A JIM SEZ HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
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WE ROLL OUT FRIDAY'S JAN. 1 BOWL GAMES (FIVE IN ALL!)
PLUS NFL WEEK 17 IS JUST 'ROUND THE CORNER AS WE CHECK OUT JETS-BILLS, RAIDERS-CHIEFS
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Lots to munch on here as we get set for the New Year's Day/Night Bowl Games but first this key reminder ...
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THE NEW YEAR'S BOWL GAMES
OUTBACK BOWL - at Tampa, FL
#13 NORTHWESTERN (10-2) vs. #23 TENNESSEE (8-4) - 12 p.m. ET, espn2
There's been lots of talk 'round Northwestern about the lack of respect this program has received lately: Tenth-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald believes his Wildcats deserved a "better bowl" but now his 11th-ranked defense (allowing 310.5 ypg) must show it's ready for the big stage here against a quicker/deeper Tennessee team that relies heavily on QB Joshua Dobbs who accounted for 25 TDs this year (15 passing, 9 rushing and 1 receiving score).
Note that - believe it or not - the Volunteers have not played against a bowl team since the Oct. 24th 19-14 loss-but-cover against Alabama - and so wonder if the step-up in "comp" here will be a problem for Butch Jones' squad that bested Iowa 45-28 in last year's TaxSlayer Bowl. The 'Cats need RB Justin Jackson (1,344 yards rushing) to make the most of his 25-or-so touches here against the Vols' gang-tackling defense.
Current Line: Tennessee (- 8.5) and 47.5 points
Spread Notes - Northwestern is a solid 8-4 ATS (against the spread) this year and did you know the Wildcats are 10-5 vig-wise as underdog sides since the start of the 2014 season? Tennessee is 7-5 odds-wise this year and the Volunteers enter this early-afternoon bowl clash having covered seven of their last 10 away games.
CITRUS BOWL - at Orlando, FL
#14 MICHIGAN (9-3) vs. #19 FLORIDA (10-3) - 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Are you ready for some dee-fense, dee-fense?
Both the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators - coached up by first-year guys Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain, respectively -- were uber-stingy on that side of the football this year as the Big 10 guys ranked fourth nationally among 130 FBS teams while yielding 281.3 ypg while ranking 11th in scoring defense (17.2 pgg) though former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has departed for the head coaching job at Maryland.
Florida, meanwhile, surrendered just 295.4 yards a game (ranked sixth nationally) while allowing just 16.5 ppg (eight-best in FBS play) and so no wonder the totals price has been dropping daily and is down to 39 points after opening at 41.5 points.
Michigan claims QB Jake Rudock (2,729 yards passing with 17 TDs and 9 INTs) is healthy after suffering a shoulder injury in the regular-season finale against Ohio State but rumors persist than he's still in pain.
Meanwhile, it's been pretty painful to watch Florida QB Treon Harris (9 TDs and 5 INTs) who has been sacked 29 times in part-time duty this year.
First team to 17 points wins here?
Current Line: Michigan (- 4) and 39 points
Spread Notes - Florida is 8-5 against the odds overall this year but did you know the Gators are a composite 9-2 ATS away since the start of last season? On the flip side, Michigan is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 against the numbers this year and so that makes the maize-and-blue a less-than-awesome 40-55-2 ATS overall since the start of the 2008 season.
FIESTA BOWL - at Glendale, AZ
#8 NOTRE DAME (10-2) vs. #7 OHIO STATE (11-1) - 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
No doubt the theme of this desert matchup is that both defending champ Ohio State and fellow national power Notre Dame were oh-so-close to finishing in the top four and thus being a part of this year's playoff picture but the Buckeyes were beaten at home by 14.5-point pup Michigan State while the ND Fighting came up short in a pair of 2-point road setbacks at Clemson and Stanford.
So, what to make of their seasons and what's ahead here?
