Monday, December 28, 2009

Bowl Preview II

Hope your holidays are treating you right, and I hope you've had the opportunity to catch at least a smattering of football in between meals and parties. Here now, is part deux of our little preview. Once again, your best bowl bets have asterisks and bold print. This preview covers games up through January 2nd.

Humanitarian Bowl
December 30
Bowling Green vs Idaho
Bowling Green -1
The Vandals from Idaho, had won 3 games in the first 2 seasons of head coach Robb Akey's tenure. They more than doubled that number this season, going 7-5 and qualifying for their 2nd ever bowl game and first since 1998. The Vandals also played in the Humanitarian Bowl that season and won as huge underdogs against Southern Miss. 2009 was a tale of 2 seasons for the Vandals. They began the season 6-1, with their lone loss coming at Washington. However, the schedule toughened up over the second half and the Vandals lost 4 of 5 with their lone win coming by a single point over Louisiana Tech. The offense actually improved over the second half of the season, as the Vandals averaged 494 yards per game in their last 5 after averaging 420 yards per game in their first 7. The defense on the other hand, was a different story. After allowing 364 yards per game through their 6-1 start, the Vandals allowed 509 yards per game in their 2nd half swoon. All told, the Vandals finished 8th in the conference in defense (ahead of only New Mexico State). It should also be noted that the WAC is not exactly known for its defensive acumen. Over in Ohio, Bowling Green followed a similar script en route to a 6-2 finish in the MAC. The Falcons, under first year coach Dave Clawson finished 11th in the 13-team MAC in defense, but made up for it by finishing 4th in offense. The amazing thing is last season, the team's strength were exactly the opposite as the Falcons boasted the 9th ranked offense, but 2nd ranked defense. Go figure that wacky MAC. The Falcons offense is centered around their explosive passing attack. With a great game, senior quarterback Tyler Sheehan could leave as the school's all-time leading passer (he needs 551 yards to reach the precipice). The Falcons also boast the nation's leading receiver (in terms of catches) in fellow senior Freddie Barnes. Barnes has 138 catches on the season, after catching 143 passes in his first 3 years at the school. This should be one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season featuring 2 teams with very good offenses, but lackluster defenses. If you're itching to make a play, take Bowling Green or have a look at the over (currently sitting at 68.5), but don't sink too much into this one.

*Holiday Bowl*
December 30
Arizona vs Nebraska
Arizona -1.5
Nebraska very nearly turned the BCS upside down and allowed an unsung interloper (either Cincinnati or TCU) to waltz into the title game. Alas, the officials put time back on the clock and Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence made a clutch kick to send the Longhorns to Pasadena. While Nebraska deserves all the credit in the world for hanging with the Horns, its clear their offense is one of the worst in the nation. With Joe Ganz at the helm last season, Nebraska boasted the 3rd best offense in the Big 12, and the top-ranked unit in the North. This season, Nebraska finished dead last in the Big 12 in offense. That's right, even behind Colorado. While the Buffs may have their numbers inflated by playing the worst defense in the Big 12 (Texas A&M), while Nebraska drew the best defense in one of their games against the South (Oklahoma), its accurate to say Nebraska was awful on offense. They did make up for it by featuring a stout defense that finished 2nd in the league. However, it was easy to see the team's shortcomings in the Big 12 Championship Game. Nebraska gained 106 yards over the course of the game and nearly won! That continued a season long trend. In 5 of their 6 Big 12 wins, Nebraska gained under 300 yards, pinning their hopes for victory entirely on the defense. The defense obliged more often than not, but that's usually not a winning strategy. A little further west, Arizona will be making their 2nd straight bowl appearance after taking a decade off. If the ball had bounced their way a few more times, the Wildcats could be playing in Pasadena on New Year's Day. They'll have to settle for their biggest bowl game in 11 years. Arizona was extremely balanced this season, finishing 4th in the Pac-10 in offense and 3rd in defense. Half of Arizona's losses this season came to teams currently ranked in the top-10 (Oregon and Iowa). The Wildcats are much better than you think and have steadily improved in each of Mike Stoops' 6 seasons as coach. Arizona should be favored by about 3 or 4 points, so getting them at nearly a pick 'em makes this one of your best bets of the bowl season.

