Sharps are closely monitoring these early college football bowl games


USA TODAY Sports

Each week during the college football season, Covers Expert Steve Merril looks at the NCAAF odds and tells you which spread to bet now, which one to bet later, and which total to watch as the week plays out. This week he takes a look at some of the season’s early bowl games.

Spread to bet now


Las Vegas Bowl – San Diego State (+3) vs. Houston

Houston had a strong 9-3 SU season, but they were just 5-7 ATS, including 1-6 ATS in their final seven games.  They did have big wins versus Oklahoma and Louisville this year, but they have lost head coach Tom Herman who took the Texas head coaching job. Houston will now be led by former assistant and new head coach Major Applewhite in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars might not be fully focused for this game with the sudden coaching change.

San Diego State had a strong 10-3 SU season (7-6 ATS) and won the Mountain West championship game.  The Aztecs are solid on offense, averaging 6.5 yards per play (versus opponents that allow just 6.2 yppl).  They also have a strong defense that permits only 21.0 points per game on 4.9 yards per play (versus opponents that average 27.0 ppg and 5.6 yppl).  San Diego State will now face a Houston offense that averaged just 5.5 yards per play this season (versus opponents that allowed 5.6 yppl).

Spread to bet now

Birmingham Bowl – South Carolina (+10.5) vs. South Florida

South Florida was 10-2 SU (8-4 ATS) this season, but they now have distractions in this bowl game as head coach Willie Taggart has left to take the head coaching job at Oregon.  This means co-offensive coordinator T.J. Wiest will be the interim coach for South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.  The Bulls will face a solid South Carolina defense that allowed just 24.8 points per game on 5.6 yards per play this season (versus opponents that averaged 28.8 ppg and 5.9 yppl).

South Carolina was just 6-6 SU (5-6-1 ATS) this season, but they faced a tough SEC schedule of opponents.  The Gamecocks will now be taking a step down in class and should have more offensive success against a weak South Florida defense that permitted 31.0 points per game on 5.8 yards per play this season (versus opponents that averaged just 28.5 ppg and 5.5 yppl).

Total to watch

Boca Raton Bowl – Memphis vs. Western Kentucky (77.5)

This Boca Raton Bowl Over/Under line opened at 77 and has already been bet higher.  It should be a shootout with two excellent offensive teams in this game.  Memphis has averaged 39.5 points per game on 6.3 yards per play this season (versus opponents that allowed just 30.7 ppg and 5.7 yppl).  The Tigers finished the season scoring at least 42 points or more in three of their final four games.

Western Kentucky has averaged 45.1 points per game on 7.6 yards per play this season (versus opponents that allowed 31.7 ppg and 6.1 yppl) and the Hilltoppers averaged 52.1 points during their final nine games of the season.  Western Kentucky should have plenty of success against a mediocre Memphis defense that allowed 5.6 yards per play this year (versus opponents that averaged 5.6 yppl).  The Tigers allowed at least 42 points or more in four of their final six games this year.


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