Not only was the Ohio State loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game depressing enough, then I had to deal with throwing up an 0-fer up on the board for conference championship weekend. The worst picks in the short history of MC&J erased the work that had been done during the season to build a little bit of cushion on the .500 mark heading into bowl season. The one bright spot about having picks so bad and an extra week to stew over them is that it made me work harder than normal to choose winners in the first eight bowl games that are on tap over the next week.
Last Week ATS: 0-8 (0-7 National, 0-1 B1G)
Season ATS: 83-82-3 (40-39-2 National, 43-43-1 B1G)
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Washington State v. Colorado State (-5) - 12/21 2:00 PM EST - ESPN
If you're a fan of offense, the New Mexico Bowl should be right up your alley. "JESSE, WE CAN COOK IN THE DEFENSES!" The last five editions of the New Mexico Bowl have averaged 72.6 total points, and that should be easily eclipsed this year with two teams going at it that don't really feature much on defense. This is the first bowl game for Washington State since 2003, while Colorado State actually has won this bowl once, when they defeated Fresno State 40-35 in 2008.
Washington State will look to pass the rock early and often, but that shouldn't be a surprise coming from a team coached by Mike Leach. The Cougars were last in the nation this year, only averaging 58.7 yards/game on the ground, but they made up for that behind the arm of Connor Halliday, who was fourth in the nation with 364.5 yards/game through the air. One concern for Halliday is that he threw 21 interceptions on the season, but some of that could be because Washington State expects him to do so much through the air.
Colorado State is a little more balanced on offense, but their main weapon is running back Kapri Bibbs. On the season Bibbs ran for 1,572 yards and was able to score 28 touchdowns. The Rams will need him to score early and often to keep be able to keep pace with the Washington State offense, as Colorado State allowed 265.4 yards/game through the air, which was 109th in the country. This could be one of those cases where the best defense for Colorado State is Bibbs and company keeping it on the ground and keeping Mike Leach's offense on the sidelines.
I'm intrigued to watch Bibbs in this one, since I didn't even notice that he had 28 rushing touchdowns on the year until I was doing research on this game. I can see him putting up some big numbers against Wazzu's D and Connor Halliday to throw a couple picks to keep this one close, but in the end Mike Leach's pirate ship barely sneaks by the Rams to open up bowl season.
Washington State 38 Colorado State 35
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: #21 Fresno State v. USC (-6.5) - 12/21 3:30 PM EST - ABC
So which team will actually decided to show up for this game? USC is on their third coach of the season with offensive coordinator Clay Helton taking the interim head coaching duties for this one before Steve Sarkisian takes the reigns next year. Fresno State had a shot at a BCS bid but a 62-52 loss to San Jose State the day after Thanksgiving dashed those hopes. To the Bulldogs' credit they did bounce back to beat Utah State 24-17 in the WAC Championship Game.
Fans get at the game in Las Vegas will get quite a treat with three tremendous receivers on the field. Fresno State's Davante Adams has been the favorite target of quarterback Derek Carr all year as Adams has hauled in 122 receptions for 1,645 yards and 23 touchdowns. On the other side, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor haven't quite racked up the stats that Adams has this year, but they also haven't had a quarterback quite like Carr at their disposal. USC has been successful with the run this year, with three running backs going for at least 300 yards on the season. The bad news for the Trojans is that they won't have Silas Redd in this one, and might be without running back Tre Madden.
I just think there has been too much coaching turnover in this one to justify taking USC as almost a touchdown favorite. Last year's horrible performance in the Sun Bowl also leaves me weary of taking USC in this one. I like the combination Carr to Adams in this one and even if the Bulldogs can't beat the Trojans, they'll at least keep it close.
Fresno State 37 USC 30
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo (-1) v. San Diego State - 12/21 5:30 PM EST - ESPN
The first two teams that Ohio State played this season have rebounded from rough starts to gain bowl eligibility. The prize for getting at least six wins on the season? Going to Boise in December. The Bulls might not see this as too much of a problem since there really isn't much worse than Buffalo in the winter, but even though the temperature in Boise on Saturday is supposed to top out around 40 degrees, it's still a far cry from the San Diego weather that the Aztecs are used to.
This is only the second time in school history that the Bulls have played in a bowl game, and they'll be looking for their first win after losing their only other bowl appearance in 2009 to UConn in the International Bowl. (What is it with Buffalo football teams playing in Toronto?) The main attraction in the game for fans will be Lambert Award winning linebacker Khalil Mack, who finished with 19 tackles for loss and set the NCAA record for forced fumbles in a career last month. Mack is a big reason why Buffalo finished +15 in turnover margin, which ranked fourth in the nation. Offensively the Bulls aren't bad either, with Branden Oliver being the feature. On the season Oliver ran for 1,421 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.
