Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012 College Football Bowl Pool Guide

By Joshua Duffy

College football is stupid. Not the sport itself,, but how it runs its post-season. Even when we get our long-awaited playoff, it's still going to be stupid.

Know why?

Time.

What business is its right mind builds its product through several months of weekly drama, only to go completely in the dark right as everything is getting good and make everybody wait for the payoff? Would a TV show build the suspense through the whole season, then wait for a month before airing the season finale? Of course not.

Then again, this is college football, where conference re-alignment has rendered all logic and common sense moot.

But enough of this negativity. It's the holiday season, and that means we get to bet on not just Alabama/Notre Dame, but the Tulsa/Iowa State rematch, too!

So without further ado, here is the unofficial SC Bowl Pool guide, with picks against the spread for every game, listed in order of confidence points I'm attaching to them. Enjoy, and happy holidays.

35. Boise State (-5.5) over Washington — This was one of those lines where it jumped out so fast, I got a little nervous. UW has a weak run game (3.8 yards per carry), and their pass offense is nowhere near dependable enough to trust against a Boise defense that has allowed only three passing touchdowns on the season.

34. Oklahoma State (-16.5) over Purdue — It might be a bad sign that I decided before the bowl matchups were even announced that I was picking against the Boilermakers. The fact they're playing an Oklahoma State offense that is averaging more than 200 yards per game on the ground AND over 300 yards per game through the air just made it that much easier.

33. Utah State (-9.5) over Toledo — Sorry, MACtion fans. Toledo RB David Fluellen has had a heck of a season (1,460 rush yards, 13 TD), but he's going to have a rough go of it against an Aggies defense that held opponents to just 2.9 yards per rush and allowed just six rushing touchdowns all season. The fact that Fluellen is coming off an ankle sprain that forced him out of Toledo's season finale against Akron won't help.

32. Oregon State (-1.5) over Texas — I just can't see Texas and their inconsistent offense being able to move the ball on the Beavers. Oregon State's defense allowed under 20 PPG and can play both the pass (12 TD allowed with 19 INT) and the run (130 rush yards per game, 4.0 per carry average).

31. Vanderbilt (-6.5) over North Carolina State — NC State can't run (just 3.1 yards per rush), and Vandy isn't going to let you throw (only allowing 176 yards passing per game and 52% completion to opposing QBs). The fact this is a home game for the Commodores and NC State is in a program transition after the firing of Tom O'Brien won't help the Wolfpack's cause.

30. Fresno State (-12.5) over Southern Methodist — Get ready for the aerial attack featuring Fresno QB Derek Carr and five different Bulldogs receivers who have caught more than 30 passes this season (three with more than 50). Meanwhile, SMU ranked 10th in Conference USA in passing yards allowed at 271 per game.

29. Georgia (-9.5) over Nebraska — Even if you could un-see the 70-31 whooping Nebraska took from Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, there's no way you can trust Cornhuskers QB Taylor Martinez against a Georgia defense featuring Jarvis Jones, Johnathan Jenkins, Alec Ogletree and about five other guys who will be playing in the NFL in the next couple of years.

28. South Carolina (-5.5) over Michigan — I'll take the very good SEC defense over the mediocre Big Ten offense any day of the week, although if anybody can slow down South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, it will be All-American Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan.

27. Louisville (+13.5) over Florida — 13.5 is just too much to give to a team whose only double-digit win over the past five games came against Jacksonville State (and even that was only 23-0). Standout Cardinals QB Teddy Bridgewater should be healed from his variety of ailments by the time this game is played Jan. 2, and you know Louisville coach Charlie Strong — who won two national championship rings with the Gators under Urban Meyer — will have his team ready to face his former school.

26. Oregon (-9.5) over Kansas State — We saw in Kansas State's loss to Baylor that they have problems keeping up when the opposing offense gets going, and I don't think they have much of a shot of keeping a Ducks attack that averaged over 50 points and 550 yards per game per game in the 28-35-point range.

25. Pittsburgh (+3.5) over Ole Miss — Both teams had losing conference records, but there's something about this Pittsburgh team I just like. They play very sound defense, allowing under 20 points per game, under 4.0 yards per rush, and just a 56% completion percentage to opposing defenses. Add in senior quarterback Tino Sunseri and his 19/2 TD-to-Interception ratio, and I think the Panthers get the job done.

