So far this year's bowl picks have been brutal, so I'll take any reason for optimism, and the day before New Years Eve may have just gave that, with a 3-1 record against the spread. While MC&J's record isn't as good as last year, a strong finish could push the year to the right side of .500.
Bowl games ATS: 9-14 (9-12 National, 0-2 B1G)
Season ATS: 92-96-3 (49-51-2 National, 43-45-1 B1G)
Heart of Dallas Bowl: UNLV v. North Texas (-7) - 1/1 12:00 PM EST - ESPNU
After combining for only six wins last year, these two schools made a big turnaround to end lengthy bowl droughts. This will be the first bowl game for North Texas since 2004, while UNLV has clinched their first winning season and bowl bid since 2000.
UNLV started off the season with big losses to Minnesota and Arizona, but they rebounded with four straight wins to put them in the position of only needing two wins in their last six games to become bowl eligible. The Rebels have found success behind the steadying arm of quarterback Caleb Herring, who is completing almost 65% of his passes and has thrown for 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions on the season. The compliment to Herring's arm is the legs of running back Tim Cornett and the 1,251 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns that he amassed during the season.
Where UNLV might be lacking compared to North Texas is on the defensive side of the ball. The Rebels are giving up over 31 points a game, and much like the Rebels, the Mean Green can move it both through the air and on the ground. Running back Brandin Byrd is coming off a 251-yard rushing performance in the regular season finale against Tulsa, which put him over 1,000 yards rushing for the year. What North Texas will have to be careful of if they want to win the game is turnovers, and that has been a problem for quarterback Derek Thompson this year, who has 13 interceptions to go along with his 14 touchdown passes.
I'm confused by this line with UNLV in my opinion having the better running back and the quarterback that isn't prone to mistakes. Sure North Texas might not have as leaky of a defense, but that could be nullified if North Texas turns it over and gives the UNLV offense a short field to work with.
UNLV 31 North Texas 24
Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl: Nebraska v. #23 Georgia (-8.5) - 1/1 12:00 PM EST - ESPN2
This might be a rematch of last year's Outback Bowl, but this matchup will have a decidedly different look behind center for both teams. Georgia lost quarterback Aaron Murray to a torn ACL late in the season in the win over Kentucky, while Taylor Martinez has played his last game for Nebraska as he won't be available to play in the Gator Bowl due to injury.
Nebraska is in the midst of a three-game bowl losing streak, and things won't get any easier when they take the field with either Ron Kellogg III or Tommy Armstrong Jr lining up behind center. Martinez was only able to play one of the last nine games that the Cornhuskers played this year so it won't be that big of an adjustment to not have his services in this one. Running back Ameer Abdullah has done his best to pick up the slack for Nebraska, ranking seventh in the nation with 1,568 yards rushing on the season. Nebraska has intercepted 13 passes this season and run four of those back for scores, and they might need to force Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason into some mistakes if they want to avoid losing to Georgia in back-to-back bowl games.
While Hutson Mason faces the difficult task of trying to replace Aaron Murray, he is a junior and showed promise after coming in for the injured Murray late in the year. In the regular season finale against rival Georgia Tech, Mason helped lead a 41-34 win in double overtime after the Yellow Jackets had jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter. Georgia was bitten by injuries all year long, losing players such as Murray, RB Keith Marshall, WR Justin Scott-Wesley, and DE Malcolm Mitchell among others to season-ending injuries. Running back Todd Gurley even missed three games for the Bulldogs but still did finish the regular season with 903 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Much like Nebraska, the Georgia defense hasn't been up to the standards of years past due to turnover at the starting positions and the previously mentioned injury bug.
The month in between games will help these two teams get their quarterback positions more shored up for this bowl game, and if for some reason they don't find success through the air they should still be able to lean on their running games. The time off also should help these teams get healthy in other areas, and the Cornhuskers should have a good portion of their offensive line returning from injury. I'll take a flier on Nebraska keeping at close at least behind Ameer Abdullah.
