Cornucopia of bowls last chance to cash in

Dec 5, 2000 8:21 AM

The regular season is over, as is the jockeying for bowl position. The bids have been announced. Some teams were disappointed, but with 25 bowls this season, almost every team with a winning record in Division I-A got a bid somewhere.

Beginning Dec. 20, college fans will be treated to a pigskin festival, with numerous inter-regional battles and two national championship games. Of course, those big games are preceded by a ton of meaningless games. Critics argue that these are nothing more than exhibitions, but for the bettor, these games are not only fun to play, but can be very lucrative.

The Mobile Alabama Bowl is the first on the slate. TCU takes on Southern Miss, which began the season like one of the top teams in the country, but ended the season poorly. They lost three of their last four straight up and failed to cover in the last five games, all as favorites.

Southern Miss had one of the finest defenses, especially against the run early on, but in the last four games they’ve allowed 120 points, and their opponents ran all over them. They’ll be in trouble if they can’t stop the run against the Horned Frogs.

LaDainian Tomlinson may be the most dangerous running back in the nation. He follows a strong offensive line that’s been opening big holes all season. TCU’s defense is also very strong, allowing just 13 points and 84 yards rushing per game this season. They lost just one game this season, 27-24 to San Jose State.

Next up is the Las Vegas Bowl, where the Rebels get to stay at home and take on the Razorbacks from Arkansas. A 7-5 season and a bowl bid is a miraculous achievement for UNLV, after winning just once two seasons ago. Coach John Robinson has done a great job with this program, winning their last three games to become bowl eligible.

With Jason Thomas at quarterback, the Rebels have a multitalented threat running and throwing the ball. The Rebels lost to Ole Miss during the season, and face their second SEC opponent of the season in Arkansas. The Razorbacks had to win their final two games to advance to a bowl, and scored defensive victories against Mississippi State and LSU. Arkansas had one of the worst turnover ratios in the SEC at —10, and had trouble stopping the run all season -- until their last two games, that is.

On Christmas Eve, Virginia and Georgia will square off in Hawaii at the Oahu Bowl. Virginia was 6-5 this season, but went just 3-6-1 against the spread. They allowed nearly 4.5 yards per carry this season, and were actually outscored on the season. Virginia’s longtime head coach, George Welsh, may be coaching his last game for the Cavaliers. He’s unsure if he wants to return next season, so the Cavs could be emotionally high for this game, but they’ll have their work cut out for them against the Bulldogs.

This was another disappointing season for Georgia. Many felt they were a Top 10 team coming into the season, but they lost three of their last four, stumbling to a 7-4 record. They went just 4-6 against the spread. They’ve dealt with injuries at quarterback, but the defense has let them down the last few weeks, allowing 104 points in their last four games. This promises to be a wide-open matchup, but Virginia should have trouble with the Bulldogs’ bigger interior lines.

Closing out the first week of bowl games is the Aloha Bowl, between Boston College and Arizona State on Christmas Day. Boston College lost its final two games of the season to Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.), and finished the season 6-5 straight up. They were better against the spread, at 7-4. The Eagles don’t turn the ball over very much. They can score points, led by quarterback Matt Hasselback, but they’re a poor defensive team, allowing over 200 yards per game on the ground.

Sun Devil coach Bruce Snyder will be on the sidelines for the last time in the Aloha Bowl. Arizona State went 6-5, and lost three in a row before beating Arizona in the season finale. They’ve done a poor job running the ball, but they’re dangerous throwing the ball. Defensively, Arizona State allowed just over 400 yards per game and over four yards per carry. They also had a fine turnover ratio, at +11 this season, which helped them get their record over .500.

None of these games will decide the national championship, but all have interesting story lines and should be fun to watch. And they begin one of the wildest and most profitable times of the year for bettors.