarterback Chase Cunningham passed for just 1,318 yards in eight games and they had four rushers with over 200 yards on the season but none over 400. To me, this does not seem like a team that can score enough to beat Toledo or even keep it close with Toledo leaning on its 1,000-yard rusher Bryant Koback.

Pick: Toledo -10

Player to watch: Toledo DE Jamal Hines (9.5 sacks, 14.5 TFLs)

Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois vs Coastal Carolina

Northern Illinois made a surprise run to a MAC championship and as a reward, they get to face last season’s surprise group-of-five darling. Coastal Carolina did not have an impressive year as last season’s undefeated regular season, but they still have a dynamic offense. Both of these teams are in the top six in the country so this game is one that will likely be decided on the ground. Northern Illinois’s defense does not have insane talent or production; the team lead for TFLs is nine and sacks is four. If the rushing attacks for both teams led by great running backs (Jevyon Ducker for the Huskies and Shermari Jones for the Chanticleers) cancel each other out then this could come down to what each team does through the air. Although Coastal is the more talented team, I think Northern Illinois’s unexpected season has enough juice left to lead to them at least covering the spread in this game.

Pick: Northern Illinois +10.5

Player to watch: Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely (816 yards, 10 touchdowns)

Boca Raton Bowl: Appalachian State vs Western Kentucky

If any game is destined to lead to fireworks it will be this one in Boca Raton. Both of these offenses are capable of lighting up the scoreboard. App State finished 47th in total offense in the country this year with 428 yards per game but is still averaging 99 yards less than Western Kentucky’s second-best 527 yards per game. Both teams are led by a transfer quarterback but they couldn’t come from more different places. App State quarterback Chase Brice started his career at Clemson before spending a year at Duke and then ultimately landing at Appalachian. Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe was at FCS school Houston Baptist University before following his offensive coordinator from HBU to Western Kentucky. The two signal-callers combined for over 8,500 yards this season so expect many more from this one. App State has a very good defense but they will be going up against not only one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but also one of the top wide receivers. Jerreth Sterns leads the nation in receptions (137) and yards (1,718) while also finishing a disappointing fourth in receiving touchdowns (14). All eyes will certainly be on Zappe in this game but don’t be surprised if it is Sterns that steals his quarterback’s thunder.

Pick: Western Kentucky +3

Player to watch: Western Kentucky WR Jerreth Sterns

Celebration Bowl: South Carolina State vs Jackson State

There is not a lot of information to be found about this matchup pitting the MEAC and SWAC champions against each other so I will keep it short and sweet. If you are not already aware, Jackson State’s head coach is none other than Deion Sanders, or Coach Prime as he likes to be called. There is no way I am picking against Deion Sanders and his son and starting quarterback Shedeur Sanders. I know Primetime can’t actually put on the pads and play but I still believe in his ability to lead his team to victory.

Pick: Jackson State -10

Player to watch: Jackson State QB Shedeur Sanders

New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs Fresno State

This is an example of where a player’s uncertainty makes it hard to make a prediction for the game. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener had an incredible year for the Bulldogs, which culminated in him entering the transfer portal. He entertained following head coach Kalen DeBoer to Washington but has instead returned to Fresno State but his status for the bowl game is uncertain. With the possibility of Haener’s absence combined with DeBoer’s absence, it makes it hard to have confidence in this good Bulldogs team. There is a ton of talent still left for Fresno State even if Haener doesn’t play but on the other hand, UTEP has a good pass defense. The Miners gave up the 30th-fewest passing yards in the country this year. They will have a tough task ahead of them trying to defend Fresno State wide receiver Jalen Cropper and others but I believe in UTEP’s defense enough to keep this game within a score.

Pick: UTEP +11.5

Player to watch: UTEP DB Dy’vonne Inyang (49 tackles, 3 INTs, 6 passes defended)

Independence Bowl: BYU vs UAB

The UAB Blazers have been a great story over the past few years since returning from the shutdown of their football program. Unfortunately, not every feel-good story ends happily ever after. The Blazers have to run into a BYU program that theoretically finished one spot short of making a New Years Six Bowl. This is a confusing bowl matchup because the Cougars are a top-25 team while the Blazers went 8-4 and won a C-USA championship. I have a ton of respect for UAB and commend them on their great season but I can’t pick against a BYU team that only lost two games, one of which was against a very good Baylor team.

