Ness Notes: Saturday, Dec 26

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."

This is a special Saturday edition, featuring the college bowls and NFL Week 16

2020-21 Bowl season: We finally saw a bowl game in which the winner hadn't already been determined by the end of the third quarter in Friday's Camellia Bowl (note: It was the first NCAA bowl game played on Christmas Day since 2003). There was no scoring in the first quarter but Buffalo took a 10-0 lead in the second, before Marshall rallied to tie it at 10-all midway through the third quarter. However, neither team scored again until Buffalo put together a 13-play, 88-yard drive that ended with a Kevin Marks two-yard TD run with 1:09 left. Marks was subbing for the national leader in rushing yards per game, Jaret Patterson, and ran for 138 yards on 35 carries. Marshall was able to reach the Buffalo 20 with no timeouts but the drive was halted by back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down. Marshall opened 7-0 and was ranked as high as 15th in the AP poll but ended the season on a THREE-game losing streak. Favorites are now 5-2 SU & ATS to open the bowl season. The first three bowl games averaged 73.7 PPG but the UCF/BYU total closed at 79 1/2, so the overs were 2-1, not an expected 3-0. However, the last four bowl games have averaged just 36.3 PPG, with all going under. That makes it two overs and FIVE unders heading into Saturday's tripleheader.

Saturday bowls: The only ranked team (I use the AP poll, not the CFP rankings) to have played so far was No. 13 BYU, which routed UCF 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl. However, two ranked teams will take the field (both from the Sun Belt), as No. 16 ULL (9-1) takes on 7-4 UTSA in the First Responder Bowl in Dallas at 3:30 ET on ABC. Tonight at 7:30 ET on ESPN, it's No. 9 Coastal Carolina (11-0) taking on 9-1 Liberty in the Cure Bowl. Saturday's third bowl is 5-6 Western Kentucky playing 5-4 Georgia St in the LendingTree Bowl from Mobile, Al at 3:30 ET on ESPN. Georgia St is favored by 3 1/2-points and the over/under is 49 1/2. Let me comment on the two bowls featuring ranked opponents.

ULL didn't get a chance to play for the SBC championship because of COVID issues in the Coast Carolina program. ULL opened the season with a 31-14 road victory against current No. 12 Iowa State and have the best 10-game record in school history. The Ragin' Cajuns have won the Sun Belt West division and played in a bowl game in each of head coach Billy Napier's three seasons. That success led to Napier being a candidate for coaching vacancies at South Carolina and Auburn, but ULL announced this week that Napier is staying put. ULL will face the UTSA Roadrunners, who are 7-4 in coach Jeff Traylor's first season. A victory over the Cajuns would be the first bowl victory for a school that is making just its second appearance in a bowl and it would tie the school-record for wins in a season. UTSA was originally scheduled to play SMU in the Frisco Bowl but that Dec 19 game was canceled due to COVID issues in the SMU program. The First Responder Bowl stepped in and invited the Roadrunners, who gladly accepted but had to wait five days to learn that ULL would be their opponent. and so it goes in the "Year of COVID." ULL is favored by 14 points and the over/under is 55 .

The Liberty Flames have posted their best regular season in school history (9-1) and look to finish with a second consecutive bowl win against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers have made history this year as well, completing the first unbeaten regular season in school and SBC history (8-0). These two both played in the Big South Conference (FCS) and have split their 14 meetings. The teams were scheduled to play on Dec 5 but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols and precautions in the Flames' program. The Flames beat Georgia Southern in last year's Cure Bowl and were the third FBS team to win a bowl in their first season at the top level. As for Coastal Carolina, the Chanticleers will make their first bowl appearance in school history. Liberty is 8-2 ATS on the season and enters on a SEVEN-game ATS winning streak, while Coastal Carolina is 8-2-1 ATS. It was Liberty with the COVID-related problems that caused the Dec 5 to be canceled and the Flames haven't played since a 45-0 shutout of UMass on Nov 27. However, it was Coastal with the COVID issue which canceled its SBC championship game vs ULL on Dec 19, less than 48 hours before the scheduled kickoff. A good old rivalry matchup from Big South days. Coastal is favored by seven points and the over/under is 59 1/2. Bowl season resumes Tuesday, after a two-day break.

