Welcome to the college football Bowl Season, the most wonderful time of the year!
If you followed our preview last year, and took the advice to Las Vegas, you would have been rewarded in 12 of the final 14 games. Hopefully this year we can bring even brighter holiday cheer!
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia
Now we get into the familiar faces, the household names of college football. Two Power-5 teams meet in the first game post-Christmas, and it promises to be a thriller.
The Pac-12’s Utah Utes have stumbled into the bowl season with a 6-6 record, and will be looking for their 3rd win in the last 9 games. After a red-hot 4-0 start, reality hit and the Utes looked more like the team we expected them to be, even in a wide-open Pac-12. They were unable to crack the top-50 in the nation’s scoring, or even the top-70 in rushing. Quarterback Tyler Huntley has a nice deep ball, but he also has 10 interceptions to go with only 15 scores. The bright spot for the offense has been Zack Moss who has his first career 1,000-yard season.
West Virginia, out of the tough Big 12, had hopes of vying for the conference title this season behind their transfer quarterback Will Grier. While he delivered, finishing with 3,500 yards and 34 scores, the Mountaineers as a whole did not. They finished the season 7-5, with 4 of those loses coming inside conference. Grier has a 1,000-yard back and a pair of solid receivers who each have over 980 yards, and he will need to share the wealth all over the field.
Grier missed the season finale due to a surgery on his hand, and although he is expected to be ready for this bowl game, the line may move in the coming days off the -7.5 Utah is giving. Yes, the 6-6 Utah Utes are giving points to this high-power offense, who even without Grier put up 31 points against Oklahoma in their finale. Utah can’t keep up offensively. West Virginia wins no matter if it’s Will Grier, back up Chris Chugunov or the reserve punter taking the snaps under center. It’s Mountaineers all day long, take them outright for a bigger pay day.
Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois
The Blue Devils boast a solid defense who played well all season long in a tough ACC schedule. Offensively, they are marginal, to put it kindly, averaging just 25 points per game. They ripped through the first month of the season, starting 4-0, but stumbled in the middle months. Wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest late in the season secured their spot in the bowl season. Look for running backs Birttain Brown and Shaun Wilson to have a heavy workload. This year they combined for 1,400 points and 11 scores.
Northern Illinois counters with one of the top 12 rushing defenses in football, and if you are looking for a single reason to watch this game, look no further than Sutton Smith, the MAC defensive player of the year. This 6’1” 225lb sophomore led the nation with 14 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss. He will be playing on Sundays soon, and this could be his spotlight moment
Duke is giving 4.5 points in this contest, and I expect a low scoring, grind out type of game. The Blue Devils will look to get the run game going early, and Sutton Smith will have an immediate impact on the game. Take Northern Illinois with the points. They might not win, but they will secure you a victory on the ticket.
Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA
Kansas State finished 4th in the Big-12 with a record of 7-5, and a resume that includes fellow-bowl teams Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas Tech as their victims. Of their 5 loses, 4 were inside the conference. They used a running back by committee approach, and had 6 different players carrying the ball over 40 times. Only 2 receivers had more than 25 catches and quarterback Jesse Ertz scored just 7 touchdowns on 100 passes.
If I told you back in September that UCLA would be playing in the Cactus Bowl, you would have laughed. They had a great comeback win against Texas A&M on national television, and then hung 56 points on Hawaii the next week. Then they went on the road and lost two straight to Memphis and Stanford, and the season continued see-sawing the rest of the way, with the Bruins finishing 6-6 and 4th in the Pac12-South. Quarterback Josh Rosen threw for 3.700-yards and 26 touchdowns, while his favorite targets Jordan Lashley and Darren Andrews combined for 1,900-yards and 18 scores. They had no problem scoring, however neither did their opponents. In their 6 loses, UCLA game up an average of 45 points per game.
UCLA is getting 3 points in this spread, and much of the outcome will be determined if Rosen plays. With the NFL draft looming, he could be the first name player to sit out the bowl season. Regardless, I think the Bruins are in dismay after a disappointing season. Head coach Jim Mora was fired, and Chip Kelly is headed west to coach next season. While the team looks ahead to what that will be like, the Kansas State Wildcats will run all over the field and into the end zone. Even giving a field goal, take the ‘Cats and collect at the window.
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Florida State
On September 2nd, the 3rd ranked Florida State Seminoles took the field against top ranked Alabama in a game that many thought would shoot the winner directly to the CFP. Fast forward 3 months and Jimbo Fisher has bolted to Texas A&M, Deandre Francois hasn’t played since the 4th quarter of the opener, and the best player on the field Derwin James is skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Times are changing in Tallahassee, and they don’t seem to good.
Fun fact why this is called the Independence Bowl, this game was first played in 1976, the same year as the United States Bicentennial.
Anyways, Southern Miss finished 8-4 on the season with 6 wins coming inside Conference USA play. Their offense has been really clicking in the last month, scoring 137 points in the final 3 games, and Kwadra Griggs has settled in as the team’s starting quarterback. In 9 contests, he threw for over 1,700 yards and 15 scores. He rarely makes mistakes with the football either.
At 6-6 Florida State struggled this season, much in part to losing their starting quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Deandre Francois in the first game of the season. Then the hurricane ripped through southern Florida and the ‘Noles were forced to miss weeks of not just games, but practices as well. The team has interim coach Odell Haggins manning the headsets on the sidelines, however future head coach Willie Taggart is said to be directing the game how he wants it played. What could go wrong there?
Now that you have read the preview, are you ready for the line? Fifteen and a half points to Southern Miss. That’s right, FSU is favored by over two touchdowns. I can’t believe it myself. Take the points and run before the window realizes you are stealing from them. I actually think Southern Miss has a real shot of winning this game too. Get brave and throw some on the money line since you are a lock with the points already.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College
Boston, in Yankee Stadium, in December? Well, not that Boston team. While the Red Sox are enjoying the winter months off, the Boston College Eagles take the 3-hour bus trip to the Bronx. Eagles supporters will appreciate the short trip, and likely control the atmosphere.
The Eagles have been a fun team this season. Their 7 wins include road victories over Louisville and Virginia, and Florida State and UConn at home. Their losses came to ranked teams such as Notre Dame, Clemson, NC State and Virginia Tech. They lost to the teams we expected them to, but beat some teams they were major underdogs in. They have won 5 of their last 6 and look to carry the momentum through bowl season and into next spring. AJ Dillion, ACC Newcomer of the Year rushed for 1,400-yards and 13 scores. He was 2nd in the nation for rushing yards by a Freshman.
Iowa has been frustrating to understand this year. Had it not been for back to back losses to Penn State, by 2-points, and Michigan State, by 7, they would have been in the top 10 come early November. A 31-point victory over Ohio State put them back on the map, but stumbles against Wisconsin and Purdue landed them here in Yankee Stadium. Quarterback Nathan Stanley had a great season, with 25 touchdowns on 2,300 yards, and Akrum Wadley carried the ball for 1021 yards. The problem with the Hawkeyes, is one night they will put up 40-points, the next week barely muster up 14. Which Iowa team shows up in this one?
Iowa has lost 5 bowls in a row. Five! They aren’t just losing them either, 4 of them have been by more than two touchdowns. It has not been pretty, and I expect more of the same here. Stanley has struggled in the past month, and expect BC to get aggressive and force some quick throws and poor decision making. Eagles are getting 3 points on the books, and I expect them to win outright.
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers haven’t been in a bowl in 4 years, so the players on the roster are getting their first taste of bowl season. They are going to like the swag bags they get for participating, which this particular bowl hands out a Fossil watch and headphones. At 6-6 on the season, this Big Ten team will be happy just to be involved. Quarterback play has been so-so this season, and they are banged up in their running back depth chart, so they will need all-hands-on deck in the huddle to make this work. They do have a strong defense though, and will need to hold the line of scrimmage and stop the Arizona rush early in this game.
The Wildcats seemed a long shot for even finishing .500 earlier in the season, but that all changed when Khalil Tate got going. Now with the nation’s 3rd best rushing attack, which is actually first out of Power 5 schools, Tate has all the confidence in the world after carrying for more than 1,300-yards. Halfback JJ Taylor added an additional 900 more. Unfortunately, as these two were carving up opposing defenses, their own defenders were back peddling even faster. In the last 5 games, they lost 4 of them and allowed 42-points or more every time.
Purdue has solid numbers on defense, but their rush defense is just 30th in the country. They allow 130 yards or more per game, and they are going up against a two-headed monster in Tate and Taylor. Expect Purdue to be distracted by the lights and the swag bags, and for the Wildcats to expose that with their running game. Purdue is getting 4.5 points in this game, but that won’t be enough. It will be a slow, grind-out style game, and I expect Arizona to win by a touchdown.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri
Breath a sign of relief, Tom Herman. Your Longhorns finished 6-6, you lost games you should have won (like against Maryland), and your team went 1-2 against in-state rivals. You could have been run out of Austin, yet, you are here, in a bowl game, in Texas. A crowd full of burnt-orange should have your guys feeling like they are playing on campus. With a lack of a consistent running game, 5 different ball carriers took over 200 plus handoffs, and none of them recorded more than 370 yards. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger passed for just 1,800 yards and 10 scores, but had 7 picks that all seemingly came at the worst possible times.
Missouri started 1-5 on the season, but ripped off 6 straight wins to close out the season. Victories over Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt were not even close, winning by an average margin of 30 points. Quarterback Drew Lock has been everything, if not more, than the Tiger fan base hoped for. With 3,700 yards and 43 scores, he and receiver J’Mon Moore are one of the country’s top combinations.
Texas has the better defense, Missouri has the better offense, so one of them will have to give. Texas is getting 3 points, but I still have to ride out the favorite in this one, even giving up a field goal. Missouri can score, and I just don’t think the Longhorns can keep pace.
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