Bowl Seaon: Week 2

With Week 1 of bowl games wrapped up, we venture into Week 2. This next week brings some bigger name bowl games along with some bigger name teams into the lineup. Greatest of all, we end this rundown with the college football playoffs semifinal games.

I am currently 5-5 on predictions, not counting Christmas Eve games.

DEC. 26

• ST. PETERSBURG BOWL: CONNECTICUT (6-6) VS. MARSHALL (9-3)

The Huskies’ Jamar Summers is third in the nation with seven interceptions, helping his team rank in at No. 17 for FBS scoring defense. UConn allows 10.8 points per game, but while its defense is tight, the offense is where the team will struggle.

Offensively the Huskies are averaging just 13 points per game. If you thought UConn’s defense was strong, Marshall’s is even better, ranking it at No. 14.

Prediction: Marshall

• SUN BOWL: MIAMI (8-4) VS. WASHINGTON STATE (8-4)

Washington State hasn’t won a bowl game since 2003 but is hoping quarterback Luke Falk can help change that. The Cougars went 6-7 with Falk as their starting quarterback with their only loss coming to Stanford. Falk has thrown for 4,266 yards and 36 touchdowns this season.

Falk went down with an injury half way through the season but is expected to be ready to go against the Canes. Miami hasn’t won a bowl game since 2006 and has made five postseason appearances since. Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt will take over in the 2016 season.

Prediction: Washington State

• HEART OF DALLAS BOWL: WASHINGTON (6-6) VS. SOUTHERN MISS (9-4)

Washington has the best defense in the Pac-12 and should be able to slow down Southern Mississippi’s offense led by Nick Mullens. He connected with the end zone for 36 touchdowns this season.

The Huskies’ rookie quarterback should be able to continue his successful campaign against a weaker defense. Jake Browning completed 62.9 percent of passes for 2,671 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Prediction: Washington

• PINSTRIPE BOWL: INDIANA (6-6) VS. DUKE (7-5)

Both teams struggled down the final stretch, but overall Indiana had a tougher schedule. Two of the Hoosiers losses came from two of the nation’s best teams: Michigan State and Ohio State. Indiana lost by only one score in both matchups.

All-Big Ten Indiana running back Jordan Howard also looks to return after missing the regular season finale. Howard ran for 1,213 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

Prediction: Indiana

• INDEPENDENCE BOWL: TULSA (6-6) VS. VIRGINIA TECH (6-6)

There is no better way for the Hokies to send head coach Frank Beamer into retirement than with a bowl win over Tulsa. Tulsa has a stronger looking quarterback than Virginia Tech with Dane Evans calling the plays, but the VT’s special team units will make all the difference. All of Tulsa’s losses have been by more than 13 points this season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech

• FOSTER FARMS BOWL: UCLA (8-4) VS. NEBRASKA (5-7)

Nebraska is another one of those teams that is not deserving of a bowl opportunity, but the 5-7 Cornhuskers are being underestimated because of it. Nebraska almost pulled off wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. It beat Michigan State.

UCLA came out strong with wins over BYU and Arizona, but in September the Bruins couldn’t seem to pull it off. A surprising loss to USC kept UCLA out of the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford.

Prediction: Nebraska

DEC. 28

• MILITARY BOWL: PITT (8-4) VS. NAVY (10-2)

Pitt has one of the best run defenses in the country but it is going to have some trouble stopping Navy’s triple option offense. The Midshipmen averaged 319.2 yards per game with quarterback Keenan Reynolds at the helm. Reynolds broke the NCAA Division I career record this season with 85 rushing touchdowns. He also has 1,229 yards and 21 touchdowns in the season.

Some other things Navy has going for them: home-field advantage and a shorter break due to the Army vs. Navy game.

Prediction: Navy

• QUICK LANE BOWL: CENTRAL MICHIGAN (7-5) VS. MINNESOTA (5-7)

Central Michigan has won five of its last six games to finish the season 8-5 after a 2-4 start. Minnesota is on a seven-game losing streak. The matchup pits the Chippewas’ No. 21 defense against the Gophers’ No. 105 offense.

Minnesota is the third and final team to play in a bowl game with a losing record this season.

Prediction: Central Michigan

Dec. 29

• ARMED FORCES BOWL: AIR FORCE (8-5) VS. CALIFORNIA (7-5)

California looks to potential top QB draft pick Jared Goff to lead it to a win. Goff has 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns in the season. Air Force is coming off two tough losses to New Mexico and San Diego State.

