Bowl Preview I: You Might Be An Addict

You might be an addict if... you watch any of these games in our first of four bowl preview pieces. Daniel Novinson tackles each of the lower-tier games. Still to come: the big-name bowls, plus some bowls of more import to Stanford fans.

You might be an addict for watching these games... you might also be a gambler looking to make a quick buck. Bowl games are big business for Vegas. With these relatively low-tier games broadcast to a national ESPN audience, the percentage of viewers who are gamblers must be higher than for any sporting event not held in the month of March.
I do make predictions, naturally, but I have to warn you, I can't bet bowls. College football regular seasons, no problem: The Sweep went 27-12 against the spread in the 2008 regular season and 24-15 in 2006 (we didn't pick in 2007). But in bowls, enough big conference teams who are heavy favorites in also-ran bowls just don't show up and get slaughtered that betting them is akin throwing darts.
So caveat emptor, bettors, but with the bowl season creeping ever earlier by the year (see, global warming does exist!), we have no time to waste. Here goes...
Note: The Vegas over/under and the Vegas spread are used to form the Vegas prediction.

Bowls That Are Actually States

1. New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 20, Albuquerque, N.M., ESPN)
Colorado State vs. Fresno State
Two schools often discussed (along Boise State) as Teams No. 11 and No. 12 in some reformatted Super Pac-10 (Pac-12, I guess?) meet in the Land of Enchantment. Fresno State has seven wins to Colorado State's six, and plays in a tougher conference to boot. They lost to Wisconsin by a field goal, and two other games by three or fewer. Colorado State was 4-6 before rallying to bowl eligibility. The pick's clear. 
Vegas: Fresno State 32, Colorado State 29
The Bootleg: Fresno State 34, Colorado State 21

2. Texas (Dec. 30, Houston, NFL Net.)
Western Michigan vs. Rice
It's ironic that two schools with fewer NFL prospects than 80 percent of bowl teams play on the NFL Network, but, tough economy, guess the NFL didn't have the cash to shell out for the Formerly-Known-As-the-Peach-Bowl Bowl. Rice is at home but there's what, 12 Rice fans in the state? Homefield doesn't matter as much when the stadium's going to be 1/4 full. The MAC's awful at the bottom, but Western pushed Miami, Ohio hard and, as Lee Corso would say, has a "sneaky good" defense. No way Rice hits its predicted 38.
Vegas: Rice 38, Western Michigan 35
The Bootleg: Western Michigan 34, Rice 17

Bowls That Aren't Actually Bowls

3. St. Petersburg (Dec. 20, St. Petersburg, Fla., ESPN2)
South Florida vs. Memphis
As of last year, this was the oldest established city in the state of Florida. This year, it's a bowl game. Who knew? South Florida plays in a tougher conference and is starting to recruit Florida pretty well. (They were No. 2 in the country at one point last year.) Albeit, they went 2-5 in conference play, which is why they're in this bowl, but a Big East schedule still has to count for something. Memphis, meanwhile, has the six worst wins of any bowl team in the country: Nicholls (not a) State, Arkansas State, UAB,
Southern Miss, Southern Methodist and Tulane. South Florida's defense held its last nine opponents to no more than 26 and they should have a field day with Memphis.
Vegas: South Florida 32, Memphis 20
The Bootleg: South Florida 30, Memphis 10

4. EagleBank (Dec. 20, Washington D.C., ESPN)
Navy vs. Wake Forest
In with the old, out with the new. Old opponent Navy's off the schedule, replaced by Wake Forest in these next two years. And, what do you know, Stanford fans get to see these two schools do battle to kickoff the bowl season. No word on whether Wake Forest also uses chop blocks of dubious legality. To all the Stanford fans that are calling for eight-win seasons and 5-0 starts, Wake Forest is sneaky good. If you don't believe me, watch for yourself: they always seem to pull out games in the fourth quarter.
Vegas: Wake Forest 22, Navy 20
The Bootleg: Wake Forest 24, Navy 17

Jingoistic Bowls

5. Alamo (Dec. 29, San Antonio, ESPN)
Northwestern vs. Missouri
Northwestern has an illustrious history of giving up some ridiculous point totals in recent bowl games. Since Gary Barnett left, Northwestern's bowl history looks like this: Tennessee 48, Northwestern 28 (1996-97); Nebraska 66, Northwestern 17 (2000); Bowling Green 28, Northwestern 24 (2003); UCLA 50, Northwestern 38 (2005). Chase Daniel and Missouri might not hang Nebraska's 66, but they'll come close enough.
Vegas: Missouri 40, Northwestern 27
The Bootleg: Missouri 55, Northwestern 21