Georgia 37 Nebraska 31
Outback Bowl: Iowa v. #14 LSU (-8) - 1/1 1:00 PM EST - ESPN
This won't be the only game on New Years Day where a SEC team is heading into a bowl game against a Big Ten after losing their quarterback to a knee injury late in the season. Zach Mettenberger suffered a knee injury in the regular season finale against Arkansas, so Les Miles will have to rely on freshman Anthony Jennings to try to fill Mettenberger's shoes. Jennings will have his work cut out for him against a Iowa defense that has been stingy all year long.
After missing out on a bowl game last year following a 4-8 season, Kirk Ferentz and Iowa look to take down a team that they have had a little bit of bowl history with lately. In the last game Nick Saban coached for LSU back on New Years Day 2005, Iowa used a 56-yard Drew Tate hail mary to defeat the Tigers 30-25 in the Capital One Bowl. The bad news for Iowa is that Drew Tate isn't walking through those doors on Wednesday, but they have gotten some encouraging play from Jake Rudock this year. The Iowa offense isn't flashy and filled with weapons like LSU, but they'll put their faith in their strong defense and grind teams out over 60 minutes of football.
If there was a time for Jennings to get his first start under center for the Tigers, there isn't many situations better than this one for him. Being that Mettenberger's injury happened in the regular season finale, Jennings will have had over a month to get prepared to start the bowl game. Also, at his disposal is wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry to go along with running back Michael Hill. Having said all that, the Iowa defense is still very talented and could make life difficult for Jennings. The Hawkeyes rank inside the top-20 defensively against the rush and the pass and are only allowing 18.8 points/game.
Is LSU the more talented team? Yes. Maybe it's some of my Big Ten bias, but I think that Iowa hangs around with LSU in this one. A defensive with an experienced core of linebackers could cause trouble for Jennings in his first start and stop Hill from breaking any big gainers. The Hawkeyes at least make things interesting for "The Hat" down in Tampa on New Years Day.
LSU 27 Iowa 24
Capital One Bowl: #19 Wisconsin (-1) v. #8 South Carolina - 1/1 1:00 PM EST - ABC
I think the best thing about the lead-up to the Capital One Bowl is that the Ol' Ball Coach said that his team needed to get their "run pants" on. While it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Spurrier would say something like that, but I just keep picturing him bouncing around practice yelling at his defense about run pants.
The Gamecocks head coach wasn't wrong though, since they'll have their hands full trying to stop a Wisconsin rushing offense that is averaging 283 yards/game. Melvin Gordon led the Badgers with 1,466 yards this year and 12 touchdowns while James White pitched in 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns. Wisconsin also has the luxury of having a wide receiver like Jared Abbrederis that a quarterback can have confidence in hauling in even the toughest throws. On the season Abbrederis had 73 receptions for 1,051 yards.
At least if South Carolina is going to have to try and stop the Wisconsin rushing attack they have a talented defense to try and do so with. The Gamecocks finished second in the SEC in run defense, allowing opponents 142.2 yards/game on the ground. It also helps when you have a freak talent like Jadeveon Clowney on your side to try and corral Gordon and White. While Clowney didn't live up to the hype that followed him all offseason, all he needs is to break through the whole one time to change a game. Just ask Michigan running back Vincent Smith, if you can find him.
For the most part when you look at these teams it is almost like looking in a mirror. Both have very solid defenses and like to run the ball. I would take Wisconsin in this one but I'm concerned with the loss to end the season against Penn State. I think Connor Shaw will be the difference in this one. You saw how he came off the bench and put South Carolina on his back against Missouri and he is really smart with the football, only throwing one interception on the season.
South Carolina 24 Wisconsin 20
Vizio Rose Bowl: #5 Stanford (-6.5) v. #4 Michigan State - 1/1 5:00 PM EST - ESPN
The 100th Rose Bowl could turn out to being one of the most physical Rose Bowls in recent memory, with both teams relying on defense and feeding their workhorse running backs. Michigan State will be shorthanded after the loss of all everything linebacker Max Bullough to suspension, but the Spartans are hoping to be able to make up for it with the considerable talent they have spread around the rest of their defense.
