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Saturday, 20 December 2014

College Football Bowl Game Picks 2014 (December 20-January 12)

The Alabama Crimson Tide, the Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles were three teams that many would have picked to be involved in the first ever College Football Play Off at the start of the season, although the Florida State team did their best to back their way into the final four.

However, an unbeaten Seminoles were unlikely to be passed by four teams as they are the defending Champions, while the winners of the SEC and the Pac-12, considered the two toughest Conferences in College Football, were going to be involved as long as they didn't have a two-loss Champion.

So the big question going into the Championship Games was whether the Ohio State Buckeyes were going to have enough to pass the TCU Horned Frogs and the Baylor Bears. Ohio State went into the Big Ten Championship Game as an underdog, but a 59-0 whipping of the Wisconsin Badgers with a third string Quarter Back was very impressive.

And, as most predicted, the Big 12 lack of a Championship Game, as well as the failure of the Conference to determine a single winner came back to haunt them as the Buckeyes were promoted to the Number 4 spot in the country.

That means the Semi Final line up will see Oregon take on Florida State first before Alabama meet Ohio State and it is the Ducks and the Crimson Tide who are both big favourites. I do expect both to play for the National Championship on Monday 12th January, but I am very much looking forward to seeing how the Semi Finals and Final work out for the new College Football post-season.

It'll also be interesting to see if the Big 12 change their rules to determine a Conference winner in the off-season to give their teams a better chance of cracking the top four next season.

I also think the NCAA might be contemplating how long it will be before they expand the Play Offs to the Quarter Final stage too as College Football continues to be big business.

Bowl games begin on Saturday 20th December 2014 and they can be a little harder to find legitimate angles to make plays. For example, motivation is very different at this stage of the season than it is in the regular season, while some of the Bowls are played in great locations and may have enough distractions for the players who it has to be remembered are very young and enjoying this time of their life.

Coaching changes and academic suspensions are also rife at this time of the season, while other players may be looking to protect their future by perhaps not over-exerting before the NFL combines and eventually Draft comes along.

It is something to keep in mind if you are making some plays over the next month with games coming throughout the period.

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns v Nevada Wolf Pack Pick: If you like seeing teams pound the ball on the ground, the New Orleans Bowl looks a very good place to start as both the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and Nevada Wolf Pack look to establish the run to get their Offenses going.

Cody Fajardo and Terrance Broadway are dual-threat Quarter Backs that are very happy to run the ball and are joined by a couple of tough Running Backs to run option Offenses.

Establishing the run to help Louisiana and Nevada open the passing lanes against Secondaries that have both allowed at least 270 passing yards per game so there could be a fair bit of scoring in this one.

One aspect that could be edged by Nevada is the turnover margin as they have been very good at forcing Interceptions and Fumbles through the season. The Wolf Pack are tied for 11th in turnover margin this season and earning extra possessions could be key to their chances.

Broadway has thrown 12 Touchdown passes for Louisiana, but also has 9 Interceptions and the Quarter Back must look after the ball if the Ragin' Cajuns are to secure the upset.

I say upset, but they are only dogged by 1 point in this one, although the game takes place in the Superdome of New Orleans and so is essentially a home game for Louisiana. They will know what to expect considering they have been invited into the New Orleans Bowl for the fourth season in success and Louisiana have taken advantage by winning the last three Bowls here.

An upset is never too far away from this Bowl with 4 of the last 6 won by the underdog and 2 of the 3 Louisiana wins have come when they have been dogged. The Nevada Wolf Pack will be excited about returning to a Bowl, but they have lost 4 of their last 5 Bowl games and they are travelling to an exciting place like New Orleans so I wonder if they will be caught out here.

Louisiana are 14-6 against the spread in their last 20 games as the underdog and they are 3-0 against the spread in the last three years in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Ragin' Cajuns Defense may have a little more success stopping the run in this game and, if they can do that, I expect Louisiana to pound the ball successfully and win this game. I will take the point being offered on the spread because you just never know how important that might be to at least offer a push in a game where both Offenses move the ball effectively for much of the afternoon.

UTEP Miners v Utah State Aggies Pick: There isn't much to say about the New Mexico Bowl except this game is going to be decided by which of the teams has the most success running the ball. Both the Utah State Aggies and the UTEP Miners have been very good at doing that this season, but the key difference may be how the Defenses have played against the run.

While the UTEP Miners have given up 170 rushing yards at 5.1 yards per clip, the Utah State Aggies have a very strong Defensive Line and Linebacker corps that have restricted teams to 129 rushing yards per game at 3.3 yards per carry.

