With 39 different bowl games, culminating with the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium, there are bound to be a few that fail to produce drama — No. 5 Georgia, for example, is favored by 11 points over No. 15 Texas in the Sugar Bowl and should win by 15 or more by our calculations. But all will produce some action -- at least in the states where sports betting is now legal. So here’s a rundown of every upcoming college bowl game from an against-the-spread perspective.
To project each team’s chances of winning and margin of victory, we start with the consensus rating compiled by Kenneth Massey, which audits 101 different ranking systems throughout the season. Those are then weighted for their ability to predict future wins, giving us a good guess as to how often one team will beat another.
Point spreads are taken from the consensus line as of Dec. 11, 2018. All times Eastern
New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State (-8)
2 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Utah State, 82 percent
Pick: Utah State -8
Utah State ranked 13th for defense on passing downs (second down with eight or more yards to go and third or fourth down with five or more yards to go) with the fifth-highest havoc rate (total tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles divided by total plays) by their defensive backs (9.3 percent). The Aggies will be without Coach Matt Wells, who departed to take the same job at Texas Tech; longtime assistant Frank Maile will lead the team into its bowl game.
Cure Bowl: Tulane (-3.5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
2:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Winner: Louisiana-Lafayette, 52 percent
Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette +3.5
Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell had 12 of the 40 big plays (30 yards or more) for the team, a bad sign for Tulane’s defense, which allowed 33 big plays this season. Per Sam Chase of Sports Illustrated, only 22 teams allowed more.
Las Vegas Bowl: No. 21 Fresno State (-4) vs. Arizona State
3:30 p.m., ABC
Winner: Fresno State, 71 percent
Pick: Fresno State -4
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion threw for 3,453 yards with 25 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, and was instrumental in his team sustaining drives. Per Brian Fremeau, 71 percent of their drives lasted four plays or more, the 28th best mark among 130 programs tracked by Football Outsiders. The Sun Devils' will not have wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who is potentially seen as a first-round NFL draft pick and will sit out the game to prepare for his pro career.
Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern (-1) vs. Eastern Michigan
5:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Eastern Michigan, 52 percent
Pick: Eastern Michigan +1
Junior defensive lineman Maxx Crosby had 18 tackles for a loss in 2018 for Eastern Michigan, tying him for the 14th most this season. His average tackle for a loss cost his opponent 1.64 yards, the 10th best mark among all defenders.
New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State (-7)
9 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Appalachian State, 72 percent
Pick: Appalachian State -7
Appalachian State allowed 5.3 passing yards per attempt in 2018; only Temple was better at stopping the pass (5.1) in FBS this season. But the Aggies have prepared for this game without Coach Scott Satterfield, who left to take the Louisville job. Mark Ivey, his top assistant, was named interim coach.
Boca Raton Bowl: UAB (-2.5) vs. Northern Illinois
7 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Northern Illinois, 53 percent
Pick: Northern Illinois +2.5
Northern Illinois finished the season with the 15th-best defense per Bill Connelly S&P+ rankings, which factor in efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers.
Frisco Bowl: San Diego State vs. Ohio (-3)
8 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Ohio, 61 percent
Pick: Ohio -3
Ohio’s one-two punch of quarterback Nathan Rourke (2,225 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions) and running back A.J. Ouellette (14 total touchdowns) will be enough to move the chains against San Diego State’s 25th-best defense.
Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall (-2.5) vs. South Florida
8 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Marshall, 51 percent
Pick: Marshall -2.5
The Herd is the 13th-best defense per S&P+, with defensive back Chris Jackson ranking 11th overall for pass breakups this year (15).
Bahamas Bowl: Florida International vs. Toledo (-5.5)
12:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Toledo, 62 percent
Pick: Toledo -5.5
Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan vs. BYU (-12)
4 p.m., ESPN
Winner: BYU, 75 percent
Pick: BYU -12
Field position shouldn’t be a problem for BYU in this matchup: Western Michigan’s special teams unit ranks 123rd out of 130 programs in 2018, and that includes second-to-last rankings for kickoff and punt efficiency.
