Happy Bowl Season to you and yours. Here we have Part 1 of a two-part series, a two-manned look at the bowl games from Saturday 12/19 through the day after Christmas. The second installment will take us from the 12/28 games through the end of bowl season. As a Pear Treat, the second man on the bowl coverage this year is Joseph A Burbank, number one in your heart and number two in total phones owned. I’m not here to talk about the past, but it’s worth mentioning the 10 Pear Locks from last bowl season went a robust 2-8 ATS. Never forget. Joe and I took different approaches for ATS glory, with Joe attacking every bowl with an official pick, while I tried to be a bit more controlled and pass on the games I really didn’t have a feel for. For those who end up feeling TL;DR, our list of picks is at the bottom. We can take a look at the standings once Part 2 comes out. Let’s do this!
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Arizona vs. New Mexico
Albuquerque | University Stadium
12/19, 2 p.m. on ESPN
WB: Arizona -9.5, getting 56% of the bets, which isn’t a very high number for a big favorite. Arizona getting healthy and QB Solomon is probable from a concussion. Arizona was a dark horse Pac 12 South candidate this year, and never recovered after getting their doors blown off at home vs. UCLA in late September. They went 3-6 in conference play with several embarrassing losses. I couldn’t name you one single New Mexico player. They overachieved at 7-5 this year, winning three out of their last four as enormous underdogs (Utah St, Boise St, Air Force). The game is in New Mexico, but these early bowl games rarely fill up. I would not lay these points with an underachiever by any means, but I don’t have enough feel for NM to make them a strong pick. It almost reeks of too easy, since Zona has been so bad this year – basically, how dare they be two score faves? Lean NM, but not an official pick.
JB: I don’t know much about New Mexico either. But what I do know is that they are getting ten points to kick off the bowl season, on ESPN, at (virtually) home. Common opponent in ASU, NM lost by 24, AZ recently lost by 25. I don’t think it would be wise to trust Arizona to cover because of how bad they were this year so I’m going to root for the Lobos and take the points. New Mexico +9.5.
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
BYU vs. Utah
Las Vegas | Sam Boyd Stadium
12/19, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
JB: What happened to Utah? Starting 6-0 with wins over Michigan, Oregon, Cal, and ASU. Ended season 3-3 with three unimpressive victories over Oregon State, Washington, and Colorado. BYU on the other hand started 2-2 (Nebraska/Boise Wins, Mich/UCLA Losses – not easy by any means) finished 7-1 with only loss to Missouri (bad offense, but still SEC). The 20% of bets on BYU tells me people are forgetting how poorly Utah ended the season. Random fact: BYU has lost their last 2 bowl games after winning 5 or 6 straight. Numbers telling me to take BYU but I like them anyways, hot team against a cold team, in state bragging rights up for grabs. Would try and get this to 3 but definitely taking the points here. BYU +2.5.
WB: I saw some books open this at -3, so to come off the key number while getting such a majority of action indicates some smart money on BYU. It’s rare to find such a legitimate rivalry in a bowl game like the Holy War here, and Boyd Stadium in Vegas should be filled. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall will leave the Cougars for UVA after the game. Coaching changes are always a major factor in bowl prep, and one can really make the case both ways – “the team will win for their coach” or “the team will be mentally checked out/unprepared”. Utah was flying high to start the year, getting as high as #3 in the nation before losing the Pac 12 South on a tiebreaker to USC. Utah trucked Colorado State in this game last year. BYU lost their star QB in their opener, and has scrapped together a solid season at 9-3. Their only losses were at UCLA (by 1), at Michigan (31-0), and at Mizzou in Arrowhead (20-16).
I agree with you. I was high on Utah most of the year, but they disappointed down the stretch and I don’t expect them to bring their A intensity here, being put in a December 19th bowl game after being in Pac 12 title (and playoff) contention for most of the season. Star RB Devontae Booker is doubtful, and I’d be surprised to see him force it and suit up. He’s the Utes’ best player, and without him I want no part in what I anticipate to be the unmotivated unit. I’m going to hold out as long as I can for the +3 to pop back up, but BYU is an official play at +2.5.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Ohio vs. Appalachian State
Montgomery, Alabama | Cramton Bowl
12/19, 5:30 p.m. on ESPN
WB: App State currently -7.5 with 55% of action. Another game in which I cannot name many players, except Ohio’s QB is named Vick. App State has built a quality program and went 10-2 in their second (or third?) year in FBS. They lost the Sun Belt title with a home loss to Arkansas State. They had a handful of blowout victories, with 8 of their 10 wins coming by double digits. This is their first bowl appearance since moving up to the FBS. Ohio went 8-4 out of the MAC and finished with 3 straight wins, including their finale at Northern Illinois. I hate the hook here, but I have little doubt that App State wins. If you’re looking for motivation, you won’t find much more than a school’s first ever bowl game. The MAC was a disaster in the bowls last year, and you’ll see from my picks that I am banking on that to continue. MACtion is a piece of work, but it seemed last year that when the teams got into bowl season and mixed it up with other conferences, they couldn’t pass the test. App State -7.5 early and often to cap an 11 win season.
