MCB’s COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW OF THE 2015/16 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

My Club Betting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham had you covered with another winning regular season and went 23-16-1 ATS in Bowl games. Now the NCAA Football season comes down to this, the National Championship. Bet on the game via your club’s My Club Betting service…

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

CLEMSON at ALABAMA

(-6.5, Total Points 51.5)

Tuesday, 01:30

The 14-0 Clemson Tigers take on the 13-1 Alabama Crimson tide for the National Championship at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the early hours of Tuesday morning (1.30am UK time).

QB Deshaun Watson1
Deshaun Watson: Tough to defend

The Tide have won 10 titles since 1936 (the last coming in 2012), while the Tide have one title to their name (in 1981). Alabama averages 34.1 points per game, while Clemson is notching 38.5 per tilt. The Tide is allowing 14.4 points per game, while Clemson concedes 20.2ppg.

That is the tale of the tape, save to say that the essence of the title game will come down to whether Alabama defends QB Deshaun Watson better than Clemson defends Alabama running back Derrick Henry.

Statistically, Clemson has managed to move the ball better, winning the average rushing yards per game (228.6 to Alabama’s 204.4) and passing yards per game (283.4 to 219.4), but Alabama’s scoring defense is ranked No.1, while Clemson sits at No.16.

Clemson has the advantage at the QB position. Watson is the single-season leader for total offense (4,731 yards) after his 332 yards of total offense in Clemson’s 37-17 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

Derrick Henry.jpg
Derrick  Henry: Heisman Trophy hero

Alabama’s Jake Coker has improved in his last 10 games, with nine touchdowns. He has completed 73 per cent of his passes for 1,703 yards in that span. But he is not the same force at the Tigers’ triggerman.

Yet it is the Alabama defense that stands out. They are perhaps the best unit that Nick Saban has produced, sparked by the defensive line, which gives very little away.

Potentially, six of their front seven will go on to produce at the professional level. Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland, Rueben Foster and DeShawn Hand are all possible first-round draft picks. As a unit, the linebackers are not far behind.

Calvin Ridley.jpg
Calvin Ridley: Prime target

Alabama’s secondary is often talked about as the weak link, but they still rank No.4 in the nation in passing efficiency. They have more interceptions and have given up less touchdowns than Clemson, however.

So it seems that Clemson’s running game is going to be tested. Wayne Gallman has gone under the radar thanks to Watson’s heroics, but he is their rushing leader, with 1,482 yards. He compiled 150 yards against Oklahoma.

Their receivers are also going to be challenged. Charone Peak and Artaivis Scott were reliable targets, but Watson will miss Deon Cain who is suspended for the title game for violating team rules.

Tight end Jordan Leggett could be the main outlet and he has the ability to get open.

Yet Alabama’s one-two punch is exceptional: receiver Calvin Ridley may be a true freshman, but he has 1,031 yards in 14 games, while the Tide’s young offensive line should be good enough to open holes for exceptional running back and Heisman Trophy winner Henry.

It has been an exceptional season for the Tigers in the ACC, but we feel the only thing that will stop Alabama is Alabama themselves.

VERDICT: CLEMSON 24 ALABAMA 37

BEST BET: ALABAMA -6.5 @ 1.85

SPORTING BET: ALABAMA WIN BY OVER 12 POINTS @ 2.70

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MCB’s COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL-SEASON BETS

My Club Betting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham had you covered with another winning regular season. He continues his foray into the betting trends for every NCAA College Football Bowl from New Year’s Eve to January 3 in a bid to predict the winners on the handicap…

TEXAS A&M v LOUISVILLE

Music City Bowl – Thu, Dec 31 (00:00)

Louisville won seven of their last nine games after a 0-3 start and while Texas A&M started hot, they fell away towards the end of the season. This is plenty about momentum and not-so-much about the better team.

Kyler Murray
Airing it out: Kyler Murray

A couple of exciting freshman quarterbacks square off in the shape of Lamar Jackson, who is the Cardinals’ leading rusher, and the Aggies’ Kyler Murray, who is expected to air it out to a well-coached receiving corps.

Can Jackson, who had 734 yards on the ground, be effective against an athletic Aggies’ front? He will be on the move a lot and we take the Aggies to win in a relatively low-scoring game.

VERDICT: TEXAS A&M +1.5

USC v WISCONSIN

Holiday Bowl – Thu, Dec 31 (03:30)

Wisconsin’s defense under first-year head coach Paul Chryst was one of the best in the nation. They allowed an average of just 13.1 points per game and limited opponents to 97.9 yards per tilt on the ground.

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Joe Schobert: Pass rushing force

They possess an elite inside linebacker in T.J. Edwards and their pass rush is strong, with Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel accumulating 17.5 of the Badgers’ 26 sacks this season.

That is a worrying problem for USC, whose offensive line was the third-worst in the Pac-12, allowing 35 sacks in 13 games. There is no question that QB Cody Kessler is going to be under fire.

Still, the Badgers lack offensive punch and they may have to lean on their defense to keep things interesting. USC have limited opponents to 147.2 rushing yards per game and Wisconsin’s backfield duo of Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale have averaged better than four yards per carry.

USC outside linebacker Su’a Cravens, who will enter the NFL draft after this game, will keep senior QB Joel Stave under pressure and while the passer has completed 60.4 percent of his passes, his 10-11 touchdown to interception ratio shows the Badgers’ offensive limitations.

We like USC to extend its six-game winning streak over Wisconsin, who were 4-0 away from home this term.

VERDICT: USC -3

HOUSTON v FLORIDA STATE

Peach Bowl – Thu, Dec 31 (17:00)

FSU is playing in its 34th consecutive bowl game but for the first time in three years is not playing for a national title (beaten by Oregon in the College Football Playoff semi-final at the Rose Bowl 59-20 last season). That ended a streak of six straight bowl wins for the Seminoles.

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High-powered attack: Greg Ward Jr

The Houston Cougars won the AAC and advance to their biggest bowl game since losing to Boston College in the 1995 Cotton Bowl. The Cougars relied on their high-powered offense to reach a 12-1 summit this term, averaging over 40 points a game and scoring 50 or more points four times. Their sole loss came to UConn (20-17).

QB Greg Ward Jr is not the biggest at 5-foot-11, but he completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,590 yards and 16 touchdowns, but his ability with his legs stood out, running in another 19 scores. He led the Cougars’ rushing attack that averages 240 yards per game.

FSU knew there would be a few struggles in trying to replace Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston and Everett Golson has been up and down. A move to Sean Maguire later in the season stabilised the Seminoles, who run the ball with purpose. Dalvin Cook averaged nearly 7.9 yards a carry and scored 19 TDs, but was somewhat surprisingly left out of Heisman Trophy calculations.

Florida State’s defense is better than advertises and the Cougars are coming up against the fastest team with the most overall talent that they have met this year. The question is whether FSU will be motivated. We take the Cougars as a fun underdog pick.

VERDICT: HOUSTON +7

OKLAHOMA v CLEMSON

Orange Bowl Bowl – Thu, Dec 31 (21:00)

This is the first of the National Championship playoff semi-finals. No.1 Clemson meets No.4 Oklahoma, who are considered 3.5-point favourites to beat the Atlantic Coast Conference winners.

Baker Mayfield
Top gun: Baker Mayfield

The Big 12 winners went 7-0 and 6-1 AST in their last seven games, putting behind them a stunning 24-17 loss to Texas as a 16.5-point favourite.

Over their last seven games, QB Baker Mayfield led an offense that piled up an average of 51.9 points per game to earn a trip to Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

Clemson were the only team in College Football to avoid defeat, their 13-0 record capped with a 45-37 win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship game.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the Tigers were 6.5-point underdogs against a much weaker Oklahoma side in last season’s Citrus Bowl, but they still thumped them 40-6.

Revenge will be in the air as they fight for the right to face Michigan State or Alabama in the National Championship game.

Clemson survived a couple of scares, just managing to hold off Louisville 20-17 and Notre Dame 24-22 in games that they needed turnovers to benefit. Oklahoma went 5-0 against ranked opponents, while Clemson went 3-0 against Top 25 teams and it is fair to say that the Sooners are a more seasoned team, particularly since many of them faced Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years go.

The handicap line may be misleading to some, as the Tigers are legitimately the No.1 team in the nation. But head coach Dabo Swinney was forced to send home three players from Miami after failed drug tests this week, among them burgeoning star receiver Deon Cain, who scored five TDs this term.

Clemson’s defense can stop the run – they held Georgia Tech’s diverse attack to 1.69 yards per carry and have only allowed 14 rushing TDs all season. When they force opponents to throw, they can dominate. However, they have not faced a tandem like Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who have thrived behind an emerging offensive line as the season has worn on.

The biggest issue for us is the battle in the trenches. If Clemson’s defensive line can dominate as it has throughout the season, the Tigers have a fair chance of winning. If Oklahoma manage to run the ball consistently, they should win.

We are taking a mighty chance with the underdog, but until they are beaten, they are still the top dog and are a bit of value to win outright at 2.60.

VERDICT: CLEMSON +3.5 @ 2.00

MICHIGAN STATE v ALABAMA

Cotton Bowl – Fri, Jan 1 (01:00)

With the winner going on to face either Oklahoma or Clemson in the National Championship game, Michigan State are as big as 4.50 to beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

Derrick Henry.jpg
Heisman hero: Derrick Henry

The Crimson Tide are considered double-digit favourites by some firms and that is expected, since the Spartans are 2-7 in their last nine Bowl games.

They won their first six games but failed to cover the spread each time, then turned a sloppy start around with a win at Michigan on a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown.

Having allowed an average of just 10 points per game in their last four contest, the Spartans ended the season with a 17-14 win at Ohio State as a 14.5-point underdog, and then knocked off Iowa 16-13 in the Big Ten Championship game.

In contrast, Alabama are 8-1 in their last nine Bowl games and beat their last 10 opponents by an average of 21.6 points per game. Star running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy, rushing for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, and he should prove pivotal to the outcome.

