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MC&J: The Big Ten starts to get into college football’s bowl mix

Between Saturday and Tuesday there are 10 more bowl games on the schedule, including two Big Ten teams getting on the field.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Northwestern at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bowl games ATS: 4-3-1 (South Florida +3 and UCF -4.5 pending)

Season ATS: 117-106-2 (58-65-2 National, 59-41 B1G)

Even though we aren’t even a quarter into bowl season, it has been a roller coaster. Ohio rolling Georgia Southern, Miami (OH) and Appalachian State slogging through a monsoon, and the crazy Western Kentucky comeback. Luckily late opt-outs haven’t bit us so far, since both Western Kentucky and UTSA ended up covering after shaky starts. Hopefully more winners are on the horizon.

Birmingham Bowl: Troy (-7.5) v. Duke

Saturday 12/23 12:00 p.m. ET - ABC

This should be the Interim Coach Bowl since both Troy and Duke will play with interim head coaches. Troy head coach Jon Sumrall won’t coach in this game after taking the Tulane job, while Duke head coach Mike Elko is already off at Texas A&M trying to clean up the mess left by Jimbo Fisher.

Normally losing a player like quarterback Riley Leonard would be too much for a team to overcome, but Leonard was banged up enough during the year so the Blue Devils are at least somewhat familiar with not having Leonard on the field. Duke is scrappy enough on both sides of the football to keep this one close.

Troy is a really good squad, I think this might be just a few too many points for them to be laying in this game. I feel like Duke thrives on being the underdog. Add in not having their head coach and starting quarterback and they’ll be even more amped to prove people wrong for doubting them. While I think Troy wins this one, the Blue Devils push them to the limit.

Troy 27, Duke 24

Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (-3) v. Northern Illinois

Saturday 12/23 12:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

I’m not going to get too crazy with my analysis for this bowl game. There is one thing I want you to think about if you are looking for a side in this game: Do you really trust Arkansas State head coach Butch Jones as a favorite? I know that isn’t something that interests me.

Northern Illinois has running back Antario Brown, who has run for 1,164 yards and 10 scores. Give me the Huskies in this one.

Northern Illinois 28, Arkansas State 20

Armed Forces Bowl: James Madison (-2.5) v. Air Force

Saturday 12/23 3:30 p.m. ET - ABC

Air Force really fell apart at the end of the season. The Falcons lost their final four games after starting the season 8-0. It’s not rocket science trying to figure out what you’re going to see from Air Force. Stopping it is another story. The task doesn’t look quite as daunting though after seeing how teams were able to bottle them up over the last month of the season.

James Madison had a dream season, only losing to Appalachian State in overtime in their second to last game of the season. Quarterback Jordan McCloud was amazing this year for the Dukes, throwing for 3,400 yards and 32 touchdowns. You know James Madison is going to be excited to play in a bowl game since entering the season they weren’t supposed to be eligible for a bowl.

James Madison v Coastal Carolina Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

Even though it’s probably not smart to go against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, James Madison is just too good. While trying to stop the triple option can be rough, having a couple weeks to plan for it can make things a little easier. The Dukes build a lead and force the Falcons to play catch-up, which isn’t what they’re built to do.

James Madison 24, Air Force 14

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Georgia State v. Utah State (-2.5)

Saturday 12/23 3:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

For as bad as Air Force was to close out the regular season, Georgia State was even worse, dropping their last five games after starting the year 6-1. It’s not even that the Panthers lost five in a row, they got worked in most of them, losing four games during their losing streak by 17 points or more.

Utah State had a pretty wild season, losing three of their first four games before closing out the year winning three of four, including two of those victories coming in double overtime. Not only do the Aggies have some confidence heading into this game with their close to the regular season, they also don’t have to worry about slowing down running back Marcus Carroll, who hit the transfer portal and is headed to Missouri after rushing for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns this year. The Aggies feel like the right side in this one.

Utah State 34, Georgia State 24

68 Ventures Bowl: South Alabama (-16.5) v. Eastern Michigan

Saturday 12/23 7:00 p.m ET - ESPN

There’s no question South Alabama should win this game. Are they 16.5 points better than Eastern Michigan? I’m not sure about that. The Jaguars do have a sexy win beating Oklahoma State, while Eastern Michigan’s wins have come against some dreadful teams. Chris Creighton has done a great job during his time in charge at Eastern Michigan, turning them into a respectable program. I think they’ll play with some pride, keeping this from being a blowout.