JB: I like App St here as well; I think they cover even with the hook. Line is moving in their favor so it’d be nice to see this drop to 7, but bets now are about 48/52 so looks like it’s going to stay around 7.5 because I can’t imagine heavy bets in one direction. Ohio just isn’t that great of a team, watched them play a little bit in MACtion and their record seems to indicate they are better than they really are. Not 100% sure but pretty sure N Illinois had MAC West locked up going into the final game against Ohio so maybe game didn’t matter as much? Regardless I’m in on App St -7.5.
San Jose State vs. Georgia State
Orlando | Orlando Citrus Bowl
12/19, 7 p.m. on CBSSN
JB: This might be the worst bowl game of the season but here we go. SJSt only got in because there weren’t enough 6-6 teams to fill the bowl season (finished 5-7). Georgia St finished season with 4 straight wins to go 6-6 and are playing in their first bowl game ever. SJSt seems like the more balanced team; both defenses have almost identical stats. I don’t like going with the public (74% on the dog Georgia St) but they have a better QB and they are the hot team. When in doubt just take the points. Georgia St +3.
WB: Ah yes, the world renowned, historic Cure Bowl. It’s not the Christmas season without it. Grand total of players I can name in the Cure Bowl: 0. I agree with everything you said. Not only is San Jose State 5-7, but they aren’t even from a good conference. There are plenty of better 5-7 teams than SJSU (Texas? Mizzou? ECU? Okay, maybe not plenty), but I’m pretty sure SJSU got the nod due to conference affiliations and number of bowl entrant requirements. In my opinion, SJSU should be laying 3 points to practically no one that is bowl eligible. Meanwhile, GSU, like App St, is a n00b to the FBS with this being their first bowl appearance. They went a combined 1-21 in their first two seasons in the Sun Belt. Since I need to make my decision as this is hitting the presses, GSU’s status as a popular pick (74% of bets) makes me stay off them as an official play, but I will be watching the numbers as Saturday nears. If 3.5 shows itself, I will probably jump in.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech
New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome
12/19, 9 p.m. on ESPN
WB: The Sun Belt champion Red Wolves come in as 2 point dogs, even though they’re riding an eight game win streak, sweeping their conference schedule while averaging 48.6 points per game in Sun Belt play. Louisiana Tech finished second in the CUSA West, and their only losses after mid September were at Mississippi State and their finale at home vs. Southern Miss. They are led by ex-Gator QB Jeff Driskel. LA Tech should be playing with some fire after being embarrassed in their homecoming game, while Arkansas State has been playing in a different gear for the last two months since QB Fredi Knighten returned from injury. With a weird spread like 2, I am going to pass on picking a side and go with Over 67.5. If Arkansas State is slowed down, it will be the first time in months (37+ in all eight conference games), and I don’t think they will run away with it either, meaning I see this one being a race to 50.
JB: Not many bets in on Ark-St (33%). I feel like I need to get behind a Sun Belt team and I like this matchup for them. LTech looks like a team that plays to their opponent (close against WKU/KSU, barely beat UTEP). I haven’t seen either of these teams play but in a high scoring game like this one should be I’m going to take the team with the difference maker at QB, the public is against, and the points all day. Ark St +2. Not to mention I think home field advantage is overrated in bowl games since teams have plenty of time to travel and the fans will travel with the team. Just because the game is in Louisiana doesn’t mean Arkansas won’t have any fans there. Is there a site to see % of tickets sold to each fans?
WB: I don’t know if there is a site that says that, but if you want to be a hero you can call the schools’ athletic departments and ask. If you do that, let me know how it goes. When judging a crowd advantage I like to hit up Google maps first (in this case, game is in Louisiana but LT campus is 350 miles away while Ark St is 450 miles away – travel commitment pretty even), while also trying to guess what fan base is more likely to make the effort to get there (i.e. = which program does the game man more to?). If you Google “XYZ Bowl tickets” you may find some noteworthy tidbits, like this one that reinforces our BYU opinion in the LV Bowl above.
