Our Top 5 Picks for Tulane vs. USC, Illinois vs. Mississippi State, More (Jan 2)

Monday marks the last day of bowling before the national championship.

Today’s schedule includes four games, including the Granddaddy of Them All when Utah and Penn State meet in the Rose Bowl. However, we also see the betting value of two other games: Illinois vs. Mississippi State and Tulane vs. USC.

We’ve got two college football writers lined up with the total at the Cotton Bowl, while another is betting on a player backup for Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. So, we’ve got you covered from the first match of the day to the last.

Check out our five best bets for Monday’s college football games below.

Best bets on monday college football bowl

The team logos in the table below represent each of the games the college football team targets for its slate of Monday football games. Click on the team logos for a match below to go to a specific bet discussed in this article.

Illinois versus Mississippi

by BJ Cunningham

Mississippi State’s secondary has been very good this season, ranking 37th in pass rate allowed and 40th in EPA/Pass allowed while having a best coverage score of 19, per PFF.

However, Mississippi State’s biggest problem this season has been its inability to field a rushing pass rush. The Bulldogs are 82nd in sack percentage and 123rd in terms of passing score, per PFF.

DeVito plays better from a clean pocket. When he’s not under pressure, his PFF passing score sits at 86.0, and he averages 7.5 yards per attempt. When he’s under pressure, his PFF passing score drops to 57.0, and his yards per attempt drops to 5.2.

Since Mississippi State doesn’t have much of a pass rush, DeVito should be able to find some success.

Reggie Love III will be the main linebacker in this game, and he’s had a pretty decent season in limited action. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 59 attempts and scored an 83 PFF rushing score. So, the Illinois offense should be fine.

Defensive coordinator Walters left to become Purdue’s head coach. Moreover, the top two secondary players in the nation in terms of yards per pass attempt allowed have already two of their best members – Devon Witherspoon and Sidney Brown – opted out of this game, which isn’t good news against the Mississippi State offense.

Separating the emotions of the game from the actual match, I think the overall is a bit low here. Illinois would face the strongest Power Five offense in the country without its two best secondary players and defensive coordinator. This is not a good recipe.

The flip side is that DeVito is the standout quarterback with a clean pocket, and Mississippi State’s inability to create pass rushers will allow him to break up the secondary. Plus, Love is a very capable running back, so there wouldn’t be a big Illinois down without Brown.

Our overall working grid forecast is 49.9, so I like a value over 45.5 points.

Tulane vs. USC

by Work analytics

The Cotton Bowl should be an absolute barnstormer, especially if Caleb Williams is playing at full strength.

USC has one of the most porous defenses in the country, ranking 125th in rushing success allowed and 115th in passing success allowed. This would be a problem against a Tulane team that is above average in both measures of offense.

However, the big mismatch would be when the Greens cross the 40-yard line on offense, as USC is a 10-bottom team in points per opportunity allowed. This means that Tulane must score touchdowns and not settle for field goals on offense.

Meanwhile, USC is a juggernaut on offense, ranking in the top 10 in passing and rushing success rate. It should be noted that the Trojans will be without two offensive linemen, as well as running back Travis Day and wide receiver Jordan Addison.

I’ll point out the points per opportunity again, as USC is ranked 8th nationally. This is also an area where Tulane struggles, ranking 81st in points per opportunity allowed. Therefore, both teams will score for touchdowns and not settle for field goals.

I expect this to be a high-scoring affair, especially with Williams playing. Tulane will play to prove that this season hasn’t been a fluke and USC will try to take the bitter taste out of its mouth. I’ll take here.

by Patrick Strollo

All indications are that Caleb Williams has been on pace at the Cotton Bowl after suffering a hamstring injury in the Pac-12 Championship game. With Williams at the helm, the Trojans offense will be in excellent hands.

USC is having some personnel issues, particularly with the selection of leading receiver Jordan Addison. In addition, starting quarterback Brett Nealon and guard Andrew Voorhees will miss the game due to injuries.

Addison’s absence away cannot be excused, but the Trojans should be able to overcome their offensive line woes as they face Tulane’s defense that ranks 108th nationally in Line Yards.

