Jon would like to state for the record that he is only continuing this farce out of a sense of duty and honor, insofar as he is clearly completely incapable of doing anything right after racking up a fairly ridiculous (read: would've been highly profitable) record against the spread during the regular season.
After our last installment, Ahearn gained another two games on Jon. Including the Northern Illinois loss, which we'd both agreed on prior to the game but weren't able to get into FEPO and published before gametime, Jon now stands at 84-67-6; Ahearn is at 83-68-6. That's right, folks. It's that close.
So now, it's time to close out 2013 with the December 30-31 games. As always, this exercise is For Entertainment Purposes Only, and should not be used as a guide to earning illicit income. Partially because that would be bad, but mostly because we've now slipped below the line where it's actually profitable.
BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL, Monday, 10:45am, ESPN
NAVY (-6.5) over Middle Tennessee State
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth TX
JM: MTSU is a fine little team, but they aren't the sneaky-good squad you may remember from a few years back. The Blue Raiders got squished by every good team they played (save one, which we'll get to momentarily), and had a couple of close calls against Teams That Are Very Bad. Beating Memphis and Alabama-Birmingham by a combined five points is not a good look. That said, let's give MTSU credit (along with North Texas) for stepping up a slight notch in class and remaining relevant. The move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA didn't seem to hurt them at all.
Now, about that exception: MTSU beat Marshall, and we've already got egg on our faces from handwaving the Herd the other day. Navy also lost to every bowl-bound team they faced save for Pitt, and it's not like Pittsburgh is any great shakes. They also lost to two teams that aren't bowling (although both Western Kentucky and Toledo were bowl-eligible). The Middie's signature win was against a third team which made it to six wins but didn't get a post-season invite, and that was a three-overtime shootout with San Jose State.
This one's getting long, which is obviously your cue that I'm vacillating wildly. I think Navy probably wins this, but I don't think they're going to cover. While the Blue Raiders aren't carrying a stellar resume, the fact is that Navy did not dominate anyone with even a semblance of a pulse this year, and therefore I can't recommend honoring that (effective) touchdown spread.
AA: This seems like the kind of matchup that belongs before Christmas, but whatever. I agree with Jon's sentiments on MTSU and would add the Marshall game was a wild one where neither defense showed up and MTSU just happened to get the ball last, so the Blue Raiders don't deserve much credit. I'm a little scared because Navy has lost five of its last six bowl games, but the one exception was a 35-13 rout of Mizzou in the 2009 Texas Bowl, so I'm going to go ahead and pick the Midshipmen to cover. They're due.
FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL, Monday, 1:15pm, ESPN
Mississippi (-3) over GEORGIA TECH
LP Field, Nashville TN
JM: Georgia Tech compiled a relatively listless 7-5 mark. That included two wins over FCS teams, a somewhat unimpressive win over Virginia, and a close call victory over North Carolina back before North Carolina apparently figured this football thing out finally. Their best win? Duke. Look, all credit to Duke for a great year, but any time your best win is Duke, maybe you haven't had a great season. Yes, Ole Miss was also "only" 7-5. They could oh so easily have been 10-2, though, having given Auburn and Texas A&M all they could handle before hacking up a lung against their arch-rivals in the Egg Bowl. Along the way, they also knocked off Texas and LSU, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Simply put, this is a team with a boatload of talent and a lot of inexperience. Rebels cover.
AA: That seems like a solid analysis, but I went ahead and looked at the most important thing for Georgia Tech opponents: Run defense. Ole Miss ranked 9th in the SEC (one ahead of Auburn, incidentally) and 53rd in the country with 155.2 yards allowed. They've won five straight bowl games, including four against Big 12 teams, but I think Ole Miss falls in this one. Take the Yellow Jackets to win.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL, Monday, 5:45pm, ESPN
Oregon (-14) over TEXAS
Alamodome, San Antonio TX
JM: Texas seemed to have put it together toward the end, but then the wheels fell off again. Had the Longhorns put up more of a fight against Baylor, I would be a lot more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt here, largely because Oregon's been shambling along like some zombified beast from the Klamath wilds ever since Stanford punched them in the mouth. But no team resembles Baylor more than Oregon and vice-versa, as we Wildcat fans witnessed first-hand last year. If Baylor's going to roll you, so is Oregon. Ducks cover.
AA: Oregon has had a month to lick its wounds and get things sorted out. They're very good. Mack Brown's team isn't nearly as good, and he's on his way out. Will the Longhorns play an inspired game for him or simply go through the motions after another disappointing season? I tend to lean toward the latter, and it's not clear even an inspired Texas squad could get within two touchdowns of Oregon. Take the Ducks to cover.
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HOLIDAY BOWL, Monday, 9:15pm, ESPN
Arizona State (-14) over TEXAS TECH
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego CA
JM: Against teams not named "Stanford", Arizona State was beastly good this year; that third loss was only by a field goal to Notre Dame, and their wins are really, really impressive even if you discount Spikegate -- after all, playing Wisconsin to an effective draw isn't exactly a black mark, win or lose. Yeah, the Sun Devils had a couple of close calls, but by and large they blasted some pretty good teams this year. Texas Tech... well, we all know what's up there. They reached the glorious pinnacle of 7-0 and then completely came apart, and now they've got a quarterback thing going on too. There's really no reason at all to suspect the Red Raiders are going to stay within two touchdowns here. Sun Devils cover.
