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May 21, 2019

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Bowl Pick’em Against The Spread: College Football Playoff Edition

Alabama o-line Orange Bowl

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alabama’s offensive lineman Chris Owens, left, Emil Ekiyor Jr., and Alabama offensive lineman Scott Lashley, right, run plays during an NCAA college football practice on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, in Miami Shores, Fla. Alabama plays Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29.

Army exploded for 70 points in a Lockheed Armed Forces Bowl victory over Houston. TCU and California labored to combine for 17 points in an all-time lethargic Cheez-It Bowl.

That two-game sample is a pretty fair representation of the college football postseason’s early returns. There’s been everything from an improbable streak of favorites — the team laying points won each of the first eight postseason games, with only one failing to cover — to a game canceled all together — as Boston College and Boise State didn't play more than a few minutes in Wednesday’s Servpro First Responder Bowl in Dallas.

It’s been a crazy start to bowl season, and it’s only just beginning. The main attractions come over the next four days, topped of course by Saturday’s College Football Playoff contests.

Talking Points is ready to attempt to build on a two-game winning streak on its "plays," which now sit at 42-31-1 against the spread on the year. The overall record picking every nearly every game throughout the season stands at 363-338-14, and 8-11 on bowls.

Check below for picks on all the games over the next two days. Selections are labeled in three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen sides.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Nashville, Tenn.: Purdue plus-3 vs. Auburn, over/under: 55. A lot of the strikes being counted against Auburn — such as its inconsistent offense and underwhelming showing against UCF in last year’s Peach Bowl — hold no bearing on this game. Purdue has one of the worst defenses Auburn has seen all year, and played a middling slate of opponents with the 32nd-ranked strength of schedule by the S&P+ ratings. Auburn’s schedule strength rates fourth. The line getting down to a field goal with the far more talented team represents a bargain. Play: Auburn minus-3.

Camping World Bowl at 2:15 p.m. Friday in Orlando: Syracuse minus-1.5 vs. West Virginia, over/under: 66.5. A bowl game shifting nine points on the spread like this one is practically unprecedented — and it’s all because of West Virginia quarterback Will Grier. The Mountaineers went from as high as a 7.5-point favorite to as low as a 2-point underdog when Grier announced he was sitting out. The choice here, therefore, comes down to how much a bettor values the fourth-place finisher in this year’s Heisman Trophy race. The Mountaineers certainly looked lost without Grier last year, and their potential problems increased when left tackle Yodny Cajuste announced he would also forgo bowl participation. Guess: Syracuse minus-1.5.

Valero Alamo Bowl at 6 p.m. Friday in San Antonio: Iowa State plus-3.5 vs. Washington State, over/under: 56.5. This might as well be Talking Points’ national championship, as it pairs this year’s Team of the Year against last year’s winner. Both coaches have consistently over-performed the market’s expectations throughout their careers, but Washington State’s Mike Leach has routinely regressed in the postseason. He’s just 1-7 against the spread in bowl games. The Cougars had exceptional luck in close games all season, going 3-1 in contests decided by less than a touchdown, which leaves them overvalued. The half-point hook is rapidly disappearing, but it’s key in making this a play. Play: Iowa State plus-3.5.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at 9 a.m. Saturday in Atlanta: Florida plus-5.5 vs. Michigan, over/under: 50.5. Michigan gets a lot of flak for its offense, but it was actually more efficient on the year than Florida — the Wolverines gained 6 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision to opponents to the Gators’ 5.9 yards per play — against a comparable schedule in terms of strength. Michigan opened a 7.5-point favorite, and a two-point swing past the touchdown is quite significant. Guess: Michigan minus-5.5.

Belk Bowl at 9 a.m. Saturday in Charlotte: South Carolina minus-5 vs. Virginia, over/under: 54. Buy low on Virginia, which has lost two straight but outplayed both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech before falling by a field goal in overtime. The Cavaliers’ point differential on the year is plus-81; South Carolina’s is plus-65. Too many points in a game where the Cavaliers have the coaching and defensive edges. Play: Virginia plus-5.

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl at 10:15 a.m. Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.: Arkansas State minus-1 vs. UNR, over/under: 56. Teams look incredibly even, but it’s hard to shake visions of how they each ended the season. The Red Wolves hit their stride in winning and covering in four straight, while the Wolf Pack struggled with San Jose State and lost to UNLV. Guess: Arkansas State minus-1.

Cotton Bowl - College Football Playoff Semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas: Notre Dame plus-13 vs. Clemson, over/under: 56.5. There’s been a lot of talk about how bookmakers wouldn’t rank Notre Dame among the four best teams in college football, and it’s all true. The Irish are fifth or sixth, though. They’re still really strong. A lot stronger than anyone Clemson has faced this year. The Tigers didn’t face a single team in the top 20 of Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings, and the one that was close, Texas A&M, required a narrow 28-26 escape as 12.5-point favorites. Notre Dame has several more impressive victories — counting Michigan, Stanford and Syracuse among its victims — and a defense that quietly ranks seventh in the nation in giving up 4.4 yards per play. Look for a low-scoring game where every point could matter. Lean: Notre Dame plus-13.

Orange Bowl – College Football Playoff Semifinal at 5 p.m. Saturday in Miami: Oklahoma plus-14 vs. Alabama, over/under: 77.5. Don’t look for a low-scoring game in the nightcap. This is the highest total in College Football Playoff history — surpassing the over/under 73 points for Oregon vs. Florida State in 2015 — and with good reason. Oklahoma has the top offense in the nation, gaining 8.6 yards per play against FBS opposition. Alabama is second, gaining 7.6 yards per play against FBS opposition. Oklahoma’s defense is a disaster, rating 89th in the nation by the S&P+ ratings, but Alabama’s quietly has issues of its own. The Crimson Tide rank eighth on defense by S&P+, a high number for their standards. They’ve been burned by explosive plays relatively often, and no one produces explosive plays more often than the Sooners. This isn’t to say Oklahoma is bound to beat Alabama. It’s just to say that they’re going to put up points, and could at the very least threaten for a backdoor cover. Guess: Oklahoma plus-14.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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