After an impressive 2014 season, "Stanford Steve" Coughlin of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, and Chris Fallica of ESPN Stats & Information and College GameDay are back. Every Wednesday during the college football season, they'll give their best bets for picking the weekend's top college football games.
2015 season record:
Fallica: 53-40-3 ATS (last week: 2-3)
Coughlin: 38-29-3 ATS (last week: 3-2)
2014 season record:
Fallica: 44-40 ATS (52.4 percent)
Coughlin: 45-28-1 ATS (60.8 percent)
Note: Against the spread (ATS)/total picks are in bold. Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
BYU Cougars (+2.5) vs Utah Utes
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas, Nevada; Dec. 19
Fallica: This is a great spot for BYU. Sure, the Cougars lost head coach Bronco Mendenhall to Virginia, but there's nothing better than seeing your archrival in a bowl game to regain any lost motivation. Playing without Devontae Booker is a bad thing for the Utes, and it's especially bad for Travis Wilson.
In two games without Booker to finish the year (versus UCLA and Colorado), Wilson was 23 of 52 for 218 yards, got sacked four times and had just two 20-yard completions. Clearly defenses didn't respect Utah's ability to run without Booker, and Wilson simply couldn't throw against defenses more focused on taking away the pass. I like Tanner Mangum and the Cougs to pull the small upset.
ATS pick: BYU 30, Utah 24
New Mexico Lobos (+9) vs. Arizona Wildcats
Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dec. 19
Coughlin: I might be a little stubborn here, but when the regular season ended I told myself I was taking the Lobos, no matter what the matchup was. And I know Arizona and New Mexico have two common opponents and they both beat the Lobos and lost to the Wildcats. Over the last month of the season, I really grew to like this team, with its option offense, as it won impressively to end the year vs. Boise State and Air Force in two of the last three weeks. The Lobos need to play this game with a lead, seeing how they only average about 10 passes a game, but that's all right as they're on their home field. That fan base better come out and support a team playing in its first bowl since 2007.
ATS pick: New Mexico 31, Arizona 30
Temple Owls (-1.5) vs. Toledo Rockets
Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Florida; Dec. 22
Fallica: Two teams face off here that were talked about as potential representatives of the Group of 5 in the New Year's Six. Offensively, Toledo is much better than Temple, who is 82nd nationally in offensive efficiency, while the two are comparable defensively (both in the 20s nationally). Motivation shouldn't be an issue for either team, and FPI says the wrong team is favored. I don't know how much of a running game Jahad Thomas and the Owls will muster against Toledo, who allowed just 103 yards to Arkansas and held Northern Illinois to barely 2 yards per carry. I like the balance of the Toledo offense with Phillip Ely and Kareem Hunt to win one of the better pre-New Year's Eve games.
ATS pick: Toledo 24, Temple 17
Coughlin: There's a lot to be said about the emotion factor when it comes to bowl games, and you can argue plenty of ways for each of these teams to win when they face each other. I see this as a monumental game for Temple, as the Owls are finally playing in a postseason game after being denied a bowl last year, despite having a bowl-eligible record. I also see the Owls as having a veteran nucleus whose goal was to play in a postseason game, after going 2-10 just two years ago. They were a couple of possessions from a New Year's Six game before losing in their conference title game at Houston, and they're led by one of the best leaders in college football in senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who recently was named the Bronko Nagurski Award winner.
ATS pick: Temple 27, Toledo 20
Akron Zips (+6.5) vs. Utah State Aggies
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise, Idaho; Dec. 22
Fallica: Utah State's season completely went south following its huge upset win over Boise State. Now the Aggies face an Akron team which hasn't been bowling since 2005, boasts a very experienced defense - one which rates higher efficiency wise than many Power 5 teams -- and won four straight just to get here. They will be very motivated to play. Not sure I can say the same thing for Utah State, which considers a trip to Boise as just another conference road trip. Defense and the running and throwing of Thomas Woodson lead Terry Bowden's Akron team to an upset win.
