Championship week ATS: 5-3 (4-3 National, 1-0 B1G)
Season ATS: 92-93-2 (42-42 National, 50-51-2 B1G)
After struggling for most of the season, it’s hard to find much fault with our picks the last couple of weeks. Sure, it would have been nice to grab a few more wins during Championship Week, but essentially the slate is clean heading into the bowl season.
MC&J will spread picks for the bowl games out over the next few weeks. We’ll start with picks for the first eight bowl games and late next week hit you with any other healthy serving of picks. Hopefully we can create some early momentum that will carry over into the 30+ games we have left after this week.
Cure Bowl: Tulane (-3.5) v. Louisiana - Saturday 12/15 1:30 PM EST - CBS Sports Network
What better way to start the bowl season than a matchup between Louisiana foes? Alright, so there are plenty of better ways to start the bowl season, but we’ll work with what we are given.
This won’t be the first time the Green Wave and Ragin’ Cajuns have matched up in a bowl game. Louisiana narrowly topped Tulane in the 24-21 New Orleans Bowl back in 2013, which marked the last time the Green Wave played in a bowl game. This marks the sixth time Louisiana has been tabbed to play in a bowl game, but the first time the Ragin’ Cajuns have played in a bowl game other than the New Orleans Bowl.
Tulane made the trip back to Columbus in September and were humbled by the Buckeyes. Plenty has changed since then for the Green Wave though, as they elevated LSU transfer Justin McMillian to starting quarterback, and have been hot ever since. With McMillan’s ability to throw the football, along with a potent rushing attack, Tulane has given opposing defenses fits.
These two teams are pretty evenly matched, but I like Tulane to win by more than a field goal here. Even though Louisiana has found success on the ground throughout the year with Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell, quarterback Andre Nunez has thrown 12 interceptions on the year. The Green Wave will capitalize on a few turnovers and grind the Ragin’ Cajuns down with their running game.
Tulane 34, Louisiana 24
New Mexico Bowl: Utah State (-7.5) v. North Texas - Saturday 12/15 2:00 PM EST - ESPN
Before Utah State can turn back the clock with Gary Andersen’s second stint with the Aggies, they’ll take on a North Texas team who saw head coach Seth Littrell spurn Kansas State. After Matt Wells bolted from Logan to head to Texas Tech, Utah State will see co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile take the reins for the bowl game.
After opening the season with a close loss to Michigan State, Utah State reeled off 10 straight wins before falling to Boise State in their final game of the regular season. Quarterback Jordan Love powers the Aggies offense, throwing 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Love will try and help Utah State snap a two-game bowl losing streak.
After taking over the Mean Green following a 1-11 2015 season, Littrell has now led North Texas to three straight bowl games. Much like his opposite number, North Texas quarterback Mason Fine is also smart with the football, throwing just five interceptions this year.
I’m a little skeptical of Utah State’s motivation in this game. It’s always tough to gauge how teams respond to interim head coaches. Add in the tough opponent the Aggies will be facing, and I think this game comes down to the wire. Even if Utah State wins, I don’t see it being by more than a touchdown.
Utah State 31, North Texas 28
Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State v. No. 21 Fresno State (-5) - Saturday 12/15 3:30 PM EST - ABC
How quickly things can change in a year. In early December last year, we were all mocking Arizona State for hiring Herm Edwards. The Sun Devils won four of their final five regular season games to ensure a winning season and bowl bid in Edwards’ first season in Tempe.
It will be a tall task to ask Arizona State to get to eight wins this year, though. Not only will the Sun Devils be squaring off with the Mountain West champs, but they’ll have to do so without the services of stud wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who will be sitting out this game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford has spent little time turning things around in Fresno. After posting a 10-4 record last year, the Bulldogs went 11-2 this season. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion has been a rock for Fresno State, tossing 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions. McMaryion’s favorite target this year has been KeeSean Johnson, who caught 90 passes for over 1,300 yards this year.
It’s hard to pick against Fresno State, especially with the defense the Bulldogs will throw at Arizona State. If Fresno State can corral Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin, they should be in good shape. The Bulldogs set a school record with their 12th win of the year.
