Bowl games ATS: 6-4
Season ATS: 92-99-1 (46-43-1 National, 46-55 B1G)
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois v. Louisiana Tech (-6) - 12/26 1:00 PM EST - ESPN
So Tim Beckman coaching Illinois in a bowl game is a real thing. All that I thought was real has ceased to exist.The Fighting Illini defeated Penn State and Northwestern in their final two games to unexpectedly make it to six wins on the season, and earn bowl eligibility. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek caught 69 passes for 965 yards on the season to be named second-team all conference, and those numbers are even more amazing considering he had Wes Lunt and Reilly O'Toole throwing to him this season. The running game of the Fighting Illini is even worse, as they only average 117 yards per game on the ground.
Beckman and his time will have their work cut out for them if they want to try and slow down the Louisiana Tech offense. The defense of the Fighting Illini is a trainwreck, ranking 105th in the country in total defense and 112th in scoring defense. The Bulldogs have hurt opponents not only through the air behind the arm of Cody Sokol, who has passed for 3,189 yards and 29 touchdowns, but also on the ground with Kenneth Dixon and his 1,236 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. These two teams faced off early in the 2012 season with the Bulldogs having little trouble dispatching Illinois by the score of 52-24.
While Louisiana Tech may have changed coaches since the 2012 matchup, with Sonny Dykes heading to California, it wouldn't be surprising to see them put up 52 again on the Fighting Illini. It is hard to see Illinois putting the clamps on the offense of the Bulldogs, and Dudek and company won't be able to score enough to keep up. The bowl season gets off to a rough start for the Big Ten.
Louisiana Tech 48 Illinois 31
Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers v. North Carolina (-3) - 12/26 4:30 PM EST - ESPN
Coming into the season many thought it would be a long shot for the Scarlet Knights to make a bowl game in their first season in the Big Ten, but Rutgers jumped out to a 5-1 start and withstood a three-game losing streak in conference play to get to six wins to earn a bowl bid for the fourth straight year. The Scarlet Knights showed some fight in the regular season finale, coming back from 25 points down against Maryland to beat the Terrapins 41-38. Gary Nova was inconsistent throughout the season, but he did find Leonte Carroo for half of the 20 touchdowns he threw on the season.
Nova might have been wildly inconsistent for Rutgers, but Marquise Williams was pretty much the whole offense for North Carolina. The quarterback not only threw for 2,875 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he also added 732 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The Tar Heels had a couple solid wins in November, defeating Duke and Pittsburgh, but they looked lost against North Carolina State in the regular season finale, losing 35-7.
If one terrible defense in the Heart of Dallas Bowl wasn't bad enough, in this game you'll get two abysmal defenses! Both teams allow over 200 yards per game on the ground to opponents, and North Carolina is giving up nearly 500 total yards per game. The Tar Heels allow 38.9 points per game, and the Scarlet Knights are even worse, letting opponents put up 40.2 points per game. In a game where neither team will provide any resistance, I'll glad take the points as the Big Ten earns their first win of the bowl season.
Rutgers 44 North Carolina 41
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: North Carolina State v. Central Florida (-2) - 12/26 8:00 PM EST - ESPN
Whether it be the Beef O'Brady's or Bitcoin, both of those companies are the perfect sponsors for a bowl game that takes place in the dump that is Tropicana Field. No matter the sponsor and location, the Wolfpack have to be happy to be in any bowl after missing out on going bowling in 2013. Dave Doeren rode Jacoby Brissett to a 7-5 record this year, with the former Florida quarterback throwing 22 touchdowns passes to only five interceptions. The Wolfpack had Florida State on the ropes for a while early in the season, but folded up in the second half, which kicked off a four-game losing streak. North Carolina State rebounded with two wins to end the season to get to the seven win mark.
After going to the Fiesta Bowl last year behind Blake Bortles, Central Florida had some early growing pains, losing their first two games of the year. After taking over in the second half of the season opener in Dublin against Penn State, Justin Holman took hold of the quarterback role, forming a strong combination with junior wide receiver Breshad Perriman. The calling card of Central Florida this year was their defense, only giving up 282 yards per game to the opposition.
Central Florida may have struggled out of the gate, but once they got going they really found hit their stride, winning nine of their last 10 games. The Golden Knights have won three straight bowl games, and have a little familiarity with the St. Petersburg Bowl, winning it in 2012. Doeren may have things headed in the right direction in Raleigh, but I'm not convinced they can overcome UCF's defense and bowl experience.
UCF 27 North Carolina State 21
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Cincinnati (-2.5) v. Virginia Tech - 12/27 1:00 PM EST - ESPN
This pick should be easy. Virginia Tech beat Ohio State and Ohio State beat Cincinnati so that means Virginia Tech beats Cincinnati, right? Not so fast. Thankfully the loss to the Hokies in early September didn't cost the Buckeyes a spot in the College Football Playoff, especially after the Hokies seemed to get worse each week the rest of the season. Virginia Tech needed a 24-20 win over Virginia in their final game to get to six wins and extend their streak of making a bowl game to 22 straight seasons. If it wasn't for the defense, the Hokies' season would've already been completed.
