Is that Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket yet? Need an outlet to spend all the cash you get back on Thursday from returning all those crummy presents you got today? Here are your Little Caesars Pizza Bowl picks...
Bowling Green Falcons (-4.5) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Bowling Green actually opened as a six-point favorite in this game, but some action on Pittsburgh's side moved the number the other way over the past couple of weeks. I know that the guys over at Cardiac Hill (Pittsburgh's SB Nation blog) were surprised by that number. Quite frankly, so was I. It's not often you see a MAC team as a touchdown favorite over a team from one of the "big boy" conferences. Of course, given how Bowling Green played over the last month and how Pittsburgh played over the entire season, maybe the number wasn't that surprising after all.
Regardless, there are two competing trends here. Bowling Green is not accustomed to playing close games, but Pittsburgh most certainly is. BGSU's ten wins in 2013 were each by at least 17 points (and often by many, many more), and one of their three losses was by 32. Their only close games were back-to-back losses in October, when they lost by one at Mississippi State and by three at home against Toledo. Meanwhile, each of Pittsburgh's last ten games has been decided by 11 points or fewer. That includes a 17-16 win over Syracuse, a 24-21 loss to Navy, and seven-point games against Notre Dame (win) and North Carolina (loss).
So, if this is going to be a close game, the odds would seem to lie with the Panthers. If you expect a team to win by a couple of scores, then Bowling Green is likely the team to take. At the very least, this is what conventional wisdom would say.
I'm not sure conventional wisdom applies here, though. It rarely does in bowl games. Bowling Green is reportedly within a few hundred tickets of selling out their allotment for the game, which means they should once again have a hot crowd at Ford Field. The team itself should be motivated to complete the journey they started four years ago and to win for interim coach Adam Scheier, who will be leaving the team following the game. On the other hand, Pittsburgh's motivation has to be questioned. They're a 6-6 team playing in a bowl destination that's not going to really inspire outside teams. While I'm sure the Panthers are glad to not be in the BBVA Compass Bowl, I'm also sure that playing in a different, warmer climate would be even better.
Also, BGSU simply appears to be the better team here. Quarterback play has been even at the very least, and the Falcons are better at running back and along the defensive line. And while it's true that BGSU does not have an Aaron Donald, the Panthers have question marks across the rest of their defense, while BGSU is solid throughout that side of the ball. The Falcons are also very good on special teams and don't typically beat themselves with turnovers and penalties.
This should be a closer game than Bowling Green is accustomed to, but regardless...TAKE THE FALCONS, LAY THE POINTS.
This seems like a very good line for the Panthers. They had six games this year in which the two teams combined for 49 or fewer points, and they had six games in which they and their opponent combined for 50 or more. The fun thing about that? They were 3-3 in each set of games.
Bowling Green had a very similar season, as seven of their games featured 49 or fewer total points and six had 50 or more. The thing about this stat is that, in two of those games, BGSU won 45-3 and 49-0. In fact, the Falcons scored at least 40 points in six of their 13 games. In five of the seven games where the total points were less than 50, their defense held the opponent to seven or fewer points. So, in other words, if BGSU's defense is great, the game has a good shot at the under. If not, their offense is usually good enough to push the total past 50.
With all that said, most of the final score guesses that I've seen for this game peg the total points between 45 and 55.
Personally, I think that's about right. Pittsburgh often has difficulty running the ball, and their offensive line is suspect. We know how good Northern Illinois is on offense, and they scored only 27 on BGSU. I don't think Pitt even reaches that number. For them, I'm thinking more like the 17-24 point range. However, Bowling Green is going up against one of the best defensive players in the country. Aaron Donald is the caliber of player who can control a game by himself, and I think the Falcons are going to have difficulty moving the ball consistently. As with Pitt, I see a point range of 17-24. To me, turnovers and special teams will win this game.
So, even if both teams are on the high end of what I expect points-wise (21-24), that's still only a total of between 42 and 48. TAKE THE UNDER.
(But don't blame me if both teams score 40+.)