First and foremost, Happy New Year everyone!
I hope everyone has a festive and stress free 2015.
That said, college football will definitely be doing its part to provide fans a great 2015. The past season was full of suspense and intrigue, and surely, more is in store for 2015.
However, this season is almost over, and bowl season will be coming to a close within 11 days. But, there’s still a lot to be decided. The playoff will begin today, and there will surely be a lot to address towards those two games. Before that though, here are my predictions for the three New Year’s Day games that will precede the big cahunas. Each game will be an early kickoff, one after the other. Hopefully, my picks are on point, after yesterday’s games saw me go 2-1 for the day (knew I should’ve picked Georgia Tech), giving me a 19-8 record for bowl season thus far.
Outback Bowl (Noon, 11a.m. CT, ESPN)
Auburn Tigers (8-4) vs. (18) Wisconsin Badgers (10-3)
Line: Auburn by 7. O/U: 64.
The first game of the day is sure to be a dandy. At least, there’s a lot to look forward to. Both teams are known for running the football, and each puts up about 35 points per game.
Auburn boasts a dual threat quarterback in Nick Marshall (2,315 passing yards, 780 rushing yards, 29 total touchdowns) and a high caliber running back in Cameron Artis-Payne (1,482 yards, 11 touchdowns). they also have a pair of 700-yard receivers, and Ricardo Louis is a very interesting hybrid player. They started off strong, but a brutal SEC schedule saw them lose three of their final four games.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin enter the game dealing with one of the worst losses in school history, a 59-0 Big-Ten Championship loss to the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, which catapulted the Buckeyes into the playoff. And yet, they still possess one of the game’s best scoring defenses, allowing just 20 points a game.
More importantly, the Badgers have one of college football’s best running backs in Melvin Gordon (2,336 yards, 26 touchdowns), who, alongside Corey Clement (844 yards, nine touchdowns), and scrambling backup quarterback Tanner McEvoy (574 rush yards, 11 total touchdowns), combine for the fourth-best rushing crew in the FBS.
In the end, I see this being a back and forth game. Both teams have suspect losses (Auburn lost to Texas A&M, Wisconsin lost at Northwestern), have been blown out once (Auburn lost by 27 at Georgia, Wisconsin was cleansed out by Ohio State), and have beaten multiple ranked teams.
I must admit that I want Wisconsin to win. They were the better team in the season opener against LSU, but they blew a 24-7 lead and lost 27-24. I do not believe they will beat Auburn if Auburn gives it all they’ve got. But, I do not believe Auburn has fully recovered from its brutal stretch. Prediction: Auburn 27, Wisconsin 28.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (12:30 p.m., 11:30 a.m. CT, ESPN)
(8) Michigan State (10-2) vs. (5) Baylor Bears (11-1)
Line: Baylor by 2.5. O/U: 69.5.
The next game is the one really worth paying attention to. It is the final non-playoff “New Year’s Six” Bowl, and will be the newest edition of one of the most famed bowl games in college football history. Taking place every year since 1937, even in wartime. the game has pitted a who’s-who of legendary players. While none of this year’s players have reached that status of yet, both teams are amongst the best teams left out of the college football playoff, and there are quite a few players worth mentioning on both sides.
First let’s address the Michigan State Spartans. All year long, they have dominated opponents. Their lone losses came against playoff teams, but they were competitive in each game. They lost their second game of the season at #2 Oregon, despite leading at halftime. They were outscore 29-3 in the second half, and fell 46-27. But, the game was close until the final two minutes.
The other Spartan loss came at the hands of fourth-ranked Ohio State. Once again, the game was pretty close for the first three quarters. But in the final frame, the Buckeyes took control, winning 49-37.
The Spartans have one of the best point differentials in college football, possessing the FBS’ seventh-best scoring offense (43.1 points per game scored), as well as the fifteenth best scoring defense (19.9 per game). They have a legit tripod of offensive players, with quarterback Connor Cook (2,900 yards, 22 touchdowns) having the ability to throw to a very reliable receiver in Tony Lippett (1,124 yards, 11 touchdowns), as well as the luxury to hand it off to Jeremy Langford (1,360 yards, 19 touchdowns). The latter has had nine straight 100-yard rushing games.
As for the Baylor Bears, the squad is as good as they come in terms of scoring offense (48-8 points per game, tops in the nation). They have scored at least 38 points ten times, and have exceeded the 60-point mark on four occasions, including the classic 61-58 come from behind win over TCU.
As a result of the team’s success, the Bears were hoping for a playoff berth. However, the combination of their 41-27 loss at West Virginia, and the Big 12’s decision to not have a conference championship game caused the Bear’s hopes to evaporate.
They have the nations fifth-best passing attack, led by senior quarterback Bryce Petty (3,305 passing yards, 26 pass touchdowns). While his numbers may not be as good as last year (4,200 pass yards, 46 total touchdowns, three interceptions), that’s due to the fact that he missed a game this year, and got to rest in various blowout wins.
The team can also run the football, having surpassed 2,800 yards on the ground. Shock Linwood (1,226 yards, 16 touchdowns) leads the charge, while Johnny Jefferson (526 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Devin Chafin (385 yards, 8 touchdowns) have helped paved the way to the team’s 42 rushing touchdowns.
In terms of the receiving core, Baylor is loaded. They have three receivers that have surpassed 700 yards, four receivers that have at least six receiving touchdowns, and that’s despite the fact that injuries derailed Levi Norwood and Antwan Goodley’s seasons. Had they been healthy, the possibilities are unthinkable.
In the end, I see this game going just like Michigan State’s prior defeats. They will play close for the better part of three quarters, but when it matters most, they will falter. Prediction: Michigan State 28, Baylor 41.
Buffalo WIld Wings Citrus Bowl (1/noon CT, ABC)
(16) Missouri Tigers (10-3) vs. (25) Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4)
Line: Missouri by 4.5. O/U: 47.5
Finally, the Citrus Bowl is back! The bowl has actually been around since 1947, but has not been called the Citrus Bowl since 2002, when it was changed into the Capital One Bowl. The Bowl has invited at least one ranked team every year since 1981, and the game is usually a pretty good one.
This year’s game features two teams that are ranked, and known for grit and determination, and have dual threat quarterbacks that aren’t great, but can produce. That is especially true for Missouri, who was not expected to do much this season. However, the team managed to beat some pretty good squads in close games this season.
The Tigers do not boast any notable players on offense, but are full of players that can contribute on offense. Defensively though, the pass rushing duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden has terrorized opposing offenses to the tune of 22 sacks on the year.
As for Minnesota, they have one major player worth addressing: Davis Cobb. He has run for 1,545 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. If he plays well, Minnesota has a chance. However, I see him struggling to surpass 150 yards, and that could mean Missouri wins by double digits. Prediction: Missouri 24, Minnesota 14.