Armed Forces Bowl
December 31
Houston vs Air Force
Houston -4.5
This is the rubber game in the historic Air Force/Houston rivalry. After never having played before last season, this is the 3rd meeting between these teams in 15 months. Air Force won the first game in September 2008 by 3. Houston won the bowl game last December by 6. For Air Force, this is their 3rd consecutive appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl. They dropped their first game to Cal and then fell to Houston as previously mentioned. In fact, the Falcons are seeking their first bowl victory since 2000. The Falcons were solidly the 4th best team in the Mountain West, behind the hydra of mid-major powers at the top of the league (BYU, TCU, and Utah). The Falcons managed only a 5th place finish in offense, but made up for it by fielding the best defense in the league this side of TCU. The Falcons also won the turnover battle quite handily, going +13 in the Mountain West play (tops in the league). The Falcons throw so few passes (139 attempts was more than only Navy) that interceptions are rare (only 3 all season). The Falcons are not a flashy team, but like their brethren at the Naval Academy, they win by not making mistakes. Meanwhile, the Houston Cougars win by outscoring their opponents. The Cougars finished number one in Conference USA in offense (by a large margin), but finished second to last in defense (ahead of only Memphis). Their lapses on defense cost them in games against UTEP and UCF which the Cougars lost despite scoring 41 and 32 points respectively. Their defense also let them down in the Conference USA Championship Game which they also lost despite scoring 32 points (4 turnovers did not help). The Falcons will be able to move the ball against the generous Cougar defense, but I don't think they will be able to score enough to actually win the game. Still, Houston is no stranger to failing as a favorite, particularly away from home. In addition to the 3 games already highlighted, the Cougars also needed an onside kick recovery to beat a bad Tulsa team by a point away from home. Astute wagerers will want no part of this game.

Sun Bowl
December 31
Oklahoma vs Stanford
Oklahoma -8
Oklahoma is a team that most computer rankings still regard rather highly despite their 7-5 record. This is because all their losses, save the Texas Tech game, were close. The Sooners lost to BYU, Miami, Texas, and Nebraska by a combined 12 points. In addition to the closeness of the losses, each loss, again save for the Tech game, came against teams currently ranked in the top-20. The Sooners also balanced their close losses with huge wins. They beat Tulsa by 45, Baylor by 26, Kansas by 22, Kansas State by 12, Texas A&M by 55, and Oklahoma State by 27. On a down by down basis, the Sooners were again amongst the best teams in the Big 12. They finished 3rd in the league in offense and boasted the league's number one defense. The Sooners did have interesting home/road splits though. In their 4 Big 12 home games, they averaged 513 yards per game. In their 3 Big 12 road games, they averaged 324 yards per game. The Sooners defense yielded 242 yards per game in their Big 12 home games and 345 in their Big 12 road games. Part of this difference is due to schedule strength. The Sooners faced Baylor and Texas A&M in half of their league home games, the 2 worst defenses in the league. On the road, the Sooners had to tangle with the best offense in the league, Texas Tech. Of course, they also got to deal with the league's worst offense (Nebraska) on the road, and while the Aggies from Texas A&M did have a deplorable defense, they also had an offense that finished 2nd in the league. The Sooners appear to be an extremely different team away from Norman. Unfortunately for the Sooners, this game is played in El Paso. Stanford put together a solid season and was actually in contention for the Rose Bowl until a late loss to Cal sealed their fate. Behind running back (and Heisman candidate) Toby Gerhart and freshman quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal posted the 2nd best offense in the Pac-10 (behind only Oregon). They did have issues on defense, finishing 8th in that category, but the end result is the most wins (and first bowl bid) for the program since 2001. Obviously, I'm inclined to agree with the computers on the relative strength of Oklahoma. That being said, they do appear to be a far different (worse) team away from Norman. 8 points is entirely too much to lay against a solid Stanford team. Enjoy the Sun Bowl and save your money for better games.