San Diego State will try to counter with Adam Muema and Donnel Pumphery, who combined for 1,765 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, to try and open it up for quarterback Quinn Kaehler to hit Ezell Ruffin through the air. Ruffin hauled in 63 passes for 1,061 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. Kaehler replaced Adam Dingwell early in the Ohio State game and has had a firm grip on the QB job ever since.
It would be fitting if this game went to overtime, since four Aztec games this year haven't been able to be decided in regulation, but I don't think that'll be necessary in this one. I think Mack will have a big game in the last game he plays for the Bulls and forces a couple turnovers that turn into the Bulls offense will turn into points.
Buffalo 33 San Diego State 24
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Tulane (-3) v. Louisiana-Lafayette - 12/21 9:00 PM EST - ESPN
While this bowl game may be held where Tulane plays their home games, it's not like Louisiana-Lafayette is going to be traveling cross country to get to this one. The Ragin' Cajuns are no stranger to playing in the Superdome, as this will be the third straight year that they have played in the New Orleans Bowl. On the other hand, this will be the first bowl game for Tulane since the 2002 Hawaii Bowl.
Head coach Curtis Johnson has turned around a program that was struggling, and the Green Wave have gone from 2-10 last year to 7-5 this year, mainly behind their stingy defense. The Green Wave have only allowed opponents just over 21 points/game on the season, and Tulane might have actually won a few more games this year if their offense had a little more punch. Nick Montana is the quarterback for Tulane, and while I'm sure we'll hear about who his Dad is in the game, I'm sure we won't see too much resemblance to his old man's play, as on the season he's only completing 53% of his passes.
Statistically Louisiana-Lafayette has the offensive edge on Tulane, but if Terrance Broadway misses the bowl game due to injury then the Ragin' Cajuns could be in real trouble against a tough Tulane D. Broadway broke a bone in his forearm against UL-Monroe on November 30th and is questionable to play in this one. In Broadway's absence against South Alabama, Mark Hudspeth used three quarterbacks and none of them did well as Louisiana-Lafayette lost 30-8.
I'm going to assume that Broadway isn't going to play in this one, which would be a shame since he'd be one of the best players out there on the field. With Broadway I would've taken Louisiana-Lafayette in this one, but without him I just can't back them, especially against that Tulane defense. Hudspeth may have a few weeks to get the quarterback that replaces Broadway a little more comfortable, but it's still hard to back a team that is coming off a 30-8 loss to South Alabama. Also it doesn't hurt my confidence that Tulane was 9-3 against the spread this year, while ULL was only 4-8.
Tulane 27 Louisiana-Lafayette 20
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: East Carolina (-14) v. Ohio - 12/23 2:00 PM EST - ESPN
Nothing like the historic Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl for a little Christmas Eve Eve afternoon action. Even though Michigan isn't playing I'm sure there is a Brady Hoke/Beef 'O' Brady's/Ohio joke out there, but the combinations are endless so I'll let you formulate your own. The Bobcats might rather be facing Michigan instead of a East Carolina team that is averaging over 40 points per game on the season.
The Pirates are led by junior quarterback Shane Carden, who passed for 3,866 yards and 32 touchdowns as East Carolina went 9-3 on the season. Justin Hardy was the preferred target of Carden, with Hardy accumulating 105 catches for 1,218 yards and 8 touchdowns. Before losing to Marshall in the regular season finale East Carolina had won five straight games, including winning at N.C. State. Earlier in the season the Pirates also beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill and lost 15-10 to Virginia Tech.
While East Carolina ended the season strong, the same can't be said for Ohio. The Bobcats had dropped three straight before defating Massachusetts 51-23 in their final regular season game. Those three losses that Ohio suffered to Kent State, Bowling Green, and Buffalo were by a combined score of 123-16. Ohio does have something that East Carolina doesn't have this season, which is a win over Marshall, but that happened back in early September.
The Bobcats have won their last two bowl games while East Carolina has won their last four, but I think East Carolina will have too much offense for Ohio to keep up with. I wasn't impressed with how Ohio finished the season and I don't think they'll have been able to do enough to fix things by kickoff and East Carolina tries to set the tone for what could be a very strong 2014.
East Carolina 43 Ohio 24
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Boise State v. Oregon State (-3) - 12/24 8:00 PM EST - ESPN
The Christmas Eve sports staple that is the Hawaii Bowl includes a Boise State team that will have linebackers coach Bob Gregory coach after Chris Petersen having left to become the Washington head coach. The Broncos have hired former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin from Arkansas State to take over for Petersen, but he won't coach the bowl game. But the real pre-Christmas treat might be getting to see Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks in action for Oregon State.
