AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
A handful of star players have followed the trend established last year of sitting out of their teams’ bowl games in order to preserve and prepare themselves for the NFL Draft.
None of them have affected the point spread. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth handicapping the effects of the absence of someone like Oregon running back Royce Freeman — who opted out of Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl and watched his team lose 38-28 to Boise State as 7-point favorites from the sideline.
It’s just that usually, from a betting perspective, the effects are minimal. The only way that would change would be if a quarterback decided to sit out, something that’s yet to happen but could in Tuesday’s Cactus Bowl.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who’s battling a couple nagging injuries, has not officially stated whether or not he will take on Kansas State. If Rosen doesn’t play, expect UCLA to go off as greater than a 2.5-point underdog.
The Cactus Bowl is among the set of 13 bowl games to be played over the next six days.
Check out Talking Points’ picks of all of them below. The blog stands 4-4 on bowl games to make the record on the year 110-104-4 picking all of the biggest games weekly.
Bahamas Bowl: UAB plus-7 vs. Ohio, over/under: 58
9 a.m. Friday, Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas on ESPN
UAB was much less efficient than Ohio this season — the Bobcats had a 1 yard per play differential to the Blazers’ .3 — despite a far easier schedule. At least one metric ranked UAB as having played the easiest slate of opponents in the country.
Pick: Ohio minus-7
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan plus-2.5 vs. Wyoming, over/under: 45.5
1 p.m. Friday, Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho on ESPN
The Chippewas have taken the majority of the action, likely because of their five-game straight-up and against the spread winning streak. But the Cowboys were arguably on an even better tear, covering seven straight with only one outright loss, before quarterback Josh Allen went down. And yet the line barely moved when Allen confirmed he would play in a game that’s also a locational advantage for the Cowboys.
Pick: Wyoming minus-2.5
Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech plus-2.5 vs. South Florida, over/under: 66.5
9 a.m. Saturday, Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. on ESPN
The Red Raiders’ more explosive offense and tougher schedule doesn’t make up for a major disadvantage on defense. South Florida ranked in the nation’s top 15 in giving up 4.7 yards per play, while Texas Tech couldn’t even crack the top 75 at 5.7 yards per play allowed.
Pick: South Florida minus-2.5
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State minus-6.5 vs. Army, over/under: 46.5
9:30 a.m. Saturday, Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas on ESPN
Everyone is on San Diego State — to the tune of three-fourths of the tickets —with the expectation that Army’s season was already made by beating Navy two weeks ago. But the Black Knights are nothing if not disciplined, so a no-show seems unlikely.
Pick: Army plus-6.5
Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State plus-8 vs. Toledo, over/under: 61.5
4 p.m. Saturday, Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. on ESPN
This is one of the best early bowl matchups with two teams that metrics indicate are underrated — Toledo is No. 16 by S&P ratings with Appalachian State at No. 35 —in a rematch from a bowl game last year. Appalachian State edged Toledo 31-28 as a 1-point favorite in the 2016 Camellia Bowl, and with a lot of the same players returning, a 9-point line swing feels drastic.
Pick: Appalachian State plus-8
Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State plus-2.5 vs. Houston, over/under: 50
5:30 p.m. Sunday, Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii on ESPN
The line hasn’t moved — probably because it’s perfect. Good luck sussing out a side here. Houston is much more versatile offense, but Fresno State’s defense is one of the best in the nation in limiting big plays.
Pick: Fresno State plus-2.5
Zaxby’s Heart Of Dallas Bowl: Utah minus-6.5 vs. West Virginia, over/under: 56.5
10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Cotton Bowl in Dallas on ESPN
West Virginia has looked like a different team since quarterback Will Grier went down. Backup Chris Chugnov has struggled, completing only 54 percent of his passes for 6.6 yards per attempt. The extra preparation time should help him, but no one makes better use of the layoff than Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who’s 9-1 straight-up and 7-3 against the spread in bowl games.
Pick: Utah minus-6.5
Quick Lane Bowl: Duke minus-5 vs. Northern Illinois, over/under: 47.5
2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Ford Field in Detroit on ESPN
Duke started the season 4-0 against a mediocre schedule, and then became overvalued in losing six straight both straight-up and against the spread. It seems the cycle is repeating after the Blue Devils pulled off back-to-back upsets to reach bowl eligibility over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. A month ago, Northern Illinois would have been a slight favorite in this game and Duke hasn’t done enough to change that.
Pick: Northern Illinois plus-5
Cactus Bowl: Kansas State minus-2.5 vs. UCLA, over/under: 63.5
6 p.m. Tuesday, Chase Field in Phoenix on ESPN
It’s always preferable to avoid backing interim coaches in bowl games, especially when they’re on their way out of the program. In other words, UCLA probably won’t be at its best under Jedd Fisch who’s entertaining other jobs until Chip Kelly fully takes over the program.
Pick: Kansas State minus-2.5
Walk-On’s Independence Bowl: Southern Miss plus-15.5 vs. Florida State, over/under: 49
10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. on ESPN
The sight of a rush of money coming in against Florida State taking on a Group of Five conference opponent is jarring. The Seminoles still have depth defensively, which makes the effects of a few players sitting out overstated. And their offense finally came together in the last three weeks. Odell Haggins isn’t a typical interim coach given that he’s beloved after decades with the program and will be retained by Willie Taggart.
Pick: Florida State minus-15.5
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College plus-3 vs. Iowa, over/under: 45.5
2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Yankee Stadium in New York on ESPN
Boston College freshman running back A.J. Dillon quietly emerged as one of the most electrifying players in college football, rushing for 1,099 yards on 179 carries over the second half of the season. That’s a nightmare matchup for Iowa, which were mediocre defending the run all year in allowing 4.2 yards per carry.
Pick: Boston College plus-3
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona minus-3.5 vs. Purdue, over/under: 65
5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Fox
Few coaches in the country did a better job than Jeff Brohm in his first year at Purdue this year. And although he’s known for his offense, Brohm did an even better job on defense where the Boilermakers rank sixth in the nation against the run per S&P. That means they’ll be ready for the phenomenon of Khalil Tate, Arizona’s speedy sophomore quarterback.
Pick: Purdue plus-3.5
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas plus-2 vs. Missouri, over/under: 60.5
6 p.m. Wednesday, NRG Stadium in Houston on ESPN
Already efficient, Missouri’s offense hit a new plateau in the second half of the season by averaging 7 yards per play. Texas, which barely mustered 5 yards per play on the year, shouldn’t be able to keep up.
Pick: Missouri minus-2