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Friday, 25 December 2015

College Football Bowl Game Picks 2015 (December 26-31)

The first set of Bowl Games have gone by and I have to say I should have gone with my gut a little more than I did, although the line moves just put me off enough on a couple of them.

Disappointed there, but hopefully means I am finding the right blend between searching for the motivation, or lack of motivation teams have at this time of the year, as well as the ability of the teams from different Conferences that are playing each other.

This thread will cover the Bowl Games through to New Year's Eve which includes both Play Off Semi Finals this season- I am not a fan of those games being played on New Year's Eve to be honest although things will have to be fixed if that isn't essentially an annual occurrence. Eight of the next eleven Semi Final Bowl Games are set for New Year's Eve and I do think there will be a ratings hit from the viewers if they are kept in their current spots.

Saturday 26th December
There are a full slate of games on Boxing Day as the Bowl Games return from a day of rest on Christmas Day.

On Saturday there are six games set back to back through the day from 11am Eastern Time until just after midnight Eastern Time so plenty of Football to look forward to.

It will be a full schedule through the next few days before the gap to the National Championship and it should be a fun time.

Marshall Thundering Herd v Connecticut Huskies Pick: The opening game on Boxing Day comes from Florida, but it might not be the highest scoring of games.

Both the Marshall Thundering Herd and Connecticut Huskies look like they have the kind of Defensive units that will give the Offenses on the field a lot of trouble. What can make the difference in this game?

I think it comes from the Thundering Herd have the better Offense taking to the field and can make more plays than their counterparts which helps them move clear.

Neither team is expected to run the ball all that effectively, but Marshall should have a little more success doing that which will give them the chance to move the ball through the air. Chase Litton has played well since taking over at Quarter Back but is still relatively experienced, while not tackling some of the better teams in the nation.

However, Litton did only throw seven Interceptions which is key against this ball-hawking Connecticut Secondary that will look to spark a win with turnovers. My concern for Marshall comes from losing the turnover battle, but I think their Special Teams unit also can make bigger plays which should set the team up with better field position for much of the game.

Bryant Shirreff is back at Quarter Back for the Huskies after suffering a concussion and he may have success against this Marshall Secondary that has given up big yards through the air over the last three games of the season. Generally they have been better over the course of the year, but that has to be a concern if Shirreff is ready to go at full speed.

He will need to be because the Marshall Defensive Line has been excellent and should shut down any running game as they have despite the big yards through the air. They are also able to get after the Quarter Back and I would worry for Shirreff if he takes any big hits.

I think Marshall will be the team that makes the bigger players from all three units and I like them to cover this spread by winning by at least a Touchdown. The extra post-season experience should aid them too and I do like Marshall.

Washington State Cougars v Miami Hurricanes Pick: From one game that might not produce a lot of points to another which could be one of the highest-scoring Bowl Games of the lot.

Both the Washington State Cougars and the Miami Hurricanes have the kind of Offenses that can get unplugged in a hurry and I can see both hitting at least thirty points and go much further too. The weather shouldn't pose too many problems and I like the chance of scoring which makes the 62 point total set by the layers an attractive margin to pass.

Both teams also ended with 8-4 records, but must be feeling contrasting emotions going into the off-season following this game. Miami have appointed Mark Richt as the new Head Coach and I expect them put in a solid effort for well-liked Larry Scott who was the interim Head Coach and has gone 4-1 in his five games.

It has been tough to run the ball for the Miami Hurricanes all season, but they will have a chance to do that in this one. That should only help Brad Kaaya who has put up some big numbers but has been asked to do a lot for the team with their inability to run the ball.

Kaaya might be in more favourable positions and should have plenty of success throwing against a Secondary that showed holes in the final games of the season. The Quarter Back has been well-protected and should have time to hit his trio of Receivers who all have great statistical numbers thanks to Kaaya.

