College Football Betting Guide: Tuesday 12/28/21

Can Auburn take care of business against Houston despite losing multiple players in the transfer portal?

We’re now in the heart of the bowl season with five bowls on Tuesday alone.

Our model doesn’t have many picks of three stars and above, but there still is some betting value on this slate. Though the primetime matchup on the board is the Holiday Bowl between UCLA and NC State, the model hasn’t pinpointed any valuable plays for that one.

Instead, we pivot to the Birmingham Bowl, a matchup between Houston and Auburn.

The Tigers have lost a few players to the transfer portal, including quarterback Bo Nix, who won’t play in this game, and the Cougars’ All-American cornerback and returner Marcus Jones has opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.

The other matchup to consider on this slate is the Liberty Bowl between Mississippi State and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders’ interim head coach Sonny Cumbie will coach this game despite having accepted the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech. There are always many moving parts with bowl games like these due to coaching changes, transfers, and opt-outs.

Keeping that in mind, let’s see where the value lies in these two games.

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 after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you are seeing the most updated information.

Birmingham Bowl: Houston Cougars vs. Auburn Tigers

Auburn -2 (-110): 2-Star Rating out of 5

Auburn has been a frustrating team to bet on this season; they performed poorly against Texas A&M in a game featured in this column in early November. The Tigers have lost their last four games, including an overtime thriller against Alabama that they had won until the Tide pulled off an epic comeback.

Now they have numerous transfers who won’t play, and two of their all-SEC defenders, Roger McCreary and Zakoby McClain, are opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Despite all that, Auburn should win this game due to the talent difference between their roster and that of Houston.

T.J. Finley has spent most of this season as Auburn’s backup quarterback, but he was a three-star player out of high school who transferred to the Tigers from LSU. Finley is big, and he has a strong arm that could mean chunk yardage in the passing game for Auburn.

Houston’s quarterback Clayton Tune has been solid all year long, yet he’s played a different level of competition than Finley has in the SEC. Tune was also a three-star player, but he wasn’t being recruited by the likes of LSU and Alabama like Finley.

T.J. Finley held his own against Alabama, and an additional month of preparation and a more susceptible opponent will likely level out the experience difference in the quarterback matchup.

Auburn also has a 1,000-yard rusher this season in Tank Bigsby. Houston has fared well in run defense, especially by their defensive line that ranks 19th in average line yards according to Football Outsiders. The Cougars haven’t faced an SEC running back this season, and Bigsby should challenge Houston’s defense despite their solid run defense statistics.

The key to the game for the Tigers, though, will be how they replace their star defensive players. If the next man up performs well, Auburn will definitely have enough to win against Houston.

Our model projects Auburn to cover the two-point spread with 58.6% likelihood.

Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech +9.5 (-110): 2-Star Rating out of 5

Mike Leach leads the Bulldogs against his former team (which he claims still owes him millions from his last season there), the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Any time a matchup becomes personal, it usually ramps up the entertainment level, and this game is no different. However, Leach might find that covering a spread this large against Texas Tech is easier said than done.

The Raiders are dealing with an aforementioned coaching situation that has Sonny Cumbie as the acting head coach even though he’s accepted another job. However, Texas Tech has a somewhat stout run defense led by linebacker Colin Schooler who led the team in tackles and was named to the all-Big 12 second team.

Texas Tech also spreads the ball out well to the skill players they have on offense. They have five players with at least 15 receptions this year, including three with at least 35, and four players with at least 50 rushing attempts. The Raiders will need a balanced offense to challenge Mississippi State’s defense that ranks 25th in ESPN’s SP+ metric.

Despite those factors, it’s unlikely that Mississippi State is upset in this game. The Raiders’ defense is relatively top-heavy, and they’ll need to score frequently to keep up with the Bulldogs’ quarterback Will Rogers, who is reliable enough to minimize the potential problem that Texas Tech’s run defense presents.

The Raiders are 14th in offensive yards per play according to Football Outsiders, though, so they should be up for the challenge, even without leading receiver Erik Ezukanma, who opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Our model gives Texas Tech a 57.5% likelihood to cover the spread in this game, and despite Mike Leach’s vendetta against the Raiders, their balanced offense should be able to score enough to keep the game close.