The 2010-2011 College Football Bowl season is just a week away, packing 35 nationally-televised bowls matching up teams ranging from Middle Tennessee State and Miami Ohio in the GoDaddy.com Bowl to Oregon and Auburn in the BCS National Championship.
To go along with the massive potful of bowls is plenty of America's favorite betting topic: the Bowl Pool. Millions of people nationwide will pull out their checkbooks and think deep in their subconscious mind to make a decision on what may be the most fun way to randomly throw around your hard-earned cash.
With 20 games boasting a spread of just three points or less, this winter is sure to be a season of close games. However, that makes the betting even harder, as small spreads become practically meaningless, but still a little edge in the back of your mind.
With that said, we're going to make a stab at who we'd choose against the Vegas odds in each and every bowl game. There are no guarantees, but after a fascinating 2010 season, the season's many climaxes are sure to be just as crazy, whether you win your bet or not.
Note: This is Part One, making predictions for the first 18 bowl games up through December 30. Picks on the remaining 17 games from December 31 on can be read on the Part Two article.
New Mexico Bowl - BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
The Cougars of Brigham Young are on a roll, winning four of their last five to sneak into a bowl, but a loss to rival Utah after blowing a lead takes a lot of wind out of the sails.
On the other hand, the UTEP Miners have won just one of their last six including a thrilling loss to Tulsa last week. Look for BYU to handle them in a disappointing season for their program, 31-21, but still narrowly not cover the spread.
Pick: UTEP +12
Humanitarian Bowl - Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Fresno State (8-4)
Northern Illinois held a coveted top-25 spot and perfect conference record into last Saturday's MAC Championship game, but since, things have started to unravel. Not only did a loss in that match to Miami, Ohio knock them down to the Humanitarian Bowl, but now the linebackers coach is set to lead the team after the head coach took the job at Minnesota.
Meanwhile, 8-4 Fresno's only losses have come from Boise State, Nevada (by one point) and Hawaii (all currently-ranked WAC teams) and Ole Miss, an SEC team. The Bulldogs defeated Illinois in a major Friday night game last week and should edge out a victory over the crumbling Huskies, 27-24
Pick: Fresno State +2
New Orleans Bowl - Troy (7-5) vs. Ohio (8-4)
The Troy Trojans grabbed at least a share of the Sun Belt Championship for the fifth time in a row last week, and should take that and back-to-back wins into nearby New Orleans to take on an Ohio team coming off one of the best seasons in a long time.
Holding a 6-2 MAC record and 8-4 mark overall, including a six-game winning streak that ended only last week, the Bobcats should be very excited to play another perennial minor-conference power, and come out with a tight, high-scoring 38-34 victory.
Pick: Ohio +1.5
Beef O'Brady's Bowl - Louisville (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (8-4)
Despite losing three of their last five in a brutal season-ending run, the Cardinals return to a bowl again in 2010 and are happy to be there, considering their preseason projections. They'll face a Southern Miss team that may be on the rise back to BCS Buster-glory, winning eight games this year to continue their gradual increase.
It's very hard to call a winner here, but I'll say that Louisville can pull out a 28-27 win but continue the run of underdogs covering in the early bowls.
Pick: Southern Miss +3
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State (11-1) vs. Utah (10-2)
The first truly good bowl of the year will unfortunately match up two undoubtedly disappointed teams that both were, at one point, in the nation's top five. A crumble under pressure by Boise State's kicker resulted in their only loss of the year to also one-loss Nevada, while a major slump (despite a pair of impressive comebacks) has knocked Utah far down the rankings.
The Broncos still are a far better team, though, so I predict the first lopsided bowl of the season as Utah falls 42-20.
Pick: Boise State -17
Poinsettia Bowl - San Diego State (8-4) vs. Navy (8-3)
The Poinsettia Bowl fell way down the pecking order this time around, but they'll still end up with the hometown team, the Aztecs, against one of the most interesting and untested teams in the country, the Midshipmen. San Diego State, though, is far more excited over their eight wins than Navy will be though, and with the extra week of rest (Navy plays Army this weekend), they should be able to win a close one, 31-28.
Pick: San Diego State (even)
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii (10-3) vs. Tulsa (9-3)
At the beginning of the year, Hawaii was not looking like a good chance to make their own bowl. However, against all odds, the Warriors posted a very solid record this season, topped by wins over Fresno State and, most notably, Nevada. They are looking to destroy the time zone-weary Tulsa Hurricanes.
The 'Canes, though, also had a very good year, losing only one game (to Oklahoma State) by more than a field goal, and they'll hold a six-game undefeated run heading into the duel. Expect Tulsa to be able to top Hawaii in their own place in a thriller, 42-41.
Pick: Tulsa +11
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl - Toledo (8-4) vs. Florida International (6-6)
One of the worst bowls of the month, the big-name Little Caesars Pizza Bowl pits Toledo, a major surprise team to be 8-4, against Florida International, who just lost out on a confidence-building Sun Belt Championship with a loss last week but, surprisingly, not a bowl berth.
With two losses coming to major contenders Arizona and Boise State and just one in-conference defeat (to undefeated-in-the-MAC Northern Illinois), Toledo effortlessly surpassed expectations this season. Meanwhile, Florida International overcame an 0-4 record (albeit, all losses to BCS-conference teams) to squeak in. Still, they'll fall to the Rockets, 30-24.
Pick: Toledo -2.5
Independence Bowl - Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)
The Independence Bowl plots an intriguing game between the Falcons and Yellow Jackets this season. Three of Air Force's four total losses were to teams in the top 10 at the time (Oklahoma, TCU and Utah) and they'll carry a three-game winning streak into the game, but usual power Georgia Tech will be seeing themselves as too good for the Independence Bowl.
