There are some bowl games that seem almost easy to handicap. One team is clearly better, the spread seems fair, and the value is staring you right in the face. Those are the games we dream of as handicappers. And then there are games like these five. Maybe both teams have issues. Maybe they have played different schedules that make them hard to compare. Maybe there are too many unknowns to know for sure what to expect. Whatever the reason, these five games are, in my eyes, the toughest of the massive slate of games this year to get a comfortable read on. ( Odds are from BetOnline):
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Holiday Bowl, December 30 - USC (-3) vs. Wisconsin: It is really hard to figure out what to expect from USC. Clay Helton was the least-inspiring coaching choice possible, but players seem fine with it. He is still acting as offensive coordinator, though, so he could be pulled in a lot of directions heading into this game. As if things weren't already tough enough, he chose to fire defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and several other coaches before this game, so the staff is very shorthanded. And then it was announced that Steve Sarkisian is suing the university for millions for wrongful termination. Will USC collapse amidst the pile of excuses or rally at the start of their new future? Hard to tell. It would be easier to write them off against other teams than it is against Wisconsin. The Badgers aren't nearly as good as their 9-3 record suggests - they played just three decent teams and lost to all of them. They seem to lack an identity, which isn't surprising given the coaching carousel they have been riding on. They are less well positioned than many teams would be to exploit the chaos which is Trojans' football.
Peach Bowl, December 31 - Florida State (-7) vs. Houston: It is always a test for handicappers when a solid Power 5 team plays one from the Group of 5. Will the upstart squad shrivel in the moment and show the disadvantage their lack of talent and softer schedule provides, or will they rise to the occasion and be the next underdog to shock the world? It's hard here because this Florida State team is, at least in relative terms, rebuilding. Houston, meanwhile, is way ahead of schedule after a brilliant coaching hire this offseason. Tom Herman certainly isn't going to be intimidated after winning a national title with Ohio State last year. This one is so much fun t think about but very tough to put a finger on as a bettor.
Cotton Bowl, December 31 - Alabama (-9.5) vs. Michigan State: The line would suggest that the Tide should have their way in this one. I have watched a lot of Michigan State this year, though, and I don't think it's as easy as that. The Spartans find ways to win when it seems unlikely because they are tough and fearless, and they have outstanding leadership. This will be a coaching masterclass. If Mark D'Antonio can find ways to slow down Derrick Henry - which almost no one else has been able to do - then things could get interesting, If Nick Saban dictates the tone, though, then it could be over in a hurry.
Foster Farms Bowl, December 26 - UCLA (-7) vs. Nebraska: UCLA should be offended - an 8-4 team in a respected conference forced to play in a joke of a bowl against a 5-7 team. That's surely not what the team was dreaming of when they headed into the season widely seen as a viable national title threat. Yet here they are. Will they pout about their fate and about the poor play and bad personnel luck that got them here in the first place? Or will they come out looking to bomb the Huskers back into the stone age? Then there is another consideration - that Nebraska might not be as bad as their record suggests. Three of their losses were by a combined total of just five points. They lost another in overtime to Miami. A break here or there - and some better clutch play - and they would be 8-4 or so.
Sun Bowl, December 26 - Miami (+3) vs. Washington State: We know what we can expect from Washington State - it is a Mike Leach team, after all. Where the handicapping challenge comes, though, is in determining what to expect from the Hurricanes. They were a frustrating team that too often got in their own way. They also had some talent issues exposed. They have the potential to do several things very well, though. Will they keep playing in the same way they have and making the same mistakes? Or will they be eager to impress incoming coach Mark Richt? In other words, will they continue living in their past, or turn to their future? Hard to know, so hard to judge the game.
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