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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.

Is it just me or does it seem like the BCS hype peaks at the end of November, and then everybody forgets about it, leading to an anticlimactic finish sometime in early January?

Whether the game is actually entertaining, I sometimes get the feeling that by the time early January rolls around, all the steam from the college football season is gone. It might be a product of the long layoff, or it could be that there is no significant lead-up to the national title game.

Perhaps a playoff would solve this issue, or perhaps it's not really an issue at all. You see, I am one of the few people in the country who really doesn't give a damn who wins the national championship. For me, it's all about the journey, not the destination. The feeling that the end of the season rarely lives up to the build-up, well that's something I can live with as long as the preceding three to four months were full of excitement.

Call me old-school, or maybe just old, but I am fine with how things currently operate.

Which leads me to, as ESPN states, "the most wonderful week of the year." OK, so ESPN is focusing on its week of action as opposed to the entire bowl season, but you get the point. While most people question the relevancy of bowl games, I sit back and enjoy the ride. This is fun stuff, right?

This bowl season, I am going to break up the preview into two parts. There is simply too much time between now and the final games to make predictions on all the games. That said, I know many readers take part in bowl pools, which are likely due before the start of the first game on Saturday, Dec. 17, so if you want to get my thoughts on games taking place in 2012, then please check out the staff picks for the bowl games. I will say, however, I reserve the right to change my pick between now and the time I submit part II of the bowl preview.

Before we move on to the bowls, I have to recap the final week of the regular season. I'd actually rather not as it was a tough ending to what was a pretty good season, but I've recapped the previous week all year, so I'm not going to change now. It was a tough finish to the regular season as I pulled a goose egg in two of three categories. The number of games was limited, though, so a goose egg in the PASSing thoughts category only resulted in two losses.

For the season, I finished three games over .500, but wouldn't you know it, the only category in which I finished below .500 was the Cream of the Crop. I am changing the structure of this article slightly, so I'll include final regular season detail here:

Cream of the Crop: Week: 3-2-0/Season: 40-43-0
Best of the Rest: Week: 0-4-0/Season: 49-45-1
PASSing thoughts: Week: 0-2-0/Season: 38-34-2

Bowl games are listed in order of schedule, but I will keep the same format in that I will still indicate which handicap group each game falls into with the following notation: Cream of the Crop = CC, Best of the Rest = BR and PASSing thoughts = PT.


DEC. 17

New Mexico Bowl

Temple vs. Wyoming:
This time of the year is all about motivation. Wyoming will be playing close to home in the New Mexico Bowl for the second time in three years, while Temple will be out to prove a point after being snubbed last season. The line is a little higher than I would like, but some of these early bowl games have a way of getting out of hand.

Side: Temple -7 (BR)

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Ohio vs. Utah State:
For whatever reason, Frank Solich can't seem to get his Ohio team ready to play in bowl games. Entering this game, he's 0-3 at Ohio in bowls. Now, most historical records are useless concerning college football programs, but you can't discount a coach who has a poor record during bowl season. Motivation could be an issue as well as Ohio has become a somewhat frequent member of the bowl club the last decade. Utah State, however, is playing in its first bowl game since 1997, and this experience will be something to get excited about. Throw in what should be an advantage in the stands, and I think you've got your winner.

Side: Utah State -1.5 (CC)

New Orleans Bowl

San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette:
ULL doesn't play much defense, and SDSU is more than equipped to take advantage. SDSU trounced a pretty good Navy team last bowl season, which leads me to believe the Aztecs were well prepared, and that should be the case again this year. ULL might have an edge in the stands, but it won't matter as SDSU is simply a much better team.

Side: SDSU -5 (CC)

DEC. 20

St. Petersburg Bowl

Florida International vs. Marshall:
Geesh, how many bowls are there? I say that because I can't believe these two teams made it to a bowl. FIU and Marshall were just one game over .500 within conference and both play in bad conferences. Anyhow, play the hand that is dealt, I guess. Marshall's signature win came against Southern Mississippi, but that was more than three months ago, and there hasn't been much to write home about since then. FIU, on the other hand, beat UCF and Louisville. Was that really it? Man, this is a tough one, but the safe route is to take the points.

