Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football this bowl season (no BattleFrogs were harmed in the writing of this column):
WELCOME TO CRITICAL MASS
The Dash is thankful for the College Football Playoff. The playoff is good. The playoff is our friend. Like most of our friends, it is flawed but means well. It is better than the deadbeat non-friend it replaced, the BCS.
But the rest of the bowl system is another matter.
After decades of earnestly trying, college football finally did it – finally pushed the greed envelope to the point of bursting.
You thought the pursuit of piles of cash reached maximum absurdity when the Big 12 wound up with 10 teams and the Big Ten wound up with 14? Hardly. You thought the sport had reached the final frontier of foolishness when West Virginia joined a conference with Texas Tech and Tulsa joined a league with Connecticut? Please.
That was simply prelude for this 2015 jumping of the avarice shark: 40 bowl games. Eighty teams. As if anyone thought that math would work.
It didn’t, of course. But the show must go on. Thus we are confronted with an all-time proliferation of bad football passed off as a Priceless Bowl Opportunity For Student-Athletes To Treasure For The Rest Of Their Lives. (Also known as an opportunity to sell more TV ad time for prescription drugs with names produced by a random syllable generator. “Ask your doctor if Flofarta is right for you. Side effects may include increased risk of stroke, death, or a compulsive desire to style your hair like Donald Trump.”) And so we welcome 5-7 teams to bowl season.
What a con job.
The Dash has an answer for this attempt to play us all for suckers, and it’s simple: Don’t watch the games involving 5-7 teams. Boycott bad football. Find something else to do rather than watching losing teams and the accompanying Flofarta ads.
You don’t need Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State cluttering up your December. Yes, there are worse teams than those in the bowl games, but it’s the principle of the thing – bowl games aren’t for losers.
There are enough other holiday annoyances out there: mall traffic, gift exchanges with co-workers you don’t like, drunk uncle Ed at the family get-together. Don’t add 5-7 to the annoyance list.
And besides, there are 37 other bowls to watch. You can get by on that number. The Dash guarantees it.
Now on with the Bowl Dash picks, which also are guaranteed – to help you finish last in your office pool. Use at your own risk:
NEW MEXICO BOWL (1). Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5).
When: Saturday at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: If You Can’t Be Best, Be First.
Motto Subtitle: Have A Tamale.
Focus Factor: Rich Rodriguez kicked the tires on South Carolina but came back. New Mexico should be locked in for its first bowl game since 2007 – and it’s a literal home game.
Line: Arizona by nine.
Dash Pick: New Mexico 32, Arizona 31. The Wildcats are the better team. The Dash is betting that the Lobos will be the more motivated team. Dangerous to side with an inept passing team, but the prediction is that New Mexico runs the ball well enough that it doesn’t have to throw much to win.
Conference records: Mountain West 1-0, Pac-12 0-1.
LAS VEGAS BOWL (2). BYU vs. Utah.
When: Saturday at 3:30.
Where: Las Vegas.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Relocated Holy War.
Motto Subtitle: Did We Really Have To Leave The State For This?
Focus Factor: Bronco Mendenhall has a foot out the door at BYU on his way to Virginia; will the Cougars be motivated or distracted? Utes should be fine.
Line: Utah by three.
Dash Pick: Utah 21, BYU 16. One of the more interesting matchups of bowl season, pitting a pair of old and heated rivals who haven’t played each other the past two regular seasons because of realignment. Should be a defensive battle, with the Utes eking out just enough offense without injured running back Devontae Booker to win (presuming he does not return from a torn meniscus suffered in mid-November).
Conference records: Pac-12 1-1, Independents 0-1.
CAMELLIA BOWL (3). Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2).
When: Saturday at 5:30.
Where: Montgomery, Ala.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: MACtion Vs. Fun Belt – Are You Not Entertained?
Motto Subtitle: It’s Alabama And We Like Football – All Football.
Focus Factor: Everyone should be all-in. Extra motivational points for App State, playing its first bowl game as an FBS program.
Line: Appalachian State by eight.
