The playoff games and the rest of the New Year's six are really good matchups this year. They are, without exception, interesting and exciting games that promise both handicapping challenges and exciting play. For too many casual fans and bettors, though, that is where bowl season starts and ends for them. They don't bother to pay any attention to the games that come before or after the big games. They are missing out. Sure, with 40 games on the schedule there are sure to be some duds. This year, though, there are also several games beyond the marquee ones that promise to be real thrillers - and which are going to be very interesting to handicap. Here are five of the most interesting games beyond the most obvious ones. ( Odds are from BetOnline):
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Russell Athletic Bowl, December 29 - UNC (+3) vs. Baylor: Baylor has the top scoring offense in the country, with 48 points per game. North Carolina is not far back in 11th with just short of 41. This one has the potential to get crazy. Baylor should also be in much better shape at quarterback - they were forced to go to their fourth-stringer last time out. It shouldn't take much explanation here - when two teams with very good offenses and less-impressive defenses play each other, it's almost certain to be fun to watch.
Texas Bowl, December 29 - LSU (-6) vs. Texas Tech: Leonard Fournette cooled down in the second half of the season to throw away what seemed to be his Heisman for the taking. He's still a mega-freak, though. In Texas Tech he will face a run defense that I will generously call porous. That could make for a big day on the ground for the Tigers. LSU has showed vulnerability against creative offenses, though - vulnerability that almost cost Les Miles his job in one of the most bizarre circuses of the season, or even the decade - and the Red Raiders could be well positioned to take advantage of that. If Texas Tech can strike early they may force LSU to move away from the run a bit, and that could shape the game. Very interesting contest.
Birmingham Bowl, December 30 - Auburn (-2.5) vs. Memphis: Auburn is a bad team. They had just two wins in the SEC this year - as many as Memphis would have if they win here after beating Ole Miss. Auburn also took a hit when defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left - after he was mystifyingly offered the South Carolina job, proving that administrators at USC don't watch the SEC. There is drama around the traditional power, and little of it is good. What really makes this game interesting, though, is Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. Last time we saw him he was throwing seven touchdowns against SMU - in the first half. He is very good, and there is a lot of talk that he could be a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft if he leaves school a year early. This is a huge stage for him because a statement here could seal his fate, and it will be very interesting to see how he responds - against a defense that should certainly be vulnerable. He alone turns Auburn's bowl game from a snoozer to a must-watch.
Citrus Bowl, January 1 - Michigan (-4) vs. Florida: Both of these teams went through radical and much-needed coaching changes this year, and the results have been dramatic and instantaneous. A win in this one would be a nice capper for both teams. There is no shortage of stories here. Florida's offense has been MIA since having to deal with a QB suspension, so they needed to get that back on track in a hurry or that will be a problem. They'll face a Michigan defense that has lost their defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin - he is the new head coach at Maryland. That might not be a bad thing for the Wolverines, though - Durkin was at Florida in the same role until this year, so players there are familiar with his tendencies. Michigan relies heavily on QB Jake Rudock, but he was wearing a sling after the massacre by Ohio State, and the status of his health is uncertain. Behind him they essentially have nothing right now. Both teams and their fans would like to imagine that this is a preview of the National Championship Game in a couple of years. This will be a good measuring stick for both teams and their star coaches.
Alamo Bowl, January 2 - Oregon (+2) vs. TCU: Both teams have very good QBs - Trevone Boykin for TCU and Vernon Adams for Oregon. Neither guy has consistently been healthy, though, and that has led their teams here instead of a game a day or two earlier that they would much rather be in. A month to heal is just what the doctor ordered, though. We should see both guys at their best, and both excellent coaching staffs will have had plenty of time to scheme and prepare. This one could look like a video game - in the most interesting of ways. Last possession could matter here, and that would be a heck of a way to cap the bowl season.
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