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AP file photo by Mark Humphrey / Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes and sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi.

Fab 4 picks

We went 1-1 Wednesday, a mark that normally would disappoint us, but in the rough and tumble betting landscape that has been the 2020 college football season, well, it's better than our current normal.

We have a 3:30 game today with Hawaii and Houston. It's the first game in the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler optional). We have much fewer entries this year, so your chances of winning are noticeably better. (Find the link to the games here.)

But the horn sounds at 3:30 today so consider this your last call. I will continue to pick every game daily because the real-time lines are different than the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler optional) listed below. Today, with the mailbag coming Friday, I will pick every bowl game up to Monday.
Deal? Deal.

Hawaii plus-11 over Houston. I like the Hawaii offense, and in a bowl game of unknowns after a season of unknowns, two teams that appear to be generally above average makes 11 points a whole bunch.

Buffalo minus-3 over Marshall. This one is on Christmas Day, which begs the question, who scheduled the bleepin' Camellia Bowl for a Christmas Day kick during a pandemic? C'mon people. Buffalo has an RB1 that will hear his name called next spring on Day 2 of the NFL draft.

Coastal Carolina minus-6.5 over Liberty. I believe this Coastal team is motivated and is desperate to finish perfect. Yes, Liberty is fast-paced and Malik Willis' season > Bo Nix's season, so there's that. Side question: Did Auburn succeed or fail by not going after Hugh Freeze, who in a lot of ways is Bizarro Gus? (Side note on the side question: You're familiar with the Bizarro reference right? It was done in Seinfeld with a Bizarro Jerry and his crew and it started with Bizarro Superman I believe.) Both of these coaches had plenty of suitors and each is still there. And we may have a little more on this below.

Louisiana minus-13.5 over UTSA. Another coach who was wined and dined by bigger programs who stayed, the Cajuns and Billy Napier are a pretty complete team. At 9-1 — and that 1 was a field goal loss to Coastal Carolina — there's a sneaky motivating detail here for Napier. And here's betting Napier has had a familiar refrain about the importance of a 10-win season during the bowl prep.

Georgia State minus-4 over Western Kentucky. Man, what the bleep we doin' here? Every year there are too many bowl games, but the wrinkles of non-losing teams and the added travel experiences and exposures are cool for the players, and if for the 'watered-down folks' it certainly was not required viewing by any means in years past. But the Lending Tree Bowl in lovely downtown Mobile between two teams that are a combined 10-10? I was all here and all in about doing whatever possible to give these players some form of a season. They have worked their lives for one more season, one more game, and think of what one final season in the sunshine meant for Joe Burrow last season or BYU's Zac Wilson or Alabama's Mac Jones this season. But with that in the rearview — and these things assuredly are going to lose money for almost everyone involved right? — there are a lot of risks being taken at meddling levels for either TV programming or betting fodder, don't you think? That said, give me the Panthers and lay the number.    

And yes, I want to see Alabama and Clemson play for the natty, and I'll watch Auburn play and a slew of the bigger games. I get trying to have a postseason of some shape, but Western Kentucky is 5-6, and I'll bet if you polled the Hilltoppers roster in anonymity, none of them grew up dreaming of playing in the Lending Tree Bowl in front of nobody in the age of a pandemic.

(Side note: Man, we all know the time of COVID stinks on ice, but how do you motivate either WKU or GSU in the minutes right before the kick for the Lender Tree Bowl? Whatcha got for a pregame speech for this one? Heck, I'll give it a try...

Coach 5-at-10: Gang, huddle in. (Socially distanced of course, because we need to make sure the appearances are adhered to before you go out there and tackle and block a group of 20-somethings from all over the country who we have zero idea whether they are in the James Harden/Dwayne Haskins camp or hosing each other with sanitizer.)

Men, you can never — never — take for granted the chance to play this game. Today could be your last game, whether you're a senior or a freshman. If this year has taught us anything it's that nothing is guaranteed.

Nothing, beyond the love of your kids and this moment. This moment right here, with the guys who have sweated with, bled with and risked your life this year truly to play the game we love.

How will you remember this when the masks are a footnote and the history books deal with the harsh numbers of cases and deaths? I can't answer that for you because no one can know.

But I believe that this moment, this game, this chance to leave these AWFUL (Bleeping) circumstances behind for the next three hours could shape

Men you will have moments like this in life, but they will not be this predetermined and you likely won't know the stakes beforehand.

There are memories to be made out there, men. Lifetime memories. With your brothers in this room. Memories that you guys will forever share.

Make those memories, men. Let's go.  

Bowl season: 4-3 against the spread (Rushmore of spread? Off the top of my head, buttery spread, bed spread, spread the wealth or spread the joy, spread eagle — like Jordan's logo, Spy, get your mind out of the gutter — and of course against the spread.

Regular season: 40-43 against the spread, which is the worst overall season of my career. Am I Cam Newton of college picks, a former MVP winner when I hit better than 60 percent regularly ? Am I washed? Not only nope but bleep no.

 

More college football

Above, we referenced the Coastal Carolina Coasters. (Yes, CC has a great nickname, but the Coastal Coasters — with some Motown walk-in music to boot ((or Spy should that be 'with some Motown walk-in music to booty)) — would be some boss sauce, no?)
 

Well, according to this story, the incoming Coastal Carolina president penned a strongly worded letter to the college football playoff committee.

