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Bowl Game Pick 'Em: Picking with Confidence Points

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

Below you'll find breakdowns for each of the 2012 bowl games, listed in descending order of confidence (Oklahoma State being the most confident win and Rice being the least confident, in other words).

Oklahoma State over Purdue (Heart of Dallas Bowl)

The Boilermakers just don't stand a chance in this one. Purdue has very little going for it in any aspect of the game. Although Purdue has 29.9 points scored per game, that's primarily because of outliers provided by Eastern Kentucky (48), Eastern Michigan (54), Marshall (51) and Indiana (56). Purdue should struggle to make it to 24 against the Cowboys, who will almost certainly torch a Boilermaker defense allowing 29 points per game. The Cowboys average 44.7 points per game. This one should get ugly.

Florida State over Northern Illinois (Orange Bowl)

The Huskies deserve a lot of credit for their great season as they won the MAC and earned a BCS Bowl berth against the Seminoles, but there's no reason they should be in serious contention during this game. Northern Illinois lost to a lowly Iowa squad in Week 1, and they just barely beat Kansas, 30-23. NIU only goes as far as quarterback Jordan Lynch goes, but Lynch is unlikely to provide the necessary dominant production against a Florida State defense that allows just 5.1 yards per pass and, even with sack yardage accounted for, just 3.1 yards per carry.

Arizona State over Navy (Fight Hunger Bowl)

Navy soared above the expectations this year by going 8-4 after a 5-7 season in 2011, fueled by the emergence of star first-year starter Keenan Reynolds at quarterback. Unfortunately for Navy, it takes on an Arizona State squad that's probably just too explosive on offense. The Sun Devils put up 36.4 points per game this year, with quarterback Taylor Kelly (25 touchdowns, nine interceptions) teaming with backfield menaces Marion Grice (926 yards, 17 touchdowns from scrimmage) and D.J. Foster (1,014 yards, six touchdowns from scrimmage) to dominate most defenses. Navy is ill-suited to stop that train.

Alabama over Notre Dame (BCS National Championship)

The Notre Dame defense is undoubtedly among the best and will be fired up to prove that it belongs in the national championship, and for that reason this game should be relatively close. But there's no denying that Notre Dame didn't have as impressive of a regular season as Alabama - the Irish beat Purdue, Michigan, BYU and Pittsburgh by a combined point margin of just 16 points, and you need to be better than that to keep up with a Crimson Tide squad that would have obliterated all those teams (and did, in fact, annihilate Michigan, 41-14).

Texas Tech over Minnesota (Meineke Car Care Bowl)

There's some uncertainty on Texas Tech's side due to the loss of its head coach (Tommy Tuberville) and offensive coordinator (Neal Brown), but one has to think the obvious skill advantage on the Red Raiders should be enough to breeze to victory over a Minnesota team that, frankly, isn't good. The Golden Gophers defense was much better this year, allowing just 23.9 points per game, but the team scored just 21.3 points per game. That's not going to cut it against a Texas Tech team that scored 37.8 points per game and excels both in the air and on the ground.

UCF over Ball State (Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl)

Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning (ankle) might not be available, in which case UCF goes from a mere favorite to a near lock to win. Wenning (22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) is pretty good, but backup Kelly Page probably isn't up to the task. When you give up 31.5 points per game like Ball State, you need a strong quarterback to keep up, especially when you're going against a quarterback like UCF's Blake Bortles (22 touchdowns, seven interceptions along with seven rushing touchdowns). Between UCF's quarterback advantage and vastly superior defense (22.5 points per game), it's difficult to like Ball State's chances even if Wenning starts.

Fresno State over SMU (Hawaii Bowl)

This one should be simple. SMU has a good defense, but its offense can't put up points quickly, which should prove to be a crippling obstacle against a Fresno State offense that excels both through the air and on the ground, totaling 488.5 yards per game compared to 366.2 for SMU. Derek Carr (36 touchdowns, five interceptions) should lead Fresno to some quick points, and the team's strong pass defense (5.6 YPA and 14 touchdowns allowed, 20 interceptions) should capitalize on the error-prone Garrett Gilbert, who threw just 14 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions this year.

