December 18, 2014 Louisville, KY. (Analyzed Sports)
Welcome to the inaugural bowl pick column for the website. Every year it seems we get more inundated with bowls games and we are up to a record 39 this year (including the first bowl, Bahamas Bowl, outside of the US and Canada since 1937). I hope to bring a different angle to each game and maybe a bit of betting advice…if you are into that sort of thing! Just a quick betting aside, the team with the minus behind their name is giving points. Meaning they are favored by that many points according to odds makers. Just keep that in mind! Without further adieu, here is Part 1 of my 2 part series of bowl picks:
New Orleans Bowl: Nevada (-1) vs Louisiana-Lafayette
Two offensive minded teams kick off bowl mania. Nevada has one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country in Sr. Cody Fajardo (2,374 yards with 18 TDs and 997 yards rushing). He has the Nevada pistol attack living up to its relentless nature.
LL has a Sr. QB of their own who has steadied the ship in his last 8 games (8 TDs vs 2 Int), but the leader of the Ragin’ Cajun attack is Sun Belt player of the year Elijah McGwire (1,165 yards rushing and 14 TDs) and his bruising backup Alonzo Harris (737 yards rushing and 12 TDs) who comes in at 6-1, 238 lbs.
Nevada has gone bowling 8 straight years and is 2-6 straight up and 3-5 against the spread. LL is making its 4th straight trip to the New Orleans Bowl and they have won and covered all three trips so far. I like the “home” field advantage for the Ragin’ and start the season off with a slight upset.
Louisiana-Lafayette 33, Nevada 30
New Mexico Bowl: Utah State (-10) vs UTEP
Utah St. has lost 9 starters since the beginning of the year and is on its 4th-string QB in dual threat, true freshman Kent Myers who is 4-1 since taking over. Look out for WR/PR Jojo Natson,who is the only player with multiple returns (3), rushing (3) and receiving (2) TDs for the year. Utah St. will rely on its ball-hawking defense to help slow down the UTEP attack.
The Miners have a decent offensive attack (28.7 PPG) and are 2nd in the nation in time of possession. I tend to look past time of possession as a good barometer for a team, especially with the high-paced offenses of today’s college football. Their offense runs through RB Aaron Jones (1,233 yards rushing and 11TDs).
Historically, double-digit dogs have been a good play in bowl games and I tend to agree here as well. Utah St. is 1-4 as a double-digit favorite this year and the slight “home” field advantage makes me think this might be a little closer than the experts think.
Utah State 27, UTEP 20
Las Vegas Bowl: Utah (-3) vs. Colorado State
Colorado St. had a very good season in the Mountain West. Good enough that their former coach, Jim McElwain, left to take the Florida head coach job. CSU will rely on one of the country’s best set of QB in Garrett Grayson (32 TDs vs 6 Int), RBs in Alabama transfer Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells (combined for 1,691 yards rushing) and WR in Rashad Higgins (89 catches for 1,640 yards and nation-best 17 TDs).
Utah dealt with some key injuries this including QB Kendal Thompson. They were road warriors this year as they won 5 games away from Rice-Eccles Stadium. Big QB Travis Wilson ended the year with a good TD/Int ration of 17/4. The defense and special teams are where this team made its name this year with its physicality and ability to get to the QB. They led the nation with 52 sacks on the year. Also, they have the Ray Guy winner and return specialist in WR Kaelin Clay, who returned 3 kickoffs and 1 punt for a TD.
I like Utah to continue their winning ways in bowl games (10-1 in their last 11) against a CSU team playing without their offensive mastermind who is now in Gainesville.
Utah 30, CSU 24
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan (-1) vs Air Force
Western Michigan was an amazing 11-1 this year against the spread and the last team to suffer a loss to the wise guys (last game of the year against Northern Illinois). The WMU attack is two-pronged with RB Jarvion Franklin (1,524 yards and 25 TDs) and QB Zach Terrell (3,123 yards and 23 TDs).
Air Force runs the traditional service academy triple option attack with a new wrinkle this year in QB Kale Pearson’s passing threat (1,513 yards and 14 TDs). This might not seem like a lot on the surface but it is the most passing yards AF has had in 9 years. AF does struggle against both the run and pass though on defense.
The MAC does not have a great bowl record of late (0-5 last year and 8-19 against the spread since 2008). I will predict a high-scoring affair with the dual-threat Broncos coming out on top.
Western Michigan 31, Air Force 27
Camellia Bowl: South Alabama (-2.5) vs Bowling Green
Where do they come up with these names and where will it stop?