Pick: BYU -6.5

Player to watch: BYU RB Tyler Allgeier (1,414 yards, 20 touchdowns)

LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs Liberty

All signs point toward Liberty quarterback Malik Willis playing in this game and if that is the case the Flames will be hard to beat. Willis might be a first-round pick in the NFL draft but he could end his college career with a bowl win. He threw for 2,626 yards and 24 touchdowns while adding another 820 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. He is one of the most dynamic players in college football and will no doubt be the best player on the field when he takes on Eastern Michigan. The Eagles had a good year, turning around from a 2-4 season in 2020 to go 7-5 this year and earn this bowl berth. I fully expect Wilis to tear apart the Eastern Michigan defense that allowed 194 rushing yards per game (20th-worst in the country). That is not a recipe for success for the Eagles but it is exactly how Liberty can take this game.

Pick: Liberty -9.5

Player to watch: Liberty QB Malik Willis

LA Bowl: Utah State vs Oregon State

On paper, these two teams are very similar. Their points per game on offense and points allowed on defense are separated by just 0.6 and 0.8 points, respectively, both in Utah State’s favor. The Aggies are finishing up a wildly unexpected season, turning around from a 1-5 record to go 10-3 and win the MWC championship. Oregon State, on the other hand, finished in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 and did so on the strength of their running game. Running back BJ Baylor became the latest standout Beaver running back, rushing for 1,259 yards and 13 touchdowns. Utah State is not devoid of talented offensive players either. Quarterback Logan Bonner threw for 3,554 yards and 36 touchdowns and wide receiver Deven Thompkins grabbed 96 catches for 1,589 yards (second-most in the nation) on his way to earning a spot on the AP All-American Third Team. I think this could end up being one of the closest games of bowl season so I foresee Utah State definitely keeping it within seven points.

Pick: Utah State +7.5

Player to watch: Oregon State QB/LB Jack Costello (9 totals touchdowns, 6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF)

New Orleans Bowl: Marshall vs Louisiana

The Ragin’ Cajuns have been one of the best group of five teams in the country over the past couple of years and this year has been no different. They went 12-1 and won the Sun Belt, playing good enough for head coach Billy Napier to parlay that into a head coaching job at the University of Florida. Louisiana still has enough to win without Napier, led by their potent rushing attack. The top two rushers on the team, Chris Smith and Montrell Jackson, combined for 1,639 and 19 touchdowns. They will be facing a very good Marshall defense that was 11th-best in scoring defense in the country this year, giving up a little over 18 points per game. They are led by first-team all-C-USA linebacker Abraham Beauplan. Marshall also has its own offensive firepower with first-team all-conference running back Rasheen Ali. The freshman racked up 1,241 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. Expect this game to have a lot of rushing yards so whichever team runs the ball more effectively will likely come away with the win.

Pick: Louisiana -5

Player to watch: Louisiana LB Chauncey Manac (55 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 10.5 sacks)

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Tulsa vs Old Dominion

This is one of those matchups between two teams that are just happy to be there. Both teams went 6-6 on the season and aren’t necessarily great at any particular aspect of the game. This game will probably lean toward a more defensive battle but Tulsa does have the better offensive standouts. Running back Shamari Brooks (922 yards and six touchdowns) and wide receiver Josh Johnson (74 catches, 958 yards, five touchdowns) will be able to do enough to dispatch Old Dominion and running back Blake Watson (1,039 yards and eight touchdowns).

Pick: Tulsa -9.5

Player to watch: Tulsa DL Jaxon Player (45 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 4 sacks)

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State vs Wyoming

These teams seem to be heading in different directions at this point in the season. Wyoming got off to a 4-0 start before losing six of its last eight while Kent State won six of its last eight before falling in the MAC championship game. Neither of these teams are offensive powerhouses but Kent State does have quarterback Dustin Crum who is an experienced signal-caller. He will essentially be matched up with the quarterback of the Cowboys’ defense: linebacker Chad Muma, the nation’s fourth-leading tackler. Whichever of those two players has the better performance will likely be the one that comes away with the victory, and I predict Muma will win that battle.

