Simply put, this is what we do best. As evidenced by our "Most Accurate BCS Predictions" title (2012 and 2013), we take pride in our season previews and weekly game picks. As we have done each week since we launched the site, the two of us will analyze, preview, and predict the results of the best SIX games each week. However, bowl season is a unique, special time. And we are previewing every Power 5 game! Without further adieu:
NORTH CAROLINA VS RUTGERS - Mike Nowoswiat
The Tar Heels are coming off an embarrassing loss against rival NC State—and really an embarrassing season after many, including us, picked the Tar Heels to win the Coastal division. The offense was at times dominant. However, the defense ranked among the worst in the FBS, giving up 6.4 yards per play. It’s tough to get teams off the field when they average a first down in less than two plays. QB Marquise Williams will need to get off to a hot start like he did against Duke where he effortlessly threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Rutgers was a fairly boring team to watch this year. They won the games they should have and lost the games they should have. Unfortunately, in those losing efforts, it was ugly at times. However, it was a relatively young defense and these bowl practices should do wonders. Offensively, Gary Nova saved his best play for his senior year, which resulted in the best Rutgers offense in recent memory. Nova passed for over 2,600 yards and 20 TDs capped off by a huge 347 yard day with 4 TDs and 0 INTs in a shootout against Maryland. Look for Rutgers to continue to win these “toss-up” games as Nova has a huge day against a weak UNC defense. Rutgers 38 North Carolina 37
NC STATE VS UCF - Mike Nowoswiat
Could the win over UNC be the tipping point for Dave Doeren at NC State? He has shown flashes of great play, but has been marred by inconsistency in his first two seasons. As he continues to build the program, he will need to find a replacement for Jacoby Brissett next offseason, who has been very good under center after transferring from Florida. A win against UCF could be a huge momentum builder heading into the offseason after crushing a solid Tar Heel team and bringing back their top signal-caller. Doeren has also been doing well on the recruiting trail, winning a few battles against the blue bloods of college football. It all sounds so good to Wolfpack fans. IF they can just win this game maybe we could see somewhat of a snowball effect heading into Doeren’s third season—the measuring stick when it comes to evaluating new coaches. But UCF will not bow down to anybody. The Golden Knights are a well-balanced team that has beaten some ACC-caliber teams. Early in the season, UCF struggled to compensate for some personnel losses, but has had an impressive showing down the stretch. Still, I’ll take Jacoby Brissett and the Pack in this one. NC State 33 UCF 24
PENN STATE VS BOSTON COLLEGE - Jim Nowoswiat
This year marks the first time Syracuse or Rutgers is not in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl; instead, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Boston College Eagles were chosen to compete in Yankee Stadium for the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy. Both teams will have the luxury of playing close to home, as it is a mere 3 ½ hour drive from both campuses. The close proximity of the game along with the allure of Yankee Stadium should make for a packed house in the Bronx, thus creating a special environment for the tradition-filled programs.
Boston College is led by Florida-transfer Tyler Murphy who has amassed an impressive 1,079 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on top of his 1,526 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. While he has been prone to throwing interceptions (11), he is a true dual-threat quarterback with the tools to challenge Penn State. While Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg is certainly a more naturally-talented passer than Murphy, he has been a bit of a disappointment for the Nittany Lions. He has thrown for 2,606 yards and 8 touchdowns, which is a step back from last year’s 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. While an exceptional performance from Murphy or Hackenberg will certainly provide some entertainment, both teams simply need solid, efficient games from their quarterbacks so they can let their defenses win the game.
No team in the nation is better than Penn State at stopping the run, but Boston College comes close. Penn State is 1st in run defense and 2nd in total defense, while Boston College is 4th in run defense and 12th total. Indeed, it is going to be a battle of immaculate defenses, resulting in a low-scoring affair. Linebacker Mike Hull has kept up the tradition of Linebacker U at Penn State, with 134 tackles on the season. Boston College will rely on LB Josh Keyes and DB Justin Simmons to lead a well-rounded defense that is one of the most balanced units in the country.
