We are, again, sort of bereft of compelling matchups in today's group of picks, which means that For Entertainment Purposes Only takes on a bit of an ironic tone. But by the end of today's post, we'll at least start getting into matchups between Power Five teams, and we start today's menu with a game that's actually worth watching on its own merit.
A reminder: we are, as a form of protest, eschewing all corporate sponsorship references. So if you're confused about the Motor City Bowl, that's why.
|Tuesday, 5 p.m.
BOCA RATON BOWL
FAU Stadium, Boca Raton FL
JM: Oh, this one's gonna be entertaining. Call this the "just missed a shot at a New Year's Six Bowl Bowl". Marshall, of course, blew their chances by falling in overtime to Western Kentucky on the penultimate Saturday of the season. Northern Illinois never really had a shot, but hey -- there are guys on this team who've played in an Orange Bowl.
There's a lot of strength vs strength in this one. Marshall gets a lot of yards in the air, but Northern Illinois has a good pass defense. Marshall's also a good running team -- 7th in the nation at 275 yards a game -- but again, the Huskies are decent against the run. The Huskies can run, too, averaging over 250 a game. But there's the competition to consider. These numbers would be meaningless in a major bowl against a Power 5 opponent. Against each other? This game might hinge on whether NIU's anemic passing offense can succeed against Marshall's top-25 pass defense.
Marshall's not that impressive. Conference USA is not a good football league. But the only mismatch here is when Northern Illinois is going to try and throw the ball, and it's a big mismatch. I'm going to take Marshall to cover here.
LT: Jon also left out that Marshall needed ten unanswered points in the fourth quarter to avoid a loss to Louisiana Tech in the C-USA championship game, proving yet again just how overrated the Thundering Herd were most of the season, especially in our BOTC writers bowl. Northern Illinois at least played some decent competition and even won at Northwestern, though they also got predictably bulldozed by Arkansas. I almost want to give the Huskies the nod based on those merits alone.
The football must be considered, though, and Jon's right that the Huskies are in trouble when they need to throw. That means if Marshall takes any kind of substantial lead early, then look out. But NIU can run a little bit, and Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon ran for 156 yards against the Thundering Herd. The week before that, WKU's Leon Allen ran for 237 yards (and only 1 TD in a 67-66 win, somehow) and the week before that, Jordan Howard of #FreeUAB ran for 168 yards. Noticing a trend here? I bet NIU senior Cameron Stingily (5.1 yards per carry) does. Huskies cover.
|Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego CA
|San Diego State|
JM: Remember when the Poinsettia Bowl was one of the best non-major bowl games every year? Yeah, I miss 2013 too. The teams have two common opponents. San Diego State obliterated San Jose State and beat Air Force; Navy beat San Jose by 10 and lost to the Falcons. The Aztecs have no truly bad losses (Fresno State being the worst) while Navy lost to horrible teams like Rutgers and Notre D -- okay, that's mean. Still, I think the home team has this in the bag. Aztecs cover, because they're terrorists who hate America.
LT: Jon, you should never pass up an opportunity to mock Notre Dame. Never. Anyway, I'm hesitant to pick against Navy and their weird offense, especially since their rout of Mizzou in the 2010 Texas Bowl. But Jon's right that the Midshipmen haven't done anything of note since putting a scare into Ohio State on opening weekend, and SDSU gets to play this game in their backyard. That's hardly fair. This one could be similar to their 35-14 stomping of Navy in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl. Take the Aztecs.
|Wednesday, 11:00 a.m.
Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, BH
JM: This is what we're exporting to foreign shores? There's an interesting twist here, though: Central Michigan handed Northern Illinois their only MAC loss of the year, and Western Kentucky delivered Marshall's only loss of the season, period. This will be a battle between a decent defensive team that's very good against the pass and an explosive offensive team which throws the ball a lot. I think Western Kentucky's chances of maintaining their high-scoring ways is better than the Chippewas' chances of keeping up with them. Hilltoppers cover.
LT: To be honest, this one probably comes down to which group of 18-22-year-olds can ignore the distractions of The Bahamas enough to put together a solid football game and win a worthless bowl game. Come to think of it, why would they want to do that? Anyway, I know some fine folks who were formerly part of the athletic department at Central Michigan, so I'm taking the Chippewas here.
|Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu HI
JM: Boy, I'm sure glad the NCAA changed the rules so that conference division winners who go 6-6 before their championship games are still eligible for bowls.. In protest against such tomfoolerly, I'm just going to take Rice to cover without even any analysis.
LT: That's pretty sound logic. Let's just make sure Rice is capable of --- wait, the Owls lost to Old Dominion, an FCS team that went 6-6? And gave up 76 points to Louisiana Tech in their last game? This is the team that is favored to win? Man, this one's going to be terrible. I'd love to seem them both lose, but I think Fresno gets back to .500.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
Cotton Bowl, Dallas TX
JM: That's not a misprint. Louisiana Tech really is favored by almost a touchdown over a Power 5 opponent. These are two teams defined by the games on their schedule that Just Don't Fit -- Illinois' win over Minnesota, and Tech's loss to Northwestern State. Best stat: against the run, Tech is 16th in the nation. Illinois is 123rd. And while Louisiana Tech isn't that great at running the ball, Illinois is absolutely hapless, 114th in the land at 117 yards per game. So that line? Louisiana Tech's going to cover it.
LT: Wait, Louisiana Tech lost to Old Dominion, too? What's going on here? *checks schedules* Oh, it seems Old Dominion is actually an FBS team now and this is their first full year of play at this level. Weird, but I'm sticking with my Rice pick because it's not worth it to go back up there. Anyway, Illinois is pretty terrible, and I'm surprised Jon didn't look at a rather instructive common opponent here. The Illini needed a dominant fourth quarter to beat Western Kentucky by 8 in Champaign back in September. Then in November, the Hilltoppers traveled to Roston and got absolutely destroyed by La Tech, 59-10. They're going to cover.
|Friday, 3:30 p.m.
MOTOR CITY BOWL
Lions Stadium, Detroit MI
JM: It's our first matchup of Power 5 teams this post-season, and good god does it stink. Can we just skip this one? Off the field, this is "program run by abusive crazy people" vs. "program run by academic frauds". The highlight of the season for Rutgers was beating Michigan, a thing Kansas State can't even be proud of for doing last year. North Carolina is North Carolina; burying themselves by October then somehow finishing 6-6. It's an awful game, and I'd recommend watching almost anything else, but I'll take the Tar Heels to cover.
LT: I guess the ACC and Big Ten are technically in the Power 5, but neither of those conferences would even be in the conversation if it was the Power 3. The thing about Rutgers, though, is that they beat Indiana at home, which we all know is really hard to do because they're a very good football team. Hey! Sorry about that. Gary Pinkel stole my computer for a second there. I guess since the Tar Heels are playing better lately I'll go ahead and take them to cover.
Next: The Big 12 and SEC finally join the fray, meaning we get some actually interesting games, including a battle of former elite programs and new Big 12 vs. old Big 12.