South Alabama 37, Eastern Michigan 23

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah (-6.5) v. Northwestern

Saturday 12/23 7:30 p.m. ET - ABC

There’s no doubt Northwestern is one of the most improved teams from where they were at the start of the season. Back in early September the Wildcats were still reeling from the firing of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. After seven games Northwestern was just 3-4 before winning four of their last five games, leading to the interim tag being removed from head coach David Braun’s job title.

It’s pretty crazy that 8-4 feels like a bit of disappointing season for Utah. Heading into the season the Utes were thought of as a dark horse candidate for the College Football Playoff, but quarterback Cam Rising never took the field as he recovered from a knee injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl. Bryson Barnes was solid filling in for Rising, he just didn’t have quite enough to keep up with some of the great quarterbacks in the Pac-12 this year.

If you like offense, this isn’t the bowl game for you. Both teams rely on their defense to make some plays and set their offenses up in favorable positions. The Utes are just a little more tested than Northwestern is after playing teams like Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, and a number of other strong teams. Utah gets some revenge for the 2018 Holiday Bowl loss to the Wildcats.

Utah 23, Northwestern 14

Hawai’i Bowl: Coastal Carolina v. San Jose State (-9.5)

Saturday 12/23 10:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

Don’t overthink this one. Somehow former Ohio State assistant Tim Beck conned a team into hiring him as their head coach. If that wasn’t reason enough to pick against the Chanticleers, Coastal Carolina won’t have quarterback Grayson McCall, who has already announced he is transferring to NC State.

James Madison v Coastal Carolina Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

San Jose State is already familiar with traveling to Hawai’i, trouncing the Rainbow Warriors 35-0 in Honolulu at the end of October. The Spartans won’t have any trouble moving the football with quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. The Honolulu native will be looking for a big performance in his hometown on Saturday night. San Jose State should win this one by at least two touchdowns.

San Jose State 38, Coastal Carolina 21

Quick Lane Bowl: Bowling Green v. Minnesota (-4.5)

Tuesday 12/26 2:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

Minnesota might be the least deserving bowl team of all time. After posting a 5-7 record this year, the Golden Gophers only are playing in Detroit on Tuesday because of their APR standing. Even quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis didn’t want to play in this game, as he jumped into the transfer portal after the regular season. Kaliakmanis wasn’t all that good this year, so I don’t even want to imagine who will line up under center for P.J. Fleck’s team.

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

This will be a rematch from a couple years ago when Bowling Green beat Minnesota 14-10 in Minneapolis in 2021. The Falcons are nothing special this year, but they don’t have to be in this game. Bowling Green has a solid quarterback in Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak and they know how to control the clock. Scot Loeffler squeaks out another win over P.J. Fleck.

Bowling Green 20, Minnesota 17

First Responder Bowl: Texas State (-5.5) v. Rice

Tuesday 12/26 5:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

I feel like this will be the first Texas State game I have ever watched. This will actually be the first bowl game for the Bobcats. In his first year as Texas State head coach, G.J. Kinne has transformed the Bobcats into one of the funnest teams to watch in college football. Former LSU and Auburn quarterback T.J. Finley has thrown for over 3,200 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. Texas State has scored at least 40 points in five games this season.

The issue for the Bobcats has been a leaky defense. Tuesday’s matchup with the Owls doesn’t look quite as daunting after Rice quarterback J.T. Daniels retired from football due to injury issues. Maybe the Owls can let wide receiver Luke McCaffrey move back to quarterback after he started his career at that position at Nebraska. No matter who starts for Rice at QB, I don’t think they can keep pace with Finley and the Bobcats.

Texas State 42, Rice 30

Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Kansas (-12.5) v. UNLV

Tuesday 12/26 9:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

UNLV has been a great story this year, as former Missouri coach Barry Odom has led the Rebels to one of the best seasons in school history. Tuesday night’s game in Phoenix marks just the third bowl game since 2000 for UNLV. For as good as the Rebels were this year, they lost some steam at the end of the season, falling to San Jose State before getting rolled by Boise State in the Mountain West Championship Game.

It would have been interesting to see what Kansas could have been this season if Jalon Daniels wasn’t injured for most of the year. Daniels only attempted 75 passes, leaving most of the snaps to Jake Bean, who held his own behind center. The Jayhawks still beat Oklahoma and finished with eight wins this season, showing why Lance Leipold is one of the best coaches in college football.

All Kansas has to do is follow Boise State’s blueprint to beat the Rebels. Bean, along with running backs Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw Jr., should be able to find the end zone early and often on a UNLV defense that has some holes. Even though the Rebels should lose this one by at least 14 points, they still had a season to be proud of.

Kansas 45, UNLV 28