Miami Hurricanes vs. Washington State Cougars, Saturday Dec. 26, 2 p.m. ET
We can only hope that both teams don't revert to their recent bowl game form in this one - if they do it will be a very lame game. Miami last won a bowl game in 2006 and has lost five bowl games since. That recent record shines next to Washington State, though. The Cougars lost the 2013 New Mexico Bowl in a crazy shootout to Colorado State. That was their only bowl appearance since 2003. So, in other words, we can toss the narrative about two proud programs at the top of their game clashing in this one.
Sun Bowl Betting Storylines
The only thing worse than an interim coach with no chance of keeping the job long term is a lame duck interim coach. Larry Scott, formerly the tight end coach, took over the team when Al Golden was fired in October, and he has done an admirable job with a 4-1 record since. He is still in charge for this bowl game, but Mark Richt has been hired to return to his alma mater. Richt won't be involved in getting ready for this game, but his presence looms large. In these situations that can be a positive or a negative. Players can be highly motivated to work hard to impress the new coach or they can be looking ahead to the new regime and fail to show up for the old one. Your guess is as good as mine here - though I tend to lean towards feeling like the new hire is a slight positive in this game.
Mike Leach is seen as a renegade coach who does things his own way. A pirate. It mostly fits. The one thing he doesn't do consistently, though, is cover spreads in bowls games - he is 3-7 ATS in his 10 prior bowl appearances. Of current bowl coaches with at least four bowl appearances, only two have worse betting records in bowls - Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and San Diego State's Rocky Long are both a dismal 2-7 ATS in their bonus games (Baylor's Art Briles is tied with Leach at 3-7 ATS). That doesn't mean you should automatically bet against Leach here. It just means you need to have a particularly good reason to trust him because that trust has been so rarely rewarded in the past.
This is going to be a fun quarterback battle, though in a lot of ways I would rather see it next year. Miami's Brad Kaaya and Washington State's Luke Falk are two of the more exciting and talented sophomore quarterbacks in the country. Kaaya has more than 3,000 yards passing in each of his first two years, and it's impressive to think of the leap he could take next year with a more competent coaching staff in place. Falk was already on the All-Pac 12 first team, and he could be even better next year as things slow down again for him. He passed for nearly 4,300 yards and 36 touchdowns, and that was with missing the last game of the season. He converted red zone trips into touchdowns 94.3 percent of the time - the best in the country. Both have the advantage of playing weak defenses - the teams are tied for 83rd in the country with 28.8 points allowed per game. There are concerns for both guys, though. Kaaya has the uncertainty of the coaching situation to overcome here - an issue when he is likely heading into a shootout. Falk is very likely to be without his favorite receiving target - Gabe Marks, who had 99 catches for 1,125 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season, is dealing with an ankle injury.
Sun Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Washington State favored by the key number of three. That has since fallen to 2.5. More than three-quarters of all bets have come in on the Cougars, so the line movement is a clear sign that sharp money has hit the Hurricanes hard in early betting action. The total opened at 61 and us trending up - it can be found at 62 as I write.
The Hurricanes are 0-4 ATS in their last four bowl games, and 0-5 ATS in their last five neutral-site games. The Cougars are 6-0 ATS against a team with a winning record.
Miami vs. Washington State Sun Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I typically give line movement a lot of credit, but I am going to go against it here and take the Cougars. The opportunity to take them at less than a field goal is more than I can resist. Falk is a very good player, and even without Marks I expect him to have a solid day against this Miami defense. He will have to be on his game because the one thing Miami does well defensively is force turnovers, but Falk is so accurate and smart that I am not too worried about that. Washington State is a faster team, and they will be better-coached and presumably more focused in this one. There is value in Washington State.
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