Only two opposing running backs have compiled 100 yards or more against the Spartans this season: Purdue’s Markell Jones had 157 yards on 22 carries (68 of them came on one TD run), and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who managed 103 yards.

Alabama have won five of their last six games against Big Ten opponents, but the SEC team have looked a dominant force in all phases and it is no wonder they are favoured to win the National Championship.

If they can run effectively, they should triumph.

However, Michigan State’s QB Connor Cook has been stellar, not necessarily in terms of numbers (he does not have the surrounding talent possessed by some other schools), but in terms of leadership and game management.

He rarely makes mistakes and can put up decent stats when healthy: and that is the issue. Cook injured his shoulder against Maryland and he managed just three TDs and 516 total yards in his last three games as a result. However, he has had almost a month to heal and he should resemble the player he was before November.

The Spartans are battle-hardened, too. They have played a tough schedule and beat four teams ranked in the top 15 (Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon). The other three playoff teams have three wins against top 15 teams between them. Alabama does not have any.

Mark Dantonio’s Spartans should not be underestimated. They have a giant chip on their shoulder and can make this interesting.

VERDICT: MICHIGAN STATE +9.5 @ 1.92

NORTHWESTERN v TENNESSEE

Outback Bowl – Fri, Jan 1 (17:00)

We like Outback Steakhouses. It is No.1 port of call whenever we are in the States (which isn’t often enough). In this 30th edition of the Outback Bowl, if Northwestern wins, Outback Steakhouses will be giving away free coconut shrimp on Jan. 1. If Tennessee wins, there will be free Bloomin’ Onions.

Anthony walker
Top talent: Anthony Walker

Take a breath mint with you, as Tennessee, riding a five-game winning streak, are expected to win. Whether they cover the 8.5-point handicap is another matter.

The Vols (8-4) boast the second-ranked rushing attack in the SEC, with dual threat QB Joshua Dobbs adding 623 yards and nine TDs on the ground to his 2,125 passing yards and 15 touchdowns trough the air. Tailback Jalen Hurd added 1,158 rushing yards and 11 TDs.

Northwestern’s defense is decent. The Wildcats (12-2) limited opponents to 16.4 points per game, led by outstanding LB Anthony Walker, who has 113 tackles, 19.5 of them for a loss.

The Wildcats have played plenty of close games and there is no reason to think that the Vols will blow the Big Ten outfit away. We’ll still take the free Bloomin’ Onions, thank you.

VERDICT: NORTHWESTERN +8.5 @ 1.92

MICHIGAN v FLORIDA

Citrus Bowl – Fri, Jan 1 (18:00)

While they won’t finish the season as one of the nation’s big six, Michigan and Florida have had highly successful seasons under first year head coaches.

Jim Harbaugh
Overseeing a turnaround: Jim Harbaugh

Michigan’s turnaround from 5-7 a year ago to 9-3 this season (they were just a blocked punt away from having the chance to reach the National Championship playoffs), has been testament to former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Jim McElwain also did supremely well at Florida, who went 7-5 last season but only lost three times in 13 outings this year.

Points should be at a premium in the Citrus Bowl. Florida boast the eighth-ranked scoring defense, holding eight opponents to 14 points or fewer. However, they dropped off in their last two games, allowing 28 points per game to two top-10-ranked opponents.

Michigan’s defense posted three consecutive shutouts in October, including two against ranked teams. They rank 11th overall in points allowed per game (17.2) and fourth in total yards. They have been particularly good against the pass and that’s the best reason for taking on the Gators, despite the Florida ‘home-state’ advantage.

For the Gators’ attack has been pedestrian, to say the least. Treon Harris has thrown for 165 yards or fewer in five of his seven starts, while leading rusher Kelvin Taylor averages just 4.0 yards per carry.

It is hard to see how the Gators can match the Wolverines blow for blow and we take Michigan to cap a fine season with a relatively comfortable Bowl win. We would not put anyone off backing them at odds of 1.50 for the win.

VERDICT: MICHIGAN -4 @ 1.95

NOTRE DAME v OHIO STATE

Fiesta Bowl – Fri, Jan 1 (18:00)

The No.8-ranked Notre dame Fighting Irish face the No.7-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in what promises to be an enthralling Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, home of the NFL’s Cardinals.

Ezekiel Elliott
Stomach for a fight: Ezekiel Elliott

For much of the season, these two looked like they could face off for the National Championship playoffs.

Ohio State are the current National Champions, but they are not able to defend their title this season after losing to Michigan State in their penultimate game of the regular season. It was their only loss of the season, but it sent the Spartans to the playoffs at the Buckeyes’ expense.

Notre Dame also lost just once – a heart-breaking defeat to No.1-ranked Clemson.

Ohio State was the unanimous No.1 choice in the polls before the season began, but they had a soft schedule and paid the price for that loss to Michigan State, who were heavy underdogs and missing their first-string quarterback.

Notre Dame choked at the death. A win over Stanford in their last game would probably have been enough to earn them a spot in the playoffs, but they could not hold on to a one-point lead that they took with just 30 seconds remaining.

The Buckeyes have not delivered as expected, but they should account for Notre Dame. The ground game will be significant. Ohio State runs the ball with authority – Ezekiel Elliott has surpassed the 100-yard mark in 11 of 12 games, averaging over seven yards per carry in five games. He ran all over Michigan’s vaunted run defense to the tune of 214 yards in their last game.

His one poor game came against Michigan State, where he carried the ball 12 times for 33 yards, and got little help from the passing game.

He should have a decent afternoon against the Irish, who rank 65th against the run.

We also feel that the Buckeyes’ pass rush will have some success against inexperienced passer DeShone Kizer, who has gone 8-2 as a starter behind one of the best offensive lines in football.

Even so, Ohio State will have its hands full trying to limit elite receiver Will Fuller, but they should be able to control the clock and grind out a narrow win, although the handicap line is right where it should be.

VERDICT: NOTRE DAME +6.5 @ 1.92

STANFORD v IOWA

Rose Bowl – Fri, Jan 1 (22:00)

There is not going to be too much flash and rather more grind-it-out power-running football played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

C.J. Beathard.jpg
Big arm: C. J. Beathard

For the Stanford Cardinal and Iowa Hawkeyes, while not exactly mirror images of themselves, certainly have more than a passing resemblance in style. Or should that be a ‘running’ resemblance?

Full-backs and tight ends are not going to be bench-warmers and smash-mouth football is not something that the Cardinal often see in the pass-happy, finesse-fuelled Pac-12.

Iowa will commit to the run and they will stay committed to it. It is one of the reasons they rank 89th in the nation in passing, but don’t be fooled: QB C.J. Beathard has a decent arm and has good mobility.

He is just as likely to hit a 50-yard bomb off of play-action as he is to avoid the rush and keep the chains moving with his legs. It is a heavy pro-style attack, involving running out of zone-blocking looks to set up the play-action passing game.

Lane discipline is going to be vitally important if Stanford are to get their offense onto the field, as their pass defense is vulnerable and Beathard, while not prolific, is accurate, completing 61.4 per cent of his passes and was at his best against the two best defences Iowa faced (Pittsburgh and Michigan State).

Iowa lost just once in a surprising season, which saw them record their first 12-0 start in school history. Yet their schedule – which was largely out of their hands – was a soft one. The avoided games against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State or Michigan State.

The key match-up is likely to be how well Iowa’s ninth-ranked rushing defense stacks up against Stanford’s no.18-ranked rushing attack.

Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is going to cause plenty of problems for the Iowa defense, who were worn down late against Michigan State, and if the Cardinal can pick up some big gains on early downs, then it could get problematic for Iowa. McCaffrey has an ability to break big plays in the passing game and Iowa’s linebackers lack closing speed.

Special teams could be a factor as well: Iowa has not covered kick returns well all year (ranking 106th), and in a game of field position, this could be crucial.

We take Stanford to break it open in the fourth quarter.

VERDICT: STANFORD -4 @ 1.67

OKLAHOMA STATE v MISSISSIPPI

Sugar Bowl – Sat, Jan 2 (01:30)

Oklahoma State earned 10 wins for the fourth time in six season, but this year’s team will be remembered as the comeback kids.

Mason Rudolph.jpg
Growing in stature: Mason Rudolph

For they have erased a deficit of 15 points or more three times to win and are 4-0 in games decided by one score this term. They Cowboys are 7-0 in their last seven games decided by a single score.

Oklahoma State has won 12 of its last 14 games and has scored at least 30 points in 10 of its last 11 games, employing a two quarter-back system with Mason Rudolph (3,591 yards) and J. W. Walsh (who has accounted for 18 TDs in the last seven games).

The Cowboys have won four of their last five Bowl games and are 10-2 against in their last 12 games against current members of the Southeastern Conference.

Ole Miss are 6.5-point favourites despite the loss of dominant defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, an All-American junior who was projected as a top-five NFL Draft pick before being suspended and charged with Marijuana possession.

The OSU offensive line is still going to face a stiff challenge, however thinly their line is stretched at this point. They arguably played their best game when Nkemdiche was ruled out – against Texas A&M – although much of the defensive strategy runs through him. He attracts a lot of attention, even though big plays have been limited.

Arguably a bigger miss for Ole Miss is that of Fadol Brown, who can play end or tackle. Losing both is a big blow.

Teams that have managed to protect their QB sufficiently have had success against the Rebels’ secondary this season and the cornerback play has not been a strong as was anticipated in the spring, yet with a month off, the defensive line has had time to heal and could still dominate.

OSU’s defense has forced 13 turnovers in the last six games and 27 turnovers in total. Again, that is another component worth looking at.

This is a tough call, but while Ole Miss has the overall NFL-level depth, their defense is not good at stopping yards after the catch (13th in the SEC). If OSU can get the ball out quickly and stretch the field, the Rebels might have a fight on their hands.

VERDICT: OKLAHOMA STATE +7.5 @ 1.83

PENN STATE v GEORGIA

TaxSlayer Bowl – Sat, Jan 2 (17:00)

Georgia lost head coach Mark Richt to Miami after falling sort of the SEC title game and they quickly replaced him with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. He will stay with the Crimson Tide for the remainder of the season, so receivers coach Bryan McClendon will be the interim coach.

