In & around SEC football

December 28, 2017 chris
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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent

Bowl Previews and Predictions III
Season record: 89-23

Friday, Dec. 29
Belk Bowl
Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M (+3). The Aggies made a coaching change after the regular season, and Jimbo Fisher will take over for Kevin Sumlin next year. Texas A&M finished 7-5 but has a very talented roster that can compete with just about anyone in the country. Wake Forest is playing in a bowl game for the second straight season under Dave Clawson, and the Demon Deacons are searching for their first eight-win season since 2008. Prediction: Texas A&M 27, Wake Forest 23.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
North Carolina State vs. Arizona State (+6). It was a frustrating season for NC State. The Wolfpack possessed the talent to play with any team, but they were inconsistent and made too many mistakes in big games. Still, NC State finished 8-4 and had a successful year. Arizona State finished 7-5 but decided to part ways with head coach Todd Graham. The Sun Devils brought in longtime NFL coach Herm Edwards as Graham’s replacement, even though Edwards has never been a collegiate head coach. Prediction: North Caolina State 36, Arizona State 33.
American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Kentucky vs. Northwestern (-7.5). Mark Stoops has turned the Wildcats around during his five years in Lexington, but it felt as if Kentucky underperformed in 2017. Sure, a 7-5 season is nothing to scoff at for Kentucky football, but the Wildcats had the potential to contend for the SEC East title. Northwestern started the season at 2-3 but rallied to win seven consecutive games to finish 9-3 – including three straight wins in overtime. Prediction: Northwestern 31, Kentucky 20.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Utah State vs. New Mexico State (+3.5). New Mexico State is making its first bowl appearance since 1960 after finishing 6-6 this season in the Sun Belt. Ironically, the Aggies defeated Utah State, 20-13, the last time they made a bowl game. Utah State also finished 6-6, and the Aggies are playing in their sixth bowl game in the last seven years. Prediction: New Mexico State 34, Utah State 31.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl
USC vs. Ohio State (-7). The Trojans and Buckeyes won their respective conferences but both teams fell just short of making the national playoffs. There was some debate between Alabama and Ohio State for the final spot in the playoffs, but the Buckeyes’ blowout loss to Iowa was likely the determining factor. These are two of the most talented teams in the country, and this promises to be one of the best bowl games on the schedule. Prediction: Ohio State 38, USC 31.
Saturday, Dec. 30
TaxSlayer Bowl
Louisville vs. Mississippi State (+6.5). The Bulldogs had a chance to possibly win 10 games, but Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl after quarterback Nick Fitzgerald suffered a season-ending injury. Head coach Dan Mullen left after the regular season to take over at Florida, and Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead replaced him in Starkville. Louisville is led by star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who followed his 2016 Heisman campaign with another stellar season though the Cardinals only finished 8-4. Prediction: Louisville 38, Mississippi State 17.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Iowa State vs. Memphis (-3.5). Matt Campbell took over a difficult job at Iowa State two years ago and led the Cyclones to an impressive 7-5 season in 2017. If ISU defeats Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, it will be the program’s first eight-win season since 2000. Memphis has one of the best offenses in the country led by star receiver Anthony Miller, and coach Mike Norvell led the Tigers to a 10-win season and a berth in the AAC title game. Prediction: Iowa State 45, Memphis 42.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
Washington vs. Penn State (-2.5). About halfway through the season, Washington and Penn State were both contenders for the playoffs. But each team lost a pair of games in conference play, and their consolation prize is a showdown in the Fiesta Bowl. Saquon Barkley was the top running back in college football this season, and this almost certainly will be the junior’s last game of his collegiate career. Prediction: Penn State 33, Washington 27.
Capital One Orange Bowl
Miami vs. Wisconsin (-6.5). Miami and Wisconsin were among the most surprising teams in the country this season. Although both teams lost in their conference title games, they had an opportunity to make the playoffs. The Badgers were undefeated entering the Big 10 title game, while Miami made the ACC title game for the first time since joining the league in 2004. Prediction: Miami 23, Wisconsin 20.
Monday, Jan. 1
Outback Bowl
Michigan vs. South Carolina (+7.5). It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Michigan after the Wolverines returned only five starters, but many were disappointed after UM finished 8-4. The Wolverines didn’t beat a team with a winning record all season, and the pressure will be on Jim Harbaugh as he enters his fourth season in 2018. Harbaugh recently received a commitment from former Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson, and he will be expected to deliver next season. South Carolina was the second-best team in the SEC East as the Gamecocks fiished 8-4 on the year and made major improvements under Will Muschamp. The offense was still inconsistent this season, however, and Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Muschamp’s next hire at OC will be very important for the future of the program. Prediction: Michigan 24, South Carolina 20.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
UCF vs. Auburn (-9.5). If Auburn had beaten Georgia in the SEC title game, the Tigers would have been in the College Football Playoffs. But the Auburn offense couldn’t sustain anything after its first drive, and the loss sent the Tigers to the Peach Bowl. Kerryon John-son’s status is unknown for the bowl game, but Auburn should still be able to move the ball effectively and score against the undefeated Knights. UCF finished undefeated and won the AAC in Scott Frost’s second season. Frost left after the conference title game to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Nebraska. Prediction: Auburn 41, UCF 27.
Citrus Bowl Presented by Overton’s
Notre Dame vs. LSU (-3). The first month of Ed Orgeron’s first full season as LSU’s head coach was about as bad as it gets after the Tigers suffered a blowout loss to Mississippi State and a home loss to Troy. But Orgeron and the Tigers rebounded and finished 9-3 while improving on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame was in the conversation for a playoff berth, but the Irish dropped two games to Miami and Stanford down the stretch. Prediction: LSU 31, Notre Dame 24.
College Football Playoffs
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (+1). The first semifinal of the College Football Playoffs features a matchup between two of the top young coaches in the sport. Kirby Smart led his alma mater to the playoffs in only his second season, and the Bulldogs won their first conference championship since 2005. Geogia is searching for its first national title since 1980 but has the difficult task of slowing down Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley is in his first season after taking over for Bob Stoops, and the Sooners have perhaps the most dynamic offense in college football. Oklahoma’s defense is a weakness, and Georgia should be able to run the ball and have an effective play-action offense. But Mayfield has been the best player in college football all season, and he will prove to be too much for the Bulldogs to handle. Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Georgia 31.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 1 Clemson (+2.5). For the third straight season, the Tigers and the Crimson Tide will meet in the College Football Playoffs. The two powers met in the national title game during the last two years and split the two games. The winner of this matchup will play for the national title again, and right now these are the best two programs in college football. This hasn’t been Alabama’s strongest season under Nick Saban, and it was unclear if the Crimson Tide would make the playoffs after the loss to Auburn. But UA is one of the best four teams in the country and deserves the opportunity to play for the title. Clemson lost the best player in school history to the NFL in Deshaun Watson, but Dabo Swinney still managed to get the Tigers back into the playoffs as the top overall team. The defense has been the strength of the team all year, and the defensive line will pose a threat to Alabama. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has improved throughout the year, but he and Jalen Hurts have some of the same limitations in the passing game. Alabama should get a few of its injured players back for the game, which could ultimately help them slow down the Clemson offense. Prediction: Alabama 27, Clemson 23.