This game will not be the Pinstripe Bowl of 2010--a 36-34 Syracuse win over Kansas State. Instead, expect a close, low-scoring game that is highlighted by two excellent defenses. James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are going to come in hot for their first bowl game in 2 years, but I believe Steve Addazio will have B.C. well-prepared for Penn State and will gain some momentum heading into 2015. Boston College 13 Penn State 10
FLORIDA VS EAST CAROLINA - Ryan Tourial
D.J. Durkin begins his one-game tenure as the Florida head coach for the Birmingham Bowl on January 3. Jim McElwain will begin his own campaign as the boss in Gainesville in 2015. Florida’s strange season culminated in the firing of Will Muschamp and the hiring of the former Colorado State head coach soon after that. In this last game of the 2014 season, Florida’s game plan needs to be simple: feed the ball to Matt Jones in his last game as a Gator. Jones and fellow running back, Kelvin Taylor have been the go-to guys this season, and have performed more than admirably. Besides those two, there has been little-to-no consistency from the Gator offense. However, Quarterback play must improve to beat the Pirates. Jones and Taylor won’t be able to do everything against the strong ECU rush defense which is allowing only 97 rush yards a game. Treon Harris will need to step up his game, protect the football, and then let the Gator defense do the rest. Dante Fowler has solidified himself as an early first rounder on every Mock Draft Big Board, and Vernon Hargreaves had no slump in his sophomore year. Both will have their hands full with ECU quarterback Shane Carden, who has lit up most of the defenses he has faced. The Houston native has accounted for 34 touchdowns and has passed for 4000 yards. However, Carden hasn’t faced anything like this Florida defense which is packed with 1st round talent and is looking to notch one more win before McElwain takes the wheel in 2015. Florida 28 East Carolina 20
MIAMI VS SOUTH CAROLINA - Ryan Tourial
South Carolina came into the 2014 season as the odds on favorite to win the East and compete for one of the playoff spots. At the end of the season, the Gamecock faithful and the rest of the SEC are still scratching their heads over what happened to this team. Minus the turnovers, Dylan Thompson was a capable quarterback, while Pharaoh Cooper turned into a first team All-Conference performer. A.J. Cann continued to be an outstanding lineman and Mike Davis turned on the jets after a tough start to his season. The offense had its head scratching moments, but definitely not as many as the defense. This once mighty defense, headlined by Jadeveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram took a huge step back this season. It started with the A&M game at the beginning of the season with Kenny Hill throwing for over 500 yards. The Gamecocks finished 91st in total defense this year and have another big test in Brad Kaaya. The Hurricanes quarterback garnered Freshman All-America honors and Duke Johnson continued to standout as the Canes back and as one of the best backs in the country. Coming into the bowl season, both of these teams have plenty of questions and similar numbers on offense and defense, but Miami has the standouts on offense. The winner of this game might be the one that makes the fewer mistakes. If the Gamecocks can pressure Kaaya and make him make freshman mistakes then USC can come out with a win… if it were only that simple though. Steve Spurrier, The Ole’ Ball Coach, knew by mid-season that he was the “Head Coach of this embarrassing group of guys.” If Duke Johnson gets going, and the USC defensive front doesn’t get any pressure on him or Kaaya, it could turn into a very long day. Miami 35 South Carolina 28
PITTSBURGH VS HOUSTON - Mike Nowoswiat
The Panthers are undergoing a huge leadership change after Paul Chryst decided to bolt for Wisconsin and Athletic Director Steve Pederson was fired last week after proving he can’t retain a coach to save his life. However, Pitt fans may not be too upset about losing Chryst, who hasn’t shown anything other than mediocre play. The program was a bit unusual during Chryst’s tenure. He didn’t have a roster full of average players, but rather a large disparity in talent level across the two-deep. He had players like Aaron Donald, Tyler Boyd, James Conner, and TJ Clemmings who were absolute stars. If you have an average roster, guys like these should put you over the edge. Clearly he had some below-average players on his roster and it showed on tape. I question his ability to really build a strong program if he needs to rely on a few stars to get his wins. While the program is in disarray, I like the Panthers in this one. Houston’s only impressive win this season was against Memphis while they beat up on some weaker teams. The Kevin Sumlin days are certainly over as this Cougar offensive attack won’t inspire the same amount of fear in opponents as it used to. Pittsburgh 34 Houston 24
VIRGINIA TECH VS CINCINNATI - Mike Nowoswiat
The Hokies had a few things to smile about this season. Of course, beating CFB Playoff invitee Ohio State was one of them as VT trounced the Buckeyes and left no doubt as to who was the better team that night. It’s a tough concept for Hokies fans as this team had a lot of potential if Michael Brewer played every game like he did that one. Since then, it was an uphill battle for Frank Beamer’s squad in ACC play. A strong defense couldn’t compensate for a weak, turnover prone offense. Aside from a 6-3 loss in overtime to Wake Forest, the Hokies actually ended the year with some momentum. The Hokies dominated Duke’s high-powered offensive attack and defeated their in-state rival Virginia 24-20. And finally, Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster was offered a contract extension after flirting with Texas A&M. While this program has the same feel as Florida State and Penn State under their old legendary coaches, it isn’t completely dead yet. And this game against Cincinnati will be a big test to see if progress has actually been made in the latter part of the season. The Bearcats have been firing on all cylinders offensively so we will see somewhat of a strength on strength type game. The Hokies defense is the best unit in this game led by its secondary and it should carry them in this one. Virginia Tech 23 Cincinnati 20