Dash Pick: Appalachian State 35, Ohio 28. Mountaineers can run the ball and the Bobcats have struggled to stop good running teams, giving up 244 rushing yards per game in four losses. The Dash wouldn’t recommend derailing dinner plans to watch, but it’s worth a peek after dessert. Conference records: Sun Belt 1-0, MAC 0-1.
CURE BOWL (4). San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6).
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Curing Something, All Right – Insomnia.
Motto Subtitle: Wow This Is A Bad Game.
Focus Factor: First bowl game in Georgia State history should be worth a lot of enthusiasm for the Panthers, who haven’t had this much fun since Ron Hunter was falling off his stool in the NCAA tournament last March. Spartans should be ridiculously happy to be here as well.
Line: San Jose State by three.
Dash Pick: Vacated. Read a book. Don’t watch 5-7.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL (5). Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4).
When: Saturday at 9 p.m.
Where: New Orleans, believe it or not.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: We Don’t Know What To Do Without Louisiana-Lafayette In The House.
Motto Subtitle: Louisiana Tech Is An Acceptable Substitute.
Focus Factor: Everyone should be good. Arkansas State fans should be energized by the change of scenery after four straight trips to the GoDaddy Bowl. Tech fans should be a major presence in the Superdome given the short commute from Ruston.
Line: Louisiana Tech by 2.
Dash Pick: Arkansas State 38, Louisiana Tech 35. The Bulldogs got loose with the football in the latter stages of the season, committing 11 turnovers in their final three games. The Red Wolves, on the other hand, have 12 takeaways in their past four games. In an otherwise pretty even matchup, go with the team that should win the turnover battle.
Conference records: Sun Belt 2-0*, CUSA 0-1.
(*Camellia Bowl pick vacated.)
MIAMI BEACH BOWL (6). Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4).
When: Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Taggart Bowl.
Motto Subtitle: Slackers Delight – Weekday Afternoon Football!
Focus Factor: WKU coach Jeff Brohm was mentioned for a couple other jobs but stayed put. Bulls should be jacked for their first bowl game in five years.
Line: Western Kentucky by three.
Dash Pick: WKU 41, USF 35. The Bulls are a hot team, winning four straight and seven of their past eight. But they haven’t faced many teams that can throw the ball well, and the Hilltoppers certainly can do that with quarterback Brandon Doughty. If the Hilltoppers can contain Marlon Mack, they’ll outscore USF.
Conference records: CUSA 1-1, American 0-1.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL (7). Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6).
When: Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Boise, Idaho.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Zips In A Bowl? Zips In A Bowl.
Motto Subtitle: No, Really, Zips In A Bowl.
Focus Factor: Akron is bowling for the first time in a decade and second time in school history and the first time outside of Detroit – rejoice. Utah State limps in with three losses in its past four games, but is striving for a fifth straight winning season – something last accomplished from 1961-65.
Line: Utah State by seven.
Dash Pick: Utah State 27, Akron 17. Whether fifth-year senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton gets a swan song as starter or the Aggies go with Kent Myers remains a secret. Either way, Utah State is the better team.
Conference records: Mountain West 2-0*, MAC 0-2.
(*Camellia Bowl pick vacated.)
BOCA RATON BOWL (8). Toledo (9-2) vs. Temple (10-3).
When: Dec. 22 at 7 p.m.
Where: Boca Raton, Fla.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Better Than Most of the Pre-Christmas Dreck.
Motto Subtitle: Where A Linebacker Is The Star.
Focus Factor: Toledo lost head coach Matt Campbell to Iowa State, but the transition to new coach and former assistant Jason Candle should be fairly smooth. Temple somewhat surprisingly held onto Matt Rhule after one of the best seasons in school history.
Line: Temple by two.
Dash Pick: Temple 26, Toledo 21. Led by All-America linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the Owls are a formidable defensive team. Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely has been known to throw the ball to the wrong team (10 interceptions on the season), and Temple has been known to pick it (16 interceptions on the season).
Conference records: American 1-1, MAC 0-3.
POINSETTIA BOWL (9). Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5).
When: Dec. 23 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: San Diego.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Down Year Bowl.
Motto Subtitle: If Your Down Year Ends In San Diego It’s Not So Bad.