If Utah State can dominate the trenches, the Aggies should be able to make school history by winning their third Bowl game in a row. Jameill Showers has played effectively for UTEP this season, but asking him to win this game with his arm is not going to be the way the Miners want to play the game and Utah State could create turnovers to pull away.

Kent Myers has played well for Utah State as the Freshman Quarter Back taking over from three injured players and I don't believe he will be asked to do too much in this one. The Aggies should be able to run the ball effectively which will set Myers up in short yardage situations and the Quarter Back can make the plays to keep Utah State in front of the chains.

Utah State are 3-1 against the spread in their last 4 games as the favourite and UTEP have failed to cover in 5 straight Bowl games. The New Mexico Bowl had been won by the favourite in three straight seasons before last season, covering in each of those wins, and I like Utah State to restore that trend in this year's edition.

Colorado State Rams v Utah Utes Pick: One of the biggest questions surrounding the Las Vegas Bowl is how have the Colorado State Rams players responded to Jim McElwain deciding to leave as Head Coach and take over the Florida Gators programme. There is still some consistency with Dave Baldwin taking over as Interim Head Coach, but it will still be a blow to the Rams players that McElwain has moved on considering the success he has enjoyed over the last two seasons here.

Dee Hart has played well for Colorado State, but the Utah Utes have a very strong Defense that will likely be able to slow him down to keep the team in third and long situations. Garrett Grayson has also had a very special season at Quarter Back, but he will now be faced with a pass rush that has produced the most sacks in the nation and have two Defensive Ends that should be able to feast on this Offensive Line.

The Utah Utes also have a healthier Travis Wilson starting at Quarter Back and he has been efficient with the ball as he has thrown just 4 Interceptions this season. With Devontae Booker running the ball so well and likely finding gaps in this Colorado State Defense, Wilson should have the time to make his plays from Quarter Back which should give Utah the edge in this game.

There should also be some excitement in the Utah camp that they have returned to the Bowl game series and I do think the loss of McElwain as Head Coach could have a negative effect on the Colorado State players.

Utah go off as the favourite and will know the favourite has won the last four games at the Las Vegas Bowl and covered 3 times. The Utah Defensive Line could make enough plays to slow down this Colorado State Offense and eventually see them win this game and cover the three points.

Memphis Tigers v BYU Cougars Pick: The Miami Beach Bowl is a great setting for the kids at Memphis and BYU to be facing one another as they have the whole attention of College Football in the sole game to be played on Monday evening.

Both teams have been successful thanks to their strong Defensive play and there is every chance that this is going to be a low-scoring battle.

The Cougars may have expected to be playing in a bigger Bowl game than this one, but the injury to Taysom Hill ended those chances, even if Christian Stewart played well down the stretch. This is going to be a big game for Stewart as he might not have much run support against the Tigers Defense giving up just 3.6 yards per carry and that may lead to pressure on the Quarter Back in third and long situations.

On the other hand, Paxton Lynch is capable of running the ball from the Quarter Back position for Memphis and might give the Tigers a chance to establish an element of a running game. However, like Memphis, the BYU Cougars have one of the stronger Defensive Lines that is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and they might also need to rely on Lynch's arm.

I would expect him to have a little more success as he won't be targeting any one Receiver and is happy spreading the ball around. Lynch has been very efficient with the ball as he didn't throw an Interception during the Memphis six game winning run to end the season, and BYU haven't had the same pressure up front as the Tigers have generated.

With the time that Lynch may find, he should have success throwing against a Secondary that has allowed 266 passing yards per game and that could prove to be the difference in this game. Memphis can also set a school record for 10 wins and that has to be a real motivation factor for a team returning to a Bowl game for the first time in six years, while the Cougars have finished with 8 wins in the last two years.

The Cougars are just 2-7 against the spread in their last 9 games and they are 2-4 against the spread in their last 6 games as the underdog. Memphis are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last 7 games against a team with a winning record and I like the Tigers to win their first Bowl game since 2005.

Northern Illinois Huskies v Marshall Thundering Herd Pick: You can understand the excitement in both the Northern Illinois Huskies and Marshall Thundering Herd camps ahead of this game between two teams that have combined for 23 wins this season and just 3 losses.

Both are also Conference Champions so the Boca Raton Bowl should feature two teams highly motivated to end their seasons with an exclamation point.

There are other similarities with both teams looking to run the ball against the strength of the other's Defenses and the team that has most success doing that is likely to win this game. Northern Illinois have not missed a beat despite Jordan Lynch completing his time here last season and Drew Hare can have another big game for them with Cameron Stingily very capable of helping the team run the ball.