ATS pick: Akron 28, Utah State 20
Hawai'i Bowl, Honolulu, Hawaii; Dec. 24
Fallica: There is always a danger when a bowl game in Hawaii is involved. Will one of the teams treat it as a vacation? While I am asking myself that question with Cincinnati, I still like the Bearcats here. Even if Gunner Kiel can't go, backup Hayden Moore has certainly proved capable of operating the Bearcats' offense. The Aztecs ripped through the Mountain West on the backs of their defense, but I don't know how good the conference and some of those offenses were this year. Cincinnati has proved it can match up athletically and score on Miami and Memphis, so if focused, it should be able to score here. Keep in mind the last two years Tommy Tuberville's Bearcats have laid an egg in their bowl game. I think they'll be ready to play this year.
ATS pick: Cincinnati 37, San Diego State 28
Coughlin: I wasn't sure who won the bowl season draw when the bowl games were announced -- I couldn't decide between Cincinnati and Western Michigan, two schools from the Midwest that were set to play in the best climates a bowl game could offer. Then I saw this quote from Tuberville: "The Hawai'i Bowl is one of the best bowls going, I've coached in a lot of them, and unless you're playing for the national championship, what better place to spend the holidays than Hawaii?" Give me the Bearcats.
ATS pick: Cincinnati 41, San Diego State 30
Connecticut Huskies (+4.5) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd
St. Petersburg Bowl, Dec. 26
Coughlin: I am going to go out on a limb and say this will be the best defense the Thundering Herd will line up against all season. I will also add that no one in America will have their hair looking better at 11 a.m. Eastern on the morning after Christmas than Huskies head coach Bob Diaco. He'll look good and so will his defense, which comes in allowing an average of 19.8 points per game (17th in the country). Give me the Huskies and their stud running back, Arkeel Newsome, who comes in ranked 18th in the country in all-purpose yards (1,621).
ATS pick: Connecticut 17, Marshall 16
Nebraska Cornhuskers (+6.5) vs. UCLA Bruins
Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, California; Dec. 26
Fallica: How many times between now and kickoff will we hear that Nebraska went 5-7 this year and shouldn't be in a bowl game? Well, the snake-bitten Huskers clearly have the talent to play with the nation's elite, as evidenced by a win over Michigan State and a four-quarter game with Iowa. This will be a big deal for Mike Riley and the Huskers, who can end the year on a high note with a win in the state of California, where Riley would like to grab recruits from. Nebraska has thrown an amazing 13 interceptions in the last four games, so the Huskers need to eliminate those. But is UCLA really going to be excited about playing in a half-full (maybe) stadium in Northern California after it was blown out by its rival with a chance to play for the Pac-12 title in that stadium and a Rose Bowl berth?
Josh Rosen has a huge future, but with all the injuries the Bruins have suffered this year along with dreams of a Pac-12 title gone, I don't know how much is left in the tank. Remember that last year Nebraska went to California and played USC tough in a bowl game. Sneaky-good upset chance here.
ATS pick: Nebraska 38, UCLA 31
Texas Tech Red Raiders (+7) vs. LSU Tigers
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston, Texas; Dec. 29
Fallica: Oh, if only we knew how LSU was going to approach this game offensively. Will the Tigers simply run Leonard Fournette against one of the worst Power 5 defenses out there? Or will Les Miles begin 2016 preparations here and start to throw the ball a bit more and evolve the offensive game plan some? Will the players be happy with "saving" Miles' job versus Texas A&M, which really marked the end of the season for them?
One thing I do know is that Texas Tech is going to score (second nationally in offensive efficiency). The Red Raiders also did a good job defensively against Arkansas earlier this year, and Arkansas is probably a better team than LSU right now. Texas Tech is used to pulling off bowl upsets and LSU has been a poor bowl team lately (the Tigers haven't covered a bowl game as a favorite since 2010). With that track record, I would certainty lean towards taking the points and an offense that will be hard to keep out of the end zone.
ATS pick: Texas Tech 35, LSU 34
Mississippi State Bulldogs (-4.5) vs. NC State Wolfpack
Belk Bowl, Charlotte, North Carolina; Dec. 30
Fallica: It's ironic that Dak Prescott's final college game is against NC State. I can see the Bulldogs treating this game like the Wolfpack did Philip Rivers' final college game -- allowing him to put up the biggest numbers possible. I know the game is in Charlotte, but NC State hasn't beaten anyone this year. Here are NC State's wins: Troy (4-8), Eastern Kentucky (FCS), Old Dominion (5-7), South Alabama (5-7), Wake Forest (3-9), Boston College (3-9) and Syracuse (4-8).
