Fellow ‘Cats fans, bored Northwestern students on winter break and degenerate gamblers alike: welcome to bowl season. Most people regard mid-late December as holiday season, but to Matt and I, this is the finest part of the season from the greatest sport, college football. Follow along as we begin our quest to help you make money and take down the big bad wolf that is Las Vegas.
The first part of the bowl season begins Saturday, with six matchups featuring a total of one power five team. You can never take yourself too seriously handicapping these games, or any games I suppose, but we’ll give it a go.
North Carolina A&T (-7.5) vs. Alcorn State: Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl
Avery: Alcorn State — North Carolina A&T definitely has a more talented roster, but 7.5 points is just too much to swallow. The Braves have a dual threat quarterback in Noah Johnson that has the capability of exploiting a stout but leaky NC A&T defense. On the other side of the ball, NC A&T heavily relies on the run, leading me to believe that this game could be a lower scoring contest in which the Aggies win, but fail to cover.
Matt: Alcorn State — Roll Alcorn State! Alcorn State’s offense relies heavily on their run game, and NC A&T has had an effective run defense, so this game will really be decided with the outcome of this battle. Also the question of Lamar Raynard’s health (NC A&T QB) will be a key factor in deciding this celebration bowl. Ultimately, the SWAC champion Braves roll over NC A&T en route to a Celebration bowl victory.
Tulane (-3.5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette: Cure Bowl
Avery: Tulane — Tulane comes into this game after winning four of its final five regular season contests. Neither team brings any noticeable strengths into the game, but the Ragin’ Cajun defense is likely the worst unit in the game. Tulane’s offense struggled all year, but UL-Lafayette’s defense, ranked 111th in the country by S&P+, will struggle to defend a run-focused Tulane. Ride the Green Wave in this one.
Matt: Tulane — Tulane has had an overall impressive season, full of ups and downs. ULL didn’t look particularly impressive in the Sun Belt Championship game and Tulane has faced off (and had more success against) tougher competition.
Utah State (-7.5) vs. North Texas: New Mexico Bowl
Avery: North Texas — There are a lot of interesting factors that will play into this one. Utah State, coming off of a season with only two losses, lost its head coach to Texas Tech. It’s hard to put faith in a new head coach in his first contest, especially one that went 7-23 at his previous stop, as Gary Andersen did. North Texas rides their explosive offense to an outright win in this one.
Matt: North Texas — Simply put, this bowl game will have as many points as a Big 12 game. Personally, the -7.5 line scares me, and the fact their head coach has since left the program which went into effect before the bowl game (to take a job at Texas Tech), I can’t help but have doubts about Utah State, although they are able to put up a ridiculous amount of points. They rank only behind Alabama and Oklahoma in points scored and have the 11th most yards in FBS this year. However, North Texas keeps the game close, and, while USU may still even win, this close game exemplifies the common gambling adage “good teams win, great teams cover”.
Fresno State (-5.5) vs. Arizona State: Las Vegas Bowl
Avery: Fresno State — Fresno State is a really good team. It ranks 10th in overall S&P+, by far the highest position of a non-power five team. Arizona State, on the other hand, sits at 54th, and that doesn’t account for the loss of arguably its best player, N’keal Harry. This is a straightforward pick for me, Fresno State should be good enough to cover with ease.
Matt: Arizona State — This game provides an interesting matchup because Arizona State has had some huge ups and downs this season. ASU has pulled off huge victories against Michigan State and Utah and has showed their potential to be a great team, yet underwhelming performances to Stanford and Oregon provide people with some doubts. The sitting out of star wide receiver N’Keal Harry should put a dent in their offensive production, and Fresno State is regarded as having a very good Group of Five defense. Ultimately, I have to defer to the team who I think is yet to play their best game in Coach Herm Edwards’ Sun Devils.
Georgia Southern (-3) vs. Eastern Michigan: Camellia Bowl
Avery: Georgia Southern — While Eastern Michigan was able to beat a vaunted Akron team this year, they’ve been erratic. It found its bowl spot after winning its final three contests, but none of those opponents will be competing in the postseason. Georgia Southern, on the other hand, is a solid team in all phases of the game. Its +22 turnover margin gives me reason to believe that this one won’t even be close.
Matt: Georgia Southern — Georgia Southern is the top team in the FBS, and, while Eastern Michigan’s shock victory over Purdue gives me faith in them, I can’t help but not put too much credit into the result of that game. Georgia Southern is a huge ground and pound team and if they can get their running going, they should win this game.
Appalachian State (-7) vs. Middle Tennessee: New Orleans Bowl
Avery: Appalachian State — Another S&P+ mismatch occurs in this game, and rightly so. Outside of a loss to Georgia Southern, App State has been dominant against weaker teams, and as we all know, only fell to Penn State by three points in heartbreaking fashion. Expect the Mountaineers to roll against the C-USA runner up despite its coach departing for Louisville.
Matt: Appalachian State — Appalachian State is coming in off a huge season, with their one of their two losses coming to Penn State in overtime in Happy Valley in September. Once again, I don’t put that much weight on the result of that game on its own, yet when combined with the resume they have build through the rest of their performances I can’t help but believe they will win this game. While I’m normally very hesitant to pick teams with interim head coaches to win, (App. State’s coach has moved on to Louisville), I feel that this team has shown enough talent that they will not crumble with an assistant coach as the coach for a game.