Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers vs. Notre Dame
Schedule analysis: Rutgers (6-6) followed a 52-51 overtime loss on the opening Thursday night of the season with four straight wins against opponents that finished with a 13-35 record (Norfolk State, Eastern Michigan, Arkansas, SMU in overtime). Rutgers lost by double-digits in their five AAC losses against Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and UConn. The Scarlet Knights were able to gain bowl eligibility with wins over Temple and South Florida, who each finished 2-10. Rutgers six wins this season were against teams that finished a combined 17-55. Notre Dame (8-4) had a disappointing season. They had a few impressive wins against Michigan State, Arizona State and USC. However, they didn’t look great in victories against lesser competition such as the Purdue and Navy games. Notre Dame lost to Michigan early on before people knew that the Wolverines weren’t a great team. They also lost to Oklahoma and dropped road games at Pittsburgh and Stanford.
Miles from stadium: Rutgers is 44 miles away from Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame 702 miles away. Even though Rutgers is closer they won’t have a home crowd advantage.
Motivation: Playing at Yankee Stadium will be a cool experience for both teams. Playing a bowl game in cold New York at noon eastern might not be fun. Rutgers fired three assistants during near the end of the season including their defensive coordinator. Notre Dame might lack motivation because both their offensive and defensive coordinators have taken head coaching jobs.
Pick: Rutgers +14
Rutgers played a soft schedule and didn’t beat a team with more than five wins. However, Notre Dame didn’t blow out many teams this season and the early start time could make this a low scoring game.
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
Schedule analysis: Cincinnati (9-3) started the season 3-2 but their two losses were concerning. They were blown out 45-17 at Illinois and lost in their first AAC game at South Florida. The Bearcats rebounded and won six straight games, all in the conference, including victories against bowl-bound Rutgers and Houston. Cincinnati lost their final game of the season against Louisville in overtime. North Carolina (6-6) started the season playing seven straight bowl teams and nine overall. That is part of the season they were 1-5 after the first six games. Their losses were at South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and home against East Carolina and Miami. The Tar Heels turned their season around and won five straight games including a home victory at Boston College and at Pittsburgh. With a chance of a share of the ACC Coastal conference, North Carolina lost to Duke 27-25.
Miles from stadium: Cincinnati is 480 miles from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. North Carolina is 140 miles away. North Carolina gets to stay in-state so that is an advantage for them with fans and familiarity.
Motivation: This is bowl game is a nice reward for both teams. I don’t think one team has more motivation over the other.
Pick: North Carolina -3
Cincinnati has the better record but the Tar Heels played a more difficult schedule and are playing in their home-state.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami vs. Louisville
Schedule analysis: Miami (9-3) started the season 7-0 including wins against Florida, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Then their hopes of an undefeated season ended at Florida State. The Hurricanes struggled in their next game with losses to Virginia Tech and Duke. Miami bounced back to win their last two games against Virginia and at Pittsburgh. Louisville (11-1) had one blemish against UCF this season. The only bowl teams the Cardinals defeated were Ohio, Rutgers, Houston and Cincinnati.
Miles from stadium: Miami is 240 miles away from the Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando. Louisville is 826 miles away. Miami might have some of their fans who relocated near Orlando at the game but Louisville will also travel well.
Motivation: Both teams think they could be in better bowls. Miami was in BCS talk at 7-0. Louisville expected to go undefeated and playing in a non-BCS bowl is a huge disappointment.
Pick: Miami +3.5
Miami played the better schedule and I like the way they closed the season. I think they will cover and win the game.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan vs. Kansas State
Schedule analysis: Michigan (7-5) had large expectations going into the season and they started off promising with a 50-point win against Central Michigan and beating Notre Dame 41-30. Then they began to struggle. The Wolverines barley beat Akron and UConn. In Big Ten play, they defeated Minnesota and Indiana at home, and cameback to win at Northwestern in triple overtime. Michigan lost to Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa. In the last game of the season, they gave a great effort in a 42-41 loss against Ohio State. Kansas State (7-5) started the season 2-4 with losses to FCS power North Dakota State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. The Wildcats then won four straight against West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU. They ended the season with a loss to Oklahoma and win at Kansas. Kansas State finished fifth in the Big 12, losing games to the top four teams and beating the bottom half of the league.
Miles from stadium: Michigan is 1,919 miles away from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. Kansas State is 1,097 miles away. Michigan is used to better bowl games so I would expect a stronger Kansas State turn out.
Motivation: Michigan had legitimate Rose Bowl hopes before the season. They probably aren’t too excited about playing in a game before New Years Day. Kansas State expected to regress after winning the conference in 2012. The Wildcats have lost their last five bowl games and should be motivated to win their first bowl game in 11 years.
Pick: When the line came out I liked Kansas State -3 or -3.5. Now there is no line because Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner might miss the game with the injury. When Gardner’s status is known, I will update this post or tweet out my pick.
Update: Gardner is not starting so my pick is Kansas State -4.5