The bowl season kicks off this Saturday with five games, and it all starts with a battle in the Big Easy where we've got a free college football pick between Nevada and ULL.
Remember, fans and college football bettors alike: The bowl season is a marathon, not a sprint, so don't put too much of your energy or your bankroll into the first day of 39 games.
The first five of those matchups take place this Saturday, Dec. 20, and the cherry-popper to the new collegiate postseason gets underway at the Superdome with an 11 AM (ET) boot for the New Orleans Bowl. Our initial combatants are the Nevada Wolf Pack and Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, with ESPN carrying its first of 35 bowl matchups.
SBR's live college football odds have followed the wagering since the initial numbers went out, hovering right around a pick 'em the entire time. The contest officially opened with the Wolf Pack laying a point only for that to swing to ULL -1 at many shops presently.
Scoreboard bettors have been mostly seeing 60-61, so we'll call it 60½ for a current total.
Saturday's collision will be the second between the Wolf Pack and Ragin' Cajuns, and believe it or not, the other came as conference opponents. The year was 1995, the last of ULL's short tenure in the Big West, and the Cajun's trek to Reno ended in a 38-14 win for Nevada who was laying 12 in what was the season-opener for both teams.
Wolf Pack In New Orleans For 1st Time
Brian Polian's second season at Nevada marked a dramatic improvement from the first. The Pack nearly turned around a 4-8 mark completely, and the 7-5 straight-up record was carbon-copied by a 7-5 mark against the college football spreads. Nevada's ninth bowl appearance in 10 seasons included an upset win at BYU and a near upset at Arizona early on the schedule.
Senior QB Cody Fajardo directs an offense ranked in the middle of the pack nationally, throwing for 18 TDs while rushing for 13 more and falling three short of the 1,000-yard plateau. This run-strong offense will be facing a Lafayette defense that was at times very, very good vs. the rush, at times very, very bad -- 101 YPG in eight wins, 236 in losses.
Nevada expects to be without Teré Calloway for the matchup against the Cajuns, thinning the backfield for defensive coordinator Scott Boone. The redshirt freshman safety missed the Wolf Pack's final two game with a shoulder injury. Offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is also experiencing thinness at guard where starter Joey Anglemire and top backup Adam Khouri are both dealing with the effects of concussion. Anglemire will be a game-time decision while Khouri is probable.
Cajuns Cash 6 of Last 7 To Reach NOLA 4th-Straight Year
One thing Mark Hudspeth and his staff really don't have to worry about much right now are injuries, as the Ragin' Cajuns make the short 2½ hour drive east to New Orleans. It is no doubt a familiar drive for a lot of Louisianans, period, and most certainly for Lafayette fans as they head to the New Orleans Bowl for a fourth straight season under Hudspeth.
The last three have all ended in victory for the Ragin' Cajuns to finish 9-4 seasons, the same situation ULL is in for this one. Lafayette overcame a 1-3 start to win seven of its last eight, covering six of the most recent seven, and have cashed all three bowl wins in New Orleans, twice as the underdog.
Like Nevada, ULL has a strong ground attack of its own, good enough for 25th in the country (229 ypg). The Cajuns will be facing a Wolf Pack front seven that surrendered more than 260 yards rushing on average in the last three games to rank in the bottom third of the country.
Let's revisit the clock for this kickoff, which is 10 AM local time. That should give the contest a different feel for anyone there, and seem especially early for a team traveling from two time zones west. All of this adds up to a no-brainer for my free college football pick, and that's to lay a point on the Ragin' Cajuns.
College Football Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette -1 at 5Dimes
Season: 61-43-1 (+13.70)