NCAA Football Predictions: Bowl Week 2 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 12/22/2014
Starting Tuesday there are 12 bowl games this week, but only two involving teams who finished in the College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings: No. 15 Arizona State and No. 24 Southern Cal. If you have a live betting fix you need to resolve on Christmas Eve, your only options are the Bahamas Bowl and Hawaii Bowl -- neither of which has a particularly good matchup but great scenery if you are stuck in a cold-weather locale. Every major other sports schedule is dark on Dec. 24. Here's a look at some BetOnline lines that caught my eye this week.
Marshall vs. Northern Illinois (+10, 67): It's the Del Boca Vista bowl. Wait, sorry, that's from Seinfeld. No, it's the first-ever Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday from Florida Atlantic University, and this is a great matchup of two excellent non-Power 5 Conference teams. Marshall (12-1) might have snagged a spot in a New Year's Six Bowl if not for a shocking 67-66 home loss to Western Kentucky in the regular-season finale. Marshall then played really flat in the Conference USA title game but rallied for a 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech. It's the final college game for the best quarterback in Marshall history (yes, better than Chad Pennington), Rakeem Cato. He's the two-time C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. The four-year starter has thrown for 13,798 yards and 128 touchdowns in his career, both school records and on the Top-10 lists in FBS history. This season he has thrown for 3,622 yards and 37 scores while rushing for 457 yards and six TDs. He has thrown a TD pass in 45 straight games, shattering the FBS record. If Boise State had lost in the Mountain West title game, Northern Illinois (11-2) might be playing in a New Year's Six bowl. The Huskies crushed Bowling Green to win the MAC title for the third time in four years. NIU is a run-heavy team as three players have at least 573 yards, including QB Drew Hare. It wouldn't shock me if this is the highest-scoring bowl game of them all. The pick: Marshall, which was 3-0 vs. the MAC this year, routing Miami Ohio, Ohio and Akron. NIU beat Miami and Ohio but not in blowouts. Go "over."
Fresno State vs. Rice (-2.5, 59.5): This is the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve night, and both teams come off one-sided losses -- they also both started the year 0-3. At 6-7, Fresno State is the only team with a losing record playing in a bowl game. The Bulldogs won the very weak West Division of the Mountain West Conference but then were beaten 28-14 by Boise State in the conference championship game that got the Broncos a New Year's Six bowl invite. Rice played for the Conference USA West Division title but was slaughtered in the regular-season finale by Louisiana Tech 76-31. These schools do have a common opponent: Hawaii, with both hosting the Warriors. Rice beat Hawaii 28-14 on Oct. 4, and Fresno State won 28-21 on Nov. 29. FSU hasn't won a bowl game since 2007. Rice was routed in last season's Liberty Bowl. The pick: Rice and over.
Duke vs. Arizona State (-7.5, 65): Both teams probably aren't thrilled to be playing in the Sun Bowl in El Paso on Saturday. No offense to the Sun Bowl, but ASU had controlled its destiny to play in the Pac-12 title game, and Duke did the same for the ACC Championship Game. Arizona State lost 42-35 at Arizona with the Pac-12 South on the line in the regular-season finale. Coach Todd Graham started Taylor Kelly but replaced him with Mike Bercovici, so it's not clear who will start this game. Kelly, who missed a few games due to injury earlier this year, probably gets it because he's a senior. Duke was crushed 45-20 by North Carolina on Nov. 20 to end its ACC Coastal Division title hopes. The Blue Devils won a single game vs. a team that finished with a winning record. Still, Duke has to be thankful that head coach David Cutcliffe reportedly turned down overtures from Michigan. The pick: ASU has way more talent and should roll if motivated.
Penn State vs. Boston College (-2.5, 40): College football is an offensive extravaganza these days, so if that's your thing then avoid this Pinstripe Bowl from Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The total of 40 is by far the lowest of any bowl game. It still might be too high. PSU and BC used to play one another all the time before the Lions headed to the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are thrilled to be in any bowl after the NCAA lifted sanctions early this season. They can't run the ball and rank 115th in scoring offense (but No. 8 in defense). Penn State generally goes as inconsistent QB Christian Hackenberg does. He's a prototype big pocket passer. His counterpart is just the opposite: a smallish, quick QB who is a better runner than thrower. That would be the Eagles' Tyler Murphy, a transfer from Florida. BC ranks No. 123 nationally in passing but 15th in rushing. Murphy led the team with 1,079 yards on 170 carries. He added 10 scores and threw for 11 more. The pick: Eagles and under. BC, which is 18th in scoring defense, would appear to have the better resume as it beat USC and had close losses to Clemson and Florida State. Penn State beat no one of note.
Nebraska vs. USC (-7, 61.5): The Holiday Bowl in San Diego has to be thrilled with this matchup on Saturday night as somehow two of college football's most storied programs have never played in a bowl game. That shocked me. Southern Cal could be outstanding next season if junior quarterback Cody Kessler returns to school. He won't decide until after this game. He was awesome this year, completing 70.7 percent of his passes (No. 2 in nation) with 36 touchdowns and just four picks for a rating of 168.8 (No. 4). How focused will Nebraska be in the wake of Bo Pelini's firing? Barney Cotton is the interim coach before Mike Riley takes over. Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah looked like a Heisman finalist entering November but was hurt on Nov. 1 vs. Purdue and slowed down the final four games. All that time off should really benefit him. He needs 281 yards to break Mike Rozier's career school record. However, USC has one of the nation's best defensive tackles in Leonard Williams, the No. 1 overall prospect for the 2015 draft on many boards. The pick: USC. Nebraska's best win was probably Iowa. The Trojans beat Stanford, Arizona and Notre Dame, and nearly beat Arizona State and Utah.
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