Miami Beach Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. South Florida
Miami, Florida | Marlins Park
12/21, 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
JB: I wish I was going to Miami earlier because I can’t wait to see this game. Doughty (WKU) is one of the most talented QB’s out there, 4500 yds 45 TDs and 7 INT on the season to win Conf USA and my NCAA survivor. Is the American sneakily one of the best (top to bottom) conferences out there? 8 teams bowl eligible. Competition is great. South Fla with only two division losses to talented teams in Navy and Memphis. I haven’t seen much of South Fla play but I am giving the edge to WKU in this game because of Doughty and besides the loss to LSU they have been steamrolling teams since week 3. I think the home field advantage for South Fla will make South Fla a popular underdog pick and that might be why the spread is only 3, but I believe in WKU. WKU -3.
WB: I agree, this one is going to be a cracker. I don’t like that more of the public is on USF, but it’s relatively close to 50-50. What USF has been doing to both good and bad teams down the stretch is something I cannot pass up. I know Doughty is the best player on the field, but I think USF’s balanced offense and steamrolling momentum is enough to warrant a play on the Bulls plus the points. USF +3.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Akron vs. Utah State
Boise, Idaho | Albertsons Stadium
12/22, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
WB: Utah State has built a solid program over the last half decade, and a big part of that has been senior QB Chuckie Keeton. Keeton was injured early this season (the third straight season he has suffered a serious injury), and managed to return for the team’s final two games. Now, Utah State coach is not saying who will start the bowl game between Keeton and Kent Myers. I have to imagine it will be the senior, with a high likelihood that both players get snaps. Akron, on the other hand, is in only their second bowl game since moving to D-1 in 1992, so motivation should be sky high for the Zips. They boast the best defense in the MAC. Both teams are from northern climates, but the Aggies are only 300 miles from home, while the Zips need to travel 2,000 miles to Boise. Utah State should have a decided crowd advantage as Keeton plays his final game. For that reason, I will go against the new blood motivation factor of the Zips and take the Aggies -6.5. I’m guessing it stays close and low scoring for a while, but the better team pulls away while Akron can’t get their offense going. I’m thinking USU 27-10 or something like that, so official play on USU -6.5 (see below) while the under 48.5 seems right, but I’m not going to get greedy.
JB: I don’t know about this one. Utah St has been in some ugly games all year. If they can put together a clean game I think they can easily cover because they have better talent than years past like you said. I just don’t think they have been playing well against teams with good defenses all year so I’m going to take the points in what I expect to be a low scoring weird game. I’m going to pick Utah St to win 22-16. Akron +6.5.
WB: After some thinking, I’ve come around on my Utah State confidence here. Love the “meaningful program player riding off with a win” narrative, but I can’t assume that means a TD or more victory. Akron should be one of the hungriest of all the bowl teams, as their lack of program success should keep this one close. I did not realize Akron had the #3 rush defense in FBS. So I’m going to officially take the Zips. Go Zips go, bark Zips bark.
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl
Toledo vs. Temple
Boca Raton, Florida | FAU Stadium
12/22, 7 p.m. on ESPN
JB: I feel like I’ve been on the wrong side of Temple for the 2nd half of the season. Team just hasn’t been the same after losing to ND, finishing 3-3, but with a win over Memphis (note: Memphis had lost their second straight the week before on the road – a 1 point loss to Houston after being up two scores going into the 4th quarter that more or less clinched the American West for Houston – then traveled to Temple and got crushed. I mention this because Toledo and Memphis are comparable teams but the circumstances were way different in the Memphis game earlier —defending my Toledo boys). Toledo was in a log jam in the standings for the MACtion championship game, losing out to NIU. Only 22% of the bets are on Toledo. I think people think of Temple and the team that gave ND a run for their money, not the team that finished 3-3. I’m picking Toledo because the public has it wrong! Toledo +1.5.
WB: This is one of the games that I have done my biggest about face since the matchups and lines came out. You’re right that Temple has had a pedestrian second half, since the Notre Dame game. At 3-3 since that game, the biggest split has been on the defensive side of the ball, at home and away from Philadelphia. In the three home games (vs. bowl teams ND, Memphis, UConn), they’ve gone 2-1 while allowing 13 ppg. On the road, they’ve gone 1-2, allowing 36 ppg. This begs the question, with their bowl game being in Florida, far away from both campuses, is the issue playing/staying away from Philly, or playing in front of a more hostile crowd?