While Virginia Tech may have little offense and tons of defense, Cincinnati counters with tons of offense and little defense. After switching schools 27 times, Gunner Kiel finally took the field and didn't disappoint, throwing for 3,010 yards and 30 touchdowns. After a 55-34 loss earlier in the year to Miami (Florida), the Bearcats responded with seven straight wins to end the season. Kiel spread the football around, with five receivers accumulating at least 400 yards.
Something has to give in this game between Kiel and the Cincinnati offense and the Virginia Tech defense. The Bearcats have quietly become one of the most consistent teams in the country, winning at least nine games in four straight years. Bud Foster's defense may get after Kiel, but I think the quarterback handles the pressure and Cincinnati wins in a hard-fought matchup.
Cincinnati 30 Virginia Tech 24
Hyundai Sun Bowl: #15 Arizona State (-7) v. Duke - 12/27 2:30 PM EST - CBS
It feels strange that the Sun Bowl isn't as close to New Year's as in years past, but we all knew with the new playoff system there would be some changes. The Sun Devils will be looking to change their recent string of play after dropping two of their last three to not only fall out of the conversation for the College Football Playoff, but also the race for the Pac-12 South crown. Arizona State is hoping to record back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1970-73 when they won at least 10 games in each of those four years. The Sun Devils are powered by quarterback Taylor Kelly, running back D.J. Foster, who rushed for 1,002 yards, and wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who caught 75 passes for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns.
After not appearing in a bowl game sine 1984, David Cutcliffe has led Duke to three straight bowl games. The next step for the Blue Devils is to win a bowl game, something they haven't done since 1961. The star of Duke is wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who has 78 catches this year, and needs just six catches to tie the all-time ACC record of 283 receptions. After looking like they would be in line to play Florida State in the ACC Championship Game for the second year in a row, Duke stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their last three games.
The Duke defense allowed 21 points or less in eight of the 12 games, but they haven't exactly faced offenses that can put up points like Arizona State can. The Sun Devils just have too many weapons for the Blue Devils to be able to keep up with, and the nearly month off will have only helped Arizona State to get healthier and shake off their late season funk.
Arizona State 41 Duke 27
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami, FL (-3.5) v. South Carolina - 12/27 3:30 PM EST - ABC
After seeing how underwhelming "The U: Part 2" 30 For 30 was, it's fitting that Miami can start stockpiling footage for the third installment by playing in Shreveport in a bowl sponsored by some bearded yokels. After Hurricane fans were thinking Miami might be "back", Al Golden's team surprised nobody by blowing a lead against Florida State, and followed that up with two more losses to end the season. Duke Johnson was great for Miami this year, rushing for 1,520 yards this year. Brad Kaaya is a young talent for the Hurricanes, but he'll be hurt without tight end Clive Walford, who is out for the bowl game with a knee injury.
Remember when South Carolina was ranked in the top-10 to start the season? That was high comedy. Texas A&M destroyed the Gamecocks in the season opener and not much else went right for Steve Spurrier's crew aside from a win against Georgia. South Carolina has won three straight bowl games, but those have all been against Big Ten schools. Pharoh Cooper put up nearly 1,000 yards receiving as a sophomore, but didn't get much help on offense.
Both teams were 6-6 this year, so neither has a distinct advantage in this matchup. South Carolina's defense was nowhere near as dominant as last year's but I wouldn't count out a Spurrier team with a few weeks to prepare. I can't say I'm a huge Al Golden fan, so I'll ride with the sentimental pick and back South Carolina and the OBC.
South Carolina 31 Miami (FL) 24
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (-3) v. Penn State - 12/27 4:30 PM EST - ESPN
This bowl game won't be for the faint of heart. Boston College and Penn State boast strong defenses that should feast against a couple offenses that are pretty offensive. Boston College at least has Tyler Murphy, who broke the ACC record for rushing yards by a QB, with 1,079 yards this season. The Golden Eagles really probably should've beat Florida State late in the year, but like many others, the Seminoles found a way to prevail. Steve Addazio was able to lead his team to a win in the regular season finale, defeated Syracuse 28-7.
Murphy is going to have a tough task when he tries to find holes against a Penn State defense that was the best against the run in the NCAA this year. If it wasn't for the Penn State defense, the Nittany Lions likely wouldn't be bowling since their offense is beyond terrible. Christian Hackenberg only threw eight touchdowns this year after throwing 20 in his freshman year. Pretty sure if you lose to Illinois, you should be ineligible for a bowl (even with Illinois finding a way to become bowl eligible).