Georgia over Nebraska (Capitol One Bowl)

On one hand, this doesn't look like it should be a gimme for Georgia, but on the other, there doesn't appear to be any reason why the Bulldogs shouldn't win comfortably. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez tends to struggle against good pass defenses - Georgia's 11:11 touchdowns allowed to interception ratio hints of such status - and a Nebraska run defense that allowed 25 touchdowns wants absolutely nothing to do with the Georgia duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined for 1,983 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Boise State over Washington (MAACO Bowl)

No one can possibly know how coach Chris Petersen does it, but the Boise State defense actually improved this year despite losing double-digit seniors from last year, including NFL draft picks like Shea McClellin (first round), Tyrone Crawford (third round), George Iloka (fifth round) and Billy Winn (sixth round). The Broncos dropped their points-allowed-per-game average from 18.7 to 14.9, creating a mind-bogglingly strong pass defense in the process that allowed just three touchdowns while intercepting 16 passes. That's bad news for a Washington offense that was too hit-or-miss this year, scoring just 23.8 points per game while failing to surpass the 21-point mark eight times.

Florida over Louisville (Sugar Bowl)

Louisville coach Charlie Strong faces his former employer in this one, and as you'd expect, he heads into it as the underdog, with good reason. Louisville's defense regressed this year, allowing 23.8 points and 4.3 yards per carry after allowing 20.1 and 3.0 last year. Meanwhile, Florida has shown a great deal of improvement in coach Will Muschamp's second season, going 11-1 in a very tough schedule featuring Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida State. Louisville has a shot in this one thanks to star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but Florida's defense is remarkably cruel to quarterbacks - the Gators allowed just five passing touchdowns all year while intercepting 19 passes.

Texas A&M over Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)

The Aggies head into this game ranked only ninth overall, but there probably isn't a more frightening team in the nation. Their only losses were down-to-the-wire contests against Florida and LSU, with the combined point margin just eight, and they dealt Alabama a loss in its own stadium - the only time the Tide lost this year. This charge was primarily led, of course, by the seemingly invincible Johnny Manziel, who totaled 43 touchdowns. Luckily for Oklahoma, their defense is quite strong against the pass, as they allowed just 6.2 yards per pass and nine touchdowns through the air. Less fortunately for Oklahoma, its run defense is a wreck, and it especially struggles with running quarterbacks. The Sooners gave up a combined 294 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Collin Klein (Kansas State), Nick Florence (Baylor), Everett Golson (Notre Dame) and Clint Chelf (Oklahoma State), and Manziel is more dangerous than any of those.

Oregon over Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl)

Kansas State is a fine team - the Wildcats scored 40.7 points per game while allowing just 21.1 - but Oregon is superior in terms of both talent and scheme. It takes an extremely fast and overpowering squad to stop the Ducks from outrunning and outsmarting you, and K-State doesn't have the necessary personnel. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas combined for 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground, and that's bad news for a Kansas State defense that allowed 342 yards and five touchdowns rushing to Baylor.

Cincinnati over Duke (Belk Bowl)

If head coach Butch Jones hadn't created uncertainty by taking the Tennessee head coaching position, this would be a game Cincinnati ought to win easily. Duke has made a lot of progress by getting to a bowl game this year, but it's still a 6-6 team that allowed more points (35 per game) than it scored (31.3 per game). The Blue Devils have no defense to speak of, so Cincinnati's reliable running game led by workhorse runner George Winn (1,204 yards, 12 touchdowns rushing) should combine with a respectable Cincinnati defense (17.2 points allowed per game) to get the Bearcats the win.

Mississippi over Pittsburgh (BBVA Compass Bowl)

Mississippi didn't get much press for it, but few teams in the nation looked as explosive in the second half of 2012 as the Rebels. Even if Pittsburgh's 19.7 points allowed per game is impressive on the surface, it begins to mean less when you consider that its best performances came against pitiful offenses like Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Buffalo, with the team's 14 points allowed to Syracuse being the only legitimately impressive showing. Mississippi, meanwhile, torched defenses like LSU, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt for a total of 102 points.

