NCAA Football Predictions: Bowl Week Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 12/15/2014
Thank you Marcus Mariota! I dropped a few dollars on Mariota's Heisman chances before this season, and it paid off nicely Saturday night when he became the first Oregon winner of college football's top award. It was one of the biggest landslides in Heisman history and well deserved if you ask me. He won't be back at Oregon next season, so we again won't have a repeat Heisman winner. The Heisman was really the only college football note of importance last week, although Navy won its 13th straight game over Army, 17-10. It was only the third time in that winning streak that the Midshipmen didn't beat their rivals by double digits.
Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (pick'em, 60.5): The New Orleans Bowl begins the postseason, and it's a familiar game for Louisiana-Lafayette as the Ragin' Cajins have played in this bowl the past three seasons. They won them all, beating Tulane 24-21 last year. So I guess if there's a home-field advantage ULL has it, although I'm not sure how well Louisiana-Lafayette fans travel. How is it Nevada always ends up with great dual-threat QBs? Of course Colin Kaepernick went there and the Wolf Pack now have Cody Fajardo. He and Kaepernick are the only QBs in FBS history to pass for 9,000 career yards and rush for 3,000. Nevada played better competition during the season, including wins over Washington State and BYU and close losses to Arizona, Boise State and Colorado State. The pick: Nevada.
Utah State vs. UTEP (+10.5, 48.5): It's the New Mexico Bowl from Albuquerque when the Aggies and Miners face off. Utah State had a shot at playing in the Mountain West Conference title game but was routed by Boise State 50-19 in the regular-season finale. That ended a five-game winning streak for the Aggies, who lost star QB Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending injury early in the year. UTEP was one of the most improved teams in the nation this year, going from 2-10 last year to 7-5 this. It's a run-heavy team with UTEP ranking 120th in passing yards. The pick: Take the points.
No. 22 Utah vs. Colorado State (+3, 58): I generally lean against schools that have interim coaches in bowl games, and that's the case with Colorado State. Jim McElwain left to take the Florida job, so offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin will coach here. He's a candidate for the full-time job. The CSU offense was very explosive this season and has one of the nation's best receivers in sophomore Rashard Higgins. He set school records with 89 catches for 1,640 yards and 17 scores. He was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. QB Garrett Grayson finished second nationally in rating behind Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. CSU was the only non-Power 5 team to beat two Power 5 clubs, dumping Colorado and Boston College. The Utes have Colorado as a common opponent, beating the Buffs 38-34 in the regular-season finale. Utah clearly has a better overall resume with wins at Michigan and over ranked UCLA and USC. The pick: Utah.
Western Michigan vs. Air Force (-1, 56): This one is on the blue turf at Boise State, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Western Michigan is looking for its first-ever bowl win as the Broncos are 0-5. They had the biggest turnaround in the nation behind the country's youngest head coach in P.J. Fleck. The 2014 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year has Western in its first bowl game since 2008. The Broncos were just 1-11 last year. They have a star freshman running back named Jarvion Franklin, who rushed for 1,525 yards and 24 touchdowns. If you are going to play an option team like Air Force, it's best in a bowl game because you can have a few weeks to prepare for that unique offense. Air Force, which finished fourth in the Mountain West standings this year with a 9-3 record, ended the season with a 27-24 victory over Colorado State. It also defeated ranked Boise State in September. The pick: AFA.
South Alabama vs. Bowling Green (+2.5, 54): It's the Camellia Bowl, which I honestly didn't know was a thing, from Montgomery, Ala., in this matchup. South Alabama has to be the worst bowl team out there at 6-6 and an FBS program for just three seasons. The Jaguars lost four of their final five games, three by double digits. They did play two SEC teams in Mississippi State and South Carolina and predictably were routed in both. Bowling Green closed the season with three straight losses, including a blowout to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. The Falcons were far from the second-best team in that conference but played in the weak MAC East Division. The pick: BGSU.
BYU vs. Memphis (pick'em, 57.5): This is next Monday's game, the new Miami Beach Bowl from Marlins Park. Memphis was a co-champion of the American Athletic Conference, and I'm a bit surprised that no big program hired Tigers coach Justin Fuente after the job he has done at Memphis. The school finished the season with six straight victories -- its longest in-season winning streak since 1969 -- and claimed its first conference title since 1971 BYU was three different teams this year. A very good one with star QB Taysom Hill, including a blowout win at Texas; then a lost one when Hill went down and the Cougars dropped four straight; then a resurgent one, closing the season with four straight wins. The pick: BYU.
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