Bowl Previews and Picks: New Years Day Games

Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Georgia 

Schedule analysis: Nebraska was a very disappointing 8-4 this season. They held off Wyoming in their opener and lost to UCLA at home. The Cornhuskers defeated lowly Illinois and Purdue to start conference play. They were upset at Minnesota after a bye week and needed a Hail Mary at home to win against struggling Northwestern. In the their last four games, they won their roads games against Michigan and Penn State in overtime, and lost their homes games against Michigan State and Iowa. Georgia (8-4) was plagued by injuries and a tough schedule. They started the season with a loss at Clemson. The Bulldogs then beat South Carolina, North Texas and LSU at home to cap off a brutal September. Injuries continued to pile up in an overtime win at Tennessee. The Bulldogs lost in consecutive weeks to Missouri and Vanderbilt before a bye week. They closed the season winning four of their last five games. The one loss was a Auburn on a miracle play for the Tigers. They won their last game of the season against Georgia Tech in double overtime without quarterback Aaron Murray, who is out for the season with an ACL tear.

Miles from stadium: Nebraska is 1,342 miles away from EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Georgia is 305 miles away. Nebraska fans always travel well. So do Georgia fans and the Bulldogs are familiar with playing in Jacksonville because of their annual neutral site game against Florida.

Motivation: Nebraska had a bad season and head coach Bo Pelini wasn’t afraid to be outspoken and cause controversy. Playing on New Years Day is usually a good thing but Nebraska had higher expectations when they joined the Big 10. Injuries and bad luck has made this a season to forget for Georgia. I don’t see either team being very motivated. Especially since the game starts at noon local time after the biggest party night of the year.

Pick: Nebraska +9 

Big 10 teams and future members (Maryland and Rutgers) are 0-4 straight up in bowl games so far. Nebraska isn’t good but I think over a touchdown is too many points for Georgia without Murray.

Heart of Dallas Bowl: UNLV vs. North Texas 

Schedule analysis: UNLV (7-5) lost to teams that finished with a record of 6-6 or better. They were blown out by Minnesota, Arizona and Fresno State. They played closer games in November with losses to San Jose State and Utah State. The Rebels took care of business against the bottom the the Mountain West (New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada and Air Force). They defeated San Diego State 45-19 to close the regular season. North Texas (8-4) lost in non conference play at Ohio and Georgia and beat Idaho and Ball State. Three of those four teams made a bowl game. The Mean Green started C-USA play with a loss at Tulane but ended the season winning six of their last seven. They defeated eventual C-USA champs Rice and lost to UTSA.

Miles from stadium: UNLV is 1,215 miles away from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. North Texas is 43 miles away. There will be plenty of support for the local team compared to UNLV.

Motivation: Both teams will see this bowl game as a reward. However, playing close to home means the motivation is clearly with the Mean Green.

Pick: North Texas -6.5

The home crowd advantage and motivation will propel the Mean Green to a decisive win.

Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina 

Schedule analysis: Wisconsin (9-3) started the season 3-2 with losses coming at Arizona State and Ohio State. Wisconsin won by 19 points or more in conference games against Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. The Badgers lethal running game was stopped by Penn State and Wisconsin lost that game at home to ruin any possible BCS hopes. South Carolina (10-2) seemed to have a very quiet double-digit win season. They played four bowl teams (North Carolina, Georgia, Vanderbilt and UCF) in September with the lone loss coming in Athens. South Carolina had an inexcusable loss at Tennessee that prevented them from winning the SEC East. The Gamecocks closed the season win a 31-17 win against Clemson, despite being out gained by the Tigers. South Carolina forced six turnovers in that rivalry game.

Miles from stadium: Wisconsin is 1,299 miles from the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. South Carolina is 429 miles away. Wisconsin fans probably won’t be traveling much because of trips to Pasadena the three previous years. South Carolina has played in a North Florida bowl game the last two years so they might not get a big crowd either.

Motivation: Wisconsin goes to a less prestigious bowl but new location after three Rose Bowl appearances and should be motivated to play a SEC team. South Carolina had a golden chance at winning the SEC East with down years from Georgia and Florida, but think they will be motivated for this game.

Pick: South Carolina +1.5

I think the wrong team is favored in this one. If South Carolina can stop the run, then they will win this game.

Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. LSU

Schedule analysis: It looked like it would be another disappointing season in Iowa City when the Hawkeyes (8-4) fell in their first game to Northern Illinois. Iowa then won four straight including victories at Iowa State and Minnesota. They lost at home to Michigan State 26-14 and played Ohio State closely in Columbus before falling 34-24. The Hawkeyes survived at home against Northwestern and lost to Wisconsin. To end the season they recorded wins against Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska. LSU (9-3) defeated TCU in Arlington, Texas the opening Saturday of the season. They were also the only team to defeat Auburn this season. The suffered losses at Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama. Other than Auburn, the Tigers defeated Mississippi State, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas in the SEC. The Arkansas game was costly because quarterback Zach Mettenberger suffered an ACL tear.

Miles from stadium: Iowa is 1,271 miles from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida. LSU is 684 miles away. LSU fans probably won’t be begging to travel to this game.

Motivation: After missing out on a bowl last season, Iowa is back and in a spot on New Years. I expect them to come out fired up. LSU should be somewhere better and I wouldn’t blame them if they gave a minimal effort.

Pick: Iowa +7.5

LSU won’t be motivated for this one and playing without Mettenberger will be a huge loss for the Tigers. Iowa will cover and I can see them winning outright.

Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Michigan State 

Schedule analysis: Stanford (11-2) had national championship expectations before the season. They started sluggish with wins against San Jose State and Army. They proved they were an elite team with wins against Arizona State, Washington State and Washington. Then the Cardinal slipped up against Utah in Salt Lake City. It was an early enough loss where they still had a shot for the BCS title. Wins against UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon put them in the driver seat to win the Pac-12 North. There national championship hopes were crushed with a loss at USC. Stanford ended the season with wins against California and Notre Dame before beating Arizona State for a second time in the Pac-12 championship game. Michigan State (12-1) started slow especially on offense. They lost at Notre Dame in their last non conference game. The Spartans had a bye week before conference play and went on a roll. They won every Big 10 game including the conference championship game against Ohio State by 10 points or more. They knocked off Michigan 29-6 and Nebraska 41-28 in Lincoln to easily win the Legends Division.

Miles from stadium: Stanford is 359 miles north of the Rose Bowl is Pasadena. Michigan State is 2,213 miles away. Stanford doesn’t have the biggest fan base but I think both sides will take the opportunity to travel to this one.

Motivation: Stanford has recently emerged as a top program so any trip to a BCS game is huge for the school. Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough is suspended for the game, which is a huge blow for the Spartans. I think Michigan State’s head coach Mark Dantonio will make sure the defense is motivated and will they will play harder with the absence of a star player.

Pick: Michigan State +6.5

The line was lower earlier and I think has adjusted a little too much will the suspension news. Michigan State is a good team and I see this being a field goal game.

Fiesta Bowl: UCF vs. Baylor 

Schedule analysis: UCF (11-1) defeated Penn State by three points and lost to South Carolina by a field goal in non conference action. In the AAC, they ran the table including a 38-35 upset at Louisville. Pressure of playing in a BCS bowl may have mounted on the Knights late in the season. They barely survived against 2-10 Temple 39-36, 2-10 South Florida 23-20 and 5-7 SMU 17-13. Baylor (11-1) scored at least 69 points in each of their first four games including a conference game against West Virginia. The Bears will held to 35 on the road in a ten-point victory against Kansas State. The offense continued to shine with home wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma, a road victory at Kansas and a neutral site game against Texas Tech. Many felt the Bears weren’t challenged enough especially on the road where they have traditionally struggled. With a realistic shot to play in the national championship in sight, the Bears were exposed in a 49-17 humiliation at Oklahoma State. They got by at TCU next week and took advantage of an Oklahoma State loss to win the Big 12 by beating Texas the last game of the season.

Miles from stadium: UCF is 2,166 miles away from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Baylor is 1,087 miles away. Don’t see the fans making an impact in this game.

Motivation: Making a BCS bowl game is huge for both programs. I think both will be motivated even though Baylor might wish they were playing a better opponent.

Pick: UCF +17

Funny how one of the biggest lines of the bowl season is in a BCS game. Baylor can score a lot but I think UCF can keep up with them enough to cover.

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