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College Bowl Preview

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/19/2005

The avalanche of bowls continues, all a buildup to the January 4 showdown, when No. 1 USC clashes with No. 2 Texas. Here's a peak at some of the bowls taking place from Dec. 27-31.

Colorado/Clemson: The Champs Sports Bowl from Orlando, Florida, finds one team on a roll, the other in chaos. Clemson caught fire down the stretch, winning 5 of 6 including a key 35-14 thumping of ACC rival Florida State. Head coach Tommy Bowden was convinced by his offensive coordinator at the start of the season that it's better to have offensive balance than to throw the ball all the time. The Tigers are not the pass-happy attack of recent years, averaging 152 yards rushing and 234 passing. The defense allows just 18 points per contest and 3.6 yards per carry. They'll be facing a Colorado team that simply imploded down the stretch, getting routed 30-3 at home by Nebraska and 70-3 in the Big 12 title game! Gary Barnett is out and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is the head coach for this one. This is a classic "Do They Want to Be Here?" handicapping angle. Colorado certainly hasn't shown up the last three games (0-3 SU/ATS run). Clemson is 6-0 ATS as a favorite this season.

Rutgers/Arizona State: The Insight Bowl takes place in Phoenix, Arizona, providing the Sun Devils with a game in their backyard while Rutgers comes all the way from the northeast. This is the second-ever bowl appearance for Rutgers, and first since 1978. For you history buffs, that was the Garden State Bowl (it's OK if you don't remember it: No one does). The Rutgers pass defense gave up over 338 yards to Louisville, Villanova and Pitt. Now they have to face Dirk Koetter's wide-open attack (365 pass yards pg) behind freshman QB Rudy Carpenter (13 TDs, 2 picks) and WR Derek Hagan (1,113 yards, 8 TDs). Arizona State was 2-1 SU/ATS in non-conference action, averaging 48 ppg in those games.

Boston College/Boise State: Another team from the northeast heading way out west. BC runs a tight, disciplined ship under coach Tom O'Brien. No one likes to play on the cold blue carpet in Boise, but BC has a solid ground game and defense. The big story is here is that Boise State coach Dan Hawkins has accepted the head coaching job at Colorado. Offensive coordinator Chris Petersen steps up as the new head coach. A couple of things to keep in mind: Boise junior QB Jared Zabransky is not as good as past Boise QBs, with 17 TDs and 14 picks. In fact, as the Broncos QB he has 34 TDs and 27 INTs. Boise also didn't fare well stepping up in competition, going 0-3 SU, 0-2-1 ATS in losses to Georgia (48-13), Oregon State (30-27) and Fresno (27-7).

Nebraska/Michigan: The Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, pits the winningest programs in college football history. The Huskers really took to Bill Callahan's West Coast offense in the second half of the season, passing for 281, 267, 241 and 392 in four of the last five games. One thing to keep in mind is that Nebraska has been forced to make several changes to the offense in preparation for this game. Callahan started at least one freshman at one of the tackle spots during the final four regular season games due to injuries to starters Evwaraye and senior Cornealius Fuamatu-Thomas. "We've been rotating a lot of players in practice with Chris Patrick, Matt Slauson, Lydon Murtha and Seppo Evwaraye," Callahan said. "We've worked in a lot of players and getting them a lot of reps, even flipping them to both sides of the line." Also, freshman Leon Jackson is making the transition from safety to wide receiver during bowl preparations. Michigan runs a balanced offense behind sophomore QB Chad Henne (20 TDs, 12 picks) and RB Mike Hart. Michigan comes into this game off that 25-21 loss to rival Ohio State.

Virginia/Minnesota: Excellent offensive duel. Virginia features mobile QB Marques Hagans (12 TDs, 11 INTs) and a balanced offense (146 yards rushing, 210 passing) under coach Al Groh. One concern is that Minnesota has a deadly running game, and Virginia gave up 147 yards rushing per game, 4 ypc. Minnesota has QB Bryan Cupito (15 TDs, 7 INTs) and RB Laurence Maroney (1,355 yards, 5.3 ypc) on a deadly offense that averages 280 yards rushing and 218 passing! The Gophers averaged 41 points per game at home on their artificial carpet, but 29 per game on the road, which could be significant as this game is on grass.

Northwestern/UCLA: The bowl representatives had fun with this one, matching up two teams with incredible offenses and absolutely non-existent defenses. Northwestern averages 196 yards on the ground behind senior QB Brett Basanez (19 TDs, 6 INTs) and freshman RB Tyrell Sutton (1,390 yards, 6 ypc). The Wildcat defense is awful, giving up 200 yards rushing and 273 yards passing per game! UCLA is a mirror image. UCLA averages 38 ppg, but allows 238 yards rushing and 219 passing per contest! Bruin QB Drew Olsen kind of slipped under the radar a bit this season, but finished with 31 TDs and only 3 picks. The over/under on punts for this game? Let's make it 1½!

LSU/Miami: The Peach Bowl features two physical defenses. Miami has the No. 3 defense in the nation, LSU the No. 5 defense. Miami allowed just 12 points per game while the Tigers allowed 15 ppg. Both teams have quarterback concerns, too. LSU QB JaMarcus Russell separated his shoulder late in the season and his status is still up in the air for this game. And Miami has a freshman QB in Kyle Wright. Both coaches are likely to play ball control and look for mistakes by the opponent, than to run wide-open offenses.

South Florida/NC State: South Florida (6-5) is playing in its first bowl game in school history. They like to run the ball behind RB Andre Hall (1,256 yards), because senior QB Pat Julmiste has only 6 TDs and 10 picks. NC State has a fine defense and an erratic offense. You never knew which Chuck Amato team would show up this season: 2-2 SU as a dog, 2-4 ATS as a favorite! Note that NC State is 9-1 under the total!

Tulsa/Fresno State: This is an interesting match-up. At first glance you might think nationally recognized Fresno is the side here. However, Tulsa has a talented offense that runs wide-open multiple looks and formations under imaginative coach Steve Kragthorpe. They come into this game on a high after topping Central Florida 44-27 in the Conference USA title game. And Fresno State comes into this game on a downward spiral. After nearly beating No. 1 USC (leading 42-41 in the fourth quarter), Fresno went in the tank the final two games, losing to Nevada (38-35) as a 16-point favorite and an embarrassing loss to La Tech (40-28 as a 25-point favorite). Does Fresno want to be here? Or did their tank run empty against USC?

Iowa State/TCU: Iowa State put on a nice run down the stretch, winning four of its final five games to get here. They are not fancy, with a tough defense and a decent QB in sophomore Bret Meyer (16 TDs, 8 INTs). TCU (10-1 SU, 8-3 ATS) made remarkable improvements on defense from a year ago to go with their deadly, balanced offense, averaging 33 points, 197 yards rushing and 201 yards passing. This team won the Mountain West in its inaugural season. The Horned Frogs opened the season with a 17-10 win at Oklahoma as a +24 dog and have been rolling ever since. Their only defeat? 21-10 at SMU as a 13-point favorite – think they'd like to play that one over again?

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