2009 Poinsettia Bowl Odds and Predictions
by Matt Severance - 12/15/2009
Utah and California are a lot alike heading into the Dec. 23 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. Both schools had hopes for a BCS bowl this year but those dreams went up in smoke pretty early for each team. Utah lost its third game of the season at Oregon, while Cal was in the Top 10 before getting crushed by Oregon and USC in the Bears' third and fourth games, respectively.
Both schools also make their seventh consecutive appearance in a bowl and both have been very successful in the postseason of late. The Bears have won four bowl games in a row, while Utah has the nation's current longest bowl win streak at eight games (just not eight years in a row). It's the second Poinsettia Bowl in two seasons for the Utes, who beat Navy, 35-32, in 2007. Cal has never played in this game. These two haven't met since 2003.
Utah and Cal each ended the regular season with a road loss, with the Utes falling in overtime to BYU and the Bears getting crushed by Washington. In fact, all four of Cal's losses this season were by at least 17 points.
California looked completely uninspired in that season-ending loss the Huskies. The fact it came the week after an upset of Stanford in The Big Game makes it even more perplexing. At least Utah put up a fight in the Holy War against BYU. And the Utes no doubt would take pride in reaching 10 wins as well as extending that NCAA-best bowl winning streak.
The big key here is the status of Cal running back Jahvid Best, who at one time this season was considered the Heisman front-runner by many. You probably remember the video of Best suffering that scary concussion on Nov. 7 against Oregon State, and he hasn't even practiced since then, much less played.
Best has resumed conditioning with Cal's training staff and got a positive diagnosis from a concussion specialist. It's thought he wants to turn pro after this season, so he wants to make a positive impression on NFL scouts by playing in the bowl game. But as of this writing, there is no official word on his status, with Cal coach Jeff Tedford hinting that backup Shane Vereen would start whether not Best is ready to return. Vereen averaged 148 yards in the three games Best missed.
In their eight wins, the Bears averaged more than 40 points a game (6-2 ATS). They averaged 7.5 ppg in their losses (0-4 ATS). QB Kevin Riley (2,636 yards, 17 TDs, six INTs) has had a nice season, but Utah is tremendous against the pass (No. 9 in efficiency, No. 17 in yards). In three of the four games the Bears lost, Riley completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and his average rating was 90.88 compared to 157.90 in the eight wins. Cal should have one advantage in that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was Utah's offensive coordinator the previous four seasons, so he should know what to expect.
The Utes may look to throw it often against a Cal defense near the bottom of the nation against the pass, allowing 260.9 yards per game. But Utah starts a freshman QB in Jordan Wynn, and he struggled a bit at times -- this will be just his fifth career start. The Bears are solid against the run (No. 27 nationally), but Utes running back Eddie Wide (1,032 yards, 12 TDs) has been very good since stepping in for Matt Asiata, who suffered a season-ending injury.
The Bears should have the offensive edge with or without Best, but Utah would seem to have it when comparing the two defenses.
Line Value and Poinsettia Bowl Odds
This opened at Cal -3 but has just recently moved to 3.5. So far the public lean is about 58 percent on Cal but that could shift now with that extra half point - and the line no doubt will move some when news on Best comes down. The total is at 52.5.
Utah is just 1-4 ATS in its past five vs. teams with a winning record, but the Bears are 1-4 ATS in their past five as a favorite.
Poinsettia Bowl Predictions
This one is hard to gauge because it's hard to decide which Cal team shows up. But that extra point definitely has me leaning toward the Utes. Utah only had one bad loss this year, and that was at TCU. It could easily have won at Oregon and BYU. Cal, on the other hand, has four bad losses. I could see the Bears getting a motivational boost if Best plays, but it's hard to imagine he is anywhere close to 100 percent. Take Utah while it is getting 3.5.
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