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College Capper: Picking the Bowls

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

Motivation. You may not have heard this word lately if you don't have access to ESPN, but if you do have access to ESPN, then you've heard this word no less than 328 times the last couple weeks. It seems as though the talking heads at ESPN have finally caught on that motivation is the No. 1 factor in determining the outcome of a bowl game.

Need evidence? Just check out the result from the Holiday Bowl in which Washington, a team barely worthy of bowl status, not only beat Nebraska, but utterly destroyed it.

Now, before you get too excited, you have to realize that there is more to this motivation thing than there seems, otherwise this gambling thing would be too easy.

There are three levels of motivation as I see it. If a game matches all three motivation levels, then you have a solid pick, but there aren't many games that fit that criterion.

The levels are as follows:

Level 1 –
team has not played in a bowl in forever and is very excited to be there. Level 1 is generally reached for every bowl game, though there will be spots where both teams seem uninterested.

Level 2 -
team has no interest in playing said bowl game. This goes beyond lack of interest; I am talking about a team that is utterly disgusted by the fact that it is in a certain city to play in its bowl game.

Level 3 –
the revenge factor. You don't often see rematches in the same season in college football, but when you do, you can be assured that if one team was embarrassed the last time out, it'll show much better this time around.

As you can see, the Washington vs. Nebraska game hit on all three levels. It looks like that will be the only three-level game this bowl season, but there are some level two's out there still.

Bowl Part 1 and Part 2 Recap:

4-9 (through Dec. 30)
Record YTD:
100-98-2 (through Dec. 30)
Units YTD:

Best Win:
Washington – 14-point dog that wins outright. You don't get those too often.

Worst Loss:
Tennessee – Plenty to choose from, but I have to go with the 'Vols, who appeared to win the game until a review saved the hide of the Tar Heels. Speaking of that, how in the world can you get away with four players running off the field as the QB takes the snap? Isn't there a false start in there somewhere? A false start comes with a 10-second run off, which would have ended the game. Whatever the rule, karma was not in effect for this one as the 'Heels deserved to lose after that atrocious clock management.


Jan. 1

TicketCity Bowl - Northwestern vs. Texas Tech

I realize Northwestern is still without their star QB, but something tells me the Wildcats will be ready for this match-up after having a month to prepare. In addition to the side, I like the over here as well as safety net. If the Wildcat ‘D fails to show up, like they did at Wrigley last month, then the over is a cinch.

Side: Northwestern +9.5 (1)
Over 60.5 (2)

Outback Bowl - Penn State vs. Florida

What a stinker this one looks to be. The names look exciting, but the teams are anything but this year. Will the Gators send Meyer out on a high-note? Can they? Do they care? It would seem to me that Penn State is much more excited to be playing here than Florida and considering the talent gap isn't all that much between these two, I expect Penn State to cover this number.

Side: Penn State +7 (1)

Capital One Bowl - Michigan State vs. Alabama

Again I'll point to motivation in this match-up. I'll call it level two and a half. ‘Bama doesn't want to be here and MSU does. Add to that the added “nobody believes in us” cry from MSU and you have a bunch of fired-up players. Don't forget that as recently as a month ago, ‘Bama still had an outside shot at the national title game, but Cam Newton ruined that dream.

Side: MSU +10 (1)

Gator Bowl - Michigan vs. Mississippi State

No motivation edge here as both teams should be excited about playing on New Years Day. I am looking at the total in this game and I think it's a tad low. Anyone can score on Michigan and with a month to get ready for this game, we should see the best that Rich-Rod has to offer on the offensive side of the ball.

Total: Over 60 (2)

Rose Bowl - TCU vs. Wisconsin

I like both of these teams and I've been trying to find a separator over the past few weeks and I think the first few bowl games have provided an edge. With little separating these two teams and motivation not a concern, I have to go to conference strength. The Big-Ten has shown well early on and the MWC has proven to be fraudulent. Now, that doesn't mean that TCU is fraudulent as well, but when a game is this tight, you have to find something to separate the two. One other possible angle, I didn't like the way TCU showed last year in its bowl game against Boise State and if you think that was a big stage, try stepping up to the “Grand Daddy of them All”. Take the Badgers and the points.

