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Going Bowling 2017

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It's that time of year again - that time when I use every bit of knowledge I have accumulated in another season of college football semi-fandom in a Quixotic attempt to predict the winners of every bowl game.

I've had some success in the past, but make no mistake - I have no idea what I'm doing.

It's a chance to see some college football teams that you know nothing about. You never know if you might stumble upon a game where something unprecedented takes place – in fact, I (along with my good friend Jason Preble) have a long history of stumbling onto the wildest, most unexpectedly entertaining bowl matchups of each season. I expect more of the same this year.

And with that - let's go bowling.

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R + L Carrier New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 16; 1 p.m.)

Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-2)

In this kickoff to bowl season, we have two teams that only the wonkiest fans know anything about. However, a quick peek shows that Troy has won their last seven and are coached by Neal Brown, who will almost certainly be moving on to work for a school that you HAVE heard of. That’s enough for me – sorry, North Texas.

Winner: Troy

AutoNation Cure Bowl (Dec. 16; 2:30 p.m.)

Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)

I’d lay good money on this game being the worst of the entire slate. Neither of these teams are any good; Georgia State got significantly outscored by their opponents on the season, while Western Kentucky reeled into losing four of their last five. Still, the WKU Hilltoppers have the best QB – Mike White is solid – and that’ll be enough in a brutally boring game.

Winner: Western Kentucky

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 16; 3:30 p.m.)

#25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)

This one will be the best of the earlier matchups. Boise State is comfortable in this game and remain one of the best programs outside of the top tier. However, Oregon is in that top tier; they’ve also got one of the best rushing attacks in college football, led by stud running back Royce Freeman. In this case, Ducks beat Broncos.

Winner: Oregon

Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 16; 4:30 p.m.)

Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)

Word on the street is that this game features one of the best players in the country. Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award; Marshall simply doesn’t have anyone comparable from a talent standpoint, but they DO have an excellent defense that gave up less than 20 a game. Gallup goes off, but the Thundering Herd wins it.

Winner: Marshall

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Dec. 16; 8 p.m.)

Arkansas State (7-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6)

This one has shootout written all over it, with two talented quarterbacks – Justice Hansen for Arkansas State; Brent Stockstill for Middle Tennessee – poised to throw the ball around the yard. Hansen’s the more dynamic of the two, but also turnover-prone; however, Middle Tennessee’s pass defense doesn’t pick many balls off.

Winner: Arkansas State

Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 19; 7 p.m.)

Florida Atlantic (10-3) vs. Akron (7-6)

The 2017 winner of Most Ridiculous Sponsor Title, this game features a Florida Atlantic team with a high-octane offensive attack. They’ve got a legit star in Devin Singletary, who put up nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and 30 TDs. Akron doesn’t really have either of those things, though they do have a sweet nickname (the Zips). But names are not enough.

Winner: Florida Atlantic

DXL Frisco Bowl (Dec. 20; 8 p.m.)

Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)

This appears to be one of those matchups that’s going to come down to the most talented player on the field. In this case, that’s probably SMU wideout Courtland Sullivan. Expect him to have a big game against an outmatched Louisiana Tech team. Some expected more from SMU this year, but they’ll close the season out with a victory.

Winner: SMU

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 21; 8 p.m.)

Temple (6-6) vs. FIU (8-4)

This is a matchup of squads led by first-year head coaches. As for who to pick? Well, there’s the problem – they’re actually very similar, defensive-minded teams that will make opponents work for every yard. And so, with no skin in the game, I’m going to go ahead and pick Edge publisher Mike Fern’s alma mater for the win.

Winner: Temple

Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 22; 12:30 p.m.)

UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)

Honestly, it’s pretty cool that UAB is even here – their program was discontinued a few years back and is only now back in action. They’re poised for a strength-on-strength matchup against Ohio, with a stout top-25 run defense against a powerful and effective Ohio ground attack. Ohio might be the better team, but I’m going with the better story.

Winner: UAB

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 22; 4 p.m.)

Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)

This one could be a barnburner or a big bust. It really comes down to whether Wyoming QB and NFL prospect Josh Allen is able to get back on the field. If Allen plays, it’ll be a shootout. If not, Central Michigan will have little trouble outscoring the Cowboys behind senior transfer QB Shane Morris. It’s a close call, but I’m betting Allen takes the field.

Winner: Wyoming

Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 23; 12 p.m.)

Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2)

There’s a reasonable chance that these two teams will score essentially all of the points. Both have high-octane offenses led by prolific QBs; Quinton Flowers leads the way for South Florida while Nic Shimonek does the same for Texas Tech. In the end, I think Flowers and the Bulls have the edge. This one might reach triple digits in total points.

Winner: South Florida

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23; 3:30 p.m.)

Army (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-2)

I always love to see the service academies in bowl games; there’s something delightful about watching the various flavors of triple option at work. Army leads the nation in rushing with close to 370 ground yards per game, but San Diego State has a 2,000-yard rusher in Rashaad Penny. It’ll be close, but I’m leaning SDSU.

Winner: San Diego State

Dollar General Bowl (Dec. 23; 7 p.m.)

Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4)

It’s games like this that make me glad that bowl season is a thing. The Toledo Rockets and the Appalachian State Mountaineers have talented players, up-and-coming coaches … and a bowl history; the two teams squared off in last year’s Camellia Bowl. Appalachian State won that one, but I’m picking the Rockets to get their revenge.

Winner: Toledo

Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24; 8:30 p.m.)

Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)

While I’ll freely admit that I look to bowl season for offensive fireworks, there’s something to be said for two stout defenses going head to head. That’s what we get in Hawaii – both of these squads put forward excellent showings on that side of the ball. Fresno State gave up a meager average of just over 17 points a game; they can handle the Cougars.

Winner: Fresno State

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 26; 1 p.m.)

West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6)

All Utah does is win bowl games – they’ve won 13 of their last 14 and are 10-1 under their current coach Kyle Whittingham. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s potential performance has been significantly undermined by the predicted absence of QB Will Grier. Put those two factors together and it’s an easy call – it’s the Utes all the way.

Winner: Utah

Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26; 5:15 p.m.)

Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6)

It’s always going to feel weird thinking about Duke playing football (or at least being good at playing football). But they’ve got a great ground game, with a pair of rushers averaging five-plus yards per carry. Northern Illinois counters with the FBS sack leader in Sutton Smith, but it might not be enough. Time to compound the weirdness – I’m picking the Blue Devils.

Winner: Duke

Cactus Bowl (Dec. 26; 9 p.m.)

Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)

It has not been a great year for UCLA, which began the season with playoff dreams and a Heisman hopeful at QB in Josh Rosen. Instead, they got a 6-6 record and a lame-duck coaching staff going into the Cactus Bowl. Kansas State isn’t a spectacular team, but they’re coming in hot – longtime K-State coach Bill Snyder is looking at another bowl W.

Winner: Kansas State

Walk-On’s Independence Bowl (Dec. 27; 1:30 p.m.)

Florida State (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (8-4)

Florida State is a team that is always going to struggle with motivation when there’s nothing on the line. However, they do have a couple of guys with something to prove. And this is their 36th straight bowl bid. And truthfully, FSU’s freshman back Cam Akers is more talented than anyone on this dull-as-dirt Southern Miss team.

Winner: Florida State

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27; 5:15 p.m.)

Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

It might just be my own perception – I’m certainly not going to confirm with research – that this game tends to be a good one. This matchup isn’t sexy, but there’s going to be some hard-nosed defensive football being played. Iowa has crapped out in recent postseasons, so expect them to bounce back. Despite BC’s D, the Hawkeyes win a low-scoring affair.

Winner: Iowa

Foster Farms Bowl (Dec. 27; 8:30 p.m.)

Purdue (6-6) vs. Arizona (7-5)

This is one of those matchups featuring high-performing offensive attacks. Purdue is bowling for the first time in five years, so they’re stoked. Arizona has a super-exciting talent in QB Khalil Tate, so that’s cool. Neither team is exceptional defensively, so this one looks poised to be the best kind of shootout. I’m guessing Purdue succumbs to “happy to be here” syndrome.

Winner: Arizona

Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl (Dec. 27; 9 p.m.)

Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5)

How the mighty have fallen. Remember when Texas was top-tier? Now they just want to finish above .500. Meanwhile, Missouri throws the crap out of the ball. It seems weird to pick against Texas in a de facto home game (I mean, it’s called the Texas Bowl), but Missouri is going to be too much against an admittedly stout Longhorns D.

Winner: Missouri

Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman (Dec. 28; 1:30 p.m.)

Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-6)

Another opportunity to watch a team try to figure out what to do against a service academy option offense. Navy has fallen a bit from its peak performance of a couple of years ago, but they’re still no joke. Virginia has already beaten one option team – Georgia Tech – this year. Still, both squads stumble into this game. Call it a coin flip.

Winner: Navy

Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28; 5:15 p.m.)

#19 Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. #22 Virginia Tech (9-3)

Our first matchup of ranked opponents might be one of the most interesting of the year. It’s a classic strength-against-strength pairing. On the one side, you’ve got an explosive Oklahoma State offense that averaged over 46 points a game. On the other, you’ve got a shutdown Virginia Tech defense. In this one, I think the offense wins out.

Winner: Oklahoma State

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28; 9 p.m.)

#13 Stanford (9-4) vs. #15 TCU (10-3)

This is another one that promises to be a good game. Stanford is led by Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, who’s just a few rushing yards short of 2,000 for the season (though he’s hampered by injury). On the TCU side, Kenny Hill is no slouch. Good defenses, good running games, good coaching – this one’s a tough call. I’m giving my love to Love.

Winner: Stanford

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28; 9 p.m.)

#16 Michigan State (9-3) vs. #18 Washington State (9-3)

These are two teams whose higher aspirations were dashed by an inability to get it done on the road. Still, this one promises to be a battle – both teams have highly-ranked defenses and quality QBs. In the end, it’s going to come down to which squad is better through the air; it’s tough to pick against Washington State’s record-setting Luke Falk.

Winner: Washington State

Belk Bowl (Dec. 29; 1 p.m.)

Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)

This game has the potential to be a stinker. Wake Forest comes in after having gotten beaten by Duke, which is always a bit embarrassing. Meanwhile, Texas A&M fired their coach and probably doesn’t really want to be here. Expect the game to be boring, though it should be noted that the Belk Bowl Twitter account is anything but.

Winner: Wake Forest

Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 29; 3 p.m.)

Arizona State (7-5) vs. #24 NC State (8-4)

The general consensus is that NC State is far and away the better, more talented team. They also have one of college football’s great disruptive forces in Bradley Chubb. However, ASU might be ready to go to the mat for Todd Graham, who – despite being fired – is sticking around to get his team through this game. It’ll be closer than it should be.

Winner: NC State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Dec. 29; 4:30 p.m.)

#21 Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

You hate to see this kind of Wildcat-on-Wildcat violence, but that’s the college bowl world we live in. Northwestern is a talented crew, looking to cap off another season of double-digit wins. Kentucky will do its best to keep up, but it’s not looking good. Tailback Justin Jackson blows up for Northwestern and Kentucky is left to seek revenge on the basketball court.

Winner: Northwestern

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl (Dec. 30; 5:30 p.m.)

New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6)

This is a fun one. New Mexico State is playing in its first bowl game since 1960. It’s hard not to root for a team that’s had such an extended drought. Unfortunately, I don’t think Utah State really cares – and they’ve got a pretty solid defense. While I don’t love their chances, in this Battle of the Aggies, I’m going with the better story.

Winner: New Mexico State

TaxSlayer Bowl (Dec. 30; 12 p.m.)

Louisville (8-4) vs. #23 Mississippi State (8-4)

This is actually a pretty solid matchup for one of the most delightfully-named bowl games. Remember Lamar Jackson? Won the Heisman last year? Excellent QB? He’s still here, leading Louisville. Mississippi State had a good year thanks to a good defense, but they’re dealing with some significant injuries. I expect Jackson to go into this game and put on a show.

Winner: Louisville

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Dec. 30; 12:30 p.m.)

Iowa State (7-5) vs. #20 Memphis (10-2)

Another game with explosive offensive potential. Both of these teams are built to score points and neither one is particularly great at stopping other teams from scoring points. Expect a lot of back and forth. Ultimately, I think Iowa State got stung badly by the draw – this is a home game for Memphis and the Tigers will likely perform accordingly.

Winner: Memphis

Outback Bowl (Jan. 1; 12 p.m.)

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)

I feel like this one could be one of the bigger letdowns of this year’s bowl slate. Both teams had higher hopes for this season; Jim Harbaugh and Michigan in particular have been a disappointment. Both squads will play hard and there’s a little bad blood between them. I like the Wolverines in a game that won’t be as close as the score.

Winner: Michigan

Citrus Bowl presented by Overton’s (Jan. 1; 1 p.m.)