Well, the plain-and-simple truth is that Urban Meyer's Buckeyes played lethargic ball for much of the 2015 campaign and, come to think of it, never truly settled its long-simmering quarterback questions while Notre Dame overcame a slew of injuries - especially to skilled position folks such as original starting QB Malik Zaire - but cost itself a real post-season shot by playing turnover-filled ball at Fenway Park (see 19-16 non-cover win against 15.5-point dog Boston College) and then being unable one week later to stall a last-minute Stanford drive that resulted in a game-winning (or losing) FG.
If the Irish want to swipe this one as almost full-TD underdogs, then QB DeShone Kizer (2,600 yards passing and 19 TDs plus 499 rushing yards) must avoid the pass-rushing moves of DE Joey Bosa, one of a handful of folks in this game that are expected to be NFL first-round draftees come this spring. Also, WR Will Fuller must hold onto the deep throws - his slippery fingers cost Notre Dame a bunch this year - and RB Josh Adams must get some breakaway runs on draws/traps too.
Ohio State is counting on RB Ezekiel Elliott - fresh off a little holiday-time car crash - to return to his playoff form of a year ago. Note Elliott (1,672 yards rushing with 19 TDs) had his face-to-face summit meeting with Meyer and gotta believe the kid will get 25-or-more carries here against a banged-up Notre Dame defense that was further hurt with news that a pair of defensive backs will now miss this game with injuries. Cardale Jones - now officially NFL-bound after this game - and J.T. Barrett combined for 3,020 yards passing with 31 TDs but neither was real sharp for major portions of action in 2015 ... expect Meyer to "ride" one of 'em here depending on who's more accurate with his downfield chucks.
Key Spread stat here is Notre Dame's covered five-of-six games this season against fellow bowl teams; Ohio State is just 3-5 vig-wise against other bowl squads.
Current Line: Ohio State (- 6) and 57 points
Spread Notes - Notre Dame has covered eight of its dozen games this year and so that makes the Fighting Irish 37-36-4 ATS in the Brian Kelly Era that began back in 2010. Note that Notre Dame's also 14-9 ATS as underdogs since the start of the '10 campaign. Ohio State, meanwhile, comes into this Fiesta Bowl clash having registered a shaky 5-7 ATS log this year after going 10-5 versus the vig in its championship season in 2014. The Buckeyes are just 5-10 ATS as betting favorites since late last year.
ROSE BOWL - at Pasadena, CA
#6 STANFORD (11-2) vs. #5 IOWA (12-1) - 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
So close, yet so far: That's what the Iowa Hawkeyes had to be thinking when they were nosed out of a playoff berth with that 16-13 loss-but-cover against 3.5-point fav Michigan State after surrendering a 22-play drive to Sparty in the Big 10 Championship Game. Now, the 'Eyes know that avoiding a second straight loss won't be easy when facing Heisman Trophy finalist RB Christian McCaffrey (NCAA-record 3,496 all-purpose yards this year) who leads a veteran Stanford club into a third Rose Bowl game the past four years.
Expect McCaffrey to get his fair share of carries and his kick returns too but we'll be especially interested to see how he does as a pass catcher against an Iowa defense that held 10 of its 13 foes to 20 points or less this year - look for Stanford head coach David Shaw to flank 'em wide and thus attempt to go one-on-one against Iowa's defensive backs as this could be some classic matchups.
And don't overlook Stanford's veteran QB Kevin Hogan (2,644 yards passing with 24 TDs and just 7 INTs) who has matured greatly this year and is no longer a "liability" on this attack - we're expecting some fun-n-games from the Cardinal passing game and thus maybe more points than first imagined (note the Rose Bowl totals price has gone up from 49.5 to 53.5 points).
Iowa - ranked 11th nationally against the rush (114.9 ypg) -- needs its own ground game to dictate the tempo of this 102nd "Granddaddy of Them All" game and so that means the four backs that include Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels, Jr. must be effective between the tackles - and prediction here is Iowa needs to make a couple of big plays on special teams to snag this upset win out West.
