December 27, 2013

College Bowl Game Previews, Round 2

By - Keith Smith

Last week, I picked the first eight bowl games in this column, and went a disappointing 4-4. So be forewarned, if you're using these picks to help you select who to bet on, you may have a serious gambling problem.

That said, with 22 bowl games between now and next Friday's post, we've decided to break this up a bit. Today, we will be covering every bowl game from now till Monday, and Monday's column will cover the New Year's Eve through January 2nd games. Finally, next Friday, we will finish off the remaining five bowls, including the BCS National Championship.

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So let's get started.

Military Bowl - Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5), Fri. 12/27, 2:30pm EST

Marshall comes in winning seven of its final eight before getting blown out in the C-USA Championship game by Rice. The Thundering Herd has the ability to light up the scoreboard, averaging 43 points per game (7th in the FBS). The high-octane offense is led by quarterback Rakeem Cato, who threw for 3,579 yards and 36 TDs. His targets include WRs Tommy Shuler (97 catches, 1,097 yards) and big-play expert Gator Hoskins (averaging 16.3 yards per catch, 13 TDs), with the running game anchored by Essray Taliaferro, who rushed for over 1,000 yards this year.

Maryland started off 4-0 before dropping five of its final eight. The Terrapins play in a much better conference than Marshall, and had a couple of good wins over West Virginia and Virginia Tech, but those wins and the better competition won't be enough to slow the Thundering Herd. Expect Marshall to win this one going away, 38-17.

Texas Bowl - Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4), Fri. 12/27, 6pm EST

Syracuse was barely bowl eligible, having to pull off an upset of Boston College the final week to get in. The 'Cuse doesn't pass the ball well at all, ranking 103rd in FBS. They also don't score that many points, averaging less than 23 per contest.

Neither of those will be enough to keep up with Minnesota's strong running game. The Golden Gophers had wins this year over Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State, and ranked 33rd in the country in rushing at 200 yards per game. Unfortunately, they have no passing attack to go with it, ranking just 116th, averaging 141.8 yards per game.

Still, Minnesota will control the ball and the line of scrimmage and win a low scoring affair, 17-14.

Fight Hunger Bowl - BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4), Fri. 12/27, 9:30pm EST

This is not your father's BYU team. Back in the 80s and 90s, the Cougars were known for their high-powered air attack and scoring proficiency. This season, they've ridden their rushing game (10th in FBS with almost 275 ypg) to a respectable 8-4 record. The passing game ranks just 75th nationally, and overall, 53rd in scoring.

Also, unlike those teams of the past, they are ranked 22nd in total scoring defense. Good run game and strong defense? Did BYU join the SEC while no one was looking?

The Cougars will need that type of performance against Washington, though. The Huskies come in with a well-balanced offensive attack, averaging roughly 271 yards passing and 243 yards rushing per game. They are also averaging 38.5 points per, so the Cougars will have to find a way to slow them down to have any shot at a win.

I don't think it'll happen. Washington takes this one, 31-28.

Pinstripe Bowl - Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4), Sat. 12/28, 12pm EST

Calling Notre Dame's 8-4 season a disappointment coming off an appearance in last year's BCS title game would be an understatement. The downfall started with the suspension of last season's starting quarterback Everett Golson for academic issues, and ends with the Fighting Irish playing in the Pinstripe Bowl.

The Irish abandoned the rush most of this year in favor of Tommy Rees' arm, but that didn't work out very well for them.

Even so, it will be enough to beat an average Rutgers squad. The Scarlet Knights are a pass-heavy team, too, so this game will see a lot of balls in the air, and with the lack of quality passers on both sides, it might last five or six hours.

In the end, the Irish come out on top, 28-17.

Belk Bowl - Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6), Sat. 12/28, 3:20pm EST

Cincinnati was riding a six-game winning streak before dropping the final game of the season in overtime to No. 19 Louisville. The Bearcats are 15th in the country in passing with nearly 314 ypg, while ranking 12th in scoring defense. The 'Cats are led by senior QB Brendon Kay, who has passed for 3,121 yards and 22 TDs this year. He has also thrown 11 picks, so they are vulnerable to the turnover.

Carolina comes in hot, winning five of its last six, and that loss was by only two points to No. 24 Duke in the final game of the season. The Tar Heels fling it around pretty good, too, averaging just over 286 ypg passing, so this could be another one of those long, pass-riddled affairs.

I think Cincy will be too much for the Heels in this one, taking it 45-42.

Russell Athletic Bowl - Miami (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1), Sat. 12/28, 6:45pm EST

Halfway through the year, this would've easily been a Top 10 matchup. Then Miami ran into Florida State and commenced to drop three in a row. Louisville, playing in an inferior conference, only dropped one game, but now sits at 18th in the BCS.

