The bowl handicapping season is challenging enough. This is the time when sports bookmakers are turning to sports psychologists. Given the nature of these games – most of which are televised quarrels – they are hard to fathom.
Who will be motivated? Who doesn’t care? As he wishes [insert team] to play with a temporary coach? How will the different exclusions in key positions affect the overall performance?
Like most things in 2020, this season of bowls will feel different. It will look different. And handicap games that abound in distractions and departures will require a little more digging and educated deductions than usual.
You also won’t have much time for digging. With a unique college football schedule this season, the ball season is underway.
There are now less than 30 games in bowls on the list. Due to the large number of programs that have given up, more than 15 bowls have already been canceled.
More are likely to be canceled. Given the problems experienced by contact search programs and positive COVID-19 tests, it seems inevitable.
While it will be challenging, bowl handicapping season has always been my favorite annual ritual.
The home field, which was different anyway in 2020, is mostly lost. Rare matches of unknown teams with unknown forces often create surprising outcomes. And trying to dive into the mindset of a team or coaching staff – especially in a year like this – is a difficult task and a welcome challenge.
So happy digging, happy handicap and happy holidays.
(Note: I’m splitting the bottle season into two installments. I’ll hit all the games before January 1st this week, and the playoffs and playoffs after January 1st of next week. Cheers.)
Appetizer: Football trifles and observations
1. I have finished with the selection committee. I’m actually pretty much done with this playoff format. I don’t want a human being to explain to me why Florida, after losing each other, basically doesn’t fall on the ladder. It’s exhausting. In fact, I really don’t want human beings to participate in the playoffs at all. Expand to eight teams, assign seats to all Power Five conference winners, remove computer dust from BCS, and fill the remaining three seats with the top-ranked Group Five team and the top two big teams. Done. It’s that simple.
2. A broad receiver in Alabama, DeVonta Smith, could really win over Heisman. His 15 catches against Florida in the SEC championship game gave him a legitimate chance, although quarterback Mac Jones, his teammate and primary contender for the prize, was also excellent. In some books, Smith was actually a favorite at the beginning of the week. Given that the broad spectrum hasn’t won in decades, this is a big deal.
3. The army still plays. The Black Knights, despite a 9-2 finish, did not get a place in the bowling season. The Army was originally supposed to play in the Independence Bowl, but the bowl was canceled. And since other bowls have contractual agreements with other conferences, the military was basically hung to dry. COVID-19 releases have knocked Tennessee out of the Liberty Bowl, creating a place for the military to take West Virginia in something that should be a really good game. But it’s embarrassing that the military needed something like that to get in. I love this sport, but sometimes it’s really hard for me to do it.
4. Draft by Kyle Pitts. If you’re an NFL team sitting somewhere between election 5 and 10 in next year’s draft, you need a good, long look at the narrow end of Florida. His performance against Alabama in the SEC championship game – not only the numbers, but also the quality of the catch – was outstanding. His student career is over and he will not be playing in the Cotton Bowl. But we saw everything we have to see. What a player.
5. I’ll save most of the comments from next week’s playoffs, but I’ll say the following: In this year of madness and uncertainty, it would be almost comforting if the football season in the championship came down in Clemson-Alabama (again). While I’m not sure what the rating would be for another rematch, in my eyes it would be incredibly convincing. Trevor Lawrence last game against a strong attack in Alabama. Two great defenders. Two elite coaches. We’ll see if we can make it, but if we do, I’ll come in.
Buffet: breaking our favorite pre-January. 1 Bowling
Note: We use games that start on December 23 or later.
1. Cotton Bowl: Florida (-3, 71.5) against Oklahoma
This has a bit of everything you’re looking for in a bowl game. Classic football powers. Elite quarterbacks. Great offensive minds on both sides. Future NFL players across the field. However, one of these players will not play in this game. As mentioned above, Kyle Pitts in Florida will not be participating. Still, this is the best game without a playoff on the board. The Sooners have concluded the season by covering an expansion in six of their last seven games. It would not be shocking to see this trend continue.
