College Football Betting Guide: Thursday 12/30/21

Can Pittsburgh play well enough without Kenny Pickett to beat Michigan State in the Peach Bowl? Where can we find the most betting value on Thursday?

The first New Year’s Six game is upon us, but it’s unlikely to live up to the hype since both Heisman candidates, Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh and Kenneth Walker III of Michigan State, have opted out.

Still, the Peach Bowl should be an enticing matchup between two teams that were amongst the major storylines of this season. Our model isn’t particularly high on either side, but there is some betting value in this game. Besides the Peach Bowl, we’ll look into the battle of the Carolinas in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl for best bets.

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.

Peach Bowl: Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Michigan State Spartans

Pittsburgh +2.5 (-105): 1-Star Rating out of 5

Even without Pickett, the Panthers may still be able to move the ball consistently due to their offensive line, which ranks 18th in average line yards, according to Football Outsiders.

The Spartans without Walker are a different story. Their offensive line ranked 59th in opportunity rate this season, and it's evident that Walker played a huge role in Michigan State’s offensive success.

Michigan State’s offense ranks 27th in SP+ (per ESPN), while Pittsburgh’s ranks 4th, and it is likely that without each team’s best offensive player, Pittsburgh remains the better offense.

Defensively, Pittsburgh ranks 29th in SP+ and Michigan State ranks 38th. The Spartans have a sack rate of just 6.7%, so the Panthers’ backup quarterback, Nick Patti, shouldn’t have to deal with too much pressure.

Pittsburgh has a sack rate of 10.8% (third in the country), though, which doesn’t bode well for Michigan State. Spartan quarterback Payton Thorne won’t have Walker to take some of the attention from the Panthers’ defenders. Pittsburgh won’t have to load the box and will be able to use more defensive backs to cover Spartan receivers.

Pittsburgh is an underdog because they lost the more important position between the two teams. Michigan State still has their quarterback, but the Panthers are balanced enough to win this game.

Our model projects Pittsburgh to cover with a likelihood of 56.0%.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

Under 58.0 (-110): 3-Star Rating out of 5

Our model likes this bet more than Pittsburgh to cover in the Peach Bowl, and it’s easy to see why.

The Gamecocks will be without their most recent starting quarterback, Jason Brown, and their leading rusher, ZaQuandre White. Zeb Noland will start in the place of Brown, but he’s not much of an upgrade except that he’s thrown fewer interceptions this season. South Carolina’s second-leading rusher, Kevin Harris, gained over 100 fewer yards with over 30 more rushing attempts.

South Carolina’s offense was already struggling with their typical starters (ranked 88th in SP+), but they’ll have a tougher time without them against North Carolina.

North Carolina has a prolific offense led by quarterback Sam Howell, who will be playing in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. The Tar Heels should win this game by outscoring the Gamecocks, but South Carolina has been good at forcing turnovers this season, ranking 17th in defensive turnover rate per Football Outsiders. Howell has thrown an interception in four of the last five games, and North Carolina lost in three of those. It’s unlikely that North Carolina loses this game due to turnovers, but one or two forced by the Gamecocks could influence the total score.

This game is likely to stay under the total because South Carolina is missing contributors on a lackluster offense and has the potential to force turnovers on defense. Howell will be the best player on the field and North Carolina should win, but South Carolina will have to turn in a surprisingly proficient offensive performance for this game to go over the total.

Our model projects this game to stay under 58 points with a 65.6% likelihood.