Pick: Wyoming -3

Player to watch: Wyoming LB Chad Muma (129 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 3 INTs)

Frisco Bowl: UTSA vs San Diego State

The bowl game gods spoiled us with that matchup of two of the top non-power five teams in the country. The star power will be in full effect in Frisco when UTSA’s running back Sincere McCormick and quarterback Frank Harris and San Diego State’s defensive lineman Cameron Thomas and running back Greg Bell. Thomas vs McCormick will be the biggest one to watch. McCormick doesn’t get tackled at the line of scrimmage a lot (1,496 rushing yards, fifth-best in the nation) and Thomas doesn’t let people get by him easily (20.5 TFLs and 10.5 sacks). I find these two teams very close on paper but the Aztecs have the secret weapon to put them over the top: All-American punter Matt Araiza. A punter has been named a bowl game MVP before (shoutout Michael Dickson) and I am here to ask why it can’t happen again this year.

Pick: San Diego State +2.5

Player to watch: P Matt Araiza (76 punts, 51.4 yards per punt)

Armed Forces Bowl: Army vs Missouri

Other than the Hawaii Bowl (which we will get to in a bit), Army playing in the Armed Forces Bowl is an absolute perfect fit. It has worked out in the past for the Black Knights, going 3-0 in this game. Mizzou has a good offense led by star running back Tyler Badie but they will have to be uber-effective in order to take down Army. The Tigers will need to make the most of their opportunities with the bowl because the Black Knights are going to do what they always do: control the game and time of possession by running the ball an average of 58.6 times per game. Every year we see these triple options teams put together a perfect game plan and prove that even with the extended time, that offense is hard to stop.

Pick: Army -3.5

Player to watch: Army QB Christian Anderson (653 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, 592 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns)

Gasparilla Bowl: Florida vs UCF

The Gasparilla “Florida” Bowl (unofficial title) will have the biggest school in the state, by size, take on the biggest school in the state, by name, in Tampa Bay. Florida came into the season with much higher expectations than this game, which could open the door for UCF to pull off the upset against an unmotivated team. Gus Malzahn is attempting to return the Knights to prominence and this would be a good place to start. We could also see some Gators such as corner Kaiir Elam opt out of the game to prepare for the draft, while UCF’s biggest loss is quarterback Dillon Gabriel to the transfer portal although he was injured and did not play most of the season. To me, this smells like the common group of five upset over a power five team that is overlooking their opponent.

Pick: UCF +6.5

Player to watch: Florida backup QB Anthony Richardson (9 total touchdowns)

Frisco Football Classic: Miami-Ohio vs North Texas

I’m not gonna lie to you on this one. I don’t really know who to pick in this one. No particular players are sticking out to me on either of these 6-6 squads. I am going to go with the team that is playing hotter right now: North Texas. The Mean Green have rattled off five straight victories to claw back from 1-6 to bowl eligibility. They have players on defense such as linebacker KD Davis and edge rushers Gabriel and Grayson Murphy that I think will do enough to slow down the Redhawks offense and quarterback Brett Gabbert. Also, North Texas has the best rushing offense of non-service academy teams with over 245 yards per game, so they will certainly be able to control this game on the ground. If Miami is able to pull off a win, they will need to dominate through the air.

Pick: North Texas +3

Player to watch: Miami-Ohio WR Jack Sorenson (69 catches, 1,290 yards, 10 touchdowns)

Hawaii Bowl: Memphis vs Hawaii

Hawaii will be playing in this game for the tenth time, looking to keep their currently 5-4 record above .500. It sometimes seems unfair for a team to have this much of a home-field advantage in a bowl game but as we can see by their record in the game, it doesn’t always work out. I think this will be one of the years where the team from the mainland comes over and hands the home team an L. Memphis can have a very good offense when everything is clicking, which didn’t happen too much during this year’s 6-6 season. Hawaii didn’t fare much better though, getting to exactly six wins and guaranteeing their place in this game. This has the potential to be a shootout-type game which would be a lot of fun and I think Memphis enjoys its long flight home after the win.

Pick: Memphis -7.5

Player to watch: Memphis WR Calvin Austin III (74 catches, 1,149 yards, 8 touchdowns)

Camellia Bowl: Ball State vs Georgia State

Ball State has some playmakers in the secondary with two players with four interceptions and 17 total team interceptions. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Georgia State does not pass the ball a ton. Georgia State has the eighth-most rushing yards per game this year and has done so with a balanced attack. The Panthers do not have a 1,000-yard rusher but they have two running backs with over 800 yards along with their quarterback who rushed for another 500-plus yards. Ball State does not fare too well against the run though. They ranked 93rd in opponent rushing yards allowed this year. The Cardinals will certainly come into the game with a game plan ready to stop the Panthers, I am just not confident it will work.