Cut to late December and this is not even seen as a premier bowl matchup. That's the fickle world of college football. Louisville's lone loss was a three-point defeat to nationally ranked UCF, so it's not like they slipped up against a bad opponent. But since that loss, their offense has gone pretty cold, with star quarterback and sure-to-be future first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater not looking like he did early on.

Bridgewater (268-382, 3,523 yards, 28 TDs) faltered in his final four contests, only tossing 5 touchdowns and not recording a single 300-yard passing game. He still finished as the 5th-highest rated passer in the country, only throwing 5 interceptions to go with all those other gaudy passing numbers.

The Hurricane defense struggled this season, and will do so again against Bridgewater and company. Louisville wins, 35-21.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5), Sat. 12/28, 10:15pm EST

Michigan started the year 5-0, including a win over then No. 14 Notre Dame, but a four-overtime loss to Penn State began a cataclysmic downfall for the Wolverines where they lost five of their last seven games. And it took a triple-overtime win over struggling Northwestern to get one of those two final wins during that difficult stretch. They'll be without starting quarterback Devin Gardner in this one, who is out with a foot injury.

Kansas State, on the other hand, started 2-4 before winning five of their last six. The only loss in those final six games was a 10-point defeat to Oklahoma, who is heading to the Sugar Bowl.

The Wildcats are a better rushing team than Michigan, and I expect Bill Snyder to exploit that. I think K-State takes this one in a close, low-scoring affair, 21-17.

Armed Forces Bowl - Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4), Mon. 12/30, 11:45am EST

Navy is playing in the Armed Forces Bowl. Do I really need to tell you who I'm picking here? However, for the sake of consistency, I should give you more than that.

Middle Tennessee finished with five straight wins, but in a horrible Conference USA, so...

Navy is No. 2 in the country in rushing with 322 ypg, and I think they will try to control the ball and wear the Blue Raiders down. I believe they'll accomplish their mission, winning 34-25.

Music City Bowl - Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5), Mon. 12/30, 3:15pm EST

Ole Miss has taken a roller coaster route in the SEC to this appearance in Nashville, winning three-straight and becoming a Top 25 ranked team, then dropping three in a row (albeit to Alabama, Auburn, and Texas A&M), before shocking then No. 6 LSU and running off four more straight wins. They then dropped back-to-back games to No. 8 Missouri and Mississippi State. All of their losses (minus MSU) were to quality teams (all in the top 25 now).

Tech has the 5th-best rushing offense in the country in that quirky triple-option attack, which can be a handful with only a week to prepare for. But with it leading into a bowl, I expect Rebel coach Hugh Freeze to figure out a way to counter it and guide Ole Miss to an easy win, 38-21.

Alamo Bowl - Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4), Mon. 12/30, 6:45pm EST

A couple of Oregon players were quoted after their first loss as saying they didn't want to play in the Rose Bowl because they had been there, done that. Well congratulations, you aren't even in a New Year's Day bowl game. The Ducks have been a disappointment this season (well, as disappointing as a 10-2 record can be), with many people expecting them to finally be the team to dethrone the SEC's BCS winning streak.

Perhaps a bigger disappointment has been Texas, another team with high expectations early who completely under-performed. The Longhorns dropped two of their first three before reeling off six in a row, only to drop two of their final three. The midseason win streak wasn't enough for coach Mac Brown to keep his job. The only question is, will the Texas players rally behind Brown in his last game, or have they already moved on to next season?

I'm betting on the latter, with the Ducks running them off the field in this one, 49-28.

Holiday Bowl - Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), Mon. 12/30, 10:15pm EST

The Sun Devils have had a surprisingly good season in the Pac-12, going 10-3 with wins over Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Utah and UCLA along the way. Two of the three losses were to Stanford, in the regular season matchup at Stanford, then in the Pac-12 Championship. Their only other setback was a 3-point home loss to Notre Dame.

ASU, normally priding itself on defense, has become an offensive threat, ranking 10th in the nation in scoring, averaging 41 points per game.

That will present problems for a defenseless Red Raider team, who ranks 90th in scoring defense. Tech brings in its normal pass-heavy offense (which ranks 2nd in the FBS) to try and offset ASU's high-powered scoring.

It won't be enough. This will be a shootout, but I expect the Sun Devils to prevail, 49-45.


  1. Interested in seeing how the Alamo Bowl goes. Hoping the Longhorns play their butts off for Mac in his last game. Wouldn't be surprised to see the Ducks struggle either. They're famous for doing just that in big games.

  2. Im thinking the Miami-Louisville game will be the best of this bunch.

  3. I don't care about any of the bowl games prior to January. They're pointless as far as I'm concerned.