Rakeem Cato will be hoping Devon Johnson is healthy enough to take his place at Running Back, but Steward Butler did fill in admirably for Johnson and the Thundering Herd should have success establishing the run too.

Out of the two teams, Marshall have the slightly better run Defense, although facing a dual-threat like Hare makes it more difficult, while Rakeem Cato is more likely to make a mistake throwing the ball than Drew Hare.

Extra possessions can be an issue in this one if Marshall make some mistakes, but I do think the Thundering Herd are a better team of the two. However, in saying that, 9.5 points is a lot to cover if Northern Illinois are running the ball effectively and the Thundering Herd are just 2-4 against the spread in their last 6 games, including going 0-3 in their last three.

The Huskies are 6-3 against the spread as the underdog over the last three seasons and I think they can keep this one close.

San Diego State Aztecs v Navy Midshipmen Pick: The San Diego State Aztecs have a couple of big factors going in their favour ahead of the Poinsettia Bowl- the first of those is that they have the benefit of playing the game in their home stadium where they have won all 6 games played this season.

The second is that the Navy Midshipmen had to come through a battle with the Army Black Knights just last weekend and now have to travel across the country to battle San Diego State.

Both teams are going to be looking to dominate on the ground and it would be something of a surprise if both don't have success doing that. The difference between the teams could be the run Defenses where the San Diego State team seem to have an edge too and forcing Keenan Reynolds to make more plays throwing the ball could be the key to the Aztecs winning this one.

San Diego State beat Navy at this same Bowl Game in 2010 and the favourite has won at the Poinsettia Bowl in the last four years, covering three times. I do like the Aztecs to find enough success slowing down the Navy Midshipmen rushing Offense and finding a way to cover the field goal spread.

Rice Owls v Fresno State Bulldogs Pick: This could be a fun game at the Hawaii Bowl, although the game is being played in surroundings that can certainly be a distraction to players with their families there for Christmas Day. The game actually is played on Christmas Eve, but the Hawaii Bowl has seen a number of blow out games in recent seasons with one team perhaps not as focused as they could be.

The favourite has not played that well here in recent years with the last season being the first that they have covered in five seasons.

Both the Rice Owls and the Fresno State Bulldogs should have some fun moving the chains with their Offenses in this one, and both should have the edge over the Defensive units they are seeing.

So what has swayed me in the Hawaii Bowl? The underdog's success here was one factor, another is that the Fresno State Bulldogs have beaten the Rice Owls every time and were unfortunate in the Mountain West Championship Game against the Boise State Broncos which could have seen them arrive here as a Conference Champion.

I have to respect the Rice Owls record of 7-1 against the spread when favoured this season, but I think the Bulldogs are a team used to playing at a higher level and I will take the points in this one.

Illinois Fighting Illini v Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Pick: The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini will both want to end their season with a positive in this Heart of Dallas Bowl Game, although the latter will also have revenge on their mind after an embarrassing home loss to this school back in 2012.

To be honest, Illinois have already had to dig deep to get themselves Bowl eligible with upset wins in their last two games taking them to the six win mark for the season. After increasing wins from 2 to 4 and now to 6, Tim Beckman has seen his time as Head Coach extended at Illinois and winning a Bowl Game will just underline how much he has improved things at the school.

However, Beckman will know that his Fighting Illini Defense has had their troubles against the run this season and now face Kenneth Dixon who has been huge for Louisiana Tech. Dixon should be able to power the Bulldogs on the ground and that should only make life easier for Cody Sokol when it comes to throwing the ball.

I do expect Dixon to have success despite the fact that two of the Offensive Line are not cleared to play in this game, and that should give the Bulldogs Defense a chance to make big plays.

Illinois have not had a lot of success running the ball all season, while their starting Quarter Back still looks a battle to be won by three players. All may get their chance, but they have to hope the Offensive Line deals with Houston Bates and the Louisiana Tech Defensive Line from third and long if the Fighting Illini are unable to establish the run effectively.

Bates will have extra motivation being a former Illinois Fighting Illini player and he could have a huge game creating havoc in the backfield and may give the Bulldogs an edge they need.

Louisiana Tech have been strong in non-Conference games in recent seasons and they have covered the majority of those games. They have also been a decent favourite this season and I think they can control the clock with Kenneth Dixon and will eventually win this game by a Touchdown thanks to a late big Defensive play from Houston Bates.

Duke Blue Devils v Arizona State Sun Devils Pick: This could have been a game reserved for a bigger Bowl Game if both teams had ended the season in the fashion that they begun it, but both the Arizona State Sun Devils and Duke Blue Devils will have to settle for the Sun Bowl.

