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October 2, 2014

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Bowl Pick’em Against The Spread: New Year’s Day entry

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Players head to the field for a closed walk through after the UNLV football team had their team photo taken for the Heart of Dallas Bowl Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Dust off the confetti, toss on some clothes not stained with champagne and rush out to the sports book.

The past 10 days whetted bettors’ gambling appetite, but now it’s time for the main course. New Year’s Day brings an annual action boost during bowl season when the powerhouses start to take the field. Over the next six days, the top nine teams in the final BCS rankings will play for the final time this season.

Six of the nine most profitable teams to bet on in 2013 — with an against the spread record of at least 9-3 — still have games ahead of them in the final one-third of the postseason. Some of them need to help out the blog, which couldn't string many wins together in the last entry. A 4-4 showing puts the overall record at 12-11.

Find the penultimate edition of this year’s Bowl Pick’em Against The Spread below.

Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl: Nebraska plus-9.5 vs. Georgia; over/under: 60.5

9 a.m. Wednesday, Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Bulldogs collectively rolled their eyes at this matchup after beating the Cornhuskers 45-31 in last year’s Capital One Bowl. Nebraska might have a little more to play for with revenge on its mind and rumors still swirling about coach Bo Pelini’s future. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah wants to prove he’s in the same class as Georgia’s more heralded Todd Gurley.

Pick: Nebraska plus-9.5.

Heart of Dallas Bowl: UNLV plus-6.5 vs. North Texas; over/under: 54.5

9 a.m. Wednesday, Cotton Bowl in Texas

The prevailing narrative is how similar these teams look with identical offensive numbers breaking long postseason droughts. North Texas went 9-3 against the spread, 8-4 straight-up on the season. UNLV went 8-4 against the spread, 7-5 straight-up. But one overlooked aspect separates the Mean Green — defense. Their defense ranks No. 28 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings to UNLV’s No. 84. Overall, North Texas — playing 40 miles from campus — ranks No. 49 to UNLV’s No. 95.

Pick: North Texas minus-6.5.

Outback Bowl: Iowa plus-7.5 vs. LSU; over/under: 49

10 a.m. Wednesday, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

These Big 10 vs. SEC matchups are tough to call this year. Motivation concerns abound for teams from the latter conference. For instance, will LSU get up for its first game in two years without quarterback Zack Mettenberger? The Tigers won’t be able to sleepwalk against a Hawkeyes team that’s stout on defense. Either way, it’s hard to back a team that regularly tripped over itself in a 1-4 against-the-spread finish to the season.

Pick: Iowa plus-7.5.

Capital One Bowl: South Carolina plus-2 vs. Wisconsin; over/under: 51.5

10 a.m. Wednesday, Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Speaking of disappointing ends to the season, Wisconsin lost to Penn State as a 25-point favorite a week after allowing Minnesota to hang around and cover. South Carolina smashed Clemson, much like it has Big Ten opponents in each of the past two years in bowl games.

Pick: South Carolina plus-2.

Rose Bowl: Stanford minus-6.5 vs. Michigan State; over/under: 43

2 p.m. Wednesday, Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

This game features one of the biggest line moves of all bowl season, as some sports books in town opened the Cardinal as low as minus-3 a few weeks ago. While it’s never a good idea to take a number devoid of that much value, the drastic shift is understandable. Michigan State plays its physical, grinding style well, but Stanford has perfected the same approach.

Pick: Stanford minus-6.5.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: UCF plus-17 vs. Baylor; over/under: 71

5:30 Wednesday, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Anyone who bemoans this matchup as a weak BCS game clearly hasn’t watched the two teams play this season. Or maybe they’ve just skipped out on the Golden Knights. Baylor’s exploits, which led the Bears to their first conference title in 33 years, are well known but Central Florida’s seem to be glossed over. Quarterback Blake Bortles, who will be a first-round NFL Draft pick in April, reigned over his own explosive offense this season and had UCF a three-point loss to South Carolina away from a perfect season.

Pick: UCF plus-17.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma plus-16 vs. Alabama; over/under: 51.5

5:30 Thursday, Superdome in New Orleans

Utah stunned Alabama, 31-17, as 9.5-point underdogs, the last time the Crimson Tide were in this game four years ago. That memory brings up a troubling trend with Nick Saban-coached teams in postseason games other than the national championship: They’re only 4-7 against the spread. A theory? Saban knows it’s wiser to focus on recruiting than a glorified exhibition at the end of the season. If that’s the case, an undervalued Oklahoma team that quietly covered in its last three games of the season could prove a handful.

Pick: Oklahoma plus-16.

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

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