Stanford over Wisconsin (Rose Bowl)

No team in the nation wants to take on the Wisconsin running game after its 539-yard, eight-touchdown dismemberment of the Nebraska defense, but Stanford is one of the few teams that might be up to the task. The Cardinal defense allowed just 3.2 yards per carry with sack yardage accounted for, with its most notable accomplishment being the 14 points it held Oregon to on Nov. 17. Great as Wisconsin's running game is, it's not on the level of Oregon.

Utah State over Toledo (Idaho State Potato Bowl)

Although Toledo is a formidable squad in its own right and figures to make this a competitive, if not close, game, Utah State looks like the safe favorite. The Aggies boast one of the nation's absolute best quarterbacks in Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 27 touchdowns to nine interceptions (8.4 YPA) while running for 527 yards and seven more scores, and he teams up with the nation's best dual-threat running back in Kerwynn Williams, who has a team-leading 663 yards (15.4 YPC) and five touchdowns as a receiver while adding 1,277 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. These two stars are aided by one of the best non-AQ defenses, as the Aggies allowed just 15.4 points per game this year.

Western Kentucky over Central Michigan (Little Caesars Bowl)

The loss of coach Willie Taggart will definitely pull some of the wind out of Western Kentucky's sails, but this is still a game that the Hilltoppers should win due to better talent and a great deal of inspiration. The idea of being in a bowl game at all would have seemed impossible three years ago, when WKU was a winless team, so this is a huge occasion for the school. Although Central Michigan has two strong talents in running back Zurlon Tipton and receiver Titus Davis, its defense (33.3 points allowed per game) figures to undo the Chippewas against a Hilltoppers offense that has one of the nation's most productive running backs in Antonio Andrews, who totaled 2,025 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage.

San Jose State over Bowling Green (Military Bowl)

San Jose State has one of the nation's absolute best quarterbacks in David Fales, so that's reason alone to like the odds of the Spartans winning this one. Bowling Green has a very strong defense, though, that allowed just 15.8 points per game this year despite facing the likes of Florida, Toledo, Virginia Tech, Ohio and Kent State. But San Jose State has a tough defense of its own, and Fales has been matchup-proof for most of this year. Even against tough defenses like Stanford, Navy, Utah State and BYU, Fales combined for 1,265 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

Mississippi State over Northwestern (Gator Bowl)

Mississippi State has a major talent advantage in this one, while Northwestern has the far superior coaching. Throw in a lack of familiarity between the two teams, and you have a recipe for a fair amount of unpredictability. Generally, though, it seems reasonable to side with a Mississippi State squad that has a good number of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Tyler Russell might be the best quarterback in the school's history, LaDarius Perkins is a skilled dual-threat running back, Chad Bumphis is quietly one of the nation's best receivers and defensive backs Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are good bets to capitalize on Northwestern's inconsistent quarterbacks.

Louisiana-Lafayette over East Carolina (New Orleans Bowl)

East Carolina really hit its stride in the season's second half, going 5-1 in the last six games, but the team doesn't have a single impressive win on the year. Its most notable win was probably just a 65-59 victory at home against a 5-7 Marshall team, so while quarterback Shane Carden (29 total touchdowns, nine interceptions) should score points for the Pirates against Lafayette, it's the Ragin' Cajuns who should pull away after assembling an 8-4 record against a much tougher schedule that featured wins over
Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky, as well as a mere seven-point loss to Florida.

Vanderbilt over North Carolina State (Music City Bowl)

North Carolina State is certainly a dangerous team - it beat Florida State, 17-14 - but between the firing of its respected head coach and a collision with a strong Vanderbilt defense, this is a game the Wolfpack shouldn't win. The Commodores allowed just six touchdowns through the air and 5.6 yards per pass this year, and the N.C. State offense only goes as its passing game goes - the Wolfpack averaged just 3.4 yards per run with sack yardage accounted for. N.C. State, meanwhile, allowed an unimpressive 4.2 yards per carry, so Zac Stacy and Brian Kimbrow should have success after combining for 1,449 yards and 12 touchdowns (5.9 YPC) on the ground.

