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College Football odds, picks, and nuggets for bowl season 2014

Bowl season kicks off on Saturday and this year there are more games than ever to breakdown. With the College Football Playoff, as well as a couple new bowl games, the total number of bowl games has risen to 39 this year and MC&J will try and provide expert analysis on every single one of them.

Rakeem Cato and Marshall hope to make it two bowl wins in a row when they take on Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl
Rakeem Cato and Marshall hope to make it two bowl wins in a row when they take on Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Championship Weekend ATS: 5-2 (4-2 National, 1-0 B1G)

Season ATS: 86-95-1 (40-39-1 National, 46-55 B1G)

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Nevada (-1) v. Louisiana-Lafayette - 12/20 11:00 AM EST - ESPN

The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl might as well be a second home for Louisiana-Lafayette, with this being the fourth straight year the Ragin' Cajuns have been selected to appear in this bowl. Mark Hudspeth's team has yet to lose in New Orleans, winning each of the last three years. The Ragin' Cajuns will have their hands full trying to stop Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who has accounted for over 3,300 total yards and 31 total touchdowns. Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway didn't quite put up the numbers he did the last few years, but has done some of his best work in the New Orleans Bowl over the years. This game is essentially a toss-up when you look at the stats, so I'll take the team that has the routine of bowl week in the Big Easy down.

Louisiana-Lafayette 31 Nevada 27

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: UTEP v. Utah State (-10.5) - 12/20 2:20 PM EST - ESPN

After going 2-10 in head coach Sean Kugler's first year at the helm, UTEP made big strides this year to earn a berth in their first bowl game since the 2010 New Mexico Bowl against BYU. Meanwhile for Utah State, bowl bids have become second nature, with this being the fourth straight year the Aggies are going bowlin'. Utah State has dealt with adversity all year long, losing nine starters for the season due to injury. The biggest of those injuries was to quarterback Chuckie Keeton in the third game of the season. After the loss of two more quarterbacks, freshman Kent Myers has been serviceable, but the Aggies are led by their defense. The star is linebacker Zach Vigil, who accounted for 145 tackles and nine sacks on the season. Vigil will be tasked with trying to slow down UTEP running back Aaron Jones, who has rushed for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns this year. The Miners don't offer up much in the passing game, so while I'm not crazy about laying this many points with Utah State, I like the Aggies to shut down the run and put UTEP in a early hole they can't climb out of.

Utah State 28 UTEP 13

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: #22 Utah (-4) v. Colorado State - 12/20 3:30 PM EST - ABC

Colorado State rolled through their season, beating Boston College and Colorado, and only suffering losses to Boise State and Air Force. The bad news for the Rams is the strong season made head coach Jim McElwain a hot coaching commodity, and he left to take the Florida job. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin will take the reins for this game, but he'll have the luxury of leaning on quarterback Garrett Grayson, running back Dee Hart, and wide receiver Rashard Higgins. Grayson threw 32 touchdowns on the year, with 17 of them going to Higgins.

While the offensive stats for the Rams might be gaudy, they could have problems in this game since they have to deal with a very potent Utah pass rush. The biggest threat on defense for the Utes is defensive end Nate Orchard, who amassed 17.5 sacks on the season. Travis Wilson was solid all year for Utah, throwing 17 touchdowns and only tossing four interceptions. Wilson is complimented by 1,350 yard running back Devontae Booker.

These two teams used to be conference foes in the WAC and Mountain West, and this will be their 80th overall meeting. Utah is rock solid in bowl games, winning 10 of the last 11 they have appeared in. It's always hard to peg how a team will react to a coaching change before a bowl game, but with the history of how Utah has played lately in bowl games I like them to stymie the attack of the Rams.

Utah 24 Colorado State 17

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan v, Air Force (Pick) - 12/20 5:45 PM EST - ESPN

While this matchup in Boise might not be the most attractive of the bowl season, it features two teams who orchestrated tremendous turnarounds this year. Last year in his first year in Kalamazoo, P.J. Fleck suffered through a 1-11 season. 2014 saw a seven-win improvement for Fleck's team, and the next step will be trying to earn the first bowl game win ever for the Broncos. The star for Western Michigan is wide receiver Corey Davis, who accounted for 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.

