Are there too many bowls?
This is a question that gets asked a lot in December. The answer, if you're a college football fan, is no. How could it be yes? We are in the final stretch of the season. Once these games are over, there is no more college football for eight long, long months.
The bowl system is perfect American capitalism. When there are too many bowls, the market reacts accordingly and bowls die. Remember the Silicon Valley Football Classic? Or the International Bowl? Some games don't work. Some do.
I never understood why people get mad that these student athletes get to play another game in a (usually) warm city over the holidays. For so many seniors, their football-playing career ends with a bowl game. Why take that away from them?
Sure, 6-6 Miami versus 6-6 South Carolina in Shreveport doesn't sound like a great time. But it means something to someone. ESPN isn't airing the game on ABC due to benevolence – they're airing then because people will watch it.
People like me. I love bowls. Are there too many? Nah, there aren't enough.
Cincinnati (-3) over Virginia Tech
Was there a more mediocre team in the second half of the year than Virginia Tech? Was any more result in the past decade more head-scratching than Virginia Tech's over Ohio State? Seriously, I cannot think of a recent national title contender that has a stranger loss.
On the other side, Cincinnati proved it could score on absolutely anybody and proved down the stretch that the defense could do just enough to let them win. They held on to win crazy games against East Carolina and Houston to finish as co-champions of the AAC. I don't see Virginia Tech scoring enough points to keep up.
Arizona State (-7.5) over Duke
As long as Arizona State doesn't spend the night before partying in El Paso, they will win this game by two touchdowns. Of course, I would be deathly afraid of making this pick in Vegas because teams have a funny way of getting run over in the Sun Bowl. Seriously, the game almost never makes sense or features one team – see USF, 2007 or USC, 2012 – that play the game like they are hungover. Because they are hungover.
Arizona State is a superior team in almost every possible way to Duke. As long as they can pass a breathalyzer on their way to the field, they will win.
Miami (-3) over South Carolina
Ah, a good ol' battle of who could care less. I'm taking Miami because the recent vote of confidence to Al Golden shows the administration is going to give him at least one more year to finally drag Miami out from the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
As for South Carolina, they suffered through their most embarrassing season in about a decade. In 2005, the Gamecocks brought about 10,000 fans with them for a really fun Independence Bowl against Missouri. This year, their ticket sales will likely stay in triple digits. They have little to play for. Even if they did, I don't know how they could stop Duke Johnson.
There will be a ton of Penn State fans at Yankee Stadium as they play their first bowl game since the 2011 season. However, Boston College is just as excited to play a bowl game where their fans may actually show up. Remember, for the past decade, BC has been sent to Boise and Detroit and Shreveport – all because of the dreaded “fans don't travel” label. There will be a decent amount of BC fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium and, come on, Boston fans in Yankee Stadium...do I need to explain the added motivation?
Also, Boston College is a much better team. So there’s that.
USC (-7) over Nebraska
As with the Sun Bowl, the Pac-12 team is vastly superior. While you may think USC would be unmotivated by playing an inferior opponent so close to home, I think the novelty of playing in the Holiday Bowl for the first time and the desire to make a national statement will overcome that.
This game is an 8pm kick on ESPN on the Saturday after Christmas – it will do tremendous ratings and USC teams tend to play best when the lights are brightest. Nebraska? They want it to be 2015.
Texas A&M (+3.5) over West Virginia
This is a perfect game for Texas A&M. They finally leave the SEC West and play a team without a defense. When Texas A&M has played teams without a defense – think South Carolina in week 1 or the road win at Auburn – the results have been very, very good. Texas A&M can outscore anybody. West Virginia can score as well, but they can't score as much as Texas A&M.