ARKANSAS VS TEXAS - Zach Kinder
The Texas Bowl selection committee did Texas no favors with this matchup. Arkansas excels where Texas it at its weakest. Arkansas ranks No. 26 in rushing offense at more than 220 yards per game. Earlier this year, the Razorbacks went head-to-head with Big 12 foe Texas Tech and ran for more than 430 yards and attempted only 12 passes. Texas has a tough secondary and was one of the conference’s best overall defenses, but it ranks only No. 64 in run defense. However, against another one-dimensional foe similar to Arkansas, Texas held Oklahoma to 103 yards rushing on 30 attempts. Oklahoma was able to capitalize on mistakes and special teams to pull out the win. The x-factor for the bowl game will be the Razorback defense. Despite its record, Arkansas was able to compete with the SEC’s best. The Hogs lost to Bama by a single point despite leading most of the game. Alabama, Mississippi St and Missouri won by a combined 15 points. A&M needed overtime to win and the Hogs hung 32 on Georgia. The Longhorn offense has been less than spectacular all season, struggling to score against most of the Big 12. I expect a low scoring affair, with the Texas defense keying on the ground game and the Razorbacks returning in kind. Arkansas looks to be the better team. TCU beat the Longhorns by nearly 40 in Austin. Alabama was lucky to escape Arkansas. If bowl season has taught me anything over the years, though, it’s to expect the unexpected. Still…Arkansas 24 Texas 16
AUBURN VS WISCONSIN - Mike Nowoswiat
The Tigers have faltered down the stretch but still remain a difficult opponent for anyone, much less a team undergoing a massive transition at head coach. The offense can still play at a National Championship caliber level as displayed in the Iron Bowl when Nick Marshall threw dime after dime on his way to 456 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the defense was even worse as Amari Cooper and Blake Sims one-upped the Tiger offense in an epic shootout. Wisconsin couldn’t even muster a moral victory in its last game. The Badgers were trounced. Surely, you’d expect Wisconsin to show up a little more focused than they would for just any bowl game. Their egos are bruised, their coach walked out on them. The Badgers will bring the fight. Unfortunately, I think they are too one-dimensional on offense and Auburn’s offense is too explosive with both Sammie Coates and Duke Williams at receiver. While the Badgers will be riled up, the Tigers will be better prepared. Auburn 37 Wisconsin 24
MINNESOTA VS MISSOURI - Stephen M. Smith
Minnesota has proven to be a competitive program in the last two years. The Golden Golphers notched its first winning season under Kill in 2013. It finished 8-4, earning a berth in the Texas Bowl. Minnesota displayed much focus this season, defeating both Nebraska and Iowa. Coach Kill and the Golphers look for its first bowl victory in four seasons. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner has had a rough season. He’s struggled with accuracy and placement on his passes. Leidner’s recorded 1,540 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, netting a 49 percent completion rating. His mobility makes up for his lack of arm strength. Leidner has 462 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Missouri has put together back-to-back 10+ win seasons, after finishing 5-7 in its first year in the SEC. Head coach Gary Pinkel has accomplished two SEC East division titles, and is looking for his second bowl victory in the conference. Sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk has been spotty, but good. He’s tossed for 2,551 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Mauk’s turnovers have resulted from a lack of accuracy on short to intermediate passes. He is faster than what people give him credit for. Mauk has 335 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker Kentr Brothers anchors Missouri defensively. He has 117 tackles, four pass defended, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles and a sack. Defensive linemen Shane Ray and Markus Golden both have terrorized opposing offensive lines. Ray leads the team in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (14). Golden has 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Defensive back Braylon Webb leads the secondary with 69 stops, three passes defended, seven pass breakups and four interceptions. Missouri 30 Minnesota 21
IOWA VS TENNESSEE - Stephen M. Smith
Tennessee will enter postseason play for the first time since 2010, despite three wins in the Southeastern Conference. Bowl seasons starts today, but Tennessee will face Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl on Fri, Jan. 2, 2015 at Jacksonville, Fla.
Iowa finished as a midtier team under head coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes defeated two bowl bound programs (Maryland, Illinois), but were embarrassed by teams with better talent.
Junior quarterback Jake Rudock has had a productive season. He’s completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,404 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Rudock displays touch on the football, and guides Iowa’s receivers downfield with pinpoint passing. He isn’t known for his mobility, but Rudock does have three rushing touchdowns. Senior safety John Lowerdermilk sets the tone defensively. He has 95 tackles, three interceptions, six passes defended, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Defensive linemen Drew Ott and Louis Trinca-Pasat both are sack specialist. Ott has eight sacks and leads the team with 12 tackles for loss. Pasat has 6.5 sacks and is fourth on the team in tackles (65).
