Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Only three bowl games this season pit conference champions against each other.
Two of the matchups aren’t the least bit out of the ordinary including Big 12 champion Oklahoma taking on SEC champion Alabama in the Orange Bowl, which doubles as a College Football Playoff semifinal. There’s also a classic Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion pairing in the Rose Bowl, where Ohio State and Washington square off.
The third example is less obvious.
It’s the Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday, when Conference USA champions UAB square off against MAC champions Northern Illinois as 2.5-point favorites. The Blazers are the one true surprise team to capture their league considering they’re only in their second year since the school reinstated football and were 12-to-1 to win the Conference USA coming into the season.
The game is arguably the highlight of the first week of bowl season, which Talking Points picks in full below. The blog went 356-26-14 picking every (non-weeknight) game in the regular season — 40-28-1 on plays, 106-95-6 on leans and 215-203-7 on guesses.
Read below as the season series picking every game continues. Picks are separated into three confidence categories and lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen sides.
AutoNation Cure Bowl at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Orlando, Fla: Tulane minus-3.5 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, over/under: 60.5. The Rajun Cajuns had one of the best offenses in any Group of Five conferences, ranking in the nation’s top 15 by gaining 6.5 yards per play. Coach Billy Napier did one of the best coaching jobs in the country in his first year, and should have his team ready for Tulane’s triple option with extra time to prepare. Guess: UL-Lafayette plus-3.5.
New Mexico Bowl at 11 a.m. Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M.: Utah State minus-7.5 vs. North Texas, over/under: 68. The Aggies slowed down at the end of the year — only narrowly beating horrendous Colorado State before losing to Boise State with a Mountain West Conference championship game berth on the line — and are now playing under an interim coach with Matt Wells having accepted the Texas Tech job. If that wasn’t enough, North Texas looks like a bet-on considering they’re an experienced group determined to go out with a win and its only three losses this season came by a total of 13 points. Play: North Texas plus-7.5.
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas: Arizona State plus-5.5 vs. Fresno State, over/under: 53.5. Bulldogs are better in every area, and were an easy play when this line opened at minus-3. They sometimes struggle to score, however, so every point is valuable and the line has broached un-bettable territory getting as high minus-6. Lean: Fresno State minus-5.5.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Montgomery, Ala.: Georgia Southern minus-3 vs. Eastern Michigan, over/under: 45.5. Another line that’s arguably spiraled out of control by going a field goal higher than where it opened, there’s a lot of support for Georgia Southern and their deceptive rush-heavy offense. It doesn’t look misguided, however, as Eastern Michigan has struggled against the run all year and MAC teams are traditionally profitable to bet against in bowl season. Guess: Georgia Southern minus-3.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at 6 p.m. Saturday in New Orleans: Middle Tennessee plus-7 vs. Appalachian State, over/under: 48. Appalachian State’s statistical profile may look significantly more impressive than Middle Tennessee’s, but some adjustment is required to reflect the level of competition. Conference USA is far superior to the Sun Belt, and in addition, the Blue Raiders played a gauntlet of a non-conference schedule in facing Georgia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Play: Middle Tennessee plus-7.
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla.: UAB minus-2.5 vs. Northern Illinois, over/under: 43. Number looks exactly right so decision comes down to either taking the far better offensive team, or the far better defensive team. In that scenario, siding with offense is usually the right choice. Guess: UAB minus-2.5.
DXL Frisco Bowl at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Frisco, Texas: San Diego State plus-3 vs. Ohio, over/under: 54. Another total coin flip with clear edges for each team on different sides of the ball. Can’t go with the better offense in one game, and contradict that in the next. Guess: Ohio minus-3.
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at 5 p.m. Thursday in Tampa: Marshall minus-2.5 vs. South Florida, over/under: 55.5. This contest will be held at Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls play their home games. It’s not very often bettors can find a home underdog in a bowl game. South Florida has lost four straight, but rewind a month, and it would be favored by a touchdown in this spot. Lean: South Florida plus-2.5.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Nassau, Bahamas: Florida International plus-6 vs. Toledo, over/under: 67.5. Florida International has defied expectations all season, including going 3-1 straight-up and against the spread as an underdog. Toledo did the opposite, not ever coming close to threatening for the MAC title it was favored to win at the beginning of the season because of a porous defense that should preclude it from laying points. Guess: Florida International plus-6.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at 1 p.m. Friday in Boise, Idaho: Western Michigan plus-13 vs. BYU, over/under: 49. Not typically high on laying big numbers in bowl games in the first place, let alone with an offense that’s hard-pressed to score. The Cougars rank in the bottom half of the nation in gaining a pedestrian 5.2 yards per play, so it’s hard to see them pulling away. Lean: Western Michigan plus-13.