Shoebox filled with holiday receipts staring you in the face? Dreading the daily walk to the mailbox out of fear that your credit-card bill will reach out and strangle you?
No worries, that’s what college football’s bowl season is for: picking up where Santa left off! And as I detailed in my last column, there’s a record 35 bowl games this season (28 of which are played after Christmas), giving us ample opportunities to subsidize our holiday expenses. Even better: In addition to traditional standards such as the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and Holiday bowls, we now get the opportunity to wager on such classics as the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Kellogg’s Cereal Bowl, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, the Cheech & Chong Smoke-a-Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. (By the way, I only made up two of those!)
I went 4-1 on my picks from last issue that were decided by press time (with four still pending), netting $110 and upping my bankroll to $5,827.
On to this week’s picks …
$550 (to win $500) on MICHIGAN STATE (+10) vs. Alabama (Jan. 1): Let’s hop in the hot-tub time machine and travel back two years. Alabama had its national championship hopes crushed by Tim Tebow and Florida in the SEC Championship Game, and the consolation prize was a trip to the Sugar Bowl and a date with an undefeated opponent (Utah) that Alabama did not respect. Result? Utah raced out to a 21-0 lead and cruised to a 31-17 win as a 10-point underdog. Here we are two years later and the Crimson Tide (9-3)—one year removed from beating Texas for the national title—are once again relegated to a postseason game (Capital One Bowl) they feel is beneath them, facing an opponent they don’t believe belongs on the same field with them.
Meanwhile, Michigan State went 11-1 and shared the Big Ten title with Wisconsin and Ohio State, but when it came time to invite two Big Ten schools to the lucrative BCS party, who got the call? Wisconsin (whom the Spartans defeated) and Ohio State (whom the Spartans didn’t play). And who got installed as a double-digit underdog against an opponent that blew a 24-0 lead to its archrival in its regular-season finale? Michigan State.
Bottom line: Motivation often trumps talent in bowl games, and there’s no question Michigan State has something to prove here. As for the Crimson Tide, they’re about as excited for this game as Ricky Martin would be at the Playboy Mansion.
Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty
$440 (to win $400) on TCU (-2) vs. Wisconsin (Jan. 1): If college football handed out a “Best Bully” award, Wisconsin would’ve won going away. Among the beatdowns the Badgers doled out this year: 70-3 over Austin Peay, 83-20 over Indiana and 70-23 over Northwestern. Wisconsin also gave wedgies to the likes of UNLV, Purdue, Minnesota and San Jose State. But when the Badgers picked on someone their own size, the fight was much more competitive. Yes, they beat Ohio State 31-18 at home, but they escaped with lucky wins over Iowa (31-30) and Arizona State (20-19), and lost at Michigan State by 10. The common thread in those four games (plus a shaky 27-14 win over San Jose State)? Wisconsin’s offense was held in check (26.6 points per game).
Well, look who’s awaiting the Badgers’ arrival at the Rose Bowl: the nation’s top-ranked defense. No team this fall gave up fewer points (11.4 per game) or yards (215.4 per game) than TCU, which rolled through an unbeaten regular season. The Horned Frogs are hardly all about defense, though; they ranked fifth in scoring offense (43.3 ppg, tied with Wisconsin) and ninth in total offense (491.5 yards per game).
For one of the few times all season, Wisconsin is going to get punched in the mouth from the opening bell, and I don’t see the Badgers responding well. Nor do I see them handling TCU’s superior team speed.
$220 (to win $200) on STANFORD (-3) vs. Virginia Tech (Jan. 3): Kudos to Virginia Tech for ripping off 11 straight wins after season-opening losses to Boise State and Division I-AA James Madison. But two of the Hokies’ wins came against East Carolina and Central Michigan, while the other nine victories—albeit eight by double digits—were against rivals from the ACC, which was to college football this year what Carrot Top is to comedy. Any way you slice it, this Orange Bowl matchup with Stanford will be Virginia Tech’s stiffest test since Boise State … only Stanford is better than Boise State.
Behind QB Andrew Luck (the Heisman Trophy runner-up), Stanford posted an 11-1 regular-season record, the only misstep coming on the road at Oregon (a game the Cardinal led 21-3). Stanford finished the Pac-10 campaign strong with five victories by a combined margin of 186-44, going 4-0-1 against the spread.
With this game in Miami, Virginia Tech will have a decided crowd advantage, but that won’t be enough to derail the Cardinal, who have Luck on their side. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
$220 (to win $200) on AIR FORCE (-3) vs. Georgia Tech (Dec. 27): This ought to be renamed the Depends Bowl, because with the way these teams run the ball, there won’t be any time for bathroom breaks. Georgia Tech (327 rushing ypg) and Air Force (318 rushing ypg) rank 1-2 in the nation in running the football. The difference-maker? Air Force faces two triple-option teams each season (Navy and Army), and this year the Falcons beat their service-academy rivals by scores of 14-6 and 42-22. No doubt, they’ll be more than ready for Georgia Tech.
More to the point, Air Force is simply better. Its four losses came against opponents (Oklahoma, San Diego State, TCU and Utah) that are a combined 41-8. And aside from a 38-7 loss at TCU, the other three defeats were by a total of 10 points. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech played in the ACC (no further comment needed) and enters this Independence Bowl in a 1-4 slump (all four losses by seven points or more).
BEST OF THE REST: Washington (+14) vs. Nebraska ($55, Dec. 30); Arizona +6 vs. Oklahoma State ($55, Dec. 29); Michigan-Mississippi State OVER 59½ ($44, Jan. 1); Middle Tennessee (+1) vs. Miami of Ohio ($33, Jan. 6); Notre Dame-Miami UNDER 47 ($33, Dec. 31); SMU (-8) vs. Army ($33, Dec. 30); Arkansas-Ohio State UNDER 58 ($33, Jan. 4).