AA: Texas Tech has won three straight bowl games, but the Red Raiders aren't playing the Big Ten anymore. Arizona State has a pretty solid pass defense and much better athletes all over the field. Quarterback Taylor Kelly scored 5 touchdowns in a 62-28 rout of Navy in the Fight Hunger Bowl a year ago. He could very well put up some similar numbers against TTU. Take the Sun Devils to cover.
ADVOCARE V100 INDEPENDENCE BOWL, Tuesday, 11:30am, ESPN
BOSTON COLLEGE (+7.5) over Arizona
Independence Stadium, Shreveport LA
JM: This game is going to be worth watching just to see the running backs, as both Andre Williams and Ka'Deem Carey are otherworldly talents. It's incredibly fitting that they ended up matched together in a bowl game. What doesn't work for me here is the line. Although Arizona did take Oregon out into the back alley and mug them, otherwise all their wins were against absolute bottom-feeders, and some of them were of dubious quality even as wins. They basically played six good teams and got handled by five of them (although a couple of those losses were relatively close). Boston College didn't really beat anyone either, but their losses are the story. Yes, USC crushed them. But they hung with Florida State, Clemson, and North Carolina, and the Syracuse loss was at least a near thing. BC manages to cover here, and may well win outright.
AA: That Syracuse loss is troubling, since it came in the Eagles' most recent game in heartbreaking fashion, on a game-winning touchdown pass with 6 seconds left for the Orange, who prevailed 34-31. It becomes considerably less troubling upon further inspection, though, since Williams injured his right shoulder in the third quarter and did not return. The Doak Walker Award winner is feeling just fine and back to practicing in full pads, which spells bad news for the Wildcats. This line is way too large. I'm with Jon.
HYUNDAI SUN BOWL, Tuesday, 1pm, CBS
UCLA (-7) over Virginia Tech
Sun Bowl, El Paso TX
JM: I don't have a lot to say here. Virginia Tech has been absolutely mortal this year, and UCLA's been pretty good. UCLA's only losses are to Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State, and they beat everyone else by about what they should've (except Utah, but if you start looking at Utah closely you'll see they confounded a lot of folks this year). As for the Hokies, let's be really clear here: they had one -- one -- impressive win this year, and it was over a team that Louisville absolutely slaughtered in Orlando. They barely escaped two CUSA schools -- good CUSA schools, but CUSA schools nonetheless -- and other than Miami didn't win a single conference game by more than 10 points. Take the Bruins to cover.
AA: The only thing that gives me pause here is that Frank Beamer is a really good college football coach, and he's had a month to prepare for this game. Also, the Hokies haven't lost by more than a touchdown since the season opener against Alabama. Jim Mora's a good coach, too, and he's got the better team here, but I feel like VT has more to play for, considering they're trying to salvage a fairly awful season by their high standards. UCLA wants to finish out a good season strong, yes, and might even pull out a close win here, but I can't see them winning a blowout. Take the Hokies to at least cover.
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL, Tuesday, 3pm, ESPN
Rice (+7) over MISSISSIPPI STATE
Liberty Bowl, Memphis TN
JM: Maybe I'm selling CLANGA short, but they never, not once, actually looked like a good football team this year. They played Auburn close before Auburn jelled; they gave A&M and their tissue-paper defense a decent run; they even put up a good fight against Alabama, but only on one side of the ball. They also got seal-clubbed by LSU and South Carolina, only managed a field goal against Oklahoma State, and barely escaped Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Arkansas. Rice didn't really face any major tests, but aside from a loss to a pretty good North Texas squad and a close loss to Houston, they rolled through the non-A&M portion of their schedule, and didn't do too badly against the Aggies themselves. Okay, they did need overtime to get past UAB, but on the other hand they utterly pantsed Marshall. I think Mississippi State probably escapes with a win, but I'm taking Rice to cover.
AA: Rice did OK against the Aggies themselves? Really? As I recall, A&M played the entire first half without JFF and still led by two touchdowns. I'm not going to be impressed by any Conference USA wins, and I hope you're not forgetting these are the same Owls that needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat Kansas at home. I'm not totally sold on Mississippi State, either, but they did get within two touchdowns of Auburn, Alabama and A&M. That's more than good enough for me. Take the Bulldogs to cover.
CHIK-FIL-A IT'S STILL THE PEACH BOWL DAMNIT, Tuesday, 6pm, ESPN
Duke (+11.5) over TEXAS A&M
Georgia Dome, Atlanta GA
JM: That line is a joke. Texas A&M did not beat any team as good as Duke by 11 points all year. They beat Arkansas by 12. Mississippi State by 10. Mississippi by only three. Outside of that, other than clocking Vanderbilt the Aggies didn't even beat anyone you'd classify as "pretty good", unless you want to be charitable to Rice. The Aggies are going to win this game, but they're going to do it in Aggie fashion: by pulling it out of their ass. Duke covers.
AA: Listen, I'm proud of Duke for what they did this year winning the Coastal Division and all, but let's be rational here. This is not a great team. Believe it or not, even with than nice, shiny 10-3 record, the Blue Devils still got outgained this season by 6 yards. If this were a regular season game, I'd be taking Texas A&M in a heartbeat. But it's not, and I would almost guarantee Duke is significantly more amped up about this game than their opponents, who were considered at least fringe national title contenders when this season began. Instead, JFF is playing his last collegiate game against lowly Duke, so I expect the Aggies to be a little off and certainly not capable of covering this spread, though they may pull it together enough to still get the win.
NEXT: New Year's Day! Six games, one day, and that will set up our final ride into 2014.