Trying to stay undefeated in bowl season

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We kicked off the bowl season in style as I delivered a perfect 3-0 sweep with recommended picks in last week’s issue of Gaming Today. This week, we’ll examine the next wave of bowl games and try to add to our collection of college football bowl game winners.  

Thursday

Gasparilla Bowl – Marshall (-2.5) vs. South Florida: There is no team with a better track record in bowl games over the last two decades than the Thundering Herd. Marshall is on a remarkable 11-1 SU and ATS streak in their last 12 bowl games and under their current head coach Doc Holliday, they have registered a perfect 5-0 SU and ATS record in their last five bowl games. 

Marshall’s strength is their defense which was the superior unit throughout the season. The Thundering Herd had very erratic and inconsistent QB play with freshman Isaiah Green hampered by injuries at one point earlier in the season. 

South Florida started the season undefeated through their first seven games but it was very clear that start was fools gold. Many of those victories were unimpressive performances against very weak competition. The Bulls limped home to the finish line, going 0-5 SU, 2-3 ATS in their last five games. 

Their offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert left the program to become the head coach at McNeese State which I think could disrupt their offense for this bowl game. South Florida’s offense is the superior unit on their team as their defense was repeatedly picked apart as the Bulls allowed 35+ points in three of their last four games. 

This bowl game is at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay which is South Florida’s home field so this is essentially a Bulls home game but I can’t imagine the team is all that excited to be playing a bowl game so close to home. Marshall’s defense is better statistically than South Florida’s in a big way allowing more than 100 yards per game fewer and a full yard per play less. I’ll ride the better defense and Marshall’s tremendous bowl track record here in this game. MARSHALL 

Friday

Bahamas Bowl –  Florida International (+6.5) vs. Toledo (67): This is a game where both offenses should have a good edge. FIU is led by QB James Morgan who had the best passer rating in Conference USA this season tossing 26 TDs and just 7 INTs. The strength of the Golden Panthers offense is the passing game and the Toledo secondary was a weak area all season for the Rockets so expect FIU to be able to move the football with plenty of success through the air in this game. 

Toledo’s offense had to deal with an injury early in the season to starting QB Mitchell Guadagni and he was subsequently replaced by Eli Peters in the last four games. However, the Toledo offense kept on rolling without him. Peters has been a competent enough passer, but has relied on a very strong ground attack which spearheaded the Rockets’ offense that scored 45+ points in four of their last five games. 

FIU’s defense is not very good at stopping the run, surrendering 198 yards per game and five yards per carry on the ground, so the Rockets should move the football in this game. Toledo is laying nearly a full TD in this game which to me is a bit surprising given the MAC’s struggles as a conference in bowl games in recent seasons. I believe FIU can trade points with Toledo and cover this number and I also project this to be a high scoring contest. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL & OVER 

Saturday 

Birmingham Bowl – Wake Forest (+3.5) vs. Memphis (75): This bowl game features one of the highest lined totals of the bowl season but it’s warranted. 

Wake Forest and Memphis are both Top-5 teams in the country in pace and plays per game. Both teams play lightning quick. Wake did slow its tempo slightly in their last few games after Jamie Newman took over at QB down the stretch for the injured Sam Hartman but they still play fast.  

So does Memphis, which has a very explosive and balanced offense with QB Brady White through the air and outstanding RB Darrell Henderson on the ground. The extra bowl practices and extra prep time should benefit Wake Forest’s offense and Newman specifically at QB. I expect him to have a lot more chemistry and rhythm with his receivers and running this offense and the Memphis defense is not good whatsoever with the Tigers allowing 31.5 points per game and over 420 total yards per game. 

Memphis should be able to trade fire offensively as well because the Wake Forest defense was a problem area all season long for head coach Dave Clawson’s squad, ranking 116th in the country out of 129 teams in total defense. Wake Forest is 2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS in bowl games under Clawson though and to me they are an attractive enough proposition as an underdog here to go ahead and back them. It’s worth noting Wake Forest played their hearts out in their season finale against Duke registering a 59-7 win to earn that all important sixth win to get to a bowl game, so this team played like they wanted to get to a bowl.

I expect them to have enthusiasm and excitement for this bowl game. I’m not as sure about Memphis, which suffered a tough loss to UCF in the AAC Championship game, preventing them from getting to a more marquee bowl matchup. The Over is 2-0 in Wake’s last two bowl games under Clawson as well. WAKE FOREST & OVER 

Armed Forces Bowl – Houston (+3.5) vs. Army: The Cougars will be facing the Black Knights, which means they will need to have full focus and attention if they are to win this game against the always disciplined and hard-trying service academy which just happens to be a very solid football team this season as well. 

Army has an eight-game winning streak entering the bowl season, including their victory against Navy in that annual rivalry game. This looks like a terrible matchup on paper for Houston’s defense against the Army triple option attack. Normally, having extra time to prepare as Houston will have for this game is a good thing against the triple option. But the Cougars are a banged-up and shorthanded group along the defensive line, which is not where you can afford to be weak against Army. All-American Ed Oliver is skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft and other starting defensive linemen including Jerard Carter, Payton Turner and Isaiah Chambers are out with injuries. 

Houston allowed 197 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry on the ground and it’s alarming that Memphis churned out 401 yards rushing against Houston in the Cougars’ last regular season game. On the other side of the football, Houston’s offense will be without QB D’Eriq King who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tulane and was having a terrific season up until that point. That means freshman QB Clayton Tune will get his second start in King’s place for this bowl game. Tune only completed 44.7 percent of his passes this season. 

The Army defense was solid for most of the season. They allowed less than 300 total yards per game and they managed to hold two very good offensive football teams – Buffalo and Oklahoma – earlier this season to 41 points combined and they owned a +141 total yardage edge in those two contests. This stands out as a clear spot where the matchups and perhaps the emotional/motivational edge as well both lie with Army in this game. ARMY 

Last week: 4-0

Season: 21-24-1

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