New Year's Eve College Football
Tulsa -1 @ Mississippi State O/U 45
Ball State @ San Jose State -9 O/U 64
West Virginia -7 @ Army O/U 41
Tulsa (23 Implied Team Total)
Zach Smith posted game averages of 200 passing yards and 1.5 TD passes over 8 starts. The Tulsa offense struggled mightily in their last 2 regular season games. Smith completed 23 out 55 pass attempts for 334 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INT in those 2 games (CIN/NAVY). If Tulsa is successful, it’ll likely be through the air. Mississippi State was solid against the run but vulnerable via the air. The Bulldogs allowed 255 passing yards per game including 7.43 yards per pass attempt. They were torched for 22 TD passes in 10 games. The senior will likely be the 3rd most popular QB on this slate (at best). The Tulsa offense favored the run (54.9/45.1 run-pass split) and averaged 72 plays per game.
Corey Taylor II will likely start at RB and rotate with Deneric Prince in the Golden Hurricane’s backfield. FWIW, TK Wilkerson is not listed on the bowl depth chart. Taylor II received 19+ carries in each of the final 3 regular season games. He capped off the regular season by running for 102 yards and 1 TD on 22 carries against a very good Cincinnati run defense. That was the 2nd time in 3 games that he cleared 100 rushing yards. Prince is likely to receive 8-12 carries in the bowl game. He’s more of a secondary play. The freshman does possess a ton of speed and cleared 40 rushing yards in 6 out 7 games despite receiving a relatively light workload. Mississippi State limited opposing ball carriers to 125.3 rushing yards per game including 3.57 yards per carry. They allowed 9 rushing TDs in 10 games. I will note that they coughed up 26/192/0 to AUB’s Bigsby and 25/122/2 to MIZZ’s Rountree III in their last 2 games. It’s fair to question whether Tulsa can replicate that success as an American Conference team. All 6 teams playing on Thursday have been good to great against the run this season.
Notable target counts through 8 games: Josh Johnson (62), Keylon Stokes (53), JuanCarlos Santana (50), Sam Crawford Jr. (46), Josh Stewart (12 – 7 games).
The starting WRs are Sam Crawford Jr., JuanCarlos Santana, and Keylon Stokes. Josh Stewart and Josh Johnson are two reserves that see a lot of action as well. Johnson rotates with Stokes in the slot. Johnson averaged 10.0 targets per game over the final 5 games. Despite “not starting” he led the team with 6 TD receptions this season. The junior cleared 57 receiving yards in 6 out of 8 games. Stokes led all Tulsa pass catchers with 527 receiving yards. He had 37 receptions and 2 of those resulted in a TD. He cleared 55 receiving yards in 6 out of 8 games. Santana and Crawford are the perimeter WRs. Santana averaged 5.0 receptions per game over the final 4 regular season games. He posted 30/431/4 this season. Crawford Jr. is a bit of a boom or bust play. He cleared 74 receiving yards in 3 games while recording 41 or less receiving yards in the other 5 games (24/332/1 this season). QB Smith posted a 103.9 passer rating when targeting Johnson, 90.7 when targeting Stokes, 106.3 when targeting Santana, and 73.8 when targeting Crawford Jr. (per Pro Football Focus). In general, Mississippi State struggled with perimeter WRs. Over their last 5 games they allowed the following box scores to opposing WRs: VAN’s Johnson 10/114/0 (perimeter), UGA’s Burton 8/197/2 (perimeter), MISS’ Moore 12/139/0 (slot), AUB’s Williams 3/57/1 (perimeter), and MIZZ’s Chism 6/64/1 (perimeter).
Mississippi State (22 Implied Team Total)
Will Rogers improved significantly during the second half of the season. The freshman QB averaged 323 passing yards and 2 TD passes per game over his final 4 games. He also attempted 36+ passes in each of the last 6 games. Tulsa was pretty solid against the pass this season. They limited opposing signal callers to 194.8 passing yards including 6.23 yards per pass attempt. The Golden Hurricane allowed 9 TD passes in 8 games. Those are legit numbers as they managed to hold UCF’s Gabriel to 330 passing yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT (one of his worst games of the season, attempted 51 passes too) and SMU’s Buechele to 200 passing yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. The Mississippi State offense favored the pass (75.2/24.8 pass-run split) and averaged 70.1 plays per game.