Both Defenses may feel they can get the better of the battle in this one, but the Arizona State team do have the edge in terms of talent level, although Duke have been so well Coached the last couple of seasons.

Jamison Crowder and Jaelen Strong both should have big games for their respective teams, but I do think the Arizona State Sun Devils will have an edge in the way their Defense can make big plays. They are one of the leading teams in terms of takeaways and that could prove to be the difference in the game between these two teams.

The underdog had covered in four years in a row at this Bowl Game before last season and I think the Arizona State Sun Devils can make it two in a row for the favourite.

South Carolina Gamecocks v Miami Hurricanes Pick: The South Carolina Gamecocks have been participating in some of the bigger Bowl games in recent seasons which does raise questions about participating in their first December Bowl Game since 2010. They have won their last 3 Bowl Games, but this is not one on the same level as the Outback Bowl or the Capital One Bowl and motivation has to be a question mark against them.

In saying that, the Miami Hurricanes are a storied College and that should at least bring a challenge in for South Carolina and could see a big effort from the Gamecocks.

Both Offenses will look at this game as a chance to put up some big numbers against Defenses that have perhaps worn down through the season. The Gamecocks have struggled against the run all season and now have to deal with Duke Johnson pounding them, while the Miami Hurricanes have had some of their poorer performances against the run in the final three weeks of the season and now take on a SEC Offensive Line who have a Running Back like Mike Davis pounding the ball.

That should mean Brad Kaaya and Dylan Thompson can add to some impressive passing statistics from the regular season and both Miami and South Carolina should have success moving the ball up and down the field.

However, I do think the Miami Defense is going to be well rested and have played well for much of the season and could get back to one of their better performance levels of the 2014 campaign. They have also been slightly better at forcing turnovers and Al Golden may 'want' this game more than Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

The public are very much on the side of the SEC underdog in this one, but I like the Hurricanes to find a way to create a couple of extra possessions and win this game by a Touchdown.

Penn State Nittany Lions v Boston College Eagles Pick: The Penn State Nittany Lions may only have missed a season of Bowl eligibility after the Jerry Sandusky scandal that saw them banned by the NCAA, but that was overturned during the course of this season and these players have to be excited about their chance to play in a Bowl Game.

Getting to play that game at the famous Yankee Stadium is another huge boost, and both Penn State and Boston College are likely to be well represented in the stands.

The game looks like it will be a close one with both Defenses looking like they have a real chance to restrict what the opposite Offense can do on the field. The fact that Boston College are so reliant on the run makes the battle with the Penn State Defensive Line look to be the key to this entire game and the Nittany Lions will believe they can slow down Tyler Murphy and John Hilliman to the point of giving them the edge in the game.

Christian Hackenberg has to avoid the mistakes that have blighted him through the season with an almost 1-2 Touchdown-Interception ratio for the season. He may be happier if Akeel Lynch can produce some of the big runs that has seen him secure almost half of his season yardage in the last three games, although Boston College's Defensive Line has also been stout against the run.

There might not be a lot of points in the game with both teams likely to want to at least stick with the run and the Defenses likely to be on top for the majority of the game. However, I can see the excitement of the Penn State players to be able to play in a Bowl Game perhaps providing a difference and helping the underdog perhaps even win the game outright.

Penn State have also thrived in non-Conference games with 9-3 record against the spread over the last three seasons.

The underdog have covered in the last four Pinstripe Bowl games and three of those saw them win outright.

USC Trojans v Nebraska Cornhuskers Pick: The USC Trojans and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are two of the big name College schools in the nation and that alone makes the Holiday Bowl one of interest enough to be placed as the big game on Saturday.

Both teams will believe in their own chances to win the game, but the loss of Bo Pelini as Head Coach in Nebraska seems to have had a huge effect on the Cornhuskers. There seems to be some real uncertainty as to where the programme will go with Mike Riley taking over and it also seems that some players and staff don't really know what the future will hold for them.

That uncertainty can make a big difference in this game, even if Nebraska's Offensive Line can give them a chance to really establish the run. However, Cody Kessler is also capable of having a big game for the USC Trojans if the Nebraska team haven't quite got themselves fully motivated for this one.

Steve Sarkisian also has experience getting his team up for a Holiday Bowl after helping the Washington Huskies win this game back in 2010. He will want the Trojans to end his first season as Head Coach here with a victory in the Bowl Game and I expect a full effort from the USC team.

I do think Nebraska have struggled against the better teams they have played this season and I think the USC Trojans win and cover in this one.

Texas Longhorns v Arkansas Razorbacks Pick: The Texas Bowl brings together a big name school from the Big 12 and a school that has the misfortune of sitting in the loaded SEC West. The fact that the Arkansas Razorbacks have become Bowl eligible shows their toughness and they come into the game as a big favourite despite the Texas Longhorns likely to have the majority of fans in the stadium.

Personally I am looking at the over/under for the game which has been set at 43 points and it could be a game where points come at a premium, although the sharps have pounded the number down from the 46.5 points the game opened up with.

I would have loved to get that number, but this one still has a chance of coming in under the total with both teams looking to grind down the other and both Defenses capable of at least keeping the points contained. The Razorbacks are predominantly a team that likes to use a power Offense and the Longhorns have only allowed 3.9 yards per carry so drives could be long and time consuming, while not always ending with points scored.

On the other hand, the Texas Offense is still a work in progress at the end of Charlie Strong's first year as Head Coach and has been inconsistent at best. As long as Tyrone Swoopes doesn't make mistakes at Quarter Back, Texas may also need some long drives to score points and it is all pointing to a game that might see both teams fail to reach the 20 point mark.

However, everyone should remember the College Football rules of Overtime where both teams will get a chance to score and these games can end in double and triple overtime, especially when teams are matched up pretty well.

Stanford Cardinal v Maryland Terrapins Pick: This is considered the biggest mismatch in the Vegas sportsbook and I have to agree with the layers as I am expecting the Stanford Cardinal to win the game comfortably.

Much of the reason for that is the Cardinal Defense which has played at a high level despite the problems on the other side of the ball. They have been stout against the run and they should be able to deal with CJ Brown despite the ability the Quarter Back in using the read-option to earn big games.

Brown does have Stefon Biggs back at Receiver, but he has to deal with the immense pressure Stanford get up front, particularly if they are unable to establish the run.

The biggest reason I am backing Stanford to cover a huge number is because Kevin Hogan and the Offense found something of a groove over the last couple of weeks of the regular season and they should be able to score enough points against this Maryland Defense. The Cardinal should be able to run the ball effectively and that should open things up for Hogan to make plays against this Secondary and allow Stanford to dictate the play and eventually overrun the Terrapins.

Maryland have not been a great team off a bye, going 1-5 against the spread in that position over the last three seasons so preparation may not be up to par for a game against a team like Stanford. The Cardinal have been a decent when favoured by big points this season and I think Stanford can win this one going away.

TCU Horned Frogs v Ole Miss Rebels Pick: This looks a great Bowl Game for the fans to look forward to as two teams look to put an exclamation point on decent seasons.

The Ole Miss Rebels may be disappointed they are not playing in the National Championship Play Off games after beating the Alabama Crimson Tide, but they couldn't get through the loaded SEC West. They have also had time to deal with their fate and would have enjoyed spoiling Mississippi State's chances of reaching the final four and Bo Wallace should have a decent game as long as 'Good Bo' and not 'Bad Bo' takes the field.

On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the TCU Horned Frogs are going to deal with falling out of the top four after being in that position heading into the final week of the season. However, the Big 12 was left out of the Play Offs, but the Horned Frogs seemed to have taken that in a much more 'matter of fact' way than the Baylor Bears.

It will be interesting to see how their Offense can perform against a top SEC Defense in this one, especially if Trevone Boykin cannot rely on the rushing game as much as he has this season. Establishing the run will open up the passing lanes for Boykin, but the Rebels Secondary is one of the best in College Football and might just slow down the Horned Frogs enough for Wallace to lead a game winning drive.

Wallace has to avoid the mistakes that have blighted his career, but Ole Miss have thrived as the underdog in recent seasons by going 11-4 against the spread in that spot. TCU have been a great favourite to back this season, but this is an SEC West team they face this week and I think getting more than a Field Goal, and going against the public, looks too big to pass up.

Arizona Wildcats v Boise State Broncos Pick: The Boise State Broncos are riding the momentum of a long winning run that culminated with the Mountain West Championship, but they have failed to cover in their last 2 Bowl Games and now face a healthy Arizona Wildcats team.

Not many would have picked the Wildcats to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game, but they couldn't pull the upset thanks to some nagging injuries, but those may have cleared up in time for this game.

Anu Solomon played really well at Quarter Back for much of the season and he should have more success in this game with Arizona likely to have established the run to negate the Boise State pass rush.

The Wildcats Defense did give up a lot of yards through the course of the season and that is an area where Boise State will expect to have some real success, although they might have to throw from third and long more often than they would like. The Arizona Defensive Line has held teams to 4 yards per cary and might have some joy slowing down Boise State and that could force mistakes from Grant Hedrick at Quarter Back and give Arizona the edge in the game.