Focus Factor: Turbulent endings for both teams raise questions about who wants to just get the season over with and who is excited to go bowling. Boise shockingly lost its last two home games, and NIU is on a two-game losing streak.
Line: Boise State by nine.
Dash Pick: Boise State 41, Northern Illinois 35. Two struggling defenses will try to get a few stops. Last team with the ball wins?
Conference records: Mountain West 3-0*, MAC 0-4.
GO DADDY BOWL (10). Georgia Southern (8-4) vs. Bowling Green (10-3).
When: Dec. 23rd at 8 p.m.
Where: Mobile, Ala.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Interim Bowl.
Motto Subtitle: Interim Coaches Are People, Too.
Focus Factor: Both teams lost their head coaches, Dino Babers leaving Bowling Green for Syracuse and Willie Fritz departing Georgia Southern for Tulane. Which means there is basically no way of knowing what either team will bring to the table for this one.
Line: Bowling Green by eight.
Dash Pick: Bowling Green 44, Georgia Southern 34. Stylistic opposites – the Falcons chuck it around with quarterback Matt Johnson, and the Eagles befuddle defenses with the ground-bound option attack. Bowling Green will benefit from having several weeks to prepare for that offense, and it has more aerial firepower than Georgia Southern is accustomed to seeing.
Conference records: MAC 1-4, Sun Belt 2-1*.
BAHAMAS BOWL (11). Middle Tennessee (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-5).
When: Dec. 24 at noon.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: You Need Something To Watch While Wrapping Presents.
Motto Subtitle: Remember Last Year’s Game?
Focus Factor: All present and accounted for. Nobody should come in half-stepping, unless the Bahamas vibe takes the edge off. (Which frankly would be understandable.)
Line: Western Michigan by three.
Dash Pick: Western Michigan 37, Middle Tennessee 35. Not likely to live up to last year, when Central Michigan rallied from 35 down in the second half, scoring on a three-lateral Hail Mary on the final play but then missing the two-point conversion and losing to Western Kentucky. Still, this should be entertaining football, if not great football. Broncos come in with momentum after upsetting Toledo to close the regular season.
Conference records: MAC 2-4, CUSA 1-2.
HAWAII BOWL (12). San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5).
When: Dec. 24 at 8 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Tune In For The Tropical Beach Shots.
Motto Subtitle: Stay For The Football.
Focus Factor: Aztecs are accustomed to life in a beautiful locale with perfect weather. Bearcats not so much. Can Cincy players keep their minds on the game?
Line: Cincinnati by one.
Dash Pick: San Diego State 30, Cincinnati 24. The Bearcats have had a handful of complete no-show performances under Tommy Tuberville – including both bowl games. Aztecs have won nine in a row and surrendered just 13 points per game during conference play.
Conference records: Mountain West 4-0*, American 1-2.
ST. PETERSBURG BOWL (13). Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3).
When: Dec. 26th at 11 a.m.
Where: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: It’s The Day After Christmas And You Need A Break From The Family.
Motto Subtitle: Noon Is Too Late.
Focus Factor: There was some low-level chatter about both Bob Diaco and Doc Holliday being candidates for other jobs, but both are still with their respective teams. And there are worse places for teams from cold-weather locales to spend Christmas.
Line: Marshall by five.
Dash Pick: Marshall 27, Connecticut 19. The Thundering Herd reinvented itself impressively in its first year without record-setting quarterback Rakeem Cato – becoming more defensive-minded and slowing the breakneck tempo of its offense. The Huskies bring a stout defense of their own into this game, but they’re just 2-4 away from home and the wins were over UCF and Tulane.
Conference records: CUSA 2-2, American 1-3.
SUN BOWL (14). Miami (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4).
When: Dec. 26 at 2 p.m.
Where: El Paso, Texas.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The (CBS) Granddaddy of Them All.
Motto Subtitle: Maybe Miami Will Like It More This Time.
Focus Factor: Hurricanes are transitioning to Mark Richt but have played well for interim coach Larry Scott. Christmas conflicts aside, Cougars and their fans should be tickled to be here for two reasons: It’s just their second bowl game in 12 years, and it’s not in Pullman.
Line: Washington State by three.