Side: Marshall +4 (PT)

DEC. 21

Poinsettia Bowl

(18) TCU vs. Louisiana Tech:
TCU's prize for winning the MWC - Poinsettia Bowl. Talk about lack of motivation. You have to wonder if these kids will be ready to play come the 21st. TCU is clearly the better team here, but Louisiana Tech has shown the ability to stay close to better teams this season, including a one-point loss against Houston, a two-point loss against Southern Miss and an overtime loss at Mississippi State. LT has a chance to hang with an unmotivated Horned Frogs team and possibly pull a huge upset.

Side: Louisiana Tech +10.5 (BR)

DEC. 22

Las Vegas Bowl

Arizona State vs. (7) Boise State:
Boise State seemed a defeated team all season. The Broncos impressed in an opening-week win against Georgia, but they seemed to lack a spark all season within conference. After being slighted once again, however, Boise State likely will bring its best effort in this match-up. ASU also looked good early, but as they usually do, the Sun Devils fell apart at the end of the season. The number here is hefty, but the Broncos are out to show that they belonged in the BCS conversation this year, and they'll likely take out some frustration on an undisciplined ASU team.

Side: Boise State -14 (BR)

DEC. 24

Hawaii Bowl

Nevada vs. (21) Southern Miss:
When we last saw Southern Mississippi, the Golden Eagles were busy removing Case Keenum from the Heisman race. Their reward for winning Conference USA is a trip to Hawaii. I can think of worse places to be in December. You have to wonder, though, if the Golden Eagles are a little spent from their win against Houston. Southern Mississippi has shown a lack of mental discipline at times this season, and with the recent exit of their head coach, this could be a spot where it simply doesn't show up. Nevada, on the other hand, should be ready to play this game as the Wolfpack get a chance to knock off a conference champion. Also, being in the WAC, they are familiar with everything Hawaii, so don't expect the players to be distracted in this game.

Side: Nevada +6 (BR)

DEC. 25

Independence Bowl

Missouri vs. North Carolina:
Two non-descript teams meet in the Independence Bowl to sort out, well nothing. Missouri has had a strange season from its head coach being arrested for suspicion of DUI to a shift from the BIG 12 to the SEC. North Carolina has had plenty of issues as well, and the Tar Heels enter this game with an interim coach. The only thing separating these teams is they way they ended the regular season. Missouri finished on a high note, while North Carolina stumbled to the finish. It's not much to go on, but it's something.

Side: Missouri -5 (PT)

DEC. 27

Little Caesars Bowl

Western Michigan vs. Purdue:
Did Purdue play a full schedule this year? It's like the Boilermakers just jumped to bowl season. I can't recall a single game they played this season. Western Michigan, on the other hand, got caught up in the MAC scoring binge in November, and, hopefully, that style will carry over to this bowl game. It's tough to pick a side here, but considering Purdue is from a stronger conference and it finished strong, I'll side with the Boilermakers. That said, the play here is the over. WMU plays little defense yet it's well-equipped on offense, which should lead to an entertaining game.

Side: Purdue -2.5 (PT)
Over 60 (CC)

Belk Bowl

Louisville vs. NC State:
Every bowl season there are a few teams that use their bowl game as a springboard for the next season, and Louisville could be one of those teams this year. Made up primarily of underclassmen, the Cardinals overachieved this season, but that simply means they come in with a lot of confidence. N.C. State also is coming in high as it finished the season well, including a beatdown of conference champion Clemson. This is a tough call, but I like getting a few points with a young team looking to build momentum for next season.

Side: Louisville +3 (PT)

DEC. 28

Military Bowl

Toledo vs. Air Force:
I'll keep this simple, Toledo is one of the nation's highest-scoring teams, and the Rockets make playing defense optional. Air Force found its offense toward season's end. You get where I am going here? This should be an up-and-down affair with the more complete team, Air Force, coming out on top in the end. The play, however, is the over. As long as it remains in the low-70s, jump all over it.

