NCAA Football News

College Football Playoff 2014: Full Bracket, Viewing Information for Semifinals

Welcome to the start of the bowl season. Instead of looking at the full slate on the first day of the bowl schedule, it's already time to look ahead at what college football fans have been waiting for all season.

On New Year's Day, the inaugural College Football Playoff will steal the show from the rest of the bowl games. Along with having four of the most notable programs in the sport, each team has been dominant throughout the season.

Between the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, football fans have everything they could ever want on the field. Prior to the kickoff in these two massive matchups, here's a look at the full bracket, schedule and analysis of the bowls.

 

Analysis of College Football Playoff

Storylines are abundant in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, but the biggest ones are under center and on the sidelines.

In the case of the Rose Bowl, the two quarterbacks both hold Heisman trophies after two outstanding seasons. Marcus Mariota, the Oregon signal-caller, has been nearly perfect all season, with 52 total touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Jameis Winston has not been as great, with 27 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com points out why the turnover margin will likely be the difference in the Rose Bowl:

Oregon's 120 points off of turnovers ranks sixth nationally, and their points margin of 107 (120 points scored, 13 allowed after a turnover) is second best in the country behind TCU. Again, in this category, Florida State isn't so good. The Seminoles are actually in the negative in points margin at minus-10. They've scored 83 points off of turnovers, but allowed 93. That ranks in the bottom 20 of all Power 5 schools.

Along with the two signal-callers, a duo of young running backs in Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook will also make a huge difference. Both have come on strong and finished the season with authority to help lead their programs to the promised land.

Back on the East Coast, Alabama and Ohio State will do battle. Or, as most fans of both teams will refer to it, Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer: Part IV.

Two of the most well-known coaches in college football, Saban and Meyer have a combined five national championships. They also happen to be coaching two of the best programs in the country this season.

Looking to move to 2-2 against Saban, Meyer pointed out what is different about the Crimson Tide this year, via Cecil Hurt of TheTuscaloosa News:

Ranking fourth in the country in points allowed (16.6) and 17th in points scored (37.1) per game, the Tide are rolling heading into the showdown.

But they face a potent Buckeyes rushing attack that features Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones. Elliott crushed Wisconsin his last time out for 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The sophomore spoke about having to face that stingy 'Bama defense, via OSU's official account:

Needless to say, both games feature some of the best athletes from around the country looking to accomplish one thing—reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship. New Year's Day will mark one of the biggest days in the history of the sport, but the ultimate goal is to play in the final game of the season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Las Vegas Bowl 2014: Utah vs. Colorado State

Utah 0, Colorado State 0 ; Early 1st Quarter

Today features a classic matchup of old Mountain West foes, as the No. 22 Utah Utes (8-4) take on the Colorado State Rams (10-2) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.  

The game begins at 3:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ABC. 

Odds Shark has Utah as a 2.5-point favorite. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

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Nevada vs. LA-Lafayette: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 New Orleans Bowl

Louisiana-Lafayette kicked off college football bowl season with a 16-3 win over Nevada in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday. In the process, it became the first school to win the same bowl game four straight years.

Yes, the Ragin' Cajuns were making their fourth consecutive appearance in the same bowl. They won each of the previous three with triumphs over Tulane, East Carolina and San Diego State. It's made the Mercedes-Benz Superdome almost like a second home for the Sun Belt squad.

Here's how their latest trip to the New Orleans Bowl played out:

The Wolf Pack knew the contest presented a unique challenge. Going into a road atmosphere against a team with recent success in the game isn't too common during bowl season.

Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo told Trey Iles of The Times-Picayune they were looking at it as a typical away game rather than a neutral-site encounter.

"They have a great history in this game," he said. "This is their fourth consecutive year here. They're pretty much the home team, and that's the way we're approaching it. It'll be a fun atmosphere."

Given those factors—along with the fact the game kicked off at 8 a.m. Reno time, where the Nevada program is based—perhaps the way the game started shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

Louisiana-Lafayette took the ball after the opening kickoff and proceeded to put together an eight-play, 77-yard drive to get on the scoreboard first. Terrance Broadway found C.J. Bates for a 17-yard touchdown strike to grab a quick 7-0 edge.

As CBS Sports College Football pointed out, it was quite a start to bowl season:

After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Ragin' Cajuns embarked on another long drive that resulted in points.

This one covered 60 yards on 13 plays and ate up nearly seven minutes of the clock. The drive stalled out just inside the Nevada 30, however. Hunter Stover made sure they still salvaged something out of the drive by connecting on a 46-yard field-goal attempt. 

Nick Krueger from House of Sparky noted it was a career long for the senior kicker:

The Wolf Pack, probably just emerging from their morning daze, were finally able to stabilize the game after that score. The offense started moving the ball, and the defense made a couple stops.

Nevada got on the scoreboard about midway through the second quarter. A brutal nine-yard punt by Daniel Cadona gave it terrific field position. The offense drove all the way down to the 1-yard line, but a false start penalty pushed it back, and from there, the group couldn't find the end zone.

Brent Zuzo made sure the Mountain West side got something out of the drive by splitting the uprights from 21 yards out to make it 10-3.

Scott Prather of ESPN 1420 noted the lack of big plays from either side in the first half:

Louisiana-Lafayette tried to change that on the final drive of the half by throwing up a Hail Mary as the clock ticked down to zero. But Broadway, who completed his first 14 attempts in the game, watched the long toss get knocked down in the end zone.

Still, the Ragin' Cajuns entered the locker room up by a touchdown. On Twitter, the program noted its success in that situation both this season and during the tenure of head coach Mark Hudspeth:

Although there were no points scored in the third quarter, a key stretch occurred about midway through the period.

Matthew Leach of MLB.com probably summed up the thoughts of many college football fans:

Louisiana-Lafayette was inside the Nevada 25-yard line when Lenny Jones came through for the Wolf Pack defense. He delivered a huge hit on Broadway for the strip-sack and also recovered the fumble.

It felt like a perfect opportunity for the Wolf Pack to take the sudden change of fortune to start building some positive vibes on the offensive side of the ball.

Instead, they could only muster one first down before punting. That allowed the Ragin' Cajuns to get the ball back and go on another extended drive. Fifteen plays later, they stretched the lead back to a pair of scores with Stover's second field goal of the afternoon.