After going just 2-10 last year, Troy Calhoun's squad made their own seven-win improvement, going 9-3 this year. How can you not love Air Force when they have a player named Weston Steelhammer patrolling the secondary? Steelhammer did his name proud, picking off six passes this season. You know what you are gonna get with the triple-option from Air Force, but quarterback Kale Pearson has proven he can sling it a little bit, throwing 14 touchdowns this season.

Both teams should be proud of the improvements they've made from last year, but I just can't help feeling like Air Force pulls this one out. P.J. Fleck is on the rise and soon enough should help Western Michigan earn their first bowl win, but I just think the bowl experience of Troy Calhoun, along with the familiarity of Boise for the Falcons will give them the edge.

Air Force 33 Western Michigan 28

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: South Alabama (-3) v. Bowling Green - 12/20 9:15 PM EST - ESPN

We all know there are too many bowl games, and this one is a prime example of one that many could have done without. Is going to Montgomery, Alabama really a reward? It might be the bowl game that Bowling Green deserves though after finishing the season with three straight losses, including get pasted by Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. The defense of the Falcons is pretty much non-existent, as they allowed 500 yards per game to opponents this season.

But can South Alabama actually take advantage of the terrible defense of the Falcons? The Jaguars fired their offensive coordinator following the regular season so there isn't a whole lot of stability with that unit. This is the first-ever bowl game for South Alabama and they'll get a little bit of a gift by being able to play it in their home state. I'm just not convinced they'll be able to keep the inaugural trophy in Alabama. I know Bowling Green's defense has been bad, but they have shown the ability to do some things on offense, which I'm not convinced South Alabama can do. Give me the points in a game that might come down to the wire.

Bowling Green 27 South Alabama 24

Miami Beach Bowl: BYU v. Memphis (-1.5) - 12/22 2:00 PM EST - ESPN

Last year around Christmas I was down in Memphis and I am wishing it was this year just so I could be around some of the Tiger fans leading up to and during the game. The Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, having won their last six games. Justin Fuente has done a great job in his short time in Memphis, turnaround a program that was really struggling when he took over. This year saw Memphis win their first conference title since 1969. Defense has been the calling card of this Tiger team, holding opponents to just 343 yards per game.

While Memphis has a nice winning streak going, BYU has one of their own going, winning four straight games after losing four in a row in the middle of the season. The Cougars struggled when they lost Taysom Hill for the season to injury, but Christian Stewart has made some strides filling in for Hill and has thrown 14 touchdowns over the last four games. Bronco Mendenhall's offense is averaging over 460 yards per game and will give Memphis one of their toughest tests of the season.

This should be one of the more interesting early bowl season games and the extra practice time should only help Stewart's comfort level at quarterback. Still I think the defense Memphis will field might be just a little too much for BYU to overcome. While the defense of Memphis gets all the headlines, their offense has been on a roll lately. Quarterback Paxton Lynch's versatility should be the difference in the game to help Memphis cap off one of the best seasons in school history.

Memphis 28 BYU 21

Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall (-9.5) v. Northern Illinois - 12/23 6:00 PM EST - ESPN

What a crazy season it was for Marshall. After looking to have a hold on the "group-of-five" New Year's bowl, a 67-66 loss to Western Kentucky dashed all those dreams. The Thundering Herd rebounded to slide by Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA Championship Game. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is the big star of the Marshall offense, but running back Devon Johnson might have had rushed for the quietest 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns.

After losing all-everything Jordan Lynch to graduation last year, Northern Illinois didn't have too much of an adjustment period this year, winning 11 games and handily taking down Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game. The Huskies have won seven straight games behind a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Drew Hare ran for over 800 yards and threw for 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Just make sure you aren't doing shots of spiked egg nog on Christmas Eve Eve because it could make Christmas Eve pretty unbearable to deal with. Rod Carey is 0-2 in bowl games at Northern Illinois and Doc Holliday is 2-0 at Marshall. I think each coach takes those numbers to 0-3/3-0 but the game stays within the number. Northern Illinois keeps it tight but doesn't have quite enough offense to pull out the victory.