Texas Bowl
December 31
Missouri vs Navy
Missouri -6.5
After losing so many key skill players from a team that had won consecutive Big 12 North titles, the Missouri Tigers figured to take a step back in 2008. It turns out, that step wasn't was far as many observers predicted. The Tigers overcame an 0-3 start in league play to win 4 of their last 5 and finish with a .500 or better conference record for the 5th consecutive season. The Tigers also finished 4-1 against teams from their division making them 13-2 against North teams since 2007. Behind sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the nation's leading receiver (in yards), Danario Alexander, the Tigers remained near the top of the league in offense, finishing 4th. The defense was only 7th in the league, but a little regression was to be expected with the team breaking in 7 new starters. Methinks its time to start mentioning Gary Pinkel as one of the more underrated coaches in college football. Missouri's opponent, the Naval Academy will be making their 7th consecutive bowl appearance, an unthinkable accomplishment at the beginning of the decade when the Midshipmen were 3-30 from 2000-2002. This season's incarnation of the Naval Academy has their strength on the defensive side of the ball. Navy is currently allowing just 334 yards per game, the best defensive numbers they have posted since their run began in 2003. That's a good thing as the offense is posting its worst output (344 yards per game) since the Midshipmen returned to the ranks of the college football living. The Missouri Tigers have far more talent than the Naval Academy, but so did Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and Ohio State, teams the Midshipmen either beat or played very close. Missouri will probably win this game, but I wouldn't feel comfortable playing this game unless the line were below a field goal.

Insight Bowl
December 31
Minnesota vs Iowa State
Minnesota -2.5
When people float the opinion that there are too many bowl games, this matchup serves as their ammunition. This game features what are likely the 2 worst bowl participants from BCS conferences. Both teams went 3-5 in their respective leagues, and neither masked that poor record with a solid underlying performance. The Gophers from Minnesota finished dead last in offense in the Big 10 for the second consecutive season. They averaged a feeble 2.9 yards per rush. That's a far cry from the fantastic running game the Gophers consistently fielded under Glen Mason. The Gophers didn't play defense particularly well either, finishing 7th in the Big 10 in that category. Don't feel sorry for Minnesota though. When a no-account program fired the best coach they've had in a half-century, well they got what was coming to them. Meanwhile, in Ames, Iowa, the Cyclones got rid of a no-account coach and are now going to their first bowl game since 2005. Only a crazy man, or super-genius, would have predicted that in the offseason. Paul Rhoads is the first coach in Cyclone history to lead Iowa State to a bowl game in his maiden voyage. In one season, Rhoads surpassed his predecessor's (Gene Chizik) wins at the school (5) and conference wins (2). Seems he should be in line for the Alabama job now right? While the Cyclones were a great story, and a team I will certainly be rooting for in bowl season, they did not really play any better than they did last season. The Cyclones finished 8th in the Big 12 in offense both seasons and 10th in defense both season. Their winless league campaign in 2008 was the result of bad luck in close games (0-3 in one-score league games), a poor turnover margin (-2 in league play), and probably a dose of bad coaching (as you can probably guess, I'm not a huge Chizik fan--at least as a head coach). This season, the Cyclones were 2-2 in one-score conference games and their in-conference turnover margin of +8 was second only to Texas. Oh, and Chizik is no longer the coach. As I said before, I'll be rooting hard for the Cyclones in this game. However, rooting does not equate wagering. Don't put a dime on this game wither way.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl
December 31
Virginia Tech vs Tennessee
Virginia Tech -4.5
The Virginia Tech Hokies look to become the first ACC team to win the bowl formerly known as the Peach since 2003 when Clemson beat...wait for it...Tennessee. Speaking of the Vols, they improved from 3-5 in the SEC in Phil Fulmer's last season to 4-4 in Lane Kiffin's first (controversy-filled) season thanks to improvement on offense. In 2008, the Vols featured the 2nd worst offense in the SEC (ahead of only Mississippi State). In 2009, they improved and finished in the middle of the pack (6th in the SEC). However, the team failed to contend for the SEC East title thanks to the decline of the defense. Last season under John Chavis, the Vols finished number one in the entire SEC in defense. This season, with Kiffin's father Monty coordinating the defense, the Vols fell to the middle of the pack (6th in the SEC). Perhaps Kiffin's charges had a hard time adjusting to a more pro-style coach and a more pro-style defense. Still, Tennessee's defense was nowhere near as strong as it was in 2008. Meanwhile, for Virginia Tech, it was business as usual. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have finished either 1st or 2nd in the conference in defense. 2009 marked their 2nd consecutive finish as the top of the league in defense. The offense was not fantastic, but it was above-average (5th in the ACC) and marked a stark improvement from 2008 when they were only 10th in the ACC. This may be one of the better games of the bowl season. Tennessee is probably a little better than their 7-5 record as they were only 1-3 in one-score game. A little better luck, and they could be heading into the bowl with a shot at 10 wins. The difference in this game (shocker) could come down to special teams. The Hokies scored 3 touchdowns on special teams this season and they allowed none. The Vols scored none and allowed 2. The Hokies will probably win this game, but this spread is too high to make any wagers.