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (-5) vs. Wake Forest
Winner: Wake Forest, 52 percent
Pick: Wake Forest +5
Wake Forest had to replace freshman starting quarterback Sam Hartman with sophomore Jamie Newman and the results have not been bad at all. Newman completed over 61 percent of his passes for 7.5 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and three interceptions, producing a higher passer rating (144.4) than Hartman (125.2). Memphis will be without running back Darrell Henderson, who finished second nationally in rushing yards, was third in yards per carry (8.9) and led FBS with 22 rushing touchdowns. The junior will sit things out to protect himself ahead of the NFL draft.
Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army (-3)
3:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Army, 65 percent
Pick: Army -3
The Black Knights finished 25th in the nation for overall efficiency per the Fremeau Efficiency Index. They ranked eighth in Offensive FEI, which is the team’s scoring value generated per drive adjusted for starting field position and opponent defenses faced. The Cougars won’t have standout defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who declared before the season began that he would enter the NFL draft and played in only eight games this season because of knee issues.
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo (-2.5) vs. Troy
7 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Buffalo, 57 percent
Pick: Buffalo -2.5
After adjusting for strength of schedule, this year’s Buffalo Bulls team was 3.1 points per game better than an average college team, the best performance in school history since joining the MAC in 1999 and the first time they have been an above average team.
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii (Pick 'em) vs. Louisiana Tech
10:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Hawaii, 60 percent
Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald had 35 touchdowns this year, the seventh-most among 94 qualified quarterbacks. His 315.8 yards per game tied him for fifth.
First Responder Bowl: Boston College vs. No. 25 Boise State (-3)
1:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Boise State, 58 percent
Pick: Boise State -3
The Broncos are one of the most efficient offenses in the nation this season. They ranked ninth in success rate, a measure of yardage relative to the down and distance of each play, with Top 25 finishes on standard downs (21st) and passing downs (16th), per Football Outsiders.
Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech (-4)
5:15 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Georgia Tech, 60 percent
Pick: Georgia Tech -4
Georgia Tech dual-threat quarterback TaQuon Marshall passed for 824 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions and added 896 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, making his mobility a tough assignment for a Minnesota pass-rushing unit that has a low sack rate (4.9 percent, 104th). This will be the final game for Yellow Jackets Coach Paul Johnson, who announced his retirement in November.
Cheez-It Bowl: California vs. TCU (Pick 'em)
9 p.m., ESPN
Winner: California, 51 percent
Pick: Pick 'em
California finished the year with the 12th bets defense per S&P+ Ratings with opponents scoring 17 percent less points than expected (ninth in the country) based on the down, distance and field position of each play run.
Independence Bowl: Duke vs. Temple (-3.5)
1:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Duke, 51 percent
Pick: Duke +3.5
The Blue Devils were impressive in early nonconference play, beating Army, Northwestern and Baylor by a combined score of 95-48. They’ll go against an Owls team with an interim coach in Ed Foley after Geoff Collins left for Georgia Tech. It’s actually the second time Foley has taken over Temple on a temporary basis; after Matt Rhule left for Baylor in 2016, Foley was the Owls' interim coach in a 34-26 Military Bowl loss to wake Forest.
Pinstripe Bowl: Miami (-4) vs. Wisconsin
5:15 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Miami FL, 55 percent
Pick: Wisconsin +4
Miami’s defense has been strong in 2018, seventh per FEI ratings, with linebacker Zach McCloud leading the way. The junior tallied 38 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and 1.5 sacks in 2018.
Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Vanderbilt (-3.5)
9 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Vanderbilt, 77 percent
Pick: Vanderbilt -3.5
Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Auburn (-3.5)
1:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Auburn, 66 percent
Pick: Auburn -3.5
Auburn disappointed for most of the season, yet according to Yale’s YUSAG Coefficient, the number of points by which a given team would be expected to beat the average team on a neutral field, Auburn (17.7) should be almost a nine-point favorite over Purdue (8.8).
