John Tamanaha

Predictions 101 — Hawaii Bowl

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Fresno State vs. SMU
Mon., Dec. 24 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Honolulu – Aloha Stadium

After a quarter century without a postseason appearance, June Jones led the Mustangs to the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, following up a 1-11 showing in his first season with SMU.

Now it’s a habit. This will be Jones’ fourth-consecutive bowl game, returning to a place that holds special memories.

In 2007, Jones led Hawaii to an undefeated season and BCS berth. Getting torn to shreds by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was a bummer, but the journey was magical.

Winning didn’t come easy at SMU (6-6) this year, but the Mustangs got the job done when they had to, beating C-USA champ Tulsa, 35-27, in the regular-season finale to earn this trip to Honolulu.

Fresno State (9-3) has a much deeper sense of momentum, having won its last five games and seven of its last eight.

Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr has thrown 36 touchdown passes, against only five interceptions, and his backfield mate Robbie Rouse rushed for 1,468 yards and 12 scores. That duo rightfully gets a lot of attention, but the reason Fresno State is so vastly improved over its 4-9 campaign from a year ago is because of its defense.

First-year head coach Tim DeRuyter can be confident that his defenders, who allow only 22 points per game, will have more than enough backbone to fend off Mustang quarterback Garrett Gilbert (remember him from his days with Bevo?) and running back Zach Line.

Opening point spread: Fresno State by 11 1/2

The pick: Fresno State 38-24

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.

Predictions 101 — Sun Bowl

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USC vs. Georgia Tech
Mon., Dec. 31 — 2 p.m. ET, CBS
El Paso, Texas — Sun Bowl

Back in August, Lane Kiffin voted his team at No. 1. He wasn’t alone, but he was the only one lying about it.

USC players had cornered the market on swagger and Trojans fans were busy researching travel arrangements for an early-January trip to Miami.

The reality of December is quite different and Trojan linebacker Tony Burnett’s Twitter account spoke the truth before being deleted.

USC (7-5) is expecting to regain the services of senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who was sidelined for the Notre Dame game with a shoulder injury, but what it really needs is quality leadership from the sidelines and coaching booth.

Georgia Tech (6-7) has the honor of being the final college team to slice though Monte Kiffin’s defense. Lane’s dad finally “got resigned” last month.

With their losing record, the Yellow Jackets required a waiver to play in this bowl game, but amazingly enough they were closer to a BCS berth than USC. Georgia Tech hung tough in the ACC title game and gave Florida State all it could handle.

Historically, the Trojans have had great difficulty finding the proper motivation for bowl games not played in Pasadena or at the BCS level. USC’s previous two trips to El Paso in 1990 and 1998 were unmitigated disasters.

The Trojans, who have dropped four of their last five games, won’t have the desire and dedication required to deal with the relentless Yellow Jacket attack.

Opening point spread: USC by 10 1/2

The pick: Georgia Tech 31-28

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.

Predictions 101 — Pinstripe Bowl

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West Virginia vs. Syracuse
Sat., Dec. 29 – 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Bronx, N.Y. – Yankee Stadium

With all the wacky conference realignment continuing to go on across the country, maybe this third-year baby bowl is on to something. Perhaps reuniting rivals that don’t have time for each other anymore will be the wave of the future, replacing the rigid, yet random business of having lame conference tie ins.

This will be the 60th time that the Mountaineers and Orange collide, but this time its for the Steinbrenner Trophy instead of the Schwartzwalder Trophy. And who knows when it will happen again.

West Virginia (7-5) shouldn’t have any trouble getting up for this game. Most of the Mounties were around last year to experience the embarrassing 49-23 loss to the Orange, and all of them are looking to further distance themselves from the five-game losing streak that short-circuited this campaign.

Syracuse (7-5), which played in the first football game ever played at the original Yankee Stadium in 1923, will be trying to keep a lid on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who returned to his early-season form in the 59-10 victory over Kansas, completing 23-of-24 for 407 yards and three touchdowns.

The Big East co-champion Orange have a dangerous quarterback of their own in senior Ryan Nassib, who has thrown for 3,619 yards and 24 scores this season.

This will be high-flying shootout and everyone knows you can’t trust the Mountaineer defense in one of those.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 3 1/2

The pick: Syracuse 42-38

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.