It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about the holidays. It’s college football bowl season. The fun starts Saturday with four games and end 16 days later with the highly anticipated BCS National Championship between Florida State and Auburn.
I’m going to preview and give a pick against the spread for every bowl game this season. Picking bowl games is a little different than picking games on a normal college football Saturday. There is a long layoff for teams between regular season and the bowl game. The games are played at a neutral site but there can be hidden home field advantages for teams closer to the stadium or schools that have a good traveling fan base. Motivation plays a big part in bowl games. Some teams see the bowl as a reward for a great season and other teams that underachieved might think the game is a nuisance. Also coaching changes between the end of the regular season and bowl season have occurred so that could play into the motivation of a team. When making my pick, I might consider some team and coach history in bowl games. I won’t be focused much on that though because I have followed college football all season long and think the players now are more important than historic trends.
New Mexico Bowl: Washington State vs. Colorado State
Schedule analysis: Washington State (6-6) opened the season with a seven-point loss at Auburn. The next week they upset USC 10-7 on the road. The rest of the Cougars’ season continued to be up and down. They lost conference games to Stanford, Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State by more than 24 each game. Late wins at Arizona and home against Utah secured bowl eligbility before losing their final game at Washington by 10. Colorado State (7-6) started the season 2-4 after losses to Colorado, Tulsa, Alabama and San Jose State. The Rams season turned around when they beat Wyoming by 30 on the road. Colorado State continued to beat the bad teams in the Mountain West with wins against Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Air Force. The combined record of the conference teams they defeated was 15-45. Against better Mountain West teams like Boise State and Utah State, they lost by double digits.
Miles from stadium: Washington State is 1,234 miles away from University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Colorado State is 375 miles away.
Motivation: Making a bowl is an achievement for both programs but an early afternoon start in Albuquerque might not be ideal. I don’t think one team is more motivated than the other.
Pick: Washington State -4.5
When making my pick I will usually lean with the underdog before doing research. Both teams struggle defensively. Colorado State has a balanced offense and Washington State relies heavily on the pass. I’m picking more against Colorado State than I’m picking Washington State. The Rams didn’t beat anyone good this season.
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC
Schedule analysis: Fresno State (11-1) looked BCS bound when they won they won their first ten games of the season. Then they lost in a shootout the Friday after Thanksgiving to San Jose State to crush those dreams. The Bulldogs bounced back in the Mountain West championship game 24-17 against Utah State. USC started the season 3-2 and fired coach Lane Kiffin. Ed Orgeron stepped in and the Trojans finished the season 5-2. USC looked much better under Orgeron including big wins at Oregon State and home against Stanford. USC lost their season finale 35-14 to cross-town rivals UCLA.
Miles from stadium: Fresno State is 401 miles away from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. USC is 274 miles away.
Motivation: This is a huge factor in this game. Both teams probably think they could’ve been in a better bowl. Fresno State had a shot to play in a BCS game and USC would be playing later in the bowl season if they defeated UCLA. Fresno State has the best passing offense in the country with quarterback Derek Carr. The senior is projected has a first round pick in the NFL draft and he can continue to improve his stock with a strong outing against a quality Trojans defense. Since the UCLA game, Orgeron left the team and USC hired Steve Sarkisian from Washington to be the new permanent head coach. USC will have a different interim coach for the bowl game.
Pick: Fresno State +7
USC players rallied around Oregeron when Kiffin was fired. I don’t see USC playing with much motivation in this game. Carr will shine and Fresno State will cover, and possibly win.
Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo vs. San Diego State
Schedule analysis: Buffalo started the season with two loses to BCS-bound Ohio State and Baylor. Then the Bulls won seven straight games and eight of their last ten to finish 8-4. Buffalo only defeated one bowl team in Ohio. Four of their wins came against Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Massachusetts and Miami (OH), who combined for an abysmal four wins this year. Buffalo concluded the regular season with a 24-7 loss against Bowling Green. San Diego State (7-5) is a tough team to predict. They began the season with an embarrassing 21-point home loss to Eastern Illinois. Their woes continued with defeats to Ohio State and Oregon State. The Aztecs got their season back on track with a wins at New Mexico State, home against Nevada and at Air Force. The Nevada game was one of four overtime games San Diego State played in this season. After the Air Force game, the Aztecs lost in overtime to Fresno State. Then San Diego State won four straight games with impressive wins against San Jose State and Boise State (overtime), and survived against New Mexico and in overtime against Hawaii. The Aztecs had a let down in their final game of the season by losing 45-19 to UNLV.
Miles from stadium: Buffalo is 2,219 miles away from Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho. San Diego State is 927 miles away.
Motivation: I don’t think either team has much motivation. Buffalo has been in the national TV spot light three times in November as part of ESPN’s “Maction” coverage. Playing another ESPN game probably won’t excite them too much. One player on Buffalo that a lot of people will be focused on is linebacker Khalil Mack, who could be a first round pick in the NFL Draft.
Pick: Buffalo pick
This is a tough game to pick and it’s a fair line being a pick ’em. Buffalo was tested early against Ohio State and Buffalo, and picked up half their wins against the four worse teams in the MAC. San Diego State played up and down to their competition in conference play. I’m picking Buffalo because of their defense.
New Orleans Bowl: Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Schedule analysis: Tulane started their season 6-2 with quality wins against East Carolina and North Texas. They lost by 35 against Syracuse in their only game against a BCS-conference team. Tulane lost three of their last four games including a 17-13 defeat to eventual C-USA champions Rice. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) lost their first two games at Arkansas and Kansas State. Then they rattled off an eight game winning streak with their best victories coming at Western Kentucky and Arkansas State on back-to-back Tuesdays in October. They ended their season on a bad note with loses to Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama. Both Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama notched win number six (and bowl eligibility, even though neither got a bowl invite) against Louisiana-Lafayette so the Ragin’ Cajuns probably less motivated.
Miles from stadium: Tulane is playing in their home stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Louisiana-Lafayette is 135 miles west of the Superdome.
Motivation: Tulane will feel comfortable playing at home but they might not have a huge home crowd advantage. Louisiana-Lafayette is not too far down the road from New Orleans and the Ragin’ Cajuns have won the last two New Orleans Bowls.
Pick: There is no line for this game yet. I will post my pick on my Twitter account Saturday. One thing I will consider in my pick is that Tulane struggles running the ball and Louisiana-Lafayette has a better defense.