College Bowl Game Handicapping: Matchups Better than they Appear
by Trevor Whenham - 12/10/2013
I love bowl season. It’s possibly the best time of year — and not just because of the whole Christmas thing. The BCS bowls are great and all, but what I really love are the 20 or more bowls that few people really care about. Games almost every day. Matchups we don’t see often. Teams coming off long rests and often facing countless distractions. It’s handicapping wonderland. Those who don’t share my love of the season complain that there are too many boring games. I couldn’t disagree more. Here are five bowls that might look lousy on the surface but which are really quite interesting. These games have the potential to be both profitable and very interesting:
New Mexico Bowl, Washington State vs. Colorado State, Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET
Colorado State hasn’t been in a bowl game since 2008. For Washington State it has been since 2003. Both teams are on the long climb back from some ugly depths under second-year coaches. They are far from complete teams at this point, but are both moving in the right direction. Mike Leach will be very creative with his squad. Jim McElwain has a remarkably balanced offense. It’s conservative versus reckless, and both teams have shortcomings that will ensure there will be plenty of mistakes on both sides. That can make it fun. Washington State should travel well for this bowl, and that should add to the atmosphere.
Las Vegas Bowl, USC vs. Fresno State, Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET
USC has faced all sorts of drama this year and will go into this game with their third head coach — with the fourth already waiting in the wings. Interim coach Ed Orgeron quit when he wasn’t given the job full time, so offensive coordinator Clay Helton will coach this game before handing the team to new coach Steve Sarkisian. Helton did a great job calling plays after Lane Kiffin was fired, so he should have the respect of the team. How they will respond after all this mess is uncertain, though the fact that Sarkisian is in the house should have players playing hard for their futures. Fresno State, meanwhile, fell just short of a BCS bowl, but they are very fun to watch. They don’t win easy, but they score a lot of points, and QB Derek Carr is playing at a very high level. The Bulldogs will be looking to prove that they are for real after facing such a soft schedule, and this would be a real statement win. This game has the potential for plenty of drama and could be a real shootout.
New Orleans Bowl, Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ET
A third straight Dec. 21 game. I know what I’ll be doing that day. The Ragin’ Cajuns are playing in their third straight New Orleans Bowl. They have been a virtual home team in each of the last two because they are so close to home, but now that they are facing Tulane they will be visitors. Louisiana-Lafayette has a very good QB in Terrance Broadway, and the break before this game should let his broken arm heal and allow him to return to action. They are the better team but likely not the more driven one. Tulane is enjoying their first winning season since 2002 and is playing in just their fourth bowl game in 30 years. Led by QB Nick Montana (yes, that Montana) and a very solid defense, the Green Wave will be looking to entertain the home fans. Louisiana pride will be on the line here, and it should be fun.
AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Arizona vs. Boston College, Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET
The Wildcats are in the midst of a deliberate rebuild — the second year under Rich Rodriguez. There has been real progress. Coach Steve Addazio at Boston College knows all about progress as well. The team won just two games last year but has seven wins in the first year under their new coach. While the teams are moving in the right direction, the real story here is the battle of the running backs. Boston College’s Andre Williams is heading to New York for the Heisman ceremony after surpassing 2,100 yards and scoring 17 times. Ka’Deem Carey is the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year after surpassing 100 yards in 15 straight games, and he is averaging 156 yards per game. It’s strength against strength, and you know both players will be looking to get the best of the matchup. This battle will be fun to watch.
Compass Bowl, Vanderbilt vs. Houston, Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET
This is one of those games that usually gets lost in the midst of the BCS schedule. This matchup deserves better. Both squads are well-coached, and both can do some nice things on offense. I’m particularly a fan of Houston’s true freshman QB John O’Korn, who is on the verge of a big career. What makes this one so interesting, though, is the focus both teams have on takeaways. Vanderbilt took the ball away 26 times on the year. That would be impressive by most measures, but it pales next to Houston. The Cougars lead the nation both in takeaways with 40 and turnover margin at +25. Both teams will get a taste of their own takeaway medicine in this one. Whichever team can weather it better will come out on top. The game will be a masterclass in stripping the ball.
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