Picks for the second week of college bowl games
Week 2 of the bowl season is here, and the matchups are getting progressively more intriguing. While none of the games involve the country’s elite teams, there are plenty of outstanding individual players and matchups to focus on in every game. In particular, many of the nation’s top pass-rushers will be an action, making this an exciting week for bettors and draft enthusiasts alike.
Friday, December 23
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion
Line: Old Dominion, -4
Old Dominion QB David Washington has an adjusted completion percentage (this factors out drops, throwaways, spikes and passes batted at the line of scrimmage) of 67.1 percent. While this is an average number, it is made significantly more impressive by the fact that 45 percent of his throws are at least 10 yards downfield. By comparison, Washington State’s Luke Falk’s adjusted completion percentage is at 78.5 percent, but 64 percent of his tosses are shorter than 10 yards, thus the degree of difficulty of his throws is lower than those of Washington. Washington also has a QB rating of 112.9 with 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions when he has a clean pocket, making pressure a necessity for Eastern Michigan. The Eagles’ only legitimate pass rusher is Pat O’Connor, who has 32 total pressures this season, including eight sacks. He typically lines up on the left side of the defense, meaning he’ll go head-to-head with Monarchs’ RT Devin Hannon most of the game. After a rough non-conference slate to start the season, Hannon gave up just one sack and no hits in his final nine games of the season. If Hannon can neutralize O’Connor on the edge and open up the passing game, the Eagles will be in for a long game because RB Ray Lawry is going to be difficult to stop regardless of the efficiency of the passing game. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and gained 672 of his 1112 yards after first contact this year. His ability to break tackles this season was impressive, as he ranked fifth in the country on our elusiveness metric. Eastern lacks the playmakers on offense to keep pace with the diverse attack of Old Dominion.
Prediction: Old Dominion 33, Eastern Michigan 20
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. No. 25 Navy
Line: Louisiana Tech, -5
Navy QB Zach Abey will need to show significant improvement both as a passer and in terms of running Navy’s triple option if the Midshipmen are to have any hope of keeping pace with Louisiana Tech. With starter Will Worth done due to an injury in the AAC championship game, Abey made his first career start against Army the following week. Navy had a miserable day, as the offense ran just 36 plays and gained just 201 total yards.
The Bulldogs also had a rough finish to their season, as they lost by 15 to Southern Miss in Week 13 and then gave up 58 points in a two-touchdown loss to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA championship game, a team they had previously beaten in week six. While the defense has struggled, the offense certainly has not, as Louisiana Tech has topped 40 points in seven of its last eight games. The Bulldogs are led by the dynamic receiving duo of Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. Taylor will be a hot name among NFL analysts this spring, as he has posted 223 catches and forced 35 missed tackles over the past two seasons, while Henderson’s 42 forced missed tackles is tops in the country by an amazing 18. I expect Navy to show better than it did against Army, but this is a surprising spread.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 37, Navy 20
Dollar General Bowl
Ohio vs. Troy
Line: Troy, -3.5
This looks like the perfect showcase game for a couple of Bobcats who will be taking their skills to the NFL next season. No offensive line starter for Troy has a run-block grade that reaches 50.0, which sets up star ILB Blair Brown for a huge swan song. He ranks second in the country in run-stop percentage and first in tackling efficiency among all inside linebackers, and his 91.8 run-defense grade is the best of any defender (all positions) in FBS. The other standout for Ohio is pass-rush specialist Tarell Basham, who has 63 total pressures this season, and ranks fourth in the country in pass-rush productivity among all 4-3 defensive ends. Basham splits his reps almost evenly between the right and left sides of the line, but considering how strong Troy LT Troy Garcia has been this season, expect Basham to rush off the defense’s left side in this game more than he has throughout the regular season. If he is able to harass Trojans’ QB Brandon Silvers, Troy’s passing game is going to struggle. When under pressure this season, Silvers has completed just 39.7 percent of his throws and has a QB rating of just 61.0. This is sure to be a low-scoring contest, but one that looks to favor the Bobcats.