Outback Bowl
January 1
Auburn vs Northwestern
Auburn -7.5
After stumbling through a lackluster 5-7 season in 2008 when they struggled moving the football (finishing 9th in the SEC in offense), the Auburn Tigers hired Gus Malzahn as their offensive coordinator. The team immediately improved to 3rd in the league in offense and, especially early on, looked to be unstoppable. Unfortunately, the defense, which showed flashes of awfulness in the early season win over West Virginia (the Tigers won despite allowing 509 yards of total offense to the Mountaineers), ultimately proved to be the team's undoing, as they finished 8th in the SEC. The Tigers also struggled on the road, winning only once in 4 tries. The Tigers will take on a Northwestern team making their second consecutive bowl appearance. The Wildcats went 47 seasons between their first bowl appearance in 1948 and their second in 1995. This Outback Bowl will mark their 7th bowl appearance in the past 15 seasons, an unthinkable notion at the dawn of the 1990's. By some measures, the Wildcats appear to be a solid team coming out of the Big 10. They finished 3rd in the league in offense and 4th in defense. However, the Wildcats finished 6-1 in one-score games, meaning their margin for error is razor thin. Only 2 of their 8 wins came against bowl teams (Iowa and Wisconsin). They also lost to Syracuse in the non-conference season and barely outlasted winless Eastern Michigan by 3 points. Their SEC pedigree and scoring margin would suggest Auburn will have an easy go of it on New Year's Day. However, trust Gene Chizik at your own peril. Were I a betting man, I'd be inclined to take the Wildcats and the points.

Capital One Bowl
January 1
Penn St vs LSU
Penn St -2.5
Despite losing to both Iowa and Ohio State (at home no less), Penn State rated out as better than the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes thanks to possessing the top-ranked offense in the Big 10 and 3rd best defense. Outside of those 2 teams, Penn State played only 3 additional bowl squads (Minnesota, Northwestern, and Michigan State). The Nittany Lions crushed all those teams, but neither of the 3 are elite. Despite posting the best offense in the Big 10, Joe Pa's charges were held in check against the 2 best defenses they faced--Iowa and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions netted only 307 yards against Iowa and a putrid 201 yards against Ohio State. They also scored 17 total points in those 2 games. LSU is solid on defense, but by SEC standards, they were hardly elite in 2009. The Tigers finished 5th in the SEC in defense and an unbelievable 11th in offense (ahead of only Vanderbilt). The Tigers boosted their record by going 5-1 in one-score games and scoring 4 non-offensive touchdowns that provided the winning margin in 3 of those one-score games. I would look for this game to be a very low-scoring defensive struggle, but take either of these teams to cover at your own risk.