On the other side of the ball, Luke Falk is back in action at Quarter Back for Washington State and the 'Air Raid' system used by Mike Leach has gotten plenty out of him when he has been on the field. Falk had been out due to concussion, but should have a chance to feel his way into this game because the Cougars should be able to establish the run and keep him in third and short spots.

One problem for Falk is that Washington State have relied heavily on the pass in the system they run, but this Miami Secondary is pretty stout. They get a lot of pressure up front which should find their way to getting Falk on the ground while Interceptions have been a problem for the Cougars and something Miami are able to do.

Those extra possessions could be key and I am not sure the right team is being favoured here. The money has come in for Miami which has taken this spread below the Field Goal mark, but I think that isn't an issue here and I really believe Miami can win this outright.

I will still take the points in this spot, but look for the underdog to perhaps win this one outright.

Nebraska Cornhuskers v UCLA Bruins Pick: There is no hiding from the fact that the Nebraska Cornhuskers have had a poor season and that they are very lucky to be invited to a Bowl Game. It is not thanks to their play on the field, but very good academics as Nebraska are one of three 5-7 teams who were asked to make up the numbers after the Bowl Games failed to reach the required number of participants with six wins.

Mike Riley will take this game seriously you imagine to prove Nebraska are not as far away as their record suggests. The Cornhuskers were very competitive in all of their games and even beat Big Ten Champions Michigan State during the regular season.

On the other hand I do wonder about UCLA's motivation having failed to win the Pac-12 and perhaps hoping to play in a much more prestigious Bowl Game, one on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. That will have knocked some motivation for this one and I think they are being asked to cover a big number in this one.

Running the ball for either team is going to be difficult, but there is room to make some plays against the Secondary units that will be taking to the field. My one worry has to be Tommy Armstrong's mentality having thrown a number of Interceptions down the stretch that proved critical against his team. However Armstrong did have over 3000 yards this season and UCLA's Defensive unit is not as strong without the likes of Myles Jack leading the way.

The UCLA Defensive unit didn't make too many Interceptions down the stretch and I can see Armstrong keeping Nebraska at least close enough to cover this number. Of course Overtime doesn't guarantee success in the College Football game, but I think Nebraska have played hard all season and could be taking on a de-motivated team.

UCLA have the edge with the game being played a lot closer to their campus than Nebraska's but I think the Cornhuskers can do enough to keep this close and improve their 4-1 record against the spread as the underdog this season.

Tuesday 29th December
I am going to get a few picks out for the upcoming Bowl Games with the end of the calendar year meaning timing is not on my side in getting them out individually from a day by day standpoint.

The Saturday Picks saw the games go 2-1 in our favour and this thread will hold the Bowl Games through New Year's Eve with a new thread started for the New Year Day games until the end of the season.

Air Force Falcons v California Golden Bears Pick: There is a feeling that this could have been a much bigger season for the California Golden Bears and the Air Force Falcons, although both have finished with winning records. California looked like a genuine contender to win the Pac-12 earlier in the season but then ultimately struggled to play against the best in the Conference, while Air Force reached the Mountain West Conference Championship Game before losing.

That has set up these teams to meet in the Armed Forces Bowl and it could be a special game for the viewers if their last meeting in 2007 is anything to go by. Back then the Golden Bears came back from 21 points to beat Air Force and the expectation is that we are going to see another close game.

A close game, but one that I think the California Golden Bears can eventually prevail behind their Quarter Back who is tipped for an impact at the next level.

Jared Goff threw for over 4000 yards this season with his 37 Touchdown passes to 13 Interceptions some nice numbers to take into the combine. It is expected that Goff will declare his intentions to leave for the NFL following this game but he might not have a huge game as expected because he is facing a Secondary that has been smart and held teams to less than 200 passing yards per game this season.

Air Force played Michigan State earlier this season but Connor Cook had just under 250 passing yards with 4 Touchdown passes in that game for the Spartans. Goff will expect to match those numbers, but it won't be all down to him as the Falcons have seen their Defensive Line worn down and have been trampled to end the season.