Fresno State 30, Arizona State 20
Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern (-3) v. Eastern Michigan - Saturday 12/15 5:30 PM EST - ESPN
Eastern Michigan beat Purdue earlier this year in West Lafayette, which by rule means the Eagles are better than Ohio State. Ok, I’m kidding. Or maybe I’m not. You’ll never know.
Georgia Southern used their option attack to rush for 260 yards per game this year, and now they’ll be taking on an Eastern Michigan defense that ranked 93rd in the country against the rush. The Eagles will be looking to stay undefeated in bowl games since jumping up to the FBS, winning their only other appearance in the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl.
If Eastern Michigan still had Brogan Roback at quarterback, this choice would be so much easier. Still, I think Chris Creighton’s team notches the school’s first bowl win since the 1987 California Bowl. The extra time to prepare for Georgia Southern’s option attack pays off for Eastern Michigan.
Eastern Michigan 27, Georgia Southern 24
New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee State v. Appalachian State (-7) - Saturday 12/15 9:00 PM EST - ESPN
Appalachian State comes into this game in a similar situation to Utah State. The Mountaineers are dealing with the loss of head coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville, and will have defensive line coach Mark Ivey as interim head coach. Ivey took a bit of a blow recently though, as it was announced he wouldn’t be given the permanent title after the bowl game.
After what feels like 15 years as starting quarterback for the Blue Raiders, Brent Stockstill will play his final game under his father, head coach Rick Stockstill. The younger Stockstill has thrown for over 12,000 yards during his career at Middle Tennessee State, and will be looking to end his college career with a second straight bowl win.
What a season it has been for the Mountaineers. After nearly upsetting Penn State in Happy Valley to open the season, Appalachian State not only won 10 of their next 11 games, and took home the Sun Belt Championship. The Mountaineers make it 4-0 in bowl games since moving up to the FBS level, but the Blue Raiders certainly won’t make it easy.
Appalachian State 35, Middle Tennessee State 31
Boca Raton Bowl: UAB (-2.5) v. Northern Illinois - Tuesday 12/18 - 7:00 PM EST - ESPN
How can you not be rooting for UAB here? After not fielding a football team in 2015 and 2016, Bill Clark has led the Blazers to their second straight bowl game. Last year UAB was destroyed in the Bahamas Bowl by Ohio, but when you get to go to The Bahamas in December there really are no losers.
I’m not exactly sure how Northern Illinois came back to beat Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game, but the Huskies earned a 30-29 win over the Bulls earlier this month in Detroit. Now after taking home their first MAC title since 2014, Northern Illinois will be trying to halt a five-game bowl losing streak.
This game won’t be pretty to watch, but I like the Blazers to earn their first bowl win in school history. Running back Spencer Brown has been phenomenal this year, rushing for over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. Unlike Buffalo, once UAB gets a lead they won’t give it up.
UAB 23, Northern Illinois 17
Frisco Bowl: San Diego State v. Ohio (-3) - Wednesday 12/19 - 8:00 PM EST - ESPN
Sorry San Diego State, running backs Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny aren’t walking through that door. The Aztecs certainly could use both after closing out the regular season with four losses in their last five games.
On the other side, Ohio has put together a very strong season on offense, averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground, along with 260 yards per game through the air. The Bobcats won five of their last six games this year, putting up at least 49 points in each of those wins.
San Diego State does have a stout rushing defense, but I think Ohio’s balance on offense will open up holes for running back A.J. Ouellette. The Aztecs just don’t have the offense to keep pace in this one. Ohio against the world.
Ohio 41, San Diego State 28
Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall (-3) v. South Florida - Thursday 12/20 - 8:00 PM EST - ESPN
South Florida completely fell apart to close out the 2018 regular season, losing five straight games by at least 10 points. Quarterback Blake Barnett wasn’t available in two of the last three games for the Bulls, but should be good to go in Tampa on Thursday night.
Marshall has to be licking their chops to carve up a South Florida defense that allowed 31.5 points per game this year. Wide receiver Tyre Brady is just 86 yards away from reach 1,000 yards for the season, and will likely be targeted plenty by quarterback Isaiah Green.
While I may sound bullish on South Florida (see what I did there), I actually do like the Bulls to end their skid. Not only are they playing in what essentially is a home game, but they have had some time to address their issues. Charlie Strong salvages a disappointing second season with South Florida with a bowl win.
South Florida 38, Marshall 31