Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 28, 2015 at 9:29 PM
HERE'S THE WEDNESDAY COLLEGE BOWLS PLUS SNEAK PEEKS AT THURSDAY'S CLEMSON-OKLAHOMA, ALABAMA-MICHIGAN STATE PLAYOFF TILTS
NFL WEEK 17 LOOKAHEAD
The College Football Bowl Season - bigger and better than ever with 40 games in all - reached the halfway point following Monday's two games and there's little doubt that scoring has been up, up and away this post-season.
Heck, "over" players were an electric 12-6 ATS (against the spread) while entering Monday's games in Annapolis and Detroit and we'd already seen a dozen teams score 40+ points ... and two of them lost (see Duke's 44-41 OT win against Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl and Virginia Tech's hang-on-for-dear-life 55-52 non-cover win against Tulsa in the Independence Bowl).
Will the scoring continue to skyrocket as we get deeper into the bowl season - remember there are higher-quality defenses with these January bowl games - or is this "over" trend about to be reversed? Glad you asked 'cause Jim Hurley has the answers with his Side & Totals plays all Bowl Season long. In fact ...
Jim started the Bowls on a 10-3 run, and you can get all the College Football Bowl Games including all the upcoming College Football Playoffs - that's Oklahoma vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Michigan State on New Year's Eve -- plus wrap up the NFL regular season this weekend when you check with us here every day at the Jim Hurley Network. And, of course, make sure you're all aboard for the NBA and NCAA Basketball daily/nightly winners all this week/weekend action either here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.
Now, let's get back to our Jim Sez Bowl Previews ...
On Wednesday, Dec. 30th, it's ...
BIRMINGHAM BOWL - at Birmingham, AL
AUBURN (6-6) vs. MEMPHIS (9-3) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
In case you were wondering, the SEC tied with the Pac-12 and the Big 10 for most bowl teams in this 80-team field with 10 apiece but you could make the case that in the "old days" this .500 Auburn squad wouldn't be playing during the holidays. The defense - ranked 91st nationally this year - has a tall task in attempting to slow down Memphis QB Paxton Lynch who threw for 3,670 yards and 28 TDs this year and he's surrounded by key playmakers such as Anthony Miller, Mose Frazier and Phil Mayhue who each have more than 40 receptions on the year to go along with a combined 10 TDs. Let's see if new Memphis head coach Mike Norvell - in for Virginia Tech-bound Justin Fuente - can get the "max" from his pass-catching corps here.
If field goal favorite Auburn is to beat Lynch and mates, than RB Peyton Barber (976 yards rushing and 13 TDs) must run hard between the tackles and War Eagle must also hold Memphis to fewer than 75 offensive snaps here.
Current Line: Auburn (- 3) and 63.5 points
Spread Notes - Auburn is 5-17 ATS overall since early in the 2014 season (including a 3-9 spread mark this year) and Memphis is 8-3 against the prices in non-league affairs the past three years.
BELK BOWL - at Charlotte, NC
N.C. STATE (7-5) vs. MISS STATE (8-4) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Soft? That's the one-word description many college football experts are using to describe the N.C. State schedule this year that included the season-starting likes of Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama ... does the Wolf Pack even make it to the bowls without those four gimme wins? Hmmm.
The reality here is N.C. State has not exactly peaked down the stretch with three consecutive spread setbacks at the end of regular-season play and so senior QB Jacoby Brissett (19 YDs and 4 INTs) must perk up the attack against a Miss State defense that yielded 119 points in its final three tilts this 2015 season. The SEC Bulldogs - who beat some "softies" of their own (see Northwestern State and Troy) - have their own star signal-caller in Dak Prescott who threw for 3,413 yards with 25 TDs and 4 INTs and don't forget this one-time 2014 Heisman Trophy frontrunner won't be shy about tucking it away and running. Hey, if Prescott (541 yards rushing and 10 ground scores) can cut the corner and expose N.C. State's defensive line/linebackers than this could be a long night for Dave Doeren's Pack.
Did you know N.C. State is 0-5 ATS versus bowl teams this year?
Current Line: Miss State (- 5.5) and 61 points
Spread Notes - N.C. State is 5-1 spreadwise in bowls the past 10 years; Miss State enters this game having registered back-to-back-to-back 7-5 ATS campaigns from 2013-thru-2015.
MUSIC CITY BOWL - at Nashville, TN
TEXAS A&M (8-4) vs. LOUISVILLE (7-5) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Okay, so who's left to play quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies?
By now you know that both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray - each of whom started at times this 2015 season - have exited stage left by way of transferring and so fourth-year Aggies boss-man Kevin Sumlin will tap Jake Hubenak (12-of-27 passing for 92 yards and one TD this year) to lead his club that's looking for a fifth consecutive bowl win. Hubenak was a big-time thrower in juco ball and odds are Sumlin will trust 'em to throw it 'round the park here - still, the Aggies hope to cut back on turnovers (see 16 of 'em in the team's final seven games).
