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Enter bowl season with caution

THURSDAY, DEC. 25, 2008

Look to key clashes before placing your bets

DALLAS – Like chestnuts roasting on an open fire or George Bailey running down Main Street, I can’t think of anything that says the holiday season is here quite like our 11th annual random collection of college football bowl selections.

As always, not only do we not recommend wagering (legal or otherwise), we aren’t even sure such a thing exists. However, if it did, and had you paid attention to the carefully hidden key games either of the last two years, you would have celebrated in my name.

Of course, that’s pretty much the case after reading every column.

Before we injure ourselves with more patting on the back, we shall proceed.

Champ Sports Bowl: Florida State minus 5 1/2 over Wisconsin.

Bobby Bowden isn’t quite feeling the Senior Citizen love that is flowing toward Joe Paterno these days. And it’s not good that Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder got benched in the last game. But I have trouble embracing a Wisconsin team that lost to five Big Ten teams, including Michigan, and finished the season with a puzzling 36-35 overtime win against Cal Poly.

Valero Alamo Bowl: Northwestern plus 12 1/2 over Missouri.

The Chase Daniel Lone Star Bowls Tour continues. Missouri lost the Sun Bowl two years ago, won the Cotton Bowl last season and thought Daniel and Jeremy Maclin would provide the keys to a BCS game this year. It didn’t happen. Northwestern has a good enough pass offense and the Tigers a bad enough pass defense to keep this one close.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Oklahoma State minus 3 over Oregon.

One-sided losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma near the end of the year obscure just how good the Cowboys really are. The Ducks are pretty much the same team – all offense, not much defense – but the leadership of OSU quarterback Zac Robinson makes the difference here.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Houston minus 3 1/2 over Air Force.

In the first bowl to feature two teams that met in the regular season at SMU’s Ford Stadium, the outcome will be reversed. The teams moved their Sept. 13 game to Dallas because of Hurricane Ike. Since then, the Houston offense has taken flight. Look for Case KEEnum (get that?) to ring up big numbers on the Falcons.

Brut Sun Bowl: Pitt plus 2 1/2 over Oregon State.

It was an up-and-down year for the Fightin’ Wannstedts, but look for Panthers running back LeSean McCoy to outperform the man who upended USC’s season, Jacquizz Rodgers, in this one.

Insight Bowl: Kansas minus 9 1/2 over Minnesota.

Bad karma for the Gophers in this one as the Insight Bowl is where they blew a 31-point lead to Texas Tech two years ago. A team that finished its season with a 55-0 loss to Iowa won’t need to worry about blowing a big lead to the Jayhawks, who closed with a win over Missouri.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Georgia Tech minus 4 over LSU.

You knew it was going to be a weird season for the Tigers early in the year, when they tried to go with a transfer from Harvard at quarterback. They simply lost too many key players the last two years to compete, and the Yellow Jackets’ triple option will give LSU fits.

Capital One Bowl: Georgia minus 7 1/2 over Michigan State.

When you see just how good quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno can be outperforming the Spartans’ Javon Ringer, you will wonder why Georgia couldn’t play this way all season.

Citi Rose Bowl: USC minus 9 1/2 over Penn State.

This line is artificially low because of the good vibe everyone has about Joe Pa at Penn State these days. But there are two things USC does really well. One is complain about not getting into the national title game after foolishly losing a key game to an inferior Pac-10 team (this year Oregon State, last year Stanford, another year UCLA). The other is beat the daylights out of Big Ten teams.

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech minus 4 1/2 over Mississippi.

I like what the Rebels have done, and it’s nice that former Texas quarterback Jevan Snead gets to play in this game. But Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are set to deliver “Why Wasn’t I at the Heisman Ceremony?” performances on the Rebels.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State plus 8 1/2 over Texas.

There is this notion that because the Longhorns are upset about not playing in the title game, they will take it out on the Buckeyes. That kind of motivational thing almost never plays out. Expect the Longhorns to win, but expect it to be a long day as well.

BCS national championship game: Oklahoma plus 3 over Florida.

Remind me why a team that has scored at least 60 points in five straight games is getting points against a team that represents – for this season, anyway – an inferior conference. Too much has been made of Tim Tebow’s speech after the loss to Mississippi. Bob Stoops won his only national title when the game was all about defense. Even without a key player, DeMarco Murray, the Sooners have plenty of weapons to win a game that is all about offense.



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