Ryan Mayer

The college football bowl season is upon us. With 39 games spread out over the next two and a half weeks there is plenty of opportunity to add a little bonus to your holiday gift pile. Our bowl picks series will let you know who we think will come out on top against the spread. All lines and totals courtesy of Sportsline. Find all our picks here. All lines are as of the date of publication.

Hawai’i Bowl

Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)

Spread: Houston -2.5

Total: 49

Spread: Jeff Tedford’s first season at the reins in Fresno has been an unqualified success. The Bulldogs went 1-11 last year in Tim DeRuyter’s final year. This year, Tedford led the Bulldogs to a West division title before falling to Boise State 17-14 in the Mountain West championship game. How did he do it? Defense. The Bulldogs are Top 10 in scoring defense (17.2), Top 15 in rush defense (116.6 YPG, 3.5 YPC) and Top 40 in sacks with 32. They have been somewhat susceptible to the pass, allowing opponents to complete 60 percent of their attempts for 202 yards per game this season. But, overall, this is a dominant unit.

The offense has been slightly less impressive, averaging just under 27 points and 388 yards per game. QB Marcus McMaryion, formerly of Oregon State, leads the attack. His top target is junior wide receiver KeeSean Johnson who has hauled in 69 receptions for 918 yards and eight touchdowns. The running game has featured a trio of backs in Jordan Mims, Josh Hokit and Ronnie Rivers who have combined to help the Bulldogs average 157.9 yards per game on the ground this year. It’s a balanced attack that leans slightly run-heavy (36 rush attempts 30 pass attempts per game) and it’s been effective enough this season. The most impressive outing for this group came against San Diego State, when they bullied the Aztecs 27-3 and held star RB Rashaad Penny to just 69 yards on 15 carries.

The Cougars fell out of the national spotlight a bit this season in the first year under coach Major Applewhite, but they still had a solid year that included an upset of South Florida. Injuries and inconsistent QB play hurt them this year, but, they still managed to rank Top 40 in scoring defense allowing just 23 points per game. The offense fell off, down to 28.4 points per game from 35.8 a year ago, but it did show the same flashes of explosiveness we’ve come to expect from this program. The key guy to watch on defense is one-man wrecking crew Ed Oliver who tallied 69 tackles, 14.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks while dealing with various nagging injuries throughout the year.

QB Kyle Postma leads the offense with RB Duke Catalon the feature back but it’s a running attack by committee with five guys logging 47+ carries this year. Top receiver Linnell Bonner is questionable for this game, which is something to watch for as we get closer to game time. Overall, Fresno’s defense is just too tough for me to pick against them in this game. Oh, and the Bulldogs are 10-2-1 ATS this year including 6-0 as an underdog. Fresno +2.5

Total: Neither team is good vs. the number this year. Houston went 2-9 while Fresno was 3-10. In fact, the Bulldogs haven’t hit the over in a game since September. The defenses are too good for me to pick the over. Under 50.

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