Pick: Georgia State -4.5

Player to watch: Georgia State RB Jamyest Williams (810 yards, 9 touchdowns)

Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs Nevada

The Wolfpack were a very solid team this year but will be without MWC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Carson Strong. That will open it up for Western Michigan to take advantage of a team without its best player. This is also one of the most underrated wide receiver matchup games during bowl season. Nevada’s Romeo Doubs and Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore are both some of the best to play the position, ranking 24th and 12th in the country in receiving yards, respectively. Doubs will be catching passes from a different quarterback in this game while Moore will still be working with 3,000-yard passer Kaleb Eleby. If Strong was playing in this game I would pick Nevada because it would be hard to go against the potential first-rounder, but without Strong, I don’t know if Nevada has what it takes to get it done.

Pick: Western Michigan -4.5

Player to watch: Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore (90 catches, 1,247 yards, 10 touchdowns)

Military Bowl: Boston College vs East Carolina

I am a fan of picking teams that finished the season strong and East Carolina fits that bill. They won four of their last five games with the lone loss coming to Cincinnati (and we know how good they are). Meanwhile, Boston College finished last in their division of the ACC after losing six conference games. In the Eagles’ defense, they were without starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec for a large portion of the season but he is now back leading the offense. I still don’t think he will be enough to bring them to victory in this matchup. East Carolina will have to step up on defense, but they have the players to do so. Linebacker Bruce Bivens and cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian both earned second-team all-conference honors. The talent is there for the Pirates, they just have to play up to their potential.

Pick: East Carolina +3

Player to watch: East Carolina CB Ja’Quan McMillian (56 tackles, 4 TFLs, 5 INTs)

Birmingham Bowl: Houston vs Auburn

For the first time in 87 years, Auburn won’t have Bo Nix at quarterback. I’m just exaggerating the time element but it is a big deal that Nix won’t be under center for the Tigers since he entered the transfer portal. Auburn will have to rely even more on running back Tank Bigsby who has 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. The Tigers have a tough task in front of them in Houston, a team that is currently ranked number 21 in the CFP rankings. They are led by quarterback Clayton Tune and wide receiver Nathaniel Dell. The reality is that Houston is a really good team and could likely contend with a lot of teams that are better than 6-6 Auburn. They won 11 straight games between their season-opening loss to Texas Tech and conference championship game loss to Cincinnati.

Pick: Houston +3

Player to watch: Houston DB/KR Marcus Jones (5 INTs, 2 KR touchdowns, 2 PR touchdowns)

First Responder Bowl: Air Force vs Louisville

This is a premier matchup between two great running quarterbacks. One of them is Air Force’s Haaziq Daniels, who leads the Falcons’ triple-option rushing attack. The other is Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He has 2,734 yards and 18 touchdowns passing to go with another 968 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. I don’t know exactly what will happen in this game, but I feel confident saying that Cunningham will definitely find the end zone. If you like the ground game then this is the game for you to watch this bowl season. Air Force averages the most rushing yards per game and Louisville averages the 20th-most. This game might end up being pretty low-scoring unless some players break off some big runs. I am going to pick the team with the best player on the field, which would be Cunningham.

Pick: Louisville -1.5

Player to watch: Louisville QB Malik Cunningham

Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs Mississippi State

There aren’t many bowl games where the biggest storyline is something off the field. But that is the case here with Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach going up against his former team Texas Tech. You are probably aware that his tenure at Tech did not end amicably so it will be interesting to see how he handles the media surrounding this unique situation (Leach has always been very outspoken to the media so who knows what he will say). But this is also an interesting pairing on the field as well. Both of these teams are more offensive-focused but the Red Raiders’ defense might be what holds them back. They allowed over 32 points per game which ranked 104th in the nation. Mississippi State has the offensive firepower to take advantage of that weakness and we all know Leach will certainly be eager to run up the score on his former employer.

Pick: Mississippi State -8.5

Player to watch: Mississippi State QB Will Rogers (4,449 yards, 35 touchdowns)

Part 2 with the rest of the matchups will be released next week so stay tuned!