We finished the regular season 34-22-1… here’s to a great Bowl season starting Monday afternoon!
Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M
This game is a coin flip, with WVU favored by a point. But, one thing that isn’t a coin flip, is the fact that points will be scored in this game. Both defenses have had their struggles this season, especially A&M’s. The Aggies allowed the most yards per game in the SEC with 449/contest, and allowed 553 yards/game in the last 3. But, WVU will have to expose the aTm defense without their leader, and quarterback, Clint Trickett, who retired last week after 5 concussions in the past 14 months.
From a strategic standpoint, it was a wise move for Holgerson to hold off the announcement until just days before the bowl game. His back up, Skyler Howard, has some reps under his belt, but is more of a dual threat quarterback than the pocket passer Trickett. But, I don’t think there will be an enormous disadvantage playing Howard, because his mobility helps negate one of the brights spots of the A&M defense: freshman defensive end Myles Garrett, who set an SEC-record with 11 sacks this year.
Meantime, Texas A&M’s quarterback situation has been inconsistent, with Kyle Allen supplanting Kenny Hill as the starter. A&M will need their run game to be successful to win, because with the sub par play at quarterback, and the secondary being the strength for the Mountaineers, passing the ball won’t come easy.
WVU has not played nearly as well on the road as they do in Morgantown. But with a short trip to Memphis, and mild temperatures expected, I like Dana Holgorsen to beat his former boss (Holgorsen was Kevin Sumlin’s OC at Houston in 08-09).
The Pick: WVU -1
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson
When the Sooners were ranked in the preseason top 4, the Russell Athletic Bowl certainly wasn’t what the fan base was hoping for. OU welcomes back QB Trevor Knight, and should have a fairly healthy Samaje Perine and Sterling Shepard. All well and good, but Knight regressed from what was expected of him, and what he did against Alabama in January’s Sugar Bowl. Now he goes up against the number 1 ranked defense in yards allowed, and 7th best scoring defense in the country.
OU won’t have to face Clemson’s stud freshman QB Deshaun Watson, who decided to undergo knee surgery prior to the bowl game. Enter senior Cole Stoudt, who lost his job to Watson earlier in the season. While it is a drop off for Clemson, they still have a strong WR corps, led by Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, who should be able to exploit the Sooners vulnerable secondary.
The pick: Clemson +4
Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Arkansas
This match up between old Southwest Conference foes is one of my favorites of the bowl season. Good luck to UT’s run defense in trying to slow down the two-headed monster of Jonanthan Willliams and Alex Collins, who both rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. But, unlike most of the teams Arkansas rolled over this season (i.e. Texas Tech), the Longhorns have the ability to slow down the run game, and force QB Brandon Allen to beat them.
Meantime, we will find out how much UT QB Tyrone Swoopes benefited from the extra practice time. He had his worst game of the season in the finale against TCU. The Longhorns would like to get the running game going behind Jonathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, and will need the improved offensive line to take that next step against a stout SEC front-7.
A key for the Longhorns should be Tyrone Swoopes using his legs, to take the pressure off his still developing passing game, and add another element for the Arkansas defense to consider. There will likely be more of a Longhorn Crowd in Houston, and I expect a low scoring, run-oriented, defensive battle. I don’t love the Longhorns in this spot, but based on both team’s style of play, the spread is too high.
The pick: Texas +6.5
Peach Bowl: TCU vs. Ole Miss
Here’s the chance for Gary Patterson’s team to prove they were slighted by the CFB Playoff committee. Yes, Ole Miss wants to impress on a big stage, but all the motivation lies with the Horned Frogs.
The TCU defense will have to slow down the always unpredictable QB Bo Wallace. The good news for TCU is that Ole Miss is better passing than running the ball. It will be up to Bo Wallace to try and get by a strong secondary including Sam Carter, Kevin White and Chris Hackett. Knowing Bo, there will be chances for turnovers.
