College football bowl games 2018: Four Pack of picks, predictions for the first Saturday

Can you smell it in the air? Bowl season approaches, and that means we've only got a few more weeks left to make money on the college football season before she vanishes for eight months.

This Saturday kicks off the season with five bowl games, and while that's less than the customary six picks I provide to you each week in The Six Pack, I couldn't let you go into the weekend without my advice. So I've got an abbreviated set of picks for you just for Saturday's games, and then The Six Pack will return next week for that week's slate of games.

Let's go bowlin'.

Lock of the Week

North Texas (+7.5) vs. Utah State: The Aggies will be playing this game under an interim coach, but as The Action Network wrote about earlier this week, that doesn't have as significant an impact on a team's ability to cover as you might think. Since the 2005 season, there have been 58 bowl games with one team serving under an interim coach. Those teams are 27-30-1 ATS.

So that's not why I'm picking the Mean Green to cover here, though I'd be lying if I said it wasn't playing somewhat of a factor. I mean, it's not just Matt Wells who has left. He took both the team's coordinators and six assistants, and while they're supposedly helping out with the game plan, I don't know what kind of impact they'll have on the game itself. And even if that weren't the case, I think this spread is too big. I'd have Utah State as a favorite of 3.5 points at most in this matchup at a neutral site, so if I'm getting not only the touchdown but the hook as well, I'm taking the Mean Green. Utah State 31, North Texas 27

Power Five Dog of the Week

Arizona State (+5) vs. Fresno State: I've been a fan of Fresno State this season, and not just because it went 9-4 ATS. It's been a good team all season long, and it won the Mountain West because of it. Still, while it's dominated the Mountain West, for the most part, Fresno State has struggled when facing stronger teams. Using S&P+ ratings, the Bulldogs have played five top 60 teams this season. It is 3-2 in those games, with two losses coming on the road against Minnesota, and at Boise State in their regular season meeting.

This line opened with Fresno State as a 3.5-point favorite and it's climbed since it was announced that Arizona State's N'Keal Harry wouldn't be playing in the game. He's a big loss, but I'm not sure he alone is worth a point and a half to the spread. Even if they aren't at full strength, I'm more inclined to trust the Arizona State team that's been battle-tested by the more difficult schedule this season. The fact that none of the Sun Devils' five losses have come by more than a touchdown and is 5-2 ATS as an underdog this year. Fresno State 27, Arizona State 24

Upset of the Week

Louisiana (+3.5) vs. Tulane: These teams are similar in a lot of ways, even if they're different stylistically. Both teams feature offenses that are explosive (according to S&P+'s explosiveness measure, Tulane is 5th nationally while Louisiana ranks 7th) and both have defenses prone to allowing big plays (Louisiana is 85th, Tulane is 113th). What leads me toward the Ragin' Cajuns here is that while both are explosive offenses, Louisiana has been more consistent on offense this season than the Wave. It's also reached this point having played a much more difficult schedule than Tulane with games against Mississippi State, Alabama, and Appalachian State twice.

Bowl season is a time ripe with upsets, and I see one on the horizon here. Louisiana 31, Tulane 24

Directional Battle of the Week

Georgia Southern (-3) vs. Eastern Michigan: Bowl season has not been kind to the MAC, nor to anybody betting on MAC teams. Since the 2012 bowl season, MAC teams are only 14-21 ATS in bowl games, and I don't like this matchup for Eastern Michigan. Eastern's strength defensively is against the pass, and that won't have much value for them against a Georgia Southern team that runs the option. Eastern Michigan faced Army earlier this season, which also sports an option attack, and Army rushed for nearly 300 yards against it while dominating time of possession. I think Georgia Southern can find similar success.

Further tilting the field in Southern's favor here is that it is much better in special teams, and its offense is far more reliable in the red zone. Georgia Southern converted 92.5 percent of its red zone possessions into points this year, which ranks 5th in the nation. Eastern Michigan's 77.6 percent red zone conversion rate ranks 113th. So when picking an Eagle to back, pick the one from Georgia here. Georgia Southern 28, Eastern Michigan 17

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So which teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations and what confidence ranking do you need to assign to every game in your pools? Visit SportsLine now to see the advanced computer model's confidence ranking for every 2018-19 college football bowl game, all from the model that has nailed almost 70 percent of its straight-up bowl picks over the last three seasons.

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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