Statistically, the only matchup that looks to be uneven is the Temple rush game (90th) vs. the Toledo rush defense (11th), so Temple will likely have to throw to win. My first instinct was that Temple would put a nice ending on a breakthrough season with a bowl win, and the Owls definitely have the advantage with coach Matt Rhule facing off against an interim (Toledo HC left for Iowa State). But something doesn’t feel right here, and I hate to be amongst the 80% if I don’t have to be. I am going to pass here with a lean to the Owls, and I’ll enjoy one of the best matchups Week 1 of Bowl Madness has to offer.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium
12/23, 4:30 p.m. on ESPN
WB: Boise -7.5 and receiving two-thirds of bets. It was an uncharacteristically losing season for the Broncos, going 8-4 and finishing 4th in the Mountain West. I imagine the preseason expectations in Boise were to be the Group of 5 representatives in the New Year’s Six games, not the Poinsettia Bowl. What I just wrote constitutes exactly what I would be looking to fade – EXCEPT – did you SEE the MAC championship? Northern Illinois won their division for what seems like the 10th straight year, however, by the time they got to the title game, they were down to their true freshman, 4th string QB, and he was as bad as you would expect a 4th string MAC QB to be. I simply don’t think I have the stomach to back the Huskies and their 4th string guy against a talented Broncos defense. The one saving grace for Boise is that their QB is also a freshman, but not a 4th string one, and in my mind, a freshman in his first bowl game is more likely to play with some heart (see Rosen, Josh later) than some upperclassman would after a disappointing season. No data to back that up, but it seems like reasonable logic. I pass, as I want nothing to do with making a confident decision on this game. I struggle to see a way NIU wins outright, but no one has gone tout picking favorite MLs.
JB: I watched the MAC championship and NIU looked awful. Completely forgot that they had 3 QBs go down. They almost resorted to the Wildcat or 5th string redshirt freshman who would have had to lose a year of eligibility. Loll. I cannot pick NIU in this game. Their only points in the MAC Ship were a pick 6 and one good drive. I am confidently picking Boise St because NIU is an absolute dumpster fire and any bowl eligible team should truck them. Boise St -7.5.
Georgia Southern vs. Bowling Green
Mobile, Alabama | Ladd-Peebles Stadium
12/23, 8 p.m. on ESPN
JB: Bowling Green. MACtion champs. Georgia Southern you may remember as the Sun Belt team that almost upset Georgia. Both teams can put up points. BG has an interim head coach for this game. I don’t really think of that as a huge deal because as you said earlier you could look at it as a positive or a negative so I’ll just ignore that for this game but I wanted to make sure it was mentioned. I think BG played their best game against a solid NIU team in the MAC championship (UPDATE: “Just started looking at the NIU game and read your take. Completely forgot about a 4th stringer starting…and pretty sure he got hurt and they almost had to put in a redshirt freshman and make him lose a year on the bench because they had no one else! Pretty sure they ran the wildcat for a play. But yea, NIU scored on a long pass and a pick 6 against BG. Yikes. Still going to go with BG. One dimensional teams with a month to prepare I think can be managed. GS has no passing attack at all.) I don’t really think GSU is going to surprise anyone here. This is going to be a high scoring game but I think BG has more firepower and can cover by two TDs and just get more stops than GS. BG -7.5.
WB: Bowling Green most certainly comes in as the more known commodity. High flying offense, statistically impressive quarterback, plenty of primetime MACtion exposure.
I’m taking the underdog. While BGSU is the #3 passing offense in FBS, Georgia Southern is the #1 rushing attack. Clash of styles is an understatement. Four GASO players had over 90 carries, with the most statistically impressive being Matt Breida. Admittedly, the majority of Breida’s eye-popping game logs come from September to mid-October, but I am expecting the option attack to control the game flow vs. an average BGSU rush defense that has not faced an option team all season.
Any time you back an option team, you have to hold your breath that your guys don’t get buried/solved early, but thems the risks. You mentioned that BGSU’s coach had left for Syracuse, but GASO’s bolted as well. However, in my internal spin zone, I’m going on a hunch that it is easier for an interim to coach an option team than to prepare one to face an option team. That is a FACT. GASO +7.5, throw away the key. Irrationally pumped for this game.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan
Nassau, Bahamas | Robinson National Stadium
12/24, Noon on ESPN
WB: Talk about a game that I know absolutely nothing about. The two things that come to mind here are a) last year’s inaugural Bahamas Bowl was the wackiest of the season, with CMU coming back from 35 down in the fourth to lose by one to WKU (but cover the +3), and b) MTSU is the school that had players ejected in their bowl game two years ago against Navy, for playing supestotes dirty. Those are the things I remember, and neither have anything to do with this game. A glance at the stats shows that both teams are in the top 20 in passing, so if it breaks right, this could be a barn burner like last year’s game. The fact that MTSU’s season ending run is against loser teams makes me think WMU is the better team here, and they are where I lean. But this is another game that I don’t know a single player. I lean favorite and over, but officially pass, and hope that I can keep this restraint as the game is set to kick off on Christmas Eve day.