Side: Air Force +3 (PT)
Over 70 (CC)

Holiday Bowl

California vs. (24) Texas:
Two big-name teams meet up in the Holiday Bowl this year, but neither program is where it wants to be right now. Texas, however, seemed to be heading in the right direction until it met the eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin III a few weeks back. I'm not going to hold that against the Longhorns, however, as many good teams have failed to even slow RG III. California has pretty much lived under the radar all season. Don't expect the Bears to jump out in this situation and make a splash.

Side: Texas -3 (BR)

DEC. 29

Champs Sports Bowl

Florida State vs. Notre Dame:
Speaking of two big-name teams that aren't quite where they want to be. Florida State has been difficult to predict this season as it came in with high expectations only to fizzle early. It managed to put a nice midseason stretch only to again flame out near season's end. The same could be said for Notre Dame, which saw its fair share of big wins, but along with that came a handful of disappointing losses. This is truly a coin-flip game, but I'll side with the more experienced head coach in this situation, which is Brian Kelly. A slight lean toward the over as well, as the total remains in the 40s and both teams can move the ball somewhat.

Side: Notre Dame +3 (PT)
Over 47 (BR)

Alamo Bowl

Washington vs. (12) Baylor:
This could end up being one of the most entertaining games all bowl season. Expect RG III to completely let loose in this one. Washington can move the ball also, but its defense rivals that of Baylor's. Neither team will have much success trying to slow the other's offense and as such, this game will come down to turnovers. In that case, I'll side with the Heisman winner who knows how to win shootouts. The play here, though, is the over.

Side: Baylor -9 (PT)
Over 78.5 (CC)

DEC. 30

Armed Forces Bowl

BYU vs. Tulsa:
Anyone interested in purchasing a helicopter this year should tune into this one. For everyone else, you'll have to settle for what could be a surprisingly high-scoring affair. Both teams come into this game with a bit of momentum. Tulsa fell in its season finale to Houston, but prior to that it won seven consecutive games. BYU has also played well down the stretch and it's largely due to a resurgent offense. What you have here is two veteran QBs leading two high-scoring offenses, so you know where I am heading with this one. I love the over here, but I'm not terribly found of either side. As such, I'll take the points and Tulsa:

Side: Tulsa +2.5 (PT)
Over 55.5 (CC)

Pinstripe Bowl

Rutgers vs. Iowa State:
This game isn't going to be a shootout, but it should be interesting none-the-less. Both teams over achieved this season, but it's safe to say that Iowa State blew away all expectations when they beat previously undefeated Oklahoma State. To the Cyclones credit, they didn't fold up shop after that win either. They played Kansas State tough for nearly 60 minutes, which should a lot of heart. Rutgers had a solid season, but I was extremely disappointed at how it finished the season, a 40-22 loss at Connecticut. I am going to side with Iowa State here as I think they've got something going in Ames and a bowl win would be a nice way to end a great season.

Side: Iowa State +1.5 (CC)

Music City Bowl

Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest:
Mississippi State finds itself bowling again this year, which under normal circumstances would be classified as a success, but considering the way it ended last season, a beat down of the Michigan Wolverines, more was expected this season. It's not often that you see a team that is 2-6 within conference in a bowl game, but that gives you an idea of just how strong the SEC is. Among the six conference losses, only one could be considered questionable, the rest were against strong competition and as such, I am going to side with the Bulldogs here.

Side: Mississippi State -7 (BR)

Insight Bowl

Iowa vs. (14) Oklahoma:
"Big game" Bob Stoops leads his troops into this match-up against his alma mater and luckily for fans of OU, this game is not considered "big." This is one of those games where one team has a clear advantage on paper, but that's about the only thing in its favor. Oklahoma comes into this game banged-up and beat-down. I can't imagine any of the kids on that team are looking forward to playing this game. Sure, they'll want to make amends for a horrible performance against rival OSU, but will a good showing here even begin to erase the memory of that thrashing? Iowa generally shows up to play in bowl games, no matter the location and the Hawkeyes will show up in this game.