Daniel Lasco may then become the star of the show for the Golden Bears and running the ball effectively will open the pass for Goff to show off what the NFL scouts are looking for.

The Falcons will counter with a very strong running game of their own as Karson Roberts runs the triple option for the team. Roberts and Jacobi Owens should have a strong day against a Golden Bears Defensive unit that have struggled against the run through the season and won't have seen a triple option Offense all season and may just struggle with reads for a little while in this game.

However, the Golden Bears will know that Roberts just struggled with the pass so getting into a lead and forcing the Air Force Offense to have to throw the ball could be a key to success. Roberts has been solid for much of the season when asked to throw but he struggled a little down the stretch and can be a difference maker.

Their one common opponent is the San Diego State Aztecs but that might not be as relevant now as California played them in Week 2 and Air Force in Week 14.

California don't have the edge when it comes to the way they have played against the spread in the last few weeks. However, they look to have the better team and I think they will use their preparation time to effectively win what might be a road game as it is played close to the Air Force campus. Covering seven points won't be easy, but I expect a double digit win for California with a late turnover perhaps making the difference.

Baylor Bears v North Carolina Tar Heels Pick: At this time of the season motivation is certainly going to play a big part in how a team performs in the Bowl Games. No team wants to lose, but the Baylor Bears are really hurt at the moment and are playing in a Bowl Game that no one would have picked at the start of this season.

It was all about the National Championship for Baylor or at least a game on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, but they struggled down the stretch to end up in this game.

For the North Carolina Tar Heels this has been a very good season with eleven wins on the board and playing in the ACC Championship Game. The Tar Heels showed they are a very good team by pushing the unbeaten Clemson Tigers in the Championship Game and the feeling I have is they want to finish this season with the positives while Baylor are perhaps looking ahead to next season.

Chris Johnson will get the start for the Bears at Quarter Back, but he is arguably the fourth choice for Baylor having begun the season as a Wide Receiver. He won't be helped by the fact that starting Running Back Shock Linwood and top Receiver Corey Coleman will be missing.

The much vaunted passing Offense for the Bears did struggle through their injuries at Quarter Back in the final weeks of the season and Johnson will have to be aware of a Secondary that has been able to turn the ball over. Add in the pressure North Carolina get up front and Baylor may struggle to pass the ball, although Johnny Jefferson can have a decent game running the ball for them.

A stunning season for North Carolina might not have ended with an ACC Championship, but they surpassed all expectations especially those off the back of a Week 1 loss to rivals South Carolina. The key for North Carolina is how their Offense does against the running Defense of the Bears which looks to match the strength of both teams up against each other.

Marquise Williams might provide a way to open that up for the Tar Heels though as he has been throwing the ball very well at Quarter Back to end the season. If Williams can continue doing that against this Secondary, it might just open up a few more running lanes that can help the Tar Heels run the plays that make them more comfortable.

Of course I anticipate that North Carolina will have their successes doing that against a banged up team that perhaps is happy to put an end to this season. The Tar Heels have gone 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games against a team with a winning record and I think they are more motivated and, perhaps more importantly, much healthier and I believe North Carolina can find a way to get this cover at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Colorado State Rams v Nevada Wolf Pack Pick: The chance to get to a Bowl Game shows you have had a successful season, but neither the Colorado State Rams nor the Nevada Wolf Pack will be that happy with the scheduling. In fact the Mountain West as a Conference felt disrespected after two teams from the same Conference are set to meet in a Bowl Game for the first time since 1979.

Craig Thompson, the Mountain West commissioner, made his feelings known when it became clear that two of his teams were to face each other. It is done now though and at least it can be said that Colorado State and Nevada will be playing for the first time this season.

There are some similarities between the teams who are evenly matched and both are going to try and play this game in a similar manner.

Running the ball is going to be key for the Offenses and both should have a chance against Defenses that struggled in that regards. James Butler and Don Jackson both reached 1000 rushing yards for Nevada this season in their pistol formation that has proved very good at churning out yards on the ground.

