Bowl blitz!

Dec 16, 2003 7:49 AM

This year’s college bowl season kicks off tonight, and with 28 games it’s easy to be jaded about all the crazy match-ups.

But as long as there’s a betting line, even games like the inaugural Fort Worth Bowl, which has been cynically called the "Fort Worthless Bowl," hold plenty of interest for football fanatics.

Moreover, obscure match-ups like TCU vs. Boise State mean the same to us from a betting perspective as Oklahoma vs. LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

In fact, it doesn’t matter that USC plays in the Rose Bowl instead of the Sugar Bowl for the national title, an $11 wager still pays $10 at the betting windows.

In that spirit, we’ll examine the first six games of the bowl schedule as postseason expectations build toward the New Year’s games and ultimately the Jan. 4 national championship at the Sugar Bowl.

Repeat teams is a common trait in five of the six bowls. It easily could have been all six, but this is the first edition of the Fort Worth Bowl. The question is whether familiarity breeds either contempt with the NCAA for its bowl limitations, inspiration for being in a postseason game, or apathy for "having been there."

Tuesday, Dec. 16

New Orleans Bowl: North Texas seeks its third straight win and point-spread cover in this bowl. Colorado State fell in 2001 as a 13-point underdog, 45-20, and Cincinnati was beaten as an 8-point dog, 24-19. Now, Memphis, as a 4½-point favorite, tries its luck against the Mean Green. Arkansas State, the one common opponent, lost 38-16 at Memphis and 50-14 at North Texas. What’s interesting is North Texas was a larger favorite than Memphis was over Ark State (20½ to 16), yet the oddsmakers side with the Tigers. To us, that’s significant value. Also, Memphis is 1-3 against the spread (ATS) in its last four games. NORTH TEXAS

Thursday, Dec. 18

GMAC Bowl: Miami of Ohio is the Mid America Conference daddy, riding a 12-game winning streak and perhaps fielding the top NFL quarterback prospect in junior Ben Roethlisberger. Louisville has the revenge factor on its side after losing last year to Marshall as a 2½-point dog, 38-15. The major common opponent, Cincinnati, lost close to both teams: Miami won as a 7-point favorite, 42-37, the Cardinals as a 2½ point chalk, 43-40. Louisville exceeded 30 points in eight of 12 games, Miami in 12 of 13 including the last 11. And, 10 times Miami has scored over 40. Even though the posted total is a 70, it’s worth a bet. OVER.

Monday, Dec. 22

Tangerine Bowl: Two years ago, NC State was slapped around as a 1-point underdog by Pittsburgh, 34-19. Phillip Rivers was the QB then and is now winding up an outstanding college career. The Wolfpack did nothing to erase its reputation for playing up or down to the opposition, going 0-3 ATS when favored by 10 or more points. Kansas, under the rotund head coach Mark Mangino, went 6-6 after suffering through seven straight losing seasons. The Jayhawks were 1-5 ATS in its last six games, including 0-4 as a double-digit underdog. NC State beat Connecticut by just seven as a 15½-point favorite. This could be the story here. KANSAS.

Tuesday, Dec. 23

Fort Worth Bowl: Boise State and TCU are a combined 23-2 straight up (SU), which makes you wonder why these teams are not playing in a better bowl. The Horned Frogs will feel right at home in their own yard, but were just 5-7 ATS and closed with two straight point losses. There’s no blue turf at Fort Worth, but the Broncos sound like a good fit in Texas. Boise was 3-0 both SU and ATS in its own Humanitarian Bowl since 1999. Skeptics will say the Broncos haven’t done it away from Boise. But, with a 6-1 record ATS in its last seven games and a scoring machine in QB Ryan Dinwiddie, we see 59 scored by the third quarter. OVER

Wednesday, Dec. 24

Las Vegas Bowl: Sam Boyd Stadium is the host site with New Mexico representing the Mountain West for the second straight year. The Lobos fell to UCLA as a 10½-point underdog, 27-13, last season. All the incentive is with New Mexico, which is 6-1 ATS in the last seven games including outright wins over Utah and Colorado State. Oregon State is fresh off a pounding from USC and probably concocting a game plan around gambling and women. Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson can pile up numbers, but is an interception waiting to happen. No way to trust the Beavers, despite workhorse running back Steven Jackson. The Mountain West is 3-1 SU in the last four Vegas Bowls. Take the 3 points and go money line. NEW MEXICO.

Thursday, Dec. 25

Hawaii Bowl: The host Rainbow Warriors lost last year’s inaugural contest to Tulane as a 12½-point favorite, 36-28. This looks like a carbon copy. Like Tulane, Houston has a high-octane offense and is the beneficiary of being an 11-point underdog. The Cougars scored more than 40 six times and makes its first bowl appearance since 1996. Houston lost, but covered as a 16½-point dog to Syracuse at the Liberty, 30-17. The Rainbows have quarterback issues. HOUSTON.