I don't know about you, but Dec. 20 can't get here fast enough. That's when the bowl schedule kicks off after two weeks with no college football (sorry Army-Navy). Here's a look at some early betting value on NCAA football odds for bowl matchups.
Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State, Dec. 20
Opening College Football odds have the Utes listed as small 4-point favorites, and this number seems low for a pretty strong Power 5 conference team against a mid-major. In addition, how prepared will Colorado State be after losing head coach Jim McElwain to Florida? I suppose things should be fine on offense as Dave Baldwin is the interim coach. He has been the Rams' offensive coordinator for the past three years and the quarterbacks coach for the past two. Utah backers might be concerned that Colorado State has won three straight against Power 5 teams, beating Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl last season and Colorado and Boston College this season. However, none of those teams are as good as the Utes. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is 7-1 in bowl games, which includes a win as the co-head coach in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Utah faded a bit down the stretch, but still beat teams like UCLA, USC and Stanford.
NCAAF Free Pick: Utah -4.
Miami Beach Bowl: BYU vs. Memphis, Dec. 22
Memphis is currently listed at -1 at the online sportsbooks that we follow at SBR. It's a first for this bowl game, held at Marlins Park. Memphis was one of the biggest surprises of the season as Coach Justin Fuente worked a minor miracle. The Tigers, who were just 3-9 last year, won their final six games, five by double figures, to claim a share of the American Athletic Conference title with Central Florida and Cincinnati. My only concern with Memphis is that it didn't beat anyone very good. A 41-14 win at Cincinnati on Oct. 4 is the best victory. The Tigers are in their first bowl game since 2008. BYU started strong, including a blowout at Texas, but then lost star QB Taysom Hill to a season-ending injury and dropped four straight midseason games. However, senior QB Christian Stewart seemed to find a rhythm down the stretch as the Cougars won their final four. He threw for 14 TDs and just one pick in those games. BYU is 6-3 in bowls under Coach Bronco Mendenhall, and we are more than happy to back a Cougar cover with our College Football picks in this situation.
NCAAF Free Pick: BYU +1.
Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. San Diego State, Dec. 23
The Aztecs will have home-field advantage as this game is at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium and SDSU is just a 2-point favorite on NCAA football odds. Actually, the game's location isn't why I'm looking to back a SDSU win here, it's the timing of it all. Navy plays this Saturday against Army so it's almost like a normal turnaround game for the Midshipmen (there could always be injuries as well). Whenever you play Navy, you want weeks to prepare for that triple option. The Aztecs last played Nov. 29. In addition, they have experience against this type of offensive attack. San Diego State beat a good Air Force team 30-14 at Qualcomm Stadium on Nov. 21. Air Force, another option run-heavy team, managed only 140 yards in that one.
NCAAF Free Pick: SDSU -2.
Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC, Dec. 27
The Trojans are -6 on NCAA football odds for this matchup in San Diego. Here's another game where I'm not sure the team with the interim head coach will be all that motivated. That of course is Nebraska, which fired Bo Pelini despite his string of nine-win seasons, and hired Oregon State's Mike Riley. However, Pelini assistant Barney Cotton will coach this game. I'm simply not sure the Huskers are all that good. If you stop Ameer Abdullah, then you stop Nebraska. The Huskers are 0-3 vs. ranked teams, losing to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. USC is more talented than those three. The Trojans also closed with momentum, destroying Notre Dame in the regular-season finale. Amazingly, this is the first time these storied programs have met in a bowl. First-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian led Washington to a victory over Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl. That sounds like good karma.
NCAAF Free Pick: USC -6.