Side: Wisconsin +3 (2)

Fiesta Bowl - Connecticut vs. Oklahoma

When does a trend become reliable? Bob Stoops has proven time and time again that he cannot be trusted to lead a heavy favorite to victory in a big spot. The question is, can he correct it? He's obviously aware of his team's troubles in big spots, so is it in his power to correct it? I wouldn't want to bet on it. I am going to take the pesky dog in this spot. 16.5 points is an awful lot when you consider that the Huskies are going to fight tooth and nail to the end.

Side: Connecticut +16.5 (1)

Jan. 3

Orange Bowl - Virginia Tech vs. Stanford

It pains me to pick against either side in this game as I love them both. In fact, I had more trouble with this game than any other. On one side you've got the Hokies, who have played about as good as anyone since week two of the season. On the other side you have possibly the best NFL prospect in the college game right now, and he's not just hype, he's a star at the college level right now. I'm going to take the easy road out there and avoid a side and just take the over. Both teams are strong on the offensive side of the ball and offense should rule the day, or night is you will.

Over 58 (1)

Jan. 4

Sugar Bowl - Arkansas vs. Ohio State

Motivation is clearly on the side of the Razorbacks in this game as the OSU players evidently don't care much about any bowl game, or the rings anyhow. OSU got the monkey off its back last year when they beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl and now the Buckeyes have little to play for other than their opponent is from the SEC. I don't think that will be enough as Arkansas brings plenty to the table in this match-up and Ryan Mallett just might have his coming out party against the Buckeyes.

Side: Arkansas +3.5 (1)

Jan. 6

GoDaddy.Com Bowl - Middle Tennessee State vs. Miami Ohio

You've waited all season for this one, admit it. OK, here's what I know about this one. Miami Ohio, for as bad as it's looked over the past month, finds a way to win. If the Redhawks can beat Northern Illinois on a neutral field, they can beat Middle Tennessee State...

Side: Miami Ohio even (1)

Jan. 7

Cotton Bowl - Texas A&M vs. LSU

Texas A&M nearly stumbled against a bad Texas Longhorn team in its most recent game, but other than that, the Aggies are one of the hottest teams coming into this bowl season. I question whether LSU will be up for this game. Sure, it's a big stage, but I doubt it means as much to the Tigers as it does the Aggies. Throw in a virtual home-field advantage and I think you've got your winner.

Side: Texas A&M +1 (1)

Jan. 8

Compass Bowl - Kentucky vs. Pittsburgh

Wow, this one is tough. I am not sure if there is a motivational edge and the team that over achieved this year, Kentucky, will be without their starting QB. Still, UK is likely to be the hungrier team and their fan base should heavily outnumber the Panthers, so I'll side with the Wildcats.

Side: Kentucky +3 (1)

Jan. 9

Fight Hunger Bowl - Boston College vs. Nevada

I am not sure Nevada is in a position to lay more than a touchdown to a team from the ACC. Its one thing to beat Boise State in OT at your home field, but this is a neutral sight game against a team that's bound to be a little upset that they opened as nearly a 10-point underdog. The scrappy Eagles will make things difficult for Nevada on what is always a slow field in San Francisco.

Side: BC +7.5 (1)

Jan. 9

BCS Championship - Oregon vs. Auburn

Just in time for 2011 spring practice, we have the 2010 National Championship game. This one should be a classic. We all know everything there is to know about each of these teams. The offenses can be stopped, the defenses are OK and by all account there should be at least 100 points scored. I am not certain there will be as many points as everyone expects, but I can't in good conscious take the under in this game, so I'll have to pick a side. Surprisingly, the side in this game doesn't seem all that difficult. I like the Tigers in this match-up for one simple reason – their defense. Yes, early in the year and for stretches during the Alabama game, the Auburn defense looked pretty pathetic, but it's always come up big when it had to and to be honest, I think the Oregon offense can be slowed while Cam Newton cannot. At least by the Duck defense anyhow.

Auburn's offense will continue to roll, while the Tiger defense will get a few stops along the way that make the difference in this game.

Side: Auburn -3 (2)