Prediction: Ohio 21, Troy 17
Saturday, December 24
Middle Tennessee vs. Hawaii
This matchup is not open for betting, thus it is a chance for me to look silly by whiffing on a straight head-to-head matchup. The Blue Raiders have played a number of wild games throughout the season, including their Week 13 victory over Florida Atlantic (77 to 56), and this Christmas Eve bout should be no different. Middle Tennessee star QB Brent Stockstill was having an outstanding season until breaking his collarbone in Week 10, but has been throwing and practicing with the team for two weeks and could make his return for the bowl game. His performance this season was steady, regardless of pressure or blitz package. When forced to adjust to the rush, he still managed to throw six touchdowns to just one interception, and posted an impressive QB rating of 92.8. Against the extra rusher he was deadly; He completed 62.8 percent of his throws for 12 scores and just one pick, good for a ridiculous 116.3 QB rating. Hawaii has not shown the ability to pressure the QB this season, as the only Warrior with more than two sacks this season, LB Jahlani Tavai (6), managed just 17 pressures on the season. With the Warriors’ struggles against the pass this season, it’s difficult to envision them hanging with the high-powered Blue Raiders.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee 56, Hawaii 27
Monday, December 26
St. Petersburg Bowl
Miami (OH) vs. Mississippi State
Line: Mississippi State, -14
The major difference between Power-5 and Group-of-5 schools is often strength and size at the line of scrimmage. If this holds true for the St. Petersburg Bowl matchup, then the RedHawks are in serious trouble because their starting five on the offensive line have struggled throughout the season against MAC competition. RT Collin Buchanan posted a respectable 72.5 overall grade this season, but no one else on the line has an overall grade over 51.0. Mississippi State doesn’t have a plethora of pass-rushers, but the entire front-seven has graded well against the run, which is the life blood of the RedHawk offense. Miami needs to feature RB Kenny Young more than it did during the regular season, as he forced an impressive 20 missed tackles on just 78 carries. If he isn’t able to get it going on the ground, expect the running of Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald to help the Bulldogs distance themselves from the RedHawks early.
Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Miami (OH) 10
Quick Lane Bowl
Maryland vs. Boston College
Line: Maryland, -1
Boston College gave up more than 17 points just once this season to an opponent that isn’t currently ranked in the top 15, and Maryland is certainly not of that caliber. The Terrapins do have a respectable run game with RBs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison and QB Perry Hills — the trio has combined for 1,742 yards while forcing 57 missed tackles on just 243 carries, but the Eagles rank 11th in run defense grading among Power-5 schools, and are third-best in FBS in missed-tackle rate. Boston College also features one of the top pass-rushers in the nation, as DE Harold Landry ranks second in the FBS with 16 sacks and has 65 total pressures this year. The Eagles don’t have an offense capable of running and hiding from the Terrapins, but that simply means the under is just as much in play as the line.
Prediction: Boston College 16, Maryland 10
Camping World Independence Bowl
North Carolina State vs. Vanderbilt
Line: North Carolina State, -4
North Carolina State RB Matthew Dayes has been an effective rusher outside the tackles this season (on runs outside of either tackle he is averaging 6.2 yards per carry while forcing 24 missed tackles on 93 touches), but he’ll have a tough time getting outside the likes of star Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham. Also, considering QB Ryan Finley has completed just 42 percent of his attempts that have traveled at least 10 yards through the air, it’s hard to imagine the Wolfpack having much success against a strong Commodore defense. Vanderbilt is no juggernaut on offense either making this one look like a low-scoring toss-up.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 16, North Carolina State 13
Tuesday, December 27
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Army vs. North Texas
Line: Army, -10
This game is a rare rematch, as North Texas went on the road Oct. 22 this season and defeated the Black Knights by 17 points. On the surface, the 10-point spread in favor of Army is head-scratching, but the Mean Green is unlikely to turn over the Black Knights seven times again, as it did in the October matchup. North Texas ran just 52 offensive plays compared to Army’s 90, and not surprisingly Army essentially held the ball for a full quarter more than North Texas. If this formula plays itself out again, this time without the turnovers, expect Army to come close to beating this spread.
