The National Championship Game will be set on New Year's Eve and I will have a separate post for that game which takes place days before the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam event is due to start and after the NFL Play Offs have begun.
Bowl Games have proven to be a difficult challenge to cap as you can't just break down which teams are better or match up better, but motivation has proven to be a huge factor at this time of the season. Additional information like Coaching changes or players being asked to sit out have to be factored in, but the motivation of teams has proven to be a big question mark that has to be answered.
I will be making a few picks over the next couple of weeks when the majority of the Bowl Games are played and splitting into two threads you keep the picks towards the top of the page. Hopefully it will be a good postseason having had some problems finding the right teams at this time last season.
Saturday 17th December
New Mexico Lobos vs UTSA Roadrunners Pick: The first Bowl Game of the season is the Gildan New Mexico Bowl where the New Mexico Lobos will be playing on home soil for the second season in a row. Last season they were beaten as the underdog against the Arizona Wildcats, but this time they will be going in as the favourite when taking on the UTSA Roadrunners.
With a little more luck and winning the right games, New Mexico would have been playing in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game having finished with the same record as the Boise State Broncos but losing out on the tiebreaker. It was a solid enough season for the UTSA Roadrunners too having finished behind the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Conference USA West Division and this is the first time they are playing in a Bowl Game which is a huge achievement for this school.
I will regularly mention motivation and the importance of that in Bowl Games, but in this one I imagine it is evened out between the schools. Both will be desperate to frank their 2016 season with a Bowl success, while New Mexico have added motivation of playing on home field and UTSA are in their first Bowl Game.
The huge test for the UTSA Roadrunners is going to be trying to cope with the triple option the New Mexico Lobos run and attempting to slow that down. That looks a tough ask for them when you consider how well the Lobos have run the ball all season and I do think New Mexico will be in a position to move the chains fairly consistently all game.
There isn't a set Quarter Back for New Mexico and they are a team that will attempt to run on all three downs for much of the game. The team only average 109 passing yards per game on the season, but the Lobos will recognise the UTSA Secondary is one that will give up some significant yards through the air if New Mexico wish to attack them that way. The Offensive Line does provide a lot of protection with teams focusing on stopping the run, and it looks like New Mexico can continue their high-scoring production in this one.
It will be up to the Roadrunners to match that with their own Offense and it does feel they will have chances to stay with New Mexico for a while at least. Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes will both get a chance to carry the ball for the Roadrunners and they can have some success on the ground, although they need more from the Offensive Line against a Lobos Defensive Line which had been struggling to stop the run down the stretch.
Those games did come against a higher level of opponent than the UTSA Roadrunners, but both Williams and Rhodes can have some success. That might give Dalton Strum a chance at Quarter Back although he has been playing behind an Offensive Line that has struggled significantly more when Strum has dropped back to throw the ball. New Mexico have the players who can get to Strum if he is in obvious passing situations, although I expect the Quarter Back will have some success if he is given a little bit of time to attack the Secondary.
However the key to this game is likely to be the dominance that New Mexico look to show at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That should give the Lobos a chance to establish the run, but also make enough plays with their Defensive Line to slow down the UTSA Roadrunners just enough to pull away with a victory. There is plenty of motivation to show this programme is on the right road with a win in this Bowl Game to underline an 8-4 season and I think the Lobos will win by around ten points so I will take them to cover the spread in the opening Bowl Game of the 2016 season.
San Diego State Aztecs vs Houston Cougars Pick: After beating both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Louisville Cardinals in the regular season, the Houston Cougars might have expected a better Bowl Game than the Las Vegas Bowl on the opening day of the Bowl season. They take on the Mountain West Conference Champions San Diego State Aztecs who have won two of their last three Bowl Games too.
The Cougars have lost Head Coach Tom Herman to the Texas Longhorns at the end of the regular season and the decision was made that he would not be coaching in this Bowl Game. They have already decided Major Applewhite would be taking over from Herman and his has been the Offensive Co-Ordinator for two years here which should mean Houston are making a seamless enough transition from Herman to the new Head Coach.
I do question the motivation a little bit here because I do think Houston may have been looking to play in a much bigger Bowl Game especially as they upset two of the bigger schools on their schedule. They couldn't quite carry that on while negotiating the American Athletic Conference regular season but I do think they could match up quite well with San Diego State who might have already mentally checked out having won their Conference Championship Game.
Winning a Bowl Game won't surpass the achievements San Diego State have already achieved in 2016 and they don't match up that well with the Cougars either. The Aztecs are a team that look to hand the ball off to Donnel Pumphrey at Running Back and the Offense goes where Pumphrey does. However he is up against a Houston Defensive Line which has been stout up front all season and limiting the damage San Diego State can do on the ground will give them a huge edge on that side of the ball.
