Time for big boys

Time for big boys

December 25, 2018 3:00 AM
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We have been on some kind of roll with recommended bowl picks published here in Gaming Today. Through the first two weeks of bowl season, we’re 8-1-1 against the spread with our selections.

This week, we’ll examine the next wave of bowl games and try to add to our collection of college football bowl game winners.

Let’s start with the two College Football Playoff semifinal games, both of which will be played Saturday. In the first game, the Cotton Bowl, Clemson takes on Notre Dame with the Tigers having opened 11-point favorites but have been bet up to -13. The consensus total is 55.

The Fighting Irish and Tigers are both undefeated entering this showdown in a game that is tricky IMO to predict the side. However, I do think we will see a good performance from both offenses in this game.

Clemson’s offense was fantastic ever since Trevor Lawrence took over at QB and he, along with a solid receiving corps, good offensive line and RB Travis Etienne this a very difficult group to stop.

Notre Dame’s defense statistically looks solid but the schedule for the Irish was chock full of mediocre offenses and suspect QB play bolstering those defensive stats. Clemson will be hands down the best offense and QB that Notre Dame’s defense has seen all year and the Tigers will also have probably the most talent, speed and athleticism that the Fighting Irish defense has faced all season too. Clemson scored at least 27 points in every single game this season and I see no reason why they can’t get into the 30’s here in this game.

However, Notre Dame’s offense led by QB Ian Book has the type of quality passing attack that Clemson hasn’t seen much of this season and the Tigers’ weakness on the defensive side of the football is their secondary which can be picked on a bit as South Carolina and their QB Jake Bentley showed late in the season when they put up 35 points against Clemson as most of the output came through the air.

It’s difficult and borderline impossible to run the ball against Clemson’s awesome defensive front but I think the very solid Notre Dame aerial attack averaging 266 yards per game and 8.3 yards per pass could pose some problems for the Tigers defense. I think this game has a good chance of exceeding the total. OVER

In the second playoff semifinal, No. 1 Alabama faces Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The Crimson Tide opened as 14-point favorites and nothing has changed. The total is a whopping 77 points.

The Sooners are here thanks to Heisman Trophy-winning QB Kyler Murray and their high octane offense. The defense was beyond abysmal for the Sooners but they kept on scoring enough points to win games.

That philosophy isn’t likely to work quite as well here against the Alabama defense which will be a major step up in class, even for this impressive and explosive Oklahoma offense which feasted on the annually porous defensive conference that the Big 12 often is. Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa had a fantastic season and he kept playing well even down the stretch as he continued to be hampered and bothered by a right knee injury and also left ankle surgery that he underwent about a month ago.

From all reports, Tua should be as healthy as he’s been in some time for this game and his mobility should be improved as a result. I do not see Oklahoma’s awful defense getting many stops in this game. The question is, can Oklahoma score enough to hang within two scores of Alabama?

They could, but there is an underlying factor that has me only considering Alabama -14 as the side in this game. Tua lost out in the Heisman Trophy battle to the very same QB he’ll be up against in this playoff semifinal game. I wouldn’t put it past Alabama head coach Nick Saban or their defense to use that as a motivational tool to go out there and really try to shut down Murray and make life difficult on him in this game.

Any time Alabama gets an extra incentive to play at a high level, I get worried and that may be the case here. I have no bet on this game as of right now but would lean to laying the two TD’s here with the Crimson Tide to roll and outclass the Sooners. ALABAMA

Here are four other games to consider as bowl season shifts into high gear:

Thursday

Independence Bowl – Duke (+3.5) vs. Temple: It wasn’t a pretty finish to the season for Duke as the Blue Devils were hammered 35-6 by Clemson and 59-7 by Wake Forest to close out the regular season. Duke’s defense struggled mightily, allowing over 200 yards per game on the ground and through the air.

However, if there is one coach I can get behind to get his team turned around after a couple weeks prior to their bowl game, it is David Cutcliffe who is 2-2 SU but 4-0 ATS in his last four bowl games as Duke head coach and the two losses were slim margins of less than a TD.

