NCAA Football Predictions: Bowl Week 3 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 12/29/2014
Sadly, it's the final full week of bowl action in college football, with only the National Championship Game next Monday left on the schedule after this week. Thus, this will be my final NCAA week-ahead preview story here at Doc's. College football season is simply too short! But this is also the best week of the year for NCAA football fans because there is at least one game each day and multiple matchups Monday-Friday. We get at least one matinee every day, and matinee football on a weekday is a great thing, especially for those of us who work from home. Here's a look at some BetOnline lines that caught my eye this week.
Notre Dame vs. No. 23 LSU (-7, 52): The Music City Bowl in Nashville has to be thrilled with this matchup for Tuesday afternoon. True, the Irish and Tigers have been disappointments, but they are two of the marquee programs in the nation. It's amazing how far Notre Dame has fallen. It was No. 5 in the country and QB Everett Golson was a Heisman candidate when the Irish went to Florida State and nearly upset the Seminoles. However, that was the beginning of the end for both the Irish and Golson. Notre Dame beat Navy in the next game but ended the season losing four in a row. The Notre Dame defense allowed at least 31 points in the final seven games, one of the worst stretches in school history, after not giving up more than 17 in the first five. Golson became a turnover-machine, giving it away a whopping 22 times overall. Thus, Brian Kelly will play both Golson and backup Malik Zaire in this game as a prelude to a competition for the 2015 job. The good news for Notre Dame's defense is LSU can't throw the ball much and struggles to score. The Tigers didn't top 17 points in their final four games. The pick: LSU and "under."
No. 19 Auburn vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (+6.5, 63.5): Get your chips and dip and beer ready and plop down on your recliner or coach on Thursday for an incredible day of action. It all kicks off at noon with this strong matchup in the Outback Bowl from Tampa. The Badgers will be coached by Athletic Director Barry Alvarez in this game as former coach Gary Andersen rocked the program by leaving for Oregon State after just two seasons in Madison. How can that not be a major distraction? Pitt's Paul Chryst will then take over as full-time coach. All eyes will be on Wisconsin running back and Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon here. Gordon, who already announced he's turning pro, has 2,336 rushing yards this season, No. 4 all time. He is 293 yards from breaking the FBS record of 2,628 by Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders in 1988. He will face an Auburn defense that was largely terrible the second half of the season, costing coordinator Ellis Johnson his job. Auburn seems to have upgraded there by hiring former Florida coach Will Muschamp, but safeties coach Charlie Harbison will lead the defense in this game. Auburn and Wisconsin do have a common opponent in LSU. The Tigers rallied past Wisconsin for a 28-24 win in the season opener in Houston, but they were routed at Auburn 41-7 in early October. The pick: Auburn and over.
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State (+9, 71.5): The first-ever College Football Playoff kicks off a little after 5 p..m. ET from the Rose Bowl with this fantastic matchup between the Pac-12 champion Ducks and ACC champion Seminoles, who are looking to win a second straight national title. That total opened as the highest of any bowl game but dropped ever so slightly and is now tied with the Michigan State-Baylor Cotton Bowl, also on New Year's Day. There should be plenty of offense here with 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota facing off against 2013 winner Jameis Winston. It's just the third time Heisman winners have faced off in a bowl game. I'm fairly certain this is the first time in modern history a team has been a 9-point underdog while riding a 29-game winning streak and as the defending national champion. It's the first time FSU has been an underdog since September 2011 against Clemson. There's one very big injury to be aware of here if you aren't already. That's to Oregon's best defensive player, All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The Jim Thorpe Award finalist and likely first-round pick tore up his knee. That's huge because the Ducks would have stuck him on FSU star receiver Rashad Greene, who has 93 receptions for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns. Now redshirt freshman Chris Seisay will start for Oregon. The pick: I was rather leaning toward FSU before this injury but now I love, love the points. I would go over.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State (+9, 58.5): I bet this line would have been a few points lower if Buckeyes redshirt freshman breakout star QB J.T. Barrett were able to play. Of course, he was lost for the year in the regular-season finale against Michigan. Third-stringer Cardale Jones played very well in the Big Ten Championship Game rout of Wisconsin, going 12 of 17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns against what had been a very good Badgers defense. Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have their work cut out to prepare him for this Alabama defense. Herman could be a bit distracted as he already has been hired as the new coach at the University of Houston. Alabama ranks No. 11 in total defense and No. 4 in scoring. I think the Buckeyes are in trouble if they can't run the ball, and the Tide are No. 2 nationally against the run. Expect plenty of OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott, at least to begin the game. The sophomore was overshadowed by Barrett, but Elliott rushed for 1,402 (6.5 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns. He was big against Wisconsin, rushing for 220 yards and two TDs. Bovada lists his over/under for the game at 124.5 yards, with under a -140 favorite. The pick: Alabama. The Tide have outscored their opposition 63-14 in the last two postseason games with national titles on the line and a month to prepare. Also under on Elliott as the Tide will make Jones beat them, and I'm not sure he can.
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