24. San Jose State (-7.5) over Bowling Green — Bowling Green has a good defense, but I don't think they can stop the pass attack of Spartans, whose only losses on the season are to Stanford and Utah State. I had this game as one of my top-five picks, but downgraded the confidence after Spartans head coach Mike MacIntyre took the Colorado job on Monday.

23. Tulsa (+0.5) over Iowa State — The rematch everybody's been waiting for! Iowa State won the season-opener for both teams, but the Golden Hurricane have come a long way since then. Two stats I just can't get past: Tulsa has 37 rushing touchdowns on the season, compared to just 10 for Iowa State. Also, Tulsa has 48 sacks out of its defense this year. Iowa State? 15.

22. Texas Tech (-12.5) over Minnesota — Tech lost head coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati, but they didn't lose senior quarterback Seth Doege (3,934 pass yards, 38 TD). Tech is pretty terrible on defense (31.8 PPG allowed), but Minnesota's anemic offense (21.3 PPG) won't be able to take advantage of it.

21. Alabama (-9.5) over Notre Dame — I have no doubt the Irish defense will be able to hold the Alabama offense well under their 38.5 points-per-game average. What I doubt is Notre Dame's ability on offense to get anything at all done against the Alabama defense. 9.5 points is a lot to give, but I just don't trust Notre Dame freshman QB Everett Golson against the Tide D.

20. San Diego State (+2.5) over BYU — Even if BYU's stingy run defense (84.2 rush yards per game, only 5 rush TD allowed) can slow down San Diego State's powerful rush attack (229.2 yards per game, 30 rush TD), BYU's 1-4 record in games decided by less than a touchdown this season is enough to swing the pick to the Aztecs.

19. Wisconsin (+6.5) over Stanford — I really think Stanford is going to win this game. They have the run defense to match Wisconsin's run game, and if they can get the Badgers to throw the ball, they have the pass rush to wreck havoc (56 sacks on the season). With that said, this line is just too high. Of Wisconsin's five losses, only one was by 7, and that was in overtime. The other four were by 3 points each. Add in the Barry Alvarez factor (coaching with Bret Bielema off to Arkansas), and I just can't lay the 6.5.

18. LSU (-3.5) over Clemson — The two times Clemson had a chance to make a statement, they lost (to Florida State and South Carolina). LSU may not be quite up to national champion standards, but that defense can still get after it. If they can shut down Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (they picked him off three times on Oct. 20), they can slow down Taj Boyd and company.

17. Northwestern (+2.5) over Mississippi State — When in doubt, go with the team that's stronger in the trenches, and that's Northwestern. The Wildcats allowed only 3.6 yards per rush on defense, and racked up 28 rush touchdowns on offense. Plus, they have the advantage in the kicking game with All-Big Ten kicker Jeff Budzien.

16. Texas A&M (-4.5) over Oklahoma — Of course all the focus goes on Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, but the Aggies are far from a one-man show. Behind perhaps the most unheralded star in college football, DE Damontre Moore, the A&M defense held opponents to just a 3.7 yards-per-carry average and 30.7% third-down conversion percentage. Oklahoma's defense is pretty good in its own right, but Manziel's creativity with the ball will be the difference.

15. Louisiana-Monroe (-7.5) over Ohio — Both teams have big wins over BCS teams this season, Louisiana-Monroe over Arkansas and Ohio over Penn State. But Ohio is the prototypical "should have done better don't want to go to damn Shreveport" team, while the Warhawks are playing in their first bowl since joining FBS in 1994 and they get to do it in front of a home-state crowd.

14. UCLA (-0.5) over Baylor — Baylor is on a roll with three straight wins, but here's where the bowl schedule hurts — 26 days between games is a long time to maintain momentum. In the end, this will come down to which defense can get enough stops (like, two or three). Baylor allows opponents to convert on 56% of their third-downs and only had 13 sacks on the season. UCLA held opposing offenses to 32% conversion on third down and had 45 sacks on the season. No matter who wins this game, they can't set the over/under high enough.

13. Michigan State (+2.5) over TCU — Redshirt freshman QB Trevone Boykin has done a nice job for TCU since replacing Casey Pachall, but he's got some tough sledding coming up against one of the better defenses in the country at Michigan State. The only thing keeping me from putting this much higher is the total lack of faith of the Spartans' pass offense (53% completion, 13 TD, 10 INT), which could well keep the Horned Frogs in this one.