Grayson Lambert
Grayson Lambert: Efficient

Due to other coaching changes, they Bulldogs will be playing in the bowl game without the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach that it finished the regular season with.

QB Grayson Lambert was efficient, completing 64.4 per cent of his passes for 1844 yards and 11 TDs, but it is on ground game where they dominated, averaging 194.3 yards per game.

Defensively, the Bulldogs were solid. They yielded only 16.9 points per game on average and conceded less than 299 yards per game.

Penn State started strongly before falling away to a mark of 7-5 and head coach James Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan after they finished the regular season as one of the worst attacks for the second successive year.

QB Christian Hackenberg was efficient, tossing 16 TDs to five interceptions, but his play dropped off and while he was once thought of as a high NFL draft pick, it will now be interesting to see who will take a chance on him.

We feel the Nittany Lions’ inability to block sufficiently for Hackenberg will come back to haunt them, despite the coaching uncertainty at Georgia. The Bulldogs defense should lead the way, but we would not want to get too involved.

VERDICT: GEORGIA -6.5 @ 1.91

KANSAS STATE v ARKANSAS

Liberty Bowl – Sat, Jan 2 (20:20)

Size matters. Arkansas boast one of the biggest offensive lines in the nation – and that includes NFL teams.

Brandon Allen.JPG
Underrated: Brandon Allen

That is going to be a problem for the Wildcats. Almost every offensive line in the Big 12 sports a size advantage over them and while they have managed to be a force against the run, the Razorbacks have mustered an average of 456 yards per game this season, with 192 coming on the ground.

It has been a tumultuous season for Arkansas. They started with losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, before a four-OT thriller against Auburn gave them some much-needed confidence. They beat 19th-ranked Ole Miss 53-52 in OT and a week later trounced ninth-ranked LSU 31-14.

While Kansas State plays in the pass-happy Big 12, only Kansas, a 0-12 team that lost to FCS South Dakota State, finished with a worse passing defense than the Wildcats. Kansas State finished 120th of 128 teams in the FBS in yards per game and gave up 24 TDs while getting just four interceptions.

Arkansas is 121st. The Razorbacks have a superior TD to INT ratio (17 to 10), but gave up 300 yards or more five times, including a 508-yard shellacking by Mississippi State. Neither team’s defense can be confused with Georgia’s.

The nub is this: Arkansas QB Brandon Allen led the SEC in touchdowns, was second in the nation in Total Quarterback Rating, completed 65 per cent of his passes and had the second best touchdown to interception ratio in the SEC (29 to seven).

While the Arkansas defense is similarly weak, it is not likely that junior K-State passer Joe Hubener will be able to keep pace with the Razorbacks. They are a near two-touchdown favourite for a good reason.

VERDICT: ARKANSAS -12.5 @ 1.91

OREGON v TCU

Alamo Bowl – Sat, Jan 2 (23:45)

Following the return of QB Vernon Adams from injury, Oregon ended the year on a six-game winning streak, having dropped three of their previous five outings to go 9-3. Their very good defensive line masks an horrific secondary and that is going to be a major problem against a diverse TCU attack.

Vernon Adams.jpg
Sparked revival: Vernon Adams

While TCU receiver Josh Doctson is ruled out with a wrist injury, the Horned Frogs will still fancy their chances of covering a small spread. QB Trevone Boykin (2,928 yards) can hurt the Ducks with his legs (524 yards on the ground), but is still likely to target Kolby Listenbee and KaVontae Turpin with regularity.

Oregon will have to outscore TCU to win and they have the capability to do just that. Over the last five games, they have averaged 48.6 points per game and beat Stanford, USC and Arizona State.

They have a top-class running back in Royce Freeman (1,706 yards, 16 total touchdowns) and have speed across the board.

TCU’s talented offensive line was hit by injuries and suspensions down the stretch. The secondary also struggled due to injury, but with five weeks to recover, it will be interesting to see how often they will blitz and leave their defensive backs – who are used to man-to-man coverage – in isolation.

The key stats are perhaps these: Oregon is 109th in the nation at keeping its QB upright (sacks allowed), while TCU’s rushing defense ranks 80th in the nation in yards per game and 66th in yards per rush at 4.3.

This is a game to savour and we take TCU to win it in a shoot-out. Call us quackers, but we simply don’t like that Ducks secondary.

VERDICT: TCU -1 @ 2.00

WEST VIRGINIA v ARIZONA STATE

Cactus Bowl – Sun, Jan 3 (03:15)

This is another prickly pick ’em Bowl game between two teams that each had loftier aspirations.

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Lucky to survive: Dana Holgorsen

West Virginia went 7-5, going 0-4 against ranked opponents and claiming its best victory over Texas A&M. Head coach Dana Holgorsen somehow survived a fourth season in which is teams have gone 25-25.  Yet the Mountaineers have the chance to gain their first eight-win season and a Bowl victory since 2011.

Arizona State Sun Devils fared well below expectations. Their 6-6 record in sharp contrast to 10-win seasons over the previous two campaigns. The Devils opened up with a loss to Texas A&M and largely struggled against better opposition. They only became Bowl eligible (six wins) on November 21.

The Sun Devils have given up 30 touchdown passes and are missing their leader in the secondary, safety Jordan Simone. While they have done a fair job against the run, they may have to sell out to stop the Mountaineers’ talented running back Wendell Smallwood.

That should mean more chances for QB Skyler Howard, who has been plagued by inaccuracy issues, to find speedy receiver Shelton Gibson.

ASU’s QB Mike Bercovici is a little more seasoned and while West Virginia’s secondary take chances (they have picked off 23 passes), they have better balance in attack, with Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard capable of moving the chains on the ground.

Put simply, we don’t have a lot of faith in this West Virginia attack with Howard struggling for form and take the Sun Devils with a small spread.

VERDICT: ARIZONA STATE +1 @ 1.92

Odds and handicap lines are subject to change. You must be 18+ to bet.
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MCB’s 12 BETS OF CHRISTMAS

We love Christmas. In fact, we’ve even thought about wearing a Christmas jumper, as well as backing one (have you seen Kempton’s Boxing Day card?). The Festive season is invariably an expensive one, but those bookies insist on giving us more Christmas markets than you’d find in your average German town. Given their generosity, it would be churlish not to take advantage of their Christmas spirit, so herewith are our dozen cracking Christmas bets…

CINCINNATI v SAN DIEGO STATE

CHRISTMAS DAY – 01:00 (BT SPORT)

Presents wrapped and under the tree? Carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie for Santa on the hearth? Good. Don’t forget the sherry.

Then it is time to put your feet up and watch some College Football, namely the Hawaii Bowl from Aloha Stadium, Honolulu.

Donnel Pumphrey1
Game-breaker: Donnel Pumphrey

Hawaii are not involved, having failed to gain the pre-requisite six wins to qualify for a bowl berth.

The Cincinnati Bearcats (7-5) will take on the San Diego State Aztecs (10-3) in what could be a decent game. Rest assured, it won’t be played in front of too many people – Hawaiians rarely turn out in force at the antiquated venue, which has regularly played host to the annual NFL Pro Bowl.

The Aztecs placed first in the West division of the Mountain West Conference and after a 1-3 start, they are on a nine-game winning streak.

Running back Donnel Pumphrey is a game-breaker, who has accumulated over 1,500 yards this season, but the Bearcats could be missing quarterback Maxwell Smith, who tore his ACL towards the end of the year against Nevada.

It is likely that redshirt freshman Christian Chapman will try and keep pace with an explosive Cincinnati offense, led by QB Gunner Kiel, which ranks No.4 in passing yardage in the nation and No.5 in total offense.

Their third-down conversion rate, at 51.6 per cent is only bettered by Texas Tech.

We fully expect Cincinnati (1.83) to win and cover the 1.5-point handicap. [SM]

BEST BET: CINCINNATI -1.5 @ 1.91 

CHRISTMAS DAY TV RATINGS

It is always a favourite punt of ours. Who wins the TV ratings war on Christmas Day has little to do with taste.

That’s why most firms have the BBC’s Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special as odds-on favourite. You know it and we know it: It is truly dreadful and plunges the depths of ‘comedy’ that we never thought existed. And you, dear licence-fee payer, are forking out for the Crayola that the ‘writers’ use to pen up this guff.

Lady Mary
Our crush: Lady Mary

The final episode of Downton Abbey will knock spots off the rancid BBC output (which also includes the truly dreadful soap Eastenders at 6.00).

At odds of 4.50, Lady Mary – upon whom we have a complete crush, daahling – and company look phenomenal value to win the ratings battle.

Want a fair value outsider? Try Dr Who at around 26.00. It will certainly beat Coronation Street.

But we’ll take safe, genteel and well-written drama over sad, crass desperately unfunny ‘comedy’ any day of the week. And we haven’t even mentioned the desperate ‘Miranda’!

The bookies may have got this very wrong. Take advantage. [SM]

BEST BET: DOWNTON ABBEY TO WIN CHRISTMAS DAY TV RATINGS @ 4.50 

STOKE v MAN UNITED

BOXING DAY – 12:45 (SKY SPORTS 1)

Mark Hughes had a wonderful playing career, and his most successful periods were undoubtedly with Manchester United (2.20) with whom he spent two spells and made over 300 appearances.

Mark Hughes3
Hughes: Top manager

The Welshman is now an established Premier League manager and has done a fine job since taking over as Stoke (3.30) boss back in 2013, transforming the Potters from a ‘route one’ team into a side that enjoys operating with a possession-based style.

This change in style has attracted some of the most exciting young talents in Europe to The Britannia, with the likes of Bojan, Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic all arriving at the club since Hughes was appointed.

Manchester United fans are crying out for a change in style. While Louis Van Gaal’s patient tactics have stopped the side conceding goals, it has also caused United to look like an overly defensive outfit, with the Red Devils failing to score in a staggering amount of games so far this season.

