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Going Bowling 2016

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Predicting the outcome of every college bowl game

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 half-fandom and try 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 buddy Jason) 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.

Let's go bowling.

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New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 17; 2 p.m.)

UTSA (6-6) vs. New Mexico (8-4)

This one is strength-against-strength. The UTSA Roadrunners allowed just eight rushing yards to their last opponent, but the New Mexico Lobos led FBS with their 360-plus rushing yards per game. Add a happy-to-be-here UTSA – in their first bowl game ever – and a de facto home field for New Mexico and things look awfully good for the Lobos.

Winner: New Mexico

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 17; 3:30 p.m.)

San Diego State (10-3) vs. Houston (9-3)

This is a surprisingly strong matchup for such an early game. Houston likely has the edge, but keep an eye on SDSU running back Donnel Pumphrey, who is just 108 yards away from the career FBS rushing record. Houston’s run D is third in the country. Pumphrey probably gets the record, but the Houston Cougars will get the win.

Winner: Houston

Camellia Bowl (Dec. 17; 5:30 p.m.)

Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)

Appalachian State was an FCS powerhouse not so long ago, but they’re legit at this level too – they won their first bowl game last year. Toledo’s QB Logan Woodside throws like crazy, with 43 TD passes on the season; Appalachian State had 20 interceptions. While the Mountaineers D might pull a turnover or two, the Rockets offense is going to be tough to overcome.

Winner: Toledo

Cure Bowl (Dec. 17; 7 p.m.)

Arkansas State (7-5) vs. UCF (6-6)

Arkansas State dominated the Sun Belt this year, but they’ve lost eight in a row out of conference. UCF didn’t win a game last year, but they’re bowl eligible thanks to a high-octane offensive attack. That offense – along with playing in their home stadium – means an easy win for the Knights.

Winner: UCF

New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 17 – 9 p.m.)

Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (6-6)

Pretty much the only advantage Louisiana-Lafayette has is the fact that they’re playing in Louisiana, but Southern Miss fans will travel just fine. While ULL can run the ball, Southern Miss has an accomplished senior quarterback and a much more impressive pedigree. Expect a solid win from Southern Miss.

Winner: Southern Miss

Miami Beach Bowl (Dec. 19 – 2:30 p.m.)

Central Michigan (6-6) vs. Tulsa (9-3)

If you like scoring, this might be a good matchup for you. Central Michigan has gotten here via a degree of luck, but luck won’t slow down Tulsa’s fast-paced offense. They’ve got multiple 1,000-yard rushers and a productive quarterback; they might run 90 plays in this one if Central Michigan can’t stop them.

Winner: Tulsa

Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 20 – 7 p.m.)

Memphis (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (10-3)

Mark this one on the calendars. You’ve got the last two winners of this specific bowl game facing off. Memphis scored at least 28 points in every game this season, while Western Kentucky led the nation in yards per play. These teams are going to score early and often; we might see the highest point total of bowl season.

Winner: Western Kentucky

Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 21 – 9 p.m.)

BYU (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-5)

This is Wyoming’s first trip to a bowl game in five years, so you can anticipate that they won’t be interested in wasting it. Meanwhile, BYU has been locked in here for a month and might not be particularly excited about it. That – plus BYU’s terrible pass defense – gives Wyoming the edge.

Winner: Wyoming

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 22– 7 p.m.)

Colorado State (7-5) vs. Idaho (8-4)

Colorado State’s offense has been red-hot over the past month, putting up a ton of points. Idaho – which is planning a move down to FCS in a couple of years – is in a bowl for just the third time in program history, but if you think I’m picking anyone other than Idaho in the Potato Bowl, you’re nuts.

Winner: Idaho

Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 23 – 1 p.m.)

Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Old Dominion (9-3)

On paper, Eastern Michigan might have the edge, with some good wins over quality opponents. But Old Dominion is in its first bowl since making the leap from FCS in 2013. Oh, and they just happen to be coached by Maine native and former Black Bear player and coach Bobby Wilder. Being a homer is fun when you’re also right.

Winner: Old Dominion

Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23 – 4:30 p.m.)

Louisiana Tech (8-5) vs. #25 Navy (9-4)

This has a chance to be a great game. Louisiana Tech’s offense is excellent as usual – ranked second in FBS in yards per play. But they can’t stop the run – and all Navy does is run. And since the Midshipmen are probably still miffed about losing to Army, they’ll pull out all of the offensive stops. High-scoring, but Navy wins.

