Tom Herman and the Longhorns should be sufficiently motivated to take on Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.Photo by Jack Gorman
It's highly appropriate that bowl season in college football coincides with the holiday season, because it truly is the MOST wonderful time of the year! There's college football on television, day and night, for a nearly two week period, and sure, many of those games mean absolutely NOTHING in the grand scheme of things, but there are gambling opportunities galore, and — well, hell, it's football! Even bad football can still be fun!
Here's the nice thing about bowl games, when it comes to prognostication — to some of the teams actually participating, these games are SUPER meaningless. Motivation is a big deal when predicting who's going to win and cover in these games. Do the teams WANT to be there? What were their expectations coming into the season? Did Team A expect to be in the College Football Playoff at the beginning of the year, and they're now playing in something called the Cheez-It Bowl?
So as we head into Bowl Game Gambling Season, let's identify the games where the biggest motivation disparity likely exists. I'm not sure if I will be backing, with my own money, the MORE motivated teams in each of these games, BUT I will most certainly not be backing the unmotivated team. So as you struggle to find teams to back in these bowl games, here are ten to think about:
10. BOCA RATON BOWL - At FAU Stadium - Boca Raton, FL Tuesday, December 18 UAB (-2.5) vs Northern Illinois MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: It was just a couple years ago that UAB didn't even have a football program. They'd shut it down, and decided they were out of the football business! They're not only back, but they won the C-USA title this year! There would be no better way to cap this story than to knock off MAC champion Northern Illinois in a pre-Christmas bowl game. NIU has probably maxed out what they're going to accomplish this season.
9. QUICK LANE BOWL - At Ford Field Stadium - Detroit Wednesday, December 26 Minnesota vs Georgia Tech (-4) MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: This is a simple one — Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is shutting it down after 11 seasons in Atlanta. He is retiring. The players will want to send their head coach out on a high note. One tactical thing to note — the week to week advantage of Tech's running the triple option is somewhat mitigated with Minnesota getting a month to prepare. Bet with caution!
8. CHEEZ-IT BOWL - At Chase Field - Phoenix Wednesday, December 26 California vs TCU (Pick'em) MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: In mid September, TCU was 2-0 and getting ready to play Ohio State and Texas in back to back weekends. If they could pull off those upsets, they would be firmly in the playoff talk. They lost both games, and the season spun out of control, with the Frogs getting bowl eligible in the last week of the season. From playoff talk to the Cheez-It Bowl — not a big motivator. Cal is in only their second bowl game since 2011, so they are looking for a surprising eighth win of the year.
7. PINSTRIPE BOWL - At Yankee Stadium - Bronx, NY Thursday, December 27 Miami Florida (-4) vs Wisconsin MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: These are two teams that were both in the top 15 to begin the season, and both are now 7-5. So it looks equal on paper. However, I'm going to fade the warm weather "disappointed 7-5 team" in an outdoor game in New York City. I'm guessing Miami just wants to go home. Wisconsin might be making snow angels between plays.
6. MUSIC CITY BOWL - At Nissan Stadium - Nashville Friday, December 28 Purdue vs Auburn (-3.5) MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: This game is the poster child for motivation disparity. Auburn began the season in the top ten, coming off a year where they beat Georgia AND Alabama in 2017. Now, they're playing a bowl game in Nashville against 6-6 Purdue. The Boilermakers meanwhile managed to keep their head coach (Jeff Brohm) from jumping to his alma mater (Louisville), and they continue to play their games with the motivation for Tyler Trent, a Purdue student battling cancer. In case you don't know this story, get some Kleenex....
5. ALAMO BOWL - At Alamodome Stadium - San Antonio Friday, December 28 Iowa State vs Washington State (-3.5) MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: Like Purdue, Iowa State managed to retain Matt Campbell and get him signed to a big extension. Meanwhile, Washington State was on the cusp of playoff talk for the last six weeks before the Apple Cup. Leach has spent a ton of press conference time complaining about the playoff system, which likely perpetuates disappointment for the Cougars. The Cyclones feel like the team that wants to be there on December 28.
4. SUN BOWL - At Sun Bowl Stadium - El Paso Monday, December 31 Stanford (-6.5) vs Pittsburgh MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: Stanford was a top ten team four weeks into the season, with signs on a conference title and possible playoff berth. The Cardinal have virtually nothing to gain with this game. Pitt can actually use this as a bit of a spring board after getting worked by Clemson in the ACC title game.
3. CITRUS BOWL - At Camping World Stadium - Orlando, FL Tuesday, January 1 Kentucky vs Penn State (-6.5)
MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: This has been a Cinderella season for Kentucky, with a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 1977. Needless to say, Penn State's postseason expectations exceed bowl games against Kentucky. Big motivation disparity in favor of the Wildcats.
2. FIESTA BOWL - At U of Phoenix Stadium - Glendale, AZ Tuesday, January 1 LSU (-7.5) vs Central Florida
MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: The Knights are carrying the banner of all of the Group of Five schools into their game against the big, bad SEC. This would be a chance for UCF to finish undefeated two years in a row, and declare themselves national champions again. Something to consider — the Group of Five representatives in the New Year's Six bowl games have won three of their four games in this new bowl structure, including UCF last season against Auburn.
1. SUGAR BOWL - At Mercedes Benz Superdome - New Orleans, LA Tuesday, January 1 Texas vs Georgia (-11)
MOTIVATION DISPARITY ANGLE: Georgia was in the playoff conversation as deep into the season as you can be without making it, right up until the reveal a couple Sundays ago. Last season, they were in overtime with a chance to win the playoff. Now, they're playing in the Sugar Bowl as a double digit favorite. Tom Herman is 14-2 ATS as an underdog in his head coaching career.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.