After playing in the first Rose Bowl and losing to Michigan 49-0 in 1902, Stanford will be hoping to be able to win the 100th edition of the "Granddaddy of them all". The loss to Michigan in the first Rose Bowl was so bad that the Tournament of Roses Association chose to have chariot races and polo games until football games returned in 1916. Stanford will be looking to make it two Rose Bowl wins in a row, after defeating Wisconsin 20-14 in last year's game. As we saw in Stanford's upset of Oregon, the key component of the Cardinal offense is running back Tyler Gaffney. So far this season Gaffney has carried the ball 306 times for 1,613 yards, and 20 touchdowns. Key too much on Gaffney and quarterback Kevin Hogan will find Ty Montgomery through the air. Montgomery has caught 10 touchdowns on the year, but he figures to be shadowed by Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard all game long.
While Denicos Allen, Shilique Calhoun, and others will be trying to make up for Bullough's loss and stop Gaffney, the Stanford defense will face their own difficult task when they try and stop running back Jeremy Langford. While Langford doesn't quite have as many carries as Gaffney, he has toted the rock for 1,338 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Michigan State has to find a way to get their running game going against a Cardinal defense that ranks third in the country against the run, to keep pressure off of quarterback Connor Cook. Stanford's defense is tied for the national lead with 40 sacks on the season, and feature the individual sack leader, as Trent Murphy has dropped opposing quarterbacks 14 times so far this year.
This Rose Bowl will be nothing like the first Rose Bowl, since I don't see Stanford getting beat 49-0 in this one. I don't even think that 49 points will be scored total in Pasadena. While the loss of Bullough definitely hurts the Spartans, do I think it'll cause them to lose by a touchdown or more? I don't. Just don't sit too close to the TV for this one or you might pick up some bruises from all the hitting going on.
Stanford 20 Michigan State 17
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: #15 Central Florida v. #6 Baylor (-16.5) - 1/1 8:30 PM EST - ESPN
This year's Fiesta Bowl will feature two teams that will be making their first appearances in a BCS bowl game. Central Florida only lost once on the season in late September to South Carolina in Orlando, while the lone loss for Baylor came to Oklahoma State in the cold in Stillwater in November. Fans in Tempe will get a treat this year when they get a battle of two of the best quarterbacks in the country this year.
Bryce Petty is second in the nation in passing efficiency, rolling up over 3,800 yards and 30 passing touchdowns against only two interceptions. It's scary to think that Petty might be even better than he was to close the season as he'll get wide receiver Tevin Reese back for this bowl game. Reese will provide a nice compliment to 1,300 yard receiver Antwan Goodley, who has shoulder a big part of the load in the pass game since Reese went down to injury. Not only will Reese be returning, but Lache Seastrunk should be completely healthy after dealing with some injury issues earlier in the year. Seastrunk was able to play against TCU and Texas, but I would expect the month of rest to do wonders.
While Baylor has Petty and the running back combination of Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, Central Florida will try to counter with Blake Bortles under center and Storm Johnson and William Stanback coming out of the backfield. Bortles is ranked ninth in the nation in passing efficiency, and has been hearing his name brought up more lately towards the top of some NFL mock drafts. Bortles has accumulated 3,280 yards passing and 22 touchdowns through the air on the season.
I think Central Florida's a solid team and they are deserving of being in this spot, but I just think they got dealt a poor draw here. Even with the extra prep time, it's hard to see the Golden Knights keeping up with a Baylor offense that is averaging 53 points/game on the season and has scored 59+ points seven times this year. Add in that the Bears' defense is much improved and I think the final game on New Years Day is a blowout.