Chad Washington of The Daily World noted it put a lot of pressure on the Nevada offense against a defense that was playing perhaps its best game of the season:

The Wolf Pack attempted to respond quickly. They started advancing down the field with ease against a less aggressive Cajuns defense, but four straight incompletions from Fajardo brought the drive to an abrupt halt after they had moved into opposing territory.

Louisiana-Lafayette went back to the ground-and-pound approach once again. It milked four more minutes off the clock, and Stover delivered, this time from 35, to make it 16-3.

ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the lack of success on the ground held Nevada back, especially with the Cajuns utilizing that facet of the game to control the clock:

There was no miracle comeback to be found in the final minutes. Louisiana-Lafayette finished the job to become the first winner of bowl season.

Dr. Saturday highlighted the result:

SI College Football gave props to the winning squad:

Nevada finishes the season with a 7-6 record. It deserves credit for bouncing back from a mediocre beginning to the campaign to secure bowl eligibility. The Wolf Pack just got off to a sluggish start and didn't have enough offense to mount a comeback.

Louisiana-Lafayette ends its year with a win in the New Orleans Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. For a program that waited a long time for success after its move to Division I, it's a nice accomplishment. The Ragin' Cajuns will aim even higher in 2015.

 

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5-Star DT Daylon Mack Names His Top 2: Which Team Is Best Fit?

Daylon Mack sent a shock wave through the recruiting spectrum Friday, ending a 14-month commitment to Texas A&M. The 5-star defensive tackle took another step forward Saturday, declaring LSU and TCU as his leaders:

Mack, a 6'1", 330-pound senior at Gladewater High School in Texas, is arguably the top uncommitted defender on the market. Friday brought an abrupt change to his recruitment process, which seemed to be a done deal throughout much of this cycle.

Rated fourth nationally among players at his position in 247Sports' composite rankings, Mack provides a highly productive interior presence. He tallied 241 tackles, including 89 tackles for loss, and 20 sacks during the past three seasons, per Gerry Hamilton of ESPN.com.

Mack also made an impact on offense in 2014, accounting for 260 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Aggies' major loss will eventually become another program's gain. Less than seven weeks shy of national signing day, it appears to be a two-team battle.

The Horned Frogs would love to double-up the despair of Texas A&M fans by bringing him on board.

Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin and company missed out on a pair of prized in-state defensive prospects Friday morning, as Poteet High School stars  Malik Jefferson and DeAndre McNeal pledged to Texas. Both prospects were projected to sign with Texas A&M by a majority of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball

Now it seems another in-state foe has fought its way into the discussion. Many expected Texas to enter the equation for Mack, but it's TCU that makes a big move up on his list.

The Horned Frogs remained in the mix for 5-star defensive end Myles Garrett last year throughout his recruitment, though he ultimately signed with Texas A&M and set an SEC freshman record for sacks this season. TCU will aim to seal the deal with Mack, who visited campus in October for an official visit. 

Head coach Gary Patterson presently holds the No. 30 class in 247Sports' national composite rankings. The group includes just two players rated higher than 3-star caliber. 

Joseph Broadnax and Jozie Milton are both big-bodied defensive tackles who've committed to TCU. The Horned Frogs have consistently assembled strong defensive attacks despite a lack of top-level recruits. 

With Mack entrenched as the centerpiece up front, TCU could take its stinginess to another level. He would certainly compete for substantial playing time as a true freshman and be given ample amounts of opportunities to shine as an underclassman.

LSU, on the other hand, implements a defensive group loaded with former standout recruits. The Tigers' current class includes 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II and should improve during the final stretch toward signing day as top targets determine their collegiate intentions.

Mack traveled to Baton Rouge earlier this season and is expected to return to campus next month for an official visit. Les Miles stockpiled talent along the defensive line in his last class but could use further reinforcements.

The Tigers hold just one commitment up front, though Isaiah Washington fills an edge role. Mack would fill a need inside, but he may need to bide his time as established players take reps ahead of him.

Mack would be yet another outstanding addition at LSU. However, he could become a program-changer at TCU.

The Horned Frogs nearly made the inaugural College Football Playoff and are attempting to translate that success onto the recruiting trail. Mack fits the bill as an elite in-state talent who can buck the trend by spurning Texas and Texas A&M in favor of the Horned Frogs.

We'll give a nod to the Big 12 Conference co-champions, though the remaining weeks of this recruiting cycle could provide a few more surprises. 

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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New Mexico Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Utah State vs. UTEP

Utah State 7, UTEP 3—Middle of the 2nd Quarter

The 2014-15 bowl season gets underway today, and the second bowl kickoff of the season belongs to the New Mexico Bowl between Utah State and Texas-El Paso.

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Notre Dame Football: Why Irish Must Establish the Running Game vs. LSU

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — University of Notre Dame quarterbacks have drawn the bulk of the attention since the end of the regular season—and rightly so. But the running backs standing next to Everett Golson and Malik Zaire in the backfield could have an equally large impact for the Irish against LSU in the Music City Bowl.

As Irish head coach Brian Kelly has said at various points throughout the season, Notre Dame must protect its defense, which is a notion all the more appropriate with a full injury report on the defensive side heading into the bowl game against the Tigers.

LSU will haul a run-happy approach into Nashville on Dec. 30, and the undermanned Irish figure to have their hands full trying to slow down Tigers star freshman running back Leonard Fournette.

Fournette has headlined a rushing attack with multiple weapons for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The bruising rookie has piled up 891 yards and eight touchdowns on 176 carries. Against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving weekend, Fournette rumbled to a career-high 146 yards, including this ridiculous display of the skill set that made him the No. 1 player in the country as a high school senior, according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings.

So how can the Irish help protect a banged-up defensive front tasked with slowing the potent Tigers ground game? After all, LSU ranks 11th in the country in rushes per game with 48.58, per CFBStats.com, behind option offenses like Air Force, Georgia Tech, Navy, Army and Georgia Southern. The Tigers are also slotted 29th in the nation with 219.50 rushing yards per game, per CFBStats.com—an average buoyed by the massive 384-yard outburst LSU put together against the Aggies to close out the regular season.

