COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL GAMES
Saturday, Dec. 20
Wake Forest -2½ vs. Navy
These two teams met earlier this season, with Navy pulling the upset, 24-17, as a 16½ point underdog. In that contest, Wake Forest turned the ball over with impunity, losing the turnover battle 6-2. Moreover, Wake was coming off a big win over Florida State with conference foe Clemson on deck. It’s difficult to bet against service academies in bowl games because of their discipline and focus, but in this spot the Demon Deacons have the more balanced attack and should prevail by a small margin. Wake Forest -2½.
New Mexico Bowl
Colorado State vs. Fresno State -2½
AT 6-6, Colorado State sneaked into the Bowl picture, but they’ve had their moments this season. They won their last two games to become bowl eligible under first-year coach Steve Fairchild, lost by just 6 points to powerful TCU, and 3 points to BYU. No doubt Rams backers are thrilled to be here (the school has sold out its allotment of tickets), while Fresno State probably had their hopes pinned on a better spot. Let’s go with the squad with more enthusiasm for playing, which should be enough to squeak out an upset win. Colorado State +2½.
St. Petersburg Bowl
Memphis vs. South Florida -12½
This is another situation where one of the participants, South Florida, had much higher expectations for their season. USF came into the season highly ranked with thoughts of winning the Big East and landing a BCS bid, if not the national title game. They started 5-0, but a home loss to Pittsburgh ignited a 2-5 tailspin to finish the season. Moreover, South Florida hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game since mid-October when they beat woeful Syracuse. Conversely, Memphis’s season started with three straight losses, but Tommy West’s squad recovered to finish the season 6-3. Let’s take the hotter, more motivated team here. Memphis +12½
Las Vegas Bowl
BYU vs. Arizona -3
Is Arizona the wrong favorite? The Mountain West Conference had their way with Pac-10 foes this season (6-1), and the Pac-10’s recent history in bowl games (5-8) is equally unimpressive. BYU, on the other hand, has been in the Las Vegas Bowl four straight seasons, so they’re familiar with the venue. In addition, BYU travels well and Sam Boyd Stadium should be filled with Cougar backers. The wrong team is favored here, so the added points is just icing. BYU +3.
Sunday, Dec. 21
New Orleans Bowl
Southern Miss vs. Troy -4
First-year coach Larry Fedora leads a Southern Miss squad that hasn’t fared well in bowl appearances: they’re 3-10 straight up and 4-9 against the spread (ATS). Troy is a superior team in virtually every offensive and defensive category, and should this one relatively easily. Troy -4.
Tuesday, Dec. 23
Boise State vs. TCU -2 ½
It’s interesting that an undefeated team, Boise State, at 12-0, is an underdog to a team with two losses. But TCU has played a more difficult schedule, which included Oklahoma, which the Horned Frogs held to 34 points and only 436 yards. The game shapes up as a classic battle between Boise’s high-octane offense and TCU’s stifling defense. But Boise has also shown the ability to slow teams down this season, thus the low over/under of just 46 points. The game should be a battle with TCU’s defense gaining a slight edge here. TCU -2½.
Wednesday, Dec. 24
Notre Dame -2 vs. Hawaii
Hawaii has been virtually unbeatable when playing in their home-town bowl game. But this is a new team led by a new head coach. Notre Dame, conversely, hasn’t won a bowl game since 1994, a stretch in which they’ve gone 0-9 SU and 1-8 ATS. Every good streak comes to an end, and Charlie Weiss finally gets a significant victory. Notre Dame -2.
Ravens at Cowboys -4 (39)
The Dallas defense played their best game of the season last week in sacking Giants QB Eli Manning eight times in a key 20-8 win. The Baltimore offense has struggled when facing elite, playoff caliber teams. Look for both defenses to make the big plays, dictate tempo and control field position. This is a must game for Dallas and they’ll be ready Dallas.
Steelers -2½ at Titans (34)
These are the top two teams in allowing the fewest points with high rankings in most defensive categories. The Titans do have some injuries along the defensive line. Both defenses have excelled all season at making key stops and forcing field goals rather than allowing touchdowns. Pittsburgh is playing better right now, and the Titans have looked disinterested. Steelers..