Dillon Johnson and Jo’Quavais Marks rotate in the backfield for the Bulldogs. Marks ran for a season high 70 yards on 12 carries in the season finale (1 TD). He recorded 3+ receptions in 9 straight games (56/238/0 receiving and 59/240/2 rushing). Johnson received 5-8 carries in each of the last 4 games. Like Marks, he’s also an active participant in this passing game (34/144/0 receiving, 41/168/4 rushing). Tulsa allowed a slate high 146 rushing yards per game but limited opposing ball carriers to 3.56 yards per carry. Additionally, they ceded 7 rushing TDs in 8 games.
Notable target counts through 10 games: Jaden Walley (66), Jo Marks (62), Osirus Mitchell (55), Malik Heath (51 – 8 games), Austin Williams (42), JaVonta Payton (38 – 7 games), Dillon Johnson (35), and Cameron Gardner (24 – 8 games).
Malik Heath (X) and Osirus Mitchell (Z) are the likely outside starting WRs with JaVonta Payton and Austin Williams/Jaden Walley starting in the slot WR spots. Walley step forward as QB Rogers favorite target in the 2nd half of the season. Over his last 4 games, Walley posted 7/115/1 on 9 targets (UGA), 9/176/0 on 13 targets (MISS), 8/100/0 on 13 targets (AUB), and 5/129/1 on 10 targets (MIZZ). Mitchell averaged 5.0 receptions per game over the final 4 games. He was held to 53 or less receiving yards in each of the final 8 games. He does possess upside though as he posted 7/183/2 in the season opener. Heath was quiet over the final 2 games after posting 4/35/2 on 8 targets in Game 8. In the last 2 games, he had 3 receptions and 38 receiving yards on 8 total targets. MSU typically rotates through a ton of WRs which isn’t ideal for DFS. Williams had 3+ receptions and 30+ receiving yards in each of the 9 games that he played in this season. Unfortunately, he only cleared 41 receiving yards in 1 game this season. Payton was held under 35 receiving yards in his last 6 games. Tulsa was roasted for 5/146/1 by Cincinnati speedster Alec Pierce (I believe he mans the X-receiver spot for UC which could put Heath in a good spot) in their seasonal finale.
Ball State (27.5 Implied Team Total)
This game will be very popular. The game total is meaningfully higher than the other 2 games and the offensive production is pretty condensed for both offenses. With that said let’s get into the game. Drew Plitt posted game averages of 278.1 passing yards and 2.71 total TDs this season. While he’s not a prototypical dual threat QB, Plitt is mobile and has the ability to make plays with his legs (recorded 38 rushing yards and 3 TDs in 7 games). The senior accounted for 3+ TDs in 4 straight games. The matchup with San Jose State will be one of his toughest challenges this season. The Spartans limited opposing passers to 227.1 passing yards including 6.54 yards per pass attempt. San Jose State allowed 7 TD passes in 7 games. Despite that, I’m guessing he’ll be the second most popular QB on this slate behind SJSU’s Nick Starkel. The Plitt-led Ball State offense scored 31+ points in 6 out of 7 games this season. The Ball State offense favored the run (55.8/44.2 run-pass split) and averaged 78.1 plays per game.
Will Jones and Tye Evans will rotate in the Cardinals backfield. Evans seems like he’s the guy slated for the larger workload as he’s carried the ball 18+ times in 3 out of the last 4 games. Over the last 4 games, he averaged 17.3 carries and 71 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Jones has run for 104 yards on 29 carries over the last 2 games combined (16 carries in Game 6 and 13 carries in the MAC title game, Evans had 8 carries in Game 6 and 18 in the MAC title game). San Jose State was solid against the run this season. They held opposing ball carriers to 111 rushing yards per game including 3.16 yards per carry (both lead the slate). They allowed 7 rushing TDs in 7 games. Personally, I think Ball State may struggle to run the ball and they’ll need to get creative (i.e. run a lot of WR reverses to Hall) offensively. I don’t think they have any issues having QB Plitt throw the ball 35-40+ times in this game.
Notable target counts through 7 games: Yo’Heinz Tyler (63), Justin Hall (63), and Antwan Davis (57).
