College Football Betting Guide: Thursday 12/31/20

Thursday's action is missing a marquee matchup or New Year's Six bowl, but there are still some bowl games that present good betting value according to our model. Casual bettors might not be too excited by the Armed Forces Bowl or the Liberty Bowl, but the die-hard college football bettors will likely tune in anyhow, as there is money to be made. Our model projects value on two teams outside the Power Five conferences, which will make for some intriguing action for college football fans on Thurday.

numberFire has built comprehensive algorithms to pinpoint the bets with the highest probability of returning money, whether you are betting on the total, the spread, or the moneyline. For those new to numberFire, we use a five-star system to show which bets you should be targeting for any given game. Stars represent how much you should risk on a wager relative to what you would normally bet.

For example, if you would normally bet $110 to win $100 on a -110-spread wager, if we give a 3-star ranking, we suggest risking three times that amount: $330 to win $300. Here are the best bets for this weekend with guidance from our model.

Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you are seeing the most updated information.

Armed Forces Bowl: Tulsa vs. Mississippi State

Tulsa -2.5: 3-Star Rating out of 5

In a normal year, bettors might look at this matchup as easy money with an SEC team getting points against a Group of 5 team, but as with so much else in 2020, it isn’t a normal year. Tulsa is a top-25 team, even after a loss to Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game, due to the strength of their defense. The Golden Hurricane defense is sixth in the country, according to ESPN’s FPI, and led by a top NFL prospect at linebacker, Zaven Collins. Meanwhile, Mississippi State has struggled on offense this season, and the Bulldogs lost seven of their last nine games after a big win against LSU to open the season.

The SEC West wasn’t as strong as it has been in the last few years, and the Bulldogs couldn’t finish higher than sixth. Mississippi State has a decent defense, but they just haven’t been able to score, which explains their rank of 99th on offense in FPI. This presents a major mismatch for Tulsa, and as long as they don't stagnate on offense, they should be able to win the game by shutting down the Bulldogs.

Our model projects Tulsa to cover with a 65.02% probability, netting bettors a 24.10% return. Tulsa has failed to cover the spread only once this season in a close call against East Carolina. Even in their two losses -- to Oklahoma State and Cincinnati -- the Golden Hurricane made the games close. Most bets have been placed on Tulsa, according to oddsFire (58% as of the time of writing), and bettors should consider jumping on board the Tulsa train before it leaves the station, and the line moves past key number three.

Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Army

Army +6.5: 2-Star Rating out of 5

Ironically, Army is playing in a bowl game other than the Armed Forces Bowl, and they have their work cut out for them against the Mountaineers’ stingy defense. West Virginia has the 14th-ranked defense, according to ESPN’s SP+ metric, and they’ve allowed the fifth fewest yards per game this year. However, the Knights have allowed even fewer yards per game, ranking second behind only Wisconsin. This matchup may be determined in the trenches, as the Mountaineers are led by the defensive linemen Darius Stills and Dane Stills, who are amongst the top NFL prospects at their position, per CBS Sports.

West Virginia has been better against the pass than the run, and despite having an advantage up front, they may have trouble containing Army’s triple-option attack, which is different from anything the Mountaineers have seen all year. Ultimately, West Virginia is favored in this game because they’re much more talented, but Army has had success with their system this year, closing the regular season with a three-game win streak, which includes wins against both of its fellow military schools, Navy and Air Force.

Army is projected to cover the spread with 60.46% likelihood, according to our model, which would net bettors a 15.40% return. Although the spread at NCAAF odds is on the wrong side of a key number for Army backers, oddsFire is a great resource to shop around for the best line. Bettors should be encouraged to find a sportsbook where they can get the extra half-point on the Black Knights.