Tennessee fans are starting to believe that the hiring of Butch Jones was a good move. Jones has recruited well, and it’s paid off with a bowl appearance in his second season. 12 points separated the Volunteers from a 9-win season. Tennessee battled against Georgia, Florida and Missouri, but lost all three matchups in the fourth quarter. Tennessee lost its starting quarterback, Justin Worley (shoulder) in the middle of the season, but sophomore Joshua Dobbs has provided a spark. Dobbs has energized the fans inside Neyland Stadium, completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,077 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. His ability to extend plays has kept Tennessee in a lot of games. Dobbs has 393 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 4.3 yards per carry. Freshman Jalen Hurd is Tennessee’s featured running back. He’s accounted for 777 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Marlin Lane hasn’t played much this season, but he’s a solid change of pace back. Lane has 279 rushing yards and a touchdown. A.J. Johnson anchors Tennessee on defense. The senior leads the team with 101 tackles, two sacks, one interception, two pass breakups, three passes defended, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Defensive linemen Curt Maggit and Derek Barnett combined have 21 sacks. Barnett leads the team in tackles for loss (20). Defensive back Justin Coleman has 41 stops, five pass breakups, nine passes defended and four interceptions. Cameron Sutton and Todd Kelly, Jr. each have three interceptions. Tennessee 24 Iowa 17
TCU VS OLE MISS - MIKE NOWOSWIAT
This is a game where team psychology could play a huge factor. Does TCU want to play in this game after believing for so long that they would play for much more? Does TCU want to prove to the nation that they are a National Champion-caliber team? Does Ole Miss feel like its victory over Mississippi State was the pinnacle of this season? Regardless of team psychology, this game will be awesome to watch. TCU's explosive offense against Ole Miss's physical defense will be something to watch. The TCU rushing attack will need to get going behind BJ Catalon, Aaron Green, and a few quick outs to Deante' Gray because even behind a high-powered aerial attack, you do not want to be one-dimensional against this defense. Robert Nkemdiche is every bit of the five-star prospect he was touted as out of high school. Cody Prewitt is an All-American safety and the last level of defense that features stars on every level. Although Denzel Nkemdiche is injured, Serderius Bryant is a dynamic linebacker. While TCU is best known for its faces on offense, its defense is very good too. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace has been asked to single-handily guide this offense after the injury to WR Laquon Treadwell. He has struggled at times, but without a legitimate running game, it was expected. However, the Ole Miss offense scares me and I can't pick Mississippi in this one. However, I do think its defense will keep this game low scoring. TCU 24 Ole Miss 18
NEBRASKA VS USC - Brett Ciancia
The Holiday Bowl pits the Big Ten vs. the Pac-12 and this one will certainly be filled with intrigue and storylines. Nebraska (9-3) has had a tumultuous end of the season, highlighted by the firing of consistently above average Bo Pelini. While his career record of 67-27 is commendable, his track record of blowout losses in the national spotlight and failure to deliver a conference title led to his demise. Two leaked audio tapes only hurt his perception worse; the first one followed the 2011 comeback victory over Ohio State, and Pelini denounces the fans, while the second tape came a week after his firing and included a profanity-laced tirade in which he blamed everyone but himself for his program’s plateau. So much for all those “character values” he preached for 7 seasons. NU hired Oregon State’s Mike Riley to lead the program next season, but Riley is not coaching Saturday. One must wonder where the Nebraska players’ heads are at, as this process effects every team’s bowl performance differently.
Meanwhile, the USC Trojans enter with a record of 8-4 in Steve Sarkisian’s 1st season. At times it seemed that USC could reach an even higher potential, but 3 losses before rivalry week proved otherwise. An inexplicable road loss at Boston College, a Hail Mary loss to Arizona State, and a goal-line collapse at Utah put a damper on the season heading into the City Title vs. UCLA. The Bruins stomped the Trojans, but USC was able to release its frustration on rival Notre Dame the following week in a 49-14 rout. Overlooked nationally by fellow Pac-12 star Marcus Mariota, USC QB Cody Kessler has been masterful in his Junior season, passing for 36 TDs and just 4 INT (70% completion). He has benefitted from a core of playmaking receivers, especially the explosive Nelson Agholor (1223 yards, 11 TDs). The ground game has been powerful as well, and the Trojan offense produced yet another 1000 yard back in Buck Allen. I expect Allen and the Trojan O-Line to pummel the Huskers front seven, a unit that may have potential, but comes out flat far too often. The Blackshirts have been pushed around by BigTen rivals Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota multiple times the past few seasons. Further, Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong is a liability in the pass game. It may sound contradicting, considering Boston College ran the ball all game in their upset win, but for Nebraska to compete, they cannot be too one-dimensional. Eventually the run game will break down and Armstrong will be forced to win the game through the air – a task I do not see happening.
USC 37 Nebraska 24
LSU VS NOTRE DAME - Zach Sepanik
The Fighting Irish have been lacking the proverbial fight that support the team’s nickname, especially the kind that advanced them to the 2012-2013 BCS National Championship game. They will look to find it against LSU to stop the bleeding that is a four-game losing streak. In order to do so, they will have to face the 8th-ranked defense in the country, as well as a trio of strong running backs that execute the 29th rushing offense in the nation for the Tigers.
The offense is centered around true freshman talent Leonard Fournette, who leads the Tigers in carries (176), rushing yards (891) and rushing touchdowns (8). Overall, there is a plethora of talent in the backfield. Terrence Magee (105 carries, 545 yards), Kenny Hilliard (87 carries, 431 yards), and Darrel Williams (61 carries, 280 yards) all have the ability to be the featured running back. The offensive line has been stout all season to help the running game reach the level it has.
To combat the Tigers ground game, the Notre Dame defense has been nothing special. They rank 70th in FBS in total defense, including the 64th-ranked rushing defense, which surrenders an average of 161.7 yards per game.
With freshman safety Drue Tranquill sidelined, his loss greatly hurts the secondary and gives LSU a chance to break long runs, especially if they get through the front seven. However, defensive lineman Sheldon Day and cornerback Cody Riggs, who both missed significant time toward the end of the regular season, will return for the Music City Bowl.
On the offensive side of things for Notre Dame, the quarterback competition is wide open. Everett Golson, the starter for much of the year, was pulled against USC, after committing his 22nd turnover of the season (14 interceptions, 8 fumbles lost), in favor of sophomore Malik Zaire. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has said that both quarterbacks will see action against LSU.