While TCU’s offense has a new, high flying look under Doug Meachem and Sonny Cumbie, they are going up against one of the best defenses in the country. Ole Miss has the number 1 scoring defense, and is top-20 in interceptions, red zone defense, total defense, and passing yards allowed. But, outside of a few minute stretch against Baylor, this TCU offense hasn’t been stopped all season long. I’d love to see TCU establish the run game early behind Aaron Green and Boykin, which would then open things up for Boykin down field.
The Pick: TCU -3.5
Cotton Bowl: Baylor vs. Michigan State
Here’s another game where Baylor has a significant edge in motivation. And often times in these bowl games, motivation plays a major factor. It’s the classic offense (Baylor – 49 PPG) vs. defense (Mich St – allowing 19.9 PPG). But, ironically, the other side of the ball for both teams is underrated. Michigan State’s defense is not as strong as it was in 2013, but has an offense averaging 43 ppg, and Baylor’s defense continues to improve each season under Briles.
Baylor QB Bryce Petty should have a field day with his full stable of WR weapons, Corey Coleman, KD Cannon, and Antwan Goodley, against a Michigan State defense that is ranked in the top 30, but struggled against the two elite spread offenses they faced this year (Oregon, Ohio State).
Baylor’s defensive trouble is in their secondary, but Michigan State’s offense is not built around the passing game. It is their run game, led by Jeremy Langford, that is their key to success. Baylor is allowing only 2.94 yards per rush, tied for 4th in the country, which is, ironically, actually better than MSU’s defense, 3.43 yards/rush allowed.
Art Briles was fired up after the CFB Playoff selection. He knows his argument will forever be hollow if he doesn’t smoke Michigan State.
The Pick: Baylor -2.5
Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA
Bill Snyder has once again put together a fantastic season for his Wildcats, with a group of JUCO’s and players mostly overlooked by the “big time” programs. It will be quarterback Jake Waters’ last game with K-State, and he will look to exploit the UCLA secondary. Bill Snyder team’s are usually defined by the run, but not this team, which ranked 94th in the FBS in rushing yards/game.
Meantime, it will also be the last game for UCLA QB Brett Hundley, who has declared for the NFL Draft. Frankly, I think Hundley could have used another year in school, as the only thing he has been proven to be is an enigma. Hundley has been sacked 36 times this season, some of that his own fault, some is his offensive line. This bodes well for K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller and a feisty defensive line. K-State’s defense has struggled against up-tempo spread offenses (TCU/Baylor), but UCLA is more of a pro-style offense.
Two other Kansas State advantages: The Wildcat faithful has a 12 hour drive, obviously a much shorter trip than UCLA fans have to San Antonio. The other: Bill Snyder > Jim Mora.
The Pick: K-State +2
Cactus Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Washington
Oklahoma State has a ton of momentum heading into this game, as they clinched a bowl game berth in the final game of the season, a very impressive upset of Oklahoma. Yes, they lost Tyreek Hill, but I think the swift handling of the situation by Mike Gundy, didn’t allow it to fester through the locker room. It’s a battle of freshman quarterbacks, OSU’s Mason Rudolph against UW’s Cyler Miles. Even though Miles is the more experienced of the two, he wasn’t asked to do much for for UW (third in the Pac-12 in rushing/game), only throwing for a little over 2,000 yards with 16 touchdowns.
Oklahoma State goes up against a quality UW defense, led by Shaq Thompson and Hau’oli Kikaha, and OSU has struggled with turnovers, a minus-eight in turnover margin. But, much of that is the fault of former QB Daxx Garman. Rudolph has taken better care of the ball. The way the OSU team has been rejuvenated, and rallied around Rudolph, bodes well for OSU heading into this game.
UW is 8-5, with eight wins over teams .500 or worse, and 5 losses to quality opponents. Washington’s strength is their run game, but OSU’s defensive edge is in their defensive line, led by Emmanuel Ogbah. Plus, Oklahoma State is 5-1 against Pac-12 opponents since 2009. So it comes down to who has the better game: Rudolph or Miles?
The Pick: Oklahoma State +6