Pre-New Year's Bowl Predictions
Enjoy the first week of bowl season?
Memphis’ thrilling overtime win over BYU was the most exciting, sans the post-game fight resulting in a splash of red. Here’s the next slate of our bowl predictions, including several involving the SEC, prior to New Year’s Eve:
Heart of Dallas Bowl — Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech (-6): Friday, 1 p.m., EST
Christopher: The Bulldogs put up solid points on Oklahoma and Auburn, scored 76 against Rice and nearly knocked off Marshal on the road. Is an Illinois team 109th in the nation in scoring defense going to stop RB Kenneth Dixon and QB Cody Sokol? Heck no. Louisiana Tech 45, Illinois 28.
Brad: Louisiana Tech has lost two games by more than 3 points this season — Oklahoma and Auburn. As one of the nation’s better eight-win teams, the Bulldogs nearly beat Marshall as well. This pick seems easy. Louisiana Tech 23, Illinois 16
Quick Lane Bowl — Rutgers vs. North Carolina (-3): Friday, 4:30 p.m., EST
Christopher: This game epitomizes mediocrity, which may be perfect for a lazy post-Christmas Friday evening. The Tar Heels’ defense is a major liability (who would’ve thought that a few years ago), but UNC QB Marquise Williams should be the most impactful player on the field. North Carolina 28, Rutgers 27.
Brad: Much-needed for offseason momentum, North Carolina’s trip to Detroit is an important excursion for Larry Fedora. By most accounts, the Tar Heels have underachieved this fall and the regular-season finale blowout loss to N.C. State put Fedora’s future in jeopardy if improvement isn’t made next season. North Carolina 31, Rutgers 30
St. Petersburg Bowl — UCF (-1.5) vs. North Carolina State: Friday, 8 p.m., EST
Christopher: Many expected UCF, the surprise winner of last year’s Fiesta Bowl, to remain tough without Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson. It did, relatively speaking. The defense is especially stingy. But the Knights don’t have the offensive line or the quarterback to take advantage of talented skill players. The Wolfpack end an up-and-down season by winning four of five. N.C. State 24, UCF 20
Brad: Speaking of the Wolfpack, N.C. State heads to its first bowl game under Dave Doeren after winning its final two games against in-state rivals Wake Forest and North Carolina. Former Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett has accounted for five touchdowns over his last two starts, but UCF’s defense is one of the best he has faced all season. UCF 24, N.C State 21.
Military Bowl — Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati (-3): Saturday, 1 p.m., EST
Christopher: Both teams have to be disappointed to varying degrees. The Hokies lost to Wake Forest, 6-3 — in double overtime. But Virginia Tech did beat ranked Ohio State and Duke on the road. Cincinnati did finish 7-1 in the American Athletic Conference and Tommy Tuberville got a huge season out of Gunner Kiel, who finally found a college home. But VT can’t score and Cincinnati can’t stop anyone outside of Connecticut, SMU and Temple. I think the Hokies find a way to probe the Bearcats defense and force Kiel into mistakes. Virginia Tech 21, Cincinnati 17
Brad: Is this it for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech? Cincinnati 20, Virginia Tech 17.
Sun Bowl — Duke vs. Arizona State (-7.5): Saturday, 2 p.m., EST
Christopher: David Cutcliffe is a terrific coach, good enough to get a shot at a big-time job. He’s overperformed with Duke the last two seasons, and the Blue Devils nearly knocked off Johnny Manziel in his going-away game last year in Atlanta. But RB D.J. Foster and WR Jaelen Strong are too good for a solid Duke defense. Arizona State 35, Duke 27
Brad: Challenging matchup for the David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils who once had dreams of an ACC Championship this season. Arizona State has better athletes on both sides of the football which is usually enough in bowl games. Arizona State 34, Duke 24.
Independence Bowl — South Carolina vs. Miami (-3.5): Saturday, 3:30 p.m., EST
Christopher: Can Dylan Thompson, Pharoh Cooper and Mike Davis provide enough offense to offset the damage Duke Johnson is prepared to do to a flailing Gamecocks defense? With a Top 10 recruiting class dissolving in a hurry and Steve Spurrier’s once-flawless South Carolina legacy getting tarnished, SC needs this one. But the Hurricanes are trying to emerge from the Nevin Shapiro/NCAA situation and restore some semblance of pride to a football program that may never top the nation again. Beating a Spurrier-coached SEC team would be a notch in Al Golden’s belt. Miami 31, South Carolina 27
Brad: With a loss, the Gamecocks will suffer their first losing season under Steve Spurrier. Considering how poor the Gamecocks have played defensively this season, I’m not sure how the lethargic front four can keep Duke Johnson from breaking free. Miami 24, South Carolina 17.
Pinstripe Bowl — Penn State vs. Boston College (-2.5): Saturday, 4:30 p.m., EST
Christopher: Look past the fact that Penn State was never supposed to be bowl eligible this season and that James Franklin is doing well in recruiting. The team has an outstanding defense, but QB Christian Hackenberg has regressed in a major way under Franklin. The offense is a mess. PSU pulled out wins against UCF and Rutgers on last-minute drives, or else this is a 4-8 football team. QB Tyler Murphy and BC will pound away at the Nittany Lions on the ground and hope for an opening. Boston College 17, Penn State 14
Brad: Congratulations to former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin for leading the Nittany Lions to a bowl game in his first season despite a disappointing campaign from heralded quarterback Christian Hackenberg. After throwing 20 touchdown passes as a freshman last fall, Hackenberg finished with eight as a sophomore thanks to turnover-prone tendencies. Boston College’s secondary is looking to feast. Boston College 34, Penn State 20.