JB: I know nothing about MTSU. Apparently they played out of conference games against Bama, Vandy, Illinois and almost beat Vandy and Illinois. So they have that going for them. I actually watched two Western Michigan games this season (is that sad? I like to think its dedication) and they looked pretty solid. They played Ohio St and Mich St earlier in the season and didn’t embarrass themselves. They actually tied for 1st place in the MAC West, and ESPN says they have a “future NE Patriots receiver” in Dan Braverman who caught 103 passes this year. They had the 3rd best attendance in the MAC, so maybe lots of fans will be making the trip to the Bahamas, bringing some Popeyes with them. So I’m going to hold my breath and go with W Michigan. MACtion baby. Western Michigan -3.
San Diego State vs. Cincinnati
Honolulu | Aloha Stadium
12/24, 8 p.m. on ESPN
JB: It wouldn’t be bowl season without SDSU and Cincinnati in the Hawaii bowl. I love how it’s a Mountain West team and then Pac-12 or Conference USA. I get having a .500 Pac-12 team, but where does Conference USA come from? Giving the boys from the South/Midwest a vacation?
SDSU won the Mountain West reeling off 9 straight wins in pretty impressive fashion behind a top defense in the nation (+19 turnover margin and only letting up 19 pts/game). Cincy won the games they were supposed to, and lost the games they were expected to lose (Temple, Memphis, BYU, Houston, and South Fla) in the BRUTAL American Conference. Cincy has a pretty good offense with 5’9 179 Shaq Washington taking on an Edelman slot receiver role. I read that SDSU plays a 3-3-5 defense which should be able to contain Cincy’s passing attack. There will be no Belk Bowl repeat here. SDSU +1.5.
WB: Cincinnati seems to fill the role of average team with a pretty good offense and a not so good defense. Like you said, they lost to the 5 quite good teams on their schedule. They posted wins over three bowl teams, but two were quite weak (UConn, Tulsa), while Miami FL was in their final weeks of the Al Golden experience. San Diego State had a solid season, an unexpected run to the Mountain West title. They have a good program and good coach in Rocky Long. They pound the ball (15th of 128 in rush ypg), while Cincinnati ranks 94th in rush yards allowed (even worse, 104th, when sorted by average allowed per carry). Sometimes it’s that simple, and this is one of those cases. Give me the grinders versus the more finesse attack. The fact that the Cincy QB is currently away from the team on a personal issue is just one more reason to like SDSU. SDSU +1.5.
St. Petersburg Bowl
Connecticut vs. Marshall
St. Petersburg, Florida | Tropicana Field
12/26, 11 a.m. on ESPN
WB: Forgive me. The day after Christmas, 11 am – the St Petersburg Bowl is the prime time to degen, but here we are again, with me leading the discussion for a bowl that I have zero clue about either team. A UConn DB is high on the NCAA interceptions list. There’s that? Marshall finished a distant second to WKU in the CUSA East, losing three of their four matchups with bowl teams. They weren’t equipped with the same explosive offense we’ve been used to from Rakeem Cato’s Marshall squads of recent memory. UConn, on the other hand, may be the worst team in the bowl field, finishing 6-6 in large part to a home upset of Houston when Houston QB Greg Ward Jr did not play. The win ruined Houston’s perfect season, and is without a doubt the Huskies best result of the season. I think their second best game would probably be a 9-6 loss at Mizzou. So on that note, Will, you are better than betting on this game, don’t do it, come on. Lean UConn, because as I just said, they are the worst team out of the 80 bowl teams, so why not. PASS. Good riddance, St Petersburg Bowl.
