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NCAA Football 2013-14 Bowl Previews – Part I

December 19, 2013

This is the first of our three-part series where we will preview all 35 bowl games of the 2013-14 season, as we kick things off by looking at the first 11 bowl games from December 21st through December 27th. We will then preview the bowls between December 28th and December 31st next week before wrapping up the series with all of the bowl games from New Year’s Day onward.

New Mexico Bowl – Washington State (-3½) vs. Colorado State – Saturday, December 21, 2:00 ET: This is an interesting contrast in styles, as Washington State finished fourth in the country in passing offense behind quarterback Connor Halliday, but Colorado State averaged a potent 202.7 rushing yards per game with running back Kapri Bibbs leading all of FBS with 28 touchdowns. It does appear that the underdog Rams could be more capable of controlling the clock here though in their first bowl appearance since 2008, as Bibbs will be running against a Cougars’ defense ranked just 85th against the run allowing 185.3 rushing yards per game. Bowl favorites coming off of 3 ATS wins (Washington State) are only 29-50-3 ATS since 2000 for a 63.3 percent fade.College Bowl Game Picks

Las Vegas Bowl – Fresno State vs. USC (-5½) – Saturday, December 21, 3:30 ET: Now, there can be little debate that the Trojans have the better overall personnel here and are capable of running up the score if they choose too. But that is precisely the problem, as USC envisioned a much more high-profile bowl game when this year began, and the players seemed to love playing for interim coach Ed Orgeron, who resigned his position when passed over for the permanent coaching job, leaving the Trojans with yet another interim coach for this bowl game. Amidst that distraction, they must contend with Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, who is quickly bolting up NFL Draft boards after leading the FBS with his 4,866 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes. Bowl underdogs coming off of a home game (Fresno State) are 123-87-4, 58.6 percent ATS since 2000.

Idaho Potato Bowl – Buffalo (-2) vs. San Diego State – Saturday, December 21, 5:30 ET: Some NFL scouts consider Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack the best prospect of the entire draft not from a BCS conference, and he spearheaded a Bulls’ defense that held its last nine opponents to 15.0 points per game after understandably struggling early at Ohio State and Baylor, and if you factor out a 51-41 loss to Toledo, Buffalo only allowed 10.5 points per game in the other eight games to close the season. San Diego State is rather fortunate to be here with three overtime wins that could have gone either way, and ending the regular season with a 45-19 loss at UNLV is nor an encouraging sign. San Diego State is just 2-6 ATS in eight career bowl games for a 75.0 percent fade.
New Orleans Bowl – Tulane (PK) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – Saturday, December 21, 9:00 ET: Tulane must be living a charmed life because the Green Wave finished 7-5 and made their first bowl game since 2002 despite ranking 118th in the country in total offense with 304.2 yards per game while averaging just 3.5 yards per rush and 5.6 yards per pass attempt. That speaks to the weakness of Conference USA this year, and Tulane only finished fourth in the West Division. The Ragin’ Cajuns of UL Lafayette are the Sun Belt Conference Champions and they average a potent 34.6 points and 424.4 total yards per game with nice balance, averaging 207.6 rushing yards and 216.8 passing yards. UL Lafayette is 15-7-1, 68.2 percent ATS when coming off of two losses since 2005.

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl – East Carolina (-14) vs. Ohio – Monday, December 23, 2:00 ET: Both of these teams had disappointing finishes with East Carolina getting blown out by Marshall in the regular season finale thus blowing a chance to win the East Division of Conference USA and Ohio suffering a late three-game losing streak in the MAC before regrouping for a 51-23 rout of Massachusetts in the finale. East Carolina did finished 10th in the country in scoring with 40.4 points per game, but Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton has led the Bobcats to bowl wins each of the last two years and will be passing against a 90th ranked Pirates’ passing defense. Bowl underdogs coming off of a home game (Ohio) are 123-87-4, 58.6 percent ATS since 2000.