#17 LSU (9-3) vs. #14 Notre Dame (9-3)

This one has a shot to be the highlight of the non-Big Six schedule. The two teams come in on very different trajectories – Notre Dame stumbled into the postseason, losing two of their last three, while LSU is rolling strong, having won six of seven. It’ll come down to who throws the ball better; I think this Fighting Irish squad might have run out of fight.

Winner: LSU

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Big Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Dec. 29; 8:30 p.m.)

#8 USC (11-2) vs. #5 Ohio State (11-2)

Considering this game isn’t even part of the playoff, this is one hell of a matchup. One has to assume that Ohio State is at least somewhat miffed about not getting the call for the playoff, so they’ll likely be playing a chip on their shoulder. QB J.T. Barrett has something to prove as well. However, USC has potential number-one NFL pick Sam Darnold throwing the ball, which means that the OSU D is going to be scrambling. We’re looking at an historic rivalry with this one; expect them to leave it all out on the field. It’ll be tight, but I’m feeling the Buckeyes.

Winner: Ohio State

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 30; 4 p.m.)

#11 Washington (10-2) vs. #9 Penn State (10-2)

This one promises some fireworks, as both teams have serious playmakers. Penn State has Heisman finalist Saquon Barkley – one of the most explosive players in the game – running the ball. They’re also a team that, but for a few unlucky bounces, might well have been in the playoff mix. Meanwhile, Washington’s got some great talent of its own – QB Jake Browning can chuck it with the best of them. The Huskies also have a ferocious defensive front that might prove troubles some for Penn State’s offensive line. Tons of points, tons of fun; it could go either way, but I’m leaning west.

Winner: Washington

Capital One Orange Bowl (Dec. 30; 8 p.m.)

#10 Miami (10-2) vs. #6 Wisconsin (12-1)

Man, what a letdown for Wisconsin. Not only do they miss out on a playoff shot thanks to a conference championship game loss to Ohio State, but they wind up drawing Miami in what is essentially their home turf. Not particularly fair for a Badgers team that did nothing but win. They won ugly, sure – but they won. Miami is going to be amped for this game and will likely put forth a top-notch effort. Still, if Wisconsin can take care of the ball and running back Jonathan Taylor can finish out his freshman campaign strong, it’s going to be awfully tough sledding for the Hurricanes.

Winner: Wisconsin

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Jan. 1; 12:30 p.m.)

#12 UCF (12-0) vs. #7 Auburn (10-3)

Here, we have a team that hasn’t lost a game versus one that has dropped three. UCF’s Scott Frost has one foot out the door – he took the Nebraska gig – but that unblemished season would look awfully good on his resume. This UCF team is legit. However, Auburn has shown itself capable of beating any team in the country. If Kerryon Johnson is ready to go, the Tigers are going to move the ball at will. UCF has gotten where it is more by outscoring teams than by stopping them, but they’re going to have a hell of a time trying to outscore Auburn. War Eagle.

Winner: Auburn

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Playoff Semifinals

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (Jan. 1; 5 p.m.)

#3 Georgia (12-1) vs. #2 Oklahoma (12-1)

Now we’re into the good stuff. The stylistic contrasts between these two teams is going to be fun to watch. Georgia’s ground game is exceptional, led by all-world talent Nick Chubb. They’ll look to grind and run down the clock and control the pace of the game. Their defensive front also features a ton of talent, so Oklahoma’s line play is going to be a major key. However, the Sooners also happen to have the newly-minted Heisman Trophy winner under center; they’ve had little trouble scoring at any point this season. It’s hard to pick against Baker Mayfield in these circumstances. Hard, but not impossible.

Winner: Georgia

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1; 8:45 p.m.)

#4 Alabama (11-1) vs. #1 Clemson (12-1)

It’s kind of incredible to think that we’re basically getting the third installment in a blockbuster trilogy here. Clemson is a deserving top seed, with a powerful defensive front four and a well-oiled offense led by QB Kelly Bryant. Coach Dabo Swinney knows how to win football games. Of course, the guy on the other sideline knows a bit about that as well. Nick Saban will look to his defense to slow down Clemson’s ground attack and count on QB Jalen Hurts to pull off a big play or two. If Clemson’s Travis Etienne gets going, the Crimson Tide are going down … and I think he does.

Winner: Clemson

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That just leaves us with a prediction for the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 8. I think Georgia’s going to put up a hell of a fight, but in the end, I’m predicting that Clemson goes back-to-back and wins its second consecutive title.

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