That said, meetings between these two clubs do usually produce goals. Of the last seven games between Stoke and United, only two have ended without both teams getting on the scoresheet.

We expect much of the same on Boxing Day, and fancy a scoring draw at The Britannia. [CC]

BEST BET: BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE @ 2.05 

KING GEORGE VI CHASE

BOXING DAY – 15:10 (CHANNEL 4)

Kempton Park’s Christmas feature is shaping up to be an open and competitive renewal.

The Irish appear to hold a strong hand in the chasing department this season, with the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack (3.50), winner of his last four and eight of his last nine, appearing to be the one to beat.

Don Cossack
Solid gold: Don Cossack

The eight-year-old won a sub-par renewal of the JNWine.com Champions Chase at Down Royal in October and has been ticking over at home since then. He looks like a Gold Cup winner in the making, but his jumping is faultless and, if fully fit, will take all the beating.

Last season’s top-notch novice Vautour (3.75) jumped left when winning the Grade 2 Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot and will have to up his game, but there is no reason to think he will not improve for that first run of the season. Willie Mullins’ inmate rates the biggest danger to the selection.

And you cannot dismiss Cue Card (5.00), who looked back to his best when taking the Grade 1 Lancashire Chase at Haydock last month, getting the better of Silviniaco Conti. We see Paul Nicholls’ runner turning the tables this time and he looks a solid each-way bet at around 9.00.

Still, we side with Don Cossack, who looks the class act. [SM]

BEST BET: DON CASSACK TO WIN THE KING GEORGE VI CHASE @ 3.50 

NEWCASTLE v EVERTON

BOXING DAY – 17:30 (BT SPORT 1)

Newcastle (3.20) have endured a tough season so far and all seems far from well at the Tyneside club. The fans are once again unhappy with the board and management team, which is without doubt, having a negative effect on the playing staff.

Romelu Lukaku
Quick and powerful: Romelu Lukaku

That said, The Magpies have managed a few impressive results, with their 2-0 win over Liverpool being the highlight of the season so far.

Everton (2.25) are really starting to look like a settled outfit, after a transitional campaign last season. Roberto Martinez has assembled a talented, young squad since his appointment in 2013 and is now starting to reap the rewards.

Youngsters Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, John Stones and Gerard Deulofeu have all been outstanding for the Toffees this season, and keeping all four men fit will be vital if Everton are going to challenge for a European spot come May.

Newcastle have a wretched record against their Boxing Day opponents, with Everton losing just one of the last eight meetings between the two sides.

Everything points to an away win here. [CC]

BEST BET: EVERTON TO WIN @ 2.25 

SOUTHAMPTON v ARSENAL

BOXING DAY – 19:45 (BT SPORT 1)

Southampton (3.25) are a side struggling for consistency. Ronald Koeman’s men are not living up to the high standards they set last season, and have looked particularly lacklustre in recent home games against Aston Villa and Stoke.

Ronald Koeman2
Ronald Koeman: Saints struggling for form

However, they have also looked impressive on occasions, most notably during their convincing win away at Chelsea back in October.

Arsene Wenger finally seems to be prioritising Premier League football. Arsenal (2.30) have had a below-par Champions League campaign so far, eventually qualifying by the skin of their teeth after a win at Olympiacos in the final group stage game. The Gunners also suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday to crash out of the League Cup.

That said, it has been a completely different story in the league for Wenger’s men. On their day, Arsenal look arguably the best side in the league, and this was particularly evident in their 3-0 demolition of Manchester United in early October.

These two sides may both possess a similar attacking style, but when they meet each other, goals aren’t usually on the agenda.

Four of the last six clashes between Southampton and Arsenal have ended with less than two goals being scored and we expect their game on Boxing Day to follow suit. [CC]

BEST BET: UNDER 2.5 GOALS @ 1.91

CHRISTMAS NO.1 BOOK

We are not exactly a nation of cooks. We like to think we are, with TV shows such as The Great British Bake Off, Masterchef and anything containing the wonderful Jamie Oliver always among the top-rated TV shows. But we simply don’t have the time (we’re too busy watching cookery shows).

Nigella Lawson
She cooks, too: Nigella Lawson

And blokes being what they are (clueless) over what to buy their women for Christmas (or at any other time of the year for that matter), grabbing a cookery book on December 24 is a safe bet for those who have little imagination.

(And really, what are those blokes supposed to do when the reply to the question of: “What do you want for Christmas, honey?’” is met with the response, “Oh, nothing really. I’m fine”).

Lingerie is not cool – and most guys are embarrassed to buy it anyway. Be honest, have you a clue what bra size your missus wears?

So a cookery book is a safe bet. And while we may have heard of Mary Berry (an old lady who bakes, apparently), most blokes have heard of Nigella. Her real name is Nigella Lawson. I think we can all agree: she is the epitome of everything a chef should be.

And, Lo and Behold, she has a new cookery book out in time for Christmas. It is called Simply Nigella and it is 3.00 joint favourite (along with Guinness Book of World Records 2016) to be the Christmas Number One Book.

The Road to Little Dribbling (Bill Bryson) and Over The Top And Back (Tom Jones) are next in the betting, but we put out faith in a couple of things… ahem… to bring home the bacon: The nation’s penchant for cookery shows and the male’s psyche. [SM]

BEST BET: SIMPLY NIGELLA (NIGELLA LAWSON) TO BE CHRISTMAS NUMBER ONE BOOK @ 3.00

CHRISTMAS NO.1 VIDEO GAME

We are fans of Madden. That’s about the only game we know well. FIFA isn’t bad, either. But our knowledge of video games is limited, as we are all about sport – not about killing people or aliens, racing cars or generally wasting our time (see what we did there, teenagers?). We have lives.

Call Of Duty
Top game (apparently): Call of Duty – Black Ops III

So we got down ‘wiv da yoof, innit’ to find out what the best-selling vids are most likely to be this Christmas.

Our (little) man tells us that Call of Duty – Black Ops III will out-sell anything, including Star Wars Battlefront and FIFA 16. He says the graphics are excellent. We’ll take him at his word.

If it doesn’t out-sell the rest, there will be sure to be some Fallout 4 (see what we did there?).

You can get on at 2.75. That’s good enough for us, although you will probably need to have at least £50 on to make enough money to afford to buy the damn thing! [SM]

BEST BET: CALL OF DUTY – BLACK OPS III TO BE CRISTMAS NUMBER ONE VIDEO GAME @ 2.75

MAN UNITED v CHELSEA

28 DECEMBER – 17:30 (BT SPORT 1)

In truth, both of these sides have underachieved so far this season.

Manchester United (2.25) have suffered from a lack of goals during the current campaign.  Wayne Rooney has failed to impress and it looks as though Old Father Time is starting to catch up with him, particularly when running with the ball.

Wayne Rooney1
Not the force he once was: Wayne Rooney looks jaded

Anthony Martial was bought in at the start of the season, and seems to have suffered a real loss in confidence, despite a wonderful start to his Premier League career.

Nobody could have forecast the dreadful defence of the Premier League title that Chelsea (3.00) have made. Chelsea are miles off the pace after a wretched start to the season and, in truth, a top-four spot is now their realistic aim for the rest of the season.

The Blues’ recent loss against Bournemouth highlighted their lack of confidence in possession and defensive frailty. Both issues will need to be addressed if Chelsea are going to turn things round this season.

Chelsea are unbeaten in the last eight meetings between these two sides, with the last United victory coming back in 2012.

We see the Champions getting a point here – at the very least. [CC]

BEST BET: CHELSEA/DRAW (DC) @ 1.65

NFL REGULAR-SEASON MVP

With just two weeks of the regular season remaining, we have a 1.57 shot that, in our opinion, should be 1.01 at best.

Back Cam Newton to be the NFL Regular Season MVP. The Carolina Panthers quarterback has led his team to the NFC South title and may well lead them onto the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton: Odds-on value

His nearest pursuers in the market are Tom Brady (3.00) and Carson Palmer (11.00), respective passers for New England and Cincinnati. But both those players have at least one elite receiver to pass to, whereas the former Auburn man leads a no-name attack. Take him away from that team and the Panthers would do well to win half of the games they have.

Have no fear in betting odds-on. If is walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and balks at the words “a l’orange”, it probably isn’t a giraffe. Remember: It can be odds-on and still be value. [SM]

BEST BET: CAM NEWTON TO BE REGULAR SEASON MVP @ 1.57

LEICESTER v MAN CITY

KICK OFF: 29 DECEMBER – 19:45 (BT SPORT 1)

There is no doubt that Claudio Ranieri is leading the way when it comes to the Premier League Manager of the Season award.

Leicester (3.75) have dramatically overachieved so far this season and many would have forecast them to be in a relegation scrap, rather than battling for a European place.

JamieVardy
Top of the league: Jamie Vardy and Leicester

The link-up play between Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez has been the main contributing factor for the club’s success, with both men currently at the top end of the goal-scoring standings in the Premier League.

Manchester City (1.90) are performing as many expected and find themselves at the right end of the table, unlike pre-season title rivals Chelsea.

However, while they have been typically impressive when attacking, they have come unstuck in defence on numerous occasions so far this season.

Defensive issues were particularly apparent in City’s home losses to West Ham and Liverpool earlier in the campaign, with Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis looking unconvincing and off the pace.

Leicester have an awful record against Manchester City. The Foxes have not won any of the last eight games between the sides and have lost all of the last four meetings.

We fancy an away win here. [CC]

BEST BET: MAN CITY TO WIN @ 1.90

SUNDERLAND v LIVERPOOL

30 DECEMBER – 19:45 (SKY SPORTS 1)

Sam Allardyce has certainly steadied the ship at The Stadium of Light since taking over from Dick Advocaat earlier in the season.

Sunderland (5.25) have recovered from a disastrous start to the season, which saw them rooted to the foot of the table and have turned out some solid performances under their new manager.

Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool are a work in progress: Jurgen Klopp

One result that particularly comes to mind is Sunderland’s 1-0 win away at Crystal Palace in November, which perfectly highlighted their new found structure and organisation under the man affectionately known as Big Sam.

It has been much the same for Liverpool (1.55) who have also seen an upturn in fortune after changing their manager earlier in the season. Jürgen Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers back in October and has overseen impressive away wins against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

The most notable meeting between these two sides came back in October 2009, when a Darren Bent effort deflected off a beach ball to give the Black Cats a famous victory over the Mersysiders.

However, Sunderland have a poor record against Liverpool and haven’t won any of the last six meetings between the two sides.

We are going for an away win at The Stadium of Light. [CC]

BEST BET: LIVERPOOL TO WIN @ 1.55

Stay tuned to our WordPress site for Previews and Betting Guides on a variety of Sports… And have a very Merry Christmas!

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MCB’s COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL-SEASON BETS

After another winning season, My Club Betting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends for every NCAA College Football Bowl before Christmas in a bid to predict the winners on the handicap…

ARIZONA v NEW MEXICO

New Mexico Bowl – Sat, Dec 19 (19:00)

Despite reportedly being offered the South Carolina job, head coach Rich Rodriguez is staying in Arizona.

Rich Rodriguez
Staying in Arizona: Rich Rodriguez

That’s good news for the Wildcats, who lost their fourth game in the last five when falling to in-state rival Arizona State in the regular-season finale.

Injuries and instability at the QB position saw the Wildcats finish fifth in the six-team Pac-12 South division, but if they can slow down New Mexico running back Jhurell Pressley – who will likely get a heavy workload against a team that has had its issues against the run – the Wildcats should win and cover the handicap. It could be a close-run thing, however.

BEST BET: Arizona -10 @1.91  

BYU v UTAH

Las Vegas Bowl – Sat, Dec 19 (20:30)

The latest edition of the Holy War should be another fascinating clash – ironically in Sin City – and the game is a sell-out.

Brigham Young v Colorado State
Bronco Mendenhall: Seeking win 100

BYU lost nine of the last 12 meetings, including the last four, but six of the last eight meetings saw less than one score separating them. BYU and Utah have never faced off in the postseason or at a neutral site. The two rivals are meeting for the 90th time in history.

Since 1970, BYU is 26-16 against the Utes but under Bronco Mendenhall – who is seeking an historic 100th coaching win in his last game before leaving for Virginia – the Cougars are 3-6. Utah is a 2.5-point favourite, but the Cougars’ passing game will be a major test for the Utes and they are worth taking with the points.

BEST BET: BYU +2.5 @ 1.91 

OHIO v APPALACHIAN STATE

Camellia Bowl – Sat, Dec 19 (22:30)

Appalachian State’s redzone efficiency is among the best in the nation and their running game, with Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore, should prove too much for the Ohio Bobcats. We take the Mountaineers to win in Montgomery, although the handicap is too large for us to have much of a punt on.

BEST BET: OHIO +8.5 @ 1.83 

SAN JOSE STATE v GEORGIA STATE

Cure Bowl – Sun, Dec 20 (00:00)

Yes, there really is a thing called the Cure Bowl. And in the true spirit of Robert Smith et al, may we just say: Let’s Go To Bed.

Tyler Ervin.jpg
Game-breaking back: Tyler Ervin

While the amount of College Football to watch is Never Enough, this is a game that is not up our Fascination Street.

San Jose State have not won back-to-back games all season and lost three of their last four.

The Georgia State Panthers won their last four to go 6-6 on the year in the Sun Belt conference, which is not as strong as the Mountain West, in which SJSU play.

The biggest question is whether the Panthers can stop running back Tyler Ervin. The guess is they won’t and it will be Just Like Heaven for the Spartans.

BEST BET: SAN JOSE STATE -3.5 @ 2.00

ARKANSAS STATE v LOUISINANA TECH

New Orleans Bowl – Sun, Dec 20 (02:00)

Arkansas State has lost 13 of the last 15 meetings with Louisiana Tech and the last four encounters have all been rip-roaring affairs with plenty of points.

Kenneth Dixon
Kenneth Dixon: Ground control

Arkansas State started the season 1-3 but the Red Wolves then ripped off eight consecutive wins on the back of a stellar running game that yielded 24 TDs in 11 games.

Michael Gordon and Johnston White may be able to pile up the yards and keep the chains moving, but their defense is ordinary and their good run has much to do with an easier schedule in the second half of the season.

Louisiana Tech QB Jeff Driskel leads a Bulldogs attack that ranks in the top 30 in the nation and while they faced only one ranked opponent – Mississippi State – the Bulldogs should be able to find plenty of success.

Keep an eye on running back Kenneth Dixon, who has 17 TDs this season. He’s a good one. Expect plenty of points and we would be confident of a Bulldogs win.

BEST BET: LOUISIANA TECH -2.5 @ 2.00 

SOUTH FLORIDA v WESTERN KENTUCKY

Miami Beach Bowl – Mon, Dec 21 (19:30)

The South Florida Bulls have won each of the three previous meetings with Western Kentucky and in effect, this will be a home game for them.

Marlon Mack
Mack the knife: Bulls’ Marlon Mack

Yet there is a reason while the Hilltoppers are 3.5-point favourites: their attack just keeps piling up points.

They average 44.2 points per game and are well balanced, with QB Brandon Dougherty (4,184 yards passing) handing off to Anthony Wales and D’Andre Ferby (combined 1,480 rushing yards).

Their defense will certainly concede plenty of touchdowns to Bulls’ QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack, but the Bulls’ defense has improved markedly since October.

Many think the Hilltoppers will win a shootout and it could be last team with the ball wins. The Bulls are a value bet with the points.

BEST BET: SOUTH FLORIDA +3.5 @ 2.00 

AKRON v UTAH STATE

Potato Bowl – Tue, Dec 22 (20:30)

Akron Zips seek their first ever Bowl win in the school’s history, while the Utah State Aggies look for a school record fourth straight bowl win.

The Aggies have a major injury concern at QB as Kent Myers is questionable with a shoulder injury, but their ground game, averaging 167.9 yards per game, will bear the brunt.

Akron does not match up well against such a powerful attack and we take them to go down in a double-digit loss.

BEST BET: UTAH STATE -6.5 @ 1.91

TOLEDO v TEMPLE

Boca Raton Bowl – Wed, Dec 23 (00:00)

The 24th-ranked Temple Owls have lost five of the last six meetings with the Toldeo Rockets and how they have been affected after failing to lift the AAC championship is a big question. Their defeat by Houston may have knocked the stuffing out of them.

phillip Ely
Diverse attack: Phillip Ely

Toledo started 7-1 but ended 9-2 and did not make it to the MAC championship game, following a 35-30 loss to Western Michigan.

The Rockets beat Arkansas, Arkansas State and Bowling Green, while the Owls downed Penn State and Memphis. They also lost a close game against Notre Dame, so their body of work is arguably better.

We know the Owls are a better team, but Toledo has a diverse spread attack led by QB Phillip Ely and a strong running game with Kareem Hunt. We are taking a chance with the Rockets, but it is a game to watch rather than have a definite view about.

BEST BET: TOLEDO TO WIN @ 2.00 

BOISE STATE v NORTHERN ILLINOIS

Poinsettia Bowl – Wed, Dec 23 (21:30)

Northern Illinois lost in the MAC title game, largely in part because they were playing with a third-string quarterback.

Ryan Graham
Could return: Ryan Graham

However, they might get back-up passer Ryan Graham back for the clash with the Broncos, who are 5-1 in their last six bowl games.

Should he not be able to start, walk-on freshman Tommy Fielder, who had his first start against Bowling Green (lost 34-14), will lead an attack that ranks 20th in the nation in total offense.

But with their 75th-ranked defense, which gives up an average of 413 yards per game), will they be able to keep pace with the Broncos, who ranked 21st in the country in total offense, racking up 489 yards per game and almost 38 points a contest?

In theory, they shouldn’t, but plenty depends on just how much Boise State’s players want this.

BEST BET: BOISE STATE -7.5 @ 1.91 

GEORGIA SOUTHERN v BOWLING GREEN

GoDaddy Bowl – Thur, Dec 24 (01:00)

We are not going to Mobile, Alabama, in an overloaded poultry truck, but we wish we were. For the GoDaddy Bowl looks like being a cracking game between two teams of differing styles.

Roger_Lewis_1
Roger Lewis: Safe hands

Bowling Green, the MAC champion, boast the offensive player of the year in QB Matt Johnson and the Paul Warfield Award-winning receiver Roger Lewis.

The Eagles, on the other hand, rely on a triple-option run attack that averages 355 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. You can colour Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby as pretty darn good running backs.

Still, the offensive power of the Falcons should prove too much and we fully expect Bowling Green to come out on top by a double-digit margin.

BEST BET: BOWLING GREEN -7 @ 1.91 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE v WESTERN MICHIGAN

Bahamas Bowl – Thur, Dec 24 (17:00)

A trip to play in the John Robinson Stadium, Nassau, is not a bad gig if you can get it.

The Blue Raiders deserve it, too. The C-USA side finished strongly, winning their last four games, which included an upset of Marshall, to gain third place in the East division.

Brent Stockstill
Efficient: Brent Stockstill

Their passing attack, led by QB Brent Stockstill (son of head coach Rick Stockstill) has thrown for 27 TDs and run for two more. He is also efficient, having completed 66.7 percent of his passes at 7.6 yards per attempt.

Western Michigan Broncos are playing in their second straight bowl after bouncing back from a difficult non-MAC schedule, which included losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. They downed a tough Toledo team in their regular-season finale.

Given that the Broncos have score 40 points or more five times, this could be a high-scoring encounter, and the outcome might be a first bowl win for Western Michigan after five successive defeats in such games. Our enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by that stat. Perhaps better to snaffle a mince pie and some sherry.

