Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 | 8:15 a.m.
Handicapping bowl games takes a sharp turn at the intersection of the end of one year and the start of another.
While strategies like backing motivated teams and going against unstable programs remain important, the situations are less glaring and exploitable as the stakes rise and the games start to feature better teams.
The hordes of teams that went 6-6 to squeak into a bowl game or underwhelmed at 7-5 aren’t extinct, but they’re endangered. The good stuff starts now.
For Talking Points, it actually started last entry with a perfect 5-0 to get the overall record back to respectability after the bad-beat circus stopped in for a moment. Signing off on 2012 with a winning day sounds tremendous. We’ll shoot for that.
Look below for picks and a brief description of the four bowl games scheduled for Monday. Check back later this action for an update with picks on all of Tuesday’s games.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: North Carolina State +7.5 vs. Vanderbilt; over/under: 51.5
9:00 a.m. Monday, LP Field in Nashville
Cover up the name of the school and the favorite isn’t nearly as difficult to back here. Despite its reputation as the most helpless program in the SEC, Vanderbilt had the second-best against the spread record in the conference this year, behind only Ole Miss, and outclasses North Carolina State in every area.
Pick: Vanderbilt -7.5
Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC -7.5 vs. Georgia Tech; over/under: 63.5
11:00 a.m. Monday, Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas
Taking a bad number is a dangerous habit, but here we go in the second straight game. Sports books listed USC as high as 10.5-point favorites before quarterback Matt Barkley was officially ruled out. Barkley or not, the Trojans are a mess that the betting market has overvalued all year as evidenced by a 3-9 against the spread record.
Pick: Georgia Tech +7.5
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State -1.5 vs. Tulsa; over/under: 51
12:30 Monday, Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.
Tulsa lost to Iowa State 38-23 in the first week of the season, but the Golden Hurricane have a history of struggling against BCS conference opponents on the road. They’re much better in bowl games, going 3-1 against the spread and straight-up in a recent stretch that has seen them make the postseason four years in a row.
Pick: Tulsa +1.5
Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU -6 vs. Clemson
4:30 Monday, Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Number opened too low, at LSU -4, but adjusted to the point where it now seems spot-on. Might as well flip a coin for the first matchup between top-15 teams this bowl season. Or just back the conference that’s cashed tickets at the best clip in the nation throughout recent years.
Pick: LSU -6
Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl: Mississippi State +1.5 vs. Northwestern; over/under: 53.5
9:00 a.m. Tuesday, Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
Before downgrading the Bulldogs too much for their disastrous 1-4 stretch to end the season, consider the competition. They lost to three of the best teams in the country — Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M — and rival Ole Miss.
Pick: Mississippi State +1.5
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue +17 at Oklahoma State; over/under: 70
9:00 a.m. Tuesday, Cotton Bowl in Dallas
Purdue quarterback Robert Marve is underrated and might be able to keep the Boilermakers within the largest spread of bowl season.
Pick: Purdue +17
Outback Bowl: South Carolina -5 vs. Michigan; over/under: 47
10:00 a.m. Tuesday, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Feels like a trap with the vast majority of money on the Gamecocks, but it’s just too hard to back an overmatched Michigan team. The Wolverines stand no chance against defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Pick: South Carolina -5
Capital One Bowl: Georgia -9 vs. Nebraska; over/under: 61
10:00 a.m. Tuesday, Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
Georgia is a far more talented team, but it might be in a bad spot here. The Cornhuskers feel they have something to prove after an embarrassing 39-point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Bulldogs may have checked out emotionally after narrowly missing the National Championship Game.
Pick: Nebraska +9
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin +6 at Stanford; over/under: 47
2:00 Tuesday, Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
We’ve faded interim coaches in most situations, but Wisconsin could actually get a boost from Barry Alvarez returning to the sidelines. Running back Montee Ball and the Badgers can’t stomach the thought of getting to the Rose Bowl three years in a row and losing every time.
Pick: Wisconsin +6
Discover Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois +13.5 vs. Florida State; over/under: 58.5
5:30 Tuesday, Sun Life Stadium in Miami
How exactly is a team that gave up more than 30 points to the likes of Western Michigan and Army going to stop E.J. Manuel and the Seminoles, especially with their defensive-minded head coach bolting for another job? Oh, that’s right. They won’t.
Pick: Florida State -13.5
Bowl record: 11-8