On the flip side, Louisville - which started the season 0-3 SU (straight-up) -- had its fair share of QB drama early in the season when head coach Bobby Petrino seemingly could not decide on who to start but right now it's Lamar Jackson's job after the flashy frosh accounted for 19 TDs (10 passing and 9 rushing). The U of L Cardinals want to test this A&M rush defense that ranked a rotten 98th in the country (allowing 206 ypg).
Current Line: Louisville (- 4.5) and 47.5 points
Spread Notes - Louisville is 26-12 ATS away since the start of the 2010 campaign while Texas A&M is an ugly 1-6 against the odds since mid-October.
HOLIDAY BOWL - at San Diego, CA
#25 USC (8-5) vs. WISCONSIN (9-3) - 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
There's been a real coaching carousel going on with both of these high-profile programs but things apparently have settled in:
USC's interim-turned-"permanent" head coach Clay Helton directed the Troy Boys to a 5-3 SU/3-5 ATS since taking over for Steve Sarkisian in mid-October and he's put his total faith into the hands of QB Cody Kessler (28 TDs and 6 INTs) who challenges a Wisconsin defense that ranks third in the country in total defense, fourth nationally versus the run and sixth in the land against the pass. If the Badgers' stop unit can contain playmakers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (85 receptions this year) and RB Ronald Jones II (940 yards rushing), than the Big 10 dogs have a legit shot to win this one in SoCal but can the Badgers trust QB Joel Stave who has 19 TDs but 21 INTs over the course of the past two seasons?
First-year Wisky boss Paul Chryst is steadying the ship after Gary Andersen coached just two seasons in Madison and he gets high marks for giving the Badgers a shot at a double-digit win season for the fifth time in the past seven seasons.
Current Line: USC (- 3.5) and 50.5 points
Spread Notes - Wisconsin 11-18-1 vig-wise away since the start of 2011 while USC has covered five of its last seven bowl games since 2006.
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
We'll have extensive previews on both FBS Playoff Games to be played on New Year's Eve - that's Clemson vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and Alabama vs. Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl -- but first just to whet your appetite, here's some bowl history news on all four teams:
# 1 CLEMSON - The Tigers have covered their last three consecutive bowl games including last year's much-discussed 40-6 win against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Overall, however, go back the past 10 years and Clemson's just 4-6 against the odds in bowl games and that includes a spread split in a pair of Orange Bowl tilts: A 40-35 win against 2-point favorite Ohio State in the 2013 season and a 70-33 loss to 3-point pup West Virginia in the 2011 season.
#4 OKLAHOMA - The Boomer Sooners are also 4-6 spreadwise in their last 10 bowl games dating back to the 2005 season but note that Oklahoma's 2-4 ATS as bowl favorites and 2-2 ATS as bowl underdogs during this latest 10-year span all under head coach Bob Stoops. Note that in the so-called major bowls, Oklahoma has failed to cover four-of-six games since 2005 and that includes the resounding 45-31 win in the Sugar Bowl versus 16.5-point fav Alabama two years ago.
#2 ALABAMA - No doubt the Crimson Tide's hit a little bump in the bowl road the past couple of years: This SEC team had covered five of its first six bowl outings under 9th-year head coach Nick Saban but 'Bama has dropped two in a row (last year's 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl/FBS Playoffs and that aforementioned loss to Oklahoma two years ago). Overall, the Tide's 6-4 against the odds in its last 10 bowls and that features a 5-3 ATS mark when laying points.
#3 MICHIGAN STATE - Since 2007, the Spartans have been in bowl games each/every year and the Big 10 team has gone 5-3 versus the vig in these post-season tilts including four consecutive wins/covers (victories by 3, 1, 4 and 1 points!). Note that Michigan State has been the underdog side in each of these past eight bowls and that includes failing to cover three-of-four bowl games when getting a TD-plus price tag.
NFL WEEK 17 LOOKAHEAD
We'll save you the trouble and tell you that there could be as many as 12 games "with meaning" on this Sunday card - none bigger perhaps than the prime-time game on NBC between the Minnesota Vikings at the Green Bay Packers where an NFC North crown is on the line. But, as NBC's Al Michaels wisely pointed out at the end of Minny's 49-17 blowout win against the New York Giants the other night, maybe it does not behoove these teams to win considering the NFC North champ will be the #3 seed and could draw #6 seed Seattle as opposed to getting a matchup against the #4 seed Washington Redskins ... does the NFL have to worry about the Vikes/Packers trying to "tank" this regular-season finale? Hmmm.
Finally, love the fact the NFL has instituted this divisional play weekend for the Week 17 games but imagine we could be talking "lame duck bowl" at MetLife Stadium where the rumor mill has it both Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly and New York Giants boss Tom Coughlin could get the axe on "Black Monday". We say Kelly has a 25-to-30 percent chance to keep his job; Coughlin's 95 percent out the door.
Note: Catch our College Football Playoff Previews in tomorrow's Jim Sez.