While Golson has been up and down all season, he has a great rapport with sophomore wide receiver William Fuller. The wideout has racked up over 1,000 yards receiving on the season and hauled in 14 touchdowns. Other phenomenal talent is on the outside, including Corey Robinson (sophomore), Chris Brown (junior) and C.J. Prosise (junior), all of which have 480 receiving yards or more in 2014.
Then out of the backfield, Tarean Folston is the go-to guy, with a team-high 816 rushing yards, also punching in five touchdowns.
But, LSU is not scared of what Notre Dame has on offense, especially in the pass attack as they boast the No. 4 passing defense in FBS. All-SEC second team safety Ronald Martin (2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles) and All-SEC freshman first-teamer Jamal Adams (5 break-ups, 5 passes defended) stand in the way of any aerial assault the Irish will attempt. Two other defensive backs, Tre’Davous White and Rickey Jefferson, also have at least two picks apiece. Sounds like a no fly zone waiting to happen with turnover-prone quarterbacks feeling the heat.
Golson must protect the ball. Zaire must stay level-headed in extended action. If this happens, Notre Dame has a chance in a game featuring polar opposite offensive styles and defensive units. Unfortunately, I don’t think the fight shows up and the luck is certainly still run out for the Irish.
LSU 34 Notre Dame 17
TEXAS A&M VS WEST VIRGINIA - Zach Sepanik
It will be the first-ever meeting between the Aggies and Mountaineers when they square off in Memphis on Dec. 29. Although unfamiliar opponents, the coaches know each other all too well. You could call it the “Reunion Bowl” as West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen served as the offensive coordinator at the University of Houston from 2008-2009 under current Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.
The biggest storyline has to be the announcement that hit the wire on Friday concerning the retirement from football by Mountaineers senior quarterback Clint Trickett. He was never cleared following his concussion against then-No. 12 Kansas State on Nov. 20 and is stepping away from the game for good.
So, sophomore Skyler Howard is who Holgorsen will roll with, a sort of dip into the future. In his first career start against Iowa State, Howard threw three touchdown passes. He is also more of a running threat than Trickett, as he carried the ball 12 times for 107 yards over three games this season.
For the Aggies, they also have a similar situation at the quarterback position. Sophomore gunslinger Kenny Hill was relieved of his starting role after the Alabama game. Then freshman Kyle Allen took the reigns and never looked back. Having lost five of seven games, Sumlin can afford to move forward with youth.
Defense has been especially weak for Texas A&M, surrendering the most yards per game in the SEC this season at 449. Over the final three games of the regular season (41-38 win at Auburn, 34-27 loss versus Missouri and 23-17 loss versus LSU), the Aggies allowed an average of 553.3 yards per game, including 360.7 rushing yards. The defensive performance, or lack thereof, moved Sumlin to fire defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
Linebackers coach Mark Hagan will replace Snyder on an interim basis as the Aggies look to win a school record fourth straight bowl game. But, they must deal with WVU’s Rushel Shell, who accumulated 766 yards and seven touchdowns this year. The way the defense has been playing, that is no easy task.
At the end of the day, offense is the name of this game. The Mountaineers have two standout wide receivers in Kevin White and Mario Alford. It really doesn’t matter who is tossing them the pigskin. They face the 101st ranked defense in FBS and should be able to score when they want.
Meanwhile, Allen has four players with 44 or more receptions on the season to throw to and has dynamic wideout Josh Reynolds (762 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns) as a big-play threat. Chip in a running game that features Trey Williams (474 yards, 6.8 per rush), Tra Carson (448 yards, 4.5 per rush), and Brandon Williams (374 yards, 4.3 per rush), and points can rack up in a hurry. The WVU defense, though, is a little more respectable than the Aggies, as it sits ranked 59th in FBS.
Memphis may be the city of blues, but when the Aggies and Mountaineers come to town, there should be some fireworks that change that landscape, at least for a day.
