When you think of bowl season, you think of endless hours of college football on New Year’s Day. And while that image is the standard, bowl season will be well underway by the time 2013 rolls around.
The schedule makers may save the best for January 1 and beyond, but there are a ton of great bowl matchups before we ring in the New Year.
Here’s a look at the four best pre-New Year’s Day bowl games for college football bettors:
Holiday Bowl: Baylor Bears vs. UCLA Bruins (-2)
Any game involving the Bears is interesting. Baylor can put up points and give them back in a hurry, finishing fifth in points scored (44.1 ppg) and 117th in points allowed (38.2 ppg). The Bears come to San Diego on a three-game winning streak and have gone 4-1 in their last five games, covering the spread in each of those outings.
UCLA missed out on a Rose Bowl appearance thanks to a 27-24 loss to Stanford Saturday – the second straight loss to the Cardinal. Before those defeats, the Bruins won five in a row and have gone 4-3 ATS in their last seven outings. UCLA won’t have to travel far to face the Bears at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 27.
Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Syracuse Orange (+4)
The Orange could be the hottest team in college football, finishing the season with three straight victories and five in their last six to become bowl eligible and earn a spot in a solid postseason matchup. Syracuse’s offense sprang to life down the stretch, averaging 35.8 points over its final six games and posting a 5-1 mark against the spread.
Quarterback Ryan Nassib will try to out-gun WVU signal-caller Geno Smith in Yankee Stadium on Dec. 29. Smith and the Mountaineers had bigger goals than taking the field for a pre-New Year’s Day bowl back in the fall. A five-game, mid-season skid pulled the plug on a BCS bowl bid. However, West Virginia did manage to right the ship before the end of the year, winning its final two games SU and ATS.
Alamo Bowl: Texas Longhorns vs. Oregon State Beavers (-1.5)
Texas was eying a bigger bowl game a few weeks ago but perhaps got caught looking ahead to December, losing back-to-back outings to TCU and Kansas State respectively. The Longhorns failed to cover in both of those losses and went just 2-6 ATS in their final eight games of the schedule. Texas should have RB Joe Bergeron back from a shoulder injury by the Dec. 29 game.
Oregon State stumbled a bit in the second half of the schedule as the competition took a step up. The Beavers were flattened by rival Oregon then took out that frustration on poor FCS Nicholls State in the final game of the year, winning 77-0. Oregon State will face a bowl-starved Longhorns program, that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2006, in enemy territory. San Antonio is just a short trip down the highway for the Horns.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: LSU Tigers vs. Clemson Tigers (+3.5)
It’s Tiger time in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve. The LSU brand of Tiger may find it hard to get up for a pre-New Year’s Day game after holding on to BCS title game hopes for most of the season. And anything short of a national championship is a failure in the eyes of LSU faithful. The Bayou Bengals seemed mildly interested in the final games of the season, inching past Ole Miss and Arkansas while failing to cover the spread in each win.
Clemson could also be a bit sour about the Chick-Fil-A Bowl spot. The Tigers were in the mix for a BCS bowl but a loss to South Carolina in the final game of the season soiled those chances. Clemson’s high-powered offense (42.3 ppg – sixth in FBS) will test LSU’s eighth-ranked defense (297.1 yards against per game) in one of the better matchups of bowl season.