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Saturday’s Bowl Picks: My thoughts for Jan. 2 bowl games

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Updated: .January 2, 2016

By The Rex Factor

This is the 12th and final installment I’ll be writing about a preview and prediction of all the bowls, written on a daily basis so you can keep track of my recommendations and selections by day.

These suggestions are rated from a strength of 1 (gun-to-my-head would be the only way I could bet the game) to 10 (back up the BRINKS Truck).

Taxslayer Bowl

Call this one the “Underachiever Bowl”, despite its date on the calendar. Each had 14-plus starters back; Georgia was supposed to win the SEC East while Penn State figured to be Ohio State’s top challenger in the Big 10 East. Obviously, neither thing happened.

Penn State coach James Franklin guided three straight Vanderbilt teams to bowls before taking over in Happy Valley in 2014 and guiding Penn State to a bowl upset win over Boston College. The continuity he and his staff have with bowl experience might well come in handy, considering Georgia fired 15-year coach Mark Richt at the end of the regular season.

The Bulldogs expect to compete for national titles (I guess?) and a bowl all 15 years wasn’t enough to save Richt, who landed on his feet when getting hired at Miami (Fla.) a few weeks ago. Penn State’s defense will get after the quarterback and was a top-15 defense overall, but the talent disparity has me laying the points here. Georgia allowed the fewest passing yards in the country and gave up just 17 points per game while ranking eighth overall. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg is an NFL-type talent, but his offensive line was again shoddy this fall, allowing a staggering 39 sacks.

Sure, the leftover players for UGA might well treat this trip to Jacksonville as nothing more than a chance to pick up a few hundred bucks worth of gear and a vacation to nearby Jacksonville, but if not, there’s simply too much talent on their side to think they can’t cover a touchdown against a pedestrian Penn State side. Lay it.

Prediction: Georgia 24, Penn State 12

Recommendation: Georgia -6 or better

Strength: 6

Liberty Bowl

Kansas State got bowl eligible by winning its first three and last three games, overcoming the six-game losing streak in the middle of the season that was largely aided by the top-heavy Big 12 schedule the Wildcats were given this fall. A tip of the cap once again to 76-year old legendary coach Bill Snyder, who expertly guided KSU to a win over favored West Virginia in the season finale.

Arkansas started slow, at 1-3 and with home losses to Texas Tech and Toledo, before rallying to win six of eight to end the regular season. The Hogs had perhaps the SEC’s most improved AND best quarterback in senior Brandon Allen, who will likely get a chance to at least be on a Sunday roster in 2016. Arkansas scored 37-plus ppg and had a great balance (30 TD passes, 26 TD rushes).

Snyder has remained mum on who will be his primary quarterback in this one; he’s got a couple of options that the Hogs must prepare for but with a dearth of playmakers at tight end and on the outside, Arkansas should be able to focus on trying to stop the KSU running game.

K-State also gave up more than a touchdown more per game (23 last season to 30 in 2015) this fall and they’ll likely struggle to ever stop the powerful Hogs, led by a bruising line and a fine quarterback. It’s a big number, but an even bigger talent disparity. As much as you have to respect Snyder, note that the Wildcats are 0-3 SU/ATS as a dog in bowls since 2011.

Prediction: Arkansas 37, Kansas State 17

Recommendation: Arkansas -12.5 or better

Strength: 7

Alamo Bowl

Hard to get a proper read on Texas Christian and Oregon. The Horned Frogs welcome the red-hot Ducks to the Texas, with the fast-track carpet of the Alamodome in San Antonio as the venue for a track meet (total in the mid-70s). The Horned Frogs boast a superior defense to Oregon and with all hands on deck, probably a better offense as well. Unfortunately, all hands are NOT on deck.

Biletnikoff finalist wide receiver Josh Doctson was lost for the season to injury with 3-plus games left. TCU could have survived that loss and a few other minor ones, but quarterback Trevone Boykin got suspended after he hit a police officer following an altercation with patrons at a sports bar near the team hotel late Wednesday night. Boykin had thrown for 400 yards and rushed for at least 40 six times; no one in the country had done that 1996. The spread zoomed from the “pick” range up to 7-ish in favor of Oregon.

Believe it or not, I’m a bit saddened by these developments. I had originally leaned Oregon. The Ducks got QB Vernon Adams back healthy in the middle of the season; they struggled on offense without him and had a few early-season hiccups. The last half of the season, Oregon went 6-0 (5-1 ATS) as Adams led them to 45 ppg in that stretch. Despite the porous Oregon defense, I had pegged the Ducks to be able to outscore TCU and was set to bet it. The Boykin suspension changed everything – but not for the reason you think.

Backup Bram Kohlhausen doesn’t have the same tools that Boykin does, but was fairly impressive at Oklahoma. Boykin was injured in that game, yet the Horned Frogs took Oklahoma to the wire in a 30-29 loss. A 2-point conversion pass would have won that game. Kohlhausen isn’t one touchdown (to the line) worse than Boykin. I still like the Ducks, but can’t recommend laying a touchdown in what should be the best game of the day.

Prediction: Oregon 41, TCU 35

Recommendation: OVER 74 or better

Strength: 1

Cactus Bowl

Expectations were certainly high in Tempe this season, and Arizona State coach Todd Graham didn’t do anything to quash them, saying that the preseason’s 15th-ranked team in the AP poll was his best yet in the desert. How they ended up in a bowl game at Chase Field 10 miles away in Phoenix was quite simple – the Sun Devils were 2-7 ATS through nine games before three covers to end the season. ASU was expected to score points as well, yet played to just two OVERS against the number in their first 10 before the offense erupted for 52 against Arizona and 46 in a narrow loss at Cal to close the season.

West Virginia is the out-of-town visitor for this one; the Mountaineers routed Clemson 70-33 to wrap up the 2011 season with an Orange Bowl win, but are since 0-3 SU and ATS in bowls. And while some things work against WVU here, the positives seem worth pointing out. Dana Holgorsen’s team outscored its foes 33-23 per game on the season despite finishing just 7-5. The Big 12 schedule was front-loaded, so after a 3-0 start the Mountaineers quickly found themselves 3-4 overall after losses to the top four teams in the league. Wins and covers followed in the next four against the second division of the loop but a loss at Kansas State in the season finale.

Sure, WV has failed (0-6 ATS against the Power-5 bowl teams on its schedule) in its biggest tests, but Arizona State is probably not as good as any of those foes, as evidenced by its defense giving up 33 ppg against a softer slate of foes than WV faced in its league.

Prediction: West Virginia 33, Arizona State 30

Recommendation: West Virginia -2 or better

Strength: 3

The Rex Factor has been handicapping college football for more than 20 years and considers it to be his strongest sport consistently, year-in and year-out. Before becoming a professional handicapper, he has covered football teams as a sportswriter in four different conferences.

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