2023 College Football odds: How to bet early bowl games

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College football bowl season is here!

To wager on these games, you must know if a coach is coming or going, as that could affect how a team is prepared for its bowl game.

You must also be a roster expert, knowing which players have transferred out or opted not to play.

RELATED: Bowl predictions, best bets by Chris ‘The Bear’ Fallica

I’ll do my best to make it simple for you. Here are my favorite wagers for this batch of bowl games.

(All times ET)

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl

No. 23 Liberty vs. No. 8 Oregon 
1 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN

Bowl game motivation is often discussed as a way to handicap bowl games. It would be easy to look at this Fiesta Bowl matchup and think Oregon is the less motivated squad, going from a potential playoff berth to playing Liberty, which must view this game as their Super Bowl. However, it appears Oregon is amped for this game, as quarterback Bo Nix, running back Bucky Irving and their best defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus are playing, which feels rare for bowl season. 

If Oregon’s offense is mostly whole, it will score at will against Liberty. According to SP+, the best offense Liberty has faced this season was ranked 59th. The next highest is 75th. Then it’s a bunch of the worst offenses in the country. Oregon is going to score and score and score on Liberty. The Ducks are second in points per drive, first in success and have the best pass protecting OL in the country. 

PICK: Oregon Over 42 points

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

No. 19 Oregon State (8-4) vs. No. 16 Notre Dame (9-3)
2 p.m., Dec. 29, CBS

This is a straight fade of the Beavers. 

Oregon State lost head coach Jonathan Smith to Michigan State, plus its offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and another eight coaches in various roles. 

Even though the Beavers promoted defensive coordinator Trent Bray to replace Smith, his new coaches can’t be on the field for the bowl game. So the Beavers will be coached by graduate assistants and analysts on offense. 

To make it worse for Oregon State, both quarterbacks (including DJ Uiagalelei) entered the portal. The Beavers’ middle linebacker, their two best corners and a safety also entered the portal, plus there could be more opt-outs on the offensive line.

Notre Dame is likely to be without a few key players on offense, but quarterback Sam Hartman is supposed to play. 

I like the Fighting Irish to win big.

PICK: Notre Dame (-8.5) to win by more than 8.5 points


DirecTV Holiday Bowl

No. 15 Louisville (10-3) vs. USC (7-5)

I’d be selling all your USC stock if you even had any leftover from its disappointing seven-win season. USC will be facing Louisville nearly six weeks after its final regular season game, as it’s been off since before Thanksgiving. USC is without quarterback Caleb Williams and multiple other players on offense. USC’s defensive coordinator was fired, and it’s facing opt-outs and portal losses on defense. The Trojans have no motivation to play this game. They have nothing in the tank left to give. The entire program is already looking forward to 2024, and that’s going to cost them in this game. 

The USC brand is strong as its reputation as one of the blue bloods of college football is well-earned. One burden to being a blue blood is you get everyone’s best shot even if you’re having a down season. You don’t sneak up on anyone and every opponent you play takes everything you do seriously. 

If you’re Jeff Brohm at Louisville, this is an outstanding opportunity to continue building on the success of one year at Lousiville. His Cardinals squad played for the ACC championship, and while we’ve often seen the loser in a conference title game struggle, I don’t expect that to happen here. Louisville’s roster is mostly whole for this game, and its high-powered offense will dominate USC’s poor defense. I like Louisville to win big.  

PICK: Louisville (-7.5) to win by eight points or more

Birmingham Bowl

Troy (11-2) vs. Duke (7-5)

Things like motivation and roster availability weigh me heavily toward the Trojans.

Troy appears to have its roster intact for this game, and the Trojans have the motivation to play a Power 5 team in a game just 140 miles from campus.

The Trojans are the Sun Belt champions, and according to local beat writers, Troy’s fans will attempt to take over the city for this game.

On the other hand, the Blue Devils coach, Mike Elko, and some staff members are leaving for Texas A&M.

Duke’s starting quarterback, Riley Leonard, is on his way to Notre Dame, and it’s possible some of the offensive linemen will join him in the portal or opt out of the game.

The Blue Devils finished the season losing four of six. I will take Troy to win and cover.