Holiday Bowl — USC (-7) vs. Nebraska: Saturday, 8 p.m., EST
Christopher: The Trojans lost games by four points, six points and three points in a cut-throat Pac-12 South, or else would’ve had a chance to take out Oregon in the conference championship game. QB Cody Kessler somehow completed an overlooked 70.7 percent of his passes for 36 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Nebraska boasts the best pass rusher in college football (Randy Gregory) and a top-tier running back (Ameer Abdullah), but it’s not enough. USC 38, Nebraska 31
Brad: USC’s Cody Kessler is arguably the nation’s most underrated passer, throwing for 3,505 yards and 36 touchdowns this season out West. He’s coming off a career-best six-touchdown outing against Notre Dame and gets to battle a team without a head coach. All signs point to a Trojans blowout. USC 44, Nebraska 27
Liberty Bowl — Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (-3): Monday, 2 p.m., EST
Christopher: Will either of these teams show any interest in playing defense? This could turn into a repeat of last year’s Peach Bowl for the Aggies, which must find a way to contain WR Kevin White. Either way, I expect Clint Trickett to torch the Texas A&M secondary early and often. Kyle Allen probably made progress during the bowl practices and I expect the Aggies offense to regroup as well, but it won’t be enough. West Virginia 42, Texas A&M 35
Brad: Kevin White against Texas A&M’s underwhelming secondary? The Aggies will have to play catch-up throughout and my confidence in Kyle Allen is lacking. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 24
Russell Athletic Bowl — Oklahoma (-3.5) vs. Clemson: Monday, 5:30 p.m., EST
Christopher: The Sooners never materialized into the Top 5 football team many, including myself, thought they were. But OU gets back Katy Perry crush and QB Trevor Knight, while Clemson is without its signal caller in Deshaun Watson following knee surgery. Three of OU’s four losses came against TCU, Baylor and Kansas State, all three of which are absolutely superior to Clemson. Oklahoma takes out some of its frustrations here. OU 37, Clemson 24
Brad: It’s the battle of underachievers in Orlando, one of the sexiest non-New Year’s showdowns this bowl season. This one would be more exciting if freshman DeShaun Watson was healthy and starting at quarterback for the Tigers. Oklahoma 24, Clemson 20
Texas Bowl — Arkansas (-6) vs. Texas: Monday, 9 p.m., EST
Christopher: These two teams are near-mirror images. First or second-year coach, a system predicated on harassing defense first and an intimidating running game second. But this Arkansas front seven is nasty, and Tyrone Swoopes has yet to live up to his four-star billing as a dual-threat quarterback in the 2013 class. Bret Bielema gets the best of Charlie Strong in this one, but the Longhorns are set to make the bigger leap forward in 2015. Arkansas 28, Texas 21
Brad: This year’s top-selling bowl pits a storied rivalry in Houston. Imagine the momentum the Razorbacks could gain with their seventh win heading into spring practice? Bret Bielema will have his team ready to play, as will Charlie Strong. Arkansas 28, Texas 24
Music City Bowl — LSU (-7.5) vs. Notre Dame: Tuesday, 3 p.m., EST
Christopher: The Fighting Irish have no idea what to do at quarterback right now. Everett Golson clearly is the more talented option, but he won’t stop giving the ball to opposing defenses. Meanwhile, LSU is going through its annual ritual of fretting the departure of a myriad of talented young players. The Tigers are competent quarterback play away from contending for an SEC title. Notre Dame is a ways from just being competent in the second half of the season. The Tigers run all over the Irish. LSU 31, Notre Dame 17
Brad: Notre Dame’s in a tailspin while LSU just wants consistent play out of Anthony Jennings. A steady dose of Leonard Fournette will probably be enough to take out the Irish. Notre Dame 27, Notre Dame 13
Belk Bowl — Georgia (-7) vs. Louisville: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., EST
Christopher: Everyone touting the TCU pass vs. the Ole Miss secondary as the positional matchup of the year is overlooking this game. Nick Chubb and a wonderfully-effective run-blocking offensive line meet up with a bullying Louisville run defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry and 93.7 yards per game. Can QB Hutson Mason act as a wild card against Gerod Holliman (14 INTs) and company? Georgia’s defense should be good enough to limit Louisville to a reasonable total, so it’s up to the unit that just lost coordinator Mike Bobo to win the game. I think it will. Georgia 27, Louisville 21
Brad: Nick Chubb in Charlotte against the ACC? I’m in. I’ll also be watching Louisville safety Gerrod Holliman who is one interception away from breaking the FBS single-season record. Georgia 31, Louisville 24
Foster Farms Bowl — Stanford (-13.5) vs. Maryland: Tuesday, 10 p.m., EST
Christopher: This may be the most unwatchable bowl outside of opening Saturday. I mean, it starts at 10 p.m. on the East Coast, the day before New Year’s Eve. And the Cardinal are the heaviest favorite of any bowl team this season. And Ole Miss-TCU kick off about 10 hours after this one finishes. Anyway, Stanford’s defense is good enough to halt Maryland, but the Cardinal offense won’t be able to cover the big spread. Stanford 30, Maryland 17
Brad: David Shaw’s team is a two-touchdown favorite in this one, one of the highest spreads this bowl season. Maryland can’t match the physicality up front. Stanford 41, Maryland 20.