Wednesday December 30th
Birmingham Bowl: Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) 12:00pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
This is the first time since 1998 that the Auburn Tigers will be playing at Legion Field – the team used to play a portion of their games their and ended that in the season of 1998. Auburn will be without former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who took over the head coaching duties at South Carolina while Memphis will be without former head coach Justin Fuente, who took over as new head coach at Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is utlizing two coaching staffs (Beamer coaching in bowl game, while Fuente handling the recruiting responsibilties). Auburn is averaging 27 points per game and is passing for 175 yards per game while rushing for 191 yards per game. Auburn has not been able to run the football consistenly this season (averaged 255 in 2014 and 328 in 2013), however, the time off should benefit the team in this contest. Defensively, the Tigers have played much better in the second half of the season and are allowing 27 points per game. Auburn is giving up 232 passing yards per game and 189 rushing yards per game. However, this is a very important game for the team and head coach Gus Malzhan. Pressure is mounting on the Plains and expect the Tigers to be focused for this game against Memphis. Quarterbacks Sean White (57% completions, 1064 yds.) and Jeremy Johnson (60% completion, 1042 yds., 9 TD’s) should see playing time in this contest with Johnson taking a majority of the snaps. Look for Auburn to use Johnson on read options in this game because of how Memphis struggled against Navy and quarterback Keenan Reynolds (lost to Navy 45-20) . Expect coach Malzhan to pull out all of the stops to win it for the Tigers and implement a run heavy offensive attack to wear down the Tigers defensive front. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch (3,670 yds. 28 TD’s, 3 INT’s) is an experienced signal caller that can make every NFL throw and will challenge the Tigers secondary in this game. Memphis is averaging 42 points per game and is passing for 324 yards per game while rushing for 186 yards on the season. Auburn is +4 in turnover margin (+2 on the road) while Memphis is +6 (even on the road).
Auburn 40 Memphis 31
Belk Bowl: NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4) 3:30 pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
Great match-up between ACC vs. SEC teams that should have fireworks in Charlotte. NC State is averaging 33 points per game and has a very balanced offense led by quarterback Jacoby Brissett. On the year, the Wolfpack is passing for 210 yards per game and rushing for 201 yards per game. Brissett is a senior quarterback that will be making his last start in a Wolfpack uniform and has completed 61% of his passes for 2,448 yards with 19 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is a dual threat quarterback that has completed 66% of his passes for 3,413 yards with 25 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Prescott leads the team in rushing with 541 yards with 10 scores on the ground. This game comes down to the defense and that is where the Wolfpack have the advantage. NC State is allowing 23 points per game and giving up 188 passing yards per game. The unit is very solid in run support allowing 144 yards per game and has been opportunistic this year with a +10 in turnover margin (+9 on the road). Defensive end Mike Rose will be the key to the victory because of his ability to generate a pass rush and contain Prescott on the perimeter in the running game. On the season, Rose leads the team with 10.5 sacks and as a unit the Wolfpack have recorded 31 sacks this year. Look for the Wolfpack to make Prescott one dimensional in this game and force him to throw over the top of the secondary. The strength for the Wolfpack is the defensive interior line that should be able to disrupt the running lanes of the Bulldogs and limit big plays by Prescott. Game is played in Charlotte and expect a “home” crowd for the Wolfpack as well.
NC State 42 Mississippi State 35 (Best Bet)
Music City Bowl: Louisville (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (8-4) 7:00 pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
Texas A&M enters this game without quarterback Kyle Allen, who has transferred from the school. Allen’s departure limits the depth for the Aggies entering this game and will have to rely on freshman quarterback Kyler Murray to pull out the victory. On the year, Murray has completed 59% of his passes for 686 yards with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. While Murray is a dynamic dual threat quarterback, his inexperience will be a factor in this game against a veteran Cardinals secondary led by safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (80 total tackles). Louisville enters this game with quarterbakc Kyle Bolin, a strong armed passes that has completed 56% for 1,164 yards with 7 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Bolin has split time with a number of other quarterbacks (Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon) this year for the Cardinals, but is the best signal caller of the group. Bolin has the capability of vertically attacking a Texas A&M secondary that is allowing 161 passing yards per game. The weakness of the Aggies defense this season has been run support and that is the mismatch for Louisville in this game. The Cardinals are rushing for 159 yards per game while the Aggies are allowing 205 rushing yards per game. Louisville has a veteran defense that is giving up 118 rushing yards per game and has a speedy group of linebackers led by Keith Kelsey (team leading 100 total tackles) and James Burgess (2nd on team with 92 total tackles) that can run down Murray when he breaks contain. On the year, the Cardinals have recorded 33 sacks as a unit and have given up 204 passing yards per game. The extra time will benefit Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino and look for Louisville to be hitting on all cylinders offensively in this game. The Cardinals also have the better overall defense and the ability of the secondary to cover sideline to sideline will be the difference.