BEST BET: WESTERN MICHIGAN -3 @ 1.95 

CINCINNATI v SAN DIEGO STATE

Hawaii Bowl – 25 Dec (01:00)

Presents wrapped and under the tree? Carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie for Santa on the hearth? Good. Don’t forget the sherry.

aloha Stadium
Aloha Stadium: Minus the swap meet

Then it is time to put your feet up and the Hawaii Bowl from Aloha Stadium, Honolulu.

Hawaii are not involved, having failed to gain the pre-requisite six wins to qualify for a bowl berth. The Cincinnati Bearcats (7-5) will take on the San Diego State Aztecs (10-3) in what could be a decent game.

Rest assured, it won’t be played in front of too many people – Hawaiians rarely turn out in force at the antiquated venue, which also plays host to the annual NFL Pro Bowl.

The Aztecs placed first in the West division of the Mountain West Conference and after a 1-3 start, they are on a nine-game winning streak.

Running back Donnel Pumphrey is a game-breaker, who has accumulated over 1,500 yards this season, but the Bearcats could be missing quarterback Maxwell Smith, who tore his ACL towards the end of the year against Nevada.

It is likely that redshirt freshman Christian Chapman will try and keep pace with an explosive Cincinnati offense, led by QB Gunner Kiel, which ranks No.4 in passing yardage in the nation and No.5 in total offense.

Their third-down conversion rate, at 51.6 per cent is only bettered by Texas Tech.

We fully expect Cincinnati (1.83) to win and cover the 1.5-point handicap.

BEST BET: CINCINNATI -1.5 @ 1.91

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK SIX – Your betting guide to Week 15

After a winning week 14, My Club Betting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of SEC Championship weekend…

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

BOWLING GREEN at NORTHERN ILLINOIS

(+11.5, Total Points 70)

Friday, 23:00

The MAC Championship takes place in Detroit on Friday night, with Northern Illinois (8-4, 6-2 MAC) getting in through the back door. Having lost at home to Ohio 26-21, Toledo’s loss to Western Michigan helped secure the Huskies’ championship berth.

matt-johnson Bowling Green
Welcome Matt: Johnson the best since ‘Big Ben’

The defending MAC champions will take on one of the nation’s best offenses in the Bowling Green Falcons (9-3, 7-1 MAC).

Falcons’ quarterback Matt Johnson leads the nation in passing yards with 4,465 and has the opportunity to pass Ben Roethlisberger for the most passing yards in a season in MAC history. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ passer notched 4.486 yards in 2003 for the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks.

Both Bowling Green and Northern Illinois are eligible for bowl appearances but the title game is likely to come down to who starts at QB for the Huskies, who have split the MAC title games with the Falcons in the last two seasons.

Northern Illinois lost starting QB Ryan Graham, who was already subbing for an injured Drew Hare, to an injury in their loss to the Bobcats. In relief of Graham, Tommy Fielder completed nine of 17 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. But there will be a lot of pressure for the true freshman to perform if he gets the starting nod.

Bowling Green will be thirsting for revenge after getting blown out 51-17 in the championship game last year. We also don’t like Northern Illinois’ record of covering the handicap in December – they are 2-8 in their last 10 games in this month.

With a third-string freshman quarterback trying to keep pace with one of the best QBs in the sub division, we like Bowling Green’s chances of covering a lofty spread.

BEST BET: BOWLING GREEN -11.5 @1.92

HOUSTON at TEMPLE

(+6.5, Total Points 56.5)

Saturday, 17:00

The inaugural American Athletic Conference title game sees 21st-ranked Houston (11-1) take on 24th-ranked Temple (10-2), a team they have never lost to in four previous meetings.

Houston is coming off a win over Navy that secured the West title, having previously lost their unbeaten season when being upset by Connecticut.

jihad-thomas
Jahad Thomas: Can keep things close

Temple needed a victory over UConn last weekend to win the east, having lost to South Florida two weeks earlier. The Owls, who also lost to Notre Dame, beat Connecticut 27-3.

The Cougars are averaging 42 points a game and they beat Houston 31-10 last season.

Temple leads the AAC in scoring defense (18.8 points per game), total defense (328.4 yards per game) and rushing defense (117.4 ypg). The Owls also lead the conference in sacks (33).

Temple’s gameplan is based around time of possession via a stout running game, with Jahad Thomas leading the way with 1,188 yards (third in the MAC) and 17 touchdowns. He has five 100-yard games this season, including 119 yards in two TDs in last week’s win over UConn.

We are big fans of Houston QB Greg Ward Jr, who hardly played in the upset by UConn because of an ankle injury. He returned last week to throw for 308 yards and three TDs in their 52-31 win over Navy.

Though the Cougars had to move cornerback Brandon Wilson to running back because of injuries, Houston piled up 555 yards of offense to snap Navy’s five-game winning streak. Significantly, they also limited the Midshipmen’s triple-option attack, which averaged over 400 yards in back-to-back wins going into the contest, to 147 yards on the ground.

The winner is likely to head to either the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec 31 or the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona on January 1. The Bowl schedule will be announced on Sunday.

And we think the Cougars will continue their streak, covering the handicap in the process.

BEST BET: HOUSTON -6.5 @ 2.00

WEST VIRGINIA at KANSAS STATE

(+6.5, Total Points 60.5)

Saturday, 21:30

Despite their 5-6 record, Kansas State is bowl eligible after Missouri declined a bowl bid, so precious little hangs on the outcome.

Dana
Knowing his team’s limitations: Holgorsen

The Wildcats have just two conference wins this season – against Iowa State and Kansas – as they have systematically failed to cope with up-tempo Big 12 attacks.

Their gameplan will be to try and control the game on the ground, as their passing attack is powder-puff (averaging just 177 yards per game), while their pass defense is woeful (291 yard per game).

This bodes well for West Virginia. While pass protection has been an issue and improvement is needed, head coach Dana Holgorsen has already read the riot act to a talented bunch after their win over Iowa State. He admitted that the intermediate passing game “has got to improve” and the quarterback play “has to improve”.

Kansas State will try to frustrate a potent attack by playing seven in the box and bringing an extra safety to the line, whilst showing double coverage on receiver Shelton Gibson, playing man-to-man coverage on the back-end.

In order for the Mountaineers to beat this run-stuffing defense, the intermediate passing game has to improve. The Wildcats also like to eat the clock, so expecting the line to break 60 points is arguable.

What the Mountaineers do well is stopping teams on third-down. They stop opposing attacks 32% of the time in third-down situations, which is 15th best in the nation.

We anticipate Kansas State playing at a slow pace and getting a few key stops, but not enough to prevent West Virginia from rolling to a double-digit victory.

BEST BET: WEST VIRGINIA -6.5 @ 2.00

ALABAMA at FLORIDA

(+17, Total Points 39.5)

Saturday, 21:00

The SEC Championship game will be the focus of the College Football weekend, with the Eastern Division champion Florida Gators (10-2) taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1).

Antonio Morrison
Burgeoning talent: Gators’ linebacker Antonio Morrison

The point spread is the biggest the SEC title game has seen since 1995, but don’t let this fool you: Florida may have a few surprises in store.

For starters, Jim McElwain, Florida’s head coach, worked under ‘Bama head coach Nick Saban as his offensive co-ordinator, so if anyone knows his tendencies, it is McElwain.

The Gators may not have too many playmakers on offense, but their defense is decent and is loaded with future NFL talent: Vernon Hargreaves III is arguably one of the best cornerback prospects in the nation and linebacker Antonio Morrison is not far behind in terms of ability. Safety Keanu Neal is a future pro and the defensive line is none too shabby, with Jonathan Bullard certain to be high-round draft pick.

The key for Florida will be limiting Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who is a future NFL star. Pressure up front on QB Jake Coker will be crucial too.

Alabama has had problems in the red zone this season, but we don’t see them settling for field goals. It is likely to be a tight affair until late in the third quarter but Florida will simply not be able to keep pace in a relatively low-scoring game. We see the Tide winning by a score of around 27-13 but we’ll take the points in hope rather than expectation.

BEST BET: FLORIDA +17.5 @ 2.00

STANFORD at USC

(+4.5, Total Points 60)

Sunday, 00:45

The PAC-12 Championship game pits the two pre-season favourites against each other with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.
The USC Trojans have suffered plenty of injuries in their secondary and that should provide the Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 8- 1) with a few opportunities in the passing game. QB Kevin Hogan has plenty of big targets and while he is not always accurate with the deep ball, his receivers often bail him out.

Christian McCaffrey
Speed to burn: Christian McCaffrey

Yet the key for USC will be attempting to stop Heisman Trophy candidate running back Christian McCaffrey, who is likely to see plenty of action. Success in the passing game will open up more running lanes – and the Cardinal’s offensive line has the power to out-muscle the smaller USC line in any event.

Last week, Stanford’s last-second 38-36 win over Notre Dame capped one of the season’s most thrilling games but McCaffrey, son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey, ripped off 228 all-purpose yards and the Irish considered it a good night.

That is how good he is. Halting this one-man wrecking crew is going to be a task and a half. He has blazing speed and quickness, and if he gets to the edge, he force USC’s young linebackers to take bad angles.
Should either Alabama or Clemson lose their title games, Stanford has a chance to make it to the four-team national Championship playoff. It is an unlikely scenario, however.

The Trojans (8-4, 6-3) went toe to toe as a favourite when the teams met in September, eventually going down 41-31. But they are not favourites this time – with good reason – and we take them Stanford to edge it again.

BEST BET: STANFORD -4.5 @ 1.92

CLEMSON at NORTH CAROLINA

(+5, Total Points 67)

Sunday, 01:00

The North Carolina Tar Heels are 6-2 against the handicap in their last eight games against ACC opponents but hey are underdogs to beat the No.1-ranked Clemson Tigers at Bank of America Stadium.

The favourites in the last four meetings have covered the handicap, but how the Tar Heels will handle their first appearance in the title game will be interesting, particularly against a team that has covered the handicap in four of their last six meetings. The points total has eclipsed the line in four of the last five meetings.

While the Tigers have failed to cover in their last four games, they have been cruising through the last four weeks since beating Florida State, and have tended to raise their game against better opponents.

