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Happy New Year? Bowl results will tell

Dec 31, 2002 12:39 AM

Happiness on New Year’s Day is hitting your bowl game selections! Before we get into the task at hand, just a few comments on the bowl season so far.

   Anyone who whines about the 28 bowl games and complains that there is no NCAA-style tournament to determine the national champ is simply not a football fan.

   The fact is we’ve had some great bowl games this year, both from a spectator and a bettor’s viewpoint.

   Even the so-called “minor” bowl games, such as the Houston (Mississippi vs. Nebraska), Holiday (Arizona State vs. Kansas State) and the Alamo (Colorado vs. Wisconsin) were packed with excitement, and offered relatively easy opportunities to cash a ticket (which many bettors did).

   Speaking of bettors, they haven’t fared that well in the sports books, unless they are astute players who follow GamingToday.

   Sports books report that the house lost early in the bowl season as favorites covered three of the first four games. But the underdog took over afterward, covering six of the next eight games.

   Keep an eye on the underdog in the remaining games as the quality of teams increases in the “bigger” bowl games.

COTTON BOWL

   Texas (-10.5) vs LSU (47): At first blush, the number seems high for a Cotton Bowl, but so far hasn’t shown any downward movement. While tempting, LSU and the points could be the wrong side. Since losing its starting quarterback mid-season, the Tigers were only 3-3 SU and 2-4 ATS. Moreover, during that span LSU averaged only 18 points/game. That won’t get it done against a Texas squad that averages 34 points a game. In addition, the Longhorns are healthy and will mount a strong rushing attack, and quarterback Simms is a veteran who is well-liked by his teammates. Finally, Texas has outscored its opponents 215-71 in the first half this year, so it’s likely LSU will be playing catch-up, which is not a good role for an inexperienced quarterback playing in a hostile environment. TEXAS, UNDER.

OUTBACK

   Florida (-1½) vs Michigan (4½): Since Spurrier left Florida to try his luck in the NFL, the Gators have not been the same Gators. Their defense is allowing more points per game, and giving up more rushing yardage, while the offense is posting fewer touchdowns and gaining less rushing yards. Michigan has been workmanlike in preparing for this game, and it should pay off with a big effort. We’d like more points, but will take the small number with Michigan, who should pull off the mild upset. Florida won’t go without a battle, thus the over could also come into play. MICHIGAN, OVER

GATOR BOWL

   NC State (pick) vs. ND (40½): This game shapes up as a great defensive struggle (the Irish defense ranks 14th, the Wolfpack’s is 15th), so we must look for an edge on offense. That edge is held by NC State. The pack’s quarterback, Philip Rivers, is capable of mounting a vertical game (62 career TD passes), and he is augmented by a capable rushing attack led by T.A. McLendon (more than 1,000 yards rushing). In addition, Notre Dame’s woeful offense was exposed in the USC debacle (the Irish had only 109 total yards and four first downs!). They’ll fare better in this spot, but not enough to pull off the win. Thus, the correct side is NC State.

CAPITAL ONE

   Penn St (—6) vs. Auburn (50½): Both teams have fierce rushing attacks, but the edge in that department goes to Penn State and its fine running back, Larry Johnson (2015 yards, 8 yards/carry, 20 touchdowns), who finished third in the Heisman balloting. Except for some tough losses in the Big 10 (overtime losses vs. Iowa and Michigan, and an INT return for a TD vs. Ohio State), Penn State could be playing for it all. Moreover, Joe Paterno has covered six of his last seven bowl games, and is 11-1 as a bowl favorite. PENN STATE.

ROSE BOWL:

   Oklahoma (6 ½) vs Wash St (55 ½): This could be tricky with the Washington State coach, Mike Price, already accepting the position at Alabama. But the excitement and pageantry of playing in the Rose Bowl should be enough to ease, at least for 60 minutes, any ambivalent feelings the players may harbor toward Coach Price. The key will be whether Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser is healthy. The word is that he is ready, so he and his corps of speedy receivers should be able to light up the Sooner secondary, which was shredded by Texas A&M and Oklahoma State earlier in the season. Thus, this could be a shootout. WASH ST, OVER.

SUGAR BOWL

   Georgia (-7½) vs Florida St (49 ½): The initial response to Florida State’s quarterback woes is to jump on the Bulldogs. But Florida State has quality athletes, a strong new quarterback and a backed-into-a-corner mentality that should give them enough motivation to make a game of this and stay within the spread. We’ve seen the Seminoles put together a solid game when they have to (remember Miami?), and in this game they have to. FLORIDA ST.

ORANGE BOWL

   USC (-6) vs Iowa (57): As pointed out in a previous column, the Trojans and quarterback Carson Palmer are fighting the Heisman Trophy jinx: Heisman winners are a dismal 8-12 SU and 5-15 ATS the last 20 bowl games. But they’re also fighting a talented Iowa squad, led by Heisman runner-up Brad Banks who was the country’s highest rated passer this season. Iowa also has a bruising running game led by the nation’s best offensive line, and that should be where this game will be won by the Hawkeyes — at the line of scrimmage. Both teams have been on fire down the stretch (USC won seven in a row, covering six, while Iowa swept its final nine games following a rough loss to Iowa State, covering eight of them). Iowa would actually be a better match for Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. IOWA.

FIESTA BOWL

   Miami —12½ vs Ohio St (51): As noted above, I don’t believe Ohio State is even the best team in the Big 10 (Iowa is my choice). Some point out that Ohio State won ugly at times, but they won. Noteworthy were an official-aided overtime win against lowly Illinois, and a tough scrape against Purdue and a lucky victory over Michigan. Miami, at only 4-7 ATS, has also looked vulnerable at times. They were lucky to beat Florida State, and struggled against Pittsburgh and West Virginia. However, Miami is the best team in the country, they have the best athletes, and they seem to play to the level of the competition. Give the Hurricanes their due here as they win by three touchdowns to cap a BCS national title repeat. MIAMI.

Bowl record: 12-7

Regular season: 60-42-5