Dash Pick: Washington State 31, Miami 27. Hurricanes laid an egg in their last Sun Bowl appearance, losing to Notre Dame by 16 five years ago. Actually, they’ve laid five eggs in a row in bowl games, last winning one by a point over Nevada in 2006. Cougars get quarterback Luke Falk back for this game and that should be enough to pull out a victory.
Conference records: Pac-12 2-1, ACC 0-1.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL (15). Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (9-4).
When: Dec. 26 at 2:20 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Just Here To Undercut Sun Bowl Ratings.
Motto Subtitle: And Provide A Fifth Straight Blowout.
Focus Factor: Young Huskies should be excited about using this game as a springboard into 2016. Golden Eagles should be tickled to go bowling for the first time since 2011.
Line: Washington by nine.
Dash Pick: Washington 35, Southern Miss 19. Huskies have played 10 bowl teams this year and are the far more seasoned team. The Pac-12’s top defense should slow down the Golden Eagles, and the extra practices should allow Washington freshman QB Jake Browning to take another step forward in his development.
Conference records: Pac-12 3-1, CUSA 2-3.
PINSTRIPE BOWL (16). Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5).
When: Dec. 26 at 3:30 p.m.
Where: New York.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Better Basketball Matchup.
Motto Subtitle: But Still Potentially Entertaining.
Focus Factor: Blue Devils offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery is on his way to East Carolina as head coach, but will coach the bowl game first. Hoosiers should be very excited for their first bowl appearance since 2007.
Line: Indiana by two.
Dash Pick: Duke 31, Indiana 29. A lot will depend on the health of Hoosiers running back Jordan Howard – if he’s able to go after knee and ankle injuries, a Blue Devils defense that was punished on the ground in November could get trampled again. But he’s listed as questionable, so The Dash says Duke gets its first bowl victory since 1961.
Conference records: ACC 1-1, Big Ten 0-1.
INDEPENDENCE BOWL (17). Tulsa (6-6) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6).
When: Dec. 26 at 5:45 p.m.
Where: Shreveport, La.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Full Circle With Frank.
Motto Subtitle: Camo Is Always In Fashion Here.
Focus Factor: Final game for Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer, whose first bowl game was the Independence Bowl in 1993. Should get an inspired effort from his team. Golden Hurricane should be inspired just to be here after going 5-19 previous two seasons.
Line: Virginia Tech by 14.
Dash Pick: Virginia Tech 45, Tulsa 28. Hokies are hardly an offensive juggernaut, but the Tulsa defense is 126th nationally in yards allowed at a whopping 532 per game.
Conference records: ACC 2-1, American 1-4.
FOSTER FARMS BOWL (18). UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7).
When: Dec. 26 at 9:15 p.m.
Where: Santa Clara, Calif.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Yes Foster Farms Is A Real Thing.
Motto Subtitle: Try The Chicken Breasts.
Focus Factor: If the Cornhuskers aren't too embarrassed to be playing, they should be highly motivated. Bruins had bigger goals than the Foster Farms Bowl and a 5-7 opponent, but the Nebraska name brand might still bring out their best.
Line: UCLA by seven.
Dash Pick: Vacated. Read a book. Don’t watch 5-7.
MILITARY BOWL (19). Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Navy (10-2).
When: Dec. 28 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Annapolis, Md.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Welcome, Pitt.
Motto Subtitle: To A Navy Home Game That Honors The Military.
Focus Factor: Navy got a big boost Wednesday night when Ken Niumatalolo ended a brief courtship with BYU by saying he's staying with the Midshipmen. Pittsburgh players will have had a few weeks to come to grips with the shocking cancer diagnosis of running back James Conner.
Line: Navy by four.
Dash Pick: Navy 30, Pittsburgh 24. Keenan Reynolds goes out in a blaze of option glory to cap one of the Midshipmen’s best seasons in many years.
Conference records: American 2-4; ACC 2-2.
QUICK LANE BOWL (20). Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7).
When: Dec. 28 at 5 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Free Oil Change If You Buy Two Tickets.
Motto Subtitle: Free Tire Rotation, Too.