Baylor 44 Central Florida 24
Allstate Sugar Bowl: #11 Oklahoma v. #3 Alabama (-16.5) - 1/2 8:30 PM EST - ESPN
Following Alabama's stunning loss to Auburn in The Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide have yet to step foot on a football field (aside from practice). Nick Saban's team will have to find some motivation the day after New Years when they face an Oklahoma team that has to just be happy to be a part of a BCS game this year. Can "Big Game Bob" show up when nobody is expecting him to?
The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl was following the 2008 season. The Crimson Tide had just lost to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, and they proceed to lay an egg in New Orleans, losing to Utah 31-17. After there were rumors of Texas courting Nick Saban, the only thing that came out of that was a new fat contract for Saban to stay in Tuscaloosa. One source of motivation for the Crimson Tide could be that it's AJ McCarron's final game for Alabama. The Maxwell Award winner has thrown for 2,676 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, and he'll get one last chance to sling it for Alabama in his storied career. If McCarron's off then Alabama has the luxury of being able ot hand it off to T.J. Yeldon, who should be able to find holes to run through behind that massive Alabama offensive line.
The biggest mismatch in this game might be whoever Oklahoma decides to play at quarterback against this nasty Alabama defense. Whether it be Blake Bell or Trevor Knight, I don't think it's going to matter against C.J. Mosley and the rest of this Alabama defense. I'm sure the biggest relief for Alabama in this one will be that they don't have to go against an offense that wants to run a play every three seconds like Auburn did. Bell did start eight games for the Sooners, but he didn't quite live up to the hype that was built up for him after after the season of "Belldozer" last year. Brennan Clay is a solid running back, going for just over 900 yards on the season, but is he going to be someone that strikes fear in a defense that has held nine of 12 opponents to 10 points or less? No.
Oklahoma just isn't as talented as Alabama and we all know it. How Bob Stoops got the Sooners to this position, I'll never know. We can talk about the motivation factor for Alabama, but I'm sure that Nick Saban has nightmares about that 2009 Sugar Bowl against Utah (if he ever sleeps at all). Roll Tide.
Alabama 37 Oklahoma 17
AT&T Cotton Bowl: #13 Oklahoma State v. #9 Missouri (-1.5) - 1/3 7:30 PM EST - Fox
These two former Big 12 foes will square off in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night, but they both have to be wishing they were somewhere else. Had Missouri beaten Auburn, they possibly be the team that was squaring off in Pasadena with Florida State. Oklahoma State had a late lead against Oklahoma in Bedlam, but a the Sooners spoiled the Big 12 title and BCS game bid with a late touchdown in Stillwater.
Prior to the loss to Oklahoma, the Cowboys had ran off seven straight wins, including the destruction of Baylor in Stillwater. The only blemish on Oklahoma State's record before the loss to the Sooners was a puzzling loss to West Virginia in Morgantown in late September. The switch to Clint Chelf at QB paid dividends for Mike Gundy, with Chelf totaling 21 touchdowns since he took over the QB1 spot for good. One big area that has been a big reason for the Cowboys' success is that they are an opportunistic bunch. All-American cornerback Justin Gilbert has six interceptions on the season, which has helped the Cowboys put up a +15 turnover margin.
For as good as Oklahoma State is at creating turnovers, Missouri is just a tad better on the season, sporting a +16 turnover margin. The Tigers also have a pass rush that can really get off the quarterback behind the pressure of Michael Sam. The Tigers have forced a turnover in 43 straight games, which is the longest current streak in the NCAA. Setting up a short field for James Franklin and company could make for a long night for the Cowboys. Franklin missed four games in the middle of the season due to a shoulder injury, but he should be operating at 100% with the month between games. Gilbert will have his hands full between the Missouri receiving duo of Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington.
I think that Henry Josey will end up being the difference in this one. Not only can Josey hurt the Cowboys on the ground, but he is also a threat to come out of the backfield and make himself a receiving threat as well. The Cowboys keep it close for a while, but Missouri eventually wins by double digits.