The Beavers started the season with a loss to Eastern Washington before winning six straight games and following that up with five straight losses to end the season. Oregon State hung with Oregon in the Civil War, but wasn't able to close out their rivals and lost 36-35. Cooks caught 120 passes on the season and led the FBS with 1,670 yards receiving. That helped Sean Mannion rank second among FBS quarterbacks with 4,403 passing yards on the season to go along with 36 touchdowns.
While Oregon State should be able to put points up on the scoreboard, I can't see them being able to keep Boise State from doing the same. In their last four games Oregon State allowed at least 30 points, including giving up 69 points to Washington. The Broncos offense is averaging just over 200 yards/game on the season, and I expect Jay Ajayi to have a big game. Ajayi has run for 1,328 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season, while Oregon State is allowing 193 yards/game. It isn't known if Joe Southwick or Grant Hedrick will get the nod at QB in this game, but both have shown themselves capable of being able to lead the Broncos.
Even with these two teams having up-and-down seasons and not quite meeting expectations, this has the makings of being one of the more exciting early season bowl games. Boise State has won four straight bowl games, and I do like the way they finished the season as opposed to how Oregon State did.
Boise State 41 Oregon State 34
Little Caesars Bowl: Pittsburgh v. Bowling Green (-5.5) - 12/26 6:00 PM EST - ESPN
After spending the last three years in Birmingham for the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh will at least get a change of scenery when they head to Detroit for the Little Caesars Bowl. The Panthers went 1-2 in their games in Birmingham, but those two losses were in their most recent bowl games against SMU and Ole Miss. Their opponent Bowling Green will be playing their second straight game at Ford Field after beating Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game.
There will be a major difference for Bowling Green in this game as opposed to the one against Northern Illinois, as head coach Dave Clawson too the head coaching job at Wake Forest. Special teams coordinator Adam Scheier will take over step in for the MAC Champions as interim head coach. The Falcons fifth ranked scoring defense shut down Jordan Lynch in the MAC Championship Game, and before that didn't allow double digits in their previous four games. The Bowling Green offense is hard to defend with the great balance they have. Quarterback Matt Johnson passed for 3,195 yards to go along with 23 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, while Travis Greene rushed for 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The only hope that Pittsburgh really has in this one is if they can get Nagurski Award winner and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald to create havoc in the backfield and force Bowling Green into turnovers. The Panther offense was inconsistent throughout the year and would be helped out if they could get some short field to work with against the stingy Bowling Green defense. It would be wise for quarterback Tom Savage to look towards Tyler Boyd if Pitt wants to put points on the board. The freshman wide receiver has already broke Larry Fitzgerald's freshman Panther record with 77 receptions, and only needs 7 more yards to break the freshman receiving yards mark that Fitzgerald currently holds.
Bowling Green has been great against the spread this year, compiling a 10-3 mark, and I like them to add another win to that record the night after Christmas. Pitt is just too streaky of a team to trust in this spot. When Bowling Green has won this year, they have left no doubt about it, and I think they'll be playing lose in a familiar environment on the heels of making a very good coaching hire of Dino Babers from Eastern Illinois.
Bowling Green 31 Pittsburgh 17
SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State v. #24 Northern Illinois (-2.5) - 12/26 9:30 PM EST - ESPN
Instead of possibly going to a BCS bowl game, Northern Illinois will instead be playing in San Diego the night after Christmas. There are a lot worse places to be spending Christmas, but Northern Illinois had higher aspirations after starting the season undefeated before losing to Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game. Utah State on the other hand is probably just happy to be heading to a bowl after it looked like it could be a long season when quarterback Chuckie Keeton went down early in the season.
The Aggies used a strong defense to make up for the loss of Keeton, winning their last five games before losing 24-17 to Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game. Utah State was seventh in the nation, only allowing opponents to score 17.3 points/game, but they'll have their hands full trying to contain Jordan Lynch. The prime candidates to knock Lynch off his game will be linebackers Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil, who both recorded over 110 tackles this year.
Lynch recently finished third in the Heisman voting after racking up huge numbers both through the air as well as on the ground. In his senior season, Lynch is second in the country in rushing with 1,881 yards on the ground, and only needs 119 yards rushing to become the first player to both throw and run for 2,000 yards in a season. The concern for the Huskies in this one is that their defense showed some serious holes against Bowling Green which put Lynch and company in a hole they just couldn't get out of.
With this being the last game that Lynch plays for the Huskies I expect a big performance from him and his teammates. Utah State freshman QB Darell Garretson should play after suffering a helmet-to-helmet hit against Fresno State, but it'll be interesting to see if that hit has any lingering effects on him. A Chuckie Keeton/Jordan Lynch matchup in this one would have been great to watch, but without Keeton I just don't think Utah State can keep pace with the Huskies.
Northern Illinois 35 Utah State 24