The past week has illustrated just how zany and unpredictable NCAA bowls can be. Yes, many games have involved the expected high scores we’ve seen, but some of these plays and endings have been beyond imagination.
Now begins the good stuff, and this week, Walk the Line will examine the point spreads for the very best of the best leading up to New Year’s Day 2015 and games like the Cotton Bowl (Baylor -3.5 vs. Michigan St.), Rose Bowl (Oregon -9.5 vs. Florida St.), and Sugar Bowl (Alabama -9.5 vs. Ohio St.). We’ve waited a long time for the NCAA College Football Playoff. It’s almost here!
Monday, December 29, 2014
Liberty Bowl – 2pm EST
Texas A&M vs. W. Virginia -1 (o/u 65.5)
With identical 7-5 records and teams that have each had a 3-game losing streak this season, this affair screams “Liberty Bowl!” Coin flip game here since they’ve both had a signature win (WVU over Baylor, A&M over Auburn) before some head-scratching losses, but the Aggies get the advantage due to their SEC schedule in a game that involves some hurry-up for points galore.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38 – WVU 34
Russell Athletic Bowl – 5:30pm EST
Oklahoma -4.5 vs. Clemson (o/u 51.5)
Oklahoma being favorites is based on program legacy & team history and not on anything concerning the 2014 season. The 4-loss Sooners have looked bad against tough Big XII competition and wonderful against the terrible teams in their overrated conference. Clemson has played tough all season and wrecked teams like NC State and South Carolina, who have both already won bowls. It should be competitive, but Clemson is good enough to scream, “Take the points!” The over shouldn’t be tough to cross either. Tigers might as well get the W.
Prediction: Clemson 31 – OU 27
Texas Bowl – 9pm EST
Arkansas -6.5 vs. Texas (o/u 44.5)
No respect for the Longhorns in a game that will kick off in Houston, 150-miles from their Austin campus. Your vitals: both teams are 6-6, but Arkansas’ record is much more tolerable since they battled through a rigorous SEC schedule, scoring back-to-back shutouts over LSU and Ole Miss in mid-November. This one screams defensive battle, so under 44.5 it is.
Prediction: Arkansas 22 – Texas 13
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Music City Bowl – 3pm EST
Notre Dame vs. LSU -7.5 (o/u 52.5)
Notre Dame saw its season go from undefeated bliss to losing 5 out of their final 6 games after a blatant offensive pass interference prevented the team from upsetting then-#1 Florida State back on Oct. 18th. LSU went 4-4 in the rugged SEC West, so they should power their way to a win in the mud of Nashville. I like it to stay under more than anything. Let’s say ND covers by a half point! Let’s also say it means nothing.
Prediction: LSU 24 – Notre Dame 17
Belk Bowl – 6:30pm EST
Georgia -6.5 vs. Louisville (o/u 56.5)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an SEC team will win because of the monster conference schedule it faced all season. Sadly for the 2014 Bulldogs, the team couldn’t keep Missouri out of the conference championship game, so it’s off to Charlotte for UGa, who should get the scoring going early and often against the high-powered, but lesser-conference Cardinals. This game will easily go over the 56.5. Georgia should flex its muscle, getting the cover.
Prediction: Georgia 44 – Louisville 35
Foster Farms Bowl – 10pm EST
Stanford -14 vs. Maryland (o/u 48)
What does it say when one 7-5 team who finished 6th in its conference is a 2-TD favorite over another 7-5 team who finished 6th in its conference? It’s says the Pac-12 was stacked this season compared to the top-heavy Big Ten. Stanford could never get over the hump against any of its toughest opponents (save for UCLA), while Maryland sprung upset wins against Penn St., Michigan, and Iowa and crumbled to bits against legitimate competition. Food-based sponsorship/venue fact: This used to be called the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but now that the 49ers have a legit stadium in Santa Clara, this game takes place at Levi Stadium rather than AT&T Park, home of the MLB World Champion SF Giants. Point: It’s a veritable home game for Stanford vs. a team 3000 miles from home. The Cardinal will romp. Period.
Prediction: Stanford 35 – Maryland 14.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Peach Bowl – 12.30pm EST
Ole Miss vs. TCU -3.5 (o/u 56.5)
Thus begins the long-awaited 36 hours of heaven. Can you survive? Here we have a top-ten matchup between a 3-loss SEC team who seemed to be a counterfeit powerhouse versus a surprise Horn Frog squad that exceeded its greatest preseason expectations, only to be booted from the Selection Committee Top 3 despite winning their last game by the score of 55-3. Needless to say, TCU will be angry and in the mood to prove a point against a Rebel team who has lost 3 out of 5 and is trying to build off a season-ending victory over their in-state rival Mississippi St. Bulldogs in the annual Egg Bowl. Signs point to a TCU domination in Atlanta under the watch of 2014 Coach of the Year Gary Patterson and QB supreme Trevone Boykin (backed by a defense that forces turnovers and plays with blinding speed).
Prediction: TCU 37 – Ole Miss 9
Fiesta Bowl – 4pm EST
Boise St. vs. Arizona -3 (o/u 68.5)
Boise St. in the Fiesta Bowl is the equivalent of a family friend appearing on Wheel of Fortune. It’s cool in theory, and you’ll check it out to see if they do well, but ultimately it means nothing, and life would be no different had it not happened in the first place. This might be the least illustrious Broncos “BCS” bowl appearance, and with Rich Rod’s up-tempo Tucson gang making the 100-mile trip northwest to Phoenix, it’s tough to imagine the Pac-12 team not running away with this one, as long as they care enough to want to do so. That motivation level is up for question because, like I said, it’s the Fiesta Bowl and really no one cares. AZ wins in a high-scoring game since they both like points. At the end of the day: Just get me to Jan 1st. Pun!