Prediction: Army 33, North Texas 20
No. 24 Temple vs. Wake Forest
Line: Temple, -11.5
While off-field distractions could prove an issue for Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons should receive a boost from their opponent not having actual assess to their gameplan. However, while none of Temple’s last six opponents have come with two touchdowns of the Owls, they will have their own distraction to deal with, as head coach Matt Rhule has accepted the head vacancy at Baylor.
With the behind-the-scenes drama of both clubs evening out, the play on the field should be even as well. Owls’ QB Phillip Walker has been on fire as of late, as he has thrown for nine touchdowns and just two picks in his last five games while his QB rating has dipped below 105.0 just once in that stretch. He will have to shoulder the load for Temple, as the offense line doesn’t boast a run-blocking grade better than 42.0 and will go up against a very solid Wake Forest front. The Demon Deacon have similar struggles up front, but don’t have the same level of QB play that Temple has had down the stretch. Look for both defenses to play well, but Temple should have enough talent on both sides of the ball to come away with a victory.
Prediction: Temple 20, Wake Forest 14
National Funding Holiday Bowl
Minnesota vs. Washington State
Line: Washington State, -9.5
Much of the intrigue in this game was gone with the announcement of 10 Minnesota players being suspended for the game, as two of them, S Antoine Winfield Jr. and CB KiAnte Hardin were key starters in the secondary. The Golden Gophers still have Jalen Myrick, who likely will be matched up against Washington State star WR Gabe Marks, but he has been susceptible to the big play throughout the season (he has given up completions of at least 20 yards in six different games). The Gophers have featured a conservative offensive attack all season, and when they’ve needed to put their foot on the gas, they’ve struggled. In their final game of the regular season against Wisconsin, Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner threw four bad picks in the second half. With the secondary depleted, Cougars QB Luke Falk should continue to display his outstanding accuracy (his 78.5 percent adjusted accuracy percentage is fourth-best in FBS) and put Minnesota away early.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Minnesota 20
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
Boise State vs. Baylor
Line: Boise State, -7.5
The Baylor defense was a disaster down the stretch, as the Bears averaged 43.6 points against during their six game losing streak. A major part of their issues has been the almost complete absence of a pass rush. DT K.J. Smith is the only Bear with at least five sacks and 20 total pressures on the season. Boise State’s lowest pass blocking grade on the offensive line is right tackle Mario Yakoo, who had a stretch of six-straight games without allowing a pressure. With such a huge apparent mismatch (and Baylor seemingly mailing in their season), I expect the Broncos to capitalize and finish their season with a win.
Prediction: Boise State 38, Baylor 30
Wednesday, December 28
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
Line: Pitt, -5.5
Pitt is the only team with wins over two top-five teams (Clemson and Penn State), and ended the season on fire offensively (175 points scored in the final three games). This offensive outburst was powered largely by an offensive line that gave up two sacks and no hits in that stretch of games. They’ll be tested by Northwestern’s pass rush, led by DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (10 sacks, 43 total pressures). This being said, Pitt’s balanced approach with RB James Conner should allow them to put points on the board against the Wildcats. The Northwestern offense is led by Biletnikoff finalist Austin Carr, who has 84 catches and 1196 yards on the season. While Pitt’s secondary has struggled, DE Ejuan Price has been one of the most productive pass-rushers in the country this season, and will have very favorable matchups on the edge in this game. Northwestern LT Blake Hance has given up 32 total pressures this season, while on the other, side Eric Olson has surrendered 40. Price has notched 62 total pressures this year and is just three sacks behind the 18 of Ja’Von Rolland-Jones of Arkansas State. He’ll have a real shot at catching Rolland-Jones, and it’s his play on the edge that should prove to be the difference in this matchup.