“We have to do a really good job offensively of controlling the flow of the game,” Kelly said Monday. “A lot of it will be our offensive game plan and keeping their offense off the field.”

Leaning on the running game could be a good start. Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston emerged as the lead back throughout the season, and fellow sophomore Greg Bryant was one of the few bright spots for Notre Dame in its destruction at the hands of USC. Bryant sprinted to a career-high 79 yards on seven carries and notched his first touchdown since early-October.

“Greg’s getting a lot of work,” Kelly said Monday. “We like what he did in the game. He still wasn’t 100 percent with his ankle. … He’s got a good sense of what we’re trying to accomplish at the position in going north and south and playing physical.”

LSU has the ability to grind out yards and chew up clock on the ground. That spells trouble for a thinned Notre Dame defense, especially in the front seven.

But if Folston and Bryant can help slow the pace and aid the defense, the Irish can begin to dictate the terms of the game.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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ESPN to Release 5-Part 'Snoop & Son' Series About Rapper & His CFB Prospect Son

2015 wide receiver prospect Cordell Broadus is a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports, and has offers from over a dozen Division I programs, including USC, Notre Dame, UCLA and Nebraska.

He's also the son of Snoop Dogg.

ESPN has released the trailer seen above, revealing an upcoming five-part series that will focus on the relationship between the recruit and his famous father. 

Snoop & Son: A Dad's Dream premieres Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. ET.

[ESPN]


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Bold Predictions for Big Ten Football's Bowl Season

The Big Ten started the season rough—so rough that eulogies were written after Week 2—but finished with Ohio State University in the College Football Playoff and nine other teams in bowl games.

The league is still regarded as the worst of the Power Five conferences—and, to be honest, it probably is—but it has a chance to win some fans and reform some critics with a solid postseason.

The following bold predictions were made with an effort to avoid shock value. They are all things that could realistically happen, even though the odds are not strong. They aren't wild predictions.

Just bold ones.

Sound off below with your own bold predictions for the B1G.

 

All lines courtesy of Odds Shark, unless cited otherwise.

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A Scout's Take on New Wisconsin Badgers Head Football Coach Paul Chryst

This past Wednesday, athletic director Barry Alvarez welcomed former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst home and introduced him as the new head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers.

Chryst was indeed coming home, as he said in his press conference.

"I remember being a paperboy and delivering six papers to the stadium," Chryst said. "I had one of my worst wipeouts on my bike on the railroad tracks. I went down and went to heal myself at the doughnut shop right down the road.

"I remember as a kid sneaking in and playing on the field.

"This is a pretty special day."

Before Chryst became the head coach at Pitt for three years and had gotten the football program back on track (19-19 record), the Madison native had lettered for the Badgers for three years at quarterback and had been an assistant coach for seven years, including six as offensive coordinator from 2005-2011.

I believed that Chryst was a natural fit for the Badgers as their new head coach and wrote about that last week when there was rampant speculation about him coming back to the Badgers.

On Friday, I had an opportunity to talk with scout Chris Landry on 620 WDAE's Steve Duemig Show.

I wanted to get Landry's take on Chryst coming back to Wisconsin to be their new head coach. He said:

"Paul Chryst was the worst-kept secret around. He was the guy that Barry [Alvarez] strongly considered, if you remember, when Bret [Bielema] left. But he had only one year at Pitt, and Paul wasn't going to do that if after just getting there at Pitt.

"Timing is everything. But there is no doubt that is a dream job for him. As you mentioned, he played at Wisconsin and he understands the landscape there. I think it's not only a good fit, but a really good coach who did a good job trying to turn around the problems that they have at Pitt."

Landry then talked about some of the obstacles that head football coaches at Wisconsin face when they take on that job.

"Overall, just a thought, it's been an issue, and we addressed it when Bret left. Here's the thing about Wisconsin, it's a great job and it's a great program. A couple of things that people ought to know that maybe they do not know, and I'm sure Bob is aware of this," he continued.

"Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Purdue are a little bit different in terms of recruiting. They have some restrictions academically that go above and beyond the NCAA. It's very difficult to compete in that area. And it's very difficult when you are not getting paid from an assistant [coach] standpoint at a competitive level.

"Barry will tell you that they pay competitively, but Wisconsin is in the bottom 10 percent of the Big Five schools in terms of their pay to the assistants. That's a fact. I would submit to you that Wisconsin is much better than a bottom 10 percent Big Five school.

"So, I think a lot of it has been we are going to try and do it our way, and we're going to be cost-cutting, and that's fine, that's their business. But I think the program has produced a great deal. Gary [Andersen] was very classy when he said he wanted to get back to the West Coast, but the realities are that those two things had a huge factor.

"Yes, Oregon State, Corvallis, is part of the country where Gary is from, and that's convenient, but trust me when I tell you, even though it's not admitted, that the salaries for assistants and the academic requirements are two stumbling blocks, hurdles, that you have to overcome.

"Paul is willing to embrace that. I think the last two coaches got frustrated with it, Gary in a big hurry got frustrated with it."

Time will tell if Wisconsin will pay their assistant football coaches at a higher level in the future. It's difficult to see the academic standards getting lowered.

Still, if one looks at the football program over the past 20-plus years, the success has been outstanding.

From 1990-2005, Alvarez was 118-73-4 and won three Big Ten championships and also three Rose Bowls. Overall, Barry was 8-4 in bowls, including the Rose Bowl he coached in after Bielema left for Arkansas shortly after the Badgers won the 2012 Big Ten title.

Bielema was 68-24 in seven years and the Badgers won three more Big Ten titles under him. Bielema was just 2-4 in bowl games, however.

Andersen was 19-7 in two years with the Badgers and won the Big Ten West Division this year. Andersen and the Badgers lost in the one and only bowl game he coached in. 

After Andersen left for Oregon State, it means that Alvarez will once again handle the head-coaching duties for the team as they face Auburn in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

Bottom line, even with the obstacles that the football program at Wisconsin faces, the success overall in the past 20-plus years has been very good. As Landry said, Chryst is embracing those impediments.

And Paul should know, having been both a player and a coach at Wisconsin previously. I see Chryst getting similar, if not better results than his two predecessors as a head coach of the Badgers over the next several years.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Odds, Schedule and Predictions for Semifinals

The anticipation of bowl season never fails, but it might be at an all-time high with the inaugural College Football Playoff on the horizon.

