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MC&J: College football bowl season starts to ramp up over the next few days

While we aren’t to the New Years Six and CFP picks yet, there are some interesting games on tap.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arizona at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bowls ATS: 8-10-1 (8-8-1 National, 0-2 B1G - Kansas -12.5 pending)

Season ATS: 121-111-2 (62-68-2 National, 59-43 B1G)

The last set of bowl games was a really rough go. It was pretty demoralizing to lose the last five games on Saturday, which put a dent into this year’s bowl record. Hopefully I’m saving my best picks for the close of the year.

If you’re looking for my Ohio State pick, that will be out in my next picks article, which will cover the rest of this year’s bowl games.

Military Bowl: Virginia Tech (-10.5) v. Tulane

Wednesday 12/27 2:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

Is anyone even left to play in this game for Tulane? Green Wave head coach Willie Fritz is off to Houston, while quarterback Michael Pratt and a number of other players on both sides of the football are in the transfer portal. I know the players left for this game will be playing hard for interim head coach Slade Nagel, I’m just not sure it will be enough.

Even though they finished with a 6-6 record this season, one thing that stood out about the Hokies late in the year is quarterback Kyron Drones started to play with more confidence over the last few games, throwing for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in each of the team’s final three contests. It would be very Virginia Tech for the defense to dial up the pressure against Tulane’s inexperienced quarterback.

At first laying double-digit points against a team that beat USC in the Cotton Bowl last year might seem crazy, but this obviously isn’t anywhere close to the same team that beat the Trojans. Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry will be looking to turn around a program that has struggled recently, and winning their first bowl game since 2016 would be a good start.

Virginia Tech 34, Tulane 20

Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina v. West Virginia (-6.5)

Wednesday 12/27 5:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

Mack Brown certainly has a predictable formula in Chapel Hill. Build some buzz with a hotshot quarterback, drop a few easily winnable games during the season, and then lose their bowl game. North Carolina had some hype with Drake Maye before losing to Virginia in October, kicking off a stretch that saw the Tar Heels lose four of their last six games. Maye has already declared for the NFL Draft, leaving backup Connor Harrell to start this game.

While North Carolina struggled down the stretch, West Virginia found their rhythm a bit, winning four of their last five games. The Mountaineers will look to wear out the Tar Heels on the ground. West Virginia had two running backs and quarterback Garrett Greene rush for at least 700 yards this year. Their defense has also been solid and shouldn’t have too much trouble against a depleted North Carolina offense.

Despite the thought of North Carolina head coach Mack Brown having a tub of mayo dumped on him, I think West Virginia wins this game. The Tar Heels will be missing a lot of starters, which will allow the Mountaineers to win this one by at least a touchdown.

West Virginia 31, North Carolina 21

Holiday Bowl: No. 15 Louisville (-7) v. USC

Wednesday 12/27 8:00 p.m. ET - FOX

I’m not sure if any team will be hit harder by losses to the NFL Draft and transfer portal in their bowl game than USC. The Trojans will be without quarterback Caleb Williams, leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd, receiver Brendan Rice, and a number of other key players. It’s not like USC will even get to go anywhere special for their bowl game, as they’ll just be making the short trip to San Diego. It’s not all bad news, at least Lincoln Riley finally got rid of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during the season!

Louisville has to be kicking themselves for their failings late in the season. The loss to Kentucky didn’t mean much aside from not earning bragging rights over their in-state rival, but the loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game kept them out of a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Cardinals will be without a couple key players in running back Jawhar Jordan and receiver Jamari Thrash for this contest.

Not everything can be chalk. I feel like USC will get a strong effort from those who suit up for this game since they’ll be wanting to prove their worth to Riley for the future. Louisville could play a little soft after all the bowl festivities in a warmer locale. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Trojans win this one.