Prediction: Arizona 42 – Boise St. 34
Orange Bowl – 8pm EST
Mississippi St. -7 vs. Georgia Tech (o/u 61.5)
Two 10-win teams, but SEC respect is on hand yet again for the once-#1 Bulldogs from StarkVegas, whose season sputtered out with losses to Alabama and Ole Miss. Dak Prescott is a force at QB for Miss St., and while GT has enjoyed a wonderful season triple optioning the ACC, its difficult seeing the game being anything more than a smash & bash job by the Bulldog offensive line with the team’s defense stifling the Yellow Jacket attack at will. Miss St. dominates and gets to eat oranges that will taste bittersweet considering they should probably be in the Sugar Bowl for a rematch versus Alabama.
Prediction: Miss St. 30 – GT 17
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Outback Bowl – 11am EST
Auburn -6 vs. Wisconsin (o/u 63)
A sad bowl in many ways. Auburn, with such high hopes of returning to the Championship Game for a second-consecutive season, wound up watching a series of nightmares unfold en route to losing 3 out of their last 4 games. And speaking of an agonizing reality, Wisconsin fans were forced to endure a 59-0 heart exploder in Indianapolis at the hands of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and his 3rd-String QB Cardale Jones in the Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin head coach Gary Patterson has high tailed it to Corvallis, Oregon, so this screams seniors rallying around Barry Alvarez to me. Sorry Auburn, you just didn’t have it this season.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31 – Auburn 27
Cotton Bowl – 12:30pm EST
Michigan St. vs. Baylor -3.5 (o/u 71)
Change is in the air for Michigan State, with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi suiting up in Green & White for one last time to lead his trademark defense out against Art Broyles’ high-powered Bryce Petty-led Baylor Bears pass-pass-pass-and-more-pass offense. Oregon and Ohio State gave Sparty trouble this season with their up-tempo offenses, so it’s hard to imagine MSU keeping the Bears off the scoreboard for most of the day. That’s where Connor Cook must come in as a huge factor, managing an offense that will need long drives and good runs by Jeremy Langford to eat up clock while keeping the MSU defense rested and the Baylor offense off the field. Easier said than done, so this one is going to be a high-scoring affair that will take a career-day by Cook to show the world that he is a winner no matter what the occasion. A win for MSU gives Cook his 3rd consecutive bowl win in as many chances and head coach Mark Dantonio his 4th consecutive (and second straight on New Year’s Day). It can happen.
Prediction: MSU 38 – Baylor 34
Citrus Bowl – 1pm EST
Missouri -4.5 vs. Minnesota (o/u 48)
How did this game get lost in here? Honestly. Lost like a non-alcoholic beer keg that no one wants to tap. Other than the fans of these two schools, I can’t think of an amount of money you’d have to pay a human to watch this game over the other proceedings on this glorious day. I guess I’ve never wondered what it looks like when you mix vanilla ice cream and light mayonnaise in a Tupperware container. Missouri got 10 wins this season and knifed through the SEC East, so why can’t they take apart the Gophers team who has lost 3 of 5? I have one word to describe this game: average.
Prediction: Missouri 26 – Minnesota 21
Rose Bowl – 5pm EST
CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFF GAME #1
Oregon -9.5 vs. Florida St. (o/u 71.5)
Here it is. The good one. The really good one. The one that beats the other semifinal and tops the rest of the other bowls combined. And at this juncture, I can only speak for myself and shake my head at the fact that the defending-champion Seminoles, who are riding a 27-0 record on the arm of QB phenom Jameis Winston, are 9.5-point underdogs. Really? Have I missed something about how this team always comes back to win in the second halves of games? And they’re getting 9.5?! For everyone who likes Oregon, you can mark this game down as the one where I’m off planet earth if the Ducks somehow breeze to the Championship Final. But I don’t see it happening in the least. Take the points! FSU is more than just Winston, and they will be more than motivated to show the world they are the rightful owners of the most-recent College Football Championship, and well-deserved of consideration for a repeat. Yes, Heisman Trophy-winning Marcus Mariota is a spectacular quarterback, and the Ducks are more than worthy of their high ranking and spot in this playoff, but with the absence of injured All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, FSU will stay in this game, and I’m sorry, win it outright at the end to go to the overall final on January 12th. All else considered: take the points and look for this baby to go over.
Prediction: Florida St. 36 – Oregon 34
Rose Bowl – 8:30pm EST
CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFF GAME #2
Alabama -9.5 vs. Ohio St. (o/u 58.5)
Ohio State is now clearly the wild card of the inaugural NCAA College Football Playoff. Was it politics that got the Buckeyes into the Final Four, or was their 59-point destruction of Wisconsin enough to honestly merit their ascension to #4, bumping TCU out of the festivities? Sure, Urban Meyer is a tactical genius who can put just about anyone in at QB and see absurd amounts of offensive effectiveness, but really, it’s the OSU defense that shined against Melvin Gordon and the Badgers. Meyer’s squad is more than just one man, and they’re getting a lot of points in this one. Perhaps too many. That said, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban losing this game. Bama is to NCAA Football what Kentucky is to NCAA basketball: a team of players who could easily be starting for some of the best pro teams in the country. Amari Cooper already looks like an NFL All-Pro wide receiver, and Blake Sims has the speed to escape just about anything that comes at him at QB. Then there’s running back T.J. Yeldon who loves smashing his way into the end zone after long drives, so it’s going to be an Alabama win, sorry Urban. But do they cover the 9.5? This should be an NFL smash ‘em up bruiser. Bama by a touchdown in a game that stays under.
Prediction: Alabama 28 – Ohio St 21
Dan Krier is the host of Walk the Line for Impact Sports