Clemson (+3) over Oklahoma
I'm going with Clemson as a hat tip to Dabo Sweeney. The past two years, he knocked off top 10 opponents as an underdog – LSU in the 2012 Peach Bowl and Ohio State in last year's Orange Bowl. Since the Orange Bowl fiasco to West Virginia, you can tell Dabo has put added emphasis on winning bowl games. The injury to DeShaun Watson has many throwing in the towel on Clemson but that is so unfair to a Tigers team that is legit Top 20.
Do you trust Oklahoma in a big spot? I don't. I don't care if Trevor Knight is back. I've been burned way too many times this year backing the Sooners.
Look, I know Arkansas won back-to-back games against Ole Miss and LSU. But are they the most overrated 6-6 team in history? People were acting like they were Top 25 material at 6-5. If you didn't notice, Arkansas does not have a passing game.
Texas can stop run. Texas will stop the run. Frankly, I don't see how either team is going to score in this one, but I'm leaning with the Longhorns as I believe they will keep it low-score to win, say, a 14-10 game.
Notre Dame (+8) over LSU
If Notre Dame doesn't turn the ball over, they will win this game. It's really that simple. LSU has been unimpressive on offense all year and that may give the Irish's putrid defense a chance. But again, it all comes down to turnovers.
Georgia (-7) over Louisville
Georgia, with or without Todd Gurley, is at least a touchdown better than Louisville. The Cardinals are a decent team but they simply aren't in the same league as Georgia. You wonder about motivation for Georgia – but I saw many Louisville fans complaining about getting “stuck” in this game. I've been to Charlotte for this game and it's a great city for a bowl. My gut tells me Georgia fans show up en masse and watch the Bulldogs put forth a big statement to launch its 2015 season.
Stanford (-14) over Maryland
I can't think of a worse matchup for Maryland. Teams that run the ball well – see Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State – destroyed the Terrapins. This could get really, really ugly if Stanford feels like it.
Houston (+3) over Pittsburgh
This is a peculiar battle of two teams going through coaching changes. But while Houston fired its coach and hired Ohio State OC Tom Herman in one of December's most impressive hires, Pitt lost its coach for the second time in four years to another Power Five school. Pitt has to be demoralized. Houston is energized. When you have two relatively equal teams, that may be all it takes.
Tennessee (-3.5) over Iowa *Best Bet*
I love Tennessee in this game. Or more aptly, I hate Iowa in this game. Iowa did not beat a team that finished with a winning record. They beat only 2 bowl teams, in Illinois and Pittsburgh. They got to 7 wins by virtue of a soft schedule.
While you can make a similar argument for Tennessee, there is little doubt they played tougher competition better – close losses to Georgia, Florida and Missouri showed how close they were to an 8- or 9-win season.
Tennessee played a ridiculous amount of underclassmen. With the benefit of a whole season and 15 practices, I expect Tennessee to be sitting on a huge performance.
Oklahoma State (+5.5) over Washington
Didn't Bedlam feel like a revival for Oklahoma State? I know this violates my rule of paying too much attention to momentum but there was so much negativity leading into that game, with the prospect of missing a bowl and Mike Gundy's name being thrown around for every job. What happened? They won a stunner over their archrival and Mike Gundy re-committed to Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys were decimated by injuries and that took away from what could have been a decent season. They will end in impressive fashion while Washington has been fairly unimpressive all year. It feels like Year 2 is when Chris Petersen will get things rolling in Seattle.
East Carolina (+7.5) over Florida
I don't know. I really don't know. East Carolina has been a bizarre team all year, blowing at least two games – Cincinnati and UCF – they should have won. They gave away games to South Carolina and Temple – the former excusable, the latter not – due to turnovers. But they can score a ton of points. They also seem to suffer from what was “USF disease” in the late 2000's in that they get amped for big non-conference games and totally ignore conference games.
I don't know what to make of Florida. I get the sense the Florida State game was their bowl game and this is just playing out the string.
Toledo (-3) over Arkansas State
Toledo is a better team than Arkansas State. Sometimes bowl games can be simple: pick the better team.
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