NFL Week 16: The New Orleans Saints and their RB Alvin Kamara had quite a Christmas Day on Friday. The Saints clinched their FOURTH straight NFC South title with a 52-33 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, who fell to 6-9 and saw their longshot wild card hopes vanish. The Saints are now 11-4 and while the 11-3 Packers do own the tiebreaker over the Saints, New Orleans is still 'alive' in the race for the NFC's No. 1 seed. RB Alvin Kamara ran for 246 yards in the game but that was secondary to him getting SIX rushing TDs, tying him with Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals in 1929 for the most in NFL history. He is only the FOURTH player to score six TDs of any kind in a game, joining Nevers, Dub Jones (1951) and Gale Sayers (1965). Kamara's 21 TDs this season are the most in a single season by any player in Saints history plus he now has 59 TDs in his career, the third most by a player in his first four seasons in the NFL, trailing only Hall of Famers Terrell Davis (61) and LaDainian Tomlinson (60), according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

Week 16 continues with three Saturday games, the 9-5 Bucs at the 5-9 Lions, the 5-9 49ers at the 8-6 Cardinals and the 9-5 Dolphins at the 7-7 Raiders. The Lions and 49ers are already eliminated from postseason consideration but the other four teams are fighting for playoff position, or in the case of the Raiders, for their postseason season 'lives!' Six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady and the Bucs are a victory away from earning a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2007. Tampa Bay is favored by 10 points and the over/under is 54 1/2. Arizona (8-6) is trying for its fifth season sweep in the past six years over San Francisco (5-9), which lost to the Cardinals 24-20 in Week 1 and has lost six of its last seven games overall. The Cardinals are currently in the No. 7 and final spot in the NFC playoff race. They can clinch a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2015 if they win on Saturday and the Chicago Bears lose or tie against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday (note: Jags have lost 13 in a row). The Cards are favored by 5 1/2-points and the over/under is 48 1/2. The Dolphins can clinch an AFC wild-card berth if they win their final two games but the Dolphins are already assured of a winning season for just the second time since 2008. As for the Raiders, they have lost four of five following a 6-3 start and will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or a Ravens win. Miami is favored by 2 1/2-points and the over/under is 49. History buffs will be interested in the fact the Dolphins and Raiders last met in the playoffs following the 2000 season!

Moving on to Sunday, I'll begin at the bottom (as always), then move to the top. The Jets ended a franchise-record 13-game losing streak with their 23-20 Week 15 win over the Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars now own the NFL's longest active winning streak at 13. The Jags beat the Colts 27-20 in Week 1 but 13 straight losses have followed. They host the playoff-hopeful 7-7 Bears on Sunday, in what could be described as a "must-win game" for Chicago's playoff chances but also a "must-lose" for Jacksonville, who are now in position to get the No. 1 pick of the 20121 Draft (presumably, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence). The Bears are favored by 7 1/2-points and the over/under is 47.

'Jumping' to the 'top of the class,' the defending champion KC Chiefs are 13-1 and seem like a lock' to clinch the AFC's No. 1 when they host the 4-10 Falcons. KC has won NINE in a row but tends to play everyone down to the wire. They're the FIRST team in NFL history to win six straight one-score games, blowing big leads in some of them, rallying in others and going toe-to-toe in the rest. The Chiefs are just 7-7 ATS on the season and are favored by 10 1/2-points and the over/under is 53 1/2. Over in the NFC, 11-3 Green Bay has already clinched the NFC North title and can guarantee itself the NFC's No. 1 seed if it beats the 10-4 Titans and the LA Rams beat or tie 10-4 Seattle. However, Tennessee has plenty at stake as well, as the Titans can clinch a second straight AFC playoff berth with a victory. Tennessee also can earn a spot in the postseason with a loss by either Baltimore or Miami. The Titans can clinch their first AFC South title since 2008 if Indianapolis loses to Pittsburgh earlier Sunday and they beat Green Bay. The Tennessee/Green Bay is NBC's SNF contest at 8:20 ET. Green Bay is favored by 3 1/2-points and the over/under is 54 1/2. Week 16 is jam-packed with plenty of other great matchups, with teams vying for playoff spots and positioning. I think it best to just recap the happenings in Tuesday's Notes, when all the 'dust has settled,'

By the way, I am serving up my ONE & ONLY 10* NFL Game of the Year on Sunday.

Good luck...Larry

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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