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2021-22 College Football Bowl Preview: Schedule, best bets, game analysis and more

The holiday season is a time for family, friends, giving, eating and watching dozens of random college football bowl games. PFF is here to get you all ready for the 40-plus bowls, whether you are watching for entertainment, as a fan or as a bettor. Below you will find game-by-game analysis, the biggest storylines and PFF’s best bets where our Greenline product sees an edge.

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Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Toledo Rockets

Friday, Dec. 17 | 12:00 PM EST | ESPN
Spread: Middle Tennessee -10
Total: 50

Toledo’s defense has been the driving force behind their winning record and bowl game berth. The Rockets rank top 15 nationally in team defense grade, expected points added (EPA) allowed per play and success rate against for the 2021 season.

Offense has been the issue. They rank 91st in the FBS in offensive efficiency and are on their third- and fourth-string quarterbacks from the preseason for the bowl game with Nicholas Vattiato and Mike DiLello. Neither has shown a lot of promise, as evidenced by their 63.8 and 48.9 passing grades, respectively, for the season. That mismatch explains the 10-point spread in Toledo’s favor.

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Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Friday, Dec. 17 | 6:00 PM EST | ESPN2
Spread: Coastal Carolina -10.5
Total: 63.5

The Cure Bowl features the highest-graded passer in the country. Yes, you read that correctly. Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall leads the FBS with a 93.0 passing grade this season. That’s a bit concerning for the Northern Illinois Huskies, who rank 113th in the FBS in team coverage grade this season. NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi is going to need to lead his team to success from a passing perspective, but considering he’s earned a sub-51.0 passing grade in five of his last 10 starts, that shouldn’t be expected.


Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers

Saturday, Dec. 18 | 11:00 AM EST | ESPN
Spread: Appalachian State -3
Total: 67.5

Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice has been on a cold streak as of late. He went from earning a 90.2 passing grade across Weeks 1 through 9 to earning a 53.8 passing grade over his past five games. The Mountaineers will need the former version to come back to life in this game against a high-powered Air Raid passing attack. Western Kentucky ranks top five nationally in both passing efficiency and successful pass rate.

Best Bets: Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Zach Kittley has taken the same position at Texas Tech but is expected to stay with the team through the bowl game. Star quarterback Bailey Zappe is expected to play, as are transfer portal bound wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley and All-Conference USA offensive tackle Mason Brooks. While Western Kentucky does have a high-powered offense, Appalachian State ranks 15th in defense, giving up just 20.1 points per game. PFF Greenline’s lean in this game is toward the higher-ranked, defensive-minded Appalachian State — and more specifically, the under, where there's an edge on a line of 67.5.


UTEP Miners vs. Fresno State Bulldogs

Saturday, Dec. 18 | 2:15 PM EST | ESPN
Spread: Fresno State -11.5
Total: 51.5

It remains a mystery what Fresno State’s quarterback situation will be Saturday. Following Bulldogs’ head coach Kalen DeBoer’s departure for Washington, starting quarterback Jake Haener entered the transfer portal. Haener was rumored to be following DeBoer to Washington, where the quarterback originally began his college career, but he ended up withdrawing his name from the portal. Now, it’s unknown whether Haener will suit up for the Bulldogs’ bowl game. If Haener, who owns an 80.6 passing grade in 2021, isn’t the starter, Fresno State could be in trouble.


UAB Blazers vs. BYU Cougars

Saturday, Dec. 18 | 3:30 PM EST | ABC
Spread: BYU -7
Total: 54.5

BYU had its sights set on playing in a semi-major bowl game this season after going 6-1 against Power Five competition and 10-2 overall in 2021, but instead, the independent team landed in the Independence Bowl against UAB. Now, the Cougars are trying to make a statement. Quarterback Jaren Hall has thrived after taking over the starting quarterback job this season, as evidenced by his 89.2 PFF grade in 2021.

The Blazers do sport one of the 10 highest-graded coverage units of 2021, but that’s not to say they aren’t vulnerable. UAB has had a few different hiccups — specifically against Georgia, Liberty and UTSA — that has led them to allow positive EPA per pass play this season. Between BYU’s scheme, a strong offensive line and quarterback Jaren Hall’s mobility, the pass rush hasn’t been a significant factor for defenses going up against the Cougars. That’s a major strength of UAB’s, with edge defender Alex Wright leading the way, so it’s important the backend plays disciplined and rises to the occasion.


Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Liberty Flames

Saturday, Dec. 18 | 5:45 PM EST | ESPN
Spread: Liberty -9.5
Total: 58.5

Malik Willis will get one last showcase opportunity at Liberty with the LendingTree Bowl. Willis is a toolsy player that has NFL scouts dreaming of his potential. With the help of his athleticism and his arm strength, Willis has been one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country. He leads the FBS in both big-time throw rate (10.7%) and rushing grade (93.7). Willis has earned just a 74.9 passing grade for the year despite that rate of highly graded throws, which speaks volumes about his volatility. Playing clean ball against Eastern Michigan would be a good boost for Willis. Considering the Eagles rank 109th in team defense grade for the 2021 season, it shouldn’t be difficult.

JIMMY KIMMEL LA BOWL (Pres. by Stifel)

Utah State Aggies vs. Oregon State Beavers

Saturday, Dec. 18 | 7:30 PM EST | ABC
Spread: Oregon State -7.5
Total: 67.5

There’s no reason to trust either of these two defenses. Utah State and Oregon State rank 96th and 91st, respectively, among the 130 FBS schools in team defense grade for the 2021 season. That’s why the point total is as high as it is. It’s going to come down to which offense can take advantage of those deficiencies, and there’s plenty of reason to believe the Beavers can. Oregon State has surprised on that side of the ball in 2021, ranking 12th nationally in successful play rate.


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