by Jim Feist
As 2015 draws to a close, we find ourselves smack in the middle of the bowls. You shouldn't be bowled-out, either, as they build to the crescendo that is the Final Four between Alabama, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Clemson.
Poinsettia Bowl (Wed, Dec. 23): Northern Illinois (8-5) heads to San Diego on a two game slide, losing to Ohio (26-21) and Bowling Green (34-14), the former as a 12-point favorite. The Huskies lost quarterback Drew Hare to a leg injury against Toledo and have tried freshman QBs Ryan Graham (6 TDs, 3 INTs) and Tom Fiedler (2 TDs, 3 INTs). The defense faded down the stretch, but lost 20-13 at Ohio State as a +34 dog back in September. NI is 2-6 ATS in bowl games, plus 12-5 under the total at neutral sites.
Boise State (8-4) also stumbled late, on a 1-2 SU/ATS run losing to New Mexico (31-24) as -30 chalk and to Air Force (37-30) as -10 favorite. Air Force had 607 yards! Running back Jeremy McNichols (1,244 yards) anchors the attack running for 18 TDs. Boise is 5-2 ATS in bowl games, plus 13-3 over against a winning team.
Hawaii Bowl (Thurs, Dec. 24): A shorter trip for San Diego State (10-3) to the Islands, a place they visited just two months ago in a 28-14 win. San Diego State has been on a tear, a 9-0 SU, 7-1-1 ATS run. The Aztecs lost their starting QB, Max Smith (13 TDs, 2 INTs) in the finale, however, with a knee injury and he is questionable.
Freshman QB Christian Chapman (323 yards) may have to play but won’t have to carry the load because of RB Donnel Pumphrey (1,554 yards). SDSU can play defense, too, on a 19-7 run under the total. They face a Cincinnati team that didn’t play well away from home, giving up 55 at Memphis and 65 at South Florida. QB Gunner Kiel (19 TDs, 11 INTs) leads a strong offense on a team that is 4-1 over the total in bowl games.
Foster Farms Bowl (Sat., Dec. 26): UCLA will be playing Nebraska for the third time in four years. UCLA won 36-30 in the Rose Bowl three seasons ago, then won 41-21 at Nebraska in 2013. UCLA is led by freshman QB Josh Rosen (20 TDs, 9 INTs) and RB Paul Perkins (1,275 yards, 5.7 ypc). UCLA does a good job against the pass, ranking first in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per game (205.7). UCLA is off a loss to USC and is 35-15-1 under the total after a defeat.
Nebraska (5-7) made a bowl despite a losing record and a defense that gave up 33, 36, 55 and 38 in four contests. QB Tommy Armstong (21 TDs, 16 INTs) leads a strong offense but the Husker pass defense ranks 121st in the nation. Last year Armstrong tore up USC in the Holiday Bowl with 381 yards passing, although Nebraska is 1-4 ATS against the Pac 12.
Military Bowl (Mon, Dec. 28): This game is in Annapolis, Maryland, so it’s a home game for Navy against Pitt. The Pitt Panthers (8-4) played well under first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi. Pitt has a balanced offense behind junior QB Nathan Peterman (19 TDs, 5 INTs) and RB Qadree Ollison (1,048 yards, 5.1 ypc). Pitt is off a loss to Miami, 29-24, and the Panthers are 26-10-1 ATS following a loss.
Navy beat everyone on its schedule except Notre Dame and Houston. Senior QB Keenan Reynolds leads this option-attack with over 1,000 yards rushing and passing. The Midshipmen are 7-3 ATS in bowl games, though 1-4 ATS versus the ACC. The teams last met in 2013, with Navy claiming a 24-21 home win on a 30-yard field goal as time expired. Pitt was -5 chalk, going under the total of 51.
Russell Athletic Bowl (Tues., Dec. 29): North Carolina comes off that 45-37 loss to No. 1 Clemson that ended an 11-game win streak. The offense is prolific behind QB Marquise Williams (21 TDs, 9 INTs), who ran for 867 yards. 6-4 junior WR Mack Hollins (711 yards) averaged 25.4 yards per catch! UNC is 1-4 ATS at neutral sites.
They face a Baylor squad that doesn’t know who their QB is. The offense clicked under QB Seth Russell, but he is out, and QBs Jarrett Stidham (12 TDs, 2 INTs) and Chris Johnson (3 TDs, 2 INTs) have been up and down. Baylor has scored 21 and 17 points the last two games, both losses as favorites, part of a 1-5 ATS run. Baylor is also on a 48-21-2 run over the total.