West Virginia 46, Texas A&M 40
GEORGIA TECH VS MISSISSIPPI STATE - Mike Nowoswiat
The Yellow Jackets have had a wild ride of a season that continued to gain momentum as the season went on. The Jackets nearly lost to Georgia Southern and Virginia Tech early in the season, but finished by out-classing Clemson and Georgia before losing a tight one to Florida State in the ACC Championship game. The Bulldogs had an opposite type of season as the Bulldogs saw a meteoric rise to become the nation's top team for weeks before stumbling against Alabama and Ole Miss late in the season. Not many saw this team rising like they did this season. It wasn't Cam Newton and Nick Fairley rapidly taking an average team to an elite team. This team is built by several stud players on both side of the ball, particularly in the trenches. Georgia Tech's rise came with the emergence of a top signal-caller, Justin Thomas. Thomas is a true option quarterback and a former Alabama State Champion in the 100 meter dash. Along with an improved WR corp, this option attack took a step forward not only in its ground game execution, but its aerial attack. DeAndre Smelter is another great GT receiver, but tore his ACL against Georgia and will be absent for this one. That loss will be huge as the Bulldogs are stacked in their front seven, but a little weaker on the back side. In the end, I believe Mississippi State--led by Bernardrick McKinney--will be able to contain this option attack and Dak Prescott, like many dual-threat QBs, will give cause fits for GT's defense. If Tech wants to win, Justin Thomas will need to outscore Prescott. I'm not betting on that. Mississippi State 37 Georgia Tech 27
KANSAS STATE VS UCLA - Zach Kinder
One of these teams exceeded expectations; the other didn’t live up to them. UCLA came into the season as the conference favorite and a team many predicted would reach the inaugural College Football Playoff. Some even had the Bruins taking home the title, and why not? With a plethora of talent returning and a Heisman-caliber quarterback under center, the Bruins looked poised to knock Oregon off its mantle. Instead, an early October home loss to Utah knocked them off course followed by a thumping from Oregon the next week. With a shot still in its grasp, UCLA dropped the ball yet again to Stanford. Kansas St, on the other hand, came into the season with relatively lighter expectations, but still found itself in the playoff discussion into early November. If not for a costly interception at the goal line against Auburn when an on-target pass bounced off star receiver Tyler Lockett’s chest, we could be having a different discussion at the moment. Instead, a 41-20 beat down in Ft. Worth all but removed the Wildcats from the playoff race. Except for an early road game at Iowa St, Kansas St won where it was suppose to and even some where it wasn’t (Norman against Oklahoma). Going into the Alamo Bowl, however, neither team has a distinct advantage. Kansas St might be the countries most methodical and efficient teams in college football while UCLA is loaded with talent at seemingly every position. UCLA has proven vulnerable to stout defenses. The two teams have one common opponent in Texas, which nearly knocked off the Bruins at home without its start quarterback. Hundley, however, is expected to play in the Alamo Bowl. He is capable of exploding for huge games both running and passing (134 yards rushing vs. Arizona, 396 yds passing vs. Memphis), but has been sacked on average 3 times per game. Kansas St’s biggest weakness is its lack of a clear-cut leading rusher. Three players have more than 400 yds rushing and have combined for two 100-yd rushing games (both by quarterback Jake Waters). I mentioned earlier that bowls have taught me to expect the unexpected. On paper, UCLA should win this game easily, but you can never count out The Wizard. Kansas State 31 UCLA 27
OKLAHOMA STATE VS WASHINGTON - Zach Kinder
Over its past two games, Oklahoma State looks like a team rejuvenated, having found its quarterback of the future. If the offensive line can keep freshman Mason Rudolph protected, he is uniquely skilled at taking advantage of the deep Cowboy receiving corps. The Cowboys have even found some semblance of a run game over the past two games. After starting the season 5-1, with its lone loss to then-No. 1 Florida State in a close game, the Cowboys lose five straight. In four of those games with Daxx Garman under center the Cowboys managed just three offensive touchdowns. In two games with Rudolph, the Cowboys are averaging more than 30 points per game (both road games against Big 12 elite teams). The Cowboys will be facing a team without a real identity, but with plenty of upside. The Huskies nearly dropped its first two games to Hawaii and Eastern Washington, but rebounded to challenge UCLA and Arizona. Defensively, the Huskies have looked dominant at points this season, including its past three outings, and at others have looked questionable (allowing 52 to FCS Eastern Wash). The quarterback controversy won’t start until Jan. 3 for the Cowboys, who will take advantage of Rudolph’s poise and accuracy, something it was missing with Garman. Washington has the advantage in the trenches against OSU’s underwhelming offensive line, and should be able to force Rudolph into a few mistakes. If Rudolph has time, though, OSU’s depth at receiver will cause issues for Washington. Oklahoma State 33 Washington 24
OKLAHOMA VS. CLEMSON - Zach Sepanik
This ACC-Big 12 matchup may not have a deep history, but it is rich. Clemson and Oklahoma last met in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2, 1989. It is the same stadium they will meet in for a second time, except for the $207 million, 10-month reconstruction project that was recently completed to fully modernize the stadium’s feel.
For the Sooners, that game marked the final contest Barry Switzer would wander the sidelines as head coach at OU. As for Clemson, Rodney Williams was the starting quarterback (currently the color commentator on the Clemson radio network). It was his final game and 32nd career victory, which is still tied for most in school history.
While there are some historic icons among both teams in the history of this series, some new names look to leave their mark on December 29.
The headline of this game has to be the Clemson defense, first in the nation in total defense, allowing just 259.6 yards per game, the school’s best figure since 1990. Throw in the fact that they are third in the country in pass defense, seventh in rush defense, and seventh in scoring defense, Clemson is the only school in the top 10 in all four major statistical areas. The Tigers are also first in several other categories, including fewest first downs allowed (168), fewest yards per play allowed (4.03), tackles for loss per game (10.2), and plays of 10 or more yards allowed (116).
While the defense is balanced, it all starts with defensive end Vic Beasley. The redshirt senior was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press on Tuesday. Beasley led the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5). He will leave Clemson as its all-time sacks leader and hopes to go out in style.
Another topic of great interest heading into the Russell Athletic Bowl is the quarterback position and for each squad, it is a tale of differing directions. Oklahoma saw starter Trevor Knight go down with a neck injury against Baylor and miss the rest of the regular season. Cody Thomas stepped in and played adequately in Knight’s absence. But last Saturday, Knight was cleared to play and the Sooners gunslinger will start against Clemson.