Gator Bowl
January 1
West Virginia vs Florida St
West Virginia -3
Bobby Bowden's last game as coach of Florida State will be against the team he coached for 6 seasons in the 1970's. Bowden won 42 games in 6 seasons at West Virginia and led the Mountaineers to 2 bowl games. He moved on to Tallahassee and has become one of the most successful coaches of all time. His career has not concluded as he would have liked as his Seminoles have lost more games this decade (44) than they lost in the 80's and 90's combined (41). Some folks have been complaining that the Seminoles at 6-6 did not deserve a bid to a bowl as prestigious as the Gator Bowl. True, it may have required some back room dealing, but in reality, if you aren't playing in the BCS National Championship Game, you're really only playing in a glorified exhibition. The Gator Bowl did what they had to do to sell tickets and manufacture a television audience. As for the game itself, Florida State comes in with the dubious distinction of having the best offense in the ACC and the worst defense in the conference. The problems on the defensive side of the ball led to the resignation of long-time Bowden lieutenant Mickey Andrews who will also be coaching his last game in the Gator Bowl. As for West Virginia, they were about average within the Big East on both sides of the ball, finishing 4th in the conference in offense and 3rd in defense. The Mountaineers should be able to move the ball consistently against the Seminole defense, but don't be surprised if Florida State picks up chunks of yardage as well. If you're must make a selection on this game, take the Seminoles on the moneyline as a victory here is a real possibility.

Rose Bowl
January 1
Oregon vs Ohio St
Oregon -3.5
After opening the season with a pair of lackluster performances (the shellacking at Boise and then a tight 2-point home win over Purdue where the Ducks scored 2 defensive touchdowns), Oregon rebounded to win the Pac-10. In the process, Oregon posted both the league's best offense and defense. Their lone defeat within the league was a 9-point setback at Stanford that begat Toby Gerhart's near successful Heisman campaign. Statistically, the Ducks were the best team in the Pac-10, but they were also somewhat fortunate to end up 10-2. They were 4-0 in one-score games (including their last 2 games of the regular season when they upended fellow contenders Arizona and Oregon State by a combined 7 points) and they scored 6 non-offensive touchdowns. The Ducks will be matching up against the Ohio State Buckeyes who finished with at least a share of the Big 10 title for the 5th consecutive season. Ohio State boasted the league's best defense, but even with Terrelle Pryor under center, finished a distant 8th in the Big 10 in offense. It seems patently unfair for a quarterback of Pryor's talents to be hamstrung under such an ancient offensive system as that run by Jim Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. Ohio State won games this season as they always have under Tressel, by utilizing a great defense, winning the turnover margin (Buckeyes were tops in the Big 10 at +12 in league play), and scoring on defense and special teams (5 non-offensive touchdowns). Ohio State is a team I never want to take a favorite as they seem content to win by the thinnest of margins, but as a dog they are an enticing play. The Buckeyes have covered in their 2 games as underdogs this season (vs Southern Cal and at Penn State) and covering a 3rd time would not surprise me. Still, there are much better values on the board than laying any cash on this game.

Sugar Bowl
January 1
Florida vs Cincinnati
Florida -11.5
Now before you go laying this month's mortgage on the Gators to cover this large number, let me point out a few things. Since the start of the 2005 bowl season, double digit favorites are 5-14 against the spread (including 0-2 this postseason). Those favorites are a somewhat solid 12-7 straight up (including 0-2 this postseason), but its clear, the dog has been the way to go in games like this one. The Bearcats will have a hard time stopping Florida (they finished as the 4th best defense in the Big East), but they will probably be able to mount a few drives of their own (number one offense in the Big East) even sans Brian Kelly. Plus, its not as if Florida doesn't have some coaching controversy of their own as you may have heard. And another thing, it was just 2 years to the day when the Gators were poised to destroy a team from the mid-west as double digit favorites. In fact, that mid-western team had lost to Appalachian State earlier in the year. However, that team from the mid-west not only covered, but they beat the Gators straight up. I'm not saying Cincinnati has what it takes to win this game, just that it will probably be a lot closer than you imagined.