South Carolina over Michigan (Outback Bowl)

The loss of Marcus Lattimore (knee) for South Carolina and the emergence of Devin Gardner for Michigan makes this matchup tougher to call than it would have been earlier this year, but even with Michigan gaining ground between the two, it's still a game that South Carolina ought to win. Michigan has no hint of a running game outside of Denard Robinson, and its passing game should struggle against a Gamecocks defense that allowed just 15 touchdown passes. After what should be a defensive stalemate early, look for South Carolina's SEC personnel to start overpowering the Wolverines once fatigue sets in.

USC over Georgia Tech (Sun Bowl)

It's impossible to gauge the potential effects of the humiliation that USC should and probably does feel, but if the Trojans' thoughts are remotely clear in this matchup, the they should breeze to victory over a Georgia Tech team that shouldn't score fast enough to hold a lead. Matt Barkley (shoulder) is expected back, but even without him, USC should put up at least 35 points against a Yellow Jackets defense that allowed 29.9 points per game this year.

Oregon State over Texas (Alamo Bowl)

The time off may help Texas regroup a bit, but it's generally hard to see how the Longhorns will gain any traction against an Oregon State team that's well-rounded, possessing an adequate offense and a strong defense that has beaten up passers far better than the disappointing Texas tandem of David Ash and Case McCoy. Oregon State's receiver duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks is elite (2,327 yard and 16 touchdowns combined), and the Longhorns will have trouble catching back up against a Beavers defense that allows just 6.1 yards per pass and has 19 interceptions compared to 12 passing touchdowns allowed.

Louisiana-Monroe over Ohio (Independence Bowl)

If you get the early-season version of Monroe and the late-season version of Ohio in this one, it should result in an easy Monroe victory. It's not easy to tell just which teams will show up, though - Monroe beat a 3-9 Florida International team by just six points in the regular season finale, and Ohio won seven consecutive to start the year (including against Penn State on the road) before dropping four of their last five. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton should be healthier after getting time off, so he should be more like the 38-touchdown player from last year rather than the 21-touchdown player from this year, too. That said, it's just hard to have faith in Ohio after losing four out of five games heading into the postseason.

BYU over San Diego State (Poinsettia Bowl)

Although only 7-5, BYU quietly had a strong season against a fairly tough schedule, with four of five losses coming against ranked teams like Boise State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and San Jose State. The Boise State, Notre Dame and San Jose State losses had a combined point margin of just 10 points, and the Cougars managed to defeat a tough Utah State squad, 6-3, on Oct. 5. San Diego State is a tough squad, too, but the loss of quarterback Ryan Katz set them back a bit on offense, specifically in the running game, where otherwise solid replacement Adam Dingwell is not impressive. Look for BYU's strong defense (14.7 points per game) and playmakers Jamaal Williams (12 touchdowns) and Cody Hoffman (11 touchdowns) to make the difference.

LSU over Clemson (Chick-Fil-A Bowl)

This is a game that LSU has no good reason to not win, but the team's defense has been a letdown at times this year, especially against the pass. That's bad news when you're taking on the duo of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, which might be the nation's best receiver tandem. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 3,550 yards (9.4 YPA) and 34 touchdowns this year, and LSU allowed more than 300 yards passing to each of its last three opponents this year, none of which had a quarterback as productive as Boyd. But Clemson's defense allows 24.9 points per game this year, and its losses to Florida State and South Carolina served as reminders that Clemson generally struggles to keep up with top-tier talent.

Rutgers over Virginia Tech (Russell Athletic Bowl)

This game should be ugly. It's a collision between a bad offense/strong defense team and a mediocre offense/mediocre defense team, and the result should be plenty of three-and-outs with bad throws and bad decisions aplenty. But you have to prefer Rutgers in this one, because the Scarlet Knights do at least have a strength, whereas Tech just doesn't really have anything at all going for it other than reputation. The Rutgers defense is entirely legitimate, allowing just 14.3 points per game and intercepting 16 passes compared to allowing 12 touchdown passes. That type of opportunistic coverage should pay off against the highly unreliable quarterback Logan Thomas, who completed just 52.6 percent of his passes and threw 14 interceptions compared to just 17 touchdowns.