The emergence of freshman running back Samaje Perine should combine well with Knight to get back to a more fluid and balanced Sooners offensive attack. OU head coach Bob Stoops expects Perine to be healthy to play after his left leg injury suffered against Oklahoma State. The return of wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hamstring) is also vital to the effectiveness of this offense.
On the other side, the Tigers starter for most of the season, freshman Deshaun Thomas, had surgery to repair a torn ACL in early December. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has said Thomas has progressed well. Nonetheless, Cole Stoudt, the fifth-year senior, will get the nod as starter. The offense hasn’t been as prolific this season as in recent years, especially when they were led by Tajh Boyd, but they still averaged 30 points and 410 yards per game, just the eighth team in school history to reach those levels.
OU has the offensive line to protect Knight and be efficient in the running game. With the big boys on the defensive side of the ball for Clemson, however, it is going to be tough to muster a dominant performance. The Sooners have their own stars on defense, from cornerback Zack Sanchez, to linebackers Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander, that should wreak havoc on an average Clemson offense.
Swinney and Stoops will have their teams well prepared for a tough, grind-it-out battle. If you’re expecting fireworks, this isn’t the game to watch. But if you like hard-nosed football, check this one out.
Oklahoma 17, Clemson 16
MICHIGAN STATE VS. BAYLOR - Zach Sepanik
The Baylor offensive attack is stacked. The names alone—Bryce Petty, Shock Linwood, Corey Coleman, KD Cannon, Antwan Goodley—are well known. It is difficult to stop any one player because each is stout. Petty has accumulated over 3,300 passing yards, Linwood has rushed for over 1,200 yards, and don’t forget about Coleman, Cannon, and Goodley, as each have 50+ catches and 730+ receiving yards on the year.
BU head coach Art Briles has put an emphasis on creating something special, which has led to the Bears being the No. 1 offense in the country. Effective and explosive is how they play, to the tune of 48.8 points per game. Simply put, that is “videogame-esque.”
The Spartans, meanwhile, have a vastly improved offensive unit that often gets overlooked. Junior quarterback Connor Cook commands a well-oiled machine. He is efficient (only six interceptions on the year) and has playmakers to help him out. Senior running back Jeremy Langford had quite the regular season, rushing for 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns. If not for the depth at his position in the Big 10, Langford may have been considered the top back in the conference and across Division I for that matter. On the outside, senior wide receiver Tony Lippett catches just about anything thrown his way as he racked up 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The offenses are sure to light up the video board at AT&T Stadium on New Year’s Day as each squad features talent at all levels. The intrigue rests in the defenses, however.
Baylor boasts a top-10 ranked rushing defense, while Michigan State has a defense ranked 6th in the nation. They are both solid. But, MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi left the Spartans to become head coach at Pittsburgh last week. Yet, he will still coach the defense in this Cotton Bowl showdown.
In the wake of this shakeup, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio decided to get a jumpstart on next season and restructured his defensive staff. Secondary coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers/special teams coach Mike Tressel will be co-defensive coordinators, with Barnett also being named an assistant head coach.
Don’t think Narduzzi expects anything less than the “No Fly Zone” to show up in full force. That secondary is led by senior safety Kurtis Drummond. The defensive back led the Spartans with 65 total tackles, 11 passes broken up, 15 passes defended, and four interceptions. Other players that will make an impact include senior defensive end Marcus Rush, who had a team-high seven sacks, junior linebacker Ed Davis, and senior linebacker Taiwan Jones.
Just as the Michigan State offense is improved and overlooked, so too is the Baylor defense. It all revolves around senior linebacker Bryce Hager. He is relentless, almost like the Energizer Bunny is lodged in his back. Hager led the Bears with 101 tackles, including a whopping 70 solo. He can do it all though, evident of his 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, and one interception. As if Hager isn’t enough, it’s pretty hard to forget about defensive end Shawn Oakman. Not only does he have a strong skill set, but his 6-foot-9 frame draws plenty of attention.
Michigan State is tested. Their two losses came to Oregon and Ohio State, two teams that made the cut for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Baylor, on the other hand, has a chip on their shoulder, as Ohio State took the fourth spot in the playoff, a position the Bears thought was theirs. It will be a clash of titans on New Year’s Day and although the defenses have stepped up, watch for some outstanding offensive numbers.
Michigan State 37, Baylor 33
GEORGIA VS LOUISVILLE - Ryan Tourial
A lot of story lines immediately popped up when this bowl was announced. Former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham now serves as the Louisville Defensive Coordinator and can boast some pretty impressive stats. The Cardinals head coach, Bobby Petrino, was the Atlanta Falcons head coach for most of the 2007 season before splitting for the Arkansas job, leaving a bad taste for Falcons fans that also double as Dawg fans. On top of that, Georgia offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Mike Bobo is now one of the candidates for the Colorado State job. This news has split the Bulldog faithful into those that want him to stay vs those who want him to go. While both teams had plan to be playing in a New Year’s bowl, there is still a lot that both of these teams can salvage with a win in Charlotte. Hutson Mason proved to be a very polarizing quarterback for the Dawgs ranging from poor to above average. The Dawgs defense was the same way under Jeremy Pruitt in his first year as defensive coordinator. The Dawgs had some outstanding games, and flexed their muscles against Clemson, Missouri, Auburn, and Arkansas. But the defense disappeared for South Carolina, Tennessee (even though they won), Florida and Georgia Tech, leaving many fans unsure what to make of this team. The star to watch for the Cardinals is Gerod Holliman and his NCAA leading, 14 interceptions. Hutson Mason will have to make sure he knows where Holliman is on every snap. The Cardinals will need to key in on Nick Chubb who has turned into the next star running back that seems to ooze out of UGA. Both coaching staffs have plenty of talent that they need to game plan for, but at the end of the day the Dawgs have more talent than the Cards.’ It is unclear which Georgia team will show up, but if it is the same team that played against Clemson, Missouri, Arkansas and Auburn then the Dawgs will get the win. If not, then the Dawg faithful better prepare for another gut wrenching loss.
