College Football Bowl Betting Guide: Friday 12/23/22

Can Missouri contain Wake Forest's high-powered offense and pull off an upset?

Bowl season is slowly starting to ramp up. There are two games on Friday and one on Christmas Eve (Saturday) before a week in which there is a larger multi-game slate almost every day. Friday’s two bowls are the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl between Louisiana and Houston and the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl between Wake Forest and Missouri.

Both participants in the Independence Bowl had rough seasons. After winning 11 games a year ago, including a bowl win against Auburn, the Cougars went 7-5 this season. Additionally, two of those losses came to future fellow Big 12 Conference members Kansas and Texas Tech. While Houston limped their way into a new conference, Louisiana limped their way into this bowl game, only becoming eligible after beating Texas State.

Wake Forest is another team that disappointed after a breakout 2021 campaign. Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons went 11-3 last year, losing in the ACC Championship Game to Pittsburgh, and they were ranked as high as 10th in the AP Poll this season before consecutive losses to Louisville, NC State, and North Carolina. Missouri is the epitome of mediocrity; they’ve finished 6-6 (or 5-5 in the 2020 season) in each of the last four regular seasons.

Neither of these matchups makes for appointment viewing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a betting edge to be had. Our model sees value on both spreads.

Note: All college football odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook. Lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. All ratings are out of five stars. Please check numberFire's model to make sure you're seeing the most updated information.

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns vs. Houston Cougars

Louisiana +7.5: 3 Stars

The Cajuns were picked by the Sun Belt coaches to win the conference in head coach Michael Desormeaux’s first season. Instead, they finished 6-6 and were middle of the pack in yards per game on both offense and defense.

That might be deceiving, though; Louisiana has a solid rushing offense when the team is healthy.

Running back Chris Smith was on the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award but missed time in the middle of the season. Smith has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft but will suit up on Friday for the Cajuns. Additionally, Louisiana’s offensive line is eighth in opportunity rate, per Football Outsiders.

Houston is much better against the run on defense, so the running game might not be a major advantage for Louisiana. However, the Cougars have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking 82nd in sack rate, while the Cajuns’ pass protection has been solid, especially on standard downs (i.e. non-passing downs), where they rank 15th in sack rate.

The Cougars are moving to a Power Five conference next season, and even after a mediocre season, it’s easy to see why they’re favored against a Sun Belt team that struggled to get to a bowl.

However, there’s a path to victory for Louisiana. If they can protect quarterback Chandler Fields on early downs so he can spread out the defense, Chris Smith might be able to break off some explosive runs.

This path doesn’t guarantee victory, but our model projects a cover for the Cajuns with a probability of 65.6%, which is good enough for a three-star rating.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Missouri Tigers

Missouri +1.5: 2 Stars

Although the Tigers finished 6-6 after making their way through the SEC gauntlet, they’ve had their moments this year. Missouri almost came away with an upset versus Georgia, holding them to 26 points, the Bulldogs’ second-lowest total of the season.

The Tigers’ defense has often had to bail out a mediocre offense, and their strength is their pass rush. Led by Isaiah McGuire, who is 4th in the conference in sacks, the Missouri defensive line ranks 17th in sack rate and 7th in sack rate on passing downs. During the game against Georgia, the Tigers sacked Stetson Bennett twice and held him to a completion percentage of just 55.8%.

Sam Hartman has arguably been the second-best quarterback in the ACC behind North Carolina’s Drake Maye, and he’s the anchor of a Wake Forest offense that led the conference in points per game. However, according to ESPN’s QBR calculation, Hartman is one of the worst in the country at taking sacks.

If Missouri can put pressure on the Deacons’ backfield, they should be able to come away with a bowl win, which would be head coach Eli Drinkwitz’s first of his tenure. Our model projects a Missouri cover with a 57.2% probability but gives the Tigers a 53.1% probability to win outright.