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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 02, 2013 at 9:15 AM

Safe to say that the Big 10 won't be circling the date January 1, 2013 as one of the league's all-time favorite days in its history.

Okay, so most in-the-know football fans knew darn well that the handful of Big 10 teams in action on New Year's Day really had their hands full - we take a moment here to congratulate Northwestern for its first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl although heaven knows Miss State basically handed 'em the game in that 34-20 Wildcats win in the Gator Bowl.

Still, the real story on the day was Big 10 teams losing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (see Purdue), the Outback Bowl (see Michigan), the Capital One Bowl (that was Nebraska) and the Rose Bowl (see Wisconsin) even though both the Wolverines and Badgers played hard in their bowl losses.

The fact of the matter is when Florida State finally wrapped up the New Year's Day bowl festivities with that never-ending 31-10 triumph over Northern Illinois in a more than half-empty Sun Life Stadium in this year's Orange Bowl game - and so much for Huskies QB Jordan Lynch being one of the "best players in the country"! - true football fans were left wanting better January 1 bowl matchups than we got but we did suggest a while back that this might have been the weakest New Year's Day bowl card in memory.

We inch closer to next Monday night's BCS Championship Game between #1 Notre Dame versus #1 Alabama but there are some tasty appetizers on tap in the coming days and here we'll preview tonight's Sugar Bowl duel and Thursday night's Fiesta Bowl bash ... have fun!

Tonight, it's :

SUGAR BOWL - Superdome; New Orleans, LA
#21 LOUISVILLE (10-2) vs. #3 FLORIDA (11-1) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
In case you missed it, the mighty SEC is "only" 3-2 SU (straight-up) and 2-3 ATS (against the spread) through the league's first fistful of bowl games this winter and both Texas A&M and Alabama will play later this bowl season but there are many folks who believe this edition of the Florida Gators might well have been the best of 'em all save for that 17-9 loss to archrival Georgia way back on October 27th. Consider that second-year head coach Will Muschamp's crew beat the aforementioned A&M Aggies starring Heisman Trophy winner QB Johnny Manziel and don't forget the Gators' wins against LSU and Florida State.

If Florida - a hefty two-TD betting favorite for this game in the Crescent City - is gonna wrap up the year with a fifth straight win than a defense that allowed just 12.9 points per game - that's third-best nationally - must limit Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater's downfield/feathery throws and note Florida's surrendered just five aerial scores this year while collecting an awesome 19 interceptions. 

Do keep a close eye on Florida S Matt Elam who seems to be everywhere on the field but a Florida offense that can go into famine-like periods probably needs a 25-touch game by RB Mike Gillislee (1,104 yards rushing and 10 ground scores).

Bridgewater (3,452 yards passing and 25 TDs) has not been 100 percent healthy in a while as wrist/ankle woes slowed 'em late in the year but former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong - the Louisville head coach who said "no, no, no" to any/all schools the past few weeks - needs his defense/special teams to either score or set up some points 'cause the 'Ville is overmatched on paper here.

Spread Notes - Florida is 7-5 versus the vig overall this 2012 campaign but the Gators have failed to cover four of their last five spread verdicts while heading into this prime-time tilt. Note that Florida's covered four consecutive bowl games with pointspread "W's against Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Penn State and Ohio State these last four bowl appearances. On the flip side, Louisville is just 5-7 ATS (against the spread) this year and that includes a 20-17 upset win at 3 ½-point favorite Rutgers back on November 29th as that marked the Cardinals' lone dog appearance this season. Note that U of L has split bowl bets under third-year coach Strong with a 2010 win/cover against Southern Miss (St. Pete Bowl) and last year's 31-24 loss to 1 ½-point fav N.C. State in the Belk Bowl.