Prediction: Pitt 35, Northwestern 24
Russell Athletic Bowl
No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami
Line: Miami, -2.5
After a disastrous October, Miami went undefeated in November, winning all four games by an average of 19 points. During this stretch, the offensive line gave up just seven combined sacks and hits, which was key to the success of QB Brad Kaaya. When pressured this season, Kaaya has completed just 32.9 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 54.9. When kept clean, however, he has completed 67.5 percent of his passes and has thrown 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and has a QB rating of 110.0. While the Mountaineers have had the only viable defense in the Big 12, they don’t possess a pass-rusher with at least 25 total pressures. Kaaya should have the time and space he needs to operate the Hurricane offense, and a strong day from him will mean victory for Miami.
Prediction: Miami 28, West Virginia 23
Fosters Farms Bowl
Indiana vs. No. 19 Utah
Line: Utah, -7.5
This matchup features two relatively strong defenses, but also one major head-to-head mismatch. Utah DE Hunter Dimick has been arguably the most dominant pass-rusher in the country this season, as he has racked up 15 sacks and 74 total pressures this season. Indiana LT Coy Cronk gave up nine sacks in the regular season, tied for the most of any offensive lineman in the country. Expect to see Utah build a lead with its strong run game, allowing Dimick to work his magic one the Hoosiers are forced to start throwing the ball.
Prediction: Utah 27, Indiana 17
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
Line: Texas A&M, -2
While Kansas State’s passing game is a major struggle, their willingness to commit to the run should pose a significant problem for Texas A&M. The Wildcats have averaged 6.2 yards per carry on designed runs and scrambles this season, and have forced 72 missed tackles. Their elusiveness will be key in this bowl matchup, as the Aggies rank 115th in FBS in tackling efficiency. The Aggies have their own issues in the passing game, and don’t have the run-blocking to put up a lot of points on Kansas State. This should be a low-scoring game, with the Wildcats controlling the clock and getting the win.
Prediction: Kansas State 24, Texas A&M 23
Thursday, December 29
USF vs. South Carolina
Line: South Florida, -10.5
South Carolina has gotten play against the run from DE Marquavius Lewis and DT Taylor Stallworth, but USF presents a unique challenge on the ground. QB Quinton Flowers is the highest-graded runner in the country at the position (97.7), and RB Marlon Mack is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Flowers has also thrown 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions, and has a passer rating of 105.0. The balanced attack of the Bulls has allowed them to score at least 30 points in every game this season, and South Carolina has neither the complete defense to stop them or the offense to keep pace.
Prediction: USF 38, South Carolina 21
Arkansas vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech
Line: Virginia Tech, -7
This should be a fun matchup, as both teams have shown the ability to put points on the board throughout the season while at the same time, struggled to prevent them. The most glaring difference in production between these two offenses is in pass protection, as Virginia Tech’s starting offensive line has given up just 54 total pressures on 2,364 reps, while the Razorbacks have yielded 123 in 1979 passing game snaps. Both teams will put points on the board, but look for Virginia Tech to keep QB Jerod Evans clean enough to come away with the victory.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Arkansas 27
Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Colorado
Line: Colorado, -3
This game may be my favorite, as it features possibly the most intriguing unit matchups of the entire bowl season. The Oklahoma State WR corps is loaded with talent, and has a QB more than able to deliver the ball to it, but Colorado may have the best secondary in the country. James Washington is the top playmaker of the Cowboys, as he is averaging 19.5 yards per reception this season and has three plays longer than 80 yards. The trio of S Tedric Thompson and CBs Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie have given up just 83 catches on 206 throws into their coverage and have defended a total of 38 passes. Unfortunately for Oklahoma State, their defense doesn’t match up as well against Colorado’s offense, especially considering QB Sefo Liufau should be healthy after the long layoff. The aggressive Buffaloes will frustrate Oklahoma State’s receivers with their aggressiveness, as their caliber of talent is something that simply doesn’t exist in the Big 12 this year.
Prediction: Colorado 33, Oklahoma State 27