USC 35, Louisville 30

Texas Bowl: Texas A&M v. No. 20 Oklahoma State (-1.5)

Wednesday 12/27 9:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

Earlier this week I saw Texas A&M as a favorite for this game and I had no idea why. The Aggies fired Jimbo Fisher, leaving Elijah Robinson as the interim head coach for this game, but Robinson has already taken a job as defensive coordinator on Fran Brown’s staff at Syracuse, so how focused will he be. If that wasn’t enough, it feels like almost everyone on the Texas A&M roster is in the transfer portal.

Oklahoma v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Oklahoma State should be plenty focused for this one. The Cowboys are coming off a thumping at the hands of Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, but it sounds like running back Ollie Gordon will be playing in this game, as will quarterback Alan Bowman. Also, I’m sure head coach Mike Gundy would love to beat a former conference foe. Oklahoma State beats an undermanned Texas A&M squad.

Oklahoma State 33, Texas A&M 24

Fenway Bowl: No. 24 SMU (-10.5) v. Boston College

Thursday 12/28 11:00 a.m. ET - ESPN

This is a matchup of soon-to-be conference foes since SMU will be joining the ACC after this year. Rhett Lashlee will want to put the rest of the conference on notice with a strong performance. The Mustangs did lose quarterback Preston Stone late in the regular season to injury, but Kevin Jennings stepped in to help lead SMU to a win over Tulane in the AAC Championship Game.

Even though this will essentially be a home game for Boston College, that’s all they have going for them in this contest. The Eagles turn the football over too much and aren’t dynamic enough to keep up with the Mustangs here. Boston College plays a lot like the Red Sox did at Fenway this year, which isn’t a good thing.

SMU 38, Boston College 17

Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers v. Miami (FL) (-1.5)

Thursday 12/28 2:15 p.m. ET - ESPN

Everything about Miami was disappointing this year. Heading into the season there was a thought the Hurricanes could contend in the ACC and be a sleeper candidate for the College Football Playoff. Things started well for Mario Cristobal’s team, as they won their first four games of the season.

Then Miami lost to Georgia Tech and the wheels fell off. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has already announced he is transferring to Wisconsin, and backup Emory Williams is injured, leaving third-string quarterback Jacurri Brown to start in this game.

An inexperienced quarterback starting for Miami is music to Greg Schiano’s ears. Rutgers thrives on turnovers and they should be able to force a few in this game. The Scarlet Knights aren’t sexy on offense, but they play solid football. Add in the fact that the Hurricanes have lost 10 of 11 games and everything is pointing towards Rutgers winning this game.

Rutgers 24, Miami (FL) 20

Pop-Tarts Bowl: No. 18 NC State v. No. 25 Kansas State (-2.5)

Thursday 12/28 5:45 p.m. ET - ESPN

We have to give some credit to NC State. The Wolfpack could have easily packed things in after a loss to Duke in mid-October dropped their record to 4-3 on the season. Instead, NC State won their final five games of the regular season, putting them just a win away from their first 10-win season since 2002. Even if the Wolfpack don’t win this game, Dave Doeren will still have registered nine-win seasons five times since taking over in Raleigh back in 2013.

Kansas State is definitely depleted heading into Thursday’s game. Quarterback Will Howard and running back Treshaun Ward are in the transfer portal. Wide receiver Phillip Brooks and tight end Ben Sinnott are off to the NFL. Offensive coordinator Collin Klein has already joined Mike Elko’s staff at Texas A&M. Who is left to play besides running back D.J. Giddens?

NC State v Virginia Tech Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

If both teams were at full strength I’d probably be taking Kansas State. That definitely isn’t the case. It’s hard to ignore how NC State and quarterback Brennan Armstrong have finished the season. Give me the Wolfpack as a slight underdog.

NC State 27, Kansas State 21

Alamo Bowl: No. 14 Arizona (-2.5) v. No. 12 Oklahoma

Thursday 12/28 9:15 p.m. ET - ESPN

If I told you heading into the season Arizona would be ranked in the top-15 heading into their bowl game, you would have thought I was nuts. You would have had me committed to the loony bin if I said the same in early October after an overtime loss to USC dropped their record to 3-3. Quarterback Noah Fifita has been incredible starting for Jayden de Laura, who was injured early in the season. Fifita capped off the regular season by throwing for 527 yards against Arizona State.