One concern is that Arizona haven't been that good as a favourite this season when it comes to covering the spread, but I think they have the better team of the two in this Bowl Game and will look for them to win by more than a Field Goal.

Wisconsin Badgers v Auburn Tigers Pick: The Big Ten and the SEC regularly compete with one another in Bowl Games, but it is the SEC who has dominated the recent games with 4 wins in the last 5 seasons. The Wisconsin Badgers have already been defeated by one SEC team this season, the LSU Tigers in the opening week of the season, and they need to bounce back from a couple of negative feelings going into the game.

Gary Andersen's departure as Head Coach came as a surprise, but Barry Alvarez is a legendary figure in Wisconsin and should get the best out of his squad of players. A bigger blow to recover from is the 59-0 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes Big Ten Championship Game and I do wonder how much that has taken away from the team.

Fortunately there has been time to get over that loss and they are facing the Auburn Tigers who lost 3 of their last 4 games to end the season, although they almost spoiled Alabama's season in the Iron Bowl. The big question is how much effort is Melvin Gordon going to put into the game knowing what is at stake in the NFL Draft and he will want to avoid an injury.

However, Gordon should have some solid gains for the Badgers and try and keep the pressure off of Joel Stave at Quarter Back. The Wisconsin Defense also has to play to a much higher level than they did in the loss to the Buckeyes and Nick Marshall's dual-threat ability at Quarter Back is going to cause some real problems for them.

Auburn are probably the second best Offense the Wisconsin Badgers have faced this season, although some would say they are arguably even better than the Ohio State Buckeyes who had a third string Quarter Back running the Offense. The Tigers should be able to score enough points to put the pressure on Stave to lead Wisconsin back in the game and that should give this ball-hawking Auburn Secondary the chance for some big turnovers.

The Badgers have failed to cover in their last 2 Bowl Games and also in their last 2 games against SEC teams and I think they fail to do that in this game too.

Baylor Bears v Michigan State Spartans Pick: So how will the Baylor Bears come out and play in the Cotton Bowl having been overlooked for the first ever College Football Play Off? If Bryce Petty is to be believed, and I see no reason why the leader of the Bears should not be, Baylor are going to be 'pi**ed off' for being ignored.

They don't have a much better chance to prove that they deserved to be in the final four than by beating the Michigan State Spartans who were defeated by two of the teams that have made the Play Offs, including the Ohio State Buckeyes who leaped Baylor into that final four.

Petty should be healthier than how he ended the regular season, but this is also one of the top Defenses that the Baylor team would have seen this season. However, the Bears have enough talent to make plays against the Spartans who have also come up short in their two big games this season, including as a pretty big favourite to beat Ohio State at home.

The Spartans have an under-rated Offense which begins with Jeremy Langford running the ball effectively, but the Bears can cause problems if their run Defense can hold up as it has for much of the season. Connor Cook is likely to still be able to make plays against the Baylor Secondary though and I do think Michigan State will have their own big plays in a game that could be a lot of fun to watch.

Michigan State do have a tough Defense that loves to play press coverage and they will try and jam Baylor at the line, but I also have seen them come up short against the two best teams they have faced. The Baylor Defense is also somewhat under-rated I think and I can see them making a few big plays to force punts and field goals which could be a difference maker in a game that could feature a fair few points.

I have to respect the Spartans 6-1 record against the spread as the underdog over the last three seasons- they play with a real chip on their shoulder in that situation, but Baylor have a lot to prove too. They will want to be in the same conversation as Oregon and Ohio State and to prove the Committee got their four team selection wrong and I like the Bears to win and cover this Cotton Bowl.

Minnesota Golden Gophers v Missouri Tigers Pick: If you enjoy some old school Football, this could be the Bowl Game for you as both the Missouri Tigers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers will look to pound the ball on the ground against some powerful Defenses.

Out of the two teams, David Cobb might be the more recognisable Running Back, but the Missouri Tigers Offensive and Defensive Lines are likely to win the battle in the trenches. That should set up the Missouri Tigers in a better spot to establish the run which is going to be a key for them to win the Citrus Bowl and end this season on a positive manner after the SEC Championship Game defeat to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Both teams have been effective at turning the ball over too, but Missouri have been the more careful when it comes to giving the ball away. That may also play to their advantage in this game and help the Tigers continue the recent dominance of the SEC over Big Ten teams.

Dave Steckel is leaving the Missouri Tigers as Defensive Co-Ordinator following this game so I expect his players to put in a huge effort to win the game. The Tigers have also been very good against the spread when having time to prepare and they did cover in the Bowl Game last season despite losing the SEC Championship Game.

