College Football Picks for This Weekend’s Top Bowl Games

Kevin Stott

Monday, December 29, 2014 5:08 PM GMT

Both Kansas State & Florida come from stronger conferences than UCLA & Eastern Carolina. That strength of schedule should serve bettors well in the Alamo & Birmingham Bowls. 

Friday, January 2, 2015
Alamo Bowl, Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas: UCLA Bruins vs. Kansas State Wildcats

(UCLA -1½, 59, Pinnacle), Friday 23:45 (ESPN, 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 p.m. PT):
Sometimes the NCAA football odds in a game dictate that the bettor simply try to pick the outright winner of the game and that’s the case here in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio where in most places the Pac 12’s UCLA (9-3 SU, 4-8 ATS) are slight (1, 1½-point) Favorites over the Big 12’s Kansas State (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) after opening up as a Pick. The Money Line (Winner) market has UCLA priced at -125 (bet365; Kansas State +105) while the Total Points was at 59 (Pinnacle) Sunday night, a good five days away from this game. The UCLA Total Team Points is at 30½ (Ladbrokes) with the Kansas State Total Team Points set at 29.

As far as picking a way to approach this one, the Total seems like a stay away as the Over is 10-4 in UCLA’s L14 vs. the Big 12 but the Bruins have been an Under (4-7 O/U) team this season with the Under is 5-2-1 in the Bruins L8 games overall. So, this contest could end up in the 50s just as well as it could end up in the 70s and figuring out who has the best chance of winning simply seems like the best attack.

And Kansas State (34-16-1 ATS L51 overall) seems like the answer here, despite the slight line movement to UCLA. The Wildcats and head coach Bill Snyder (146-99-1 ATS) are an impressive 8-4 ATS heading in while the Bruins are an ugly 4-8 ATS and Kansas State plays in a little bit tougher conference (Big 12) than does UCLA (Pac 12). And the last time these two schools met (Sept. 4, 2010), Kansas State beat the Bruins, 31-22 and covered the 1-point spread in Manhattan (Kansas). The Wildcats also have better Passing (20th vs. 25th), Points Scored (24th vs. 40th) and Points Allowed (26th vs. 76th) numbers than UCLA and the Bruins three losses this season—Utah, (then-ranked) #16 Oregon and Stanford—were to less impressive teams than were the Wildcats three losses (#5 Auburn, #6 TCU and #6 Baylor). And it always seems wise to take the team with the better defense and the better and more experienced coach, especially when getting a point or wherever this line closes.

Kansas State (35.8 ppg) is led on offense by QB Jake Walters (231 completions, 3,163 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs, 5th in FBS with 9.06 yards per pass attempt) and he and fellow Wildcat seniors, WRs Tyler Lockett (93 receptions, 1,351 yards, 9 TDs, 14.5 ypc) and Curry Sexton (69 receptions, 955 yards, 5 TDs, 13.8 ypc) will be amped for their last game playing in the royal purple-silver-and-white jerseys and if all went right this year for this #11 (AP) Kansas State team, maybe the Wildcats could have made the first-ever College Football Playoff whereas #14 UCLA and senior QB Brett Hundley (258 completions, 3,019 yards, 21 TDs, 5 INTs, school-record 11,425 Total Yards) would have probably have had to run the table and knocked off the mighty Ducks in Los Angeles along the way to make the final four teams. Not those former Mighty Ducks. The ones with a zillion uniform combinations.

The Bruins (39th Rushing, 199.4 ypg) and head coach Jim Mora Jr. (21-18 ATS) do have a better ground game than Kansas State (142.5 ypg) with RB Paul Perkins (230 rushes, 1,378 yards, 7 TDs) the workhorse back but the Wildcats defense has had to face some offensive monsters this season and should be able to deal with UCLA enough to find a way to get the victory, reach the 10-win mark and maybe crack the meaningless Top 10 rankings at season’s end. But mobile Kansas State QB Walters (139 rushes, 471 yards, 8 TDs) will have have to earn it and he and star WR Lockett will have to negotiate the Bruins defense which has a couple of really talented LBs in Eric Kendricks (139 tackles, 3 INTs) and Myles Jack.

Disciplined Kansas State should win the special teams and TO battles—the Wildcats are +9 in Turnover Margin heading into the Alamodome late Friday afternoon while UCLA is at -1—and if the better team usually wins football games at a neutral site, that team should be Kansas State in this one.

Free NCAA Football Bowl Picks: Kansas State +1½

 

Saturday, January 3, 2015
Birmingham Bowl, Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama: East Carolina Pirates vs. Florida Gators
(Florida -6½, 56, Pinnacle), Saturday 17:00 (ESPN, 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT):
The world is a vampire. Another example of electing to side with the better conference happens in Saturday’s lone bowl game, the Birmingham Bowl where the SEC’s Florida (6-5 SU, 6-5 ATS) faces the American Athletic Conference’s East Carolina (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Oddsmakers have made Florida 6½-point Favorites (Open -7) here with the Total Points set at 56, down from its opening 57. The Money Line (Winner) odds marketplace has the Gators as solid -244 favorites (bet365) with underdogs East Carolina priced at +204. The Florida Total Team Points is at 31½ while the East Carolina Total Team Points is at 25 (Ladbrokes).

There aren’t many relevant trends to apply to this bowl game between two these teams who will be meeting for the first time but there are two clumps of trends which really stand out here and they support betting against East Carolina and taking the Over with your NCAA football picks.

East Carolina is an ice-cold 1-7 ATS in its L8 games this season after a very nice start and the Pirates are just 5-16 ATS L31 against teams with a Winning Record and although Florida (6-5) barely qualifies, the combination of the two along with the reality that the somewhat down Gators had to cut their reptilian SEC teeth on the likes of #1 Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State—two still playing for the NCAAF championship—while pass-happy East Carolina (3rd, 367.3 ypg) was playing teams like Tulsa, Tulane, Temple and Connecticut, is enough of  reality to decide to back Florida and lay the minimal lumber. And, Gators have teeth and pirates sometimes have hooks but maybe the pirates have hooks because a gator bit off his hand. Ever think of that, McGee?

As far as the Total and the trends, they all scream Over. The Over is 7-2 in the Pirates L9 Neutral Site games; the Over is 7-2 in Florida’s L9 games in January; and the Over is 6-2 in Florida’s L8 bowl games. And with East Carolina QB Shane Carden (358 completions, 4,309 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTs) and his proclivity to put the pigskin in the air and absolutely nothing to lose in this last game of the season, there will either be a lot of TDs or a lot of interceptions and both are good for points as well as stopping the clock. And Florida has had a couple of big-scoring games against lesser opponents, beating Eastern Michigan 65-0 and Eastern Kentucky 52-3, and although East Carolina isn’t close to being like Eastern Michigan or Eastern Kentucky, just knowing they’re not playing a team with a defense like Alabama or Missouri should do absolute wonders for Florida’s heads.

Free NCAA Football Bowl Picks: Florida -6½, Over 56 Birmingham Bowl at Pinnacle