Column: Picking sides can be difficult in college bowl games

Picking the correct sides in college football bowl games can be difficult.

You would normally like to use regular season games as the main guide to your choices, especially the most recent games, but you can't. Because of the extra amount of time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game - usually about a month - a team's season-ending form becomes less of a factor. The teams' season-ending forms mainly just factor into where the odds makers set the point spreads.

Instead, look for teams that you think are more motivated than their opponents in each particular game. Some teams have a point to prove and will play with more emotion. Smaller schools want to show the country that they belong on center stage with the big boys. Bigger schools that had disappointing regular seasons want to redeem themselves, or take out their frustrations on their opponents in that one final game.

Next, look for teams that you think have the better coaches. Give certain coaches a month, and they will have their teams better prepared for victory. Also, whenever a coach has announced that he is coaching his final game at his current school, that seems to fire up his players.

Pay attention to any key injuries and suspensions. Some teams might be weaker than they were a month ago, and some teams needed the month off to nurse their injuries and get healthy again.

Try to find teams with strong senior leadership. Some of the students will be playing in their final collegiate game, or final football game ever, so they want to go out with a bang.

Locate and examine any offensive and defensive statistics you can to help expose mismatches. A team's strength on offense could be the opponent's weakness on defense, and vice versa.

Make sure the team you bet on is happy to be in its particular bowl game. If a team is in a lesser bowl than it feels it should be in, or if a team must travel to an unwanted place, it is less likely to play one of its better games. Of course, any home-field advantage is good reason to be very happy about a bowl game.

-- Only two bowl games will be played before next week's article.

Mobile Bowl at Mobile, Ala. - Highly successful Dennis Franchione coaches his last game at Texas Christian before moving on to Alabama, and Heisman Trophy finalist LaDainian Tomlinson plays in his final collegiate contest. The WAC champion Horned Frogs led the nation in total and scoring defense.

Southern Mississippi lost three of its final four games to finish fourth in Conference USA and failed to cover its last five.

Prediction: Take TCU -7 vs. Southern Miss.

Las Vegas Bowl at Las Vegas - The NCAA must have changed its rules because with a win over Southwest Missouri State, Arkansas has only five Division I-A victories, which wouldn't have met last year's requirement of six.

Nevada-Las Vegas is fortunate enough to host its own bowl game.

Prediction: Because UNLV and the State of Nevada are involved, wagering on this game is prohibited in sports books. But I understand that the spread is near pick 'em everywhere else. Take UNLV at home.

-- I was very disappointed to see Florida State Quarterback Chris Weinke win the Heisman Trophy last Saturday. How one should vote for this illustrious prize is open to interpretation, but to me Heisman votes should be directly correlated to the success of a player's team and the part that player played in the success of that team.

Oklahoma QB Josh Heupel led his team to the only undefeated record in major college football with a passing offense and sore throwing shoulder. His team would never have been undefeated without him and he gets my first place vote.

TCU running back Tomlinson's 2,158 yards rushing was the fourth best total in the history of college football, yet he only winds up fourth in this year's Heisman voting? His team would be nowhere near as good without him, and he gets my second place vote.

Weinke has some nice statistics, but FSU has been to the national championship game four of the last five seasons, and in my opinion they would have made it that far even without him. He gets my third place vote, leaving Purdue QB Drew Brees in fourth.

Pro picks: Pittsburgh -1 vs. Washington; Denver -3 at Kansas City; Jacksonville -11 at Cincinnati; Baltimore - 14 1/2 at Arizona.

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