However, Nevada just began to struggle down the stretch as their yards per carry dropped to 3.8 yards, although the expectation is that they will come alive in this game as Colorado State continue to struggle to stop the run. The Rams do find penetration though when trying to get to the Quarter Back and the Secondary has played well so any struggles to run the ball for the Wolf Pack could be hard to make up for.

It becomes doubly difficult if the Rams continue to run the ball as effectively as they have done through the course of the season. Colorado State would have taken note of the way the Nevada Defensive Line have given up 5.5 yards per carry in their last three games and will be music to the Rams ears having produced 6.2 yards per carry in the same stretch.

That should only make life all the more comfortable for Nick Stevens who had almost 2400 passing yards and led the Mountain West with 21 Touchdown passes. Stevens might not need to make too many throws in this one but has shown he is capable of doing that and the Nevada Secondary isn't as strong as the one Colorado State will put onto the field and it looks like the Rams will have the advantage in this one.

Colorado State have covered the last two years they have played Nevada with two wins coming by 21 points in 2013 and 7 points last season. You do have a feeling that both teams would have preferred a different opponent for their Bowl appearance, but the Rams have also been in better form down the stretch and I like them to cover the Field Goal number of points in Arizona.

Wednesday 30 December
Memphis Tigers v Auburn Tigers Pick: The Memphis Tigers have lost their Head Coach and will be led by an interim Head Coach for the Bowl Game, while the Auburn Tigers might be one of the biggest disappointments in the SEC. Auburn were supposed to be one of the real contenders in the SEC West, but finished just 2-6 in the Conference and now the battle of the Tigers is the last game left on a miserable season in the Birmingham Bowl.

Memphis shouldn't be intimidated having already beaten the Ole Miss Rebels from the SEC West this season, but they had some bad losses down the stretch that prevented a New Year's Day appearance. A lot of the players will be back next season which should be motivation enough, although Paxton Lynch is coming in at Quarter Back being projected as the top player in his position in the next NFL Draft.

Lynch was very impressive in his game against an SEC Defense against the Rebels and had almost 400 passing yards on the day with 3 Touchdowns and a single Interception. The Quarter Back is expected to be well protected and should have a chance for another big game to bolster his NFL stock especially if Memphis are able to run the ball as effectively as expected.

That running game will only be boosted if Lynch is throwing the ball well and I do think Memphis could have a very good game. How competitive the game is will come down to the Auburn Tigers who have to be de-motivated at the end of a really disappointing season.

The uncertainty at Quarter Back has blighted Auburn through the season although they have Jeremy Johnson back under Center despite Johnson losing his starting job half way through the season. Johnson has been very erratic and he is going to have a tough match up with the Memphis Secondary that picked up their play down the stretch thanks to some immense pass rush pressure being found up front.

Auburn can't rely on their running game providing the Offensive unit a spark either because that is an area Memphis have thrived for most of the season. Some will say they don't play the same level of Offensive Line as they will see in this game, but Memphis held Mississippi to 1.7 yards per carry earlier in the season so won't be intimidated by the challenge put in front of them.

Will Muschamp has also moved on as Defensive Co-Ordinator so Auburn have other issues to worry about and I think all the keys are pointing to Memphis potentially winning this game outright. The spread has moved up to the key number of three in the last few days, but I still like Memphis and will back them with the points in this Bowl Game.

Mississippi State Bulldogs v North Carolina State Wolfpack Pick: This time last year the Mississippi State Bulldogs were wiped out in a Bowl Game after just missing out on the National Championship Play Off. This time the mindset should be more positive as they make the trip to Charlotte where the North Carolina State Wolfpack should receive the majority of the support.

After a really good start to the season, the Wolfpack struggled down the stretch and were actually beaten in five of their last eight games. Those losses did come against an increased level of competition and the feeling is that the Mississippi State Bulldogs might fit into the same category.

