John Tamanaha

Predictions 101 — Hawaii Bowl

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Fresno State vs. SMU
Mon., Dec. 24 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Honolulu – Aloha Stadium

After a quarter century without a postseason appearance, June Jones led the Mustangs to the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, following up a 1-11 showing in his first season with SMU.

Now it’s a habit. This will be Jones’ fourth-consecutive bowl game, returning to a place that holds special memories.

In 2007, Jones led Hawaii to an undefeated season and BCS berth. Getting torn to shreds by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was a bummer, but the journey was magical.

Winning didn’t come easy at SMU (6-6) this year, but the Mustangs got the job done when they had to, beating C-USA champ Tulsa, 35-27, in the regular-season finale to earn this trip to Honolulu.

Fresno State (9-3) has a much deeper sense of momentum, having won its last five games and seven of its last eight.

Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr has thrown 36 touchdown passes, against only five interceptions, and his backfield mate Robbie Rouse rushed for 1,468 yards and 12 scores. That duo rightfully gets a lot of attention, but the reason Fresno State is so vastly improved over its 4-9 campaign from a year ago is because of its defense.

First-year head coach Tim DeRuyter can be confident that his defenders, who allow only 22 points per game, will have more than enough backbone to fend off Mustang quarterback Garrett Gilbert (remember him from his days with Bevo?) and running back Zach Line.

Opening point spread: Fresno State by 11 1/2

The pick: Fresno State 38-24

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Predictions 101 — Sun Bowl

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USC vs. Georgia Tech
Mon., Dec. 31 — 2 p.m. ET, CBS
El Paso, Texas — Sun Bowl

Back in August, Lane Kiffin voted his team at No. 1. He wasn’t alone, but he was the only one lying about it.

USC players had cornered the market on swagger and Trojans fans were busy researching travel arrangements for an early-January trip to Miami.

The reality of December is quite different and Trojan linebacker Tony Burnett’s Twitter account spoke the truth before being deleted.

USC (7-5) is expecting to regain the services of senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who was sidelined for the Notre Dame game with a shoulder injury, but what it really needs is quality leadership from the sidelines and coaching booth.

Georgia Tech (6-7) has the honor of being the final college team to slice though Monte Kiffin’s defense. Lane’s dad finally “got resigned” last month.

With their losing record, the Yellow Jackets required a waiver to play in this bowl game, but amazingly enough they were closer to a BCS berth than USC. Georgia Tech hung tough in the ACC title game and gave Florida State all it could handle.

Historically, the Trojans have had great difficulty finding the proper motivation for bowl games not played in Pasadena or at the BCS level. USC’s previous two trips to El Paso in 1990 and 1998 were unmitigated disasters.

The Trojans, who have dropped four of their last five games, won’t have the desire and dedication required to deal with the relentless Yellow Jacket attack.

Opening point spread: USC by 10 1/2

The pick: Georgia Tech 31-28

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Predictions 101 — Pinstripe Bowl

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West Virginia vs. Syracuse
Sat., Dec. 29 – 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Bronx, N.Y. – Yankee Stadium

With all the wacky conference realignment continuing to go on across the country, maybe this third-year baby bowl is on to something. Perhaps reuniting rivals that don’t have time for each other anymore will be the wave of the future, replacing the rigid, yet random business of having lame conference tie ins.

This will be the 60th time that the Mountaineers and Orange collide, but this time its for the Steinbrenner Trophy instead of the Schwartzwalder Trophy. And who knows when it will happen again.

West Virginia (7-5) shouldn’t have any trouble getting up for this game. Most of the Mounties were around last year to experience the embarrassing 49-23 loss to the Orange, and all of them are looking to further distance themselves from the five-game losing streak that short-circuited this campaign.

Syracuse (7-5), which played in the first football game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium in 1923, will be trying to keep a lid on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who returned to his early-season form in the 59-10 victory over Kansas, completing 23-of-24 for 407 yards and three touchdowns.

The Big East co-champion Orange have a dangerous quarterback of their own in senior Ryan Nassib, who has thrown for 3,619 yards and 24 scores this season.

This will be high-flying shootout and everyone knows you can’t trust the Mountaineer defense in one of those.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 3 1/2

The pick: Syracuse 42-38

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Predictions 101 — Poinsettia Bowl

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BYU vs. San Diego State
Thurs., Dec. 20 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
San Diego – Qualcomm Stadium

The Aztecs are going bowling in their own yard as they “host” the Cougars, who were previously one of their longtime conference rivals.

San Diego State (9-3), a slight underdog at home, might need to be reminded that this is in fact a bowl game.

At least BYU (7-5) will appreciate the good weather.

These teams had three common opponents this year. They both hammered Hawai‘i and lost to San Jose State. The outcomes against Boise State were varied. The Aztecs beat the Broncos, but 14 of their points came on returns. Those are great, but aren’t offense you can really count on. The Cougars’ game on the blue turf was a defensive battle throughout, as Boise’s defense scored its only points.

We have to go with the more battle tested BYU bunch. With experience against Utah, Boise State, Utah State, Oregon State and Notre Dame under their belts the Cougars have seen and done more this year.

BYU’s defense (second against the run, third in total defense and fifth in points allowed) will keep the Aztecs out of the end zone.

The Cougars’ Christmas present to San Diego fans? How about a bunch of doughnuts on their scoreboard?

Opening point spread: BYU by 2 1/2

The pick: BYU 27-6

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Predictions 101 — Holiday Bowl

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No. 17 UCLA vs. Baylor
Thurs., Dec. 27 – 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
San Diego – Qualcomm Stadium

The Bruins went toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best teams in five of their last eight quarters. The heart-breaking loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game gave added credence to P101’s belief that first-year head coach Jim Mora packed it in for the final three quarters of the regular-season finale versus the Cardinal to avoid a trip to Eugene, in favor of a replay up on The Farm.

With those two opportunities to post a 10-win season gone, UCLA (9-4) needs a win to avoid losing three consecutive games to close its “turn-around” campaign.

Through the first three decades of this bowl, we came to expect shootouts with an average of 59 points scored, but over the last three years the total has been nearly cut in half. That means we’re due for a heaping helping of offense and these are the perfect teams to oblige.

After losing five of six in the middle of its schedule, Baylor (7-5) turned things around by crushing the hopes of then-No. 1 Kansas State on Nov. 17, sparking a three-game win streak.

Despite losing last year’s Heisman Trophy recipient to the NFL, quarterback Nick Florence kept the Bear offense rolling right along, racking up a national-best 578 yards per game. He’ll do plenty of damage against UCLA’s 88th ranked pass defense, but it won’t be enough to keep up with the generosity of a Baylor defense that ranks next-to-last, allowing 514 yards per game.

Those numbers have Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin licking their chops after churning out 461 yards in the Pac-12 title game against one of the nation’s best stop units.

UCLA needs to avoid souring the accomplishment of ending USC’s monopoly and produce its first meaningful bowl win since defeating Texas A&M in the 1998 Cotton Bowl.

Opening point spread: Baylor by 1

The pick: UCLA 47-38

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.