Missouri 35 Oklahoma State 24
BBVA Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt (-3) v. Houston - 1/4 1:00 PM EST - ESPN
The BBVA Compass Bowl will fill a little empty now that they won't have Pitt after three straight appearances in the bowl. JUST KIDDING. Houston rebounded from a 6-7 record in 2012 to go bowling, while Vanderbilt is appearing in their third straight bowl game, which is the first time they've gone to three straight in school history.
Now that Vanderbilt has put together this bowl streak, they'll now turn their attention to winning nine games for the frist time in school history. The Commodores will have to work for it though with quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels on the shelf for this one after undergoing left knee surgery. This isn't an unfamiliar position for Vanderbilt though, as earlier in the season Carta-Samuels missed two games due to injury. Patton Robinette will step up for Carta-Samuels and he accounted for eight touchdowns during the season, six of them on the ground. Luckily for Robinette he'll have one of the best wide receivers in SEC history at his disposal, which should make things easier. Jordan Matthews has set SEC records for career receptions (257), career receiving yards (3,616), 100-yard games (18), and the 107 receptions he hauled in this year is also a single-season record.
While Vanderbilt will be dealing with the loss of Carta-Samuels, Houston will have a change at offensive coordinator for this game. Doug Meacham left to take the same position at TCU, which leaves assistant head coach Travis Bush calling plays on Saturday. This role isn't unfamiliar for Bush though, since back in 2012 he was handed the playing-calling duties in 11 games. Freshman quarterback John O'Korn has thrown for 2,889 yards and 26 touchdowns after taking over the starting job earlier in the year. Deontay Greenberry will be hoping to outduel Matthews on Saturday, and has put up big numbers on the season with 76 catches, 1,106 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns.
With Carta-Samuels out and possible rumors of Penn State being interested in head coach James Franklin, I actually like Houston in this game. The Cougars are +25 in turnover margin this year, which is best in the country, and I think they force a few more Saturday and ride that wave to victory.
Houston 33 Vanderbilt 27
GoDaddy Bowl: Arkansas State v. Ball State (-9) - 1/5 9:00 PM EST - ESPN
With Bryan Harsin off to coach Boise State, for the second straight year defensive coordinator John Thompson will assuming the interim head coaching duties for the GoDaddy Bowl. After defeating Kent State last year in the second to last bowl game of the year, the Red Wolves will have their hands full with a very potent Ball State attack.
This will be the seventh bowl game in school history for Ball State, but they are still looking for their first win in a bowl game. The Ball State offense has put up at least 27 points in every game this year, which should make it a challenge for Arkansas State to keep up in this one. Keith Wenning passed for 3,933 yards this year, which ranked fifth in the country, and added 34 passing touchdowns. Willie Snead was the one that benefited most from the year that Wenning had, pulling in 97 catches for 1,429 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Red Wolves won't be able to load up against the pass though, as running back Jahwan Edwards has ran for over 900 yards and 13 touchdowns this year.
Arkansas State doesn't quite have the horses to keep up with Ball State, so they'll have to do some creative things to try and throw the Cardinals off their game. Quarterback Adam Kennedy does it all for the Red Wolves, throwing over 300 passes and rushing nearly 150 times so far this season.
Ball State finally secures their first bowl win in school history as they run away with this game. The Cardinals just have too much for the Red Wolves to keep pace with, and John Thompson can't stay perfect as a coach in the GoDaddy Bowl.
Ball State 45 Arkansas State 24
Vizio BCS National Championship Game: #2 Auburn v. #1 Florida State (-7.5) - 1/6 8:30 PM EST - ESPN
Auburn used a magical three-game run to end the season to slip into the BCS National Championship Game, but they'll have their work cut out for them if they want to hand Florida State their first loss and take home another crystal football for the SEC. While the Tigers won six games by eight points or less, Florida State was barely challenged this season, with their closest result being a 48-34 win over Boston College.