Louisville 28 Texas A&M 24
Holiday Bowl: USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3) 10:30pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
The last time these two teams played was in 1965 with USC holding the all-time record of 6-0 against the Badgers. While on paper this game might seem like a blowout because of USC’s speed on the perimeter, the Badgers have a top 10 statistical defense (3rd overall 267 total yards per game) that can keep them in this game. Wisconsin is allowing 13 points per game (1st in FBS) and is very strong in run support allowing 98 yards per game (4th in the nation) to their opponents. The secondary has been very strong in pass coverage surrendering 168 passing yards per game and will be challenged by USC quarterback Cody Kessler (67% completions, 3,315 yards, 28 TD’s). USC is averaging 34 points per game and has thrown for 273 yards per game this season. The Trojans like to run the football and are averaging 176 yards per game entering this contest. Wisconsin is led by quarterback Joel Stave, who has complketed 60% of his passes for 2,470 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Badgers have been more balanced offensively this season and are passing for 229 yards per game while rushing for 149 yards per game. USC has struggled with “blue collar” teams this year (Stanford and Washington) and the Badgers will be excited to play in San Diego for this bowl match-up. The Wisconsin faithful will travel very well and expect a big fan turnout for the Badgers. Look for the Badgers to limit the big plays by Kessler and company and utilize a ball control attack that works off of play action with Stave. USC played Nebraska last year in this bowl game and I question how emotionally into this game the Trojans will be facing Wisconsin. Remember, it is the Holiday Bowl! It has been a while since fans have witnessed a fantastic finish in this game. Look for the Badgers to limit the big plays by Kessler and company to be in this game from start to finish. In the end, Stave leads the Badgers on a game winning drive that culminates with a game winning field goal by Wisconsin.
Wisconsin 30 USC 27 (Best Pick)
Thursday December 31st
Peach Bowl: Houston (12-1) vs. FSU (10-2) 12:00 pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
This is a great game that has great players in Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and Florida State’s running back Dalvin Cook. Houston has had a great season with new head coach Tom Herman and has an explsoive offense that is averaging 40 points per game. The Cougars are passing for 247 yards per game and rushing for 240 yards per game. Ward is a exceptional athelte that has completed 67% of his passes for 2,589 yards with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. However, he is most dangerous when he breaks contain and has rushed for 1,041 yards with a team leaading 19 touchdowns on the ground this season. Florida State is averaging 32 points per game and is led by junior quarterback Sean Maguire (62% completions, 1,128 yards, 9 TD’s). The Seminoles are averaging 244 passing yards per game and 180 rushing yards per game this year. Running back Dalvin Cook leads the team with 1,658 yards with averaging 7.8 yards per carry 18 touchdowns this year. Cook is an exsplosive runner that is the best football player in college football. He has homerun ability every time he touches the football and can take it to the house on every play. Not only is Cook an excellent runner, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield on screens and short passes that put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses to account for him at all times. On the year, Cook has 22 receptions for 218 yards with one touchdown. This game will come down to defense and the Seminoles have a very strong interior line that can put pressure on Ward and the read option in this game. Florida State is allowing 15 points per game and is very good in stuffing the run surrendering 141 rushing yards per game. The Seminoles have a veteran secondary led by Jalen Ramsey that can come up in run support and play man to man coverage agains the Cougars speedy wide receivers. While on paper this seems like a close game, Florida State is the superior team on the offensive and defensive lines which will wear down a fast speedy Cougars team. Cook will break open the game in the second half and the Seminoles will run away with the Peach Bowl victory.