International Bowl
January 2
South Florida vs Northern Illinois
South Florida -7
Thank goodness for the Bulls this game is played indoors. After once again harboring conference title and BCS bowl aspirations in late September, the Bulls staggered to the finish line and will have to settle for a nondescript bowl bid. Since joining the Big East in 2005, the Bulls are 19-3 in games played in August or September. In that same span, the Bulls are 20-21 in games played in October, November, December, and January. Of course, the August and September slate includes games against overmatched non-conference opponents, but playing in the Big East may afford the Bulls a climate disadvantage compared to other teams from Florida. Consider the 3 other major programs in Florida (Florida, Florida State, and Miami) all play in southern leagues. Miami and Florida State could potentially have to travel to Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, or Virginia Tech in October or November games. Florida could potentially have to travel as far north as Arkansas, Tennessee or Kentucky. However, the Bulls can go as far north as Rutgers (New Jersey), West Virgina, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Louisville (Kentucky). Plus, since their schedule only includes 7 conference games, those contests usually all fall later in the season. In the offseason, I plan on taking a more comprehensive look at South Florida's performance outdoors in the cold. Back to this game. South Florida was thoroughly mediocre in the Big East. They finished 5th in the conference in both offense and defense, and outside of a home win over West Virginia (3rd in their last 4 games with the Mountaineers) only managed to defeat the dregs of the conference (Syracuse and Louisville). Northern Illinois is playing in their second bowl game in a row under coach Jerry Kill, who took the reigns prior to the 2008 season. Kill was successful at previous stops at Saginaw Valley State and Southern Illinois where he posted a combined 93-46 record. Kill's defenses have been particularly good at Northern Illinois thus far, leading the MAC in defense in both 2008 and 2009. The offense has improved slightly, finishing 10th last season and 8th this year. With the departures of quarterback Dan LeFevour and coach Butch Jones at Central Michigan, Kill may be poised to lead the Huskies to a MAC title next season. In the interim, don't be surprised if his charges give the Bulls at lot of trouble in the early afternoon hours of January 2nd. The Bulls certainly have better athletes than the Huskies, but the coaching prowess of Kill may be enough to keep the Huskies in this one.

Papa Johns Bowl
January 2
South Carolina vs Connecticut
South Carolina -4.5
One season after finishing with the best defense in the Big East and an offense that struggled throwing the football, Connecticut had the best offense in the Big East this side of Cincinnati, but the worst defense in the entire conference. With a decent game from running back Andre Dixon (967 rush yards on the season), the Huskies will have 2 backs top the 1000-yard mark. Dixon and Jordan Todman have combined for over 2100 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground. While the Huskies may well boast 2 1000-yard rushers by games end, South Carolina has not had one since 2000! The Gamecocks do boast a strong defense (4th in the SEC behind the behemoths at Florida and Alabama and the surprisingly strong defense from the Rebels at Ole Miss) and perhaps the best quarterback in Spurrier's tenure at the school in Stephen Garcia. While Garcia struggled somewhat with accuracy (completing only 56.6% of his passes), he did a good job of avoiding turnovers, throwing only 9 interceptions all season. South Carolina is far from a polished offensive unit, but they should be able to move the ball against the weak Connecticut defense. I will be fortunate enough to watch this game in person, and while some may be tempted to lay a few dollars on the Gamecocks, I would strongly caution against it. The Gamecocks have allowed at least 31 points in each of their 3 bowl games under Spurrier. If Connecticut gets to that number, the Gamecocks probably will not cover.

