By Brad Carroll
College football fans won't get to open any bowl game presents on Christmas Day, but there's a pair of games Thursday, and a bunch more throughout the next two weeks, to keep a smile on everyone's face with those late gridiron gifts. Here we preview and our college football experts pick against the spread the Little Caesars Bowl between Pittsburgh and Bowling Green and the Poinsettia Bowl between Utah State and No. 23 Northern Illinois.
Little Caesars Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green, 6 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Pittsburgh +5; Bowling Green -5
Brad's Breakdown: Bowling Green has one of the best scoring defenses in the country and proved it by beating Northern Illinois 47-27 in the MAC championship game, which knocked Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch and the Huskies out of the BCS lineup. Bowling Green won that game at Ford Field, the site for the Little Caesars Bowl Thursday night. The Falcons have a pretty good offense as well, averaging 35.4 points per game. The same coach who got the team to the conference championship won't be coaching this game, however, as Dave Clawson left to take over at Wake Forest. Eastern Illinois' Dino Babers has been hired as the new coach but he won't take over until after the bowl game. Pittsburgh is 6-6 this season with signature wins over Notre Dame and Duke but has stumbled to end the year losing two of its last three after that win over the Irish. The Panthers defense allows 27.2 points per game but does have ACC defensive player of the year Aaron Donald at defensive tackle. This will be a good indicator of just how good the MAC is. While the gap between the mid-majors and power conferences is lessening overall, Pittsburgh should have enough to win this game and carry the flag for the ACC.
Brad's Pick: Pittsburgh 28, Bowling Green 27
Craig's Pick: Bowling Green 38, Pittsburgh 24
Glenn's Pick: Pittsburgh 27, Bowling Green 24
Utah State vs. No 23 Northern Illinois, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Utah State +2; Northern Illinois -2
Brad's Breakdown: Northern Illinois was one win away from playing in its second straight BCS bowl game, but a loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game ruined those hopes. It also may have cost whatever shot quarterback Jordan Lynch had at winning the Heisman trophy, although that was slim considering Jameis Winston was going to win that award going away. Instead, Northern Illinois and Lynch will have to get motivated to play an unranked Utah State the day after Christmas. The Huskies average 41.6 points per game on offense, but were held to 27 against Bowling Green, which tied their season low. Northern Illinois and Lynch have plenty on the line in this game, despite the late-season disappointment. The Huskies can set a school-record by winning its 13th game. Lynch can also become the first collegiate player to run and pass for over 2,000 yards in a season if he gets 119 rushing yards in this game. It's going to be tough against a strong Utah State defense, which allows just 17.3 points per game. Utah State won five straight games after starting 3-4 but lost to Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game. Northern Illinois is better than Fresno, so the Huskies slip past Utah State in a close game.
Brad's Pick: Northern Illinois 27, Utah State 24
Craig's Pick: Northern Illinois 32, Utah State 24
Glenn's Pick: Northern Illinois 36, Utah State 24
Brad's Bowl Record: 2-4 (spread); 3-3 (straight-up); 1-1 (upset picks)
Brad's Regular Season: 90-81-2 (spread); 131-42 (straight-up); 7-12 (upset)
Craig's Bowl Record: 4-2 (spread); 4-2 (straight-up); 2-1 (upset picks)
Craig's Regular Season: 84-87-2 (spread); 131-42 (straight-up); 7-13 (upset)
Glenn's Bowl Record: 5-1 (spread); 5-1 (straight-up); 2-0 (upset picks)
Glenn's Regular Season: 84-87-2 (spread); 126-47 (straight-up); 10-21 (upset)