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Spread Options: College football bowl picks against the spread, part 3

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Picking bowl games has been tough as ever this year. With so many opt-outs, transfers and COVID absences, it’s hard to project who is going to be on the field for these games.

Nevertheless, I will carry on with more picks with the hope that none of these games get canceled. So far, I have a 3-4 record in bowl play after going 1-2 in my most recent picks.

These picks cover the remainder of the bowl schedule but do not include the New Year’s Six bowls or the College Football Playoff semifinals. Each of those games will have their own previews (with picks against the spread included) here on Yahoo Sports.

(All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

First Responder Bowl: Air Force vs. Louisville

Time: 3:15 p.m. (Dec. 28) | Line: Louisville -1.5 | Total: 55

There have been a lot of high-scoring games so far in bowl play and I think this could be another. Both of these teams are capable of hitting explosive plays, particularly on the ground.

Air Force is an option team and runs it extremely effectively at 342 rushing yards per game. Louisville, with Malik Cunningham at quarterback, has a pretty diverse rushing attack of its own. As a team, the Cardinals average 5.43 yards per carry, seventh-best in the nation. Cunningham leads the way with 968 rushing yards and is also a very effective passer.

The Louisville defense gives up 4.52 yards per rush. Air Force has been pretty good defensively this season, but hasn’t faced an offense with as much speed and athleticism as Louisville’s. UL averages 6.68 yards per play, which ranks No. 11 in the nation. Air Force has faced only one team this year that ranks in the top 50 nationally in yards per play.

Pick: Over 55

Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State

Time: 6:45 p.m. (Dec. 28) | Line: MSU -9.5 | Total: 58.5

Texas Tech is a program in the midst of a transition. Matt Wells got fired, Sonny Cumbie served as the interim and Joey McGuire is the new coach. TTU was able to get into a bowl game at 6-6 by winning one of their past five games, and Cumbie (now the head coach at Louisiana Tech) will coach the team in this game.

Texas Tech’s defense has been pretty bad for most of the year, particularly against the pass. Mike Leach and Mississippi State are going to air it out. And with Leach’s personal history with Texas Tech, he won’t hesitate to run up the score on an inferior team. Texas Tech is playing freshman Donovan Smith at quarterback and he won’t have leading receiver Erik Ezukanma with him. TTU is going to play hard, but I don’t think the Red Raiders will be able to keep up over 60 minutes.

Pick: Mississippi State -9.5

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS - NOVEMBER 6:  Will Rogers #2 talks with Head Coach Mike Leach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs on the sidelines during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Bulldogs 31-28.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Mississippi State QB Will Rogers talks with head coach Mike Leach during a game against Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia vs. Minnesota

Time: 10:15 p.m. (Dec. 28) | Line: Minnesota -4.5 | Total: 45

Minnesota has a clear identity on offense. It’s going to run the ball and try to beat you deep with play-action passes. That’s a recipe that should work against West Virginia. The Gophers are a much more physical team along the lines of scrimmage. And that’s on both sides of the ball.

Minnesota’s defense has been solid all year and will be a tough matchup for West Virginia. WVU is a team that has had its struggles offensively. In this one, WVU will be without running back Leddie Brown. Brown has accounted for 69.3% of WVU’s rushing production this season. Brown’s absence will put pressure on quarterback Jarret Doege, who struggles with turnovers.

Minnesota also has the advantage of having Kirk Ciarrocca back in the fold. Ciarrocca was on staff at WVU this year but was brought back to Minnesota after the regular season for his second stint as the Gophers’ offensive coordinator.

Pick: Minnesota -4.5

Cheez-It Bowl: Iowa State vs. Clemson

Time: 5:45 p.m. (Dec. 29) | Line: Clemson -1.5 | Total: 44.5

This isn’t the stage Clemson usually plays on, but the way the Tigers’ season played out makes me think they will be motivated to win this game. If there was a late-season disappointment that knocked Clemson down to this bowl game, there could be a letdown factor. Instead, I think Dabo Swinney will have his team ready to close out this season with a sixth consecutive victory. That goes for the coaching staff too, as two new coordinators will make their respective debuts.

Iowa State is a good team that had a disappointing season, but I am a big believer in this Clemson defense. The fact that Breece Hall isn’t playing for the Cyclones adds to that equation. This should be a competitive game, but Clemson just has more talent and can find a way to win.

Pick: Clemson -1.5

Outback Bowl: Arkansas vs. Penn State

Time: Noon (Jan. 1) | Line: PSU -2.5 | Total: 47.5

Arkansas is playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2016. Sam Pittman has turned around this program in short order and you know the Razorbacks will be fired up to face a program like Penn State in a New Year’s Day bowl.

Penn State’s got a pretty good defense, but some of the reports on the specific defensive personnel potentially not playing for PSU in this game does not lend itself to defending the type of offense Arkansas employs. On top of that, the Penn State offense struggles to run and relies way too much on Sean Clifford. I’ll take Arkansas getting points.

Pick: Arkansas +2.5

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman against Missouri during an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman against Missouri during an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
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