6. Independence (Dec. 28, Shreveport, La., ESPN)
La. Tech vs. N. Illinois
I do this for a (part-time) living, and I couldn't tell you anything about these two school's seasons off the top of my heads. Could anyone? Louisiana Tech beat Alabama a few years ago (a few years before Louisiana-Monroe replicated the feat) and Northern Illinois was last relevant when their running back was Michael Turner. A prediction here is like when the non-sports fan in your circle of friends inevitably lucks into winning your March Madness pool, and then becomes an insufferable instant expert. Our friend Evan was great at this -- he read the article the day before about Belmont or Northwestern State on ESPN.com's frontpage and can recite two key facts from it, and so he knew they were going to pull the upset all along. Sorry Evan, but suffice it to say, I don't have a clue here. Vegas, show me the light.
Vegas: Northern Illinois 24, Louisiana Tech 23 (The line opened as a pick'em. Vegas doesn't have a clue either.)
The Bootleg: Northern Illinois 24, Louisiana Tech 23 (When in Rome...)

7. Armed Forces (Dec. 31, Fort Worth, ESPN)
Air Force vs. Houston
Isn't picking against Air Force fundamentally unpatriotic? Either we're with these guys or we're against them, right? Over/under on the number of jokes ESPN's G-list broadcasters make about how Houston is actually the team that passes for 400 yards per game, while Air Force prefers to run it: four. Over/under on Army Strong commercials we see: six. Houston's held two teams all year under 20. Air Force has scored 20 in all but one game. Uh oh.
Vegas: Houston 33, Air Force 30
The Bootleg: Air Force 35, Houston 24

8. Liberty (Jan. 2, Memphis, ESPN)
East Carolina vs. Kentucky
Remember when East Carolina started 3-0 with wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia to climb into the Top 15? I called them a flash in the pan then and called for an 8-4 season. They promptly lost their next three games and finished 8-4, 9-4 with a win in the Conference USA Title Game. Kentucky's got better athletes, played a schedule orders of magnitude more difficult, and is close enough to home (and had modest enough expectations preseason) that there's no reason to worry about a leown. That'd be the only thing that'll keep the Wildcats from grabbing a W here to bolster the SEC's bowl record. 
Vegas: Kentucky 22, East Carolina 20
The Bootleg: Kentucky 24, East Carolina 7

Barack Obama Bowls

(In contrast to the unilaterally American bowls above, these promote a more global vision of harmony and understanding.)
9. International (Jan. 3, Toronto, ESPN2)
Connecticut vs. Buffalo
Connecticut, ESPN's great hope for a college football powerhouse that can tap into the New York media market, circa 2005, plays Buffalo, ESPN's great hope for a college football powerhouse that can tap into the New York media market, circa 2008. With Trent Edwards and the Bills playing a game a year in Toronto, the Buffalo faithful probably know the route by now, but I don't think that's going to be enough. Connecticut came close in big games, losing to Rutgers and South Florida by a combined six points. They get over the hump in their season finale. Buffalo, despite winning the MAC Championship, might only be the fifth-best team in the league. They came out of the easier East Division and won three games in overtime.
Vegas: Connecticut 28, Buffalo 24
The Bootleg: Connecticut 34, Buffalo 17

10. Humanitarian (Dec. 30, Boise, Idaho, ESPN2)
Nevada vs. Maryland
It's Maryland's turn to get Cal-ed. As in, Cal made a September trip across the country and, thanks as much to time zone changes and jet lag as anything, fell behind Maryland 21-3 and ended up narrowly losing. (Jahvid Best vomiting during that game became a viral, pun intended, hit on Youtube. Kids these days.) Maryland had higher postseason hopes than Boise, while Nevada's much closer, and much happier to be here. Plus, Maryland went 0-for-3 against the legit top-25 teams in the ACC, losing to Boston College, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Every year, no-name minor conference teams catch some BCS conference schools napping, and I think Nevada, in front of a WAC-friendly crowd and more used to the snow, will pull it off in Boise.
Vegas: Nevada 28, Maryland 27
The Bootleg: Nevada 28, Maryland 24


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