12. Nevada (+9.5) over Arizona — Anybody who has watched Rich Rodriguez's squad this year knows they can't play a lick of defense. Seriously, they gave up 437 yards and 31 points to Colorado. And the Wolf Pack are much better than the Buffs, especially with their red zone offense (47 touchdowns in 66 trips).

11. Arkansas State (-3.5) over Kent State — I love watching Kent State dynamo Dri Archer as much as anyone, but the match-up to watch in this game is Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin (3,129 pass yards, 67.8% completion percentage, 23 TD, 4 INT) against a Kent State secondary that gave up 281.9 yards through the air per game.

10. Rice (+1.5) over Air Force — I don't particularly like taking a defense that gave up over five yards per carry (Rice) against the nation's second-best rushing attack (Air Force with 328.8 rush yards per game), but Rice can also run the ball (over 200 yards per game) and the difference between the kickers is huge: Owls junior kicker Chris Boswell has made 8-of-9 over the past four games, including four from 50-plus. Air Force senior Parker Herrington has made four field goals all season.

9. Louisiana-Lafayette (-5.5) over East Carolina — Ragin' Cajuns' dual-threat QB Terrance Broadway should make the difference in what amounts to a virtual home game for Louisiana-Lafayette.

8. Cincinnati (-7.5) over Duke — All the numbers are on the side of the Bearcats, who have won four of their last five compared to Duke's four-game losing streak. But Cincy just lost head coach Butch Jones to Tennessee (replaced by Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville) and the game, Duke's first bowl game in 18 years, will be in the Blue Devils' Charlotte back yard. Still, talent is talent, and the Bearcats have more of it.

7. Northern Illinois (+12.5) over Florida State — Betting on the psychology of 18-22 year olds is risky business, but the way NIU was disrespected in national media after their selection to this game reminded me of the way Virginia Commonwealth was treated after their selection to the 2011 NCAA tournament (right before they made a crazy Final Four run). That's what I was thinking of when I heard the story of Huskies QB Jordan Lynch throwing an orange at the TV where Kirk Herbstreit was calling their inclusion in the Orange Bowl a joke. Is that a good reason to make a bet? Probably not, but it's enough of an excuse to take the 12.5 against a Florida State squad that has been known to lose focus against lesser opponents over the years — just like Kansas basketball, which lost to that same VCU squad in 2011. Just saying.

6. Syracuse (+3.5) over West Virginia — The Mountaineers defense gave up 38.1 points per game to opposing offenses this season. With all due respect to West Virginia record-setting senior QB Geno Smith, there's no way I'm betting on that defense.

5. Ball State (+7.5) over Central Florida — The stats slightly favor the UCF Knights, but the circumstances favor the Cardinals. For UCF, this game is a let-down after falling in the Conference USA title game. For Ball State and head coach Pete Lembo, this is a chance to win the program's first bowl ever. Barring a substantial difference in talent, take the team who wants it more.

4. Central Michigan (+5.5) over Western Kentucky — I really don't like Central Michigan's negative scoring margin (29.2 points per game on offense, 33.3 allowed on defense), or their porous rush defense (197 yards per game allowed), but I also don't like Western Kentucky going to the first bowl game since going to FBS without head coach Willie Taggart, who took the South Florida job on Dec. 7 (being replaced by Bobby Petrino and his motorcycle). Plus the game is in Detroit, so advantage Chippewas.

3. Rutgers (+2.5) over Virginia Tech — In a game featuring two terrible offenses (Virginia Tech slightly better) and pretty good defenses (Rutgers slightly better), I'll take the team with the positive turnover differential (Rutgers +9) over the team with the negative one (Virginia Tech -4).

2. Georgia Tech (+9.5) over Southern Cal — On talent, SC should run away with this one. But against George Tech's offense, if you aren't disciplined, you're in for a long day. And nobody has ever accused a Lane Kiffin team of being overly disciplined.

1. Navy (+13.5) over Arizona State — Arizona State's defensive advantage is in the pass game. Unfortunately for them, Navy doesn't have one. In a war of attrition on the ground, give me the guys whose run game is the thing they do best.

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