Bowl fever heats up holiday season

Dec 24, 2002 6:18 AM

   The bowl season begins in earnest this week as 17 games (yipes!) will be played between now and New Year’s Day. The early bowl games were underwhelming at best, and in some cases downright bizarre.

   For instance, the New Orleans Bowl featured a fired up North Texas squad beating Cincinnati to the punch on every play. If Cincinnati didn’t want to come, why accept the invitation?

   And what happened at the GMAC Bowl was positively criminal. In case you missed it, Marshal easily handled Louisville, which looked like it was sleepwalking.

   As it turned out, just before half time it was revealed that Michigan State had requested to speak to Cardinal Coach John Smith about its open coaching position, and that they needed to know by the next day whether he would take the job.

   To compound the difficult situation, the Louisville athletic director was interviewed at half time about the prospect of losing the coach who turned around its program.

   Apparently, the football team found out or heard rumors about their coach’s imminent departure, because they played like they were on sedatives.

   Bowl games are supposed to be a reward for a successful season. What happed to the Louisville student-athletes was reprehensible; it should never have happened.

   Let’s hope the upcoming games capture more of the spirit in which the games were intended.

   New Mexico vs. UCLA -10½, over/under 55 (Las Vegas Bowl): Hopefully this won’t have the melodrama of the Louisville debacle as UCLA’s coach Bob Toledo has been fired, and his predecessor won’t be on the sidelines. But there’s some talk that the Bruin players are looking to make a statement about their team. Granted, the athletes on the UCLA squad are superior to New Mexico’s, but they’ve underachieved for most of the season. Toledo’s departure could be a positive here. Even though the Bruins are terrible as a bowl favorite, we’ll make a small play on UCLA to win by a couple of TDs in a game that should go OVER the number.

   Tulane vs. Hawaii -12½, over/under 64½ (Hawaii Bowl): The layoff will help banged up Hawaii get back on track after failing to cover the spread as chalk in its last four games. The Rainbow Warriors like the chance to play on national TV, and staying at home is their preference for post season play. Hawaii should score into the 30s while Tulane should not. Thus the play is Hawaii and the UNDER.

   Toledo vs. Boston College -4, over/under 60 (Motor City Bowl): The line has dropped as there’s been a trickle of action on the underdog. The move makes sense. This doesn’t shape up as the kind of bowl that BC will get excited about. Moreover, the Rockets will be ready to fire with their prolific offensive attack (469 yards and 35 points per game). In a high-scoring affair that will probably go OVER, we favor Toledo to pull the mild upset.

   Oregon State -2 vs. Pittsburgh, over/under 45½ (Insight Bowl): Just why the oddsmakers made Oregon State the favorite is beyond comprehension. This year, the Beavers are a mid-level Pac 10 team, while Pittsburgh had some big efforts including knocking off Virginia Tech and taking Miami to the wire. Walt Harris has done a great coaching job for Pitt, and a win here will put the icing to a nice season. Oregon State has shown the ability to rough up inferior teams, but couldn’t beat a good team. Pittsburgh is very good and should get the win.

   Southern Miss at Oklahoma State -7, over/under 48 (Houston Bowl): The bowl season hasn’t started well for Conference USA (Cincinnati and Louisville went out in flames), and it shouldn’t improve with Southern Miss. Oklahoma State is a pretty good team (ask Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops) that can score points from a variety of sources. The Cowboys should be able to run up 30-plus points, which should be enough to cover the number, and perhaps even go OVER the total.

   Mississippi vs. Nebraska -6½, over/under 51 (Independence Bowl): People continue to bet based on either reputation or perception. That must be why the number has climbed from -4. Mississippi has had a decent defense, and its offensive line allowed only 13 sacks all season (best in SEC). If Eli Manning can smooth out his play, he could be hard to stop. We believe he will and actually help Mississippi spring the upset.

   Arizona State vs. Kansas State -17½, over/under 61½ (Holiday Bowl): The spread on this one looks too close to call — Bill Snider likes to run up the score (he’s covered 10 straight as double digit chalk). But the Sun Devils are not Baylor or Kansas. They should be able to move the ball, but it’s uncertain whether they can score enough to win or even cover the number. But there should be plenty of scoring to put this one easily OVER the 61½ total.

   Virginia vs. West Virginia -5, over/under 50½ (Continental Tire Bowl): The point spread seems a bit high in this spot, even though the Mountaineers rounded out the season in great fashion (6-1 SU and 7-0 ATS). But the Cavaliers showed a bit more versatility and offer a more balanced attack. Thus, Virginia gets the nod here, and because the game will be shortened by West Virginia’s running game, we also favor the UNDER.