JB: I’ll tell you what I won’t be doing the day after Christmas and that’s watching this bowl game. Ok maybe I’ll have it playing in the background while I make breakfast but that’s it. I don’t really know what else to say here other than Marshall was able to put up a decent amount of points this season. I’m going to pick the favorites here simply because they both have ok defenses and Marshall’s offense is significantly better than UCONNs. UCONN trying to be like BC and have more points allowed per game than points scored per game. Yikes. . Marshall -4.5.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Miami vs. Washington State
El Paso, Texas | Sun Bowl
12/26, 2 p.m. on CBS
JB: Remember when Miami lost to Clemson 58-0 and they were 4-3 and left for dead in the ACC with this as their remaining schedule: @Duke, Virginia, @UNC, GT, @Pitt. Difficult road games and winnable home games. They went 4-1 (editor’s note: should have been 3-2 if not for that final play vs. Duke debacle). Their offense and defense are nothing special (PF: 31.5 PA: 28.8 – which also happens to be identical to Wash St). This is just a team that has been finding ways to win. Interesting stat: 7/9 ACC teams are underdogs in the bowls. Washington St has been a surprise, with the talent and hype surrounding just about every other team in the Pac-12 this year. Lot of solid teams coming out of the Pac-12 (10 Bowl eligible. I expect to be talking about Colorado next year). QB Luke Falk 4th overall in NCAA in passing yards (Wash St: 1st in Passing, last in Rushing per game in NCAA). It’s going to be interesting to see if Miami can stop their passing attack. 80% of bets on Wash St as the 3 point favorite. I hate to go with the majority of votes but I just don’t think Miami’s defense will be able to stop them enough to win the game. Wash St 45-31. Wash St -3.
WB: I do remember that Clemson slaughter fondly, since I had Miami +8 and it just missed. Falk missed the Apple Cup when Wazzu was pasted by Washington. He is probable, but I imagine he plays. Also with positive reports from a local site I just read is WR Gabe Marks, injured against Washington. Listed as doubtful, the report from two days ago states “during todays off day, whispers of a possible return to the field for [Marks] started to get louder and louder. Reports have emerged that Mark’s ankle injury that he sustained in last month’s game against Washington might not be as serious as many believe”. So that good news for Wazzu. Season statistics show it is a weird game, as both squads rush offenses and defenses are well below FBS averages, with, as you mentioned, Wazzu’s rush attack last in FBS in yards per game. They’re actually not last in yards/attempt, they just don’t run, ever (87 less attempts than 127th FBS team).
I am going to go against you here, fade the public, and take the Hurricanes. Like you mentioned, they’ve been playing much better ball since firing Al Golden, and they’re not short on athletic ability. If they can somewhat slow down the Wazzu pass attack, I expect Brad Kaaya and a slightly more balanced offense to have a good shot at the upset. I’ll make Miami +3 official, while personally waiting to see if it goes any higher. If Marks is announced as playing, it very well might.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Washington vs. Southern Miss
Dallas | Cotton Bowl
12/26, 2:20 p.m. on ESPN
WB: Washington has the #1 ranked defense in the Pac-12, and a freshman QB in Jake Browning who has had a good but not great first season (16 TD, 10 INT, negligible rushing stats). Myles Gaskin is a strong RB, but SoMiss ranks 34th against the run, so it is a plus unit. Washington has two true impressive wins, at USC when Sarkisian was still boozing on the sidelines, and a 49-3 crushing of Arizona. Smashing Wazzu without Falk in the Apple Cup doesn’t overly impress me.
Southern Miss QB Nick Mullens balled out for six straight weeks against inferior competition (20 TD, 5 INT) before crashing down to earth in the C-USA title game to WKU. The Eagles led 21-7 in the second quarter, but WKU ended on a 38-7 run to win going away.
Southern Miss has the decided travel advantage (400 miles to 2,000), so while I don’t expect them to have a real crowd edge, I don’t think UW fans will jam the place from the Pacific Northwest.
I came into bowl season with the following mindset and rudimentary plan of attack: “The Pac-12 was the strongest top to bottom conference all season. 10 of the 12 teams could be categorized as some level of good, with only Colorado and Oregon State not becoming bowl eligible. Even Colorado was competitive, with one score losses to UCLA, USC, Utah, and Zona. I find it to be hypocritical that when SEC teams beat up on each other, the narrative is ‘oh that conference is so competitive and strong’, but when other conferences produce a two loss champion, it’s ‘because there are no elite teams’. Therefore I will look to back the Pac-12 in bowl season”.
Unfortunately, the Pac-12 has been matched up with lesser conferences in 5 of their 10 bowls, resulting in being favored in 9 of 10 bowls, including being considerable favorites in many. This is one of those games. I would have much preferred to test my “Pac-12 is superior” theory in bowl games vs. Power 5 teams in which the Pac-12 was near a pickem.
Instead, I will go against my Pac-12 theory here, and take the points. There is a possibility that Washington shreds the SoMiss defense like warm butter, but I think the dog here has the QB advantage which should be enough to at least hang on for back door dear life. SoMiss +8.5.