And what a first year for college football's new system. There were neck-and-neck battles for final spots, and what felt like endless controversy has been washed away by the prospect of two mouth-watering semifinals.

You'd have a tough time hand-picking a more prestigious group of four programs, especially in terms of where each program stands today. But a loss can be the beginning to the end of said prestige, and that won't be lost along with the obvious immediate implications for these teams.

Now that we've set the table, let's sit down and take a closer look at what's to come in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

Note: Game odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 19.

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

It's only fitting that in the first year of the CFP, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer rekindle a familiar pastime for both—competing against one another in games that decide who will play for a national championship.

Alas, it's not Florida that Meyer represents but Ohio State, and instead of facing off in an SEC title game, this one is an official game for a ticket to Arlington, Texas, and the national championship.

The first thing that jumps off the page is the simple name recognition and branding of the matchup, pegging two of college football's biggest programs against one another. SEC Network compared the two programs' prestige:

But it's not about the past; rather, this matchup is about the present, and both teams are well taken care of there. 

Alabama's defense isn't the unstoppable force it has been in recent years, but the unit is still impossible to run through up front. A revitalized offense behind Blake Sims has seen him break an Alabama single-season passing record, largely due to wide receiver Amari Cooper's dominance as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

That susceptible Crimson Tide secondary could be tested, however, by third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. He has a big arm that could take the top off Alabama's secondary like Auburn and Missouri have done in recent outings. And he'll need to with the Tide likely to bottle up star rusher Ezekiel Elliott.

It's hard to imagine the Buckeyes defense holding up, even if Jones can carry the offense. Even with a dangerous passing attack, Alabama can still run over opponents with T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and an improving offense line.

Ohio State will keep it closer than the oddsmakers expect, but it won't keep the Buckeyes' title hopes alive.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 FSU

Jimbo Fisher's Florida State Seminoles enter the first CFP having not lost a game in more than two seasons, and yet they have to travel across the country to face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

There won't be much to gripe about for the defending champs, however. Not only should they be gracious to even be here after so many close calls this season, but they'll be returning to the same stage upon which they won a national championship a little more than 11 month ago.

Unlike that game, though, the best quarterback on the field might not be on their sidelines. And considering how dominant Marcus Mariota's Heisman voting was in the annals of the trophy's history, he'll be a handful, per ESPN Stats and Information:

Mariota will frustrate Florida State's opportunistic but susceptible defense with his mixture of run and pass, but it's his security more than anything that stands out. He's thrown 38 touchdowns to just two interceptions on the season, while Winston has less scoring tosses and 15 (15!) more interceptions just this year.

Florida State has been able to roll with some considerable punches and pull out victories in 2014, but that will be impossible to re-enact against the Ducks. Once Mariota gets Oregon up a few scores early, the Seminoles run game will be abandoned and Winston will be pushed to force throws.

The Seminoles defense has been masterful at bending but not breaking. The problem? These Ducks might as well have a master's degree in breaking defenses, and the best professor the program has ever had is ready to lay out some knowledge.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 31

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Bowl Games 2014-15: TV Schedule and Predictions for Every Postseason Battle

The long, two-week break without college football couldn't end soon enough, as Saturday marks the start of bowl season with a handful of early matchups.

Games like the Miami Beach Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl may only be appetizers for what's to come on New Year's, but nothing beats postseason action in the bowl subdivision. Having one last chance to leave a mark for their team on national television often amps up the action, especially when teams used to winning most of their games are invited. 

Every couple of days brings a different spectacle to watch this time of year, and they often increase in entertainment value by the day—with some obvious exceptions. If you don't end up catching the first couple of bowl games on the slate, it's imperative to catch up before the big boys do battle.

Let's take a look at every game in order, breaking down how to catch the action and make a prediction for each one.

Note: Predicted winners marked by (*). Bowl TV schedule courtesy ESPN.com.

 

Biggest Games to Watch

Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor

While one team looks toward building momentum for a 2015 run and another is simply looking to put a fitting ending on this year's campaign, the spotlight and stakes of the Cotton Bowl will bring plenty to play for as far as Michigan State and Baylor are concerned.

Next season's biggest question mark was answered for the Spartans when quarterback Connor Cook announced his intention to stay for his senior season. Behind a nasty defense and an offensive line that will return three of five pieces, Mark Dantonio's squad will be among the biggest College Football Playoff contenders in 2015.

Before that comes, the Spartans will face a team that is intent on writing another chapter to this season's book. After just barely missing out on the CFP in controversial fashion, the Bears—behind star quarterback Bryce Petty, playing in his last game—would like nothing more than to help silence their doubters.

Beating a proven commodity in Michigan State would certainly do that. The Spartans' only losses this year were to Oregon and Ohio State—not too shabby. 

Baylor will have to deal with some coaching turnover, though. After offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery bolted for the Tulsa head job, Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner noted a change in play-calling:

It shouldn't matter much. Petty has been consistently one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the nation, and that won't change against a Michigan State team that has struggled to contain elite quarterbacks. 

You won't find many bowl matchups with two better offenses, but Baylor's is more accustomed to shootouts—which is what this game will inevitably become. The Bears' underrated front seven will keep running back Jeremy Langford bottled up, and Cook won't be able to match Petty's aerial dominance.

Prediction: Baylor 34, Michigan State 26

 

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

Two teams that many expected to be here will face off in the Rose Bowl for a spot in the national championship game, but it's safe to say each took unfamiliar roads to make it.

If I told you back in September that Florida State barreled through almost all of its competition convincingly and Oregon just barely got by in most of its games, that would fit the narrative for what both programs accomplished a year ago. But instead, it's been the exact opposite—the Ducks are rolling over opponents (albeit with one slip-up), and the Seminoles can't beat anybody by more than a few points.

Of course, recent trends matter little come kickoff on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl. What will matter is the security that fellow Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota show with the football.

In his encore performance from last year's Heisman, Winston has been far from careful with the ball while Mariota has been magnificent, as ESPN SportsCenter showed:

Winston may try to take advantage of Oregon's loss of cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but the Ducks will be ready to swarm on anything the redshirt sophomore hangs up there. As for Mariota, he's shown no willingness to give opposing defenses that sort of chance—and Oregon's offensive system rarely puts him in position to do so.