After going 3-9 last season, nobody gave Auburn a shot to play in Pasadena on the first Monday in January, and those odds got even longer after the Tigers dropped a 35-21 game to LSU early in the season. That loss didn't phase the Tigers as they reeled off nine straight wins, including miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama before winning the SEC Championship Game where they rushed for 545 yards against Missouri. The Auburn offense is all about the run, with the main catalyst being Tre Mason. With 1,621 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns on the season, Mason earned himself a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony and ended up finishing sixth in the voting. The Tigers will have to use their tempo to keep a very tough Florida State defense on their heels. The Seminoles are only allowing 116 yards/game to opponents on the ground, but I'm sure that means nothing to Auburn since Alabama was just as strong against the run and we saw how that played out.
While Mason may have finished sixth in the Heisman voting, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston took home the trophy and became the youngest winner in history at 19 years and 342 days old. After redshirting last year, Winston looked in complete control on the field from start to finish, passing for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns to finally put an end to the jokes about Florida State being "Back". While the Seminoles are allowing opponents to score just over 10 points/game on the season, the Auburn defense has shown some holes at times, which should allow for Winston, running back Devonta Freeman, and others to put up some points.
While the Auburn tempo really hurt Alabama down the stretch, Florida State will have the luxury of having a month to prepare for it. I'm sure it is impossible to truly replicate how Auburn likes to play, but I'm sure the Seminoles have quite a good idea on what they'll be facing in Pasadena. The stingy Florida State defense puts Auburn in a position where they have to throw the ball, and things don't go well for quarterback Nick Marshall against a defense that has intercepted 25 passes on the season.
Florida State 42 Auburn 30
Discover Orange Bowl: #12 Clemson v. #7 Ohio State (-2.5) - 1/3 8:30 PM EST - ESPN
Just under a month ago Buckeye fans were thinking they might be booking a trip to Pasadena in early January to watch the Buckeyes play in the BCS National Championship Game. Then the Big Ten Championship game happened and Michigan State dashed any national title hopes that the Buckeyes had. While Ohio State fans that are making the bowl trip will still get to spend early January in a warm climate, as the game approaches more and more comes out to make Buckeye Nation very nervous about this tilt with Clemson.
Tajh Boyd will close out his Clemson career on Friday with over 12,000 yards of total offense and 98 touchdown passes in his three years at the helm of the Tigers. He'll get a chance to add to those numbers against a secondary that was suspect (and that's putting it nicely) for most of the season, and is now dealing with a rash of injuries. Buckeye fans already know that Christian Bryant won't play due to a broken ankle suffered in the Wisconsin game, but now word comes out that probable NFL first-round pick Bradley Roby is dealing with a bone bruise in his knee suffered in the Big Ten Championship Game. Add in that Curtis Grant and Noah Spence are questionable and Ohio State fans might be in for a night of frustration against this potent Clemson offense. Even at 100% Roby would have had his hands full with Sammy Watkins, who has caught 85 passes for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. This was the second year in a row that Watkins has broken the 1,200 receiving yard barrier.
At least if the Buckeye defense falters, the offense should be able to keep pace with Clemson. The Ohio State rushing attack ranked third in the country this year with 318 yards/game on the ground. Carlos Hyde's season has been well-documented after he ran for 1,408 and 14 touchdowns after missing the first three games of the season. Braxton Miller added 1,033 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns, but his struggles through the air lately might leave some concern with Ohio State fans. Clemson didn't face very many teams with an offense that can put points on the board quite like Ohio State, and when they did they had problems with it. Georgia scored 35 in a loss and Florida State exploded for 51 points against the Tigers.
Between injuries and the flu bug that sounds like it's going around the Ohio State team, it's easy to think that Clemson might be the pick here. While most of the time I preach to bet with your head and not your head, I'm going to go against my own advice in this one. I still do think that Ohio State can win this game even with all that their facing. You never know when Clemson will start Clemsoning, and what better spot for them to do that than in front of a national audience. Plus give me Urban out-coaching Dabo everyday and twice on Sundays.
Ohio State 37 Clemson 34