Prediction: California

• RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL: NORTH CAROLINA (11-2) VS. BAYLOR (9-3)

These two teams are expected to deliver a high-scoring game to viewers. Both teams have top-rated spread offenses. Baylor has the No. 1 offense in the country but injuries at multiple positions looks to be deathly. The Bears averaged 48 points and 605 yards a game, but in their last two games scored a grand total of 31 points.

The Bears announced that they will be playing without three key offensive components: wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman, running back Shock Linwood and QB Jarett Stidham.

Prediction: North Carolina

• ARIZONA BOWL: NEVADA (6-6) VS. COLORADO STATE (7-5)

The Arizona Bowl brings up a Mountain West Conference matchup. Due to different divisions, this will be the first meeting this season for the two teams. It’s almost like a second conference championship. Colorado State enters the game with a higher-ranked defense and offense.

Prediction: Colorado State

• TEXAS BOWL: LSU (8-3) VS. TEXAS TECH (7-5)

Texas Tech will have some difficulties trying to slow down LSU’s Leonard Fournette. He averaged 271.8 rushing yards per game and needs just 259 more yards to reach a season total of 2,000.

The Red Raiders allowed 271.8 rushing yards per game. In their worst loss of the season, 63-27 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma, they allowed 405.

Prediction: LSU

DEC. 30

• BIRMINGHAM BOWL: AUBURN (6-6) VS. MEMPHIS (9-3)

It’s the attack of the Tigers as this game features one of the seasons’ biggest disappointments, Auburn, and one of the seasons’ biggest surprises, Memphis. With Will Muschamp leaving Auburn for South Carolina, the Tigers will attempt the win without a defensive coordinator. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch is another QB looking to go high in the draft, and with 3,670 yards, 28 touchdowns and three interceptions, that may just happen.

This is Memphis interim coach Darrell Dickey’s big opportunity to prove himself.

Prediction: Memphis

• BELK BOWL: NC STATE (7-5) VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4)

It will be a battle of quarterbacks between Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett. Prescott had 3,413 yards, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Brissett had 2,448 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Prescott is the bigger asset. He was also the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 541 yards and 10 end-zone appearances.

Prediction: Mississippi State

• MUSIC CITY BOWL: TEXAS A&M (8-4) VS. LOUISVILLE (7-5)

The Aggies are dealing with some issues as quarterback sophomore Kyle Allen has already left and now rumors are flying that freshman Kyler Murray is considering transferring.

Aggies receiver Christian Kirk is one of the country’s top freshmen, leading the team with 70 catches for 925 yards and six touchdowns, but without a QB, Kirk won’t be seeing success.

Prediction: Louisville

• HOLIDAY BOWL: USC (8-5) VS. WISCONSIN (9-3)

USC has had a strong second half of the season with losses only to top-15 opponents. The Trojans also won impressively against city rivals UCLA and Utah. Wisconsin has no wins against top-ranked opponents, making me think it won’t be able to outscore Cody Kessler and the rest of the Trojan offense.

Prediction: USC

DEC. 31

• CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL: HOUSTON (12-1) VS. FLORIDA STATE (10-2)

Florida State’s Dalvin Cook ran for 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had more than 100 yards in eight games, four of which closed out the regular season. Houston is 12-1 under first season coach Tom Herman. If the Cougars win, it will be their first 13-game winning season since 2011. Can wins against Navy and Temple sway you enough to bet against the 2013 national champions and last year’s playoff finalist? Herman did work under Urban Meyer; I’m going with the upset.

Prediction: Houston

• CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL: OKLAHOMA (11-1) VS. CLEMSON (13-0)

With a win in the college football playoff semifinals, the Tigers will be a stunning 14-0. Clemson is lead by sophomore quarterback and Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson. He had a completion percentage of 69.5 and passed for 3,512 yards with 30 touchdown and 11 interceptions. He also ran for 887 yards for 11 scores.

But Oklahoma is coming in with a strong offensive attack as well. Since their loss to Texas, the Sooners have won out and beat all but one opponent, TCU, by more than 10 points. October proved that the Big 12 Conference was tougher than the ACC.

Prediction: Oklahoma

GOODYEAR COTTON BOWL: MICHIGAN STATE (12-1) VS. ALABAMA (12-1)

The key to shutting down Alabama in the college football playoff semifinals will be shutting down Heisman winner and Alabama running back Derrick Henry. He set an SEC record this season with 1,986 rushing yards. Michigan State enters the game with the seventh ranked run defense in the nation, allowing only 113.1 yards per game.

Michigan State will have to try and force the Tide to put the ball in quarterback Jake Coker’s hands. Coker has only had one game where he’s thrown for more than 250 yards. If the Spartans can shut down Bama’s offense, there will be no stopping them. Michigan State’s Connor Cook is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Cook has thrown for 2,921 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, and is 34-4 as a starter.

Prediction: Michigan State

A Merry Bowl Season

Saturday kicks off the happiest time of the year — BOWL SEASON. 2015 brings a record-breaking 41 bowl games. With the high number of spots to fill, organizers had to welcome in three teams with losing records (5-7) — Minnesota, San Jose State and Nebraska.

The bowl schedule brings some great matchups, including ones that may turn out to be a bit surprising, cue teams with losing records pulling off the upset.

For the next three weeks I will be bringing you all of my hopefully correct predictions.

DEC. 19

New Mexico Bowl: Arizona (6-6) Vs. New Mexico (7-5)

These two teams come in with very similar playing styles. Both are run-heavy teams, rushing the ball more than 45 times per game and yet neither team has a running back that is averaging more than 15 carries per game.

The Wildcats have had a hard time stopping the run this season ranking in at 89th in rushing yards allowed. The Lobos are even worse at 97th.

New Mexico enters the contest with a stronger passing game than the Wildcats which will be put to use if needed. The Lobos’ triple-option rushing attack will be too much for Arizona, like it was for other opponents not familiar with it this season.

Prediction: New Mexico

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU (9-3) Vs. Utah (9-3)

Utah began the season almost too impressively. I knew they weren’t going to hold on to their playoff spot but I also didn’t expect the Utes to drop all the way to No. 22. Utah has lost two of their last three games and lost starting running back, Devontae Booker — the momentum is in BYU’s favor. The in-state rivalry wasn’t supposed to be reprised for another year though, so either way it is bound to be a strong fight on both sides.

Prediction: BYU

Camellia Bowl: Ohio (8-4) Vs. Appalachian State (10-2)

Bowl Season say hello to Appalachian State who is making its first appearance ever. Appalachian State showed dominance against a fairly weak schedule but ranking 13th in scoring defense and 19th in scoring offense. Ohio has been blown out by three non-Power Five teams — Western Michigan, Buffalo and Bowling Green. Both teams are coming off three-game win streaks.

Prediction: Appalachian State

Cure Bowl: San Jose State (5-7) Vs. Georgia State (6-6)

Despite a losing record, San Jose State is the nation’s No. 2 pass defense and Georgia State’s No. 8 passing offense is going to have some trouble. Georgia State also comes in at No. 73 in yards allowed per carry leaving plenty of opportunity for San Jose State’s running back Tyler Ervin. Ervin has a total of 1,469-yards this season and averages 5.6 yards a carry.

Prediction: San Jose State

New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State (9-3) Vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Arkansas State lost their season opener against the USC Trojans but finished off the season with the better record. The Red Wolves have won eight straight scoring more than 40 points in all but one matchup. Louisiana Tech, with the help of running back Kenneth Dixon, should be able to move the ball. Dixon has scored 83 career touchdowns, 22 this season. I’m just not sure about Louisiana Tech’s defense and their ability to stop the Red Wolves offense — Arkansas State may be too much to handle.

Prediction: Arkansas State

Dec. 21

Miami Beach Bowl: Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4)

Like New Mexico, South Florida has what looks like home-field advantage. The Bulls had a rocky start but finished out its final eight games with only a loss to Navy to get that 8-4 record. Western Kentucky has a high-powered offense backed by sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has passed for 45 touchdowns this season. The Hilltoppers are averaging 23 points a game against Power Five opponents, and 50.6 points against everyone else.

Prediction: Western Kentucky

Dec. 22

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6)

This is Akron’s first trip to a bowl game since 2005. Utah State has a slightly more difficult schedule than Akron which contributes to the difference in record (not much). The Akron offense I’ve seen throughout the season has been shaky at best. If they don’t show up at kick-off, Utah State will run circles. Plus, the Aggies are no stranger to the Potato Bowl, this is Utah State’s third appearance in five years.

Prediction: Utah State

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl: Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2)

Temple has put up some strong fights and some impressive wins this season. The Owls almost beat the Fighting Irish, held Houston to just 24 points and beat Penn State for the first time in 74 years. With Toledo players knowing head coach Matt Campbell is surely heading to Iowa State next season, there could be some emotions running on the field.

Prediction: Temple

Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)

Boise State, despite wins against Washington and Virginia, isn’t too happy with its performance this season. They are looking to end the season on a high note and their offense has the ability to deliver. Northern Illinois cornerback, Shawun Lurry, leads the nation with nine interceptions this season, so the Broncos will want to watch out for him. But the Huskies haven’t been the same since they lost starting quarterback Drew Hare to injury.

Prediction: Boise State

GoDaddy Bowl: Georgia Southern (8-4) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)

Without their coach, Dino Babers (moving to Syracuse), it’s hard to pick Bowling Green. Georgia Southern is another school making history with its first-ever bowl appearance and they hope to continue making history with their first-ever bowl win.

Prediction: Georgia Southern

Dec. 24

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)

Western Michigan enters the game with two receivers totaling more than 1,100 yards in 2015, Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman. Middle Tennessee doesn’t stand a chance with a defense ranking in at No. 91.

Prediction: Western Michigan

Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)

I grew up attending the Hawaii Bowl every Christmas Eve, at least if my grandma allowed it. It was always interesting to see which team brought in a stronger crowd, because more times than not, the team with the larger fan base pulled off the win.

Due to location, San Diego State most likely will be the winner in traveling fan base, they also have a few local players on the team to draw in the Hawaii crowd from the parking lot. But the Aztecs haven’t lost a game since Sept. 26 and are bringing the nation’s No. 15-ranked rushing offense.

Cincinnati’s biggest weakness is its rushing defense.

Overall, both teams win for having a destination Christmas.

Prediction: San Diego State Bowl

Things I have learned from the CFP Committee

College football made it relatively easy for the College Football Playoff Committee this year. Last weekend’s conference championship games pretty much all went as predicted leaving us with four teams for the playoff –four teams that I can’t exactly form an argument against.

We have the ACC champion, undefeated 13-0 Clemson at No. 1. We have the SEC champion, 12-1 Alabama at No. 2. We have the Big 10 champion, 12-1 Michigan State at No. 3. And lastly, the one without a conference championship, Big 12 champion Oklahoma at No. 4.

As much as I enjoyed not being in distress over the committee’s selections this year, part of me had been wishing for chaos. I needed chaos in order to get insight into how this committee decides which teams get to have their dreams come true.

Last year, we saw the committee shaft two Big 12 schools, the Baylor Bears and the TCU Horned Frogs. Prior to conference championship weekend, TCU was ranked No. 3. Even having played a game that weekend and winning, it wasn’t a conference championship, and the Horned Frogs dropped to No. 6.

I was in complete shock, confusion and slight anger over the committee’s decision to rank Ohio State above the two Big 12 universities. For a blog I started during my college career, I wrote a heated column explaining why the committee made a mistake.

The Buckeyes went on to prove that they may have been the right candidate after beating Alabama to become the National Champions, but I can still argue that if TCU or Baylor had been slotted at No. 4 they could have earned the title as well. It’s a huge “what if” at this point.

What I learned from last year’s selection is that the Big 12 may be hurting itself by not having a conference championship. With the 10-team round robin thing it has going on, TCU and Baylor were co-champions in 2014 and I can’t help but wonder if they had played each other for a second time, if the winner would have been a shoe-in for the playoff.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, didn’t let last year’s snubbing force them into making rash decisions. No new teams were added and there was no change in their model. This year, it didn’t seem to be an issue.

The one team we knew for sure would be granted a ticket to the playoff prior to conference championship weekend was Oklahoma. The Sooners got to sit idle while all other potential candidates battled one more time.

I don’t think two years is enough to say there is a trend one way or the other, but I definitely think the next few years will be strong signs in telling the Big 12 what they need to do.

Right now, I will say this, the Sooners are lucky the teams around them that needed to win in order to keep sanity won. There were really no teams that were able to put up a true fight against them. And, with Michigan State’s jump over the Big 12 candidate, No. 4 to No.3, I can’t help but think that the years ahead will lead to change within the conference.

Who’s In and Who’s Out

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The last time Michigan State went to the Big 10 Championship they beat the favored Ohio State Buckeyes, 34-24. With the win the Spartans earned themselves a ticket to the Rose Bowl where they went on to beat Stanford, 24-20.

For as crazy of a season it’s been, the College Football Playoff committee’s job is looking pretty easy right now. After conference championship weekend last year, there were some not-so-happy fan bases with legitimate arguments for why they should be in the playoff, but this year, if everything plays out like it should Saturday, No. 1 to 4 are pretty self-explanatory.

There are four major conference title games taking place Saturday: ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The two games with the highest probability of making the committee’s job difficult, are No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 8 North Carolina and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida. But before I get into the different worst-case scenarios, let us take a look at what we already know for sure.

The first guaranteed is that the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners are in no matter what. There is a lot of discussion about the teams ahead of them and the teams below them, but there isn’t much talk about that No. 3 spot. The only question I have for the committee is how come last year the Big 12 conference was left out due to its lack of conference championship game, whereas this year they are automatically in due to the same fact? We will save that for another time.

The second guarantee is that the winner of the Big Ten championship game will have a spot in the playoffs. The undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes take on the 11-1 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are the favorite, but only by a couple points.

If Clemson and Alabama, the favorites in both their respective games win, the rankings will remain No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, and No. 4 Iowa/Michigan State. But if either the Tigers or Tide fall or it’s a miracle and they both do, there are several teams on the sideline with valid arguments as to why they should be the next team in.

Scenario 1: Clemson loses to North Carolina, and Alabama beats Florida

If Clemson loses, it would also be added to the list of sideline teams with the potential of making that No. 4 spot. In years past, No. 1 teams who lost their conference championships were demoted to No. 4, but that was before we had this thing called the college football playoffs. But the Tigers still have an extremely impressive schedule and win over Notre Dame.

Just because North Carolina wins, the Tar Heels are not guaranteed a spot. Although North Carolina has gone 11-0 since its season-opener loss to South Carolina, that loss along with a weak schedule that included two Football Championship Subdivision opponents, will probably not be enough for the Tar Heels even with a head-to-head win over the Tigers.

Scenario 2: Alabama loses to Florida, and Clemson beats North Carolina

No. 18 Florida has zero chance of making the playoff even with a win over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Florida has had a very lackluster back end of the season with close wins over Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt. After it ended the regular season with a loss to in-state rival Florida State, the Gators do not stand a chance.

But if Alabama loses, it doesn’t have the same opportunity as Clemson to still be in the top four. After suffering an early season loss to an Ole Miss team that failed to produce throughout the remainder of the season, the Tide cannot afford another loss. A two-loss Alabama team would have even less of a playoff argument than sideline teams.

Craziest thing about an Alabama loss, the college football playoff would be SEC-less. No one ever predicted that happening.

Scenario 3: Alabama and Clemson lose

While this scenario is the least likely, it is the best chance the sideline teams have of making it into the coveted college football playoffs.

SIDELINERS

With scenarios one through three, none of which are the most probable, Ohio State, Stanford, North Carolina and the Big Ten loser have opportunities of making the playoffs.

Ohio State: If Michigan State beats Iowa, Ohio State’s argument and resume only gets better. With the defending national champion’s only loss coming from a CFP team, the Buckeyes have a high chance. Also considering the Big Ten East division has the stiffer competition — MSU, Michigan and OSU — it has a better argument than Iowa, the Big Ten championship loser in this scenario.

Stanford: If Stanford wins the Pac-12 Conference game against the University of Southern California, the Cardinal can set itself up for a playoff spot. Stanford is going against the fact it is a two-loss team.

With a nine-game conference schedule, plus a conference championship and five games against top-20 opponents, you can almost ignore the season opening nonconference loss to No. 13 Northwestern on the road. A win over then No. 4 Notre Dame kind of cancels out the 38-36 loss to No. 15 Oregon, who has seemed to redeem itself since September.

Where Stanford would beat any of its sideline counterparts would be in its conference title. No. 24 USC has no chance of making the playoff even with a win.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ best chance in making the playoffs would be to win the ACC and for Alabama to lose. Like mentioned before, with just a Clemson loss, North Carolina would not be an automatic. The Tar Heels, like the Cardinal, would have a conference title on their side, but schedule weakness would be their biggest holdback.

Big Ten loser: The best chance of the loser of the Big Ten championship making the playoff is if both Alabama and Clemson lose.

If Michigan State is the loser, it would be a two-loss team like Stanford, but unlike Stanford would not have a title to back it up. The Spartans’ losses come from two higher-ranked teams, but some would say the Cardinal had the tougher schedule. MSU has the head-to-head on Ohio State but would have one more loss than the Buckeyes.

If Iowa is the loser, the Hawkeyes’ only loss would be from a playoff team much like Ohio State. Iowa would still have a better record than Stanford but wouldn’t have the title for an extra boost. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would have one loss suffered by the same team, but while Iowa at least made it to the title game, Ohio State had the tougher schedule.