It's the first Rose Bowl in the 17-year head coaching career of Iowa's Kirk Ferentz - will he get the "roses" or the "thorns" here?
Current Line: Stanford (- 6) and 53.5 points
Spread Notes - Iowa's 8-5 spreadwise this 2015 campaign and the Hawkeyes enter this New Year's Day tilt with covers in five of their last seven bowl games. Stanford is 9-4 vig-wise this year and keep in mind the Cardinal has notched covers in five of its last six bowls dating back to 2009.
SUGAR BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
#16 OKLAHOMA STATE (10-2) vs. #12 OLE MISS (9-3) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ooooooo ... it's Ole Miss and Oklahoma State meeting up inside the Louisiana Superdome and you better believe both of these Power 5 conference clubs have lots to play for here:
You'll remember the Ole Miss Rebels were annihilated 42-3 in last year's Peach Bowl/New Year's Six game against TCU and - just for the record - fourth-year head coach Hugh Freeze promises a better showing here even though his SEC crew will be without DE/goal-line FB Robert Nkemdiche who was chucked from the team for a marijuana-related incident at the team hotel a couple of weekends back. The Rebs - who beat Alabama, LSU and archrival Miss State this year - have plenty of pop on their attack with QB Chad Kelly (SEC-leading 3,740 passing yards) powering the way and let's see how the speedier surface inside the dome aids/abets Mississippi WR Laquon Treadwell whose a projected first-round NFL draft pick this spring.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, might just shuttle quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh (34 TDs and 10 INTs combined) after the former injured his foot late in the year. Still, the Cowboys rank ninth nationally with 41.2 points a game and don't sleep here on WR James Washington who enters this clash with 52 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 scores).
Current Line: Ole Miss (- 7) and 69 points
Spread Notes - Ole Miss is 7-5 odds-wise this year and so that makes the Rebels a nifty 31-17 ATS in the four-year Freeze Era that also happens to include two-of-three bowl pointspread wins. Oklahoma State is 6-6 against the odds this season but the Cowboys are a decent 13-8 ATS against non-league opponents the past six years.
NFL WEEK 17
On Sunday, it's ...
NEW YORK JETS (10-5) at BUFFALO (7-8) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Oh, it's a big storyline here: The New York Jets going against ole coach Rex Ryan with a playoff berth on the line but be sure that first-year NYJ head coach Todd Bowles isn't getting caught up in the hype.
In fact, Bowles is keeping "tunnel vision" here and just needs veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (a former Bills' starter) to keep hitting on WRs Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker who have become one of the league's best one-two combos with their 176 receptions and 24 TDs.
Win and you're in, J-E-T-S ... now doesn't that sound sweet?
Spread Note - The New York Jets are 8-6-1 ATS overall this season and they're 11-6 spreadwise in AFC East games since the start of the 2013 season.
OAKLAND (7-8) at KANSAS CITY (10-5) - 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS
Talk about rising from the dead!
The KayCee Chiefs were once-upon-a-time 1-5 SU (straight-up) this year and looking like corpses but here's Andy Reid's crew having already clinched a playoff berth with an outside shot of winning the AFC West providing KC wins here and 9-point home favorite Denver loses to San Diego.
The Chiefs take their massive nine-game winning streak into this rivalry game having beaten the hated Raiders 34-20 as 3-point road favorites back in Week 13 play and Kansas City's defense has allowed just 30 total points in the three games since with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (a combined 14 sacks) looking to make life rough on erratic Oakland QB Derek Carr (he's been sacked 25 times this year).
Spread Note - Kansas City's just 8-7 versus the vig overall this year but note the Chiefs are 7-2 vig-wise since Oct. 25th and that includes six-of-eight covers as betting favorites.
NOTE: It's the Saturday Bowl Games plus more NFL Week 17 goodies in the next edition of Jim Sez, so don't miss out!
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