Oh, Saturday. The day which employs the crux of the college football season will hold the biggest bowl games of the postseason thus far, boasting five fairly intriguing games. What’s more is that each game involves at least one team that’s actually been relevant over the years, so there’s something even casual college football fans can care about.
While each game looks interesting, making picks for them will be somewhat difficult. There are not as many one-sided games left, since most of those have already been played, This day marks the point where the notable bowl games begin, so, at least on paper, they are more competitively balanced. I went 4-1 with my opening day picks, and 6-2 over the first five days of this week, and hopefully, the positive trend can continue.
Military Bowl (presented by Northrop Grumman) (1/Noon ct, ESPN)
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6)
Line: Bearcats by 2.5. O/U: 51.
The first game of the day features a truly odd name. That’s not because of the bowl’s name, nor the sponsor. What makes it so weird is that the actual name proclaims that the bowl is “presented” by the sponsor. While that may be true, the fact that it’s blatantly stated is so stagy, and quite frankly, a bit insulting.
Anyways, the game could actually be close. That is, if Gunner Kiel brings out his “Mr. Hyde”. Kiel has put up over 3,000 yards and 30 passing touchdowns, but eight of his 11 interceptions have come in three games, two of which have been Bearcat losses. Granted, the team has not lost since October 11, but Kiel has looked subpar in his latest games, throwing for under 200 yards in five of his last six games. After throwing for 14 touchdowns the first three games of the season, he had just 16 in the final nine games of the regular season.
Still, Cincinnati has more wins since that October 11th loss at Miami than Virginia Tech has managed all season. Despite being the only team to beat #4 Ohio State this year, the Hokies haven proven that game was a fluke. Quarterback Michael Brewer has had three games where he has failed to throw for a touchdown, and has almost as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (17). He has only crossed the 300 yard mark once, and has only surpassed 200 yards in half the games this season.
The running game is nothing of note either, and the team has not managed a single play of over 50 yards this year. They have lost four of their last six games, and while three of them came against bowl games, only one of those teams, the Boston College Eagles, have more than six wins this season. Granted, they beat Duke by a point, but so did North Carolina, and Virginia Tech failed to muster a point in regulation against hapless Wake Forest. They lost the game 6-3 in double overtime, and only made it to this game because they beat Virginia by home in the final minutes.
While Virginia Tech has held all but three teams under 21 points, I do not see them doing the same to Cincinnati. This game will have ups and downs, and while I do not believe the Bearcats will recapture their early form, I see them winning a surprisingly close, competitive game. Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 21.
Hyundai Sun Bowl (2/1c, CBS)
#15 Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3) vs. Duke Blue Devils (9-3)
Line: Sun Devils by 7. O/U: 65.
Ah, the Devil Bowl. Perhaps the best, and most “devilish” game of the day (sorry, I couldn’t help it) will be the only one not broadcasted on ESPN or ABC. Both Arizona State and Duke entered the season with high expectations, having each played in their conference’s championships the previous season. Both teams were blown out, but returned their quarterbacks, as well as other notable players this year. And yet, each team stumbled late this season.
Arizona State controlled its one destiny, and had a shot at sneaking into the NCAA Playoff in Week 12 of the regular season.The had only lost once to that point, including four wins over ranked teams. They nailed a hail mary at USC, edged out Utah in overtime, and throttled Stanford and Notre Dame. But in that week at a slumping Oregon State team, the Sun Devils blew a 24-14 halftime lead, cumulated by a Taylor Kelly interception being returned for a touchdown. They lost the game 35-27, and two weeks later, fell to rival Arizona in a 42-35 thriller.
Despite those two losses, the team is very potent. They have put up at least 24 points in every game besides the win against Utah, and have surpassed 34 points on seven occasions. They have a balanced offensive attack, and multiple quarterbacks that can light up the stat sheet. Running back DJ Foster (1,002 rush yards, 646 receiving yards, 15 total touchdowns) is one of the nation’s top dual threat backs, and receiver Jaelen Strong is elite caliber.
As for Duke, the season has been up and down. Quarterback Anthony Boone did not improve as much as expected, while receiver Jamison Crowder put up 30 less catches, and over 400 yards less than the year before. However, the team has still put up over 30 points in seven games this season, amassing 40 points on five of those occasions. They have lost two of their last three games, but both came against bowl teams. On the downside, all three of their losses came against 6-6 bowl teams, and they are 2-3 against bowl teams. Granted, they beat the best team they faced this season (#22 Georgia Tech), but that was over two months ago.
