December 31, 2015 (11:40 AM ET)
There are 2 picks today. Both were released two days in advance, on Tuesday.
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1) Take Houston at +7 spread against Florida State for 3% of the bankroll.
The Houston Cougars were one of the surprise teams this season, but given the personnel that they have in the key positions on the team, it really does not come as much of a surprise. First year head coach Todd Herman is the former offensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes and was brought in specifically to bring the Cougars to that next. Looking at what the Buckeyes had been able to do offensively in the Big 10 the last few years, there is no wonder that Herman's philosophies were well received in Houston and have already been paying dividends in his first year at the helm. The Cougars averaged over 40 points a game this season, scoring 50 or more points four times, and scoring at least 24 or more points in every game except their only setback of the season, 20-17 at Connecticut, in which they were without their starting quarterback, Greg Ward Jr. On the sidelines, under Herman's tutelage, is really where this team's success starts.
The other key player on this team is undoubtedly Greg Ward Jr. He is a playmaker and game changer when on the field. He's completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,590 yards and 16 touchdowns while running for another 19 scores this season. He is as dangerous on the ground as is through the air as he leads a Houston rushing attack that is ranked 11th in the nation, averaging 240 yards per game. While many may criticize the somewhat "soft" schedule that Houston played this season, looking back, they did play (and defeat) some quality teams this season and arguably could have finished the season undefeated had Ward Jr. not sat out of their game against Connecticut. They hold a 52-31 victory over a very talented Navy team that was ranked in the top 40 defensively this season. A 24-13 victory over a Top 20 defense in the Temple Owls in the AAC Championship game and even mounted a 21 point comeback against a very talented and highly explosive Memphis Tigers team that managed that knocked off both Ole Miss and South Florida this season.
The Cougar defense has also been extremely opportunistic, not just this season but the past few. They have a +17 turnover margin this season and have accumulated a total of 30 takeaways. The fact that Ward Jr. has been extremely careful with the football and that the defense has been ball hawking, crating turnover and setting the offense up in good field position has been a key to the Cougars success. While they may not be as battle tested as Florida State, they have shown their adaptability on the field against a plethora of opponents and will no doubt have a game plan set to deal with what the Seminoles bring to the table.
What the Seminoles likely bring to the table is a hefty dose of Dalvin Cook. Cook is an extremely dynamic runner and arguably the very best back in college football. Cook has rushed for 1658 yards to go along with 18 touchdowns and has accumulated the most rushes of 20+ yards this season with 22. There is no question that the Seminoles would like to get Cook moving on the ground early and often. It will be tough for the Cougars to completely shut cook down, but even slowing him down may be enough to allow them to keep this game from getting out of hand. Given the way that their defense has played this season, it's reasonable to assume that they will have some success containing Cook in this contest.
This is arguably the biggest stage that any of these Houston players have been on in their careers. To play in a BCS Bowl game is something that few of these "smaller" type schools get to experience and while the players themselves may not have experience in these big games, their coach Tom Herman certainly does. Having been the coordinator at the incredibly high profile Ohio State University, Herman knows just how important each and every game is, especially on this type of stage. He has been in these high pressure situations before and knows how to handle it and we expect that type of mindset to trickle down to his players. They will be motivated to step out into the spotlight and gain national recognition and that is exactly what a win over Florida State in this contest would do for them.
The same motivation cannot be said for the Seminoles in this contest. After playing for a National Title two seasons ago and once again in the College Football playoffs last season, playing in the Peach Bowl this season could be looked at as a step down for this team. A victory over the Cougars in this particular bowl game with nothing further to play for has no upside for the Florida State players. If the Seminoles are caught sleepwalking through this contest, it could prove to be disastrous as Houston is more than capable of winning this contest outright. Even if they fall short of the outright victory, with Ward Jr. at helm and Houston always seemingly just a single play away from scoring, we expect them to keep this within a single score.
Other notable facts to consider:
- Cougars are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 neutral site games.
- Cougars are 15-5-1 ATS in their last 21 games on turf.
- Seminoles are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 non-conference games!
- Seminoles are 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
2) Take Clemson at +4 spread (buy half a point) against Oklahoma for 3% of the bankroll.
The Clemson Tigers have had a spectacular season this year and pretty much rolled through the competition with only four of their opponents managed to keep the losing margin to less than double-digits. A big part of their success is due in part to the play of their quarterback, DeShaun Watson. Watson has been a one man show for the Tigers and is no doubt the engine that drives their potent offensive attack. He comes into this contest having thrown for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season. He has also been a difference maker on the ground, adding 887 rushing yards and accounting for 11 rushing touchdowns. The Tigers rank 12th in the nation is offense averaging 510.6 yards per game.
One of the reasons Watson has been so successful this season is because he also has a strong ground game that he can lean on. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman has rushed for 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Gallman's big play ability on the ground has helped keep the Tigers' opponents guessing and in turn opens up passing lanes that Watson has been able to exploit. Artavis Scott has been one of Watson's favorite targets this season hauling in 84 passes for 805 yards and 5 scores this season. The balance on offense that Clemson brings is something that very few teams have been able to slow down.
Clemson has long been known as a team that chokes at some point in the season. They even have their own moniker to describe that; "Clemsoning". While everyone has waited for the other shoe to drop and Clemson to slip up, it simply has not happened. This Clemson team this year has the appearance of something special. They are determined to shed that moniker and have done so with their play on the field. They are certainly no stranger to big games. Just three seasons ago, they won this same bowl game over Ohio State. They are also no strangers to their opponents in this contest either, having defeated them 40-6 in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
There is no question that the Oklahoma Sooners are a quality team this season. They come into this contest on a 7 game win streak and have been impressive offensively, averaging 40 or more points in 6 of those 7 victories. Their one loss on the season was against a very disappointing and inconsistent Texas Longhorns team. In that game the Longhorns were able to slow down quarterback Baker Mayfield and used a ground game to gash and wear out the Sooners defense. We expect Clemson to use that blueprint in this game as well. The Clemson defense has been great at pressuring opposing quarterbacks this season and if they can contain Mayfield and force him to get the ball out of his hands early, they should have success slowing down the Sooner's offensive attack.
It is interesting that the the Sooners as more than a field goal favorite in this contest against an undefeated Clemson team! It's apparent that they believe that the Tigers undefeated run ends this afternoon and while that may indeed happen; we don't believe the Tigers will go down without a fight. There is a lot at stake for both teams in this contest with a shot to play for the National Championship at stake and Clemson no doubt have the ability to win this contest outright. Even if they fall short we believe it will be by the smallest margin. The winner could be decided by which team holds the ball last and we believe the points could prove to be valuable if that is the case.
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