The starting WRs are Yo’Heinz Tyler, Justin Hall (slot), and Antwan Davis. Dylan Koch starts at the tight end spot. Tyler is a big-bodied WR and is a guy that QB Plitt likes to target in the red zone. The junior had a TD reception in 6 straight games. He had 61+ receiving yards in 6 out of 7 games. Hall is the most dynamic player on the team. The senior cleared 45 receiving yards in all 7 games. He averaged 7 receptions per game this season (49/670/4 this season). In addition to his pass catching duties, Hall also was actively utilized in the running game. He ran the ball 30 times for 231 yards and 1 TD. He received 2+ carries and ran for 17+ yards in all 7 games. Lastly, Davis had 5+ receptions in 6 out of 7 games. He tallied 36 receptions, 408 receiving yards, and 1 TD this season. He’ll be the least popular of the trio. QB Plitt posted a 132.1 passer rating when targeting Hall, 109.2 when targeting Tyler, and 75.8 when targeting Davis. Koch, the TE, had posted 4/19/1 on 6 targets in 7 games.
San Jose State (36.5 Implied Team Total)
In essentially 6 games this season, Nick Starkel posted game averages of 317.7 passing yards and 2.67 TD passes. The former Texas A&M and Arkansas QB gets the best matchup on the New Year’s Eve slate. Ball State was sliced up for 295.9 passing yards per game including 8.22 yards per pass attempt. They were roasted for 13 TD passes in 7 games. The San Jose State offense favored the pass (53.1/46.9 pass-run split) and averaged 65.1 plays per game.
Tyler Nevins and Kairee Robinson handle the RB duties for the Spartans. Nevins led San Jose State with 478 rushing yards and 5 TDs on 59 carries. He averaged 12 carries per game over the final 3 games. The senior topped 100 rushing yards in 2 out of the final 3 games. Robinson ran for 285 yards and 2 TDs on 73 carries this season. He averaged 11 carries per game over the final 4 games. Robinson also tallied 12 receptions for 100 yards (Nevens posted 4/7/0 receiving this season). Wildcat QB Nick Nash is also a threat to steal carries. The sophomore QB ran the ball 36 times for 195 yards and 1 TD this season. Ball State owns the worst run defense on the Thursday slate. They allowed 145.9 rushing yards per game including 3.94 yards per carry. They ceded 12 rushing TDs in 7 games.
Notable target counts through 7 games: Tre Walker (61), Bailey Gaither (58), Derrick Deese Jr. (35), Isaiah Hamilton (18), Isaiah Holiness (14), and Kairee Robinson (13).
Tre Walker, Bailey Gaither, and Isaiah Hamilton are the starting WRs while Derek Deese starts at tight end. Walker cleared 50 receiving yards in each of the last 6 games. He posted 7/78/0 on 11 targets and 7/137/1 on 11 targets over the final 2 games. In total, he posted 38/544/4 in 7 games. Gaither also offers tremendous upside. The senior averaged nearly 6 receptions and 103 receiving yards per game this season. He had 4 TD receptions. Both Walker and Gaither will be chalk on Thursday. Deese drew 13 targets in last week’s Mountain West title game. The senior enters the bowl game looking for his 3 TD receptions in 3 games. He’s a TD dependent play; Deese had 5 TD receptions in 7 games. Holiness and Hamilton are secondary plays. Holiness posted 10/97/1 receiving while also running for 58 yards on 18 carries (only 2 carries over the final 2 games though). Hamilton cleared 40 receiving yards in 3 out of 7 games (high-water mark was 50 receiving yards). He posted 10/167/2 in 7 games. Ball State allowed a 100-yard receiver in 6 out of 7 games. They were generally beaten up by the opposing team’s top WR. While that’s arguable for San Jose State, I’d side with Tre Walker. Both guys are exceptional plays though.
West Virginia (24 Implied Team Total)
Jaret Doege was a bit of a boom/bust player this season at QB. The senior tossed 2+ TDs in 4 games while throwing 1 or less TDs in the other 5 games. He posted game averages of 269.8 passing yards and 1.67 total TDs. The bowl opponent, Army, did not play any Power 5 schools. They did lose 24-10 to Cincinnati and were crushed 38-12 by Tulane later in the season. Cincinnati’s QB Desmond Ridder threw for 258 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT in that game. Army limited opposing QBs to 149.9 passing yards per game including 6.49 yards per pass attempt. They were beaten for 13 TD passes in 11 games. I’m not going to put a ton of stock into those numbers though as they played NAVY, AIR FORCE, and GASO this season (all 3 are option offenses). They also played the likes of Mercer and Abilene Christian. The West Virginia offense favored the pass (52/48 pass-run split) and averaged 76.7 plays per game. The one drawback is that Army’s offense can bleed the clock if West Virginia’s defense doesn’t get a ton of 3-and-out stops on defense.