The good news for Penn State is they can actually go to a bowl since their bowl sanctions were lifted. That's about the only good news for the Nittany Lions right now. Boston College was humbled by Arizona last year in a bowl game, but they don't have to worry about having to defend anything close to the offense the Wildcats fielded. Boston College guts out a win at Yankee Stadium.
Boston College 23 Penn State 17
National University Holiday Bowl: Nebraska v. #24 USC (-7.5) - 12/27 8:00 PM EST - ESPN
While this is one of the more quality matchups of the first week of bowl games, really the main reason you want to watch this game is to see if Bo Pelini runs out onto the field and flips everybody off. Barney Cotton will serve as interim coach for Nebraska in this game. The Cornhuskers had big dreams after starting the season 8-1, but losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota derailed any hopes Nebraska had of winning the Big Ten West. Nebraska will be hoping to send Ameer Abdullah off with a big effort against the Trojans.
USC also had big expectations this year, but they lost a number of games by a slim margin to eliminate any hope they had of playing closer to New Year's Day. The Trojans lost close games to Boston College, Arizona, and Utah. USC looked terrible against UCLA, but rebounded nicely against Notre Dame to close out the regular season. Cody Kessler put up Playstation numbers with 3,505 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. Nelson Agholor was the main recipient of Kessler's passes, hauling in 97 balls for 1,223 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
Nebraska may be able to run the ball, but they have been spotty through the air. USC has enough athletes on defense to bottle up Abdullah and shutdown Kenny Bell. USC should be able to find success on the ground behind Buck Allen, which will open up Kessler to hit Agholor and Juju Smith.
USC 34 Nebraska 24
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia (-3.5) v. Texas A&M - 12/29 2:00 PM EST - ESPN
This may be the first meeting between West Virginia and Texas A&M, but these coaching staffs are pretty familiar with each other. Dana Holgorsen was an assistant under Kevin Sumlin at Houston, and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital worked with Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia. After a rough year last year, West Virginia rebounded and showed glimpses of the high-powered offense they possessed in the first few years under Holgorsen. Clint Trickett should be good to go after a concussion, and he'll be looking to get wide receiver Kevin White back on track after White only averaged 59.6 yards per game over the last five games after seven straight 100-yard games to open the season.
Texas A&M looked like they might be playing in the College Football Playoff after the destruction of South Carolina in the season opener, and the four wins that followed. The Aggies lost five of their last seven, including get decimated by Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which caused a change at quarterback. Kyle Allen wasn't terrible in the last four games, but there was time when he showed he was a freshman. Still the Aggies have an incredible talent, and all these extra practices will only help Allen going forward.
The reason why West Virginia is where they are now is because of an improved defense. While Texas A&M has some individual stars on defense, they are still having issues with the unit as a whole. That isn't where you want to be having problems when going up against West Virginia. This should be a back-and-forth affair, but West Virginia wins it by a touchdown.
West Virginia 40 Texas A&M 33
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma (-4) v. #17 Clemson - 12/29 5:00 PM EST - ESPN
Before the season if somebody had told you Oklahoma and Clemson would be playing in a bowl game, you might've thought it would possibly be one of the playoff games. Injuries to both teams have been one of a number of reasons why this game is being played in December and not January. Oklahoma should have Trevor Knight and Sterling Shepard, and Samaje Perine available and ready to go against Clemson. The Sooners let a lead slip away against Oklahoma State, but things might've been a lot different with those three.
Clemson won't be quite so lucky, as they'll be without quarterback Deshaun Watson due to an ACL injury. Senior Cole Stoudt will again be under center, and while he has pulled out some wins for Clemson, he isn't nearly as much of a game-changer as Watson. It should be interesting to see if Vic Beasley is able to get the same type of pressure of Knight and the Sooners as he did in January when they beat Ohio State.
Clemson is the top-ranked total defense in the country, only allowing opponents 259.6 yards per game. Still, Oklahoma should be able to move the football. Should Perine find some holes against Clemson, that could open things up for Knight to find some open receivers. Bob beats Dabo, with Clemson struggling to find traction on offense without Watson.
Oklahoma 33 Clemson 27
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas v. Arkansas (-6.5) - 12/29 9:00 PM EST - ESPN
Two teams that did their best work in the latter part of the season will square off on Monday in Houston. Texas may have gotten crushed by TCU on Thanksgiving night, but prior to that game the Longhorns had won four of their previous five. Charlie Strong was started to right the ship in Austin after a first half of the season that was marred by injuries and suspensions. While Tyrone Swoopes has been hit-or-miss this season, the defense of the Longhorns is more than capable of keeping them in the game.