That will mean there might be more pressure on Christian Chapman to make plays through the air at Quarter Back having spent much of this season relying on the running game to keep the chains moving. Chapman will be facing a Houston Secondary who have given up some big plays through the air, but the pass rush has been very fierce down the stretch and the Cougars will feel they can pressure the Quarter Back into a mistake or two.
This will be Greg Ward's last game for the Houston Cougars at Quarter Back after a successful career here, one that he would love to end on a high note. Ward has been banged up in the last few weeks of the regular season but has had three weeks to get himself ready for this Bowl Game where a lot of the Offense will be resting on his shoulders. The Cougars haven't been able to run the ball consistently at all this season, but Ward can be a threat to do that as long as his leg issues have cleared up.
Ward has to be confident of what he can do when it comes to throwing the ball against an Aztecs Secondary which has given up some big numbers in their last three games. Those haven't come against a team as good as Houston is at throwing the ball and Ward can sign off on his career in Houston with a big day statistically.
It does feel the Houston Cougars match up very well against the San Diego State Aztecs and I do think they will have enough motivation to end this season with another double digit win season to perform at close to their best. The Aztecs can reach 11 wins for only the fourth time ever, but the Conference Championship was the motivation in 2016 and they have achieved that and might see Quarter Back Chapman make one or two poor plays which allows the Cougars to win this by around a Touchdown.
Toledo Rockets vs Appalachian State Mountaineers Pick: The Appalachian State Mountaineers are back in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl for a second year in a row, but this is a young programme that should be excited about participating in the Bowl Game. They finished as joint Champion in the Sun Belt Conference and the Mountaineers will feel confident having won this Bowl Game last season.
The Mountaineers won't be thinking the task will be easy to make it back to back Bowl wins as they take on the Toledo Rockets who only finished behind the unbeaten Western Michigan Broncos in the MAC West Division. The oddsmakers in Vegas have also had Toledo as a favourite in this Game which has to inspire Appalachian State to make sure they bring their very best into this one.
Toledo will also be respected having won three of their last four Bowl appearances and they have reached the expectations of preseason by being the closest team to Western Michigan in the Division. The Rockets have to be encouraged by the way teams have been able to run the ball against the Mountaineers Defensive Line in the last three games they latter played and that could mean Kareem Hunt is in line for a big game for them.
That line of scrimmage is going to be very important for Toledo whose Offense has thrived on being balanced with Hunt running the ball and opening things up for Logan Woodside at Quarter Back who has thrown 43 Touchdown passes on the season. If the Rockets are unable to establish the run, the Mountaineers would love to force Woodside to continue to make plays against a Secondary that have performed very well this season.
Appalachian State are capable of turning the ball over and Woodside was guilty of a couple of mistakes when throwing the ball in the final few games he played, although it would be a surprise if the Rockets are not able to fire and move the chains.
The test for Toledo will be on the Defensive Line and trying to stop an Appalachian State team who have two Running Backs that have surpassed 1300 yards over the last couple of years. Marcus Cox looks healthy and will be joined by Jalin Moore in the backfield as they look to punish the Rockets Defensive Line which has had difficulties stopping the run for much of the season. The Mountaineers will pound the ball day long if necessary and have been churning out some big gains on the ground and look set to keep the team in third and manageable when they are asked to make some plays through the air.
Taylor Lamb might not have the huge numbers at Quarter Back, but he is more than a capable performer in that position. Lamb doesn't make a lot of mistakes which is important for the Mountaineers and there is room in the Toledo Secondary he can exploit if the Rockets are going to load the box to stop Cox and Moore.
That balance makes the Appalachian State Mountaineers dangerous and I think it gives them the edge in a surrounding that will quickly become familiar to them. It looks like the money is coming in on the Mountaineers, but they can use the fact they are the underdog as another motivational tool as there is a feeling of disrespect that can fire them up. Being joint Champions of the Sun Belt Conference is part of a really good two years for the Mountaineers and they should be fired up for this one.
I won't disregard a very good Toledo Rockets team who will have their successes in this one, but I think the Mountaineers Defensive unit is just capable of a few more plays. There isn't much between them, but I will take the point with the underdog and look for the Mountaineers to make it back to back Bowl wins here.
Arkansas State Red Wolves vs UCF Knights Pick: Any time a team goes from 0 wins to becoming Bowl eligible you have to credit the players and the Head Coach and that is what the UCF Knights have done. They've earned their spot in the Autonation Cure Bowl but it will be interesting to see how much this team has left in the tank after losing their last two games.
