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Spread Options: College football bowl picks against the spread part 1

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It's the most wonderful time of the year: Bowl season!

From the Bahamas Bowl on Friday to the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 10, there will be 43 postseason games played.

For now, I'm going to focus in on this first batch of eight games on Friday and Saturday to get these bowl picks rolling. Here's what I like from those games. Let's go!

(All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Middle Tennessee

Time: Noon (Friday) | Line: Toledo -10.5 | Total: 50.5

Is this the best game? No. But it’s the first bowl game and it kicks off at noon on a Friday in the Bahamas. You have to bet it, right?

Middle Tennessee barely averages five yards per play on offense, but its defense causes a lot of turnovers (31) and gets a lot of tackles for loss (84). But those defensive numbers haven’t always translated into wins. The Blue Raiders are just 6-6 and the five FBS teams they beat this year have a combined record of 17-43.

Toledo, which has the fewest turnovers in the nation, closed out the regular season by winning four of five. The average margin of victory in those wins was 32.6 points. The loss was a 52-49 shootout to Eastern Michigan. The Rockets have found their QB of the future in Dequan Finn and running back Bryant Koback has topped 100 yards in five straight games.

Toledo hasn’t won a bowl since 2015, Jason Candle’s first season. With so much talent expected back, this feels like a game where the Rockets could roll and carry some positive vibes into the offseason. Plus, MTSU is just 1-4 ATS as a double-digit underdog this year. I'll lay the 10.5.

Pick: Toledo -10.5

Boca Raton Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Western Kentucky

Time: 11 a.m. | Line: App State -3 | Total: 67.5

Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Zach Kittley took a job at Texas Tech, but is sticking around and will coach QB Bailey Zappe and his high-powered WKU offense one last time.

That offense is going to move the ball and put up points no matter who it plays, but the WKU defense has really struggled against physical teams. That was the case against UTSA in the Conference USA title game, and I believe that will be the case again in this one. App State is committed to running the ball with Nate Noel (1,078 yards, 4 TDs) and Camerun Peoples (825 yards, 14 TDs), but can also hit you over the top with QB Chase Brice.

App State is 6-0 in bowl games since jumping up to the FBS level and has won its last three bowls by double-digit points. I like App here.

Pick: App State -3

Appalachian State running back Nate Noel (20) runs during the first half of the Sun Belt Conference championship NCAA college football game in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Appalachian State running back Nate Noel (20) runs during the first half of the Sun Belt Conference championship NCAA college football game in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Fresno State

Time: 2:15 p.m. | Line: Fresno State -11.5 | Total: 51

UTEP last played in a bowl game in 2014 and hasn’t won a bowl game since 1967. After a four-year stretch where they went a combined 5-39, the Miners are psyched to be back in a bowl.

The Miners were 6-1 at one point this year but lost four of five down the stretch. All of those losses were competitive, though, and I’m expecting another feisty showing against Fresno State.

Fresno has had some drama with head coach Kalen DeBoer leaving for Washington and star QB Jake Haener nearly following him there before changing his mind. Haener will be back in 2022 but it’s unclear if Haener will play in this game.

If he doesn’t, the Bulldogs have two inexperienced freshmen as their other options. Even if Haener is out, I believe Fresno State will find a way to score against a UTEP defense that doesn't have the same caliber of athletes.

Pick: Over 51

New Orleans Bowl: Marshall vs. Louisiana

Time: 9:15 p.m. | Line: Louisiana -5.5 | Total: 54.5

If I had to guess, the fact that this spread isn't closer to a touchdown is based on Louisiana coach Billy Napier leaving for Florida. Even without Napier, I like the Ragin’ Cajuns a lot here.

On the heels of a Sun Belt title, UL promoted offensive coordinator Michael Desormeaux to head coach. This is a team with a lot of seniors playing at the Superdome in New Orleans. This is a roster full of players from the state of Louisiana who will want to cap off their careers playing in front of friends and family at an iconic venue.

Marshall hasn’t beaten a single winning team this season. The Thundering Herd have a good offense, but really struggle defending the run. That’s UL’s strength offensively.

Pick: Louisiana -5.5

Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Levi Lewis (1) throws during the first half of the Sun Belt Conference championship NCAA college football game in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Levi Lewis (1) throws during the first half of the Sun Belt Conference championship NCAA college football game in Lafayette, La., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
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