   Wisconsin vs. Colorado -9, over/under 53 (Alamo Bowl): Wisconsin will be able to hang tough in this game if it can slow down Colorado’s rushing attack. Coach Barry Alvarez has the tools and the means to do just that and Wisconsin should be able to keep the game close. In addition, Colorado must be disappointed to be playing in San Antonio as they had their sights set on much more glamorous bowls.

Minnesota vs. Arkansas -9½, over/under 47½ (Music City Bowl): Minnesota lost its last four regular season games while allowing 1,034 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on the ground over the last three of them. That doesn’t bode well against an Arkansas team that led the SEC in rushing with nearly 230 yards per game. Moreover, the Gophers were only 1-6 ATS this season as an underdog. Arkansas, with its massive offensive line, should control the line of scrimmage and get the easy cover.

   Wake Forest vs. Oregon -7, over/under 56½ (Seattle Bowl): It’s a credit to Wake to be in a bowl, considering their 6-6 record that included wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina. But Oregon, even in an “off” year, has too much firepower. Even though the Ducks allowed more than 300 yards per game passing and 30 points per game, the Demon Deacons don’t have the wide open Pac 10 attack that Oregon has faced. Instead, they ran the ball 72% of the time while hitting just six TD passes all year. Oregon can slow down the run, plus they should have outstanding RB Onterrio Smith back in action. Though this bowl is a “step down” from the post season action Oregon had become accustomed to, the team will get good regional support and win easily in a high-scoring affair.

   Iowa State vs. Boise State -11½, over/under 68 (Humanitarian Bowl): For Iowa State, there’s nothing humanitarian about visiting Boise in the dead of winter and playing on that lethal blue carpet at Bronco Stadium. Why lethal? Boise has won 25 of its last 26 home games, and covered the spread in 23 of its last 29, making its home field advantage the strongest in college football. Granted, Iowa State looked great early in the season, and Boise State played a softer schedule. But at home, possibly in the snow, on the perspective challenging blue carpet, Boise is a scoring machine and should win big while helping the total eclipse the OVER.

   Purdue vs. Washington -4½, over/under 57½ (Sun Bowl): The motivation for Washington could be in question as Coach Rick Neuheisel name-dropped himself as a candidate for the UCLA coaching job. Moreover, Pac 10 schools are never excited about playing on the carpet in El Paso, and the underdog in the Sun Bowl are 10-1-2 ATS in the last 13 contests. Throw in Purdue’s revenge factor (they lost two years ago to Washington in the Rose Bowl), and the Boilermakers get the nod to cover and possibly pull the mild upset.

   TCU vs. Colorado State -5½, over/under 52 (Liberty Bowl): Both teams like to run the ball as they’re each averaging more than 200 yards/game on the ground. Colorado State’s Cecil Sapp rates the edge with his size and strength, while TCU’s Lonta Hobbs can be electrifying (13 touchdowns and 950 yards/rushing in only seven games). Because the game will be shortened with the relentless ground attacks, the preference is for the UNDER, while leaning slightly to Colorado State to win by a touchdown.

   Fresno State vs. Georgia Tech -3½ over/under 49 (Silicon Valley Classic): Fresno State put together a decent campaign that was supposed to be a rebuilding year while Georgia State could only chalk up quality wins over Virginia and NC State. Both teams will run the ball and neither defense looks capable of completely stopping the opposition. With the winner likely to score last, the best course is to play the team, Fresno State, getting the points.

   Maryland vs. Tennessee PK, over/under 47½ (Peach Bowl): The number has dropped from Tennessee laying 2½ points, and we don’t believe the move is justified. The Vols battled injuries all season while losing to powerhouses Miami, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Maryland had a good year in a soft ACC conference, but they haven’t played against as tough a defense as Tennessee will throw at them. In a season they were supposed to contend for national honors, Tennessee redeems itself with a solid win here.

   Air Force vs. Virginia Tech -11½, over/under 54 (San Francisco Bowl): Both teams struggled in the last half of the season (Air Force lost four of six, Virginia Tech lost four of five) after promising starts that brought each national attention. Air Force will try to run the ball with its triple option attack, but Notre Dame exposed the scheme’s shortcomings and the Hokies should also control the Falcons’ ground game. This bowl is far from where Virginia Tech hoped it would be when they were ranked in the top 10, but a big win here would help remove the taste of a season gone bad. Give the Hokies the nod in a game that should stay UNDER the total.