They are a pretty big favourite against the joint Champion from the Sun Belt Conference Arkansas State Red Wolves who have recovered from a really poor start to the season. The poor start mean the Red Wolves were going to struggle to match their nine wins from 2015 and they are going to be at least one game short even if they win this game. However the Red Wolves haven't won a Bowl Game since 2013 and will be looking to snap their two game losing run in the postseason here.
The key for Arkansas State is how effectively their Defensive unit can perform in a game against a team from a better Conference than the Sun Belt in the UCF Knights. I do have to say that the Knights don't have one of the better Offenses in the nation and can be a little predictable, but it will still be a big test for the Red Wolves who have been in dominating form in the Sun Belt Conference.
An inexperienced Running Back unit has struggled to get the run established for the Knights and it will be tough to impose that on the Red Wolves Defensive Line which has been stout up front. That has come against weaker competition, but the Knights' own struggles suggests this is going to be a game that depends on McKenzie Milton at Quarter Back to make the plays to keep the chains moving.
McKenzie has not played badly at Quarter Back, but he is likely to be facing some very effective pressure from the Red Wolves Defensive Line in this one and that can see drives stall. The pressure up front has also led to Interceptions in the Secondary and the Red Wolves will feel their Defensive unit gives them a chance in this Bowl Game.
It looks like being a difficult test for the UCF Knights to run the ball, but Arkansas State might be able to establish Warren Wand which can open things up for an effective passing game. The Knights' Defensive Line has just worn down over the course of the season and they gave up some big numbers in their final three games of the season and Wand will be hoping to pick up from where other teams have left off.
Wand has had a decent season, but the Red Wolves look to get the run going to open up the pass and failing to do that in this game will make it difficult for Justice Hansen at Quarter Back to throw against a very solid Secondary. The Knights have only allowed 200 passing yards per game through the season and it will be a big upgrade in competition than what Hansen has been facing in the Sun Belt Conference.
This just feels like it will be a close game with little between these teams. The UCF Knights should have plenty of motivation having missed out on a Bowl Game last season and recovering from a 0-12 2015, but they don't score a lot of points and I can't see them blow away the Arkansas State Red Wolves and I do think the latter can make some plays on the ground to give them a chance to throw the ball successfully.
It is a raise in competition for the Red Wolves, but I will take the points here and look for the to keep this competitive.
Friday 23rd December
There have been a number of Bowl Games played over the last week but I will admit that a few of them have not really appealed at all from any angle. They have been decent games to watch, but watching is as far as it has gone for me.
The opening picks were split 2-2, but hopefully I can build on that in the remaining days on this thread before a new one is created for the 'second half' of the Bowl Games.
Eastern Michigan Eagles vs Old Dominion Monarchs Pick: Motivation is always a question mark for teams around Bowl season, and the last week has shown it can be an issue for players in the lesser Bowls too, but it shouldn't be for either of these teams competing in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
The Eastern Michigan Eagles are in a Bowl game for the first time since 1987 and the Old Dominion Monarchs are in the post season for the first time ever so I expect both teams to be ready to go despite the brilliant setting they will be playing in.
The layers are favouring in the Monarchs who ended the season on a high compared with the Eagles who almost fell into the Bowl mix. The Eagles lost three of their last five games but they did enough to earn a Bowl bid, but Old Dominion have won five in a row and they have won eight of their last nine.
Old Dominion have to be feeling confident of their chances with what looks a balanced Offense taking on an Eastern Michigan Defensive unit that have had difficulties stopping the run and the pass. The Monarchs can begin by handing the ball off to Ray Lawry at Running Back who has rushed for over 1000 yards for the season and is facing an Eagles Defensive Line which has allowed 200 yards per game on the ground in their last three games and have given them up at 5.4 yards per carry.
Lawry is likely to put the Monarchs in third and manageable through the afternoon and that should give David Washington an easier day in the office at Quarter Back. Washington has avoided mistakes despite throwing for over twenty-five Touchdowns and he will feel there are gaps in the Secondary to exploit with Eastern Michigan giving up 270 passing yards per game through the course of the season. The Eagles have been able to force Interceptions, but the balance on the Old Dominion Offense means they are likely going to have to stay with them in a shoot out.
With that in mind, Eastern Michigan will be keeping their fingers crossed that Ian Eriksen, the starting Running Back, is available having been banged up in recent weeks. His absence in the last game didn't help the Eagles who are now facing an Old Dominion Defensive Line which has prided themselves on at least slowing down the run. The line of scrimmage is going to be a key in this one because it might put too much pressure on Brogan Roback at Quarter Back to make plays against a Secondary that have also shown improvement.