PICK: Troy (-6.5) to win by more than 6.5 points

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl

Utah (8-4) vs. Northwestern (7-5)

I can’t imagine a team in college football that lost more starts this season to injury than Utah. Not only has it been without its two quarterbacks, but it also lost quarterbacks to injury throughout the season. Utah was without multiple running backs this season. One tight end didn’t play the entire season, and the other barely saw the field. It took weeks for the Utes to play with a whole defensive line. Utah lost its middle linebacker, a starting safety, and so much more. Adding to its roster issues for the Vegas Bowl are the opt-outs and portal players, most of whom are not playing this game. Quarterback Bryson Barnes, who did opt out, will be starting, and his backup is a fifth-string walk-on QB who started the Utes’ final game of the season. All told, Utah’s roster for this game is nothing like they expected heading into the season.  

Northwestern had a magical season. Their head coach was fired shortly before the season, and the Wildcats hadn’t won a game in America in over a season. Things looked dire, but Northwestern battled through the adversity for seven wins this season. The Wildcats are going to relish this opportunity for one more game this season with a team that’s mostly intact. I like the Wildcats to cover and win the game. Remember that over 70% of teams that cover as underdogs of seven points or less win the game outright during bowl season. 

PICK: Northwestern (+7) to lose by 7 or fewer points (or win outright)

Myrtle Beach Bowl

Georgia Southern (6-6) vs. Ohio (9-3)

The Bobcats have so many transfers that the wager here must be on the Eagles. And while you’re not getting the best of the number, this might continue to climb. 

Ohio is without starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke, a wide receiver and two running backs, all lost to the transfer portal. In addition, there are other players already sidelined with injuries, including backup quarterback CJ Harris. So Ohio is rolling with third-string QB Parker Navarro.

The Eagles are healthy. It’s a tad bit of strength-on-strength with Georgia Southern’s offense against Ohio’s defense. The Bobcats were 10th in defensive points per drive, while the Eagles were just above average on offense. 

On the other side is a poor Bobcats offense without any of its best players, so Georgia Southern is the way to go. I’d even be OK laying the moneyline, but I’ll take the 3.5 points.

PICK: Georgia Southern (+3.5) to lose by fewer than 3.5 points (or win outright)

LA Bowl Hosted by Gronk

UCLA (7-5) vs. Boise State (8-5)

The Broncos fired Andy Avalos in early November in what appeared to be a lost season. Interim coach Spencer Danielson led the Broncos to two wins to close out the regular season, plus a surprise rout of UNLV to win the Mountain West Conference championship. 

Danielson was given permanent coaching status and the vibes are high in Boise. However, starting quarterback Taylen Green transferred to Arkansas, and backup Maddux Madsen is out (knee). So the Broncos are going into this game with third-stringer CJ Tiller, who has taken just two college snaps. 

They are playing a UCLA defense that was outstanding this season, finishing sixth in points per drive. However, UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn was hired by USC, their best pass rusher Laiatu Latu opted out and a few starting secondary pieces are in the portal. 

However, against a Boise State offense with a third-string quarterback, I expect the Bruins defense to play well.

But UCLA’s offense was not good this season. It played three quarterbacks and were 76th in points per drive. It scored seven points in two of its past three games and will be down a few portal players on offense.

I have the Under in this game, with Boise State’s offense on a third-string QB and UCLA’s offense being blah for most of the season.

PICK: Under 50.5 points (at time of pick) scored by both teams combined

Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl

California (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (6-6)

I like the Over in this game, with the Golden Bears having a surprising explosive offense at times and the Red Raiders’ ground game being able to run over Cal. 

The Bears will be without offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who went to Baylor to run its offense. Taking over is offensive line coach Mike Bloesch, the former offensive coordinator at North Texas. He knows how to call a game and Cal’s 56th-ranked points per drive offense should move the ball on Tech’s run defense, which is 69th in rushing success rate. 

The Red Raiders have an outstanding running back in Tahj Brooks, who’s rushed for 1,443 yards this season. Cal’s defense is super leaky, finishing 103rd in points per drive. The Bears allowed 63 points to Oregon, 50 to USC and 39 to Washington State in the back half of the season. 

Texas Tech should be able to score on the Bears, even with its quarterback situation up in the air.

PICK: Over 58 points scored by both teams combined 

Geoff Schwartz is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.

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