College Bowl Previews and Predictions
Monday, Dec. 28
Pittsburgh vs. Navy (-3). The Midshipmen enjoyed one of their best seasons in the last decade under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. Navy finished the regular season at 10-2 and came in second in the division in the American Conference. Pitt finished the year at 8-4 in Pat Narduzzi’s first year as head coach, and Narduzzi will be coaching in his first bowl game as a head coach. Prediction: Navy 27, Pitt 23.
Quick Lane Bowl
Central Michigan vs. Minnesota (-6). Minnesota is one of the few 5-7 teams that qualified for bowl eligibility and is actually favored over the Chippewas from the Mid American Conference. Two MAC teams already have won outright as underdogs this bowl season in Toledo and Akron. Prediction: Central Michigan 33, Minnesota 31.
Tuesday, Dec. 29
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
California vs. Air Force (+7). Quarterback Jared Goff led the Golden Bears to a seven-win season and likely will be a first round pick in the NFL draft if he chooses to leave school early. Air Force came up just short in the Mountain West Conference championship, but the Falcons still had a successful eight-win season. Prediction: Cal 37, Air Force 31.
Russell Athletic Bowl
North Carolina vs. Baylor (+2.5). The Tar Heels were one of the biggest surprises of the season and nearly won the At-lantic Coast Conference championship under head coach Larry Fedora. Baylor finished the season 9-3 despite losing three quarterbacks to injury. Prediction: North Carolina 41, Baylor 30.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Nevada vs. Colorado State (-3). The Arizona Bowl is the only bowl game featuring two teams from the same conference. These two Mountain West teams didn’t meet in the regular season. Prediction: Colorado State 32, Nevada 27.
LSU vs. Texas Tech (+7). In early November, it looked like LSU might be a national title contender. Three losses later, the Tigers landed in the Texas Bowl, squaring off against a five-loss Texas Tech team. The Red Raiders have a potent offense but also have one of the worst rushing defenses in college football. That’s bad news for Tech fans, because LSU has Leonard Fournette, who is one of the most gifted backs in the sport. If the Tigers are motivated and take the game seriously, they should run all over the Red Raiders. Prediction: LSU 38, Texas Tech 24.
Wednesday, Dec. 30
Auburn vs. Memphis (+2.5). Auburn’s season began with national championship aspirations and the Tigers are ending the year with a trip up the road to the lowest tier Southea-stern Conference bowl. Regardless, it’s still an important game for Auburn and Gus Malzahn moving forward, and the Tigers are facing a quality opponent in Memphis, which, finished 9-3 in the AAC with potential NFL first round pick Paxton Lynch at quarterback. Memphis already knocked off Ole Miss earlier this season. Auburn’s offense should find some success but the Tigers will have trouble stopping the Memphis offense. Prediction: Memphis 34, Auburn 31.
N.C. State vs. Mississippi State (-5.5). Dak Prescott’s final game of his impressive career at Mississippi State will be against the seven-win Wolfpack in Charlotte. It’s virtually a road game for the Bulldogs, but it’s still a game Dan Mullen’s team should win. Prediction: Mississippi State 35, N.C. State 27.
Mortgage Music City Bowl
Texas A&M vs. Louisville (-4.5). The last two months have been filled with turmoil for Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies. Texas A&M started the season 5-0, and the only issue in Co-llege Station was having two 5-star quarterbacks to choose from. Now, both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray have transferred, and the foundation of a once-promising program is starting to show some cracks. A bowl win would help erase some concern heading into next season, but it will be a tumultuous offseason for Sumlin if his team loses this one. Prediction: Texas A&M 30, Louisville 27.
National Funding Holiday Bowl
USC vs. Wisconsin (+3.5). It was an up and down season for the Trojans, to say the least. Steve Sarkisian was fired halfway through the year, and it looked as if USC would only finish with about six wins. Instead, interim head coach Clay Helton turned things around and took the Trojans to the Pac-12 title game. He was rewarded with the full time head coaching position. Wisconsin finished the season 9-3, and those three losses came to teams with a combined record of 32-5. Prediction: USC 34, Wisconsin 24.
Thursday, Dec. 31
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Houston vs. Florida State (-7). In a “down” year for Florida State, the Seminoles still finished 10-2 with a dominating win over rival Florida. Running back Dalvin Cook was one of the best backs in college football and will be back again next year. Houston won the AAC with a record of 12-1 and earned the at-large bid from the Group of Five conferences. Prediction: Florida State 27, Houston 20.
College Football Playoffs
Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (-3.5). Clemson is the only undefeated team in college football and have been the top-ranked team for most of the season. However, the Tigers are the underdogs in the first semifinal to Oklahoma. The Sooners won the Big 12 title behind a stellar season from quarterback Baker Mayfield and are looking to follow in Ohio State’s footsteps and win the national title as the fourth seed. Clemson also has a dynamic signal-caller in Deshaun Watson, who he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Both teams have underrated defenses, but it will be the offenses that shine in this matchup. Bob Stoops has more experience coaching in these types of games but Dabo Swinney will have his team ready to go on New Year’s Eve. Vegas says it would be an upset if the Tigers won, but they’ve been the best team in the country since the season began. Prediction: Clemson 35, Oklahoma 33.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State (+9.5). Alabama is the only team in the playoff field that also made the playoffs last season, and the Crimson Tide is looking to avenge last year’s semifinal loss to Ohio State. Michigan State was overlooked for most of the season but the Spartans won close road games at Michigan and Ohio State and knocked off undefeated Iowa in the Big 10 title game. As far as style of play is concerned, these teams are nearly mirror images of each other. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio coached under Nick Saban during Saban’s tenure in East Lansing, and they have already met in a bowl game once in 2011, where the Tide won 49-7. Michigan State might be able to keep Bama’s offense in check for most of the game, but the biggest question will be if the Spartans can score on the ferocious Alabama defense. Nick Saban generally has success against teams that run a pro-style attack, and this will be another favorable matchup for the Tide defense. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook will be the most talented quarterback Alabama has faced all season, but he will have to make big throws down field if the Spartans are going to have a chance. If Heisman winner Derrick Henry is able to get going early, it will be a long evening for the Spartans. Prediction: Alabama 26, Michigan State 13.