Hawaii Bowl – Boise State vs. Oregon State (-2½) – Tuesday, December 24, 8:00 ET: Few bowl teams struggled down the stretch as badly as Oregon State did, as the Beavers backed into this game despite losing their last five games in a row following a 6-1 start. Yes, they have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Sean Mannion, but they were very one-dimensional averaging 382.1 passing yards per game but just 86.0 rushing yards on 3.2 yards per carry. Boise State may have lost long-time coach Chris Peterson to the Washington Huskies, but they are the antithesis of Oregon State with a balanced offense ranked 32nd in the country in rushing and 31st in passing. Bowl underdogs coming off of a home game (Boise State) are 123-87-4, 58.6 percent ATS since 2000.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl – Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green (-6) – Thursday, December 26, 6:00 ET: Bowling Green may have already played its bowl game by knocking off then undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game, thus preventing the Huskies from being BCS Busters for the second straight year. As strange as it sounds, playing a middle-tier ACC team like Pittsburgh in an actual bowl game now seems like a bit of a letdown. Pittsburgh became bowl eligible with late season upset wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse, and that may be all the momentum the Panthers need to keep this game close or pull an upset. Bowl favorites coming off of 3 ATS wins (Bowling Green) are only 29-50-3 ATS since 2000 for a 63.3 percent fade.

Poinsettia Bowl – Utah State vs. Northern Illinois (-1½) – Thursday, December 26, 9:30 ET: By losing the MAC Championship Game in surprising blowout fashion 47-27 to Bowling Green following a 12-0 regular season, the Huskies went from becoming BCS Busters for the second straight season to facing the runners-up of the Mountain West Conference in Utah State in this much lower profile bowl. Yes, Jordan Lynch may want to show off his exploits, but remember that the Aggies ranked 12th in the country in total defense and seventh in points allowed at 17.3 per game, and they did a good job vs. Derek Carr and the potent Fresno State offense in a 24-17 loss in the Mountain West Championship Game. Northern Illinois is 2-8-1 ATS in all post-season games since 2005 for an 80.0 percent fade.

Military Bowl – Marshall (-2½) vs. Maryland – Friday, December 27, 2:30 ET: Maryland is a team beset by injuries, and that is a key reason why the Terrapins went just 2-4 over the second half of the season. Marshall had a disappointing 41-24 loss in the Conference USA Championship Game in a true road game at Rice, but the Thundering Herd still have a great quarterback in Rakeem Cato and a fine rusher in Essray Taliaferro to give balance to an offense that ranked 13th in the country in total offense with 502.3 yards per game and seventh in scoring at 43.0 points. The Terps may have trouble keeping pace with so many injuries at the offensive skill positions. Marshall is 12-7, 63.7 percent when coming off of a road loss since 2008.

Texas Bowl – Syracuse vs. Minnesota (-4½) – Friday, December 27, 6:00 ET: Both of these teams have very one dimensional rushing offenses, with underdog Syracuse ranking 39th in the country with 194,2 rushing yards per game but 104th in passing offense, and Minnesota ranking 34th in rushing and 118th in passing. Perhaps the two biggest keys to this game though both lie on the Syracuse defensive side of the ball, as the Orange rank 27th in rushing defense yielding only 138.4 yards per game on the ground on just 3.8 yards per carry, and if they can contain the Gophers’ running attack on first and second down, then Syracuse is also 10th in the nation in third down defense allowing just a 32.1 percent success rate. Bowl favorites coming off of 3 ATS wins (Minnesota) are only 29-50-3 ATS since 2000 for a 63.3 percent fade.

Fight Hunger Bowl – BYU vs. Washington (-3) – Friday, December 27, 9:30 ET: The Washington Huskies went 8-4 this season while finishing eighth in the country in total offense with a whopping 514.3 yards per game. However, there are a couple of red flags here as the Huskies just lost their head coach Steve Sarkisian to USC and they will be facing a BYU defense that is probably better than any defense Washington faced inside the Pac-12 except for Stanford. The Cougars have had a fine defense for several years, but their offense was a very big surprise this season as BYU finished 14th in the country in total offense and 10th in rushing offense thanks to having a better runner than passer at quarterback in Taysom Hill, who actually led the team with his 1211 rushing yards. His passing did improve as the year went on however as he finished with 2645 passing yards. BYU is 20-10-1, 66.7 percent ATS as an underdog since 2005.