UCLA over Baylor (Holiday Bowl)

This should be one of the more entertaining shootouts of the bowl season. UCLA allows 25.9 points per game, while Baylor allows 38.2 per game, and both teams have excellent quarterbacks that figure to put up big numbers. Star redshirt freshman Brett Hundley has been immense for UCLA, throwing for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns while running for 365 yards and nine scores, while Baylor has Nick Florence, who threw for 4,121 yards and 31 touchdowns while running for 531 yards and nine touchdowns. Both quarterbacks are aided by explosive runners in Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) and Lache Seastrunk (Baylor), as well. With the offenses canceling each other out, look for the difference to be made by UCLA's pass rush, which boasts 44 sacks compared to Baylor's 13.

Iowa State over Tulsa (Liberty Bowl)

Both of these teams play solid defense and generally lack big-play ability on offense, which makes this one look like a grinder with a potentially low score. Tulsa has the more talented running backs in Trey Watts, Ja'Terian Douglas and Alex Singleton, but Iowa State looks like it might have its future quarterback in Sam Richardson, who threw for seven touchdowns while running for 162 yards and a score in the final two weeks of this year. Richardson looks like an improvement over previous starters Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett, and Iowa State already beat Tulsa, 38-23, in Week 1 of this year with Jantz starting.

TCU over Michigan State (Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)

This game features two shaky offenses and two tough defenses, making it difficult to see how either side will gain traction. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin doesn't figure to get much going against a Michigan State defense that allowed just 5.3 yards per pass this year, and TCU's rotation of weak runners figures to get stuffed against a Spartans front seven allowing just 3.3 yards per carry. Michigan State's sole hope on offense lies in running back Le'Veon Bell, who figures to deal with tough sledding against a TCU defense surrending only 3.3 yards per rush. Look for the stalemate to be broken by the difference between Boykin and Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell, as Maxwell is both mistake-prone and short on playmaking skills, whereas Boykin has some running skills and a healthy 15:9 touchdown to interception ratio.

Arizona over Nevada (New Mexico Bowl)

There doesn't figure to be much defense played in this one. Arizona allowed 34.3 points per game this year, while Nevada surrendered 32.5 per game. It obviously takes a great offense to get to a bowl game despite giving up that many points, and both teams get high grades on that front, with the Wildcats scoring 37.3 per game while Nevada scored 37 per week. Both teams also have accomplished dual-threat quarterbacks, as well as 1,700-yard, 20-touchdown running backs in Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona) and Stefphon Jefferson (Nevada). Arizona should be able to pull away in the end, though, as Nevada was less than impressive at the end of the year, going just 1-4 in the final five weeks despite exclusively playing non-AQ teams.

Kent State over Arkansas State ( Bowl)

These teams look even on paper - Kent State posted a 34.6/25.1 points scored/points allowed per game, while Arkansas State has a 36.4/25.4. Also, both teams just lost their head coaches to BCS conference promotions. There are a few diversions, though - Arkansas State has the much better quarterback in Ryan Aplin, which could be the tiebreaker for most, though Kent State has a much more opportunistic defense (32 sacks, 23 interceptions) than Arkansas State (18 sacks, 12 interceptions), and the Golden Flashes also have a much better running game thanks to the immensely productive duo of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, who combined for 2,600 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. Look for Kent State's turnover-forcing defense to make the difference here, with Archer and Durham ripping increasingly long runs as the Red Wolves tire on defense.

Syracuse over West Virginia (Pinstripe Bowl)

This one is agonizingly tough to call. West Virginia has a very talented and well-coached offense, but the team is inconsistent, winning and then losing five in a row to start the year before winning the final two games, and the West Virginia pass defense is an abomination. Syracuse isn't as fast or flashy but the Orange are much more well-rounded, allowing only 25.7 points per game compared to West Virginia's 38.1, but possessing a fairly strong offense in its own right (29.3 points per game).

Rice over Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl)

This one is too tough to call. Both teams have bad defenses, and both teams can produce on offense when facing bad defenses, especially in the running game. Both teams are 6-6, each with their share of impressive wins (Nevada for Air Force, SMU for Rice) and embarrassing losses (Army for Air Force, Memphis for Rice). But give Rice a slight advantage because it finished the year strong, going 4-0 in its final four games and just narrowly losing (28-24) to a strong Tulsa squad on the road in their fifth to last game.