Roback has had a memorable season at Quarter Back, but the Monarchs have been able to build a really strong pass rush which could have success if Eastern Michigan are in third and long too often. That pressure has helped the Secondary produce some solid numbers against the pass, while Roback has not been as effective at keeping the ball out of Defenders' hands when throwing as David Washington.
That might prove to be the difference in a game where both teams will feel the Offenses can move the chains consistently through the afternoon. Extra possessions and finishing drives with Touchdowns are going to be the key to the outcome, and I do feel the Old Dominion Monarchs are more likely to win both of those factors. Credit the Eastern Michigan Eagles for their season, but the Monarchs can underline their strong season with a win by at least a Touchdown and I will back them to cover in this game.
Monday 26th December
Miami (Ohio) Redhawks vs Mississippi State Bulldogs Pick: These two teams must be surprised they are competing in a Bowl Game having had some really difficult moments in the 2016 season, but both should be motivated to perform in the St Petersburg Bowl in Florida. After a 0-6 start to the season, the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks had to run the table to reach the six wins eligibility for a Bowl, while the Mississippi State Bulldogs are a rare 5-7 team that have been invited to play.
The motivation is there with the Redhawks who are playing in a Bowl Game for the first time since 2010. For the Mississippi State Bulldogs, this Bowl Game is seen as a chance to give the young players the experience to take into the SEC next season and start rebuilding a school that has lost some big players in the last couple of years.
However this does feel like a bit of a mismatch and I think the Bulldogs are likely going to be too good for the Redhawks when it is all said and done. This is simply not a level that the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks have been used to playing and I do think that will show up the longer this game wears on and that should see the Mississippi State Bulldogs wear them down and pull away in the second half.
Nick Fitzgerald has played well at Quarter Back for the Bulldogs, although he was always going to have something of a learning curve in front of him, and he has shown he can bring a dual-threat to the field. He has been the main ball carrier for the Bulldogs, but Fitzgerald should be aided by Aeris Williams when it comes to running the ball against a Redhawks Defensive Line which may struggle to contain them.
That should ease the pass rush and open up the throwing lanes for Fitzgerald who has been making use of Fred Ross through the season in his final season with the Bulldogs. It might be a game where Fitzgerald makes use of some of the younger Receivers to build chemistry for the new season, but I expect Ross to have an impact and put the Bulldogs in a position to score plenty of points.
Gus Ragland took over the starting Quarter Back job for the Redhawks after the 0-6 start and sparked the recovery with some flawless performances from that spot. However I do think Ragland faces his most difficult task of the season despite some of the awful numbers the Bulldogs gave up in the SEC because that is a Conference that produces some of the better teams in the nation.
The key for the Miami (Ohio) Offense has to be Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young who have been able to run the ball very well for them and helped Ragland by keeping the team in third and manageable. They might be encouraged by the numbers allowed by the Bulldogs Defensive Line in recent games, but again it should be noted that was up against SEC Offensive Lines and it is going to be a big task for the Redhawks to play up that level throughout this game.
I do think Ragland, Smith and Young will have some big plays, but they may lack the consistency to continue to do that throughout the sixty minutes they need to in this game. With the added level of quality in the Mississippi State Bulldogs ranks, I think they will find a way to pull away in the second half as they make some big plays at the line of scrimmage and take advantage of some of the protection issues the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks have had.
This is a big number to cover for the SEC team, but I think they are sufficiently motivated to to that and I will back the Mississippi State Bulldogs to win this one by a wide margin.
MY PICKS: New Mexico Lobos - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Houston Cougars - 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Appalachian State Mountaineers + 1 Point @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Arkansas State Red Wolves + 6.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Old Dominion Monarchs - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Mississippi State Bulldogs - 14 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Bowl Update (December 17-27): 2-3, - 1.19 Units
Week 13: 4-7-1, - 3.28 Units (12 Units Staked, - 27.33% Yield)
Week 12: 4-5, - 1.32 Units (9 Units Staked, - 14.67% Yield)
Week 11: 9-2, + 6.28 Units (11 Units Staked, + 57.09% Yield)
Week 10: 1-7, - 6.05 Units (8 Units Staked, - 75.63% Yield)
Week 9: 3-8, - 5.23 Units (11 Units Staked, - 47.55% Yield)
Week 8: 4-5, - 1.27 Units (9 Units Staked, - 14.11% Yield)
Week 7: 4-5, - 1.28 Units (9 Units Staked, - 14.22% Yield)
Week 6: 7-1-1, + 5.35 Units (9 Units Staked, + 59.44% Yield)
Season 2016: 62-69-3, - 11.55 Units (134 Units Staked, - 8.62% Yield)