Predictions 101 — Belk Bowl

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Cincinnati vs. Duke
Thurs., Dec. 27 – 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Charlotte, N.C. – Bank of America Stadium

Cincinnati (9-3) might be the most consistently undervalued team in the Big East Conference. The Bearcats have won or shared five of the last six league titles. Yes, this season’s Big East became a jumbled mess – Honk if you’re a Big East co-champion! – but Cincinnati hung in there and was part of a four-way tie.

Duke – wow, Duke! – made its first bowl game since the 1994 season.

Let’s hand it to the Blue Devils. Once they got to 6-2, achieving bowl eligibility, the party was on. Duke lost four straight games, allowing an average of 49.5 points per games, to finish 6-6. Yowza!

So now we’ll see if Duke can avoid a five-game losing streak (and an overall losing record) that would slightly hamper the program’s postseason accomplishment. Cincinnati, which lost its three games by a combined 16 points, will be difficult to stop, even without Butch Jones, who bolted for Tennessee (defensive line coach Steve Stripling will serve as interim head coach for the game). Quarterback duties were split between Munchie Legaux and Brenden Kay, who stepped up in the last season. But the Bearcats’ most compelling force is senior running back George Winn (1,204 yards, 12 touchdowns).

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 11

The pick: Cincinnati 38, Duke 21

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Predictions 101 — Military Bowl

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No. 24 San Jose State vs. Bowling Green
Thurs., Dec. 27 – 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
Washington, D.C. – RFK Stadium

Give it up for the Spartans, who were 1-12 in 2010.

How did the turnaround happen? The Spartans (10-2) parlayed an electrifying passing game – led by junior quarterback David Fales (3,798 yards, 31 touchdowns) – and a reliable defense.

San Jose State, which will be led by interim head coach/defensive coordinator Kent Baer, gets the cross-country jaunt to Washington, where Bowling Green (8-4) awaits. The Falcons utilized stingy defense in winning seven of their last eight games in a MAC that produced a league-record seven bowl teams.

Opening point spread: San Jose State by 7 1/2

The pick: Bowling Green 24, San Jose State 20

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Predictions 101 — Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

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Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan
Wed., Dec. 26 – 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Detroit – Ford Field

A game in Detroit, one day after Christmas? It’s no problem for Western Kentucky, which is making its first bowl-game appearance.

The Hilltoppers, who won a FCS national championship in 2002, have been methodically climbing the mountain a few seasons now after making their jump to the higher level. Coach Willie Taggart, a former WKU quarterback, inherited an 0-12 team when he took over in 2010. Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, Taggart is off to USF. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will serve as interim coach.

Now things are on solid ground. The Hilltoppers (7-5) like to pound it with junior running back Antonio Andrews (1,609 yards, 11 TDs), who is coming off rushing games of 238 and 230 yards.

Even though the Chippewas (6-6) won their final three games to reach the postseason, their defense wasn’t a pretty sight. Central Michigan allowed an average of 43.3 points in its six defeats.

Opening point spread: Western Kentucky by 6

The pick: Western Kentucky 29, Central Michigan 24

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Predictions 101 — New Orleans Bowl


East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Fri., Dec. 22 – Noon ET, ESPN
New Orleans – Louisiana Superdome

Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) has a difficult act to follow. In last season’s New Orleans Bowl, the school’s first-ever bowl appearance, the Ragin’ Cajuns defeated San Diego State 32-30 on Brett Baer’s 50-yard field goal as time expired.


OK, every bowl isn’t like that, Cajuns. The second time around might be more of a struggle. The Cajuns steadied the ship after a 1-3 midseason slump, including a heartbreaking 27-20 loss at Florida when the Gators won on a blocked punt return with two seconds remaining, and made sure last season’s bowl trip wasn’t a novelty.

East Carolina (8-4) mounted a rally of its own, winning five of its last six games, including an insane 65-59 double-overtime victory against Marshall, the most points the Pirates have scored in 31 years.

Let’s go with the hot hand, which belongs to slinging sophomore quarterback Shane Carden of East Carolina.

Opening point spread: Louisiana-Lafayette by 4 1/2

The pick: East Carolina 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 31

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Predictions 101 — Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl

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Central Florida vs. Ball State
Fri., Dec. 21 – 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
St. Petersburg, Fla. – Tropicana Field

Nothing says pre-Christmas bowl season like Conference USA vs. the MAC in a baseball stadium. At least Tropicana Field should be full. That’s usually a struggle for the Tampa Bay Rays during the summer.

Central Florida (9-4) will be playing about 120 miles from its campus, so expect the Knights to be well-represented. Without a pair of defeats against Tulsa – 23-21 during the regular season, 33-27 in overtime during the C-USA title game – the Knights would really have something special.

Ball State (9-3) does have something special.

The Cardinals enter with a six-game winning streak. They have scored 30 or more points in 10 of 12 games. Remember this name: Pete Lembo. He’s the fast-rising BallState coach – and he might not be in Muncie many more seasons.

Ball State is ultra-sound on offense with precise quarterback Keith Wenning, powerful runner Jahwan Edwards (1,321 yards, 6.1-yard average, 14 TDs) and game-breaking receiver Willie Snead (82 catches).

It says here Ball State has never won a bowl game (0-5). That’s about to change.

Opening point spread Central Florida by 7

The pick: Ball State 34, Central Florida 30

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