The Trojans outperform the Tulane defense in almost every advanced stat. What worries the Green Wave most, however, is its inability to wreak havoc. Tulane ranks 106th in the nation in Defensive Havoc, and with or without Addison, Williams will take advantage of this with downfield shots.

Defensively, USC appears to be at full strength, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Trojans are dubious at best on defense, finishing the season as the 81st-ranked scoring defense by allowing 27.9 points per game.

Tulane, meanwhile, is entering this game fresh from the AAC tournament and at full power without any cancellations.

Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt and the rest of the Tulane offense enter the Cotton Bowl averaging 35.2 points per game. A dual threat caller, Pratt won’t have to rely on his speed as he faces a USC secondary who ranks 115th in passing hits.

My model expects this game to total 66.5 points, and I recommend playing this at 66 or less. Look for Williams and Pratt to turn this into a duel in Dallas where defense comes into play behind the scenes.

Tulane vs. USC

Caleb Williams under 29.5 rushing yards

by Cody Goggin

The last time we saw Caleb Williams on the court, he was suffering from a hamstring injury that caused him to lose almost all mobility in the Pac-12 Championship game against Utah.

While Williams has had a month’s rest and is expected to be healthy enough to play, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s still going hamstring and not leaning on his legs as much.

Another benefit of this bet is the way rushing yardage is calculated in college football. Being sacked is inconsistent with the total rushing yards of players in college, unlike in the NFL. Williams was taken off seven times against the Utes when his scrambling ability was compromised.

USC will also have to deal with some new faces on the offensive line. Center Brett Nealon was ejected from the field in the Pac-12 Championship and will miss this game. In addition, first team goalkeeper Andrew Voorhees will miss the game due to injury.

With starting wide receiver Jordan Addison pulled out of the game, Williams will have a lot of adversity to contend with and could end up taking more sacks because of it.

Even at full power, Williams hasn’t built up extraordinary fast yards this season. He averaged 28.6 rushing yards per game on the year and only eclipsed 40 yards on the ground three times. He has gone under that current total of 29.5 yards six times.

I think with the uncertainty around Williams’ hamstrings and the rotation of the offensive line, grabbing Williams’ flush prop in the Cotton Bowl is a solid bet.

pluck or pluck: Caleb Williams Under 29.5 Rushing Yards

Pennsylvania vs. Utah

by Mike Ianniello

Penn State and Utah will meet in the granddaddy of them all, and both must be very excited about this.

The Utes return to Pasadena for the second year in a row after a heartbreaking loss at barnburner last year against Ohio State. For the Nittany Lions, it will be their first Rose Bowl appearance since 2016, when they suffered a devastating last-second loss to USC.

While each team will lose one key piece on offense (Dalton Kincaid for Utah, Parker Washington for Penn State), these offenses still have enough talent to put up points.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising has been limping down the stretch but should be healthy here. He has two young defenders who have gone up without Taveon Thomas.

Monday will mark the final game of Shaun Clifford’s career, and he should come away with a solid performance against a Utah defense that struggles to create pass rushes. Second leading receiver Mitchell Tinsley and tight ends Brenton Strange and Teo Johnson are all good to go.

The Nittany Lions have two star freshman running backs in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Both averaged over 69 yards per game and combined for 19 touchdowns. Either of these running backs is capable of breaking a home run with any touch.

On defense, both teams are not as elite in facing the race as we are used to seeing it. These perennial defenses rank in the top 25 in the 40s in rushing success rate this season. They also rank outside the top 70 in tackles this year and have struggled to give up the big plays. Utah ranks 110th in the state for explosive defense.

Each team would be without a MVP on defense, as both Penn State linebacker Joey Porter Jr. and Utah linebacker Clark Phillips II both dropped out. Both defenses should be lowered slightly below the best passes of the defenders.

They’ve been 12-4 in the Rose Bowl since 2006. This game is still important to the teams, and I expect to see another high-scoring game here pitting two experienced quarterbacks against defenses that struggle for tackle and are missing their MVP.

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