ALABAMA VS OHIO STATE - Brett Ciancia
Last season, Alabama and Ohio State entered Rivalry Week ranked #1 and #3 respectively, but both squandered away hopes of competing for the final BCS Championship. This time around, Alabama was able to avoid being on the wrong side of an Auburn miracle, and Ohio State was able to finish off their quest for a Big Ten Championship. Ohio State edged out Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU for the coveted #4 spot in the inaugural 4-team College Football Playoff. This debate has surged since opening weekend, but hit its peak on Conference Championship Saturday. Perhaps that name is a bit misleading given that the two teams looking from the outside in have no real conference title. Perhaps that lack of a title game kept the Big12 out of the Playoff. Regardless, Ohio State finished the season with a 59-0 destruction of #12 Wisconsin while shutting out a record-breaking running back. They are every bit deserving of their playoff bid.
Meanwhile down in Tuscaloosa, the Saban Machine keeps churning along. He produced yet another dominant defense, and enhanced the offense by the addition of Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has thrived in this position. Along the way, his offense produced a Heisman-finalist receiver in Amari Cooper, a stable of dynamic backs, and a poised quarterback in Blake Sims. Alabama is the type of team that simply doesn’t make many mistakes (except for missed field goals). They do not beat themselves, which is a feat that is ever so rare in college football.
In what may just be Urban Meyer’s best coaching job yet, Ohio State is starting its 3rd string quarterback. Cardale Jones has already thrived in his first test, the aforementioned Big Ten Championship blowout victory. And Wisconsin’s defense is certainly no slouch. But it remains to be seen how Jones will fare in pressure situations: 3rd & long in a tied game, needing a touchdown drive facing a deficit, etc. To Meyer’s credit, he is placing Jones into a favorable situation as he is surrounded by playmakers all over the field. RB Ezekiel Elliot (1402 rushing yards) and WR Devin Smith (11 receiving TD) have been solid all season, but were especially dominant against Wisconsin. Smith went up and made plays time after time, and will need his A game against a loaded Bama secondary. Ohio State’s 5th best scoring offense faces Alabama’s 4th best scoring defense, but the game may be defined on the other side of the ball. If All-American DE Joey Bosa can wreak havoc and slow the Bama rushing attack, the increased burden on Blake Sims can lead to some mistakes. That said, Sims is a much more proved product than his adversary Cardale Jones, and Alabama is the more complete team. Old foes Meyer and Saban give us another classic, but ultimately the Tide Rolls.
Alabama 31 Ohio State 27
FLORIDA STATE VS OREGON - Mike Nowoswiat
The Seminoles have won 29 straight and Jameis has never lost. Yet the Seminoles find themselves as the underdogs, and by a considerable margin. Marcus Mariota and the high-powered Oregon Ducks are the reason as they looked great all season and trounced Arizona in the Pac 12 Championship. Florida State was maybe the most consistent team all year, which showed up in the ACC Championship game. When Florida State played you knew two things: 1. FSU would win and 2. It would be a good game. What more could you ask for as a season ticket holder? Sure, it would be nice to watch a 60 point blowout, but as long as the Seminoles made the CFB Playoff, why does it really matter?
Florida State is led by its 2013 Heisman winner, Jameis Winston. Rashad Greene is one of the nation's best wide receivers, and Nick O'Leary is the nation's best tight end. In a game headlined by two Heisman winners, there may even be a future Heisman winner in freshman sensation Dalvin Cook. And to round out the imposing offense, the offensive line is one of the best in the country led by Cam Erving who put on a blocking clinic in the ACC Championship game. IF Jameis Winston can take care of the ball, this unit is really a sleeping giant.
Oregon, a well-known commodity on offense is capable of the same damage. We know that. However, the question will be if its defense can handle Winston and co. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's injury is a huge loss as the aforementioned Rashad Greene is so difficult to contain. However, an undersized and active defensive front will not wear out as the game wears on, usually around the time Dalvin Cook delivers his game-breaking runs. Mariota has taken his game to another level this year as he has become a better passer. He tried to stay in the pocket too often earlier in the season--and his offensive line woes didn't help--but he has since found a perfect balance between testing defenses with his feet and staying in the pocket.
In the end, I believe we will see another tight game. However, FSU will fail to make it 30 straight.
Oregon 33 Florida State 30
MORE WEEKLY CONTENT: