In this article I give six recommended plays for the slate of eight Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Within the six recommendations, three are “Paying Up” plays (top-five salaries at their positions) and three are “Digging Deep” plays (non-top-five salaries at their positions).
Dec. 31 – Jan. 1 BOWL GAME SLATE: 12 PM ET
Paying Up: Greg Ward, Jr. (Houston): $7,700
Ward is fairly valued as the slate’s fourth-most expensive and productive quarterback, but he is also very comparable as a scorer to the slate’s highest-salaried players at the position, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, who are $900 and $800 more expensive, and so Ward can be thought of as an arbitrage play on the slate’s premium quarterbacks. Additionally, if Ward’s two injury-impacted games against Memphis and Connecticut are factored out (since he barely played in those games), Ward is the slate’s most productive quarterback on a points-per-game basis, averaging 228.3 yards and 1.5 touchdowns passing and 96.9 yards and 1.7 touchdowns rushing per contest.
Houston is a seven-point underdog to Florida State, so Ward should be involved as both a passer and runner for the duration of the contest. Additionally, even though Houston has an implied team total of only 24.25 points, he is so crucial to the offense that, were the Cougars to score only three touchdowns, Ward would probably have two of the touchdowns. Finally, the possibility exists that the Cougars could exceed their implied total. Only once in his 11 full games has Ward scored fewer than 23 fantasy points or have the Cougars scored fewer than 33 points. For instance, in Houston’s final game of the regular season, the Cougars scored only 24 points against Temple’s stingy defense — and Ward still had 33.3 fantasy points.
In the Peach Bowl, Ward has a good shot at passing for at least 200 yards, rushing for at least 50 yards, and scoring three touchdowns.
Digging Deep: Chad Kelly (Mississippi) – $7,000
Kelly is almost a must-play quarterback in this slate. He is the second-most productive quarterback but is available for only the seventh-highest salary at the position. In only two of 12 games all year has he not scored multiple touchdowns in a game, and in seven of 12 games he has scored at least three touchdowns. Additionally, he leads the team in touchdowns rushing, providing him with a solid production floor. On the season, Kelly has scored fewer than 22 fantasy points in only 25 percent of his contests, and he has scored at least 30 points in half of his games.
Maybe most importantly, Mississippi is a seven-point favorite over Oklahoma State and has a slate-high implied team total of 37.5 points. Given the importance of Kelly to the offense, he should be heavily involved throughout the game as both a passer and a runner. Oklahoma State is only the 85th-ranked team in the FBS at allowing points to opposing teams. Mississippi should have little problem reaching their implied team total.
In the Sugar Bowl, Kelly has a good shot at passing for at least 275 yards, rushing for at least 25 yards, and scoring three touchdowns.
Paying Up: Derrick Henry (Alabama): $8,600
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott are all good “Paying Up” options, but I can’t quit Henry. The most decorated player of the 2015 college football season, Henry has scored a touchdown in every game this season, and he leads the FBS with 339 carries and 1,986 yards rushing. In his 10 games against Power Five opponents, Henry is averaging 29.9 carries and 0.9 receptions for 183.9yards and 1.7 touchdowns per game. In only one of those 10 games has Henry failed to rush for at least 125 yards, and only once in those contests has Henry not touched the ball at least 23 times. In those 10 games, Henry has scored fewer than 22 fantasy points only once, and he has also scored at least 30 points six times.
Alabama is a 10-point favorite over Michigan State, which should provide Henry with positive game script and enable him to see regular carries throughout the matchup. Additionally, even though Alabama has an implied team total of only 28 points, Alabama’s offense runs through Henry and he should have the opportunity to score multiple times, given that he accounts for over half of the team’s offensive touchdowns. Additionally, since the game is being played in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium, the Crimson Tide should have a significant home field advantage. With Alabama playing in a win-or-go-home contest, the odds are very good that the Crimson Tide will look to control the clock and overpower Michigan State by giving the ball to the team’s best player at least 25 times.
In the Cotton Bowl, Henry has a good shot at totaling 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Digging Deep: Wayne Gallman (Clemson) – $5,500
Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd, Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, and Houston’s Kenneth Farrow are decent “Digging Deep” options, but Gallman is a strong play. He is the seventh-most productive running back in the slate while also being only the 11th-most expensive player at the position. In the 10 games Gallman has played against Power Five opponents and Notre Dame, he has averaged 21.3 carries and 1.8 receptions for 131.1 scrimmage yards and 0.8 all-purpose touchdowns per contest. He has rushed for over 100 yards in seven of those 10 games, scored touchdowns in seven of the 10 games, and totaled at least 12 fantasy points in nine of the games.
Clemson is a four-point underdog to Oklahoma, so Gallman could potentially experience negative game script as a runner, but he is also a good receiver out of the backfield and even had four receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in the ACC Championship Game against North Carolina. OU has a good defense, but still allows 41.3 carries for 149.2 yards and one touchdown per game, which is more than enough for Gallman to be productive. Finally, Clemson could have a home field advantage in the contest, since the game is in Miami.
In the Orange Bowl, Gallman has a good shot at rushing for 100 yards, catching a couple of passes for 20 yards, and scoring a touchdown.
Paying Up: James Washington (Oklahoma State): $6,500
Washington is less expensive than Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller, and Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell, but he is in their pricing tier and is every bit the receiver that they are. In his nine games against Power Five opponents, Washington averaged 4.9 receptions for 107.1 yards, 1.1 touchdowns, and 23.9 fantasy points per game. He surpassed 80 yards receiving in six of the nine games, had at least one touchdown in six of nine, and scored at least 25 fantasy points in six of nine. In only one of those nine games did Washington have fewer than four receptions.
Oklahoma State is a seven-point favorite against Mississippi, which should result in beneficial game script for Washington throughout the contest. Also, Oklahoma State has the slate’s fifth-highest implied team total with 30.5 points, the highest total of any underdog. Mississippi is more vulnerable to the pass than the run, allowing 255.1 yards and 1.9 touchdowns passing per game. With the positive game script, a good implied point total, and his strong production to date, Washington should be targeted consistently throughout the game.
In the Sugar Bowl, Washington has a good shot at having five receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Digging Deep: Calvin Ridley (Alabama): $5,500
Ridley is the slate’s seventh-most productive wide receiver on the season and eighth-most expensive player at the position, so he looks like a slight discount, but Ridley is actually a better value than he seems. Ridley didn’t become Alabama’s lead wide receiver till the fourth week of the season with WR Robert Foster’s injury, and since then he has produced like one of the slate’s top-five receivers. In his eight SEC games as the lead receiver, Ridley averaged 6.8 receptions for 89.9 yards, 0.4 touchdowns, and 19.1 fantasy points. In those eight games, he has never had fewer than five receptions, and he has surpassed 85 yards receiving five times.
Alabama is a 10-point favorite over Michigan State and has an implied team total of 28 points. As Alabama controls the ball, Ridley should have plenty of opportunities to accumulate receptions and yardage on extended drives. Additionally, since becoming the team’s primary receiver he has led the Crimson Tide in touchdown’s receiving, so if Alabama has a passing touchdown in this game, the odds are decent (though not particularly high) that he will catch it. Finally, the game is in Arlington, so the Crimson Tide should have a home field advantage.
In the Cotton Bowl, Ridley has a good shot at having at least six receptions for 80 yards. His odds of having a touchdown are about even.