With all the interest and wagering on college football over the next few weeks, the Las Vegas sports book scene could be titled “Bowling for Dollars.”
The bowl season kicks off this week and presents challenges such as contrasting styles of play and some long travel schedules for some schools.
Tuesday, Dec. 17
New Orleans Bowl
Cincinnati vs. North Texas: Going on the road to New Orleans might not affect Cincinnati. The Bearcats, 9-4 ATS record this season, are 5-1 on the road and 6-1 in the past seven games. Cincinnati appears better than its 7-6 record, having lost by 3 to West Virginia, 1 to Hawaii, and 4 to No. 2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes took a 23-19 lead with 3:44 left, and held on as Cincinnati receivers dropped two touchdown passes in the final seconds. The Bearcats are 0-2 SU/ATS the last two years in bowl games.
Cincinnati’s wide-open offense is in stark contrast to a North Texas team that outscored opponents by an 18-14 average. This team averages 182 yards rushing per game, and Cincy had trouble stopping the run much of the season. The Mean Green fell to Colorado State in last year’s bowl, 45-20. North Texas was 9-4 ATS over the last two seasons, including 5-2 this year.
Wednesday, Dec. 18
Marshall vs. Louisville: College football has seen its memorable share of air battles. Ron Vander Kelen vs. No. 1 USC in 1963, Doug Flutie vs. Bernie Kosar in 1984, Peyton Manning vs. Danny Wuerffel in 1995. This matchup in Mobile (Ala.) looks like it may join those with Marshall’s Byron Leftwich dueling Louisville lefty Dave Ragone.
Marshall averages 35 points per game, Louisville 30. If this air show comes down to defense, Louisville has the edge. Marshall’s ”˜D’ may be tiring. The last five games the Thundering Herd have given up 34, 34, 24, 14 and 45 points. Marshall was also a poor 1-4 ATS away from home.
Louisville’s defense has allowed 20, 24, 17, 21 and 27 points the last five games. The Cardinals went 4-2 SU and 4-1-1 ATS on the road. In this bowl a year ago, Marshall’s defense gave up 61 points and won! Louisville’s defense is light years better than the 64 that East Carolina yielded in Mobile last year. Marshall won the last matchup with Louisville in the 1998 Motor City Bowl, 49-28.
Monday, Dec. 23
Clemson vs. Texas Tech: Speaking of air games, this one in Orlando shapes up to be a shootout. It was a tale of two seasons for Clemson. After losing three of four games in midseason, Coach Tommy Bowden put the Tigers offense in the hands of freshman QB Charlie Whitehurst. Clemson went 3-1 with Whitehurst to become bowl eligible.
Bowden runs a wide-open offense that should be able to score against a weak Texas Tech defense. Whitehurst passed for 427, 274, and 287 yards with eight touchdowns in the three wins down the stretch. The lone setback was to Maryland, 30-12. Whitehurst finished the season with 9 TDs and 2 INTs.
Texas Tech lives by the pass, averaging 383 yards through the air compared to 100 on the ground. The Red Raiders outscored teams by a 37-32 average behind remarkable QB Kliff Kingsbury (4,642 yards, 42 TDs, 12 INTs). In the only encounter this year with the ACC, Tech lost a thrilling matchup with NC State and Philip Rivers, 51-48. The total was 49, meaning the game went OVER by 50 points. The OVER was 8-3 in Raiders contests.
Wednesday, Dec. 25
Las Vegas Bowl:
UCLA vs. New Mexico: Another bowl game with clashing styles. UCLA runs a wide-open offense with a strong passing attack (241 YPG). New Mexico averages 189 rushing yards per game and likes to control the ball and clock.
This game in Las Vegas also features some sideline oddities. It’s just the second bowl appearance for New Mexico since 1961, while UCLA just fired head coach Bob Toledo. Ed Kezirian, assistant director of academic services, will serve as interim coach. These clubs had several common opponents: New Mexico State lost 22-16 to Colorado State, while UCLA beat the Rams 30-19. UCLA blew out San Diego State (43-7), while New Mexico was a seven-point winner (15-8) over the Aztecs.
The Lobos have struggled against talented passing teams, losing to Rivers and NC State (34-13) and to Kingsbury and Texas Tech (49-0). New Mexico, 0-2 ATS in those contests, was just 2-5 SU and 3-3 ATS on the road. UCLA was 5-1 ATS away from the Rose Bowl. New Mexico is 4-7 ATS on the road over the last two seasons.
Tulane vs. Hawaii: Tulane faces a long journey from New Orleans to the Hawaiian Islands. The Green Wave took advantage of a nice home schedule to win seven games. Tulane went 2-3 SU, but was 4-1 ATS on the road. It was the first winning ATS mark away from home since 1998, when Tommy Bowden was coach.
Tulane was a 35-17 victor over Cincinnati, a team similar in style to Hawaii. Yet, the Wave was the only team to lose to Army, falling 14-10 as a whopping 20-point home favorite. This is just Tulane’s second bowl berth in 10 years.
Hawaii averaged 36.5 points and 388 yards passing per game in June Jones’ quick-strike offense. The Rainbow Warriors were 7-1 SU, but a less than mediocre 3-4 ATS on the Islands. That’s in contrast to a 10-5 ATS mark at home the previous two seasons. The Bows also played Cincinnati, winning by a point (20-19) three weeks ago.