The college football bowl schedule gets cranking on Friday, as we enter a period where five of the next six days have all day action, stopping only for the NFL this coming Sunday.
This segment of TheSportsNotebook’s coverage will focus on the Friday-Saturday run that takes us into the NFL intermission. The pointspread and the Over/Under totals line is listed next to the favorite for each game, along with the TV time…
Military Bowl: Marshall (-2.5, 63) vs. Maryland (2:30 PM ET, ESPN)–The common thread both these teams have is that they took Virginia Tech to overtime on the road, with Marshall losing and Maryland coming out with a win.
There’s no question who has the flashier skill position talent here and that’s the Thundering Herd. Rakeem Cato, the sensational junior quarterback and Conference USA MVP, threw for over 3,500 yards and 36 touchdown passes. Essary Taliaferro at running back and Tommy Shuler at receiver are prolific. If any of you remember an old New York Jets tight end named Mickey Shuler, a key part of some good teams in the early 1980s, Tommy is his son.
Maryland’s leading receiver is Stefon Diggs. That’s important because he was lost for the season in mid-October and is still the team’s leading pass-catcher on the stat sheet. The Terps don’t have players who have produced, so it’s up to you to decide how much value to give the ACC vs. Conference USA exchange rate.
Texas Bowl: Syracuse vs. Minnesota (-4, 47) (6 PM ET, ESPN)–The Gophers are 8-4 and concluding a year where they beat good non-conference teams in UNLV and San Jose State, scored quality Big Ten wins against Nebraska and Penn State and played competitive losses against Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Minnesota has an 1,100-yard rusher David Cobb and plays a physical style. Syracuse is 6-6 and scraped into bowl eligibility on the last week of the season. The Orange won a close game at home over Boston College after Heisman nominee Andre Williams left the game with an injury. In fairness to the ‘Cuse, they did also win a quality November game against Maryland.
Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU vs. Washington (-3.5, 60.5) (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)–I thought BYU closed the season on a kind of a down note. While the losses at Wisconsin and Notre Dame in November were certainly nothing to be embarrassed over, the Cougars seemed to be playing well enough to win at least one of those games. A narrow win over a shaky Nevada team raises more questions.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is also the team’s leading rusher, and that’s on an offense that already has a conventional 1,200-yard rusher in Jamaal Williams. The Coogs can play, but we need to see if they can get over the hump against a good team.
Washington finished 8-4 and the only losses were to the Pac-12 elite in Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. The Huskies have a 1,700-yard rusher in Bishop Sankey, a runner who gets overlooked in a league with Tyler Gaffney at Stanford and Arizona’s Ka’deem Carey. What Washington does not have is a head coach–Steve Sarkisian has left for USC, and Chris Peterson is on the way in from Boise, but there will be an interim in charge on Friday night in San Francisco.
Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers vs. Notre Dame (-14, 53) (Noon, ESPN)–When the college bowl schedule was first announced, the Irish were favored by as many as 17. I can see why the number has come down. Notre Dame’s offensive problems and the track record of this Yankee Stadium game being played on a wet field is reflected in a low Over/Under and makes covering a big number a little tougher.
Notre Dame has won eight games and beaten Arizona State, Michigan State, USC and BYU, but this is the kind of minor bowl game that can move a season from being acceptable and into failure. Rutgers, by bowl standards, is terrible. The Scarlet Knights lost their penultimate game of the regular season to UConn when Rutgers was still trying to get bowl-eligible.
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina (-2.5, 57.5) (3:20 PM ET, ESPN): Both teams finished the season on similar notes. They were both closing strong. The Bearcats had won six in a row, including a road trip to Houston. The Tar Heels took five straight, including Boston College and Pitt.
Cincinnati got great quarterback play from Brendon Kay after losing starter Munchie Legeaux early in the year. North Carolina got solid quarterback play from Marquise Williams after losing Bryn Renner mid-stream. Kay is a pure dropback passer while Williams is dual threat.
Each team then played well in its season finale, but lost a tough game. North Carolina lost to Duke on a late field goal, and Cincinnati fell in overtime to Louisville. The winner of this game goes into the offeseason with a good taste in their mouth, the loser will have a sense of some unfinished business.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami vs. Louisville (-3.5, 57.5) (6:45 PM ET, ESPN)–Each team has to be feeling a little disappointed with the way this season went, even though both had good years.
Miami finished 9-3, but a midseason run of losing decisively to Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke cost the Hurricanes a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Louisville went 11-1, but against a weak schedule, the Cards had been thinking undefeated season and BCS bowl game. And as gamblers can tell you, even in their wins, the ‘Ville often played below expectations.
The game itself will be defined by the Hurricanes’ attempt to run the ball, while the Cardinals air it out with the magnificent Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville quarterback completed 70 percent of his passes, gets 9.22 yards-per-attempt and has a TD/INT ratio of 28/4. How much of that was the schedule and how much of that was pure excellence? Let’s find out.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan vs. Kansas State (-4.5, 56) (10:15 PM ET, ESPN): Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is listed as doubtful with a toe injury, a report that was updated on December 23.
Both teams have good receivers, Joey Gallon for Michigan and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and each team has a problem finding someone who can get them the football consistently. Gardner’s troubles are one reason I’m not ready to rule out Michigan’s chances without him, though it does explain why Kansas State is the early favorite here.
Each team has one notable win–Michigan over Notre Dame, and Kansas State beating Texas Tech. The difference is that everyone knew the Wildcats were rebuilding this year. Conversely, while the Wolverines were young and some growing pains tolerated, they had not shown improvement in the second half of the season until finally coming together in the near-upset of Ohio State.
Even so, this is Michigan, and if the best thing head coach Brady Hoke can point to is a loss to his archrival, be assured that an offseason already set to be long, will get even longer.
Military: Maryland (+2.5), (Under 63)
Texas: Minnesota (-4), (Under 47)
Fight Hunger: BYU (+3.5) (Under 60.5)
Pinstripe: Rutgers (+14) (Under 53)–Notre Dame wins outright
Belk: North Carolina (-2.5) (Over 57.5)
Russell Athletic: Miami (+3.5) (Over 57.5)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Michigan (+4.5) (Under 56)
Handicapping Record To Date
Outright Winners: 4-2