While most teams that enter their bowl game with a ton of losses to the portal might just be wanting the season to end, that doesn’t seem to be the case at Oklahoma. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel is off to Oregon, which allows the Sooners to get a look at Jackson Arnold. Along with the departure of Gabriel, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby has been named the head coach at Mississippi State.

The Alamo Bowl start could be huge for Arnold and Oklahoma if he has a big game. Since the Sooners are heading to the SEC next season, Arnold is going to need as many reps as he can get. I do think Arizona wins this game, though since Fifita and the Arizona offense will be a little too much for an inconsistent Oklahoma defense. The Wildcats finish the season with 10 wins.

Arizona 38, Oklahoma 31

Gator Bowl: No. 22 Clemson (-5.5) v. Kentucky

Friday 12/29 12:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

One thing about Kentucky is Mark Stoops has done a great job at proving people wrong when they doubt his team. Stoops has turned the Wildcats into a respectable program in one of the toughest conferences in the country. Kentucky does it all with grit, especially from running back Ray Davis, who is headed to the NFL but will play in this game.

Maybe Dabo Swinney wasn’t wrong when he said people should be buying stock in Clemson. The Tigers closed out the year with four-straight wins. Obviously it was a disappointing season for Clemson, but at least they showed some fight at the end of the year. What stands out about the Tigers is their rushing attack with running backs Phil Mafah and Will Shipley.

At least Clemson should know how to try and defend Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary after seeing him when he was at NC State. I know Kentucky can be a tough task, I just think Clemson is a little more well-rounded. The Tigers out-grit the Wildcats on Friday afternoon.

Clemson 28, Kentucky 17

Sun Bowl: No. 19 Oregon State v. No. 16 Notre Dame (-6.5)

Friday 12/29 2:00 p.m. ET - CBS

This will be the third time Oregon State and Notre Dame have met in a bowl game, with Oregon State winning the first two meetings. I remember in the Beavers demolished Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl with guys like Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh with former head coach Jonathan Smith at quarterback. Smith is off to Michigan State, and is bringing backup quarterback Aidan Chiles with him. Starter D.J. Uiagalelei is in the transfer portal, leaving third-string Ben Gulbranson to start this game.

Notre Dame has their own quarterback issues since AARP member Sam Hartman is headed to the NFL. Or maybe he is just ready for early bird dinners. Along with Hartman, running back Audric Estime, linebacker Marist Liafu, and cornerback Cam Hart won’t play in Friday’s contest. The Fighting Irish still have head coach Marcus Freeman, who has the ability to rally a short-handed team.

I feel like Oregon State is a little safer pick in this game, especially since Gulbranson has at least had a little taste of starting for the Beavers. Seeing the Beavers stay perfect against the Fighting Irish would be fun. Oregon State deserves some good vibes after all the conference issues they’ve had to deal with over the last year.

Oregon State 23, Notre Dame 20

Liberty Bowl: Memphis v. Iowa State (-9.5)

Friday 12/29 3:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

This is actually a rematch of the 2017 Liberty Bowl, which saw the Cyclones beat the Tigers 21-20. After a gambling scandal rocked Iowa State, the Cyclones started to find their way as the season went on, pushing Kansas and Texas to the limit before closing out the regular season with a win over Kansas State. Quarterback Rocco Becht was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Iowa State at Kansas State Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Memphis is pretty much all gas, no brakes. The Tigers have a ton of offense and very little defense. That might not be a good thing in this game, since Iowa State is so good defensively. The Cyclones have the tools to stuff running back Blake Watson, who scored 14 touchdowns on the ground this year. Quarterback Sam Henigan is good, but I could see him making some mistakes that result in turnovers.

Despite Memphis playing on their home field, it’s not like Iowa State has never beat the Tigers in the Liberty Bowl before. All the extra practices are really going to benefit Becht and running back Abu Sama III. Iowa State has a little more scoring punch in this game than we saw this season.

Iowa State 37, Memphis 24