By Brad Carroll
As we get closer to the BCS national championship game between Florida State and Auburn the matchups get bigger in bowl games across the nation. That's no different with the four games slated for Saturday. Here we preview and our college football experts pick against the spread the Pinstripe Bowl between Rutgers and No. 25 Notre Dame, the Belk Bowl between Cincinnati and North Carolina, the Russell Athletic Bowl between Miami and No. 18 Louisville and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl between Kansas State and Michigan.
Rutgers vs. No. 25 Notre Dame, 12 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Rutgers +14; Notre Dame -14
Brad's Breakdown: Of all the new, weirdly-named bowl games that have cropped up over the last few years, the Pinstripe Bowl is one that makes complete sense. Bowl games should be special and have a big-game feel and that's what you get by playing in Yankee Stadium. It might be cold and it might even snow, like last year, but everyone should remember playing and watching a football game in the baseball stadium. This year, the Pinstripe Bowl gets even bigger as Notre Dame, the most popular team in college football, gets the big stage of New York City. The Irish might be the "home" team despite playing Rutgers, who's campus is a few minutes away in New Jersey. A year after playing for a national championship, Notre Dame has stumbled this season to an 8-4 record. The Irish were 7-2 and could have sneaked into a BCS game by winning out, but lost two of three to end the season. Rutgers finished 6-6, needing a victory over South Florida in its season finale to become bowl eligible. The Scarlet Knights had lost five of six games before that, including a defeat to UConn. Both teams score around 27 points per game, while Notre Dame allows 22.9 and Rutgers lets up 29.8. The Irish don't exactly have a recent pedigree for winning big, but they are a much better team than the Scarlet Knights and should roll to victory.
Brad's Pick: Notre Dame 35, Rutgers 17
Craig's Pick: Notre Dame 31, Rutgers 20
Glenn's Pick: Notre Dame 28, Rutgers 17
Cincinnati vs. North Carolina, 3:20 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Cincinnati +3; North Carolina -3
Brad's Breakdown: Cincinnati takes on North Carolina in the Belk Bowl, one year after beating Duke, the Tar Heels' blood rival, in this same game last year. The Bearcats beat the Blue Devils 48-34 a year ago, but are three-point underdogs this time around against North Carolina. Cincinnati finished 9-3, averaging 33.3 points per game on offense and allowing 19.5 on defense, 12th in the nation. Cincinnati won six straight games before ending the season with an overtime loss to then-No. 19 Louisville. The Bearcats like to throw the ball, with the 15th best passing offense in the nation. North Carolina is 6-6, winning five straight games before losing to Duke in the regular season finale. North Carolina was a passing team with Bryn Renner at quarterback, but after he suffered a season-ending injury, new quarterback Marquise Williams has the team running the ball. Williams actually leads the team in rushing since taking over. If the Bearcats can cover tight end Eric Ebron, one of the best in the nation, they should be able to beat another ACC team in Charlotte.
Brad's Pick: Cincinnati 30, North Carolina 28
Craig's Pick: North Carolina 27, Cincinnati 21
Glenn's Pick: Cincinnati 35, North Carolina 31
Russell Athletic Bowl
Miami vs. No. 18 Louisville, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Miami +3.5; Louisville -3.5
Brad's Breakdown: Louisville came into the season with BCS title game aspirations, but a loss to Central Florida not only killed those hopes, but ruined its chance to play in a BCS game as well, which many thought was a lock. The Cardinals lost just the one time but haven't had the success many thought they would. Louisville does have quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who could go No. 1 in the NFL draft. Bridgewater threw for 3,523 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions in his junior season. He hasn't had a prolific season, failing to become a Heisman trophy finalist, but Bridgewater can make all the plays on the football field. Louisville, which averages 35.1 points on offense and allows just 12.4 on defense this year, benefited from a change of heart by Bridgewater coming out of high school, as the quarterback became a Cardinal despite giving a verbal commitment to play ball for Miami. Of course, Bridgewater's likely final game in college comes against those Hurricanes. Miami was having a tremendous season coming into its primetime showdown with Florida State. But the Canes, who came into the game a perfect 7-0, lost to the Seminoles and then lost two more games after that. Miami won its last two games, though, and has the chance to win double-digit games for the first time since 2003. The Hurricanes score 35.9 points per game and allow 26. Miami hasn't been the same since losing to Florida State and losing star running back Duke Johnson to a season-ending injury. Bridgewater, a Florida native, will go out on a high note against his hometown team.
Brad's Pick: Louisville 42, Miami 35
Craig's Pick: Miami 34, Louisville 28
Glenn's Pick: Louisville 42, Miami 28
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Michigan vs. Kansas State, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Michigan +5; Kansas State -5
Brad's Breakdown: Both Michigan and Kansas State had disappointing seasons, each losing five games with some terrible defeats along the way. But the Wildcats are moving in a positive direction heading into the bowl season, while the Wolverines are heading the wrong way. Kansas State won five of its last six games in the regular season. Michigan lost five of its last seven games. Even more bad news for Michigan is it will play without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who will miss the game with an injury. That's going to be a tough blow to overcome, especially considering how well Gardner and the Wolverines played in their last game, a 42-41 loss to Ohio State. Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns. But he suffered a broken foot early in the third quarter and even though he played the rest of the way, he was ruled out by coach Brady Hoke Thursday. Freshman Shane Morris gets the start at quarterback. Michigan, which averages 33.8 points per game and allows 26.5, has lost six of its last eight bowl games. Kansas State's last bowl victory came in the 2002 Holiday Bowl, a surprising drought considering how good the Wildcats have been in the last decade. Kansas State averages 33.4 points per game and allows 23.7 this season. Even though the teams are heading in opposite directions coming into this game, Michigan will get just enough offense from Morris to pull the upset.
Brad's Pick: Michigan 27, Kansas State 24
Craig's Pick: Kansas State 35, Michigan 28
Glenn's Pick: Kansas State 38, Michigan 31
Brad's Bowl Record: 5-6 (spread); 6-5 (straight-up); 2-1 (upset picks)
Brad's Regular Season: 90-81-2 (spread); 131-42 (straight-up); 7-12 (upset)
Craig's Bowl Record: 5-6 (spread); 5-6 (straight-up); 2-2 (upset picks)
Craig's Regular Season: 84-87-2 (spread); 131-42 (straight-up); 7-13 (upset)
Glenn's Bowl Record: 9-2 (spread); 8-3 (straight-up); 3-0 (upset picks)
Glenn's Regular Season: 84-87-2 (spread); 126-47 (straight-up); 10-21 (upset)