Cotton Bowl
January 2
Ole Miss vs Oklahoma State
Ole Miss -3
The Rebels from Ole Miss were somewhat of a disappointment this season, finishing with only 4 league wins, just a year removed from an out of nowhere 5-win conference campaign. Last season, the Rebels were statistically the 3rd best team in the conference, behind both Alabama and Florida. This season, the Rebels were once again the 3rd best team in the conference behind both Alabama and Florida. What was the big difference? Turnovers. Last season Ole Miss passers threw 10 interceptions in league play (9 by quarterback Jevan Snead and 1 by running back Dexter McCluster). The Rebels also lost 7 fumbles against SEC foes for a total of 17 turnovers. This season, Snead upped his total to 15 interceptions in league play and the Rebels lost 5 fumbles for 20 total turnovers in SEC play. However, in 2008, the Rebels forced 16 turnovers (10 interceptions and 6 fumbles) for a net turnover margin of -1, hardly devastating. In 2009, the Rebels only forced 7 turnovers in SEC play (3 interceptions and 4 fumbles) for a net turnover margin of -13. That number is devastating, and is the biggest reason Ole Miss failed to live up to the preseason hype. While 2009 was disappointing for Ole Miss, it was bittersweet for Oklahoma State. After finishing with above-average Big 12 offenses for 3 straight seasons and below average defenses for even longer, the Cowboys finally fielded a solid defense (4th in the Big 12) only to have their offense, through injuries and suspensions let them down (7th in the Big 12). The Cowboys still had an outside shot at an at-large BCS bid until they were shutout by Oklahoma in the regular season finale. Even with that bitter defeat, the Cowboys have a chance at 10 wins for the first time since 1988. This rematch of the 2003 Cotton Bowl (Eli Manning's last college game) seems pretty evenly matched. If Ole Miss can actually create some turnovers in this game, instead of just giving the ball away, they should walk out of Dallas with their second straight Cotton Bowl win.

Liberty Bowl
January 2
Arkansas vs East Carolina
Arkansas -8
Exactly 4 weeks to the day after winning the Conference USA Championship against a team with a great offense and a lousy defense, the Pirates from East Carolina will match up with another team with a great offense and a lousy defense. The Razorbacks from Arkansas finished 2nd in the SEC in offense (behind only Ole Miss), but failed to contend in the SEC West thanks to a defense that ranked dead last in the conference. Bobby Petrino's prolific passing attack scored at least 30 points in 9 of their 12 games and was only held in check by Alabama (7 points), Florida (20 points), and Ole Miss (17 points). East Carolina was good on defense, finishing 2nd in Conference USA, but a good defense in Conference USA is usually a lot different from a good defense in the SEC. Thankfully for the Pirates, they did field their best offense yet under Skip Holtz (5th in Conference USA). East Carolina will probably need to score at least 35 points and finish at least +3 in turnover margin to win this game. Stranger things have happened, and while I think Arkansas will win this game, I don't know that they can cover this number.

Alamo Bowl
January 2
Texas Tech vs Michigan State
Texas Tech -8.5
Texas Tech did what they always do under Mike Leach. They finished 1st in the Big 12 in offense and 5th in defense. They yacked up one game you didn't expect them to (Texas A&M), but they made up for it by pulling off at least one upset (Oklahoma). Michigan State had a good run of back luck, finishing 2-5 in one-score games, including 3 straight such defeats beginning against Central Michigan. Michigan State was solid on offense, finishing 4th in the Big 10, but they had issues on defense finishing 8th. Michigan State only lost one game all season by more than 8 points, but it came against the only very good team they played--Penn State. The Spartans beat one bowl team all season--Northwestern. This one has all the trappings of a Texas Tech blowout. If the spread was under a touchdown, I'd be all over the Red Raiders. As it is, the Red Raiders may be a good play, but the size of the line has scared me off.

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