Neither defense has been spectacular this season, but if there's one unit that has shown its grit in big-time games, it's Oregon—which has allowed more than 19 points just once since November. The Seminoles have made the plays when it counts, but that won't continue with Mariota executing the offense to perfection.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

The TCU Horned Frogs didn't get their chance to prove themselves in the CFP. But for a team that finished 4-8 a season ago, facing the SEC's second-best team in a statement game isn't all that bad.

Gary Patterson's TCU squad will face No. 9 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve, and a win would serve as the biggest bragging rights a Big 12 supporter tired of the SEC's reign could possibly imagine.

The opportunity at stake isn't lost on the Rebels, either, who are in somewhat of unchartered territory at 9-3 and in the national spotlight. With a still-youthful roster and head coach Hugh Freeze around for the long term, Ole Miss will want nothing more than a resounding win to assert its status as a contender in 2015 and beyond.

ESPN's Tim Tebow summed up perfectly what's at stake, per SEC Network:

Picking a winner almost feels disrespectful to the potential of this bowl game, which should be one of the best of the year. With an elite TCU offense against a top-of-the-line Rebel defense and such huge implications in the lasting outlook of this season altogether, it should be a back-and-forth thriller that goes down to the wire.

Both teams will come ready to play, but Ole Miss will find it much easier to execute its biggest keys to success. The Rebels are much more complete as an overall team, boasting a formidable offense behind quarterback Bo Wallace and running back Jaylen Walton that should counter TCU's biggest punches.

It will go down to the last possession, but expect the Rebels to pull through.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30

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Bowl Games 2014-15: Schedule and Predictions for Top Matchups on Slate

The college football bowl season is set to begin with five games on Saturday. The biggest games won't occur until closer to New Year's Day, but college football fans will simply be thrilled to see the sport return after an almost month-long break from a full schedule.

Things will get underway early with an 11 a.m. start for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns will have a substantial home-field advantage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Nevada Wolf Pack.

Here's a look at the full slate of bowl games. Just below the table is a closer look at the two national semifinals in the College Football Playoff.

Bowl Location Date/Time Network R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette New Orleans
Mercedes-Benz Superdome Dec. 20
11 a.m. ESPN Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Utah State vs. UTEP Albuquerque, N.M.
University Stadium Dec. 20
2:20 p.m. ESPN Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Utah vs. Colorado State Las Vegas
Sam Boyd Stadium Dec. 20
3:30 p.m. ABC Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Air Force Boise, Idaho
Albertsons Stadium Dec. 20
5:45 p.m. ESPN Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
South Alabama vs. Bowling Green Montgomery, Ala.
Cramton Bowl Dec. 20
9:15 p.m. ESPN Miami Beach Bowl
BYU vs. Memphis Miami
Marlins Park Dec. 22
2 p.m. ESPN Boca Raton Bowl
Marshall vs. Northern Illinois Boca Raton, Fla.
FAU Stadium Dec. 23
6 p.m. ESPN San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Navy vs. San Diego State San Diego
Qualcomm Stadium Dec. 23
9:30 p.m. ESPN Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky Nassau, Bahamas
Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium Dec. 24
Noon ESPN Hawai'i Bowl
Fresno State vs. Rice Honolulu
Aloha Stadium Dec. 24
8 p.m. ESPN Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl
Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech Dallas
Cotton Bowl Dec. 26
1 p.m. ESPN Quick Lane Bowl
Rutgers vs. North Carolina Detroit
Ford Field Dec. 26
4:30 p.m. ESPN Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
NC State vs. UCF St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tropicana Field Dec. 26
8 p.m. ESPN Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech Annapolis, Md.
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Dec. 27
1 p.m. ESPN Hyundai Sun Bowl
Arizona State vs. Duke El Paso, Texas
Sun Bowl Dec. 27
2 p.m. CBS Duck Commander Independence Bowl
Miami vs. South Carolina Shreveport, La.
Independence Stadium Dec. 27
3:30 p.m. ABC New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Boston College vs. Penn State Bronx, N.Y.
Yankee Stadium Dec. 27
4:30 p.m. ESPN National University Holiday Bowl
Nebraska vs. USC San Diego
Qualcomm Stadium Dec. 27
8 p.m. ESPN AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia Memphis, Tenn.
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Dec. 29
2 p.m. ESPN Russell Athletic Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Clemson Orlando, Fla.
Florida Citrus Bowl Dec. 29
5:30 p.m. ESPN AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Arkansas vs. Texas Houston
NRG Stadium Dec. 29
9 p.m. ESPN Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Notre Dame vs. LSU Nashville, Tenn.
LP Field Dec. 30
3 p.m. ESPN Belk Bowl
Georgia vs. Louisville Charlotte, N.C.
Bank of America Stadium Dec. 30
6:30 p.m. ESPN Foster Farms Bowl
Maryland vs. Stanford Santa Clara, Calif.
Levi's Stadium Dec. 30
10 p.m. ESPN Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 TCU Atlanta
Georgia Dome Dec. 31
12:30 p.m. ESPN VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
No. 20 Boise State vs. No. 10 Arizona Glendale, Ariz.
University of Phoenix Stadium Dec. 31
4 p.m. ESPN Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech Miami Gardens, Fla.
Sun Life Stadium Dec. 31
8 p.m. ESPN Outback Bowl
Auburn vs. Wisconsin Tampa, Fla.
Raymond James Stadium Jan. 1
Noon ESPN2 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Baylor Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 1
12:30 p.m. ESPN Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Missouri vs. Minnesota Orlando, Fla.
Florida Citrus Bowl Jan. 1
1 p.m. ABC Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State Pasadena, Calif.
Rose Bowl Jan. 1
5 p.m. ESPN Allstate Sugar Bowl
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State New Orleans
Mercedes-Benz Superdome Jan. 1
8:30 p.m. ESPN Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Pittsburgh Fort Worth, Texas
Amon G. Carter Stadium Jan. 2
Noon ESPN TaxSlayer Bowl
Iowa vs. Tennessee Jacksonville, Fla.
EverBank Field Jan. 2
3:20 p.m. ESPN Valero Alamo Bowl
Kansas State vs. UCLA San Antonio
Alamodome Jan. 2
6:45 p.m. ESPN TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Washington vs. Oklahoma State Tempe, Ariz.
Sun Devil Stadium Jan. 2
10:15 p.m. ESPN Birmingham Bowl
East Carolina vs. Florida Birmingham, Ala.
Legion Field Jan. 3
Noon ESPN GoDaddy Bowl
Toledo vs. Arkansas State Mobile, Ala.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium Jan. 4
9 p.m. ESPN College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T
TBD vs. TBD Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 12
8:30 p.m. ESPN

 

Florida State Will Outlast Oregon

All year long, the defending champions have been finding ways to win close games. It's hard to find a game in which you could say Jameis Winston and Co. have actually played well as a team.