Marshall 42 Northern Illinois 35

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Navy v. San Diego State (-3) - 12/23 9:30 PM EST - ESPN

This is a rematch of the 2010 SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl which saw San Diego State win 35-14 but the Midshipmen are hoping this edition will be a lot closer. Navy comes in averaging 345 yards per game rushing, but have a little less time to prepare for this game after finishing up their regular season against Army on Saturday. The Midshipmen have won four of their last five games coming into this matchup, with their only loss in that span coming to Notre Dame.

San Diego State has won five of their last seven, mostly behind the running of Donnel Pumphrey, who has accounted for 1,755 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. Pumphrey could be in for a big game against a Navy defense that allowed opponents to rush for 200 yards per game. While the triple-option attack may be daunting for most teams to defend, the Aztecs did have the luxury of taking on Air Force late in the season, who they beat 30-14.

Not only do the Aztecs have some prior experience against the triple-option this year, but they'll be playing in a stadium where they are 6-0 so far this season. It feels wrong to root against Navy but I just think with the home-field and the extra prep time that Navy didn't have, the Aztecs are the right side in this contest.

San Diego State 27 Navy 20

Popeye's Bahamas Bowl: Central Michigan v. Western Kentucky (-4) - 12/24 12:00 PM EST - ESPN

Both of these schools lucked out on where they'll be spending the time around Christmas by being selected to head to Nassau for the inaugural edition of this bowl. Plus, ALL THE FREE POPEYE'S BONAFIDE CHICKEN YOU CAN IMAGINE. Central Michigan had one of the better defenses in the country this year, and they'll need that unit to step up against the high-powered Western Kentucky offense. The Chippewas best win of the year came in October when they went into Northern Illinois and beat the eventual MAC champions.

Western Kentucky might be one of the most exciting teams that you haven't seen this year. Not only did Brandon Doughty throw for 7,000 yards and 38 touchdowns in the win against Marshall, but the Hilltoppers scored over 30 points in all but one game this year. The problem for Western Kentucky is for as good as their offense is, their defense is equally as bad. In his first year in Bowling Green, Jeff Brohm has his team playing their best football at the end of the season, coming into this game on a four-game winning streak.

This is the first bowl game being played outside of the United States or Canada since 1937 which provides a little bit of intrigue. I mean what else are you going to be doing at noon on Christmas Eve? Spending time with family? Don't be silly. Might as well root for Western Kentucky in this one since they had the decency to lose to a crappy Big Ten, unlike Central Michigan, who beat Purdue early in the year.

Western Kentucky 48 Central Michigan 38

Hawai'i Bowl: Fresno State v. Rice (-2) - 12/24 8:00 PM EST - ESPN

For me there is usually nothing crueler than sitting in Western New York on Christmas Eve (usually buried by snow) and watching this game and seeing all the picturesque shots from around the islands. Last year the matchup was Boise State and Oregon State, but we must've been terrible this year since Santa Claus is bring us Fresno State and Rice. The Bulldogs actually come into this game with a losing record, but that's only because they dropped the Mountain West Championship Game to Boise State. Many thought Fresno State would struggle without Derek Carr, but a early season schedule of USC, Nebraska, and Utah helped toughen them up for a strong late season run.

Rice ran off a six-game win streak in the middle of the season but did the Owls peak too early? The last time Rice was on the football field Louisiana Tech dropped 76 points on them. This marks the third straight bowl game the Owls have gone to under head coach David Bailiff, splitting the first two results. Rice would be wise to run the football with Fresno State giving up over 200 yards per game on the ground.

Every year I pick the Hawai'i Bowl and every year it seems like I miss badly the game. With as bad as Fresno State is on defense conventional wisdom says that Rice should win. I'm going side on the opposite side of conventional wisdom here. Even with the loss to Boise State (nothing to be ashamed of) Fresno State seems to be trending upward, while I'm not sure how Rice will respond to the drubbing they took in the regular season finale from Louisiana Tech.

Fresno State 37 Rice 31