Winner: Navy

Dollar General Bowl (Dec. 23 – 8 p.m.)

Ohio (8-5) vs. Troy (9-3)

This game between two fairly competent football teams might be one of the most boring on the schedule. Both teams put up good showings in losses to top-tier opponents, but there’s nothing particularly exciting about either one. Ultimately, Troy is probably going to win because the game is practically in their backyard.

Winner: Troy

Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24 – 8 p.m.)

Hawaii (6-7) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-4)

Ah, nothing says bowl saturation like a participant with a losing record. Middle Tennessee is a decent team, but they’ve been hit with some bad scheduling luck; traveling all the way across the country to play a team that isn’t traveling at all isn’t going to work in their favor. Still, I’m taking a flyer on Middle Tennessee.

Winner: Middle Tennessee

St. Petersburg Bowl (Dec. 26 – 11 a.m.)

Miami, Ohio (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (5-7)

Here’s another ho-hum offering featuring a .500 mid-major team and a Mississippi State team with just five wins. Miami is actually on a hot streak, having started the season with six losses before winning their last six. Mississippi State’s porous pass defense will do just enough to pull out the victory.

Winner: Mississippi State

Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26 – 2:30 p.m.)

Boston College (6-6) vs. Maryland (6-6)

This one could be interesting. BC has one of the worst offenses in all of FBS this year, but they’ve also held half their opponents under 20 points. Maryland feasted on lower-end competition and struggled against better teams. This one looks like a defensive slugfest where neither offense gets anything of note going.

Winner: Boston College

Independence Bowl (Dec. 26 – 5 p.m.)

North Carolina State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

Both teams needed to win to get in here. North Carolina State has had a particularly up and down season, while Vanderbilt has flashed a powerful offensive attack over its last few games – including over 600 in their last contest. Expect that roll to continue as the Commodores triumph over the Wolfpack.

Winner: Vanderbilt

Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 27 – noon)

Army (7-5) vs. North Texas (5-7)

The 2016 season is already a win for Army; they ended their long losing streak against Navy, so everything else is gravy. North Texas squeaked in with a 5-7 record (though one of those wins was against this same Army team); it’s the rare bowl rematch. North Texas is reeling and Army is riding high – expect those trends to continue.

Winner: Army

Military Bowl (Dec. 27 – 3:30 p.m.)

#24 Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

Temple has had a heck of a season, closing it out with a conference title thanks to a stretch of dominating defensive performance. Wake Forest, on the other hand, stumbled to the finish line and has had trouble scoring. This is not a formula for success for the Demon Deacons – put your money on the Owls.

Winner: Temple

Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27 – 7 p.m.)

Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

This one could potentially be a lot of fun. Minnesota put up a surprisingly stout effort this season, but their questionable pass defense plays right into the strengths of this Washington State team. While the Golden Gophers will move the ball, it seems likely that the Cougars are going to throw Minnesota right out of the stadium.

Winner: Washington State

Cactus Bowl (Dec. 27 – 10:15 p.m.)

Baylor (6-6) vs. Boise State (10-2)

Baylor won their first six before going into freefall; they’ve given up a ton of points. Boise State continues their extended stretch of excellence. Considering the quality of Boise State’s squad and the general ickiness surrounding the Baylor program, this is an easy one to pick – and to root for. Go Broncos!

Winner: Boise State

Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 28 – 2 p.m.)

Northwestern (6-6) vs. #23 Pittsburgh (8-4)

Pittsburgh’s whole thing is that they score a bunch of points and give up an ever-so-slightly smaller bunch of points. Meanwhile, Northwestern has their best passing attack in half a decade. Picking a victor here is tough, but rest assured, the guaranteed winners are the fans – this could be one of 2016’s highest-scoring bowls.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 28 – 5:30 p.m.)

Miami (8-4) vs. #16 West Virginia (10-2)

Another potential shootout, this one is a matchup of quality quarterbacks – Miami’s got Brad Kaaya and West Virginia’s got Skyler Howard – so it’s going to come down to which one pulls out a better performance. We’ll see plenty of points, but I think Miami will manage to score just enough to take down the Mountaineers.

Winner: Miami

Foster Farms Bowl (Dec. 28 – 8:30 p.m.)