For some reason, it feels as if this is the game the Noles play like defending champions for close to—or a full—60 minutes. Winston won the 2013 Heisman Trophy, and he is going up against this year's winner in the Oregon Ducks' Marcus Mariota.

There's no disputing Mariota's worthiness of the sport's top individual honor, but Winston wouldn't be a competitor if he didn't want to outperform this year's winner. College Football 24/7 calls Mariota vs. Winston the best matchup of bowl season.

Because of the way Winston's teammates respect him, there's no question they want to help him get the best of the matchup—not to mention defend the school's national championship.

The key here is Florida State's ability to run the ball against the Oregon defense. Dalvin Cook has been a constant for Florida State all season. Even when Winston has struggled, Cook has given the Noles a stabilizing presence.

The freshman leads the Noles in rushing and undoubtedly has a bright future in Tallahassee. Oregon's run defense has been far from stout this season.

The Ducks rank just 50th in rushing yards allowed per game. Look for Florida State to pound the ball on the ground and set up play-action opportunities for Winston. The Noles' defense represents the most athletic and explosive defense Mariota has seen all season.

The result will be a surprisingly easy win for Florida State.

 

Alabama is Too Fast For Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes fans will hate to hear this, but it's still true. The Alabama Crimson Tide are too fast as a team.

From the linebackers to secondary and pass-rushers, the Tide can get after the Bucks' receivers and quarterback Cardale Jones like no team Ohio State has faced.

The only prayer Ohio State has is to establish a strong run game early and somehow force Alabama into turnovers. The first is obviously easier said than done.

Bama's run defense is ranked No. 2 in the nation. Led by linebacker Trey DePriest, Alabama fills its gaps and swarms to the ball. If the Bucks can't run the ball, too much pressure will fall on the shoulders of Jones to lead his team to victory.

Jones played great—as did the Bucks defense—in the Big Ten title game against the Wisconsin Badgers; he didn't turn the ball over and Ohio State restricted the nation's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, to under 80 yards in the 59-0 rout.

Wisconsin definitely isn't on Alabama's level on either side of the ball. 

Heisman finalist Amari Cooper changes the way teams have to defend Alabama. He stretches defenses, which opens up the Bama running game. Ohio State doesn't have one cornerback capable of handling Cooper, and that means safety help will be required constantly.

Bama will win the battle at the line of scrimmage and maul Ohio State in a rout.

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New Orleans Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

The Bowl season has officially begun and there really isn’t a better place to kick things off than in New Orleans as the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns square off in the New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome. The game will kickoff at 11 a.m. EST and it will be televised on ESPN.

Nevada finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, and 4-4 in the Mountain West. They are led by quarterback Cody Fajardo who has rushed for 997 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he has also thrown for 2,374 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Louisiana-Lafayette compiled an 8-4 regular-season record and finished second in the Sun Belt Conference.  One of the reasons they finished second in the Sun Belt is the running back duo of Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris, who have combined for over 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Be sure to come back to this live blog when the game begins for the latest scoring updates, highlights and analysis.

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Bold Predictions for Every SEC Football Bowl Game

With 12 of its 14 teams playing in bowl games this year, the SEC has carried over its distinction as the best conference in the country into the postseason. Nine of those qualifiers are favored to win their matchups, according to Odds Shark, making it very likely the SEC will dominate the bowl season like it did throughout the regular season.

Bowl games tend to bring out the crazy, with the extra preparation time making it possible for teams to break out some new wrinkles to their game plans and unveil breakout players who might not have had much of an impact before then. Anything goes during bowl season, and it's often hard to predict how things will pan out.

We're going to give it a try, though. Here are our bold predictions for what will happen in each bowl game the SEC is involved in over the next two weeks.

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Stagg Bowl 2014: Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Mount Union Score, Recap and More

In what has become an annual event, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union put on one of the most memorable Stagg Bowl contests ever with the Warhawks capturing their second consecutive Division III national championship in a 43-34 win. 

This is the ninth time since 2005 these two teams have played for the national title. In the previous eight meetings, Wisconsin-Whitewater came out on top five times, including last year's 52-14 thrashing. This year was more competitive, though the final result ended up being the same. 

If there was going to be a loss for Wisconsin-Whitewater, it was going to happen in this game, as the ESPN Stats & Info department pointed out:

Offense was expected to be prevalent throughout the game, as these were two of the highest scoring teams in the country.

Per NCAA.com, Mount Union led the nation with 60.3 points per game, which makes Wisconsin-Whitewater's 39.9 mark look pedestrian. The two teams combined for 1,069 yards and 54 first downs on Friday. 

Warhawks head coach Lance Leipold manned the sidelines for the final time, as he's set to take over at Buffalo after the season. The 50-year-old talked about his emotions coming into this game during a press conference, via Art Kabelowsky of The Wisconsin State Journal:

“It’s like I joined the senior class,” Leipold said. “It’s been very emotional, and it will continue to be. This is where I grew up. … This place will always be special.”

...

“It’s not about my last game. It’s about my guys, and the chance they have to play a 15th game. I hope you had a chance to see it doesn’t just happen.”

It's safe to say Leipold couldn't have picked a better way to go out, ending his eight-year run at Wisconsin-Whitewater with five undefeated seasons and six national championships. He already made history coming into the game, reaching 100 wins faster than any coach in NCAA history, per ESPN College Football:

As exciting and thrilling as the matchup was, it was also ugly in spots. The two teams combined for seven turnovers, including five by Mount Union. 