JB: I want to back Southern Miss here, but I just can’t do it. A 9-4 team that had one win against a team with a winning record, Louisiana Tech. Washington’s defense got them a bowl berth not allowing anyone to score more than 34 on them (let up 30+ points to Utah, Stanford, Cal – good company there). I just can’t see Southern Miss scoring more than 20 on this defense. And this 8.5 spread stinks. Why is it just lingering between the 7 and 10 range? I will trust your Pac-12 theory and go with the Huskies. Washington -8.5.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Indiana vs. Duke
Bronx, New York | Yankee Stadium
12/26, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
I think we should go to this bowl game next year. Scheduled between Xmas and New Years could easily go down (with a Foxwoods stop) stay the night and head back and not miss any family obligations. Just an idea. Wish it was this year because this is an interesting matchup. Indiana boys almost upset Ohio St earlier this year and that triggered 6 straight losses: Ohio St, @PSU, Rutgers (55-52 shootout), @Mich St, Iowa (heartbreak non cover 8 pt loss), and Michigan (2OT loss). Not exactly bad losses by any means and they did this without their stud RB Jordan Howard who got injured in the Ohio St game and missed PSU and Rutgers. He only 11 carries against MSU then monster performances against Iowa (22/174/2TDs) and Michigan (35/238/2, +1 Rec TD). To say a few of these games could have gone a little different if he stayed healthy is an understatement. QB Nate Sudfeld has been carrying this team all season with no standout receivers, a sieve for a defense and Howard missing 3 full games and seeing limited action in another 3. I believe all signs point to him playing but it will need to make sure closer to the game. Duke has had a similar season, 4 straight losses and a win at Wake Forest to finish 7-5. They do not give up much on the ground, but QB’s have been able to throw on them. Duke has the better defense by far but the best unit on the field is the Indiana offense. All signs point to Indiana to take this game in a shootout as Sudfeld should be able to do what he pleases.
BUT WAIT! When we look at some numbers, ESPN Power Index rating gives Duke a 60% chance to win the game. Only 17% of bets on Duke with no change in the spread. As much as I like Sudfeld and Indiana I am going to pick Duke because I can’t ignore these numbers and Indiana’s defense is the worst unit on the field. Indiana hasn’t really blown anyone out (Maryland they were down 21-3 in the first and up 30-28 in the third before they ran away with it). I think this will be a close shootout and if Duke can get a couple stops I think they can win. Duke +2.
WB: The long con take, love everything about it Joe. Gotta keep the people on their toes every now and then.
I agree that we should go to the Pinstripe Bowl, that would be great fun. Maybe Buenerfache would host us. I also agree with most everything you’re saying about Indiana. Howard is their best player, the second consecutive monster RB they’ve churned out. I’ll be honest, I thought he was much more of a “probable” for this game than the reports I am now reading indicate. Any times you combine the phrases [returning from knee injury] and [weighing NFL prospects], I immediately think playing is less of a priority than staying healthy.
Indiana showed a downright refusal to close games this season – that 7 point loss to OS, a total collapse to Rutgers, a 5 point late deficit to MSU that ended ballooning to 26, the double OT loss to Michigan where they allowed a 4th down TD to tie it in regulation – it’s a wonder these guys even rallied to make the bowl game. Playing Maryland and Purdue to close certainly helped.
While I agree Indiana’s defense is the worst unit in the match, I do want to say one thing in support of them. They rank 128th of 128 in passing yards allowed per game. Simply awful, the absolute worst. But when you rank the teams my passing yards allowed per attempt – they become 93rd out of 128. Still not good by any means, but not utterly abysmal. It shows they faced a ton of throws all season and the yards just piled up.
Duke losing four out of five to close (with a tight win vs. Wake, which is basically a loss) is ugly. It seems to be two teams on different trajectories.
And for my BUT WAIT – even if Howard is to miss the game, which I’m guessing he will – how about this, which broke yesterday: “Duke will be without arguably its best player Dec. 26 in the Pinstripe Bowl against Indiana as ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash has been ruled out.”
What scares me most of all is that I am on the public side at 83%, but the public isn’t always wrong 100% of the time. Give me the Hoosiers to end the season on a high note. Indiana -2, official.
Camping World Independence Bowl
Tulsa vs. Virginia Tech
Shreveport, Louisiana | Independence Stadium
12/26, 5:45 p.m. on ESPN
WB: Here we have a major clash of styles, as Tulsa ran the most plays per game in all of FBS this season, while VA Tech has never been confused for an explosive offensive attack, at least since the Vick days.
The downside of Tulsa, and the reason they are the biggest dog in all of bowl season, is the defense. They rank 124th against the pass and 119th against the run in FBS, holding opponents to less than 24 points once in 12 games, while allowing 34+ seven times. Their defense is a disaster, no bones about it.