They aren’t the only metric that illustrates this. According to the 106 rankings tracked by Massey that had rankings for both teams, 105 had Auburn as the better team.
Camping World Bowl: No. 16 West Virginia (-1) vs. No. 20 Syracuse
5:15 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Syracuse, 52 percent
Pick: Syracuse +1
West Virginia’s quarterback, Will Grier, will sit this one out (he’s a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft) as will tackle Yodny Cajuste. That’s good news for Syracuse’s defensive line, a pass-rushing unit that ranked 28th for sack rate (8 percent) in 2018.
Alamo Bowl: No. 24 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Washington State (-3.5)
9 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Washington State, 75 percent
Pick: Washington State -3.5
Washington State’s defense ranked 19th in the nation for havoc rate (total tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles divided by total plays) by its front seven (11.6 percent), pushing their overall defensive efficiency from 50th to 22nd on passing downs.
Belk Bowl: South Carolina (-4) vs. Virginia
Winner: South Carolina, 75 percent
Pick: South Carolina -4
Quarterback Jake Bentley completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,953 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for the Gamecocks this year. Two of his receivers, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, topped 800 yards while a third, Shi Smith, fell just shy of 600 (597). Samuels won’t play in this one, however, as he prepares for the NFL draft.
Peach Bowl: No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Michigan (-7.5)
Winner: Michigan, 57 percent
Pick: Florida +7.5
Michigan’s defensive line ranked fourth in the country for sack rate (10.5 percent) and opportunity rate (38 percent), the percentage of carries allowed to gain at least four yards (when four yards are available).
Not having defensive lineman Rashan Gary suit up for the game hurts. He declared for the NFL draft last week and won’t play, but the team’s defense should still be good enough to keep Florida’s 51st-ranked offense at bay.
Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State (-1.5) vs. Nevada
1:15 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Winner: Arkansas State, 56 percent
Pick: Arkansas State
Arkansas State runs the ball more often than it throws it but that doesn’t mean their quarterback, Justice Hansen, isn’t crucial to the offense. He threw for 27 touchdowns this season and ran for six more, giving the Red Wolves a bona fide dual-threat under center.
Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal): No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Clemson (-11.5)
4 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Clemson, 79 percent
Pick: Clemson -11.5
After adjusting margin of victory for strength of schedule, Clemson is 23.6 points per game better than an average team. Only Alabama has a better adjusted scoring margin in 2018.
Orange Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal): No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Alabama (-14)
8 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Alabama, 96 percent
Pick: Alabama -14
Of the 110 ranking methods tracked by Massey, 82 had them as the No. 1 team in the nation, 20 had them at No. 2 and the remaining eight had Alabama at No. 3. Oklahoma had one third-place finish with an average ranking of 6.5.
Military Bowl: Cincinnati (-5) vs. Virginia Tech
Winner: Cincinnati, 64 percent
Pick: Cincinnati -5
The Bearcats allowed 4.6 yards per play in 2018, the 11th best mark of the season, and improved that slightly (4.5) when playing a Power 5 team. The Hokies, by comparison, produce 5.9 yards per play (58th) which worsened to 5.6 against Power 5 teams.
Sun Bowl: Stanford (-6.5) vs. Pittsburgh
2 p.m., CBS
Winner: Stanford, 56 percent
Pick: Pittsburgh +6.5
Redbox Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon (-3)
3 p.m., Fox
Winner: Michigan State, 52 percent
Pick: Michigan State +3
Liberty Bowl: No. 23 Missouri (-8) vs. Oklahoma State
3:45 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Missouri, 85 percent
Pick: Missouri -8
Coach Barry Odom, with first-year coordinator offensive and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley, helped boost the Tigers' adjusted scoring margin from plus-4.3 to plus-15.2 in just one season, making this Missouri squad the second best to ever play in the SEC and the third best overall since the school joined the Big 12 in 1996. Cowboys running back Justice Hill (30 career touchdowns) won’t play to ensure his health for his professional career.