THE LAST 3 SUGAR BOWL GAMES

YEAR WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
2011 Michigan - 3 Virginia Tech 23-20 (ot)
2010 Ohio State - 3 Arkansas 31-26
2009 Florida - 13 Cincinnati 51-24

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will light it up with the NFL Wild Card Round games this Saturday/Sunday and all through the NFL Playoffs leading up to Super Bowl XLVII on February 3rd plus get all the NBA and NCAA Basketball Winners each and every day too - and make you're all aboard right now with America's #1 Handicapper to cash in big with all the College Football Bowl Games that rock-n-roll on right into next week with the BCS Championship Game on Monday, January 7th. So don't you get left out in the cold! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners and note the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.

On Thursday, it's:

FIESTA BOWL - University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, AZ
#4 OREGON (11-1) vs. #5 KANSAS STATE (11-1) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
No doubt if you've heard it once than you've heard it a thousand times - if the season would have ended on November 16th than this would have been your BCS Championship Game matchup but instead on the evening of November 17th Oregon lost a 17-14 OT affair to Stanford and Kansas State was smoked 52-24 at Baylor .. so it was bye-bye to those dreams!

Now, Oregon comes into its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game with the knowledge that head coach Chip Kelly likely will be flying the coop - the Philadelphia Eagles probably have a designated parking space reserved for Kelly, for crying out loud! - and so you do wonder if the "distractions" brought on by these strong rumors will cause the TD-plus favored Ducks to lack focus here.

The Ducks' second-ranked rushing attack - one that's averaging an eye-popping 323.3 ypg - should not count on walking all over K-State's defense here as the Wildcats' stop unit ranks a solid 18th nationally versus the run (119.6 ypg) and the likes of LB Arthur Brown - the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year - doesn't give ground easily plus SS Ty Zimmerman (5 INTs) can always be found in the vicinity of the football.

Look for Oregon to throw a few deep balls early in an attempt to stretch this K-State defense and so Ducks' kid QB Marcus Mariota (30 TD passes and just 6 INTs) is a major key right out of the starting gate because if he misses than KSU mega-star QB Collin Klein (2,490 yards passing and 890 yards rushing) will look to put Oregon's defense into a deep sleep with a ball-control mantra - so keep track of the all-important time of possession here because the more Klein has it the better shot Bill Snyder's club can win its first bowl game since the 2002 season (see a 34-27 win against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl).

Two quickie key stats here: Kansas State only had one player with 50 receptions this year - that's WR Chris Harper (50 catches but only 3 TDs) - and here Klein might have to haul some deep balls if/when the 'Cats get down by more than one score and so Harper's a more-than-usual important cog here.

Meanwhile, Oregon forced an FBS-high 39 turnovers this year and shortening this field for the likes of Ducks RB Kenjon Barner (1,624 yards rushing and 21 TDs) could truly be hazardous to K-State's overall health on the scoreboard.

Spread Notes - Oregon is 7-5 vig-wise overall this season and note the Ducks are a rotten 0-3 ATS when playing outside the Pac-12 this year with spread losses to Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. Last year Oregon covered the 4-point price with its back-and-forth 45-38 Rose Bowl win/cover against Wisconsin but the Ducks are just 4-5 spreadwise in all bowls the past 10 years (no bowl game in 2004). Meanwhile, Kansas State is 10-2 against the odds overall this magical season and did you know the Wildcats are an electric 9-2 ATS as underdog sides since the start of the 2011 campaign? The Big 12 team, however, is a dreary 0-5 spreadwise in all bowls dating back the past 10 years and that includes last season's 29-16 loss to 9-point fav Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

THE LAST 3 FIESTA BOWL GAMES

YEAR WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
2011 Oklahoma State - 4.5 Stanford 41-38 (ot)
2010 Oklahoma - 14 Connecticut 48-20
2009 Boise State + 7 TCU 17-10

NOTE: Lots more College Football Bowl Previews straight ahead plus tomorrow check in and we'll get you quickie NFL Wild Card Round Previews too right here in Jim Sez!


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