Leddie Brown was one of the best RBs in college football this season. The versatile RB ran for 945 yards and 9 TDs while also catching 31 balls for 202 yards and 2 TDs. Brown averaged 19.9 carries per game this season. Army allowed 121.2 rushing yards per game including 3.94 yards per carry. They only allowed 5 rushing TDs in 11 games. Despite that, I think he’s the clear RB1 on the Thursday slate. Backfield mate, Alec Sinkfield is likely to receive a handful of carries (78/327/3 rushing and 9/55/0 receiving this season).
Notable target counts through 9 games: Winston Wright (60), Bryce Ford-Wheaton (50 – 8 games), Sam James (48 – 8 games), Leddie Brown (34), Sean Ryan (34 – 8 games), TJ Simmons (28 – 7 games), Reese Smith (17), and Mike O’Laughlin (17).
Bryce Ford-Wheaton (X), Sean Ryan (Z), TJ Simmons (slot), and Winston Wright (slot) are the starting WRs. Ford-Wheaton is expected to play on Thursday despite missing the regular season finale. BFW drew 4+ targets in each of the 8 games he’s played in this season. He cleared 55 receiving yards in 4 out of 8 games (23/365/3 this season). Wright had 3+ receptions in all 9 games. He cleared 125 receiving yards in 2 games this season (44/518/2). Simmons had 4 receptions in each of the last 3 games. He cleared 50 receiving yards in 3 out of the final 4 games. Ryan and James are secondary plays. Ryan piled up 14 receptions for 146 yards on 20 targets over the final 3 games. James was held under 25 receiving yards in 5 out of 8 games (29/273/2). QB Doege posted a team high 133.8 passer rating when targeting Simmons, 110.3 when targeting Wright, 82.5 when targeting BFW, 80.0 when targeting Ryan, and 72.7 when targeting James. Notably in the 2nd half of the season, Army allowed 12/138/2 to UTSA’s X-receiver Franklin and 6/86/0 to Tulane’s X-receiver D Watts (best 2 pass catching games in the 2nd half of the season). That trend would benefit BFW.
Army (17 Implied Team Total)
Tyhier Tyler saw action in 6 games at QB. He only attempted 4 total passes in those 6 games. However, he’s the primary running option in Army’s triple option offense. He averaged an eye-popping 25.7 carries per game over his last 3 games. The sophomore recorded 50+ rushing yards in all 6 games. In total, Tyler ran for 502 yards and 2 TDs on 115 carries. West Virginia was solid against the run this season. The triple option is a totally different beast though so it’ll be interesting to see how they respond especially considering this game was put together at the last minute (I could see WVU struggling which makes Tyler an interesting tournament play). Anyway, West Virginia limited opposing ball carriers to 126.2 rushing yards per game including 3.63 yards per carry. The Mountaineers yielded 8 rushing TDs in 9 games. The Army offense averaged 66.1 plays per game.
Sandon McCoy starts at FB, Tyrell Robinson mans the A-RB, while Brandon Walters starts at the T-RB. The triple option offense is based off reads made by the QB so it’s hard to project out which ball carrier will end up with the majority of carries. However, McCoy racked up 10 rushing TDs in 11 games. He only ran for 250 yards though. McCoy received 8 or less carries in each of the last 6 regular season games. Fellow FB Jakobi Buchanan led all ball carriers (outside of QB Tyler) with 111 carries this season. His carry counts over the final 4 regular season games (most recent last): 10, 18, 3, and 21. In total, Buchanan ran for 474 yards and 6 TDs this season. Robinson led the Black Knights with 7.1 yards per carry. He received 5-8 carries in each of the last 8 games. Walters received 5 carries all season long so he’s not really an option.
Reikan Donaldson and Cole Caterbone are the starting WRs with Chris Cameron starting at tight end. RB Robinson actually led the Black Knights in receiving this season with 6/117/2. Michael Roberts was the only other pass catcher to clear 100 TOTAL receiving yards all season long (7/106/1). FWIW, West Virginia was solid against the pass this season (171 passing yards per game allowed including 6.21 yards per pass attempt. They yielded 12 TD passes in 9 games).