Focus Factor: Chippewas return to the fan-friendly (or at least nearby) confines of Ford Field, where they have played several times in recent years. Gophers may have been just as happy to sit this one out, playing an uninspiring opponent after an uninspiring season.
Line: Minnesota by six.
Dash Pick: Vacated. Read a book. Don’t watch 5-7.
ARMED FORCES BOWL (21). California (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-5).
When: Dec. 29 at 2 p.m.
Where: Fort Worth, Texas.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Catch Jared Goff Before He’s A First-Round Pick.
Motto Subtitle: Riveting Rematch of ’07 Armed Forces Bowl Nobody Remembers.
Focus Factor: Cal’s Sonny Dykes spent almost a week campaigning for everything but the New Hampshire primary, but ultimately re-upped at Cal. Air Force’s Troy Calhoun was job shopping as well. Are both coaches happy where they are and dialed-in on this game?
Line: Cal by seven.
Dash Pick: Cal 42, Air Force 31. There are no quarterbacks like Goff in the Mountain West. That will be a problem for the Falcons defensive backs.
Conference records: Pac-12 4-1*, Mountain West 4-1*
(*Cure and Foster Farms bowl picks vacated.)
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL (22). North Carolina (11-2) vs. Baylor (9-3).
When: Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Hey, We Got A Good One.
Motto Subtitle: If Only Baylor Had A Healthy QB.
Focus Factor: There could be a few players weighing pro decisions during bowl prep, which can be a distraction. (Just ask Nick Saban.) Baylor had higher expectations than this until December; North Carolina started thinking bigger as the season went along. Tar Heels probably more excited to be here.
Line: Baylor by three.
Dash Pick: North Carolina 35, Baylor 28. Bears starting quarterback Seth Russell had a passer rating of 190 – but he got hurt. Backup Jarrett Stidham had a passer rating of 199 – but he got hurt. Third-stringer Chris Johnson has a passer rating of 104 – he’s your Russell Athletic Bowl starter. Advantage, Tar Heels.
Conference records: ACC 3-2, Big 12 0-1.
ARIZONA BOWL (23). Nevada (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-5).
When: Dec. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tucson, Ariz.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Mountain West Fever, Catch It!
Motto Subtitle: Please?
Focus Factor: Who is excited by a league game in a neutral site? Probably not many people. Certainly not MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, who issued a blistering screed about a broken bowl system that gave preferential treatment to 5-7 teams and left him with this interdivisional matchup.
Line: Colorado State by three.
Dash Pick: Colorado State 28, Nevada 22. Rams ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak, three of them on the road. Biggest reason why? They stopped giving the ball away: CSU was a minus-14 turnover margin in the first eight games and a plus-three in the last four. If Mike Bobo’s team holds onto the ball it will win, perhaps easily.
Conference record: Mountain West 5-2*, picking up both a victory and a loss here.
TEXAS BOWL (24). LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5).
When: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Fournette, 400?
Motto Subtitle: Maybe 300, Which Is Less Lyrical But More Realistic.
Focus Factor: The Tigers performed last year in the Music City Bowl as if the game was beneath them, losing as an eight-point favorite to Notre Dame. A similar performance will re-heat Les Miles’ seat quickly. Texas Tech should be excited for a return to bowling after missing out last year, and for the opportunity to extend a four-bowl winning streak.
Line: LSU by eight.
Dash Pick: LSU 40, Texas Tech 28. Leonard Fournette gets his shot at the soft underbelly of the nation’s No. 126 rushing defense. Hence the speculation on whether he will run through the Red Raiders like American Pharoah through the Triple Crown. If the Tigers play like they care – not a given – they’ll win easily.
Conference records: SEC 1-0, Big 12 0-2.
BIRMINGHAM BOWL (25). Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3).
When: Dec. 30 at noon.
Where: Birmingham, Ala.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Only Game In Town
Motto Subtitle: Sorry, UAB.
Focus Factor: Plenty of transition at both programs. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has packed up and moved to South Carolina. Memphis head coach Justin Fuente has packed up and moved to Virginia Tech. Beyond that, the guess is that Memphis will be a whole lot more excited about taking on an SEC team than the SEC team will be about taking on Memphis.
Line: Auburn by three.
