Military Bowl: East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-4)
My picks: Maryland -8, Maryland 35 confidence points
Biggest gift of the early bowl season. Maryland destroys East Carolina here. I picked Maryland for 35 confidence points (the highest) even before the school announced that this would be Ralph Fridgen’s final game. Then the school came out with the Fridgen announcement. Game over. I wish I could pick Maryland for more than 35. Maryland finished 8-4 and came a win away from the ACC Championship game, leading some to question their motivation coming into this bowl game. Couldn’t disagree more. A team that finished 2-10 last year playing close to home in their coach’s final game = enough motivation in my book.
Meanwhile, East Carolina finished 6-6 in Conference USA. A quick rant about Conference USA: Conference USA sucks. Really, really sucks. Every year the conference gets six automatic bowl bids, and I can’t fathom why. They seem to get a pass, as everyone assumes it’s the second best non-BCS conference after the Mountain West. This seems nonsensical to me. The only difference between C-USA and the Sun Belt (typically assumed to be the worst BCS conference) is the non-conference schedules. The Sun Belt teams have minuscule athletic budgets, so they go on the road to get pummeled by Big 12 and SEC teams for a guaranteed payday. At best, a Sun Belt team enters conference play at 1-3. Meanwhile, UTEP finished 6-6 and qualified for a bowl after beating FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 1-11 New Mexico, and 2-10 New Mexico State in non-conference play. I give East Carolina some credit for playing 3 ACC teams (though NC State came to East Carolina…not sure NC State will be going to play at Florida International or Louisiana-Monroe anytime soon), but they’re an outlier. They still are the beneficiary of a schedule in which they beat overrated C-USA teams.
This lack of competition and inflated records shows up in bowl season. Guess how many bowl wins Conference USA has over BCS conference teams since Louisville, Cincy, and South Florida left in 2005? Zero. 0 and 10. Sure, East Carolina took an overrated Arkansas game to overtime before losing in the Liberty Bowl last year. I’m still liking my chances with that 0-10 record. Until Conference USA proves they can actually win a bowl game against a decent team, I’ll keep going against them.
I’m not persuaded East Carolina can score as much as many think they will, so I’ll throw out a Maryland 38, East Carolina 20 final.
Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Illinois
My picks: Over 63, Baylor 4 confidence points
This could be a great game, albeit one that I just threw my hands up on trying to pick a winner. Both teams can score, and neither is very good at stopping other teams from scoring. If pressed, I’d take Baylor, but for me, this game is a no play on the spread. Although it’s amazing that two teams can each play 12 games without me being able to tell if either one is any good, that’s exactly the case here.
I’m sticking with the over at 63 here, despite the fact that this is one of those times that Vegas is trying to trick us into doing something. It’s just hard to tell what. Here’s the scores of Baylor’s last five games: 47-42, 30-22, 28-55, 30-42, 24-53. And Illinois: 65-67, 34-38, 48-27, 23-25. Seems too easy and it feels like the over is a trap…and I’m going over anyway. I like Baylor 38-35.
Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Arizona
My picks: Oklahoma State – 5 1/2, Oklahoma State 22 confidence points
This takes the prize for most confusing line of the pre-New Years Day games. Once again, I’m clearly missing something – Arizona limps to the finish line, losing their last four games and is only a 5 1/2 point underdog. Like Iowa, they’ll probably find a way to cover, if for no other reason than to drive me crazy. I just hope it’s not with a dagger Zac Robinson TAINT in the closing minutes.
The motivation factor concerns me somewhat, with Oklahoma State coming up just short against rival Oklahoma for a spot in the Big 12 Championship game. But let’s not forget that this is a team picked to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason. Of course they were disappointed at the end of the Oklahoma game, but they’ve now had a month to reflect and realize that they exceeded expectations. I expect Mike Gundy to have the team ready. Furthermore, like Utah in the MAACO Bowl, I don’t think Arizona is good enough to jump out to a lead if the Cowboys come out flat. This feels like a close first half game before OSU blows Arizona out in the second half. My pick: OSU 38, Arizona 17.