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MARC LAWRENCE: BEST COLLEGE BOWLS AND NFL UPSETS WEEKEND OF DEC 25-26

By Marc Lawrence, PlaybookSports.com — This is the time when the cream begins to rise, providing the energy and motivation is there to tap into the talent on the field. The first game is a matchup you don’t often see in college football’s glamour season:

Central Florida over Florida by 1

 If a game-show guy walked up to us on the street right now and said, “I’ll give you a hundred if you can define the word ‘gasparilla’, all he’d get was a blank stare. An old West liquor drink? A gastric by-pass? No hundred for us! Actually, it’s the moniker of an annual Pirate Festival held in Tampa, named after legendary pirate José Gaspar. As for this evening’s game at the Ray-J, we’re sure Gaspar wouldn’t give either of these teams a second look if he were looking to score some treasure. The crumbling Gators are but a shell of their former selves: gone is head coach Dan Mullen and several assistants; QB Anthony Richardson, lost to a knee injury; DE Zachary Carter, opting out to prepare for the NFL draft; WR Jacob Copeland, lost to the infamous transfer portal… you get the idea. Meanwhile, Guz Malzahn’s first year as head coach at UCF was a bit of a letdown, too, considering the Knights had gone 35-4 SU in the three seasons prior to last year’s COVID-afflicted campaign. Most troublesome was the fact that blowout losses to Cincinnati and SMU suggested Central Florida was in danger of slipping from the AAC elite. The stat matchup tonight is eerily similar in most major categories, and the truth is if the Knights had also played a SEC schedule in 2021, their 8-4 SU mark would more closely resemble Florida’s 6-6 effort. Once things started unraveling in Gainesville, the Gators posted just ONE SU WIN over an FBS opponent in their final six games, while going 0-6 ATS in the process. And if their 1-4 ATS mark as chalk off consecutive ATS losses isn’t enough to give you pause, try the fact that the last 11 bowl favorites to play on Thursday finished 1-10 ATS. That’s enough to shiver our timbers, as is UF’s 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS mark versus fellow bowlers this campaign. Coach Malzahn stands 19-10-1 ATS with revenge (lost 24-13 at the Swamp in 2019 with Auburn), and will NOT want to lose here against a ragtag team wearing Florida uniforms (the two schools are scheduled to begin a series in 2024). His 13-2 SU and 9-5-1 ATS success versus .500 or fewer SEC foes, including 7-1 SUATS away, seconds the motion. Finally, the Gators’ stunning No. 121 national ranking in Net Turnover Margin this season – second-worst of all bowlers – adds the finishing touch. It might taste like chicken, but gator won’t be on our ticket.

Air Force over Louisville by 10

Don’t buy into the ACC vs Mountain West hype, thinking the Coastals have the edge on the Mountain Men. True that UL is an attractive 14-3 ATS when bowling off an SU home favorite loss, but versus the MWC, Louisville is a blasé 1-5 ATS in their last six tilts with the Mountain West. ACC Bowl favorites are also a terrible 0-8 ATS when coming off a SUATS loss, which was a 52-21 undressing by Kentucky in the Governor’s Cup. It gets worse for Redbirds’ backers, as Looavul is an unpleasant 2-6 SU and 3-5 ATS against fellow bowlers. This just in: Looeyville is a yucky (end of the year, we’re running out of adjectives) 1-5 SU and 0-6 ATS in bowl games against teams coming off a loss of 12 or more points. Luhvul does have the spectacular senior Malik Cunningham going for them one last time, his combined 37 rushing and passing TDs are attention-getting to the Academy, who won’t fulfill our prophecy if Cunningham goes wild. We think the FlyBoys get it done however, likely by hogging the ball with an offense that averaged 341.4 YPG on the ground. AFA hasn’t even reached 1,000 passing yards yet (990) but their offensive discipline is a marvel to watch. Every single defensive coordinator in North America tells broadcasters game in and game out “we have to stop the run to win.” Despite being the primary focus of every defense, Brad Roberts is the Falcons workhorse, averaging over 106 YPG with his longest run of the season being only 33 yards. People tend to forget the Falcons in the bowl season too, but AFA is 9-3 ATS in the last 12 bowls, 11-2 ATS off back-to-back SU victories, 4-1 ATS when an opponent limps in off a double-digit loss (like UL is), and 4-1 ATS as dogs of 6 or fewer points.