Mississippi State did lose four times this season, but the majority of those were to the better teams in the SEC West. They might not feel losing the Egg Bowl to rivals Mississippi is a game they should be losing as Dak Prescott ends his College career before moving onto the NFL.

I am anticipating a fun game between these teams which may feature more points than some think. Both teams should be able to establish the run which should open things up for Prescott for the Bulldogs and for Jacoby Brissett for North Carolina State.

The key for Mississippi State is going to be looking after the ball with turnovers killing them towards the end of the season. Prescott only had 4 Interceptions all season but this is the kind of game where looking after the ball could prove to be critical in deciding the winner. If the Bulldogs are able to do that, they look a team that can run the ball and pass the ball effectively and keep the chains moving consistently through this game.

One of the criticisms of the North Carolina State team through the season was the inability to bring their performances up to the level of competition they were playing. So they won the games expected, but struggled in the others on both sides of the ball and that has to be a concern when going up against a team from the SEC.

Brissett will be put under pressure by an effective pass rush that Mississippi State can generate, although the Quarter Back should have some help from the run game. The performances in the big games have to be a worry for the Wolfpack though and I think that is where Mississippi State Bulldogs will prove too strong on the day.

The crowd will be behind North Carolina State, but I look for Mississippi State to cover this game.

Thursday 31 December
Clemson Tigers v Oklahoma Sooners Pick: Playing in the National Championship Play Off should be motivation enough for both the Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners, but the latter might be using the 2014 Bowl Season as added reason to want to win this game. Last year it was the Clemson Tigers who whipped Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl although both Head Coaches have declined to read too much into that game, which I happen to agree with.

If this was another Bowl Game and not one that will lead to playing for the National Championship, I would expect that game from last season to motivate Oklahoma massively. However, both the Sooners and Tigers have bigger fish to fry and this looks a very good Semi Final for those not out partying on New Year's Eve to enjoy.

I have little doubt that Clemson's Head Coach Dabo Swinney is using the fact that Clemson are the underdogs to motivate his unbeaten troops. He has to be using the fact that no one seems to believe in his team to get them pumped for this big game against what many consider to be the favourites to win the National Championship.

Deshaun Watson is the star for the Clemson Tigers and he is a dual-threat Quarter Back that will give any team in the nation fits. Clemson would have seen Oklahoma's Defensive unit just wear down a little down the stretch and Watson is capable of making enough big plays with his arms and legs to get the Tigers moving in this one.

Wayne Gallman will join Watson to help the Tigers churn out some yards on the ground and make sure Clemson are in third and manageable spots, especially as the Sooners were giving up 4.1 yards per carry in their last three. Watson has then been well protected by his Offensive Line and can have the time to hit a Secondary that has allowed 270 yards per game through the air in their games with Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State, although the Quarter Back has made a couple of mistakes with Interceptions which can be a problem against this ball-hawking Secondary.

Watson won't be the only star Quarter Back on the field as Baker Mayfield leads the Oklahoma Sooners into the game. Mayfield has played with a chip on his shoulder all season and is leading a hot Oklahoma team into this game, although he is facing a tough Defensive unit that has sparked the Clemson unbeaten season.

Mayfield will be able to hand the ball off to Samaje Perine who has been running the ball very effectively and joins the Quarter Back in helping the Sooners pump out 5.2 yards per carry. They are facing a very tough Defensive Line that hasn't given up too much on the ground and that could be one of the keys to this contest as there is a big difference between third and manageable and third and long for the Sooners Offense.

That is because the Offensive Line has struggled to pass protect effectively and they will be under immense pressure from the Clemson Defensive Line. I think the Tigers can win that battle in the trenches and get to Baker Mayfield although covering Sterling Shepard is going to far from easy even for this Secondary.

Creating sacks will at least stall some Oklahoma drives which is key if Watson can't control the 11 Interceptions he has already thrown this season on the other side of the ball. I like the way the Clemson Defense does match up against the Oklahoma Offense though and I think this has all the hallmarks of a very close game that could easily decided by whichever teams holds the ball last.