After spending a year and a half winless in the SEC, Bret Bielema finally got his first SEC win when the Razorbacks shutout LSU in November. That win was so much fun, Arkansas decided to pitch another shutout the next week when they played Mississippi. In the regular season finale, Arkansas had Missouri on the ropes, but just couldn't quite finish the job in Columbia. The combination of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams has been productive all year for the Razorbacks, and Brandon Allen has been solid when Arkansas has decided to throw the ball.
This marks the first time since 2008 the former Southwest Conference members have faced each other, with Texas holding a 56-21 edge in the series. The Longhorns should have a little bit of a crowd edge with the game being played in Houston. Add that in with how this game should be shaping up to be a defensive battle, and I'll take the points in what could end up being a field goal game.
Arkansas 23 Texas 20
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame v. #23 LSU (-7.5) - 12/30 3:00 PM EST - ESPN
Both of these teams expected a little more out of this season, but it wasn't to be for the Fighting Irish and the Tigers this season. Notre Dame lost a heartbreaker in Tallahassee to Florida State to give them their first loss on the season, and from there it was a free-fall for Brian Kelly's team. The Fighting Irish were crushed on the road by Arizona State and USC, with close losses to Louisville and Northwestern in between. Everett Golson was a turnover machine, and the once-feared defense provided little resistance to opponents late in the season. It is possible Notre Dame could take a look at highly-touted quarterback Malik Zaire.
On the other side, LSU didn't have issues with their defense like Notre Dame did, but the offense didn't do Les Miles any favors this year. The bright spot for LSU has been freshman running back Leonard Fournette, who ran for nearly 900 yards his season, and punctuated his campaign by trucking a Texas A&M defender in the regular season finale. Much like Golson, quarterback Anthony Jennings is trying to hold onto his quarterback job from the advances of Brandon Harris.
Notre Dame has just looked so bad in the last four games of the season, it is hard to imagine them being able to fix things in such a short time. LSU isn't the offensive juggernaut that USC or Arizona State is, but their defense could feast on Everett Golson. It might not be a whooping like the 2007 Sugar Bowl was, but I just don't see Notre Dame keeping this game close.
LSU 28 Notre Dame 17
Belk Bowl: #21 Louisville v. #13 Georgia (-6.5) - 12/30 6:30 PM EST - ESPN
Imagine some of the running backs that fans should be seeing in this game. Michael Dyer has just been ruled ineligible for the game, while Todd Gurley is out for the rest of the year due to a torn ACL. Charlie Strong may have left for Texas, but the Louisville defense is still playing like Strong is still there. The Cardinals are tremendous at forcing turnovers, with sophomore Gerod Holliman having picked off 14 passes this season, which ties a NCAA record. The Louisville offense has looked better as of late, as the return of Devante Parker from injury has sparked the Cardinals.
What a strange season it was in Athens for Mark Richt and the rest of the Bulldogs. Open up with a thrashing of Clemson followed by a loss to South Carolina early in the season. The Bulldogs looked to be back on track before the suspension of Todd Gurley, and during that time Georgia fell to Florida. Nick Chubb did a great job at filling in for Gurley, and setting the table for a possible big sophomore season for the Bulldogs. It might be hard for Chubb to find traction against a Louisville defense that is only allow opponents 93.7 yards per game on the ground.
The three losses Louisville suffered this year were by a combined 19 points, with the Florida State loss being the one that has to sting Bobby Petrino and the rest of the Cardinals the most. The loss of Dyer hurts Louisville's offense, but I still think they'll find a way to move the football against the Bulldogs. Much like earlier with the Texas game, this just seems like a little too many points for the favorite to be giving and I'll roll with the upset. Now go out and get your Belk puns ready!
Louisville 26 Georgia 23
Foster Farms Bowl: Maryland v. Stanford (-14) - 12/30 10:00 PM EST - ESPN
For Stanford, Cardinal fans will probably look at this season as a disappointment after some of the expectations the team had coming into the season. Maryland on the other hand will probably look at this season as a decent first year in the Big Ten. The Terrapins had their issues against the conference heavy weights, but they held their own in the other games, especially considering how many injuries they had to deal with. The Terrapins should get wide receiver Stefon Diggs back, but he'll have to fight for every yard and the Stanford defense.
David Shaw had to feel his team was snake bitten this year with three of their five losses coming by a field goal. The Cardinal did end the regular season on a high note, picking apart UCLA in Pasadena. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery is questionable for the bowl game, and if he could play it would be a nice boost to a Stanford offense that has been clicking a little more recently. Quarterback Kevin Hogan and running back Remound Wright could continue the roll they have been on lately against a Maryland defense that gives up nearly 440 yards per game to opponents.
Stanford has the home-field advantage and they have the much better defense, but I still keep trying to talk myself into taking the points with Maryland. Two touchdowns is a lot for a team that doesn't exactly have the best track record of scoring points. I think Diggs finds his way to a touchdown or two that'll help Maryland at least stay in shouting distance.
Stanford 31 Maryland 20