Purple Raiders quarterback Kevin Burke was hurt by four interceptions, including a pick-six in the second quarter that gave Wisconsin-Whitewater a 20-7 lead. 

Travis Wilson of WisconsinSports.net noted that Mount Union's halftime deficit was largely due to the inept play by Burke:

Another area of the game that will have Mount Union looking back wondering "what if" is penalties. Kabelowsky noted on Twitter the Purple Raiders had two touchdowns taken away due to holding penalties:

Mount Union had to settle for a field goal on that particular drive, which made the score 40-34 with 9.5 minutes to play. That meant a defensive stop was needed to give the offense a chance, but it never came. 

Wisconsin-Whitewater put together its best drive of the game after getting the ball back, holding the ball for more than six minutes to take a 43-34 lead thanks to a a Lake Bachar field goal. 

Dennis Moore was the hero for the Warhawks, recording 120 receiving yards on just three catches. The biggest play of the game was a 75-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Matt Behrendt that gave them a 37-31 lead, via the Mount Union Twitter:

The dagger came when Burke threw his fourth interception as Mount Union was driving with under two minutes to play, hoping to give the team a chance to take the lead with an onside kick. Wisconsin-Whitewater was able to run out the clock to complete a 15-0 season. 

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Alamo Bowl Betting: UCLA Bruins vs. Kansas State Wildcats Odds, Pick

Kansas State is back in a bowl for the sixth straight season, but the Wildcats have been bad bowl bets lately, going just 1-5 both straight up and against the spread in those last six bowls. Kansas State hopes to reverse that trend when it takes on UCLA in the 22nd edition of the Alamo Bowl Friday, January 2 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

 

Alamo Bowl point spread: Wildcats opened as 2.5-point favorites; the total was 59.5. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.3-32.3 Wildcats

 

Why the Bruins can cover the spread

The Bruins started 4-0 this season, including a 62-27 victory at Arizona State. UCLA then lost back-to-back games to Utah and Oregon but then won five in a row, including a 17-7 victory over eventual Pac-12 South champion Arizona and a third straight win over rival USC.

The Bruins then fell in their regular-season finale to Stanford, but they are playing in a bowl for the fourth straight season. UCLA ranks 23rd in total offense, averaging 269 yards per game through the air and 199 yards per game on the ground, so the Bruins have the ability to simply outscore almost any opponent, as they did against Memphis (42-35), Cal (36-34) and Colorado 40-37).

UCLA played against some tough expectations earlier this season and some big spreads, and it consequently went 1-7 ATS through its first eight games. But the Bruins then covered the spread in three of their last four contests.

 

Why the Wildcats can cover the spread

The Wildcats only lost three games this season—to Auburn by a touchdown, at TCU and at Baylor. Those three teams combined to go 30-6 this season, and both the Frogs and Bears had good cases in support of a College Football Playoff berth.

Kansas State also went 8-2 ATS over its last 10 games, with wins and covers against Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. On the season, the 'Cats rank 50th in the country in total offense, as quarterback Jake Waters has accounted for 3,600 yards and 28 touchdowns, and wide receiver Tyler Lockett has caught 93 balls for almost 1,400 yards and nine scores.

And the Kansas State defense ranks 36th overall and has held seven opponents to 20 points or less.

 

Smart Pick

UCLA holds an edge on offense, while Kansas State holds an edge on defense. And in close calls like this, it's usually wiser to go with the better defense. On top of that, Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder is a handy guy to have on your side when trying to win a bet; his teams are 34-16 ATS over the last four seasons. So the smart money in this spot resides with Kansas State.

 

Trends

  • UCLA is 5-1 SU in its last six games.
  • Kansas State is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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GoDaddy Bowl Betting: Toledo Rockets vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves Odds, Pick

Arkansas State has won and covered each of the last two GoDaddy Bowl games. The Red Wolves get a chance to run that string to three in a row when they return to familiar territory to take on the Toledo Rockets in the GoDaddy Bowl Sunday, January 4 in Mobile, Alabama.

 

GoDaddy Bowl point spread: Rockets opened as one-point favorites; the total was 67. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.2-34.2 Red Wolves

 

Why the Rockets can cover the spread

The Rockets survived an early-season change at quarterback to claim a share of the MAC West championship and return to a bowl after a one-year absence. Toledo started 1-2 this season, with losses to eventual SEC East champion Missouri and Cincinnati.

But it won seven of its last nine games, with the only losses coming by a touchdown to the Big 12's Iowa State and by a field goal to eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois.

For the season, the Rockets rank 19th in the country in total offense, 18th in rushing at 247 yards per game, and 19th against the run, giving up just 121 yards per game on the ground. And outrushing foes by 125 yards per game is a good way to win games and cover spreads.

 

Why the Red Wolves can cover the spread

The Wolves started 1-2 this season, with losses at Tennessee and at Miami. ASU then won five of its next six games, covering the spread as a double-digit favorite three times. The Wolves then lost back-to-back outings but finished the regular season on a high note, bombing New Mexico State, 68-35.

So Arkansas State is playing in the GoDaddy Bowl for the fourth year in a row. The offensive-minded Red Wolves rank 21st in the country in total offense, 25th in rushing at 230 yards per game, and while the defense has its shortcomings, it also held five opponents this season to 14 points or less.

 

Smart Pick

This looks like a even matchup; Arkansas State owns a short edge on offense, while Toledo holds a short edge on defense. But the Rockets have outgained their last five opponents and outrushed their last 10. So the smart choice in this spot is with Toledo, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • Toledo is 4-1 straight up in its last five games.
  • Arkansas State is 13-5 against the spread in its last 18 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Cactus Bowl Betting: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Washington Huskies Odds, Pick

Washington finished the regular season by covering the spread in each of its last three games. Oklahoma State struggled through a five-game against the spread losing streak, then covered its last two contests. Two teams that showed hope late this season meet when the 8-5 Huskies and 6-6 Cowboys play in the Cactus Bowl Friday, January 2 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

 

Cactus Bowl point spread: Huskies opened as five-point favorites; the total was 56.5. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 32.5-22.3 Huskies

 

Why the Cowboys can cover the spread

The Cowboys knew they were headed for a rebuilding season this year, but they started off by winning five of their first six games—and the only loss in that span was a 37-31 decision against eventual NCAA playoff qualifier Florida State.