Side: Iowa +13.5 (BR)

DEC. 31

Texas Bowl

Texas A&M vs. Northwestern:
In case you are just tuning into the college football season, I'll tell you a little secret. Texas A&M can't hold a lead. The Aggies are favored by 10 in this one and if they plan to cover the number, they'll have to do something they've been unable to do all year, which is hold a lead. Northwestern has had its moments this season, but the ‘Cats have also let a lot of opportunities slip by. Much like last year's bowl game in which Northwestern hung with Texas Tech all day, I think the ‘Cats will make life tough for the Aggies and keep this one close, possibly pulling off the upset.

Side: Northwestern +10 (BR)

Sun Bowl

Georgia Tech vs. Utah:
Hey, get this, Utah played in the PAC-12 this year. That's crazy, so much for making an impact on conference in year one. Picking a side in games involving Georgia Tech is generally not advised. Due to its unique offense, success or failure is usually determined by how well the defense adjusts and considering we have no way of knowing this before hand, we generally don't know how it will play out until we watch the first few series. One thing we do know is that Utah has a pretty-good defense and may be equipped to slow down the Jackets offense. We also know that since Paul Johnson took over, Tech hasn't fared well in bowl games. Perhaps the extra prep time for the defense is too much to overcome. Whatever the case, expect this one to be a low-scoring affair in which Utah covers the number.

Side: Utah +3.5 (PT)
Under 50.5 (BR)

Liberty Bowl

Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt:
This should be an intriguing game, mostly because you have one team, Vanderbilt which generally isn't playing football this time of the year and another team in Cincinnati which is just starting to adjust to life with a new QB. Just like MSU, Vandy also went 2-6 in conference, but unlike MSU, Vandy had a couple nice out of conference wins, most notably in its most recent game against bowl-bound Wake Forest where the Commodores took the ‘Deacons out to the wood shed in a 41-7 thumping. Cincinnati is also coming off an impressive showing in its most recent game, a 35-27 win over Connecticut in a game where the final score was not indicative of how the game went. I like the fact that Cincy seems to have found some rhythm with their new QB and starting QB Zac Collaros might actually be back for this one, but I think Vandy as a whole is stronger and when all else fails, go with the team from the better conference.

Side: Vanderbilt -3 (BR)

Fight Hunger Bowl

Illinois vs. UCLA:
They should rename this one the, "exhibit A on why there are too many bowl games bowl." To their credit, the kids from UCLA put up more of a fight than anyone expected against Oregon in the PAC 12 "Championship" game, but come on, this team is completely out of sorts, they've been outscored by 68 points in their two most recent games. Illinois started the season well, but in the end, it ended up 2-6 in the Big 10 and it lost its final game of the regular season against Minnesota. Oh and did I mention that they don't have a coach either? If ever there was a game where both teams could lose, this would be it, but knowing how these teams operate, one of the two will come up big and make the other one look silly. As much as it pains me, I am siding with UCLA here because of one glaring fact. Illinois has lost SIX consecutive games heading into this bowl game.

Side: UCLA +2.5 (PT)

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Virginia vs. (25) Auburn:
Virginia quietly had a solid season in 2011, while Auburn loudly did not, at least not compared to its 2010 campaign. No one expected a repeat at Auburn, but most expected more out of this group. The trouble began early in the season when Utah State came into the Tigers' building and nearly came out with a win. It didn't get much better from there either as they wound 4-4 in conference play. Both teams are coming off beat-downs at the hands of their rivals, but Virginia had built up some momentum prior to its most recent loss and I think we'll see some of that come through in this game. Not to mention the motivation factor, which should clearly be on the side of Virginia in this game. Remember, a lot of these kids on Auburn were on the biggest stage in college football last season, now they are playing on New Year's Eve.

Side: Virginia +1.5 (BR)