They need one more win to wrap up an undefeated season and make the playoff.

Clemson’s diverse attack should be too much for the Tar Heels and their passing game means that the 67-point barrier may well be reached. We’ll plump for the favourites to cover and the line to go over.

BEST BET: OVER 67 POINTS @ 1.92 

Odds and handicap lines are subject to change. You must be 18+ to bet.
Please bet responsibly
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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK SIX – Your betting guide to Week 14

MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 14 of the 2015/16 NCAAF season…

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

BOISE STATE at SAN JOSE STATE

(+7.5, Total Points 58)

Friday, 20:30

Boise State have a problem. They can’t defend teams with a triple option attack. They are 1-3 against teams who use such a diverse scheme.

Thomas Sperbeck
Top receiver: Thomas Sperbeck

The Broncos were overturned 37-30 by Air Force last week, meaning they had lost home games in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1989, having earlier dropped a 31-24 decision to the New Mexico Lobos. It is also the first time they have lost two consecutive conference games on the blue turf.

The Broncos allowed 271 yards passing against New Mexico and then 279 against Air Force. The Falcons racked up 607 total yards.

There were some positives. Receiver Thomas Sperbeck set the Boise State record for single receiving yards, breaking the mark set by former Detroit Lions wideout Titus Young in 2010.

The San Jose State Spartans will have added incentive to beat Boise State this week, as they will gain bowl eligibility after beating Hawaii 42-23 before the smallest UH crowd in the history of Aloha Stadium.

Spartans’ attack is based on the speedy and versatile Tyler Ervin, who has rushed 253 times from 1,417 yards and 13 touchdowns, and QB Kenny Potter, who has completed 144-of-210 passes for 1,559 yards and 11 TDs to four interceptions in his six starts. He has also rushed for 300 yards and six TDs.

The Spartans are No.1 in the nation against the pass (149.6 yards per game), but rank 109th against the run (207.9 ypg).

Let’s keep this simple: the Broncos’ attack should keep the SJSU defense on their heels and extend their 11-0 record against the Spartans, especially if receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes returns from an ankle injury. It might not be as close as the line would indicate.

BEST BET: BOISE STATE -7.5 @ 1.92

TEXAS TECH at TEXAS

(-1.5, Total Points 72.5)

Friday, 00:30

For most of College Football, this is rivalry week. After Texas A&M left the Big 12 in following the 2011-12 season, Texas has had no real ‘derby’ opponent.

jwj UT OSU 1387
D’Onta Foreman: Can run over Texas Tech

Texas Tech (6-5) does not represent an intense rivalry, since Texas (4-6) has a 49-15 series edge, having won all but two games since 1999. So this is just another game for the Burnt Orange, who face a distant cousin – a loud and annoying one at that.

Fans have not bought into this void, with poor attendance in each of the last two years. They would sooner stay at home and be with their families on Black Friday. Baylor would be a more natural rivalry opponent for the Longhorns, but we digress.

Texas should be a firm favourite had it not been for injuries to their power rushing attack, which will limit what they can do. D’Onta Foreman, who has looked a top talent, is likely to miss the game after surgery on a little finger, picked up in defeat at West Virginia.

Senior running back Jonathan Gray is also unlikely to play with a turf toe injury. Offensive guard Patrick Vahe is also ruled out, having picked up a knee injury in Morgantown.

Still, the Red Raiders’ porous defense should mean this is a high-scoring encounter and the pressure is off the Red Raiders, who are bowl eligible. They defeated Kansas State 59-44 to become eligible and snapped a three-game skid in the process.

We still fancy the Longhorns to come through and give some hope to beleaguered head coach Charlie Strong some respite. He is a good coach and hopefully his rebuilding programme will take a step forward next season.

BEST BET: TEXAS -1.5 @ 2.00

IOWA at NEBRASKA

(+1.5, Total Points 57.5)

Friday, 20:30

This promises to be a fiercely contested clash, with Nebraska (5-6) looking to become bowl eligible and Iowa (11-0) looking to remain unbeaten ahead of the Big Ten title game.

Nebraska has lost several close games and has a couple of strange losses on it seasonal cv, but the Cornhuskers are on a two-game winning streak.

Mike Riley
Big scalps: Mike Riley

Mike Riley’s team are the only ones to have beaten Michigan State and they have a chance to be the only team to beat the two who will contest the Big Ten championship.

The Hawkeyes could get into the playoff at 12-1 with a Big Ten title win, even if they lose here. It is certainly a possibility but, should they lose, they must hope that Notre Dame loses to Stanford.

Yet we reckon one of only two teams to remain unbeaten – Clemson is the other – by winning this week.

Turnovers have plagued Nebraska, while Iowa has played solid, ball-control offense. They are not explosive, but are well coached and concede few penalties. They thrive on the ground and pass only when they have to.

Nebraska has had issues with defending the ball deep, but it has been good against the run, not allowing over 150 yards on the ground all season. In game when conceding over 100 yards on the ground, they are 1-6.

The biggest question is whether or not Nebraska can play mistake-free football. If they can they have a chance of a major win and will go bowling. The Huskers have won five of the last six at home against Iowa, who have never won on back-to-back visits.

It won’t be pretty but the Hawkeyes should get the job done and create a little bit of history.

BEST BET: IOWA -1.5 @ 1.92

NAVY at HOUSTON

(-1.5, Total Points 57.5)

Friday, 17:00

Houston’s (10-1) ninth-ranked offense, which averages 41.09 points per game, takes on No.16-ranked Navy Midshipmen in a cracking match-up, which can be seen live on BT Sports.

Keenan Reynolds
Keenan Reynolds: Heisman Trophy candidate

The winner will host the AAC Champipnship game against the East division representative, which will either be Temple (9-2) or South Florida (7-4).

The Midshpman (9-1) have found their groove on the ground, averaging 361.4 rushing yards during the past five games.

And their pass defense has been solid as well, albeit against modest opposition, averaging 235.6 yards per tilt. They are aiming to win the American Athletic Conference championship in its first season as a member, and are beating conference opponents by an average score of 40-18.

Houston’s pass defense is similarly stout, averaging 237.4 yards in their last five outings and their special teams play has been good, too, notably in the return game, with a 110.6 return yards per game average.

Houston lost a close one to Connecticut 20-17 last week while Navy routed Tulsa 44-21.

The Cougars have an efficient passer in Greg Ward Jr, who has 2,194 yards and 13 TDs, but he missed last week’s game with an ankle injury.

QB Keenan Reynolds has got Navy off to its best start since 1963, with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2015.

He has 82 TDs in his 46-game college career for an average of 1.78 rushing TDs per game, which puts him second in FBS history behind Steve Owens (Oklahoma 1967-69), who had a 1.839 TD per game average in 31 games.

Significantly, Reynolds is ahead of O.J. Simpson (1.636 average – 36 TDs/22G), Marshall Faulk (1.629 average – 57 TDs/35G) and Barry Sanders (1.600 – 48TDs/30G). There is no question Reynolds should be under consideration for the Heisman Trophy.

Houston may have the edge in preparation time. Navy had to fly back and forth from Oklahoma, then turn around and go to Texas on a short week. It puts them at a disadvantage.

While Houston’s run defense is allowing just over 188 yards per game, Navy’s ground game is a different animal entirely from the spread passing teams that do not usually emphasise the run.

We see Navy pulling away in the fourth quarter and having the ability to grind out the clock.

BEST BET: NAVY +1.5 @2.00

OHIO STATE at MICHIGAN

(-1.5, Total Points 47)

Saturday, 17:00

Ohio State’s loss to the Michigan State Spartans last week was a setback, not only because it all but saw their hopes of a national championship die, but because the programme’s seemingly invincible image took a shot.

USP NCAA FOOTBALL: MICHIGAN-SPRING GAME S FBC
Quick turnaround: Jim Harbaugh has Michigan on the rise

Getting one over on superstar coach and a Michigan programme that is once again relevant would go a long way to helping recruitment.

Michigan has been made a favourite just once in the last 10 meetings with the Buckeyes, who lost as a 14.5-point favourite to the Spartans, who were without their starting quarterback.

Ohio State is 10-1 and 8-3 against the handicap in its last 11 meetings with the Wolverines (9-2), who also lost to the Spartans on the last play of their contest a month ago.

The Buckeyes were ranked third in the playoff rankings until their 17-14 loss to the Spartans.

There is still plenty at stake for Ohio State. They could still make the Big Ten title game for a third straight year with a combination of a win at Michigan and a loss by Michigan State at Penn State later in the day.

There is little between these two powerhouses. Tune in to watch if you want a festive feeling – snow is forecast and as a result, the scoring could be on the low side.

This is already factored into the points total line. We think there could be a few errors, particularly with run blocking, so we take the Buckeyes with the points, with the total points eclipsing the current line.

BEST BET: OVER 47 POINTS @ 2.00 

PENN STATE at MICHIGAN STATE

(-10.5, Total Points 46.5)

Saturday, 20:30

After upsetting unbeaten Ohio State, despite an injury to QB Connor Cook, the Spartans can wrap up a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a victory. A win for Penn State will send either Michigan or Ohio State into the title game.

Christian Hackenberg.JPG
Expecting pressure: Christian Hackenberg

Michigan State’s biggest weakness is their shaky secondary, so they will need pressure up front on QB Christian Hackenberg, who has been sacked 36 times this season. He does have the ability to hurt the Spartans deep, however.

Hackenberg holds the Penn State career records for passing (8,061), TD passes (46), completions (663), attempts (1,182) and total offense (7,818). The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten with 33 plays of 30 yards or more.

Michigan State could also be without QB Connor Cook, who missed last week’s upset with an ankle injury. Tyler O’Connor only managed to throw seven passes against Ohio State, so you have to wonder if the Spartans don’t get much going on the ground, will they trust their back-up passer to win the game for them.

Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib, who had to sit out the 28-16 loss to the Michigan Wolverines on senior day, may well return – and when fit, he is vital to the Lions. If he doesn’t it is hard to see Penn State covering the handicap, much less improving head coach James Franklin’s 0-18 record against end-of-season top-25 teams.

BEST BET: MICHIGAN STATE -10.5 @ 1.80 

Odds and handicap lines are subject to change. You must be 18+ to bet.
Please bet responsibly
http://www.gambleaware.co.uk

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK SIX – Your betting guide to Week 13

The race for College Football’s four-team playoff is hotting up. MyClubBetting handicapper and Lindy’s Sports UK Editor Simon Milham takes a look at the betting trends and some of the best bets ahead of Week 13 of the 2015/16 NCAAF season…

(Handicap is denoted by +/- for the home team)

CENTRAL MICHIGAN at KENT STATE

(+10.5, Total Points 52.5)

Thursday, 01:00

The Central Michigan Chippewas head to Kent State in search of their first win against the Golden Flashes since 2007, knowing they can clinch bowl eligibility for a fourth consecutive year with victory.

Cooper Rush
Cooper Rush: Leads CMU

The Golden Flashes are 3-7 this season and are coming off a 27-0 loss to Ohio. This will be CMU’s first game against their hosts since 2011.

The Chippewas are 2-0 against MAC East teams this season (the have won 11 consecutive games against the other side of the conference) and Kent State are struggling – they are the second-most penalised team in the MAC. They also rank last in the conference in third-down conversions and first downs.

Yet, had two small breaks gone their way against Marshall and Buffalo, Kent State would be 4-1 at home this season.

The 28-23 loss to rival Toledo last week means the Chippewas cannot win the MAC West title, however.

Still, they can go 7-5 and if they take away the Kent State rushing game and force redshirt freshman quarterback George Ballas to put the game on his shoulders, they can get to a post-season bowl game.

Yet Kent State’s defense leads the MAC in sacks and 19th in the FBS with 12 interceptions among seven different players. Furthermore, the offensive line is solid and ranks fifth in the nation in sacks allowed. We think they can keep within the handicap.

BEST BET: KENT STATE +10.5 @ 1.91

NORTH CAROLINA at VIRGINIA TECH

(+6.5, Total Points 51.5)

Saturday, 17:00

Virginia Tech will want to end a disappointing season in style for out-going veteran coach Frank Beamer. He is the winningest active coach in college football and has led Tech to 22 straight bowl appearances.

Frank Beamer 1
Out on a high: Frank Beamer

Having announced his retirement on November 1, this will be his last home game and the Hokies need to win one of their final two games to become bowl eligible.

The Tar Heels (9-1) defeated Miami 59-21 on Saturday, while (5-5) Virginia Tech is coming off a 23-21 victory over Georgia Tech.

The Hokies started slowly against Georgia Tech, allowing 130 yards in the first quarter, but conceded 128 in the last three. It was their best defensive showing of the season.

Pittsburgh beat Duke on Saturday, so the Tar Heels didn’t clinch the Coastal Division and have plenty to play for. They, along with Duke and Pittsburgh, are the three unbeaten teams in ACC Coastal play.

The attention will be on Beamer, who will be vying for his 137th win in 180 career games at Lane Stadium, and it will be interesting to see how well the Hokies play with so much going on in the background. Sometimes, if a team wants something so much and is so wound up, that it presses to the point that mistakes start happening.

On the flip side, an opponent can walk into buzz-saw situations like that and comes out on the wrong end. Yet the Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak is no fluke.

They have gained momentum behind the improved consistency of quarterback Marquise Williams, better play-calling to get the ball in the hands of exciting running back Elijah Wood in the red zone and a defense that has competed stoutly, particularly in the second half.

We don’t expect the Tar Heels to lose with so much on the line.

BEST BET: NORTH CAROLINA -6.5 @ 1.92

LSU at MISSISSIPPI

(-4, Total Points 48.5)

Saturday, 20:30

It seems pretty clear that LSU is stuck in an offensive rut and that something has to change philosophically if the Tigers are to compete for national championships.

Leonard Fournette
Top talent: Leonard Fournette

LSU fell 31-14 at home to Arkansas last Saturday and the passing game was all but non-existent. Brandon Harris did throw for 271 yards, but aside from a couple of jump balls, he was not a deep threat.

The Razorbacks had a game-plan: stack the box to prevent being run over by Leonard Fournette – and it seemed to work. He finished with 91 yards.

They dared Harris to beat them through the air – and he couldn’t.

Mississippi (7-3) are not out of the SEC title race. Alabama (9-1) may well look as though they will roll against Auburn, but that is a rivalry game on the road against a team with nothing to lose. Should the Crimson Tide lose, and Ole Miss beats a struggling LSU, then gets past Mississippi State, them the Rebels will be in the SEC Championship game.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility in an unpredictable season.

Ole Miss have beaten Alabama this season, but they have also lost to Memphis. Coming off a loss to Arkansas on November 7 and an open date, Ole Miss should be keen to get in the faces of a wounded LSU team.

Led by quarterback Chad Kelly, the Rebels average a healthy 526.6 yards per game and have scored 50 or more points four times this season. Conversely, they allow 125-7 rushing yards per game and have given up just five rushing touchdowns in 10 games.

The onus will be on Fournette to stoke up the Tigers. He may well do so, but we take the Rebels to sneak it.

BEST BET: MISSISSIPPI -4 @ 1.92

IDAHO at AUBURN

(-31.5, Total Points 58.5)

Saturday, 21:00

Auburn are 3-7 against the handicap this season and open as a five-touchdown favourite to beat the Idaho Vandals. That is the biggest spread they have faced since opening as a 40-point jolly against Jacksonville State in Week 2 – and they needed double overtime to pull out a 27-20 win.

Sean White
Fitness battle: Sean White

The Tigers (5-5) is coming off a 20-13 loss to Georgia, its eighth loss on the last 10 SEC games.

Idaho (3-7) are coming off a 47-20 loss to Appalachian State at home.

This looks an ideal warm-up before facing No.2-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl, but the health of QB Sean White continues to give bettors a little cause for concern. He played with a knee brace against Georgia, having sat out the preceding game against Texas A&M.

The Tigers should have no trouble handling the Vandals, who lost 59-9 at Southern California earlier this season in their only other game against a Power 5 opponent.

They have lost start receiver Dezmon Epps, who was kicked off the team two weeks ago for a series of off-field issues and will have trouble moving the ball against the Tigers’ front seven.

Auburn need a win to become bowl eligible and this should be a routine win.

BEST BET: AUBURN -31.5 @ 1.92

UCLA at UTAH

(-2.5, Total Points 58.5)

Saturday, 20:30

UCLA won three games in a row, averaging 39 points in the process, before giving up a late touchdown to lose 31-27 in an upset at home to Washington State last week.

Devontae Booker
Key man: Devontae Booker

Utah started the season 6-0 before losing to USC. They won two more before losing to Arizona in a double-overtime thriller last week, 37-30. They still have a shot at playing in the conference championship game, despite trailing USC by a tie-breaker in the Pac-12 South.

They need a win over UCLA and hope that, if USC beats Oregon, the Bruins then go on to beat the Trojans next week. The good news is that USC has two tough games, while the Utes should easily account for Colorado in their home finale.

The bad news is that even though the Bruins have three conference losses, they play their final two games against the two teams they trail by one game to close out the season. Next week’s cross-town rivalry showdown could still determine who wins the Pac-12 South title.

UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen leads an offense that ranks in the upper half of the Pac-12 in passing (298.3 ypg), rushing (199.6 ypg), total yardage (497.9 ypg) and scoring (35.2 ppg).

Their defense also ranks among the Pac-12 elite, ranking first in pass defense (218.3 ypg), fifth in total defense (400.5 ypg) and scoring defense (25.2 ppg).

Yet the Utes are 5-0 at home this season, with victories over Michigan, Utah State, California, Arizona State and Oregon State. They have a tough defense and their running game – providing Devontae Booker is fit – is decent. The team that has run the ball better has won the last four games in the series and UCLA has managed to cover the handicap once in the last five meetings with Utah.

Although the Bruins have covered the handicap in its last five games on the road in November, we think the hosts can edge this and keep the title dream alive.

BEST BET: UTAH -2.5 @ 1.92 

BAYLOR at OKLAHOMA STATE

(-1, Total Points 78)

Sunday, 00:30

Freshman Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham will start against Oklahoma State despite suffering deep bruising in his back in the Bears’ 44-34 loss to Oklahoma last weekend.

Jarrett Stidham
Bruised: Jarrett Stidham

He suffered the injury in the first quarter of his second career start but played through the pain, going 16-of-27 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 19-year-old has proved very capable in relief of injured Seth Russell, completing 39-of-60 passes for 676 yards and five TDs. He also ran in another TD.

Baylor has won 21 of its last 24 Big-12 games away from Waco, including seven of the last eight and has not suffered back-to-back losses since 2012, but they have not won a road game in the series since 1939.

Ranked sixth in the nation, the Bears will also be trying to win back-to-back games over Oklahoma State for the first time since 1942 (when they won nine in a row from 1915).

The Bears lead the nation in total offense (637 ypg) and scoring (54.8 ppg) through nine games, after having done the same for the last two seasons. They have a veteran offensive line which has only allowed 11 sacks and they boast the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing attack (292.2 ypg).

As the Big-12’s lone unbeaten team, Oklahoma State is ranked No.8 in the nation and are still in the hunt for a college football national championship playoff berth.

Art Briles is 0-4 at Stillwater (all four losses have been by 27 points or more), the Bears have lost the last 11 meetings there and need to win if they are to win or share a third consecutive Big-12 title.

But the Cowboys, who are 10-0 have never reached the 11-0 plateau in any season. Can the Bears overcome the Curse of Stillwater? It should be a cracking game and history dictates we should take the hosts to win, even though we consider Baylor the better team.

BEST BET: OKLAHOMA STATE -2.5 @ 1.92

Odds and handicap lines are subject to change. You must be 18+ to bet.
Please bet responsibly
http://www.gambleaware.co.uk