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August 23, 2014

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Bowl Pick’em Against The Spread Week 1

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Steve Marcus

USC tight end and Bishop Gorman graduate Xavier Grimble, right, talks with special teams and tight end coach John Baxter during practice with the team at Bishop Gorman Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. USC plays Fresno State in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl.

A growing chorus of dissenters emerges every year about now to decry bowl games as pointless

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No one adding their voices must have spent much time in Las Vegas. Around here, bowl games matter.

They serve a noble purpose: Letting sports bettors get three weeks worth of action on college football before it disappears for seven months.

That’s what brings back Talking Points for a fourth straight year of analyzing every bowl game against the spread and providing a pick. The lifetime record of this series is 54-47-4, a tally I’m quite proud of considering the large sample size and inherent disadvantage of forcing a pick on every game.

No handicapper, regardless of how much they love college football, should gamble on every game on the board. That’s the quickest way to bust a bankroll, so I’ll be sure to hint at what games are more attractive options than others.

Let’s start with the first week of games.

Find a betting breakdown and picks of the first eight bowl games below and make sure to come back to Talking Points for the whole postseason.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State plus-6 vs. Washington State; over/under: 66

11 a.m. Saturday, University Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M

Might as well start off with a bang in the form of a truckload of points. The New Mexico Bowl has the highest total of any of the first 15 bowl games, and it’s not difficult to figure out why. Washington State ranks fourth in the nation in passing behind quarterback Connor Halliday. Colorado State is the country’s only team with both a 3,000-yard passer, quarterback Garrett Grayson, and a 1,500-yard rusher, running back Kapri Bibbs. Despite inflated prices, the two teams have combined for a 14-8-2 record to the over on the year. They’ve also together gone a lofty 18-7 against the spread.

Pick: Colorado State plus-6

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: USC minus-6 vs. Fresno State; over/under: 63

12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas

As the spread on this game indicates, the polls have it wrong as usual. Fresno State is not a better team than USC. Not even close. Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings, advanced metrics somewhat closer to oddsmakers’ power ratings, have USC as the No. 12 team in the nation with Fresno State lagging all the way back at No. 44. The reason the line has dropped a point from its minus-7 opener is an apprehension to back the Trojans, who are on their third coach of the season after Ed Orgeron walked away when he wasn’t retained. It’s a valid concern, but new coach Steve Sarkisian has spoken to the team about moving past the beloved Orgeron’s ouster and been present all week. Fresno State hasn’t covered in a bowl game since Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy, a futile six-year span that included a 45-10 torching as 12.5-point favorites against SMU in last year’s Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

Pick: USC minus-6

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo plus-1 vs. San Diego State; over/under 51.5

2:30 p.m. Saturday, Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho

Several sports books opened this line as high as Buffalo minus-3.5. That was a mistake. The number vamoosed as quickly Turner Gill, the only coach to ever take the Bulls to a bowl game before Jeff Quinn this year, from the big-time college football world. The betting market must have liked San Diego State’s three-game win and cover streak leading into its season finale because gamblers certainly couldn’t have marveled at the Aztecs 45-19 pasting at UNLV as 3.5-point favorites. Snow is in the forecast, which is another factor that can’t play into the Aztecs’ favor. Buffalo should be more used to those elements.

Pick: Buffalo plus-1

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Tulane minus-2 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette; over/under: 49.5

6 p.m. Saturday, Superdome in New Orelans

The best player between these two teams, and the defending New Orleans Bowl MVP, isn’t expected to be available. Rajun’ Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway is doubtful after breaking his wrist before the final regular season game. Guess Tulane quarterback Nick Montana — yes, Joe’s son — will have to provide the star power. Don’t put it past him. Tulane rides a Green Wave of three straight covers, and a 9-3 overall against the spread record, into their first bowl game in 11 years. The rare opportunity doubles as the Green Wave’s last game in the stadium they’ve called home for decades, as an on-campus venue opens next year.

Pick: Tulane minus-2

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl: Ohio plus-14 vs. East Carolina; over/under: 63

11 a.m., Monday, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Let’s not compare them to Florida State or Georgia yet, but Ohio and East Carolina have turned into fairly solid staples of bowl season. Frank Solich has taken the Bobcats to the postseason in five straight years. Ruffin McNeill has done the same with the Pirates in three of four seasons with the program playing beyond the regular season in four of the last five. But they haven’t won any of those games, and covered just once. Ohio, on the other hand, has won two straight bowl games outright as underdogs. There’s some commotion calling the Bobcats undeserving of a bid this season, which is exactly the type of fuel a team can use to power their best effort.

Pick: Ohio plus-14

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Boise State plus-3 vs. Oregon State; over/under: 64.5

5 p.m., Tuesday, Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii

Sheraton can keep its sponsorship, but could Hawaii step aside to let this game go on as the Red Flag Bowl this year? More reasons exist to fade both the Broncos and Beavers than to back them. Despite picking USC earlier in this blog, it’s traditionally not a profitable strategy to back interim coaches bridging the gap between tenures as Boise State’s Bob Gregory does here. It’s also hard to get excited about wagering on a team that’s lost five straight, even if it’s covered in two them, like Oregon State. Additionally, the Beavers are less frequent visitors to the Island meaning distractions could become more of an issue. But, then again, no one knows who’s playing quarterback for Boise State. It could be either Joe Southwick, who missed four of the last five games with an ankle injury, or Grant Hedrick, who performed admirably in his place. Anyone have an Advil before this pick?

Pick: Oregon State minus-3

Little Caesars Bowl: Pittsburgh plus-5.5 vs. Bowling Green; over/under: 50

3 p.m., Thursday, Ford Field in Detroit

Speaking of interim coaches, Adam Scheier heads the soaring Falcons into their bowl game with Dave Clawson and much of his staff having already left for Wake Forest. Bowling Green is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won and covered in five straight to capture the MAC championship. The senior-laden Falcons have gotten better as the season’s gone on to become a force on both sides of the ball. But they haven’t seen a defense as tough as Pittsburgh’s, which ranks No. 36 in the F/+ ratings. Panthers senior lineman Aaron Donald took home the Nagurski Award for the best defensive player in the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He could alone harass Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene all night.

Pick: Pittsburgh plus-5.5

Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State plus-1.5 vs. Northern Illinois; over/under: 58.5

6:30 p.m., Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, the record-setting Heisman finalist, will get all the publicity here. In a just world, he should have to share with the Utah State defense. The Aggies were daunting to go up against all season, ranking No. 9 in F/+ in defensive efficiency. They were even higher in some traditional statistics. The linebacking corps of Jake Doughty, Zach Vigil and Kyler Fackrell helped give up only 18 points per game. The Aggies are challenged offensively, averaging 1.5 yards per play less than the Huskies. Lynch can run or throw as he needs 119 yards on the ground against Utah State to become the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 rushing and passing yards.

Pick: Utah State plus-1.5

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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