The question – does Virginia Tech have the offense to capitalize on this in a blowout? VT was without QB Michael Brewer for roughly half their season, but they went 3-2 without him. The spread and total project this final score to be 38-24 VT, a score that the Hokies only reached twice this season in regulation, vs. FCS Furman and dumpster Purdue.
Both schools faced 6 bowl teams this season, and both went 1-5. Just like any time you take the points with a big underdog, you risk feeling dumb if you get the doors blown off, but I don’t see how I can lay two TDs with an uninspiring offense. I like Tulsa to move the ball with some success, and the Hokies to carry Frank Beamer off as a non-covering winner. VT 42-35 or something like that. Tulsa +13.5.
JB: I agree with you here. Virginia Tech just loves playing in close games, 6 of them this year decided by less than 4 points. I like to think of these bowl games as NFL playoffs, if they are going to give you 10+ points — take them. Tulsa’s defense is horrific sure, but Virginia Tech only broke 40+ points 3 times all season (with one 4OT loss there, and 2 wins against dumpster fire teams). I’m taking the points and hoping Tulsa can put points up quickly and hold on. Tulsa +13.5.
Foster Farms Bowl
UCLA vs. Nebraska
Santa Clara, California | Levi’s Stadium
12/26, 9:15 p.m. on ESPN
JB: UCLA has to be pissed about landing Nebraska in their bowl game. UCLA could have won the Pac-12 South if they beat USC the last game of the regular season. They lost, and now play 5-7 Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl. Ouch. Two of the most talented conferences (10 Pac-12 and 9 Big 10 teams going bowling) so both are no strangers to playing tough competition all year. UCLA has a balanced offense, decent defense and should be able to play anyone outside of the top 10 competitively. Also worth it to note they have an all time great kicker in Ka’imi Fairbairn who just won the award for best college kicker.
Nebraska has won at least 9 games in each of its last 7 years so this year was definitely disappointing. Disrupting Michigan States season temporarily was nice (MSU still made it in though) and if Nebraska fans want to hear something positive (or frustrating) here is the total number of points they lost by in their 7 losses: 31! Take away an awful 10 point loss to Purdue and they lost 6 games by 21 points. Losing by a field goal in every one of their losses is tough as they could have easily been a 7-5, 8-4 team here. There’s not much to be said about them, they play classic Big-10 football with no standout athletes.
I think a lot of people are going to get caught up on the records here and pick UCLA, especially getting the juicy line at 6.5. They played back in 2012 in a back and forth game where UCLA won 36-30. I think this will be a similar game and predict that Fairbairn kicks a 47 yd field goal to win 35-32, signs a Levi’s jeans sponsorship on the spot and gets carried off the field to live in Foster Farms glory forever. Nebraska just has that lingerability, Nebraska +6.5.
WB: The question here, like the Boise game, is one of motivation. UCLA has the better players, the better quarterback, and has had the better season. But like you said, they were a couple wins away from the Rose Bowl, and now find themselves at Foster’s Farms. Disappointment? Perhaps.
You’re absolutely right – Nebraska could have easily been better than 5-7. Close games left and right. 4-1 in games decided by 2+ scores, 1-6 in one score games. But let’s clear a few things up: 1) The win over MSU was as lucky as they come. The ref decided that one as much as Tommy Armstrong. 2) The overtime loss to Miami in September included a 23-point 4th quarter comeback to tie the game. I refuse to call that anything more than “would have been an undeserving miracle”. 3) The 28-20 loss to Iowa was technically one score, but come on. They were not a deserving team. They trailed by 11 until a FG with one minute left.
There were some rat results, like the BYU Hail Mary in Week 1, but I’ll stop short of calling this team woefully unlucky. They made their bed; they need to sleep in it. 117th in the country in turnovers, with 26, including 4 in the Iowa game. Iowa protected the ball this year, Nebraska didn’t. That’s why the Hawkeyes were a stop away from the CFP, and the Huskers are 5-7. At some point, turnovers need to be considered as a preventable occurrence, not an instance of bad luck. UCLA has faced plenty of QBs better than Tommy Armstrong this year; I’d be surprised if he can make it through without making one or two meaningful mental mistakes.
On the other side, Josh Rosen is a future stud and Paul Perkins is a talented RB. The Big Ten may have the better top tier talent, but I’m going back to my Pac-12 theory. Rosen treats his first bowl game with the focus it deserves, and the Bruins simply outclass and outperform the Huskers. UCLA 38-20. UCLA -6.5, official.