Ben FawkesESPN Staff Writer
Looking to bet on any college football bowls this holiday season? We’ve got plenty of terrific content to help you make your picks at Chalk, including a graphical representation of some key betting numbers for the early bowls, through Dec. 22.
Will Harris: Grambling rallied past two-time defending champion Alcorn State to claim the SWAC crown, while North Carolina Central beat rival North Carolina A&T for the MEAC championship. The Eagles, 9-2, have now won 15 straight over MEAC opponents and have taken at least a share of the conference title for three straight seasons. Grambling (11-1) is, likewise, master of its league, having won 18 straight games in SWAC play. The Tigers are 3-0 all-time against the Eagles, but the schools haven’t met since the 1980s.
Will Harris: On Saturday, New Mexico ran for 428 yards in the first half alone, beating MWC Mountain champ Wyoming to finish 8-4 in the school’s best season since former coach Rocky Long’s penultimate campaign in 2007. The Lobos lost a 45-37 thriller to Arizona at home in last year’s New Mexico Bowl. First-year UTSA head coach Frank Wilson, formerly Les Miles’ running backs coach and top recruiter at LSU, replaced the retiring Larry Coker and led the Roadrunners to a second-place finish in Conference USA West and the school’s first bowl game in just its sixth year of football.
Will Harris: San Diego State, 10-3, clinched the MWC West division early then faltered down the stretch with losses to Wyoming and Colorado State before rallying for a 27-24 win over the Cowboys on the road in the Mountain West Championship Game. Aztecs star RB Donnel Pumphrey needs just 108 yards to surpass Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne as the all-time FBS career rushing leader. Former defensive coordinator and interim head coach Todd Orlando will lead 9-3 Houston into this Group of 5 heavyweight matchup after the departure of Tom Herman to Texas.
Will Harris: It’s a return visit to Montgomery for 9-3 Sun Belt co-champ Appalachian State, who defeated MAC entrant Ohio in a 31-29 thriller in last year’s Camellia Bowl in the former FCS powerhouse’s first bowl game since moving up to the FBS in 2014. Toledo, 9-3, has had four head coaches in eight years but just finished a seventh straight winning season. The Rockets finished second in the rugged MAC West this season and last year beat a ranked Temple team in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Will Harris: Arkansas State began the season 0-4 in nonconference play but rallied for a 7-5 record and Sun Belt co-championship, the Red Wolves’ third league title in four years. Central Florida finished 6-6 under first-year coach Scott Frost a year after turning in a winless season in George O’Leary’s final turn with the program. The Knights play their home games across town in Bright House Networks Stadium.
Will Harris: Southern Miss struggled after losing quarterback Nick Mullens for a late-season stretch but rallied to secure bowl eligibility with a home win over Conference USA West champ Louisiana Tech. Louisiana-Lafayette also gained eligibility in its final game, trouncing rival Louisiana-Monroe to close the season at 6-6. The Cajuns’ only bowl appearances in school history are a quartet of New Orleans Bowl victories from 2011 to 2014. These schools have met 50 times, with Southern Miss holding a 38-11-1 series lead, including a current eight-game winning streak over the Cajuns, the last loss coming in 2008.
Will Harris: Tulsa ended last season — former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery’s first as a head coach — with a 6-7 record and a narrow bowl loss in Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer’s final game. This year, the Golden Hurricane improved to 9-3, finishing second in the AAC West division. The senior-laden Chippewas finished with a disappointing 6-6 record and fifth place finish in the MAC West.
Will Harris: Defensive coordinator Nick Holt will lead two-time defending Conference USA champion Western Kentucky into this game after head coach Jeff Brohm departed for Purdue following the 10-3 Hilltoppers’ 58-44 victory over Louisiana Tech in the CUSA title game. First-year Memphis head coach Mike Norvell built on the momentum of the Justin Fuente era with an 8-4 record and third-place finish in the AAC West. The Tigers are bowling for the third straight year and just the ninth time in school history.
Will Harris: Old WAC and Mountain West rivals unite for the 78th time and first since 2010. Independent BYU acquitted itself very well in coach Kalani Sitake’s first year at the helm, finishing 8-4 with four losses by a combined eight points against a schedule that included six power-league foes who went bowling in 2015, plus Group of 5 heavies Toledo, Cincinnati and Boise State. Wyoming won the MWC Mountain division before falling to San Diego State in the league title game to finish 8-5.
Will Harris: Fourth-year coach Paul Petrino led Idaho to an 8-4 mark and the Vandals’ third bowl berth — first since 2009 — in the school’s final year of FBS play before moving back to the FCS Big Sky conference next season. Colorado State won four of five down the stretch to finish 7-5 in Mike Bobo’s second year as coach. The Rams closed 2015 with an Arizona Bowl loss to Nevada and have now qualified for the postseason for the fourth straight year.