This is South Alabama’s first bowl game in the program’s history. Led by their QB Brandon Bridge who had decent numbers (14 passing TDs and 3 rushing TDs). They will have a home field advantage since this game will be played in Montgomery, Alabama.
Bowling Green was a sieve on defense. They gave up 58 TDs on the year and gave up almost 300 rushing yards per game in their last 3 tilts. Their QB, James Knapke, struggled this year with a 13 TD/12 Int ration this year.
I do not like the MAC trend to continue in this game either(remember 0-5 last year) and USA (tough to root against those initials) to hang close but come up just short.
Bowling Green 27, South Alabama 26
Miami Beach Bowl: Memphis (-1.5) vs BYU
BYU just has not been the same since their QB Tayson Hill went down with a broken leg in the fifth game of the year. They found their footing after a four game losing streak to rally with four consecutive wins to finish out the year. Replacement QB Christian Stewart filled in admirably with 22 TDs but he had help with two big-time WRs in Mitch Matthews and Jordan Leslie.
Memphis is going for their first 10 win season in school history and enters winning their last 6 games. QB Paxton Lynch led the team with 18 passing TDs and 10 rushing 10 TDs. The Memphis defense has the edge here as well.
I like the Tigers to get their 10th win and enjoy the nice Miami weather in the process.
Memphis 33, BYU 24
Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall (-10) vs Northern Illinois
Marshall had bigger aspirations this year of playing in a New Year’s 6 bowl game until their crushing home defeat to Western Kentucky. That will not keep the Thundering Herd from lighting up the scoreboard with superstar QB Rakeem Cato (career 13,798 yards and 128 TDs) leading the way. He will have help from a boulder of a RB in Devon Johnson (1,636 yards on 8.3 yards a carry). They have 2 RB horses ready in the stable as well in Steward Butler and Remi Watson.
Northern Illinois will need another year of eligibility from former star Jordan Lynch to be able to compete in this one. Unfortunately, that will not happen but they do come in on a hot streak as winners of their last 7. QB Drew Hare has filled in admirably though as he amassed 2,097 passing yards and 17 TDs/2 Int to go along with 850 rushing yards. Moose of a RB Cameron Stingley led the team with 13 rushing TDs on the year.
I do not see the NIU defense being able to keep up with the Marshall athletic attack. I like a shootout and a potential “over” in this one as the MAC trend finally takes place here.
Marshall 49, Northern Illinois 27
Pointsettia Bowl: San Diego State (-2.5) vs. Navy
What a great match up and should be one of the more heavily-attended pre-New Year’s bowls with SD St. playing in the exact stadium for home games and Navy having the largest Naval base within an hour.
Navy impressed against some big-boy competition this year with close calls against Ohio St. and Notre Dame. They run the vaunted triple option attack like the aforementioned Air Force team but with a more capable commander in QB Keenan Reynolds (nation-leading QB with 1,182 rushing yards and 21 TDs). Defense is another question as the Midshipmen have not shown the ability to take the ball away or get to the QB, which happen to be the two most important aspects for a defense.
San Diego St. will not be fazed by the typically daunting triple option attack. They have won the last 8 games against service academies and run an unconventional 3-3-5 defense which helps in that regard as well. QB Quinn Kaehler struggled this year with a 9/10 TD-to-Int ratio. He will be helped by RB Donnel Pumphrey (1,761 yards and 19 TDs) though.
I don’t think this will be a high scoring as the bookies seem to think but Navy’s defense is just bad enough to allow the Aztecs to pull away in the end.
San Diego State 28, Navy 17
Bahamas Bowl: Western Kentucky (-3) vs. Central Michigan
Although Bobby Petrino left for “redder” pastures in Louisville, there are still remnants of his offensive wizardry with his long-time OC Jeff Brohm taking over. The Hilltoppers are led by QB Brad Doughty who threw for a nation leading 4,344 yards and 44 TDs. He likes to spread the ball around and has a nice RB to hand it off to in Leon Allen (1,484 yards and 12 TDs) who seems to fit the bill of big, bruising RB we have mentioned thus far.
Central Michigan isn’t spectacular in any phase but relies on solid QB play from Cooper Rush (2,664 yards and 20 TDs) and a rushing attack which has 3 backs in Thomas Rawles, Saylor Lavallii (perfect name for the previously mentioned Navy Midshipmen) and Devon Spalding.
The MAC cannot escape their previous bowl record as WKU is just too much for the Chippewas to keep up with at this time.