Florida State 40 Houston 23 (Best Pick)
SEMI-FINAL #1 Orange Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson 4:00 pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
Great semi-final game that is a rematch of last year’s Russell Atheltic Bowl, a game in which the Tigers dominated 40-6 without starting quarterback DeShaun Watson (was injured senior Cole Stoudt played). This game features two great offenses (OU averaging 45 points per game, Clemson averaging 38 points per game) and quarterback play (OU-Baker Mayfield 68% completions 35 TD’s, Clemson DeShaun Watson 41 total TD’s 30 passing, 11 rushing). In my opinion, I feel the long layoff affects timing offenses becasue of the rhythm of the quarterback to wide receiver relationship in game speed. I expect this game to start out slowly because of the long layoff and as the team’s feel each other out offensively and defensively. Clemson has shown a great ability to utilize the bye weeks very effectively. Over the past three seasons, Clemson has beaten LSU, OSU and Oklahoma in consecutive bowl games. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has won 10 games or more in five straight seasons. Watson has led an offensive attack that has totaled more than 500 yards in nine consecutive games and has the better defense that is allowing 128 rushing yards per game along with 166 passing yards per game. More importantly, is the third down defense by the Tigers that is allowing opponents to convert on 24% of their third down attempts. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables (former Oklahoma defensive coordinator) had the #1 ranked statistical defense last season (261 total yards) and has the defense getting better each and every week. The layoff, in my opinion, will also benefit the Tigers defense which has recorded 38 sacks on the year. Oklahoma has a solid defense, as well, that is giving up 20 points per game 201 passing yards per game while allowing 149 rushing yards to their opponents. The Sooners have recorded 38 team sacks and have great speed off of the edge led by linebacker Eric Striker (61 total tackles, 7.5 sacks). Oklahoma is +10 in turnover margin (+5 on the road) while Clemson is -2 in turnover margin (-1 on the road). Last year, the only teams to advance of the four in the Playoff were Oregon and Ohio State were positive in turnover margin. Florida State (-6) and Alabama (-2) lost their games and finished the year negative in turnover margin. This is a great playoff game and one can make a case either way for each team. However, when I break down this contest-the Tigers are the more complete offensive and defensive team with the better head coach.
Clemson 28 Oklahoma 21 (Best Pick)
Semi-Final #2 Cotton Bowl: Alabama (11-1) vs. Michigan State (11-1) 8:00pm EST
Analysis and Pick:
Two blue collar teams that many are expecting to play a defensive battle in Dallas. Alabama has the #2 ranked statistical defense (258 total yards per game) that is allowing 14 points per game and leads the nation in total sacks with 46. Alabama is allowing 74 rushing yards per game which ranks 1st in FBS and is yielding 184 passing yards per game. The Crimson Tide rely on a dominant front seven led by linebacker Reggie Ragland to force teams into their defensive strengths and wear down opposing offenses in the second half of games. Alabama is +7 in turnover margin and has done it on the road this season with +8 turnover margin entering this game. Michigan State has a physical defensive front led by defensive end Shilique Calhoun (team leading 10.5 sacks) that can create pressure on the Crimson Tide offensive line and on the season-the unit has recorded 35 sacks. The Spartans are giving up 20 points per game and have been more consistent over the last four weeks of the regular season. Michigan State is giving up 113 rushing yards per game and surrendering 229 passing yards per game. The key to this game will come down to which team can create turnovers and which quarterback can make big plays. Entering this game, the Spartans are +16 in turnover margin and have done it mostly at home this year with a +2 margin on the road (+14 at home). However, in the Big 10 Championship with a playoff atmosphere on a neutral field, the Spartans won the turnover battle 3-1 over previously unbeaten Iowa (12-1 overall record). Alabama will look to run Heisman winner Derrick Henry (1,986 yards, 23 TD’s) at the heart of the Spartans defense, however, it will come down to Jacob Coker (65% completions, 17 TD’s) to make plays in the passing game. On the other hand, Michigan State has a veteran quarterback in Connor Cook, that has thrown for 2,921 yards with 24 touchdowns with 5 interceptions on the year. Cook has “big game” experience in winning a Rose Bowl against Stanford a couple of years ago and winning a big bowl gmae last year against the Baylor Bears (led a 20 point comeback). In this game, I expect Cook to make plays and challenge the Crimson Tide vertically. Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio has done an excellent job in “coaching up” talent and is a defensive minded head coach that has shown tendencies to pull out all the stops to win games over his career. Look for Michigan State to force some key turnovers and for Cook to exploit the Alabama secondary for the upset win in a high scoring game.
Michigan State 30 Alabama 24
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson (www.sportsxradio.com). Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network andThe Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter:@Goforthe2. Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: THE NCAA WEEKLY BLITZ.