Temple has some coaching staff turmoil entering this game with former head coach Geoff Collins leaving the program to take the Georgia Tech head coaching job. Ed Foley will be the interim coach for Temple in this bowl game but was passed over to become the permanent head coach when Temple hired Manny Diaz (Miami’s DC) as their new head coach for next season.

This quote stands out to me from Temple TE Kenny Yeboah about the departure of Collins: “I know (Collins) is from Georgia and figured it was his dream job. You can’t really hate him for it. It (stinks), but it is part of life.”

I view coaching changes prior to bowl games as a negative and a “bet against” situation for most teams and I certainly see that being the case here with Temple. It’s surely worth noting the last time Temple had a coaching change prior to their bowl game in 2016 when Matt Rhule left for Baylor, the Owls went on to lose SU and ATS as 11-point favorites in their bowl game against Wake Forest. History could repeat here. DUKE

Pinstripe Bowl – Miami (-3) vs. Wisconsin: This is a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl which Wisconsin won 34-24. Miami had a very pedestrian offense all season long once again which also doomed them a year ago. Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt has been going back and forth between Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry at QB and neither one has gotten the job done.

Wisconsin has their own QB issues heading into this game with Alex Hornibrook ruled out of this game due to concussion symptoms. Jack Coan will get the starting assignment instead for Wisconsin in this game.

There are a couple factors going against Miami here to me. Their offense just wasn’t very good and facing a physical Wisconsin defense will be a difficult matchup for them. The setting for this game is also a grave concern. Miami will be playing in the cold weather elements of New York and we’ve seen a track record of failure in the Mark Richt era for the ‘Canes when playing in the northeast in December. They lost SU and ATS as chalk at Pittsburgh last season and earlier this season, they were soundly defeated 27-14 by Boston College in another cold environment. On the flip side, Wisconsin is far more comfortable and used to playing in these type of weather elements. I also have my doubts the Miami Hurricanes fan base will travel well for this game considering the way their season transpired in disappointing fashion. I think Wisconsin has the chance to hand Miami a bowl loss for the second straight year. WISCONSIN

Friday

Music City Bowl – Auburn (-4) vs. Purdue: One of my stronger bowl bets last season was taking Purdue in their bowl win against Arizona. The main reason was backing head coach Jeff Brohm in a bowl game setting where he has consistently gotten the job done going back to his days at Western Kentucky. His teams are now 4-0 SU in bowl games with his three Western Kentucky teams and in his first season with Purdue last year.

The common thread in all those bowl wins under Brohm is that his offenses have performed well in bowl games. I expect no different here for Purdue’s offense led by QB David Blough, RB DJ Knox and WR Rondale Moore. There should be plenty of enthusiasm and positive energy for Purdue in this game too after Brohm decided against leaving the program for his rumored destination of Louisville choosing to stick around and stay on as head coach at Purdue instead.  That resonated with his players and I expect them to be filled with excitement to play this game as they take the field.

Auburn has been used to playing in New Years Day bowl games and contending for national titles. This is a massive step down for them with this bowl game in terms of prestige and I’m not convinced they will handle it well. PURDUE

Monday

Liberty Bowl – Missouri (-8.5) vs. Oklahoma State: This wasn’t a vintage Oklahoma State squad under head coach Mike Gundy this season. The quality of QB play dropped off quite a bit from Mason Rudolph to Taylor Cornelius and the defense was still susceptible to good offenses but Oklahoma State did one thing well this season. They proved they could be at their best when facing a step up in competition.

Oklahoma State was a perfect 4-0 ATS as underdogs this season against Boise State, Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia winning three of those four games outright and the only game they didn’t was a narrow 48-47 loss to Oklahoma.

Missouri’s offense is prolific under QB Drew Lock but the defense is still far from great. The Tigers allowed 256 yards per game through the air and now face a team that is putting up over 300 yards per game on the season throwing the football. Missouri lost their bowl game outright as 3-point favorites last season against Texas. On the flip side, Mike Gundy has a great recent bowl track record going 3-1 SU and ATS in his last four bowl games here at Oklahoma State. I think we have a live ‘dog here. OKLAHOMA STATE

Last week: 4-1-1

Season: 25-25-2