Respect has to be given to Minnesota for the way they have been performing as the underdog this season, but Missouri are more likely to win those battles in the trenches that can determine who will be able to run the ball more effectively. Forcing Mitch Leidner to throw the ball could see the Tigers also win the turnover battle and that should help them win this game and cover the spread.

Oregon Ducks v Florida State Seminoles Pick: I don't think I am alone in looking forward to the first ever College Football Play Off games and both Semi Finals look excellent games to look forward to. The first of those between the Florida State Seminoles and Oregon Ducks looks very close to call, so I was a little surprised that the defending Champions were being given as many points as they are in the game.

I understand that Florida State have not looked all that good this season and they haven't dominated any game they have played from start to finish, but they keep finding a way to win games and that has to be respected. I also think the Seminoles are going to be mad that they are considered the underdog in this Semi Final and will definitely be playing with a chip on the shoulder which can prove to be invaluable to the team.

Jameis Winston is likely to have a strong game throwing the ball for Florida State now that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been ruled out in the Oregon Secondary, although the biggest thing for Winston to remember is that he can't afford to turn the ball over. However, without their best player in the Secondary, Oregon could have a hard time containing Rashad Greene and I think the Seminoles can score enough points to keep this close.

Going up against Marcos Mariota and this fast paced Oregon Offense is going to be a very difficult task for the Florida State Defense which is struggling to generate an effective pass rush. However, the Defensive Line may feel they can at least make Mariota throw from third and long situations by slowing down the rushing attack at least a little, although shutting down Oregon completely is going to be almost impossible.

However, everything seems to be pointing to a very close game that looks unlikely to be settled by more than a Touchdown. I think the Seminoles can really excel now the pressure is not on them as a favourite expected to blow every team away and the role of an underdog may just fire them up for the best performance of the season.

It wouldn't be a big surprise if the game is won by the team that holds the ball for the final possession in this one, although Florida State have to steer clear of some of the turnovers that have blighted their season. I think the Seminoles definitely have a shot to win this game outright, so getting this many points looks a little hard to ignore.

Alabama Crimson Tide v Ohio State Buckeyes Pick: The second Semi Final in College Football could have been a much more intriguing game if the Ohio State Buckeyes were coming into the game healthier, even if Cardale Jones played so effectively at Quarter Back in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Wisconsin Defensive unit is definitely a very strong one, but facing the Alabama Crimson Tide is a different story altogether for an inexperienced Quarter Back.

Jones may hit some big plays in this one as the Alabama Secondary have been susceptible to the deep ball through the air, but he will be desperate for Ezekiel Elliot to run the ball effectively. If Elliot can get something going on the ground, Jones will be in a better position to make the positive plays, but the Crimson Tide have been very stout against the run and keeping Ohio State in third and long situations would be a win for Alabama more often than not.

The Buckeyes Defensive Line is also going to have to come up strong against a physical Alabama Offensive Line that has opened up plenty of holes for TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry in the Running Back spot. Blake Sims is also capable of scrambling from Quarter Back and Alabama will look to wear down Ohio State and also open up the passing lanes.

I was impressed with the way that Ohio State dealt with Melvin Gordon in the Big Ten Championship Game, but they could sell out against the run in that game and didn't respect Joel Stave's ability to make big plays throwing the ball. That won't be the case in this game as the Sims to Amari Cooper connection has worked wonders through the course of the season and keeping the Buckeyes honest should give Alabama a chance to move the chains fairly consistently.

Alabama have won all three previous games against Ohio State, and I have a lot of respect for Urban Meyer and how he has helped the Buckeyes cover every game they have played as the underdog. However, this Ohio State team is with a third string Quarter Back and I don't think he can be fully prepared for the kind of Defensive team he is going to be facing in this one.

I do think Cardale Jones will make some big plays throwing the ball downfield, but it might not be enough for the Buckeyes and I think Alabama eventually pull away from Ohio State. The Crimson Tide are not always a great favourite to back, as shown by their losing record against the spread as a favourite over the last three years, but I think Alabama has a better talent level in this game than Ohio State. I also believe the Offensive Line wears down the Buckeyes Defensive Line and allows TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry to make some big gains on the ground as the game goes on.

That should only allow Sims to make some big throws to Amari Cooper and I like Alabama to cover the points at the level they have reached now with the public heavily backing the underdog.

Unbelievable set of results on New Year's Day with Baylor blowing a 20 point lead they had taken into the Fourth Quarter, while the Florida State Seminoles had a Third Quarter from hell which began the blow out to Oregon.

Alabama were leading 21-6 against the Ohio State Buckeyes but somehow ended up with an outright loss, weird day for sure.