Conversely, they'll come in underdogs after a quiet 6-6 campaign, the most impressive win merely a slim victory over 7-5 North Carolina in Week Three. Watch for Air Force to pull away early and finish with a 31-20 win.
Pick: Air Force -2.5
Champs Sports Bowl - West Virginia (9-3) vs. North Carolina State (8-4)
The second somewhat high quality bowl of the month features two teams that just missed out on a shot at their BCS conference title. West Virginia finished with the best overall record in the Big East, but a 53-yard field goal by UConn as time expired in their final game knocked the Mountaineers out of the Fiesta Bowl. For the Wolfpack, a win last Saturday over already-eliminated Maryland would have put NC State into the Championship in nearby Charlotte, but they came up short.
Both teams will come into the Champs Sports Bowl looking for a big win to finish off a year that fell just a little bit short. The two offenses should be evenly matched, and a last-second field goal could be what it takes to win, just as in my prediction; West Virginia 31, NC State 34.
Pick: North Carolina State +2.5
Insight Bowl - Missouri (10-2) vs. Iowa (7-5)
Both Missouri and Iowa came into 2010 as wild cards for their conference titles, but, while neither were able to accomplish the dark horse title, Missouri was clearly the better team. Back-to-back road losses at Nebraska and Texas Tech were the only blemishes on the Tigers' record, highlighted by relatively decisive wins over Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
For the Hawkeyes, three consecutive losses quashed Iowa's hopes that had begun to build with their 7-2 start. Those recent trends should hold true in this one, too, as Missouri blows past Iowa 35-17 despite the small spread.
Pick: Missouri -1
Military Bowl - Maryland (8-4) vs. East Carolina (6-6)
Two completely non-military-related teams will be playing in this year's Military Bowl, just adding to the fact that this matchup should be plenty high-scoring but not necessarily very close. Maryland, the major favorite, played just two top-25 teams this year, but the second one was just last week in a huge win over NC State.
On the contrary, East Carolina scored plenty of points but gave up just as many in their .500 season, falling short of 33 points just twice and reaching the 40s or higher four times, but holding opponents under 27 only once and giving up 76 and 62 points in two different games. They should be outmatched in this one, falling 45-28.
Pick: Maryland -7
Texas Bowl - Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6)
Both Baylor and Illinois will be happy to be here after recovering from miserable seasons the past couple years, but it's still up for grabs on who will win. The Bears dropped their last three games, although you can't blame them much considering they were against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, but should be thrilled to just be in a bowl for once.
Meanwhile, the Illini lost three of their last four but did manage a massive improvement over the 2009 season. They might fall just short in this one, though, as we foresee them falling 35-30.
Pick: Baylor -1.5
Alamo Bowl - Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Four losses in a row have ruined Arizona's 2010 record, and the competition won't get any easier in this must-watch Alamo Bowl. Oklahoma State actually had a very good chance at a BCS bid, and their high-caliber offense that topped 32 points every game but one should love the porous Wildcat defense.
The Wildcats won't go down without a fight, but the Cowboys are just slightly too good for them here. The six-point spread is right on, though, so betters will have a tough decision, especially with a score like the 31-24 one we project.
Pick: Oklahoma State -6 (Toss-up)
Armed Forces Bowl - SMU (7-6) vs. Army (6-5)
Both opponents in this year's Armed Forces bowl were, obviously, bowl eligible, but it didn't take much for either of them to get to that point, considering their schedules.
While Army still has another game left, their wins to date are composed of Eastern Michigan (2-10), North Texas (3-9), Duke (3-9), Tulane (4-8), VMI (an FCS school) and Kent State (5-7). For the Mustangs, it's victories over UAB (4-8), Washington State (2-10), Rice (4-8), Tulsa (9-3), Tulane (4-8), Marshall (5-7) and East Carolina (6-6) that got them to this point.
The two teams are both fairly average and fairly well matched, but with SMU's home-field advantage, they should come out with a slim 24-21-like win.
Pick: SMU (even)
Pinstripe Bowl - Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
One of the more mysterious bowls of the year, as neither of these teams received much press attention despite having solid years in their respective BCS conferences. The Pinstripe Bowl features an underrated matchup. Kansas State built off of a 4-0 start and 59-7 win over rival Kansas this season to quietly win seven games. Over in New England, the Orange had the edge in the Big East title race with four games to go, but three losses during that span knocked them out of contention.
If anything, the one factor to set these evenly-matched teams apart will be the location: New York City on December 30th. Not only will Syracuse not have to leave the state, they'll be much more used to the chilling weather than K-State, and could edge out an intense 28-27 win.
Pick: Syracuse +1
Music City Bowl - North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
The Tar Heels will travel to Nashville for a pseudo-road game in this cross-conference neighborly rivalry against Tennessee. If they had all of their players, North Carolina would be a lock to win, but the two-point spread is about right for now. This bowl will also pit both of the almost-beat-LSU teams against each other.
The Tar Heels have shown a tendency to win close games (five of their seven wins have been by five points or less), but this game might just show the differences between the overlapping conferences. Tennessee should pull a victory out of the hat in this one, 23-21.
Pick: Tennessee +2
Holiday Bowl - Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6)
The Holiday Bowl fell far down the pecking order this winter, and they'll end up with a rematch of a 56-21 blowout win for the favored team back in September. Nebraska may have blown a big lead in the Big 12 Championship that cost them a Fiesta Bowl berth, and the Huskies may have won three in a row to get here, but it's hard to see this one being anything but another rout. Our prediction: Huskers 41, Huskies 21.
Pick: Nebraska -13.5