HAWAII over Memphis by 6

Ever flown to Hawaii from a city perched on the banks of the Mississippi River? At this time, with one stop along the way from Memphis, the Tigers football team is looking at 11 to 12 hours of fl ying time to reach Honolulu. And let’s face it: when they step off the plane into paradise, are they really going to be that interested in playing on Christmas Eve? They’d better be, after opening as a TD favorite over a Hawaii squad playing on their home fi eld. The Hawaii Bowl venue has seen underdogs cash in three of the last four contests, and the Rainbow Warriors are 3-1 ATS in their last four bowl appearances. Not so for Memphis, which has taken a 1-5 SUATS dump in its last six bowl games. The Tigers from Graceland are also just 5-11 ATS as road chalk against foes coming off a win, including 0-4 SUATS in games in which Memphis sports a sub .600 win percentage. We always prefer backing teams that band together to face a common enemy, though in Hawaii’s case it turns out to be their own head coach, Todd Graham. A report by SFGate. com’s Marc Delucchi from several weeks ago says Graham is under fi re for alleged mistreatment within the football program. Check out this anonymous quote from a current player: “I’m probably not coming back next year because [Graham] has three more years. It’s not like we don’t have the money to buy him out. Most of the freshmen are either quitting or trying to transfer.” Jeez, if Hawaii wins tonight, Graham might get the hook immediately following the trophy presentation! So, do we jump off the Warriors, who are in such a favorable role tonight? Nope. Not when the PLAYBOOK College Bowl Guide calls out the fact that the Tigers were just 2-5 SUATS versus other bowl teams this season, while being outrushed by an average of 164-93 in those games. Toss in the fact that Mountain West Bowl dogs of 5 or more points have gone 7-0 ATS the last seven years, and we’ll close the book here with THE CLINCHER: College Bowl home teams coming off a home win are 14-3 ATS if they are facing an opponent that did not beat the spread by 6 or more points in its last game

Miami over NEW ORLEANS by 10

It’s safe to say that head coach Brian Flores has made the defense, a weakness early in the season, the strength of this team. And like the countless branches from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree, Flores is having some success replicating the Hoodie’s schemes on this win streak, showing a week-to-week knack for shutting down different types of quarterbacks. It’s the Belichick mantra: cut off the head and the body will fall. And the proof is in the pudding, as the last three quarterbacks that have faced Flores’s defense has posted QB Ratings of 69.1, 51.2 and 7.4. It’s hard to believe that when the Dolphins lost to the Jaguars in London that they would eventually find a way to win six consecutive games to improve to .500. But they have done just that. And with it, Miami is one of only four NFL teams to claw its way back to .500 after starting the season at 1-7. And there has been nothing fluky about the results as the MIDWEEK ALERT points out the fact that the Dolphins have won the yardage in each of their last fi ve games, while surrendering just 272 YPG throughout the course of its current six-game win skein. On the fl ip side, the Saints did the impossible when they blanked Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs in Tampa Bay last week. And for that they figure to pay a price today. For openers, New Orleans is 1-9-1 ATS home versus AFC opponents. In the 9-0 victory last week, only one Saint registered more than 17 receiving yards. That was Marquez Callaway, who had a big game. He caught six of his nine targets for 112 yards. Look for New Orleans and its 1-9-1 ATS record as an AFC host to take a hit tonight. That’s suggested with the backing of THE CLINCHER: Teams who shut out the defending Super Bowl champions in a win of 7 or more points are 0-3 SUATS since 1980 their next game.

Baltimore over CINCINNATI by 8

For the second time in three weeks, Baltimore failed to convert a two-point when trailing by one-point with under a minute left. As a result, the Black Birds are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture, holding onto the No. 8 seed entering this contest. Like they did against Pittsburgh three weeks earlier, the Ravens played for the win again, and they lost. With Lamar Jackson out after suffering an ankle injury early in the 24-22 loss to Cleveland two weeks ago, backup QB Tyler Huntley played well once again in his second straight contest, scoring back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter to get within a point of the NFC-leading Packers. Faced with the option of kicking a game-tying extra point or a go-ahead two-point conversion, head coach John Harbaugh went for two, and when Huntley’s pass fell incomplete, the Ravens lost, 31-30. They now have three straight losses to potential playoff teams by a total of 4 points. Geez Louise. As The Ringer points out, Baltimore was a team with 17 players on injured reserve, fi ve more on the COVID list, plus four more starters who were neither on IR or COVID-IR but were inactive. By the end of Sunday’s game, six of their top seven corners from the start of the season were gone, so perhaps playing for the win, rather than going up against Aaron Rodgers in overtime was the lesser of two evils. Cincinnati returns home off a gutsy 5-point win at Denver. As a result, they hold down the top spot in the AFC North, and would play Indianapolis should the playoffs begin this week. The problem for the Bengals today, though, is their feeble 7-10 SU and 6-11 ATS mark as division home chalk of fewer than 7 points, as well as QB Joe Burrow’s 3-6 SU and 2-7 ATS mark in the NFL when Cincinnati is coming off a win. And with that it’s time to hand it off to THE CLINCHER: Baltimore is 13-6-1 ATS as a division road dog under head coach John Harbaugh, including 9-0 ATS in its last nine games.

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