Abundance of bowl games provides ample opportunities for holiday cheer


Photo by Getty Images | It all started to unravel for Oklahoma and quarterback Landy Jones in the Sooners’ shocking loss to Texas Tech on Oct. 22, 2011.

My first play of the college football season was on Sept. 1 when I backed Wisconsin at -35½ vs. UNLV. Result: The Badgers jumped out to a 51-3 lead before the Rebels scored two otherwise meaningless touchdowns in a 51-17 rout.

My last play of the regular season came Dec. 10, when I backed Navy as a 7-point favorite over Army. Result: Navy jumped out to a 14-0 lead … and won, 27-21.

I wish I could say those two bad beats were the exceptions to an otherwise profitable college football campaign. I also wish I could say my last name was Gates.

Thankfully, with nearly 30 bowl games remaining over the next 2½ weeks, I have a chance to redeem myself … or further solidify my reputation as a bigger sham than Kim Kardashian’s marriage.

On to my bowl picks through Jan. 4 (Note: I went 2-1 with my first three bowl selections, with three plays pending) …

$550 (to win $500) on Iowa +13½ vs. Oklahoma (Insight Bowl, Dec. 30): Whenever I get depressed about my disappointing college football results, I look at a picture of Bob Stoops and I smile. In the preseason, Stoops’ Sooners were the consensus No. 1 team in the country, and for six weeks it appeared the ranking was justified. Then Oklahoma lost 41-38 to Texas Tech as a 29-point home favorite, and it all unraveled from there. Not only did the Sooners then lose two of their final five games (capped by an ugly 44-10 loss at rival Oklahoma State), but along the way their top wide receiver and running back suffered season-ending injuries.

So in two months, Stoops’ troops went from being a lock to play in the BCS Championship Game to facing 7-5 Iowa in Tempe, Ariz. Translation: I expect the Sooners to be less motivated than my teenage son is when I tell him to clean his room.

True, the Hawkeyes didn’t exactly show up in their biggest games of the season, losing to Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska (while averaging just 10.3 points per game). However, Iowa’s been a frisky bowl underdog under coach Kirk Ferentz, covering five straight times in that role (including four outright upsets). Meanwhile, Oklahoma has cashed in just one of its last five bowls.

$330 (to win $300) on Wisconsin +6 vs. Oregon (Rose Bowl, Jan. 2): I don’t know if the long layoff short-circuits Oregon’s potent offense or gives opposing defenses too much time to game plan (or both), but the Ducks haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard in their last two bowls, losing 26-17 to Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl and 22-19 to Auburn in last season’s BCS Championship Game.

Now Oregon faces a Wisconsin defense that gave up more than 17 points just three times in the regular season. Granted, the Badgers didn’t face an offense as prolific as Oregon’s, but you could say the same thing about the Ducks’ defense vs. Wisconsin’s offense, which averaged more than 44 points and 460 yards per game. The Badgers, who haven’t been an underdog all season, have cashed in their last four games as a pup, and are 14-5-1 against the spread in their last 20 overall. Oregon is 1-4 ATS both in its last five as a bowl favorite and its last five against Big Ten foes.

$110 (to win $100) on Toledo-Air Force OVER 70 (Military Bowl, Dec. 28): The final scores of Toledo’s last five games: 49-28, 63-60 (loss), 66-63, 44-17, 45-28. Four of those contests soared over the total, and the Rockets averaged 42.2 ppg this season. Meanwhile, Air Force put up 34.4 ppg, tallying 45 in each of its last two contests, and the Falcons topped the total in nine of their 12 games. In other words, this might not be the matchup to play the “take a drink every time there’s a score” game … or maybe it is!

$110 (to win $100) on Vanderbilt -2½ vs. Cincinnati (Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31): This is Vanderbilt’s second bowl game in 30 years, and the Commodores went just 6-6 this season. Cincinnati is making its eighth bowl appearance since 2000, and the Bearcats went 9-3. Yet Vandy is favored. Now you know why the Big East (Cincinnati’s conference) recently extended more invites for expansion than a 6-year-old girl would for her birthday party. (Note that Vandy went 9-3 ATS this season, while the Bearcats have failed to cover in four straight bowls).

BEST OF THE REST (BOWL GAMES): Stanford +3½ vs. Oklahoma State ($77); Washington-Baylor OVER 78½ ($66); Michigan -2½ vs. Virginia Tech ($55); Auburn -1½ vs. Virginia ($55); Nevada-Southern Miss OVER 62 ($55); Florida-Ohio State UNDER 44 ($44); BYU -2½ vs. Tulsa ($44).

BEST OF THE REST (NFL): Titans -8 vs. Jaguars ($66); Redskins -6½ vs. Vikings ($55); Giants +3 at Jets ($55); Panthers -7 vs. Buccaneers ($44).

LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 6-2-1 (+$260); Bankroll: $6,359.

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Stanback gets back on track as Rebels roll

Stanback gets back on track as Rebels roll

Despite a couple of poor offensive outings in UNLV’s last two games, Chace Stanback should still be a top priority on all opposing teams’ scouting reports. That was evident Monday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Facing a 2-3 zone, Stanback looked comfortable in scoring a career-high 29 points in the Rebels’ 81-63 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. Stanback’s scoring outburst, which included eight 3-pointers on nine attempts, came after he totaled just seven points in UNLV’s previous two games.