We continue this introduction to Bowl Season with 10 bowls that will take us (almost) through New Year’s Eve.
*Due to a time pinch and poor scheduling, we’re cutting this segment two games short so that four December 28th bowl games are released in time.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Rutgers vs. Notre Dame
The Golden Domers enter this game after being in and out of the rankings all year. Brian Kelly’s team played eight games with an AP or BCS ranking, winning only four of them. Of those four, only one came by more than a touchdown. Their lows included beating 1-11 Purdue by just seven points and losing to a 6-6 Pitt squad. However, this team had it’s fair share of quality wins, beating Michigan State, Arizona State and USC. They will face off against a Rutgers team that has lost three of its last four and five of its last seven. Three of their six wins came by a combined ten points against teams that finished the season with ten wins between them. The Fighting Irish should have no trouble dispatching the Scarlet Knights. Notre Dame wins by 14.
Belk Bowl – Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
Despite having three fewer wins, the Tarheels come into the Belk Bowl favored by oddsmakers due to their late season swing. After starting just 1-5 (including a 24-point loss to East Carolina), North Carolina finished the season on a 5-1 run, with its lone loss coming by two against ACC Coastal champion, Duke. Their average margin of victory during those five wins was over 25 points. They’ll be facing a Bearcats team that finished 9-3, thanks to having the softest opponent winning percentage outside of Old Dominion. Cincinnati’s FBS opponents averaged just four wins on the season. They also had bad losses to 2-10 South Florida and 4-8 Illinois (by 28!). This is why North Carolina is projected as 7.5-point winners.
Russell Athletic Bowl – Miami (FL) vs. (18) Louisville
Louisville started out the season with potential title hopes and BCS aspirations after laying some wood on Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season. Those hopes took a permanent detour when the Cardinals slipped up against Central Florida, but the reality is they weren’t among the nation’s elite to begin with. Charlie Strong’s team went 11-1 this season, but never faced an opponent who was ranked at the time of their match up (UCF was Louisville’s only opponent to be ranked at any time during the season). While Louisville is a very deep, talented team, they never played to the level of the nation’s top powers. Their opponent, the Hurricanes entered the season unranked, but was soon gaining national attention. After ascending to seventh in the polls on the strength of a 7-0 record, they plummeted back to earth while losing three straight. Miami’s flaws became exploited during the second half of the season and finished their last six games with a -31 point differential. Louisville was always the better team, but the recent play of the Hurricanes makes the Cardinals’ spread even larger; they will be seen as 10-point favorites.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – Michigan vs. Kansas State
The Wolverines and Wildcats will head to Tempe for a battle of 7-5 teams. Bill Snyder’s Wildcats lost their star quarterback, Colin Klein, to graduation over the offseason and saw their win total drop by four. Despite losing five games, Kansas State never lost by more than 10 points even though they played four ranked opponents. Michigan played opponents even closer, four of their five losses came by a combined 11 points, including a one-point heartbreaker to Ohio State after the Wolverines failed to convert a two-point conversion in the closing seconds. But the Wolverines’ inability to soundly beat inferior opponents (Akron, Connecticut) raises red flags. This gives a slight edge to Kansas State, who is favored by two.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl – Middle Tennessee vs. Navy
Let’s face it, this bowl has very little appeal for any person who isn’t a Midshipmen or someone living within a 50 mile radius of Murfreesboro. The Academy’s season was highlighted by winning the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy and beating a decent Pittsburgh team. However, they were 0-4 against teams that finished the season with a winning record. The Blue Raiders resume is even less inspiring with only a two-point victory over Marshall worth mentioning. And when they lost, they did so in horrific fashion; of their four losses, three came by at least 20 points. They should manage to keep it closer this time, with Navy being favored by only 3.5 points.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl – Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
The Music City Bowl matches together two of the better five-loss teams in the country. The Yellow Jackets beat ACC Coastal champion Duke by 24 (albeit early in the season), took Georgia down to the wire and absolutely throttled a 6-6 Syracuse squad by 56 points. Ole Miss was a team of streaks, winning and losing three in a row, followed by four-game winning streak before ending the season on back-to-back losses. Even with five losses, the Runnin’ Rebs only had two below-average games by my calculation. They’ll head into Nashville as 1.5-point favorites.
Valero Alamo Bowl – (10) Oregon vs. Texas
This is a match-up that makes me wish I had a weighted component to my numbers. Ever since the Stanford loss, the Ducks have barely been above average. To put it into perspective without revealing the wizard behind the curtain, if the Oregon team from the first eight games were to play the Oregon team from the last four, the first Ducks squad would be favored by 27. That’s how big of a drop-off Mark Helfrich’s group has suffered in the closing weeks. Texas, on the other hand, has been playing great of late, with their 25-point loss to the Cowboys as their only stinker during their final six games. If we were doing with numbers from just the last four weeks, Texas would enter as 4.5-point favorites; since we’re bound by consistency, I reluctantly list the Ducks as 13.5-point favorites.
National University Holiday Bowl – (14) Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
This bowl game is brought to you by the second-largest private, nonprofit institution of higher education in California and the 12th largest in the United States. I thought you would like to know that, because I had to Google it. I just wonder how a nonprofit institution of higher education can afford a bowl sponsorship …
Anyways, about the game. Texas Tech is another team that is going to be worse than its actual prediction shows due to a poor performance over recent games. The Red Raiders started off the season 7-0 and ascended to 10th in the AP rankings before the Sooners put them in their place, starting a five-game free fall. 23- and 25-point losses to K-State and Texas, respectively, highlight their nose dive. They come in as heavy underdogs to Arizona State, which outside of facing Stanford has been spectacular. They had a +235 point differential against non-Cardinal opponents and closed the regular season with seven straight wins before falling to Stanford for the second time. I’ve got the Sun Devils winning by 16.
AdvoCare V100 Bowl – Arizona vs. Boston College
Boston College has been one of those sneaky-good teams this season, playing both Clemson and Florida State tough (they gave the Seminoles their closest game by far), but ultimately lack consistency. They also tend to play games a lot closer than they should. The Wildcats have appeared to be everywhere from Pac-12 contenders to mid-level scrubs. Their inconsistency is maddening. Are they the team that beat Oregon by 26 or the team that only beat Cal by five and lost to Arizona State by 37. There’s no doubt they are the better team when they’re clicking, but that doesn’t always happen. So I hesitantly say Cats by six.
Hyundai Sun Bowl – Virginia Tech vs. (17) UCLA
Another match-up between the ACC and the Pac-12. This time the Hokies will take on the Bruins of UCLA. In the Bruins favor, their three losses came against teams with a combined .816 winning percentage. However, only their loss to ASU was by less than two scores. The Beamers, meanwhile, were consistently inconsistent. After losing to Alabama by 25, VA Tech won their next six, five of which were bowl teams. Then they lost to Duke at home by three before falling to BC on the road. They followed that up by beating the 11th-ranked Hurricanes by 18 before crapping the bed against Maryland. So what I’m saying is, I don’t know what to expect from them. The numbers say UCLA by 4.5.