Dash Pick: Memphis 27, Auburn 26. The Tigers (Memphis version) will have to slow down the Auburn ground game – if they do that and force whoever plays quarterback (Jeremy Johnson or Sean White) to pass, this is a very winnable game. Memphis should be able to move the ball.
Conference records: American 3-4, SEC 1-1.
BELK BOWL (26). North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4).
When: Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Hey, Maybe Cam Newton Will Show Up.
Motto Subtitle: Not That Mississippi State Would Be Very Happy About That.
Focus Factor: N.C. State should be motivated to beat an SEC team for the first time since 1999. Mississippi State should be motivated to send Dak Prescott out a winner, and to atone for last year’s abject bowl flop.
Line: Mississippi State by six.
Dash Pick: Mississippi State 29, North Carolina State 21. Wolfpack are 7-0 against non-bowl teams, 0-5 against bowl teams. Bulldogs are a bowl team. Bulldogs win.
Conference records: SEC 2-1, ACC 3-3.
MUSIC CITY BOWL (27). Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Louisville (7-5).
When: Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Quarterback Roulette.
Motto Subtitle: No, Really, These Coaches Are QB Gurus.
Focus Factor: Texas A&M had starter Kyle Allen announce his transfer last week, and now rumors were flying Wednesday that A&M’s other five-star QB, freshman Kyler Murray, wants to transfer as well. That’s not ideal. Louisville has no such issues and certainly will be motivated to beat an SEC team not named Kentucky for the first time under Bobby Petrino.
Dash Pick: Louisville 26, Texas A&M 24. The Cardinals have started three different QBs and have a team pass efficiency rating that ranks 64th nationally. The Aggies have started two QBs and played a third and have a team pass efficiency rating that ranks 76th. Neither unit has been dazzling, but advantage to the guy who has too many QBs (Petrino) over the guy who may have too few (Sumlin). Louisville true freshman dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson has been dangerous but needs to avoid turnovers and sacks.
Conference records: ACC 4-3, SEC 2-2.
HOLIDAY BOWL (28). USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3).
When: Dec. 30 at 10:30 p.m. Which is just stupid.
Where: San Diego.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Alvarez Isn’t Coaching This Bowl Game.
Motto Subtitle: For Now.
Focus Factor: Newly upgraded former interim USC coach Clay Helton has been busy firing staff. There is calm in Wisconsin – for now, unless or until someone poaches defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. (One of those someones possibly being USC.)
Line: USC by three.
Dash Pick: USC 25, Wisconsin 21. The Badgers were undefeated against teams with losing records and winless against teams with winning records. The Trojans at least have shown they can beat good teams, having taken down Utah and UCLA. They’re plenty good enough to do the same to Wisconsin.
Conference records: Pac-12 5-1*, Big Ten 0-2*
(Foster Farms and Quick Lane picks vacated.)
PEACH BOWL (29). Houston (12-1) vs. Florida State (10-2).
When: Dec. 31 at noon.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Pump Primer for a Two-Day Football Bender.
Motto Subtitle: Eat Mor Cougar.
Line: Florida State by eight.
Dash Pick: Florida State 28, Houston 24. If the Seminoles don’t respect the Cougars, they’ll lose. If they do come in ready for a fight, they’ll get one but win it. Houston QB Greg Ward is a talented guy but will meet his athletic match against a top-15 defense.
Conference records: ACC 5-3, American 3-5.
ORANGE BOWL (30). Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1).
When: Dec. 31 at 4 p.m.
Where: Miami Gardens, Fla.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Beats The BCS.
Motto Subtitle: By A Mile.
Focus Factor: If either team is even a little bit distracted, shame on them.
Line: Oklahoma by four.
Dash Pick: Clemson 33, Oklahoma 31. Sooners have gotten a lot of love for beating Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State in succession. What often goes unsaid while lauding the Sooners is that they faced three straight backup quarterbacks in those games. Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson is no backup. He’ll be the difference maker.
Conference records: ACC 6-3, Big 12 0-3.
COTTON BOWL (31). Alabama (12-1) vs. Michigan State (12-1).
When: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m.
Where: Arlington, Texas.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Also Better Than The BCS.
Motto Subtitle: By A Mile.
