December 17, 2013

College Football Pick of the Week – Las Vegas Bowl

Las Vegas Bowl Matchup:Fresno State Bulldogs vs. USC Trojans

Date/Time: December 21st, 3:30 PM ET

Television: ABC

Las Vegas Bowl Betting Odds from WagerWeb

Spread: USC -6.5

Total: 62

Here at Bang the Book, we are always keeping our eyes open for the best games to bet on each and every week. Of all of the games on the docket for the first week of the bowl season, the one we are zeroing in on is the Las Vegas Bowl, where the USC Trojans take on the Fresno State Bulldogs at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, December 21st.

We wrapped up the regular season at 10-5 ATS in our 15 Game of the Week picks in college football, and after taking a week off with the Army/Navy Game, we’re back at it for the first week of the bowl season starting on Saturday. Underdogs and ‘overs’ seem to cash quite a bit in the bowl season, and we think we have a very live under-”dog” in the form of the Bulldogs from Fresno State.

We know. We hear you. Who in the heck did Fresno State play this year? And it’s definitely an apt argument. The win on the opening night of the season against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights was every bit as much luck as it was skill, and the Scarlet Knights ended up essentially being paper tigers in the first year of the AAC. The win over the Boise State Broncos doesn’t look nearly as impressive now as it did in September, and aside from that, there is little to nothing to be thrilled with.

That said, there aren’t many god awful wins on the docket either. There were a number of very potentially dangerous games, not the least of which was the Mountain West Championship Game against the same Utah State Aggies who nearly pulled off the upset at the LA Coliseum of these Trojans earlier in the season. The only reason that Fresno State isn’t in the BCS is because it was beaten by the San Jose State Spartans on the road in the last regular season game of the year, a loss which should be pinned right on a defense which allowed 62 points and six first half passing touchdowns to QB David Fales.

This is still a talented team, though. No one is going to accuse QB Derek Carr of being a system quarterback. He is every bit as good as his nearly 5,000 yards and 48 TDs suggest that he is. He’s right on the money with his passes all the time, and there’s a reason why he completed over 70 percent of his throws this year. He has a future in the NFL for sure, and it might come as a Top 10 pick in this upcoming NFL Draft.

There aren’t many teams in the land who can boast that they have three receivers with at least 1,000 yards, and there definitely aren’t many who can say they also have two men with at least 600 rushing yards. Fresno State can say it all. Sure, the defense allowed 278.2 passing yards per game, ranking 118th in the nation, but against USC, QB Cody Kessler shouldn’t be much of a worry from our standpoint.

This is more of a bet against USC than a bet on Fresno State, though. The Trojans really concern us, and their motivation level has to be incredibly low. They’re going to a suspect bowl game after a 9-4 season, and they are doing so with their third different head coach of the season. It had to be demoralizing to hear that Ed Orgeron, who was loved by his players, was quitting after Steve Sarkisian was named the full time head coach starting right at the conclusion of this game.

There’s not a ton to like here out of the Men of Troy. They ranked just 68th in the land in scoring this season, and though they ranked 16th in total defense and 22nd in scoring, their defense got fat off of a lot of games against teams which just couldn’t move the football at all. We have little doubt that Fresno State is going to be able to move the ball up and down the field in this game for the full 60 minutes for as long as Carr is staying upright, as he has five straight games with at least 360 passing yards and eight games this season with at least 400 yards through the air. This might not be one of those 400+ yard games, but it probably doesn’t have to be.

The Trojans would be dangerous if they were at full strength, but the bottom line is that they have just 62 healthy scholarship players coming into this game. They have 13 players who are going to miss out, and though none of them are the names which would really make you cringe (like when WR Marqise Lee missed all of those games in the middle of the season), the depth for the Trojans is clearly being tested here. Fresno State will have just about its full allotment of scholarship players for this game, and remember that USC is already 10 scholarships short thanks to the NCAA sanctions handed down a few seasons ago.

Perhaps if this bowl game was played later in the season, we would feel a little different. However, from the day that Sarkisian was hired through to the day of the bowl game only leaves 19 days to prepare for this one. Clay Helton, who has never been the head coach of a team at the FBS level in his career, is the interim coach for this one, and he and the rest of his staff are clearly going to be dismissed at the end of this game when Sarkisian takes over.

You never know how these teams are going to react to situations like these, but in this case, we don’t feel good about USC. The Trojans don’t strike us as a bunch who would overcome adversity against all costs, especially in a game like this one against Fresno State. Though the Bulldogs were nearly BCS-bound this year, they don’t carry a big time name by any stretch of the imagination. Though the Bulldogs are 0-4 ATS in their last four bowl games, the last time they took on a team from a power conference, they blasted the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Humanitarian Bowl in 2007. USC’s first bowl game since its ban in 2010 came at the Sun Bowl last year against that same Georgia Tech team, what should have been a clearly inferior opponent, the Ramblin’ Wreck walked away with a 21-7 win.

USC is set to take another mighty tumble in this one, and that’s going to make the job of Sarkisian and his new staff all the more difficult in Tinseltown.

College Football Pick of the Week: Fresno State Bulldogs +6.5

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Adam Markowitz

is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.

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