McD’s Bowl Picks Part One

December 19, 2008 – 12:30 pm by McD

Right off the bat (what does that phrase even mean, by the way?) I’m telling you this: there is absolutely no way I’m risking my .500 record against the spread with unpredictable bowl games between random schools from the Sun Belt conferene and C-USA. Nope. Ain’t happening. .500 against the spread is what I’ve been waiting for. I have redeemed myself after the Great Bowl Gambling Debacle of 2007-08 and nothing can take that away from me (though I did finish last regular season one game over .500). Especially a bunch of terrible bowl games. Work, work, work, work.

The bowl season is a totally different animal from the regular season. Teams have weeks to prepare for one game, so they put tons of wrinkles into their game plans which means many teams look nothing like they did during the regular season. Then you have to deal with coaches coming and going in between the end of the regular season and the team’s bowl game, so who knows who will actually lead a team onto the field that random day in late December? And I don’t just mean changes at the head-coaching position, either. Teams change coordinators at this point in the season too. Auburn hired Tony Franklin before it’s bowl game after the 2007 season and he only had a couple of weeks to make the O look good. Everyone looks different this time of year, so I’d be crazy to risk my successful record on this crap. Besides, I got my ass kicked last year in bowl season, so I’ve learned my lesson.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to be gambling away for the next few weeks. It’s just when I finish 15 games below .500, I need to have explained my incompetence beforehand.

So fire up for the first weekend of college football bowls…with the Eaglebank Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, and the New Orleans Bowl. Uh, sweet. It’s probably not a good idea to pick games I won’t even be watching (except for one), but I’m going to do it anyway. I’ll be updating with scores on each of these games, plus I’ll be picking every other bowl game too, so join in the epic fail!

With this spate of terrible bowl games, isn’t bowl season the perfect time for ESPN or another station to adopt the FanZone? The EPL has used it for a few years and it’s absolutely wonderful. I’ve made my case for it in the past, but now more than ever with these very underwhelming games, isn’t it time to add a little spice to the broadcasts? Wouldn’t you rather watch a couple of crazy fans from Troy and Southern Miss call their bowl game instead of a couple of disinterested professional announcers? And how great would the games that actually do matter be with a couple of fans calling them? Florida/Oklahoma? Utah/Alabama? Hell, even Missouri/Northwestern — the fantastically nicknamed “Prose Bowl”? The FanZone’s time has come in college football. Viva FanZone!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

11am ET

EagleBank Bowl

Wake Forest (7-5) at Navy (8-4) (+3)

The first time these two teams played, Wake Forest shat the bed with six turnovers. That’s pretty much the only reason Navy’s offense was able to score that many points. I seriously doubt Riley Skinner is going to come out and throw another four picks against Navy. That said, the Demon Deacons really need to run the ball well or they’re screwed.

For it’s part, Navy is going to do exactly what it always does. They’ll run the option and play bend-but-don’t-break defense. This game is practically guaranteed to be close, and though I love me some option football, especially when it’s played by service academies, I just can’t get behind Navy in this one. Wake has enough time to prepare and fix the mistakes they made during the regular season. And no, I don’t want Jim Grobe to become Indiana’s new coach after next year.

Pick: Wake Forest

Update: Wake Forest 29 Navy 19.

Wake did what it could do to lose this game. Usually, Navy and other option teams hold the ball too much for teams to come back on them. But Wake got it together and won a game they should win, though the cover was in doubt until the last minute. It was good to see the Demon Deacons run the ball well again. Riley Skinner only had to throw 11 passes, completing all of them, and thus Wake was able to play their game. It seems as though Skinner used to be their guy, but now it’s important for them to get the game out of his hands. Something to watch for heading into Skinner’s senior season in 2009.

