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April 17, 2014

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Bowl Pick’em Against The Spread National Championship Entry

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A bus with the image of head coach Nick Saban and players on the side prepares to take the team from Miami International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, in Miami. Alabama is scheduled to play Notre Dame in the BCS national championship NCAA college football game next Monday in Miami.

Clinging to a profitable clip of 55 percent against the spread, the success of this year’s bowl pick’em comes down to the final entry.

That’s the way it should be for the sake of suspense. While last year’s comfortable mark of 20-14-1 isn’t within reach, finishing off with three straight wins would get us awfully close.

Read below for picks and a breakdown of the final three bowl games, including Monday’s BCS National Championship.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Pittsburgh +3.5 vs. Ole Miss; over/under: 54

10:00 a.m. Saturday, Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Perils come with picking either of these teams. The Panthers are among the most inconsistent squads in the country — look no further than taking Notre Dame to triple-overtime one week and losing to Connecticut the next. The Rebels can’t stop the pass — ranking 12th in the SEC after giving up 251 yards through the air per game. The line moved from Ole Miss -2, which makes this selection even more difficult. But the Rebels should have a motivational advantage playing in a bowl for the first time in three years with their fans making up an estimated 80 percent of the crowd. Pittsburgh is probably less thrilled about making the trek to Birmingham for the third straight year.

Pick: Ole Miss -3.5

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Kent State +4 vs. Arkansas State; over/under: 62

6:00 Sunday, Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

Arkansas State went 10-2 a year ago, but got blown out in this bowl game by Northern Illinois after innovative coach Hugh Freeze left for Ole Miss. After a 9-3 season and another Sun Belt title that enabled coach Gus Malzahn to get the Auburn job, the Red Wolves could encounter the same fate this season. Additionally, this line opened as low as a pick’em at one Las Vegas sports books. Even though Kent State is inferior by every statistical measure, taking the points is the only possible play here.

Pick: Kent State +4

BCS National Championship Game: Notre Dame +9.5 vs. Alabama; over/under: 40.5

5:00 Monday, Sun Life Stadium in Miami

Even the most ardent Notre Dame detractor would say Alabama only played three teams better this season — LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia. The Crimson Tide covered the spread against none of those teams, and could have easily lost to every one of them instead of just against the Aggies. Their reputation as a juggernaut that oddsmakers power-rated as the best college football team of the last decade was built on blowout victories — Michigan, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State among them — that aren’t as impressive looking back on how those opponents’ seasons played out.

With quarterback A.J. McCarron leading the nation in passing efficiency and the unmatched running back duo of Eddie Lacey and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama’s offense is better than any of Nick Saban’s previous teams. But the defense hasn’t performed the same against top-level competition. Notre Dame quietly improved on offense as the season went on behind the increasing confidence of freshman quarterback Everett Golson. The Irish haven’t received much credit for this transformation, largely because the nation only remembers the vanilla showing in a 22-13 victory over USC to close the regular season. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly went extremely conservative against the Trojans to ensure a national championship berth. Kelly has a long history as an underdog worth backing, including a 6-3 record against the spread when taking points at Notre Dame.

For the first time in six years, I’m picking against an SEC team in the national championship game. Alabama probably wins, but not by more than a touchdown.

Pick: Notre Dame +9.5

FINAL BOWL RECORD (Updated): 17-15-3

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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