In the end, it’s the latter stats that are so damning for the Blue Devils. THey are not as good as they were last season, and while Arizona State has struggled a bit of late, they will put up enough offense to take over the game. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Sun Devils will prevail. Prediction: Arizona State 48, Duke 31.
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (3:30/2:30c, ABC)
Miami Hurricanes (6-6) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6)
Line: Hurricanes by 3.5. O/U: 61
Ah, of course. Nothing portrays the negatives of bowl season than two notable schools that share matching six-win seasons, each with matching 3-5 conference records. Alas, that’s exactly what happened with South Carolina and Miami. Both teams had higher expectations, but failed to meet them. Oh, and neither is playing well right now, either.
Miami has lost three straight games, allowing over 30 points in each loss. Meanwhile, South Carolina has lost five of its last eight, with the wins coming against Florida in overtime, Furman (an FCS team), and South Alabama. Basically, they do not deserve to be here.
Both teams have deep threat receivers, but Carolina’s Pharaoh Cooper (966 receiving yards, 198 rushing yards, 12 total (2 passing) touchdowns) and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett (826 yards, nine touchdowns, 26.6 yards a catch) have each been wildly inconsistent. And while freshman Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has had some terrific games, he has looked like a freshman on various occasions, just like Carolina’s senior quarterback, Dylan Thompson.
In the end, it’ll come down to the running game. While both teams managed a meager 3-5 conference record, each has some playmakers, with some flaws. Both Miami’s Duke Johnson (1,520 rushing yards, 370 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns), and South Carolina’s Mike Davis (927 rushing yards, 349 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) possess gamebreaking ability, but Davis has been somewhat disappointing, while Johnson has been constantly declining since his magnum opus 249 yard, two touchdown magnum opus at Virginia Tech back in October. He has also failed to score a rushing touchdown in his last two games.
All that said, this game is a tossup. I’ll just go with the one that’s actually playing decent of late, and last I checked, the Gamecocks are not the ones that have lost three straight games. Prediction: Miami 24, South Carolina 28.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (4:30/3:30c, ESPN)
Boston College Eagles (7-5) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-6)
Line: Eagles by 3. O/U: 40.
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl features two teams that are both bowling, and are actually happy to be here. Boston College won one more regular season game this year than last year, which was head coach Steve Addazio’s first. Meanwhile, Penn State might be worse than they were last year, but since their four-year bowl ban implemented back in 2011 was lifted a year early, they will actually be in a bowl game this go around.
Neither team has been very good offensively, but can each play defense. Boston College is not great defensively, but are in the top 20 in scoring defense. Meanwhile, Penn State is third in the FBS in overall defense, and boasts Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Mike Hull.
As impressive as Penn State’s defense can be at times, it has been leaky on occasion, and that’s not a good thing against a team that can run the ball. Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy might not be a good thrower, but he has run for nearly 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a team, the Eagles have run for over 3,000 yards.
However, Penn State possesses the top run defense in the FBS. Still the offense has been shockingly unreliable this season. Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenburg (eight touchdowns, 15 interceptions) has looked nothing like the high-end recruit he was a few years back. Nearly half of his touchdowns came against lowly Akron back in Week 2, and he has gone scoreless in half of the games this season, five of which have also involved him turning the ball over. Granted, his offensive line has been terrible, but the numbers are too putrid to base solely off of the line’s play. And while running back Akeel Lynch has been decent of late, he’s facing the nation’s fourth best rush defense.
I see this game being extremely low scoring for a college affair, and since Boston College has actually showcased the ability to do something on offense, I’ll go with them. Prediction: Boston College 17, Penn State 13.
National University Holiday Bowl (8/7c, ESPN)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) vs. #24 USC Trojans (8-4)
Line: Trojans by 7. O/U: 62.
The final game of the day could be the highest scoring. Both teams have elite running backs, some notable receivers, and capable quarterbacks. The difference is USC is much better in two of those categories. While running back Javorious Allen (1,337 rushing yards, 442 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns) might not be a better runner than Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (1,523 yards, 21 total touchdowns), the Trojans have a better quarterback in Cody Kessler (3,505 yards, 36 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) and have an elite receiver in Nelson Agholor (1,223 yd, 11td).
That said, Nebraska does have a good, dual threat quarterback in Tommy Armstrong (2,314 passing yards, 664 rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns). Granted, he was not great this year, completing less than 52 percent of his passes, but he’s just a sophomore, has room to improve, and does possess some solid wheels.
Both teams can score, and are above average in scoring defense. But, USC is just too good, and I believe the Trojans will win, in what will feel like a home game. Prediction: Nebraska 34, USC 48.