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How to Watch: Top games for the first week of bowl season

A full slate of Saturday football is ahead of us.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Football Championship-Boise State at UNLV Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

A full slate of college football returns on Saturday for the first round of bowl games happening across the country. Despite being pre-Christmas contests, there are some intriguing matchups between Group of Five teams that were near the top of their conferences. One conference champion will even get a shot at a former top-25 team.

Here are the games to watch in Week 1 of bowl season courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

UCLA Bruins vs. Boise State Broncos

  • Time: 8:30 p.m.
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 16
  • TV: ABC
  • Location: Inglewood, California
  • Weather: Covered - Sofi Stadium
  • DraftKings Odds: UCLA -4, O/U: 49.5, ML: UCLA -180, Boise +150
  • Best Bet (23-18-2): Boise +4

Both teams have had roller coaster seasons. Chip Kelly led the Bruins to a 4-1 start, ascending to the No. 18 team in the country. But after a 3-4 finish and multiple issues at quarterback, rumors began swirling Kelly could be relieved of his duties. To this point, he is still the head coach, but eight players have already entered the transfer portal.

Boise State had a similar story with an opposite conclusion. The Broncos struggled at the beginning, leading to the firing of head coach Andy Avalos after a 5-5 start. Longtime assistant Spencer Danielson took over and Boise State won its final three games, including a 44-20 blowout of UNLV in the Mountain West Championship. The Broncos will also be without their starting quarterback, as sophomore Taylen Green decided to transfer to Arkansas after putting up 20 total touchdowns this season.

In this spot, I like the Broncos more because I think they have a lot more to play for. UCLA is essentially playing at home after what feels like a lost season, and Kelly may be coaching his last game with the program. On the flip side, Boise State gets to travel to the big city with a chance to take down a Power 5 opponent.

Kelly is 2-4 in bowl games and it’s hard to imagine him or his team having much motivation. SP+ ranks UCLA No. 38 and Boise State No. 41. That’s a pretty tight margin for a spread of four points. Give me the Broncos and the points, potentially pulling off an upset.

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks vs. Boise State Broncos

  • Time: 4:30 p.m.
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 16
  • TV: ABC
  • Location: Orlando, Florida
  • Weather: 71 degrees, cloudy
  • DraftKings Odds: APP ST -6.5, O/U: 44.5, ML: MIA-OH +200, APP ST -245
  • Best Bet (23-18-2): APP ST -6.5

The public really likes App State in this position, and there are quite a few reasons why I am leaning with them.

First off, Miami’s offense is one of the worst in college football, ranking 107th per SP+. The RedHawks also just lost quarterback Aveon Smith, who led them to the MAC Championship over Toledo with 109 passing yards and 99 rushing yards. Henry Hanson, who has thrown only five passes in college, will get the nod.

Secondly, App State’s offense is one of the best, ranking 24th in offense per SP+ rankings thanks to quarterback Joey Aguilar. He threw for 3,546 yards this season with 30+ touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

Miami’s defense was the reason it won the MAC title, but has only played one team with a top-35 offense this season, per SP+, and it was Miami (FL) in Week 1 where the Hurricanes won big, 38-3.

Last but not least, the Mountaineers have been elite in bowl games since entering the FBS. They are 6-1 in postseason play since entering Division I and suffered their first loss to a really good Western Kentucky team in 2021. They have been playing good football of late, taking down a previously undefeated James Madison just a few weeks ago, and the defense has improved throughout the course of the season.

I just don’t see how Miami keeps this close with a backup quarterback and a defense that has inflated numbers because of poor opponent play. I’ll be laying the points with the Mountaineers at anything less than a touchdown.

New Mexico State Aggies vs. Fresno State Bulldogs

  • Time: 4:30 p.m.
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 16
  • TV: ESPN
  • Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Weather: 46 degrees, partly cloudy
  • DraftKings Odds: NMSU -4, O/U: 51, ML: NMSU -192, FSU +160
  • Best Bet (23-18-2): NMSU -4

Fresno State got a tough pull playing this game in New Mexico, but it also kind of earned a rough matchup like this one. The Bulldogs were 1-7 against the spread down the stretch and lost their last three games outright. They were outscored 100-53 in contests with San Jose State, New Mexico and San Diego State, as they controlled their own destiny in the Mountain West and flopped miserably.

To make matters worse, head coach Jeff Tedford will not be on the sidelines due to ongoing health problems. There will be a new signal caller in Tim Skipper, who previously coached the linebackers for the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile, New Mexico State won seven of its last eight games to round out a 10-4 season in Conference USA. The Aggies also fought tooth and nail into the fourth quarter with undefeated Liberty, but allowed 14 late points in the conference title to lose to the Flames for the second time this season.

The Aggies stunned Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the penultimate week of the season, and are a staggering 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games. I’m riding with New Mexico State, essentially playing a home game in Albuquerque and playing some piping hot football down the stretch.