None of those are close to the quality of Mississippi State (18th in offensive efficiency, 35th in defensive efficiency). The Bulldogs are better offensively and infinitely better defensively than the Wolfpack. And State is familiar with a dual threat QB, as it faces Prescott in practice each day. That will help against Jacoby Brissett. I'll go with the team looking to end the season on a better note than last year and send its record-setting QB out a winner.
ATS pick: Mississippi State 41, NC State 27
Florida State Seminoles (-7) vs. Houston Cougars
Chik-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31
Fallica: Florida State found itself in a similar spot a few years ago when the Noles blasted "Group of 5/Non-AQ" Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. If Temple was able to contain the Houston passing attack (Greg Ward Jr. was 11-of-21 with 88 yards), I would think Derwin James, Jalen Ramsey and the rest of the FSU defense would be able to do the same, so long as the Noles are motivated -- and I think they will be. The Cougars haven't seen anything close to a RB like Dalvin Cook this season and after not getting to New York for the Heisman, along with a month to rest up, Cook could eclipse the 183 yards he ran for versus Florida, the 194 versus Clemson or the 222 vs. Miami. An 11-2 season would be some "down year" for FSU.
ATS pick: Florida State 38, Houston 21
Coughlin: I feel like I owe it to the Cougars to pick them in this game. Before the season I predicted they would win the American Athletic Conference, but I'm still mad at myself for pulling back on my prediction that I thought they might go undefeated. Houston was my favorite team to go over its win total too. On the other hand, the Cougars are facing the most explosive and dangerous player in the country, in my opinion, in Cook. But there aren't too many coaches in the country that love being the underdog more than Tom Herman. I think the Cougs keep it close.
ATS pick: Florida State 31, Houston 27
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+6.5) vs Ohio State Buckeyes
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Arizona; Jan. 1
Fallica: Barring a brief spell against Virginia Tech and in the season finale at Michigan, Ohio State never really found itself this year offensively, and struggled as a whole in an effort to repeat as national champions. So my question is this: if the Buckeyes had trouble getting up during the year when it still controlled its chance at a national title, how will it get up for a game which has zero title implications? Will the numerous NFL draft prospects be more concerned about the combine and such, opposed to being fully invested in a bowl game? There is no doubt Notre Dame will be ready to play.
The Irish were as impressive as anyone in the country this season, overcoming numerous injuries and coming within a couple plays of being in the playoff. If Ohio State had trouble with the Michigan State defense, it will be interesting to see how t handles Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Joe Schmidt and Co. The Buckeyes are going to have to throw to win and they really haven't demonstrated this year that they can. Maybe they will get Braxton Miller more involved on offense? But I expect to see an top-notch effort from the Irish who will hear about being blown out in BCS games and living more off their losses than anyone they have beaten. That changes here.
ATS pick: Notre Dame 27, Ohio State 23
Tennessee Volunteers (-8.5) vs. Northwestern Wildcats
Outback Bowl, Tampa, Florida; Jan. 1
Fallica: Usually I hate adages like "x plays away from ..." a certain record, but in Tennessee's case it completely rings true. The Vols had CFP teams Alabama and Oklahoma on the ropes and had SEC East winner Florida beaten in Gainesville. The Vols were fourth in ESPN's Game Control metric; they just couldn't finish against the nation's elite. Now the Vols finish with Northwestern, which is 100th nationally in offensive efficiency and 54th in FPI. On paper, everything points to Tennessee. I think the Vols end the season for the second year in a row with a big win over the Big Ten, and win nine games for the first time since 2007.
ATS pick: Tennessee 31, Northwestern 14
Penn State Nittany Lions (+6.5) vs. Georgia Bulldogs
TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Florida; Jan. 2
Fallica: So Georgia has lost its head coach, its offensive coordinator and its defensive coordinator? Other than that, all is well in Athens. Kidding aside, even before the last couple of weeks, Georgia was struggling mightily on offense and nearly lost at home to Georgia Southern. Sure, the defense should shut down Penn State, but how many points are the Bulldogs going to score? And you know that after getting blasted in East Lansing, James Franklin will be selling his team hard on ending the season with a bowl win over an SEC team in SEC Country.
Again, as in so many cases in bowl games, I'll go with the motivated team -- especially in an underdog role. Last year, four of the seven SEC teams favored by more than a field goal in their bowl game lost. Don't be afraid of going against the SEC this time of year.
ATS pick: Penn State 20, Georgia 17