The opening act of the college football bowl schedule begins Saturday, and TheSportsNotebook will focus on the first eight games–the octave, if you will–that will cover December 21 through December 26…
I’ve noted the pointspread and the Over/Under on each game and made predictions on each. The track record of last year suggests these are picks you can confidently bet against and finance your Christmas shopping that way.
SATURDAY GRAND SLAM: December 21
New Mexico Bowl: Washington State-Colorado State (2 PM ET, ESPN)–Washington State is a four-point and the Over/Under of 65 is tied for the highest in the eight games covered here. Colorado State has one of the best running backs in the Mountain West, with Kapri Bibbs, while WSU keeps the ball in the air constantly with Connor Halliday.
An interesting stat on the Cougar offense–in spite of the fact Halliday throws constantly, including 89 passes in a game against Oregon, none of the Washington State receivers have even 800 yards. Good job by the quarterback and head coach Mike Price in spreading the ball around. I’ll take the Cougars to win and for the game to go Over.
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State-USC (3:30 PM ET, ABC)–The Trojans are a solid touchdown favorite. Fresno went 11-1 and has a great passing game, with David Carr throwing the Davante Adams and Josh Harper. But the Bulldogs, as we’ve discussed here throughout the year, play no defense.
Fresno also barely survived games against Rutgers, Boise and San Diego State. That’s no disgrace, because those are all bowl teams, but it also suggests a considerable gap between the Bulldogs and USC, a team that beat Stanford down the stretch.
The fluid coaching situation at USC is a concern, with Steve Sarkisian announced as the new coach and interim Ed Orgeron already stepping down. That’s a reason to be at least a little wary, but I’m going with USC to get another win for the Pac-12 on Opening Day, and their defense is good enough that I’m taking the Under 62.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo-San Diego State (5:30 PM ET, ESPN)–Buffalo is a nice defensive team and has a 1,400-yard runner in Branden Oliver. San Diego State has had its disappointments, losing to Eastern Illinois to open the year and dropping a 45-19 decision to bowl-bound UNLV to end it. But the Aztecs did beat San Jose State and Boise, and they play in a better league than Buffalo.
All of which makes it a mystery as to why this is a pick’em game. I’ll take San Diego State and go Under 53.
New Orleans Bowl: Tulane-UL-Lafayette (9 PM ET, ESPN)–This would be a fun game to attend, with two New Orleans schools playing at the Superdome, but I don’t know how much fun it will be to watch. ULL quarterback Terrance Broadway is out, removing the most exciting player on the field. Tulane finished the season on a down note, losing three of the last four.
Without Broadway though, I have to go with the Green Wave. They beat good Conference USA teams in East Carolina and North Texas in October, and if they regain that mojo, they’ll win this bowl game. The total of 49.5 is the lowest of this grouping of games, and without Broadway that’s justified. I’m going Under.
CHRISTMAS BUILDUP–December 23 & December 24
Beef O’Brady Bowl: East Carolina-Ohio (Monday, 2 PM ET, ESPN): The biggest perceived mismatch of the Opening Act Octave, with East Carolina is a 13.5 point favorite. Look at each team’s resume and you see why. Ohio got off to a nice start, with September wins over Marshall and North Texas in non-conference play. But since mid-October they’ve only won three games, and those teams have a combined record of 3-33. Nor have the losses been anything to be proud of.
East Carolina had its own shameful loss, a 59-28 thrashing at the hands of Marshall to end the season, but the Pirates throw the ball extremely well, with the Shane Carden to Justin Hardy combination. I suppose you can look at the difference in how both East Carolina and Ohio fared against Marshall and make an argument for the Bobcats to cover this number and perhaps win outright.
I can’t get past Ohio’s steady decline though, and am going with ECU, and in a good passing environment at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, both Carden and Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton combine to push it Over 62.5
Hawaii Bowl: Boise State-Oregon State (Tuesday, 8 PM ET, ESPN)–How shaken will Boise be by the departure of Chris Petersen to Washington? The oddsmakers have made them a three-point underdog to a 6-6 Oregon State team.
In reality, this Boise team has been ho-hum all year. Their four losses were to Fresno State, BYU, San Diego State and Washington, which is nothing to be ashamed of. None of the eight wins were impressive though. Even a victory over Utah State came in the Aggies’ first game without injured quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
Oregon State got its wins early and its losses late, but that was a fluke of the schedule. Their five-game skid to end the year came against Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon. In at least three of those games, including the finale, the Beavers almost won.
They can throw it as well as anyone with Sean Mannion and I’ll pick the Pac-12 to make it 3-0 against the Mountain West in this game. I will go Under 65 though, as the Boise offense is not explosive.
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS: MAC teams under the tree
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Bowling Green-Pitt (6 PM ET, ESPN)–Bowling Green, riding high off their blowout of Northern Illinois to win the MAC title, is a five-point favorite against an ACC opponent. While Matt Johnson lit up the NIU defense with his passing, Bowling Green is still a defense-first team that runs the ball with Travis Greene.
Pitt’s had an up-and-down year and they’ve done just enough to get by including a November win over Notre Dame and another at Syracuse that got the Panthers to 6-6. I’m grabbing Pitt and the five in this spot, with the total going Under 50.
Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State-Northern Illinois (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)–Northern Illinois looks for some redemption after the loss to Bowling Green. Utah State survived the loss of their quarterback Chuckie Keeton. They lost the first game without him to Boise State, but then righted the ship, won five in a row and played a competitive 24-17 loss at Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game. The Utah State defense gave up just 68 points in those six games.
I wonder if Northern Illinois, who might have been in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama had they taken care of business, will be up for this game. I suspect so, but even if that’s the case, this is still an even game. NIU is only a one-point favorite and the total is 58. I’m going to predict some open offenses and say the game goes Over, but I lean Utah State for the win.
TheSportsNotebook will review these games on Friday, December 27. Prior to that we’ll have previews of the seven games that will go on December 27 and December 28, including games involving Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami.