Today, I preview the bowl games that take place between Christmas and New Year's. There are some good matchups in here.
5 PM - Independence Bowl
Matchup: Missouri (7-5) vs. North Carolina (7-5)
What to watch for: This is a pretty good matchup between two mediocre teams. The two teams are tied at 43rd in the country in points allowed per game. North Carolina started out strong, charging out to a 5-1 start. But they lost 4 of their last 6, including a 13-0 loss to NC State. The winner of this game will be determined by whether North Carolina can stop Missouri's running game. The Tigers are 11th in the nation in running with mobile quarterback James Franklin, but are missing running back Henry Josey. If North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner gets hot, the Tar Heels could pull the upset.
The Pick: Missouri - 17 point
4PM - Little Caesars Bowl
Matchup: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (7-5)
What to watch for: Can a strong Western Michigan passing attach, led by quarterback Alex Carder, lead the MAC to a victory over the Big 10? Western Michigan receiver Jordan White leads the nation in receiving yards and total receptions and they also have MAC defensive player of the year, Drew Norak. Purdue is a very average Big 10 team whose best win was beating 6-6 Ohio State. They do not sport any crazy statistics and even lost to Rice. But they should have just enough to beat a middle team from the MAC.
The pick: Purdue - 5 points
8PM - Belk Bowl
Matchup: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5)
What to watch for: Louisville was very close to winning a Big East Championship in its second season under Charlie Strong. The Cardinal defense improved to 14th in the country in points allowed per game this year, holding opponents to only 19.2 points per game. They are especially strong against the run, allowing under 100 yards per game. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has definitely shown signs that he will be a future star. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is definitely the leader for the Wolf Pack and he passed for almost 2800 yards and 28 touchdowns this year. The NC State defense is solid overall, but struggles against the pass. Louisville's defense is stronger, and should be the difference in this game.
The pick: Louisville - 8 points
4 PM - Military Bowl
Matchup: Toledo (8-4) vs. Air Force (7-5)
What to watch for: Toledo's offense is extremely high powered, 29th in the country in passing and 14th in rushing. Their 42.3 points per game is good for 8th in the country. They have scored at least 44 points seven times so defense (89th in the country in scoring) is not too much of a concern. Air Force runs the option and I just don't see them being able to keep up.
The pick: Toledo - 4 points
5 PM - Champs Sports Bowl
Matchup: FSU (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
What to watch for: Many people predicted this would be a BCS matchup. Both of these teams underperformed this fall. Florida State is as talented on defense as any team in the country. Greg Reid may be small, but is one of the best play makers in the country. Brian Kelly hasn't named a starting QB for the game yet, but whoever starts, FSU will only have one goal on defense: stop Michael Floyd. If the Noles shutdown Floyd, Notre Dame has no chance.
The pick: FSU - 9 points
12 PM - Armed Forces Bowl
Matchup: BYU (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4)
What to watch for: BYU returned to being an independent this year and had a successful 9-3 campaign against a pretty easy schedule. The Cougars only faced one team (TCU) that finished in the top 25 and suffered an embarrassing 54-10 loss to in state rival Utah. BYU also changed quarterbacks this year, as once highly touted signal caller Jake Heaps lost the starting job to riley Nelson (and Heaps is now transferring). Nelson found great success as starter, throwing 16 TDs with only 5 picks and helping BYU win 8 of their last 9 games. Tulsa won every game it was supposed to this year, but went 0-4 against ranked teams (and all of those teams finished the season ranked in the top 25, including two in the top 5). They feature a strong passing game and a balanced running attack that saw two backs (Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts) go for over 800 yards each on the ground. Tulsa can score (24th in the country) but their defense isn't up to par. BYU is the better overall team, despite the flashy stats from Tulsa.
The pick: BYU - 21 points
6 PM - Music City Bowl
Matchup: Miss State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)
What to watch for: Coming off a 9-4 season, big things were expected in Starkville this fall. But a 6-6 record is not what they expected. I think MSU was really hurt by Manny Diaz leaving for the DC position at Texas. Mississippi State's strength is still its defense, as Chris Relf could not find the success he did a year ago. Vick Ballard had another nice season for the Dogs, rushing for over 1000 yards and 8 scores. Wake Forest was a surprise in the ACC this year, going 5-3. They also played well against ranked opponents, knocking off Florida State and nearly defeating eventual ACC Champ Clemson. Sophomore QB Tanner Price had a great season, throwing for nearly 3000 yards and 20 touchdowns while only throwing 6 interceptions. I see this as a low scoring affair where Mississippi State grinds out a victory in the second half.
The pick: Miss State - 16 points
10 PM - Insight Bowl
Matchup: Iowa (7-5) vs. Oklahoma (9-3)
What to watch for: Oklahoma was the pre-season #1 team and was on a tear until a surprising upset at Texas Tech on October 22. After losing All-American Ryan Broyles, the sooners lost 3 of their last 6 games and found themselves outside of the BCS. This season seems eerily similar to the one suffered by Georgia in 2008 that included a loss to their in state rival who they had recently dominated. Oklahoma still sports the #4 passing attack in college football and Landry Jones will look to get back on track against an Iowa defense that was only 67th in the country against the pass. Kirk Ferentz team averaged 28.7 points per game, but that will not be enough to keep up. Oklahoma, pissed off about their crummy season, blows them out.
The pick: Oklahoma - 34 points
12 PM - Texas Bowl
Matchup: Texas AM (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)
What to watch for: Texas A&M was one of the best teams in the country in the first half of games, but probably the worst in the second half. The high powered Aggies should have had a much better record this year. This is their last game as a member of the Big XII. Northwestern's Dan Persa is good, but A&M will be motivated to head to the SEC on a victorious note. Plus, I can't see Texas A&M not scoring at least 35 points against the Wildcats defense.
The pick: TAMU - 31 points
2 PM - Sun Bowl
The matchup: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5)
What to watch for: Utah has two things going for them in this game: a stroing scoring defense that only allowed 19.7 points per game and running back john White who rushed for over 1400 yards. But their offense is anemic and against a school like Georgia Tech, you definitely need to score points. The key to beating Tech is getting a lead and forcing them to pass. Utah won't make this happen. Tech's running back group of Orwin Smith, Roddy Jones, and David Sims will have big days. Tech scores atleast its season average of 35 points in this one.
The pick: Georgia Tech - 25 points
3 PM - Liberty Bowl
The matchup: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
What to watch for: Cincinnati (technically) won a share of the Big East championship this fall. They may have easily won it outright if not for the loss of their starting quarterback, Zack Collaros. After losing Collaros in the first half of the West Virginia game, the Bearcats lost by 3 to the Mountaineers and then lost at Rutgers the following week. Without the injury, Cincy may have been a 10 or 11 win team. They sport a solid scoring offense (28th) and a good defense (20 points per game). Vanderbilt has been heaped with praise under first year head coach Tony Franklin. He may have done a good job, but he is a jack ass. Vandy was the dirtiest team Georgia played all year. Jordan Rodgers had a decent season, but he's not his brother. The most impressive player for Vanderbilt is running back Zach Stacy, who was not even supposed be the starter this year. Vanderbilt is really bad in pass defense, and I think Cincinnati will exploit this. Just like many other Vandy games this season, the Commodores will lose a close one in the fourth quarter.
The pick: Cincinnati - 19 points
3 PM - Fight Hunger Bowl
The Matchup: Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7)
What to watch for: Two lame duck coaches against each other in a bad bow game. Because of their loss in the Pac-12 Championship, UCLA is playing in a bowl game with a losing record. I think these are two bad, underperforming teams and I really don't care who wins. I'll take Illinois just because I know the Zooker recruits good players.
The pick: Illinois - 18 points
7 PM - Chick-Fil-A Bowl
The matchup: Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
What to watch for: The defending national champions against one of the surprise teams in college football this season. Auburn has five losses, but all of them came at the hands of teams who finished the season ranked in the top 25. Losing Michael Dyer hurts, but they should still have enough fire power to get past the Cavaliers. Ontarion McCalebb averaged over 5 yards a carry this year and will handle the bulk of the carries for the tigers. Virginia sports the 30th ranked defense in the country, not bad, but not great. They have two solid running backs (Perry Jones and Kevin Parks) who combined for over 1,500 yards this year. Michael Rocco and Kris Burd are one of the better QB and receiver tandems in the country. But in the end, the Tigers will be able to physically beat Virginia down. Whoever players quarterback may have a career day.
The pick: Auburn - 24 points