Bowl Record: 1-0, 1-0 ATS

2:30pm ET

New Mexico Bowl

Colorado State (6-6) at Fresno State (7-5) (-3)

I love it when two teams coming from conferences with “west” in the name have to travel the hell over to New Mexico to play a football game. It’s even more fun when neither team is particularly good at defense. The part that gets me is the opposite direction these teams have gone this season. No one expected anything out of CSU, who hadn’t had a first-year coach take them to a bowl…ever. 6-6 and a New Mexico Bowl bid isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it’s a start. Fresno State was initially one of those teams threatening to go undefeated and break into the BCS. Then they had a close loss at home to Wisconsin and proceeded to lose four more games after that, including a serious blowout at the hands of Boise State.

Colorado State hasn’t won a bowl game since 2001, while Fresno State has won three of their last four bowl games. To me, that speaks mostly to the style each team plays. Pat Hill’s Fresno squad favors a balanced, pro-style attack and enough defense to win the game. Colorado State’s teams have historically been running squads that de-emphasized the pass. This year, however, CSU is averaging nearly 250 yards per game throug the air and their quarterback has thrown for more yards than Fresno’s much-hyped QB Tom Brandstater.

I’m also worried there won’t be as much offense as the experts think because both teams are soft against the run and are facing teams who favor the run. There ought to be some big plays, but I’m not so sure there will be as many as people think, especially with a couple of weeks to prepare. Look, I know no one cares about this game any more than I do, so let’s just get on with it.

Pick: Fresno State

Update: CSU 40 Fresno State 35.

I’m a believer in Gartrell Johnson after this game. That guy’s a beast. I’m also a believer in the non-clutchness of this year’s Fresno State team. They blew leads in quite a few big games, including the Wisconsin game, got blown out by Boise, and now this mess. I respect Pat Hill’s ethos and I respect his decision to stay in Fresno despite several offers. But, man that team needs to get it together for 2009.

Record: 1-1, 1-1 ATS

4:30pm ET

Magic Jack St. Petersburg Bowl

Memphis (6-6) at South Florida (7-5) (-12)

I don’t know much about Memphis, but I know USF has a hell of a lot to prove in its last game of the 2008 season. At one point, the Bulls were 5-0 and on their way to winning a shitty Big East conference, but then they went 2-5 the rest of the way, and now they’re stuck in a pointless bowl aganist a C-USA team. But hey, at least they only have to drive to St. Pete.

On paper, the Bulls should win this one going away. Memphis has done some nice things, but they’re just 6-6 and not particularly impressive in any facet of the game. Their strength is running the ball, but that doesn’t help beacuse USF’s defensive strength is stopping the run. Apparently, Memphis has some dude who’s six-eight at receiver, but like James Hardy for IU in the Insight Bowl last year, tall guys can be stopped.

This game rests squarely on the surprisingly underpowered shoulders of Matt Grothe. He’ll get his rushing yards no matter what, but if he keeps the Tarvaris Jackson act up, this will be another embarrassing loss for the Bulls. All he’s gotta do is make smart decisions, not throw the ball to the other team, and try to run for a bunch of yards on a suspect Memphis defense. Keep it simple, guys.

Pick: USF

Update: USF 41 Memphis 14.

Memphis has a running back named Curtis Steele. And knowing what I know about Visanthe Shiancoe, I am pretty shocked that’s not his porn name instead of a running back for Memphis. Alas, Mr. Steele didn’t get to run like he normally does, as the Bulls pretty much dominated the whole game.

Matt Grothe is now the all-time career total offense leader in Big East history, and he hasn’t even played his senior season yet. In the game, he passed Pat White and pretty much never looked back. Grothe has been starting since he was a true freshman, but I had no idea he’d been THAT productive. Jeez. Imagine how far ahead he’d be if USF hadn’t sucked for so much of this season.