Focus Factor: See: Orange Bowl.
Line: Alabama by 10.
Dash Pick: Alabama 23, Michigan State 17. Toughman contest will not be a walkover for the Crimson Tide. Michigan State will battle until the last Spartan Dawg dies – but finding the firepower to score on Alabama will be very difficult, even if Connor Cook is back to 100 percent after his shoulder injury. (He wasn’t close to it in the Big Ten championship game.) Unlike last year against a Big Ten semifinal opponent, Lane Kiffin will run the ball.
Conference records: SEC 3-2, Big Ten 0-3*.
(Foster Farms and QuickLane picks vacated.)
OUTBACK BOWL (32). Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4).
When: Jan. 1 at noon.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Who’s Right, the Committee or Vegas?
Motto Subtitle: Happy New Year!
Focus Factor: Everyone should be all-in. Big game for hot teams eager to cap off breakthrough seasons.
Line: Tennessee by nine.
Dash Pick: Tennessee 27, Northwestern 24. The CFP selection committee loves the Wildcats, ranking them 10 spots ahead of the Volunteers. But Las Vegas has made Tennessee a big favorite – too big according to The Dash. Still, if the Volunteers can force freshman Clayton Thorson to throw the ball – especially in a catch-up situation – it will play into Big Orange’s hands. Thorson has a sub-100 pass efficiency rating and only threw one touchdown pass in November.
Conference records: SEC 4-2, Big Ten 0-4*
CITRUS BOWL (33). Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3).
When: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Someday The Big Ten Will Win This Game Again.
Motto Subtitle: Maybe This Day.
Focus Factor: Michigan lost defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to Maryland but has a veteran on-staff to replace him in Greg Mattison. Wolverines should be excited about playing after missing out on the postseason last year. Gators should be excited about not being in Birmingham this time around.
Line: Michigan by five.
Dash Pick: Michigan 17, Florida 14. The SEC’s five-year winning streak in the Citrus will grind to halt – much the way the Gators’ offense has over the last few games. Florida is averaging 14 points per game over the last five, lost two of them, went to overtime to beat Florida Atlantic and barely got past Vanderbilt. Wolverines’ defense has softened considerably as the season has worn on, but it should be up for this modest challenge.
Conference records: SEC 4-3, Big Ten 1-4*.
FIESTA BOWL (34). Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1).
When: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Two Plays Away Bowl.
Motto Subtitle: Nobody Knows What a BattleFrog Is.
Line: Ohio State by seven.
Dash Pick: Ohio State 28, Notre Dame 24. Both lost crucial games by field goals on the last play after surrendering improbable drives – and those losses could have been the difference between missing the College Football Playoff and making it. Both have probably been stewing in regret ever since. There will be a lot of first-round talent on the field for this one.
Conference records: Big Ten 2-4*, Independents 0-2.
ROSE BOWL (35). Iowa (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2).
When: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m.
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Still The Prettiest Show on Television.
Motto Subtitle: Even With Two of the Most Conservative Coaches on the Planet.
Focus Factor: Everyone should be amped. Hawkeyes deservedly got the nod over Ohio State and will make their first trip here in 25 years. Cardinal here for the third time in four years, but the Rose Bowl never, ever gets old.
Line: Stanford by seven.
Dash Pick: Stanford 24, Iowa 20. Hawkeyes are good enough and tough enough to match the Cardinal in the trenches. The difference will be Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, who has had an underrated season and will be able to make the throws that injured Michigan State QB Connor Cook missed in the Big Ten title game.
Conference records: Pac-12 6-1*, Big Ten 2-5*.
SUGAR BOWL (36). Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Mississippi (9-3).
When: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m.
Where: New Orleans.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Who Is The New Viceroy of the Visor?
Motto Subtitle: Post-Spurrier.
Focus Factor: Cowboys should be anxious to show they’re better than the team that was squashed twice at home to close the regular season. Rebels should be anxious to show they won’t lie down in a bowl game again like they did last year against TCU – but their star defensive lineman just had a bizarre incident at an Atlanta hotel to throw some tumult into the program.
Line: Mississippi by eight.