I love the way Dabo Swinney has prepared his teams in the post-season as they have won their last three Bowl Games despite being the underdog in each. Clemson are also 4-0 against the spread in their last four neutral site games and Oklahoma are 0-3 against the spread in their last three neutral site games including their one sole loss this season coming in the Red River Rivalry game played on a neutral field.

Getting more than a Field Goal worth of points looks to much to ignore here and I will back Clemson Tigers to at least cover with a sneaky suspicion they might win this outright.

Alabama Crimson Tide v Michigan State Spartans Pick: The Alabama Crimson Tide are back into the National Championship Play Off for a second year in a row. However they will be looking for much better than last year when they were beaten in the Semi Final by Big Ten Ohio State as they come into this one facing another Big Ten representative in the Michigan State Spartans.

Alabama were over a Touchdown favourite to beat Ohio State last season and they are once again a big favourite to beat a Big Ten Champion this time around. Aside from a one point loss to Nebraska, Michigan State have come through a tough schedule with wins over Michigan and Ohio State and Mark Dantonio has thrived when leading his team into a game as the underdog.

The Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is going to carry the ball a lot for the Alabama Crimson Tide but I am not sure that this is a great match up for him. Of course Henry can wear down opponents and end up breaking through with some big yards, but the Spartans should be well prepared to try and stop the Running Back and did only give up 3.3 yards per carry over the last three games of the season.

That could mean it is up to Jake Coker to make the necessary plays to keep the chains moving in this one although he hasn't been asked to be more than a game manager for much of this season. Coker has thrown 17 Touchdown passes, but has coupled that with 8 Interceptions and has to be wary of a Spartans Secondary that has been able to turn the ball over.

Michigan State have less of a concern at Quarter Back with Connor Cook expected to be fully healthy from a shoulder injury that affected him down the stretch. Cook is likely to declare for the NFL Draft at the end of the post-season and has every chance of ending his time at Michigan State by surpassing Kirk Cousins' passing yardage mark although this is easily the toughest Secondary Cook would have faced this season.

The Crimson Tide have allowed fewer than 185 passing yards through the course of the season and they get enough pressure up front to rush Quarter Backs. This is all off the back of a stifling run Defense that is likely to contain LJ Scott after holding teams to 2.4 yards per carry through the season.

All of that means there will be more pressure on Cook as he looks for Aaron Burbridge to help make the plays to give the Spartans a shot a the upset in the second National Championship Semi Final.

I can understand why Michigan State have been set as such a big underdog as they had a flukey play to beat the Michigan Wolverines and needed a big time effort from Scott to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. These kind of games will stick in the mind, but the public seem to be heavily behind the Spartans even if the sharp money has moved the spread in favour of the Crimson Tide.

Michigan State had been unimpressive in victories earlier in the season too while Alabama have won their last five games all by double digits. However I have a feeling this is going to be a low-scoring game and that automatically makes the points on offer for the Spartans look very appealing, especially at double digits.

The Spartans have been well prepared for the post-season by Dantonio and that has shown up with four straight Bowl Games, all as the underdog against the spread. Alabama have complained in the past about being worn down by the SEC schedule and they have failed to cover, or win, as a big favourite in their last two December Bowl Games.

While I do think Alabama get some revenge on the Big Ten for their loss to Ohio State last season, this might be too many points for them to cover if Connor Cook can make some plays for Michigan State. Therefore I will take the points on offer in this one.

MY PICKS: Marshall Thundering Herd - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Miami Hurricanes + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Nebraska Cornhuskers + 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
California Golden Bears - 7 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
North Carolina Tar Heels - 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Colorado State Rams - 3 Points @ 1.91 Coral (1 Unit)
Memphis Tigers + 3 Points @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Mississippi State Bulldogs - 6 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Clemson Tigers + 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Michigan State Spartans + 10 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

December 26-31 Update: 5-5, - 0.23 Units

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