Holiday Bowl: No. 22 Northwestern vs. No. 17 Utah (-7)
7 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Winner: Utah, 68 percent
Pick: Utah -7
Utah could be one of the most-balanced teams heading into bowl season. According to S&P+ Ratings, the Utes rank 43rd in offense, 22nd in defense and 7th in special teams, boosting their overall ranking to the 14th best in the country. Northwestern, by comparison, ranks 80th overall.
Gator Bowl: N.C. State vs. No. 19 Texas A&M (-5.5)
7:30 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Texas A&M, 62 percent
Pick: Texas A&M -5.5
The Aggies were 6-2 against the spread as a favorite this season and head into this bowl game as the 22nd best team in the nation per Football Outsiders. NC State was only an underdog once in 2018, a game they lost 41-7 to Clemson, and rank 31st. The Wolfpack will be shorthanded on both sides of the ball, however: Linebacker Germaine Pratt (team leader in in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks) and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon (81 receptions for a team-high 1,186 yards and seven touchdowns) both will skip the game to focus on the NFL draft.
Outback Bowl: No. 18 Mississippi State (-7) vs. Iowa
Winner: Mississippi State, 64 percent
Pick: Mississippi State -7
Mississippi State’s defense finished fifth in overall havoc rate (20.4 percent) with defensive lineman Montez Sweat sacking the quarterback 11 times in 2018, the sixth-most this season. Iowa’s offensive line has been one of the best in college (3.0 percent sack rate, eighth best) but Mississippi State gets pass pressure and takeaways from their defensive backs (9.6 percent havoc rate, third best in 2018), too, making them too much for the Hawkeyes to handle on game day. Iowa’s Noah Fant, considered the best tight end prospect in next year’s NFL draft, will sit this one out.
Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Penn State (-6.5)
1 p.m., ABC
Winner: Penn State, 52 percent
Pick: Kentucky +6.5
Penn State finished the season as the 14th best team in the country, per Football Outsiders; Kentucky ranked 30th. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders combined for 1,946 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in 2018, helping the Nittany Lions average over five yards per carry (5.2, 22nd in the nation).
Fiesta Bowl: No. 11 LSU (-7.5) vs. No. 8 UCF
1 p.m., ESPN
Winner: LSU, 61 percent
Pick: UCF +7.5
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow accounted 370 total yards (270 passing, 100 rushing) and six touchdowns against Texas A&M and figures to find a weakness or two in a UCF defense that ranks 43rd against the rush per S&P+ and 75th overall when the opposing team is facing a passing down (second down with eight or more yards to go or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go). The Aggies defense, for comparison, ranked 14th against the rush and 86th overall on passing downs. The Tigers' defense will be without cornerback Greedy Williams, who is skipping the game to begin preparations for the NFL draft.
Rose Bowl: No. 9 Washington vs. No. 6 Ohio State (-6.5)
5 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Ohio St, 56 percent
Pick: Washington +6
In Ohio State’s final two games, quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw for 895 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception against Michigan and Northwestern, defenses that ranked fifth and 32nd, respectively, per S&P+. Washington ranks third, so while this won’t be a sure thing for the Buckeyes, Haskins has proven he can score against the best defenses in the FBS. Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer announced earlier this month that he will step down after this game.
Sugar Bowl: No. 15 Texas vs. No. 5 Georgia (-11.5)
8:45 p.m., ESPN
Winner: Georgia, 96 percent
Pick: Georgia -11.5
The Longhorns secondary is going to be taxed by Georgia’s balanced offensive attack. Sophomore running back D’Andre Swift has 1,304 yards from scrimmage with 12 total touchdowns this season and five of his teammates — Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley, Isaac Nauta, Jeremiah Holloman and Terry Godwin — have at least 300 receiving yards and multiple touchdowns.