Last Week: 7-4
Unlike previous years, the 2019 bowl season has a lot of outstanding matchups. And not only are many of them good viewing experiences, but they represent potentially outstanding action for the experienced player.
But along the way — if you’ve not already learned this lesson — we have to first acknowledge that not all G5 conferences are midmajor equals. As disparate as the Pac 12 may be from, say, the SEC, the MAC or CUSA are light years behind their AAC and MWC brethren. If, and when, that G5/P5 split ever happens, there will still be a conference oligarchy with those two occupying an insurmountable top while enviously vying for seats at a bigger table.
That throat-clearing aside, here are this weeks picks, carrying us through Christmas Eve.
Bahamas Bowl (Nassau): Buffalo -6.5 vs. Charlotte — The 49ers have been uneven in CUSA play — just unable to get over the hump. But the problem starts on the defensive side of the ball that one week is quite decent and others no-shows. The offense simply isn’t good enough to get it past the defensive lapses, not this week anyway. They’re facing the No. 22 defense in CFB and the narrow losers of the MAC-East division. After a bumpy start, the Bulls found their ground-and-pound identity and come into this game red-hot. Defense and #RTDB tends to travel, and momentum is on UB’s side. The only issue is that UB hasn’t traveled very well. That aside, take the Bulls.
Frisco Bowl (Frisco, TX) Kent State +6 vs. Utah State — Props should be given to the Golden Flashes’ Sean Lewis. Kent was left for dead when he took over two years ago. After a 2-10 season, the 6-6 Flashes got bowl eligible for just the fourth time in their history and the first time in seven seasons. But, let’s be honest, a .500 MAC team just isn’t in the same ballpark as the USU Aggies, a team that routinely goes toe-to-toe with P5 teams instead of just collecting paycheck beatings. Not nearly enough in the tank here for KSU though; Utah State is the better team, and 10-13 points feels about right. Kent has been very competitive generally this year, and they won’t get blown out, but Utah State covers.
New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, NM): Central Michigan +3.5 vs. San Diego State — If the Aztecs show up, they should handily defeat the Chippewas on both sides of the line. SDSU has always been one of the more plodding, throwback attacks out West, but it did not carry the day this season. SDSU comes into this one barely playing .500 ball in the last month, and having had a grotesque time scoring along the way. But, one area they excel in is the trenches. CMU got pasted in the MACCG and a team that had looked so stout in league play was utterly exposed — you guessed it, along the lines. How motivated will SDSU be after a disappointing campaign in a year the division was winnable? Like I said, if San Diego State shows up, they win handily; if they struggle, then the Aztecs will merely cover in a low-scoring, ugly game. Make no mistake, CMU is going to be ready to play in this one.
Cure Bowl (Orlando, FL): Liberty +5.5 vs. Georgia Southern — Want a candidate for a weird shootout? Hugh Freeze’s air attack with the Liberty Flames vs. the triple option Georgia Southern Eagles. To be sure, Liberty has been prepping for the flexbone for the last two weeks, but nothing prepares you for it until you see it. GSU has been somewhat suspect at times on pass defense, and I fully anticipate Liberty doing some damage with big plays. But, Southern can counter by holding on to the ball and shortening the game. I think they do get it done too — playing against the 100th-ranked rushing defense greatly helps. #RTDB travels: Take the Eagles.
Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, FL): FAU +3.5 vs. SMU — The Mustangs were still very much in play for an AACCG berth just three weeks ago. From there, the once-No. 14 team in the country proceeded to drop two of three. And, the best season in SMU’s recent history wraps up with 10 wins and a trip to play FAU...in FAU’s home stadium. The talent disparity isn’t as great as you would think, not with the players Kiffin brought in. But, he’s no longer there. Instead, the Owls inherit (shudder) Willie Taggart. If LMFK were still there, I’d like FAU’s chances to spring the upset...say, to a total of 15-20%. But not now, and not with the explosive Ponies offense. Take SMU
Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State +3.5 vs. Washington — The MWC champion versus a .500 PAC 12 team who was supposed to vie for its division. Another ho-hum win over a midmajor versus a hungry program that loves beating P5 teams. Who do you suspect wants to be there more? This is Chris Petersen’s final game before moving on the next chapter in his life. And, if this were scripted, you’d expect him to be carried off the field after a rousing Huskies win. But miracles rarely happen; even less so do they happen when Jacob Eason has been so unsteady. The defense didn’t go anywhere though. So, expect an ugly, low-scoring game here. And expect a razor-thin margin too. Let’s call it “Huskies win, Boise Covers” — this is the kind of 24-21 game where that half-point probably looms large.
New Orleans Bowl: UAB vs. App. State -16.5 — Appalachian State is a self-licking ice cream cone at this point. It has the best defense, the best talent, and the best offense in the Sun Belt. And, that’s not an illusory product of beating up on crap G5 teams either. ASU has gone toe-to-toe with Penn State, beat South Carolina, beat North Carolina, won two conference titles, won a bowl game, and won 24 overall games in two seasons. UAB is....not that. It has an explosive offense...at times. It can play defense...against the CUSA dregs. Again, App. State is not that. The more talented team, the better team simply lines up and kicks UAB’s ass here. The Mountaineers blow the doors off the Blazers in New Orleans.
Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa, FL): Marshall +17.5 vs. UCF — UCF is the better team here, sure. But have you actually watched them this season? The offense isn’t the death machine it was the previous two seasons and the defense has taken a step back. Like SDSU and SMU, you have to wonder how motivated the Knights will be here too, after losing a division that was up for grabs...and playing down to opponents in the stretch. The Thundering Herd aren’t that bad. Doc Holliday isn’t going to wow anyone, but he finally has put some nice pieces together. Marshall can play defense and the offense is underrated. Again, UCF is the better team. And, the Knights should win. But are they going to beat this Marshall team by three scores? Probably not. The ‘Herd hung one of the few losses on FAU (and did so on the road), smashed NC State, and beat Western Kentucky — ask Arkansas if they did that to the ‘Toppers. Marshall with the road ‘dog cover.
Aloha Bowl (Honolulu, HI): BYU -2.5 vs. Hawaii — Ordinarily the trip to Hawaii is the hardest one in the country. But, with so many of BYU’s students being from the Islands, this is more of a homecoming than anything (Why? Pac Islanders love the Mormon Church. Up to 45% of Tongans are Mormon, for instance). Still, it is a road trip nevertheless to Aloha Stadium, where the time differential, the climate, the travel, and the distractions of paradise wind up serving as a ridiculously-potent 12th man for the Warriors. The Cougars are probably the more talented team and are the physically tougher team as well, especially on defense. But Nick Rolovich has done some outstanding work at his alma mater, and unlike BYU, he’s probably quite excited about getting another P5 pelt under his belt (is that what we’re calling BYU? They’re not really midmajor, are they?) If this were on the mainland, and especially in Provo, I’d take the Cougs in a heartbeat. On the islands, with a man who loves Manoa, and who’s looking to get his program established (and keep some of local those kids from going to BYU, Utah State, etc.), it’s just a far more important game. Because, yup, this one is for recruiting purposes ,and it means more the home Warriors. Tough call, but take Hawaii.
Also, appreciate Kalani Sitake and Nick Rolovich while you have them; both of these men are fast-tracking to major jobs soon.
Now, please enjoy this haka