Western Kentucky 48, Central Michigan 31
Hawaii Bowl: Rice (-2) vs Fresno State
Fresno St. does not make its name on defense as they squeaked out just enough wins to get bowl eligible. Their defense has been porous this year as they gave up 34 PPG and ranked 108th nationally. Recent defection to the NFL of Derek Carr to the Raiders and Davante Adams to the Packers have left Bulldog fans longing for last year.
Rice is led by QB Driphus Jackson (2,524 yards and 21 TDs) and the defense should feed off of turnover prone Fresno QB Brian Burrell (16 Int.). Sneaky Vegas tidbit: Rice’s HC, David Bailiff, is 22-11 against the spread since 2012.
I like to pick against the worst unit on the field when there is one as bad as the Fresno St. defense. Tough to overlook their putrid defense so I like the Owls to put up some points in this one.
Rice 37, Fresno State 27
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Louisiana Tech (-6) vs Illinois
How can you have a bowl named like this with no tie to the state of Texas? Wasn’t there some mediocre team from Texas who could sub in for this one?
Illinois, like Fresno St., struggled to even make it to a bowl game. Their shaky QB play to begin the year under Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt led to the arrival of Reilly O’Toole. That is where the complements will end for the Illini because it is tough to choose which is worse: the 114th ranked rushing attack or 112th ranked defense. Neither inspires much confidence in convincing me Illinois will stay in this game.
Louisiana Tech is run by former coaching star and son of Lou “I love Notre Dame” Holtz. Skip Holtz led a resurgence of the offense (13th nationally) behind QB Cody Sokol and his 29 TD passes. The defense is led by former Texas DC Manny Diaz and ranked a respectable 31st overall.
This one should be rather easy for La Tech as Illinois’s defense competes with the Bears for the worst in the state.
Louisiana Tech 42, Illinois 24
Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina (-3) vs Rutgers
Speaking of bad defenses, we might have found one worse than Illinois in North Carolina. They came in at a rather dreadful 115th nationally. Depending on the week in which you watched UNC you might have wondered how they could have finished the season at 6-6. They were able to beat Duke and Georgia Tech (how bad was the ACC this year if this was the 2nd or 3rd best team). They also could not beat in-state rival NC State and allowed 70 points to East Carolina (told you they were bad). Enough with the bad though. They have one of the better QBs in the country in Marquise Williams who threw for 2,870 yards and 20 TDs and he also led the team in rushing at 737 yards. Ryan Switzer could be an X-factor as he tied the NCAA record with 5 punt return TDs last year and is 3 from breaking the career record.
Rutgers is used to shootouts as any team would have to be in playing Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars. Rutgers also struggles on defense as well as they come in ranked 96th. It seems Gary Nova has been around since the first Bush was in office but his ability to manage the game might just be enough.
This could be the highest scoring game of the first week of bowls as each team will try their hardest to get the offense back on the field the quickest by giving up more and more points. As mush as I don’t like UNC I have to think their QB advantage could make up for the defensive difference. I also recommend taking the “over” in this one as it currently sits at 66.5 points.
North Carolina 45, Rutgers 37
St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida (-2) vs. North Carolina State
I save the bowl game being played in Russia for last…just kidding about the cold, dreary St. Petersburg in Russia. Instead, this will be played in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida. I thought I would see if you were still paying attention and also trying to prove the point that these bowl games are getting ridiculous because for a moment you actually though they were playing a game in Russia, didn’t you?
NC State is led by former Florida QB Jacoby Brissett (I bet the Gators wished they had chosen him over Jeff Driskel). The offense was a balanced attack as evidenced by their 24 rushing TDs and their 22 passing TDs. NC State struggled when they stepped up in competition this year and this might be another one of those step-ups unless they can summon the game they played against rival UNC.
UCF has grown into a national program under George O’Leary as they played in the Fiesta Bowl last year with Blake Bortles leading the way. He is gone and entered QB Justin Holman who will be helped out by William Stanback and a WR duo of Rannell Hall and Breshad Perriman. UCF’s defense is stingy as they allowed 17.9 PPG and took the ball away 27 times.
I think the UCF defense is just enough to control the athletic Brissett. O’Leary has done well of late in bowl games (4-0 last 4 games).
UCF 31, NC State 24
This concludes the first week of games and picks. I know there will be some disagreement but I welcome it. Hope this makes your bowl watching a little bit better this year and look for Part 2 next Friday, December 26th.
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