But as the schedule got a little tougher, OSU lost five games in a row—to the likes of TCU, Kansas State and Baylor. But then, in need of a victory in the season finale against rival Oklahoma to become bowl eligible, the Cowboys showed a great flair for the dramatic, returning a punt 92 yards with less than a minute to go to tie the game, then winning in overtime, 38-35.

So Oklahoma State is playing in a bowl for the ninth straight season.

 

Why the Huskies can cover the spread

The Huskies started 4-0 this season, their first under new head coach Chris Petersen, then lost five of their next seven games. But one of those losses came on a touchdown with four minutes to go against Stanford, another came in a game against Arizona State that was tied with five minutes to go and another came against Pac-12 South champion Arizona on a field goal at the buzzer.

Washington then won its last two games, over Oregon State and Washington State, by a combined score of 68-26, to make a bowl for the fifth straight season. On the year, the Huskies are averaging 195 yards per game rushing, while holding opponents to just 122 yards per game on the ground. And outrushing opponents by 70 yards per game can be a good way to cover spreads.

 

Smart Pick

Washington holds advantages in the comparisons of the offenses and the running games, and it's better against the run. And realistically, Oklahoma State probably doesn't even deserve to be in a bowl game. So the smart choice in this spot is with the Huskies, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • Oklahoma State is 1-5 straight up in its last six games.
  • Washington is 11-5 SU in its last 16 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Birmingham Bowl Betting: East Carolina Pirates vs. Florida Gators Odds, Pick

Florida just went through another miserable season, and it lost its head coach. But the Gators also made some money down the stretch, going 4-1 against the spread over their last five games.

East Carolina, meanwhile, made some noise earlier this season, but then word got out and the Pirates finished 1-7 ATS over their last eight games. So two teams riding opposing betting trends meet when 6-5 Florida takes on 8-4 East Carolina in the newly named Birmingham Bowl Saturday, January 3 at Legion Field in (where else?) Birmingham.

 

Birmingham Bowl point spread: Gators opened as seven-point favorites; the total was 57 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.1-35.0 Pirates

 

Why the Pirates can cover the spread

The Pirates opened this season 6-1 with victories over Virginia Tech and North Carolina (70-41), the only loss a tough 33-23 decision at South Carolina. East Carolina then lost back-to-back games at Temple and at Cincinnati, then beat Tulane and Tulsa.

And the Pirates had Central Florida beat in the regular-season finale but gave up a Hail Mary on the last play of the game to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. On the season, East Carolina, powered by a potent passing attack, ranks fifth in total offense at 533 yards per game and 44th in total defense.

Finally, the Pirates were lined as underdogs three times this season; they won two of those games outright and went 3-0 ATS.

 

Why the Gators can cover the spread

The Gators lost their head coach along the way this season but actually finished with three wins in their last five games and covered four of their last five.

Earlier this year, Florida played Alabama to a 21-21 tie well into the third quarter, then lost on a field goal with three seconds left against LSU. The Gators followed that up by having both a punt and a field goal blocked in the fourth quarter in an eventual overtime loss to South Carolina and then gave up a 9-0 lead and lost to NCAA playoff qualifier Florida State 24-19.

A play or three here and there, and Will Muschamp might still have his job. The Gators are averaging 190 yards per game on the ground this season, and their defense ranks ninth in the country overall and 12th against the run.

 

Smart pick

East Carolina owns some nice numbers, but it played a weak schedule this season. Florida, on the other hand, played a Top 10 schedule. And the Gators own an advantage in overall talent. So the smart choice in this spot, despite the struggles, is probably with Florida, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • East Carolina is 1-7 ATS in its last eight games.
  • The total has gone over in eight of Florida's last 11 games.

 

All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Outback Bowl Betting: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Auburn Tigers Odds, Pick

The Auburn Tigers may not be playing for the national championship this season, but they will get the opportunity to become the first team to kick off the New Year with a victory when they face the Wisconsin Badgers in the Outback Bowl.

The Tigers have dropped three of their last four games and failed to cover all of them during that stretch, while Wisconsin is looking to recover from an embarrassing 59-0 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes as a four-point favorite in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Outback Bowl point spread: Tigers opened as 6.5-point favorites; the total was 62. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.5-36.0 Badgers

 

Why the Badgers can cover the spread

Wisconsin not only lost the Big Ten title to the Buckeyes, the school also saw head coach Gary Andersen leave to take the same job for the Oregon State Beavers. Instead, the Badgers will have Athletic Director Barry Alvarez on the sideline coaching the team for the first time since taking over for Bret Bielema in the 2013 Rose Bowl, which the team lost, 20-14, to the Stanford Cardinal.

Alvarez is the perfect person to help the players forget about such a lousy performance against Ohio State and make them remember how good they were before that game, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher, who totaled 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns.

 

Why the Tigers can cover the spread

Auburn may have lost three of four down the stretch, but all three losses came against bowl teams from the SEC. There’s no shame in losing, 55-44, to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the top-seeded team in the College Football Playoff, especially since the Tigers were leading, 26-21, at halftime.

There’s no doubt they can put points up on the scoreboard; the problem is slowing down their opponent at the end of the game. While that was also an issue against the Florida State Seminoles in losing last year’s BCS National Championship Game, it should not be one versus the Badgers, who simply run the ball.

 

Smart Pick

There may not be a bowl game that is a bigger mismatch from a conference perspective despite one of the SEC’s top teams taking on one of the Big Ten’s best. The SEC was a far superior conference during the season and could have had two teams in the College Football Playoff had Auburn, the Ole Miss Rebels or Mississippi State Bulldogs just played a little better this year.

Wisconsin winning the Big Ten West was not nearly as impressive as the competition the Tigers played in the SEC West, which should have them more than ready to win this game. Auburn is used to competing against much tougher defenses and more well-balanced offenses. The key to stopping the Badgers is slowing Gordon, so expect the Tigers to focus on him defensively.

Wisconsin has failed to cover three straight games and went 5-8 against the spread overall, so look for those negative trends to continue as Auburn wins the Outback Bowl by more than a touchdown.

 

Trends

  • Wisconsin is 5-11 ATS in its last 16 games.
  • Auburn is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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