Dolphins -3½ at Chiefs (41)
KC was unable to protect a 21-3 second half lead over San Diego, but bad teams lose games they should win. Meanwhile Miami got by San Francisco last week 14-9 despite having the football less than 22 minutes. The Dolphins have held each of their last three opponents without a touchdown. Dolphins.
Cards +8 at Patriots (45)
The Cardinals are just 2-6 outside their division with three of the losses by more than 20 points including East Coast road trips to the Jets and Eagles. Despite all their injuries, New England still has the character, class and experience to create distance and win the turnover battle. Patriots.
Bengals +2½ at Browns (NT)
Cincy ranks last offensively in several categories, though played its best game of the season in upsetting Washington last week. Cleveland has performed better defensively over the second half of the season. Inclement weather could be a factor that further limits this pair of weak offenses. Bengals.
Eagles -5½ at Redskins (39)
The ‘Skins did win 23-17 at Philly, but that was when they were playing their best ball. Of late Washington has lost 5 of 6 games, scoring 13 points or less in each. The Washington passing game has gained over 200 yards just four times. Philly’s defense is ranked third and Washington’s fifth. Eagles.
49ers -5 at Rams (43)
Credit 49ers coach Mike Singletary for getting his team to play hard. The same cannot be said of Rams’ interim head coach Jim Haslett who, despite a brief spurt after he took over earlier this season, has seen his Rams lose eight in a row including four by more than 17 points. 49ERS.
Falcons +3½ at Vikings (44½)
Atlanta has won 5 of 7 and Minny 6 of 7. Since replacing the injured Gus Frerotte, Minny’s original starting QB Tarvaris Jackson tossed four TD passes at Arizona. Atlanta rookie QB Matt Ryan struggled in last week’s OT win over Tampa Bay but has shown great maturity and leadership all season. The Vikings aren’t as good as they looked against a lackluster Arizona squad. Falcons.
Saints -7 at Lions (51½)
Will this be the week the Lions get that elusive win and avoid the possibility of a 0-16 season? To Detroit’s credit they have not quit. New Orleans is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. At the very least, the Saints do not deserve the high degree of favoritism they are being shown. Lions.
Panthers at Giants -3 (39)
The Panthers, 8-0 at home, are just 3-3 on the road. The Giants are defending champs and their losses the past two weeks were both to division rivals seeking revenge. Despite the recent off-field distractions the Giants are still a close knit team and should respond to needing a critical win. Giants.
Jets -4½ at Seahawks (44)
The Seahawks will be out to win this last home game for their coach Mike Holmgren, who retires after next week. The Jets are staggering down the stretch and were very fortunate to beat Buffalo last week. They’ve played poorly out West, losing this season at Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. Seattle.
Texans -7 at Raiders (44)
Houston has won four straight and 7 of 10 following a 0-4 start. The Raiders have little reason to be motivated following a second straight 20-plus point loss in which they were non-competitive. Oakland has allowed at least 145 yards rushing in 8 of its last 9 games, a sure sign of a worn down defense. Texans.
Bills +6½ at Broncos (45)
Denver clinches the AFC West with a win or a San Diego loss. Buffalo started 4-0 but has gone 2-8 since, including snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with some bizarre and costly play calling late in last week’s game at the Jets. Even though they lost last week, Denver has played well recently. Broncos.
Chargers +3½ at Bucs (42)
This game has been moved to a 10 a.m. PT so San Diego takes the field several hours ahead of Denver. This game should be played with great intensity with neither team wanting to make a mistake. That should mean conservative game plans that feature more running than passing. Tampa Bay’s vaunted defense has been vulnerable of late. Chargers.
Packers +4 at Bears (41)
The final Monday night game of the season. The Packers won the earlier meeting in Green Bay, 37-3. The Packers are not as bad as their 5-9 record with six of the losses by four points or less. Reduced to playing the role of spoiler, look for the Packers to take this game to the wire. Packers.