2. Cure Bowl: Coastal Carolina (-7, 60) against Liberty
Part of me wants Coastal Carolina and Liberty to both crack the Power Power team. Part of me is thrilled to see the two best stories of the year being played in a game that was originally canceled due to COVID-19. This year both teams were kind to the fans. Freedom is 8-2 against proliferation; Primorski is 8-2-1 in relation to the number. One element of this game that could have an impact? Liberty has not played since November 27th. Still, Hugh Freeze’s only loss this year was to NC State – a game his team could have won. I lean towards the seaside, although Liberty is very capable.
3. Cheez-It Bowl: Oklahoma State (-2, 59.5) vs. Miami
Both of these teams looked elite for a short period this year. Yet at other times they both looked devastated. As for the final impressions in the regular season, the results cannot be multiple. Oklahoma State scored Baylor 42-3 as the 6.5-point favorite. North Carolina rolled Miami on a pair 62-26 as a 3-point favorite. If the Cowboys can duplicate the UNC game plan and run football, hurricanes could be a long night. Still, I think Miami quarterback D’Eriqu King may be left with a bit of magic.
4. Arizona Bowl: San Jose State (-7.5, 62.5) against Ball State
An argument could be made, and a good one at that, that this game should be ranked higher. Given the way both programs ended their seasons, that seems fair. San Jose State has not lost a football game or lost a game against expansion this year. The convincing victory of the Spartans against Boise State as a 6.5-point undersaga is likely to create a lot of support. This is nothing new for Ball State, which quietly brought a top season. In the last four games the Cardinals have been outsiders three times and have won all three games. That said, the state of San Jose may be too good.
5. Camellia Bowl: Buffalo (-4.5, 55) against Marshall
About a month ago this game had more brilliance and intrigue than now. Still, it’s a fascinating schematic match that will support one of the nation’s best nations against one of the nation’s best statistical defenses. Jaret Patterson delighted Buffalo, even though the Bulls had just lost as a 12.5-point Ball State favorite in the MAC Championship. Marshall, after starting the 4-0 and 4-0 ATS seasons, has directly lost the last two – including a 20-0 defeat by Rice as the 24-point favorite. The thundering herd looks a bit unsightly at the moment, and Buffalo could take full advantage of it.
6. Alamo Bowl: Texas (-10.5, 64) vs. Colorado
We waited to see when Colorado would look like the team we expected at the start of the season, and that time arrived in the team’s last game against Utah. The Buffaloes opened with 4-0 and against the spread starting the game on December 12, and continued to lose with 38:21. The loss to Utah is not bad, but now we wonder how good Colorado is as the season closes. Texas feels like a good barometer. And while Tom Herman has been warming up, the Longhorns have lost three games this season by 14 points. One of them came in overtime. If you haven’t seen a freshman running Bian Robinson playing yet, you should. It could be special. Texas, two touchdowns.
7. Texas Bowl: TCU (-5.5, 57.5) against Arkansas
This season Arkansas has played against Alabama, in Texas A&M and in Florida. That, well, is suboptimal. Although they got a customized, brutal conference schedule, Hogs played pretty well under new coach Sam Pittman. Although they had only three wins, they finished 6-3-1 ATS. The TCU has, perhaps quietly, finished 7-3 against the expansion and covered five times in the last six games. The layout of the series of moves was mostly kind, which makes this game difficult to understand. I could certainly see the Hogs looking a lot better than three wins. In fact, the underdog on money lines is quite tempting.
8. Bowl of Armed Forces: Tulsa (-2.5, 49.5) v. Mississippi State
Another team with three wins in the SEC is combined. Yes, 2020 is weird. But I’m certainly interested in what the Tulsa defense can do against state team Mike Leach of Mississippi. The Golden Hurricane nearly upset Cincinnati in its conference championship as a player with 13.5 points less than the score and is 7-1 against expansion. After starting the season with an exciting, explosive victory over LSU, the state of Mississippi, especially in attack, really fell back to its 51-point score against Missouri, for the last time. Fluke game? Or finally find something? Nothing like a small Group 5 fight against Power Five. Give me a pirate and points.