If I had to guess, the committee gives not a single flip about said strongly worded letter.

And I know a lot of folks blame the number of teams in the field, and that's fine.

Heck, people blame football's elite-ism, but the same methods are used in basketball's bids and baseball's berths, too.

An SEC team with a .500 conference record is going to have a lot better chance than the bigwigs and 25-win teams in the SoCon in terms of at-large bids. Ball don't lie, and the talent divide is clear.

Yes, the games have to matter, but does Coastal think it's better than Florida? Simply asking, and not "having the chance to prove it on the field" is a fallacy born in as a by-product of the 'everyone gets a trophy' generation.

Nothing is given in the athletic realm, and fairness has nothing to do with anything. Sure you can try to have a generally level playing field in terms of rules, but in a game that allows and rewards Alabama and Nick Saban for collecting way more talent than every other school, complaining about fairness is a fool's errand.

Sports in general and football in particular are not based in fairness. They are based in bigger, faster, stronger, on the field, in the living room and in the boardrooms of the decision makers.

Yes, I advocated for Coastal to get the 4 seed, but I wanted that to happen so Saban and the Tide would have dropped a 65-10 on them and we be done with this.

Because here are the ramifications as the college leaders at the also-ran programs cry foul and guys like Jay Bilas (who I think is world-class aces) bemoan the structure and the system:

First, when the expansion happens, maybe Cincinnati gets in this year, and maybe UCF would have gotten in a couple of years ago. But Coastal? Not seeing it, which means that even when the playoff expands, there will be unhappy folks sitting at 9, 10, and 11.

Then, after hearing the extended bellyaching and being forced to share the revenue that is being driven by the powerhouse brands and the national names like Alabama, Clemson, THE Ohio State, Notre Dame, et al., then it will hasten the move for the Power Five to break away from the NCAA in football.

And then, how long after that before the Power Five breaks away in hoops too because the magic of the Madness in march starts on the first weekend of the tournament when the Davids scare and often topple Goliath.

But please always remember this in that equation: You can't have that magic without Goliath, because there are a slew of Davids in sports, and if that many people wanted to watch David play David, well, the SoCon tournament would be a very hot ticket.

So, the call for college football 'fairness' — again a term I think is misplaced in this discussion — could very well threaten every aspect of college sports as we know it, including the glory that is the NCAA basketball tournament.  

 

Barnes' boys

OK, there have been few sports takes I have been more wrong about than this one. This is the 5-at-10 from March 31, 2015, and friends, wowser.

Because here are a couple of sentences that have aged more like warm buttermilk than a fine wine as UT was preparing to hire Rick Barnes:

"Some thought it was a blah-tastic move, a 6.5-out-of-10 that offered consistent stability but a limited ceiling. We fell in (that) group."

Wait, there's more: "And maybe a potential Barnes hire seems less than thrilling as Alabama tries to land Gregg Marshall and Texas tries to lure Shaka Smart. Maybe Tennessee needs safe more than star power. But it seems like a settle to us, and settling — be it your first choice or your third — means you better cross your fingers. Settling could lead to Butch Jones. It also leads to Donnie Tyndall, and Hart has spent up all his Donnie Tyndalls."

Ouch-standing, because Barnes' fingerprints are all over this program, and gang, UT is legit good. Like national title-contender good because of a defense that can extend and is flexible and diverse.

Sure, the Vols are going to have some off nights. Heck last night was one, and considering the timing and the lack of juice in the building before a game against the winless USC-Upstate Staters. (Yes, they are the Spartans, but again, I like my suggestion better.)

UT is now done until starting the SEC slate against Mizzou next Wednesday, and I know there's too much talent in Lexington for those dudes to be anything but dangerous. Yes, this galaxy of prep stars feels different than the run of great one-and-doners John Calipari has rolled out over the last decade, especially considering the news of Cal asking freshman Cam'Ron Fletcher to stay away from the program for a while.

Still, you know UK will be better than this and there at the end of the SEC chase.

But Barnes' bunch is beastly, and if they can find ways to avoid long offensive droughts, especially against zone defenses, they will be there to the very end.

Like Final Four end. Which is way better than a 6.5 hire some gasbags may have thought it was five-plus years ago.

 

This and that

— Here are some behind the scenes chats about UAB coach Bill Clark and his time as a possible target of the Auburn coaching search.

— Wow, we are running late and we forgot to include the bowl contest games. The games can be found here and email your entry — yes family members are eligible — to jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

— Speaking of fairness and Alabama recruiting, well, stop us if you've heard this one before, but Alabama has the No. 1 class in the country and added Camar Wheaton, the nation's No. 41 prospect according to ESPN. How great is Alabama's class? Well, Saban has seven of the top 50 players in America, 12 in the top 100 and now 20 in the ESPN 300. Good luck with that, friends.

 

Today's questions


Have you entered the bowl contest yet? If not, why not?

Need mailbag questions by lunch. We're going to knock that out this afternoon.

As for today, Merry Christmas Eve gang. I hope it's a great holiday for all of you and be safe.

I always enjoyed some last minute Christmas Eve shopping in the days before the COVID. Not this year though.

On this day in 1982, Chaminade upset Ralph Sampson and Virginia. I remember that one.

Silent Night was first sung on this day in 1818. That's on the Rushmore of Christmas tunes, right?

Rushmore of best 30-minute TV Christmas specials. Go.

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