Pittsburgh Panthers v Houston Cougars Pick: The Armed Forces Bowl is played after the heavy New Year's Day action in College Football so could be flying under the radar somewhat, although the fact that both the Houston Cougars and Pittsburgh Panthers have Interim Head Coaches makes it a more difficult game to predict.

However, I think the Houston Defense is the better unit of the two that will be taking the field and can make the big plays to keep the Cougars in this game and potentially win it outright.

Kenneth Farrow and the Running Back committee can certainly keep Greg Ward in third and short situations which should help the Cougars move the chains effectively, while the Defense will believe in their ability to slow down James Connor.

It is unlikely the Cougars shut down Connor totally, but they will look to limit the damage the Running Back does and force Chad Voytik to throw into a Secondary that has created turnovers and not given up too many big plays through the season.

The Pittsburgh Panthers have not been a great favourite to back in recent seasons and know their Interim Head Coach is leaving to go back to Wisconsin with Paul Chryst after this game so I do worry about their preparation for this game. On the other hand, Houston are 8-4 against the spread as the underdog over the last three seasons and I think the six points in their favour could be crucial by the time this Bowl Game comes to an end.

Oklahoma State Cowboys v Washington Huskies Pick: The Washington Huskies should hold a clear edge in this game over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Cactus Bowl and I think they are the team that can win this game and cover a fairly big spread.

Mason Rudolph had a special game for Oklahoma State in the win over the Oklahoma Sooners which helped the Cowboys become Bowl eligible, but he could be under some immense pressure from a Defense that has already secured 49 Sacks this season. Without much of a running game to help the young Quarter Back and with Tyreek Hill dismissed from the team, the Cowboys could have a tough time putting together consistent drives despite the Washington issues against the pass.

It will also be the Washington ability to establish the run that should set up Cyler Miles in short yardage situations to at least avoid some of the pass rush pressure the Cowboys can produce too. The Secondary also has a few holes that Miles can exploit, although it may take a little time for the rushing Offense can wear down the Oklahoma State team up front.

The Washington Huskies have covered in the last 2 Bowl Games they have played and they have been a team that has thrived when having time to prepare. I believe the Defense makes a couple of big Sacks of Rudolph to set up the win in this game and I think the Huskies win by at least a Touchdown.

MY PICKS: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns + 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Utah State Aggies - 10 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Memphis Tigers - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Northern Illinois Huskies + 9.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
San Diego State Aztecs - 3 Points @ 1.92 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Fresno State Bulldogs + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - 6 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Arizona State Sun Devils - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 William Hill (1 Unit)
Miami Hurricanes - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
USC Trojans - 7 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Texas Longhorns-Arkansas Razorbacks Under 43 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Stanford Cardinal - 14 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
Ole Miss Rebels + 3.5 Points @ 1.92 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Arizona Wildcats - 3 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Auburn Tigers - 6.5 Points @ 1.92 Coral (1 Unit)
Baylor Bears - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Missouri Tigers - 4.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Florida State Seminoles + 8 Points @ 1.92 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 8.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Houston Cougars + 6 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Washington Huskies - 6.5 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)

Bowl Update: 9-10, - 1.60 Units (19 Units Staked, - 8.42% Yield)

Week 15: 6-2, + 3.69 Units (8 Units Staked, + 46.13% Yield)
Week 148-7, + 0.47 Units (15 Units Staked, + 3.13% Yield)
Week 137-6, + 0.37 Units (13 Units Staked, + 2.85% Yield)
Week 127-5, + 1.40 Units (12 Units Staked, + 11.67% Yield)
Week 119-4, + 4.34 Units (13 Units Staked, + 33.38% Yield)
Week 106-7, - 1.51 Units (13 Units Staked, - 11.62% Yield)
Week 94-9-1, - 5.31 Units (14 Units Staked, - 37.93% Yield)
Week 85-7, - 2.26 Units (12 Units Staked, - 18.83% Yield)
Week 73-8, - 5.31 Units (11 Units Staked, - 48.27% Yield)
Week 62-7, - 5.13 Units (9 Units Staked, - 57% Yield)
Week 54-5, - 1.13 Units (9 Units Staked, - 12.56% Yield)
Week 46-5, + 0.58 Units (11 Units Staked, + 5.27% Yield)
Week 33-7-1, - 4.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 38% Yield)
Week 25-6, - 1.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 10.72% Yield)
Week 16-4, + 1.77 Units (10 Units Staked, + 11.7% Yield)

Season 201475-82-2, - 13.39 Units (172 Units Staked, - 7.78% Yield)
Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)

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