Dash Pick: Oklahoma State 37, Mississippi 35. Would be a major upset, but it can happen. Injured Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph reportedly is ahead of schedule to return, and if he plays that’s a significant upgrade. Ole Miss likely has a bunch of juniors weighing NFL decisions, plus the Robert Nkemdiche circus.
Conference records: Big 12 1-3, SEC 4-4.
TAXSLAYER BOWL (37). Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3).
When: Jan. 2 at noon.
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Which Fan Base Hates Their Offense More?
Motto Subtitle: Jaguars Fans Don’t Count, Even If The Game Is In Their Stadium.
Focus Factor: The Bulldogs are in mad transition, with Mark Richt out and Kirby Smart on the way in but Bryan McClendon serving as interim coach for the game, with position coaches as coordinators and graduate assistants filling other gaps in the staff. Penn State fired its offensive coordinator after the regular season and will have quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne calling plays in the bowl.
Line: Georgia by seven.
Dash Pick: Penn State 20, Georgia 19. The Bulldogs are the better team, which is no great praise of Georgia. The Nittany Lions have lost three in a row and haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since September. But the coaching tumult in Athens tips the scales just enough in favor of Penn State.
Conference records: Big Ten 3-5*, SEC 4-5.
LIBERTY BOWL (38). Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5).
When: Jan. 2 at 3:20 p.m.
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: The Pig People Are Only A River Away.
Motto Subtitle: Please Leave Your Plastic Pig Hats At Home.
Focus Factor: Bret Bielema had a somewhat acrimonious parting with his offensive line coach (everything Bielema does is somewhat acrimonious). At K-State, all the speculation centered on whether 76-year-old Bill Snyder would step down, but he reportedly will return in 2016.
Line: Arkansas by 11.
Dash Pick: Arkansas 38, Kansas State 21. Wildcats won three in a row to get into a bowl, but this looks like a mismatch unless Arkansas gives away the game with turnovers or special-teams blunders. Should be a virtual Razorback home game as well.
Conference records: SEC 5-5, Big 12 1-4.
ALAMO BOWL (39). Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2).
When: Jan. 2 at 6:45 p.m.
Where: San Antonio.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: So Many Plays, So Many Points.
Motto Subtitle: At Least In Theory.
Focus Factor: Ducks lost their offensive coordinator – Scott Frost is the new head coach at Central Florida. Horned Frogs kept their co-coordinator, after a long dalliance between Sonny Cumbie and Texas. Both teams began the year with playoff aspirations and fell short, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be excited to play each other here. Likely a heavy crowd advantage to TCU.
Dash Pick: Oregon 55, TCU 49. Two prolific, fast-paced offenses feast upon two defenses that have not had great seasons. Healthy quarterbacks make all the difference for both teams, and we should have those in this game. If TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson can play after wrist surgery, that’s one more big-time weapon. Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the country, with six straight wins – five of them against bowl teams.
Conference records: Pac-12 7-1*, Big 12 1-5.
CACTUS BOWL (40). Arizona State (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5).
When: Jan. 2 at 10:15 p.m. Again, stupid.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Somebody Has To Be The Last Bowl Game.
Motto Subtitle: Should End Around 2 a.m. ET on Jan. 3
Focus Factor: Virtual home game for the Sun Devils. Long trip for the Mountaineers, but you know they’ll be happy to make it. (Phoenix in winter vs. Morgantown. Not a tough call.)
Dash Pick: West Virginia 34, Arizona State 32. Mountaineers play a little more defense than the Sun Devils, which will be the difference.
Conference records: Big 12 2-5, Pac-12 7-2*.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Alabama vs. Clemson.
When: Jan. 11 at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Unofficial Bowl Motto: Too Big To Be A Bowl.
Motto Subtitle: Too Big For A Subtitle.
Focus Factor: It will be there.
Dash Pick: Alabama 28, Clemson 21. Derrick Henry pounds, and the Crimson Tide’s peerless defense shuts down the Tigers. Nick Saban takes back the King of College Football throne he had to share for a year with Urban Meyer. SEC fans rejoice at the return to normalcy. Rest of the nation hates the SEC a little more.
Conference records: SEC 6-5, ACC 6-4.
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