College Bowl Games, Week 1: Northern Illinois, Fresno State and USC Highlight First Week

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The college football bowl games kick off on Saturday with a slate of 11 of the 35 bowl games to be played in the first week. While there aren’t the matchups that we will see as we get closer to New Year’s Day (and, of course, the final BCS Championship Game), there are still quality contests that should draw the attention of people, outside of rooting for their home schools (pick in BOLD, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas).

Gildan New Mexico Bowl – Albuquerque, NM, December 21

Colorado State vs. Washington State (-4.5)

The bowl festivities kick off on Saturday afternoon with this game between teams making their first bowl appearance in quite some time. Washington State, led by head coach/offensive genius Mike Leach, hasn’t been in a bowl game since 2003 and Colorado State is back after four years away.

One thing will determine who will take this game. Will the fourth ranked passing attack of the Cougars be the deciding factor or will the rushing game for the Rams be the difference? My money is on Leach and the Cougars, who earlier this season upended the USC Trojans on the road and gave BCS Championship Game participant Auburn all they could handle on their home field. (By the way, when it comes to the over/under (O/U) during the bowl season, always take the over…no one plays defense in these things!)

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl – Las Vegas, NV, December 21

#20 Fresno State (+6.5) vs. #25 USC

If you’re going to call one of these first week bowls a “marquee” game, then it would be this one that features two ranked teams.

The ball may be flying around in the Washington State/Colorado State game, but this one should be an offensive fiesta. Fresno State QB Derek Carr leads the Bulldogs’ #1 ranked passing attack against a suspect Trojan defense (hell, the entire team has been in turmoil all season, first with the firing of former head coach Lane Kiffin and then the departure of interim head coach Ed Orgeron after he was overlooked for the permanent job). I think the line in this game is more about the “legend” of the Trojans rather than their abilities, thus I am taking the Bulldogs and the points.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Boise, ID, December 21

San Diego State vs. Buffalo (+1)

On the “Smurf turf” Saturday in Boise, the Aztec/Bulls game will be decided on whether San Diego State can run the ball against Buffalo. The intangible from this game will be the weather, however. Can San Diego remove itself from its temperate clime for a game that is expected to have rain/potentially snow with temperatures in the mid-30s? I don’t think so, hence we’re taking the Bulls for the win.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – New Orleans, LA, December 21

Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tulane (-2.5)

Neither of these teams is exactly on a roll heading into this battle on the Bayou. Louisiana-Lafayette has lost their last two games and Tulane has lost two of their last three. The Ragin’ Cajuns are probably going to be without their starting quarterback in Terrance Broadway and the Green Wave is playing the closest thing to a home game as possible (Tulane is located in New Orleans). The game started out as a “pick ‘em” but, after news of Broadway’s injury, swung to the Green Wave. It’s tough to see how Tulane will lose this one, considering Broadway’s absence and with the “home crowd” behind them.

Beef O’Brady’s Bowl – St. Petersburg, FL, December 23

East Carolina (-14) vs. Ohio

I do NOT see Ohio winning this game against the 10th ranked passing attack of East Carolina, considering the strengths of the Pirate game. They have beaten two of their in-state brethren in ACC schools North Carolina and NC State and have won five of their last six games decisively. Ohio, on the other hand, has been crushed in three of their last four games. It will be another long night for the Bobcats in the Sunshine State as ECU should rack up another big win.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl – Honolulu, HI, December 24

Oregon State vs. Boise State (+2.5)

Here’s a prime example of how one thing can swing a line. The line opened with Boise State favored by three points, but then head coach Chris Petersen decided to take the job with the University of Washington and left. Since that decision on December 6, the line has taken a massive 5.5 point swing in the other direction.

That swing is a bit misdirected, however. Even with the third ranked passing attack in college football, the Beavers have lost their last five games (admittedly, three of them were ranked PAC-12 teams) after starting the season 6-1. I fully expect the Broncos to continue on as if nothing has happened and pull this win out, but there really isn’t a loser in this game. After all, you’re in Hawaii for Christmas!

Little Caesars Bowl – Detroit, MI, December 26

Bowling Green (-4.5) vs. Pittsburgh

After knocking off Northern Illinois to win the MAC Championship, Bowling Green is rewarded with…another trip back to Detroit and Ford Field, the same location for their victory over the then-undefeated Huskies. The Falcons, winners of their last five games, should have little problem with overcoming the Panthers, who are a 6-6 team that has lost four of their last six contests (one of those wins, however, was against Notre Dame, so don’t completely count them out!).

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – San Diego, CA, December 26

#23 Northern Illinois (-1) vs. Utah State

After their loss against Bowling Green, the Huskies went from a potential BCS bowl game to a trip to San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl. That should anger them enough to thrash the Aggies but, throwing in the factor that it will be the last time that Huskies QB Jordan Lynch will have a chance to impress the NFL scouts in his final game, it could get ugly quickly.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman – Annapolis, MD, December 27

Maryland (+2) vs. Marshall

The Thundering Herd gets the task of taking on the Terrapins in what is literally a home game for Maryland. This might be one of the more entertaining contests over the first week as Maryland, who had worked its way into the Top 25 earlier in the season before getting thrashed by BCS Championship Game selection Florida State, may not have the most electric offense but it gets the job done. Marshall is the seventh ranked scoring offense in college football, so the key will be for the Terrapins to keep the Herd’s offense off the field. I think this will be a close fight and believe Maryland will be able to cover the spread if not win outright.

Texas Bowl – Houston, TX, December 27

Minnesota (-4) vs. Syracuse

I hate to say it, but this could be the “Yawner Bowl” of the first week of bowl action. Both teams are plodding, run the ball first offenses that don’t put a lot of points on the board. We’re purely going with the 8-4 Golden Gophers over the Orange because they have faced tougher competition in the Big 10, while the Orange was 6-6 in their first year in the ACC.

Fight Hunger Bowl – San Francisco, CA, December 27

Washington (-3) vs. Brigham Young

The Huskies bring in a very balanced offensive attack (30th in passing, 14th in rushing) which will be a big challenge for the Cougars’ 23rd ranked (in points allowed) defense. When it comes to bowl season, those defenses suddenly seem to disappear, though, and I expect that to be the case in this game.

College Football Season to date: Let’s just say it hasn’t been pretty. We’re resetting the clock when it comes to picking the bowl games, however, so right now we’re 0-0. Hopefully in two weeks, we will have redeemed ourselves when it comes to the college game.

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