Record: 2-1, 2-1 ATS

8pm ET

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl

(16) Brigham Young (10-2) at Arizona (7-5) (-3)

The spread and the experts seem to think this is Arizona’s game. And yet, if BYU’s increasingly shitty defense will be able to stop anyone, I would think it would be Arizona’s offense. What is it the Wildcats do, offensively, anyway? They hired away a coordinator from Texas Tech, of all places, so you’d think they’d be a throwing team. Instead, they have a balanced offense and rely heavily on running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin. I know, I know, I love Willie Tuitama too, but though the Wildcats have scored a ton of points in a few of their games, their O is definitely containable.

Which means this game depends on BYU’s D to make enough stops so their offense can keep up and take the lead. That’s been an issue in their last few games, though, in which the Cougars have not been impressive at all defensively. I realize BYU is at a disadvantage since all their players seem to be in their mid-twenties, having finished their missions already, but you would think that age issue would balance out in disciplined play and experience. Not so much. BYU players are old, I tells ya! Old!

Sadly, this game is our best option on Saturday for obvious reasons. I love the rising amount of bowls each year, but it means there are quite a few shitty games and only a few that create matchups worth watching. Yeah sorry, St. Petersburg Bowl, that Memphis/USF matchup just isn’t that sexy to anyone outside of half of Tennessee and Tampa/St. Pete. Deal with it.

I’m just not sold on Arizona. Though BYU had a ton of SNAFU’s to end the season, they’ve had some time to prepare and fix their problems. Arizona spent the whole season playing about as well as it possibly could, and they’re still only 7-5. I’m going to go with Max Hall and pray the Cougars can find the high level of football they had early in the 2008 season.

Pick: BYU

Update: Arizona 31 BYU 21.

Fucking figures. I thought it was odd as hell that Arizona was favored over a very good BYU team. Hell, I’ve SEEN Arizona play multiple games this season. They aren’t that good. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Willie Tuitama, but I never expected BYU to totally shit the bed like this. I like saying “shit the bed” instead of “choked,” by the way. Much more colorful, especially when referencing Mormons.

Worse, Bronco Mendenhall seemed okay with the loss, saying 10-3 is a good season, or some complacent shit like that. Go ahead, pretend your team didn’t just drop an easily winnable game to a mediocre team. But at least Mike Stoops’ job is safe for another season. He finally got his guys to a bowl game, UA’s first since 1998. I can’t believe Arizona has been this bad for this long. That’s insane.

Anyway, Stoops will be back, which is surely good news for the rest of the Pac-10, unless you’re USC’s horrible offense. The Wildcats seem to be good at shutting them down lately. Then again, everyone is good at stopping USC’s offense lately. Eh, Phillips? Eh?

Record: 2-2, 2-2 ATS

Sunday, December 21, 2008

8:15pm ET

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Southern Miss (6-6) at Troy (8-4) (-4.5)

When third-tier schools from Mississippi and Alabama get together, you know it’s going to be hot hot hot! And there’s no way the fans of these two schools are only making the roadie because the game is in New Orleans and they can party the entire weekend. Nope, not possible. I wonder if they’ll even remember to go to the game. “Dude, let’s just watch it at the bar!”

This Troy team is the same one that blew a huge leage against LSU in Baton Rouge in a game that was delayed because of a hurricane. The Trojans are very good for a small-conference team and have some legit players at several positions. They run well, they throw efficiently, and have a serious advantage along both lines.

Southern Miss, on the other hand, is in just its first season under Larry Fedora. I’d say this is a good first step for them, but they have several holes and that should cause them some issues against Troy. Didn’t it used to be Troy State? Whatever.

Pick: Troy

Update: Southern Miss 30 Troy 27.

Know this, Troy: no one likes you or your conference. I’m embarrassed for everyone involved. How the hell is anyone going to make an argument for a playoff that includes all 11 conference champs when you go out and lose to Southern freaking Mississippi. Even if Brett Favre were still their quarterback, their record wouldn’t be any better than 6-6. They’re that mediocre. Guh.

Record: 2-3, 2-3 ATS

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