Indiana (6-6) vs. #19 Utah (8-4)

Indiana has had a sneaky good season that belies their .500 record. Their defense has been particularly strong. However, Utah might be the best under-the-radar program in the country. The Hoosiers had a good year, but they won’t have enough to handle running back Joe Williams and the rest of the Utes.

Winner: Utah

Texas Bowl (Dec. 28 – 9 p.m.)

Kansas State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)

Hard to believe that Texas A&M was in the playoff conversation earlier this season. They lost four of their last six to wind up here. Kansas State has been the opposite, winning five of six to land here. Still, while K-State is hot, they’re outclassed by the Aggies in terms of sheer talent. It’ll be tight, but A&M will win it.

Winner: Texas A&M

Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 29 – 2 p.m.)

South Carolina (6-6) vs. South Florida (10-2)

It’s South versus South in this one – appropriate for the Birmingham Bowl. But that’s where the similarities end – South Carolina was lucky to win as much as they did with an anemic offense, while South Florida had the best season in program history. Sorry, Gamecocks fans – the Bulls are going to absolutely trample you.

Winner: South Florida

Belk Bowl (Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m.)

Arkansas (7-5) vs. #22 Virginia Tech (9-4)

Arkansas has seven wins, but their record is deceptive – they scored almost exactly the same number of points as it gave up, so there’s plenty of luck involved. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, looks poised to make a leap. The Hokies win here will serve as a nice button to what could be an extended competitive run going forward.

Winner: Virginia Tech

Alamo Bowl (Dec. 29 – 9 p.m.)

#10 Colorado (10-3) vs. #12 Oklahoma State (9-3)

This is a quality matchup. Both of these teams had legitimate playoff aspirations before stumbling a bit, but there’s no denying their talent. Colorado is probably the deeper team, but Oklahoma State has the highest-end playmakers. And really, in a fight between Buffalos and Cowboys, you have to go with the Cowboys, right?

Winner: Oklahoma State

Liberty Bowl (Dec. 30 – noon)

Georgia (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6)

These teams both had their share of struggles over the course of the season. Really, it all boils down to which team will be able to get their offensive house in order first. And while TCU can score some points, they can’t stop the run – an area where the Bulldogs excel. Look for Georgia to run wild over the Horned Frogs in an easy win.

Winner: Georgia

Sun Bowl (Dec. 30 – 2 p.m.)

North Carolina (8-4) vs. #18 Stanford (9-3)

Stanford is led by Christian McCaffrey, who might not have generated the same level of hype as last season, but still led FBS in all-purpose yards per game. Considering North Carolina has shown a less-than-stellar ability to stop the run, I’m guessing that McCaffrey gets the chance to (probably) end his collegiate career with a bang.

Winner: Stanford

Music City Bowl (Dec. 30 – 3:30 p.m.)

Nebraska (9-3) vs. Tennessee (8-4)

Tennessee had higher hopes for the season than this game, but at least they get to play a game in their backyard. Nebraska also had playoff aspirations, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. Both teams have shown quality offenses and iffy defenses, meaning that this one has the potential to be an entertaining shootout.

Winner: Tennessee

Arizona Bowl (Dec. 30 – 5:30 p.m.)

Air Force (9-3) vs. South Alabama (6-6)

It’s a good bowl season when all of the service academies are good. Air Force has a monster rushing attack – fourth in FBS – while South Alabama has had a very up-and-down season. Add in the fact that there’s an Air Force base in town and things look stacked for the Falcons to make their way to victory.

Winner: Air Force

Citrus Bowl (Dec. 31 – 11 a.m.)

#13 Louisville (9-3) vs. #20 LSU (7-4)

This one is going to be interesting. While Louisville will be trotting out the newly-minted Heisman Trophy winner in QB Lamar Jackson, the consensus is that this LSU team features the toughest defense that he’ll have faced all year. Still, I’m thinking that Jackson will be able to figure out a path to success against the Tigers.

Winner: Louisville

TaxSlayer Bowl (Dec. 31 – 11 a.m.)

Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

There are few things I love more in college football than the triple option offense run by Georgia Tech. It’s a tough scheme for anyone to stop, but considering that Kentucky was one of the country’s worst at stopping the run this year, expect the Wildcats to particularly struggle. Georgia Tech is going to run wild in this one.

Winner: Georgia Tech

Outback Bowl (Jan. 2 – 1 p.m.)

#17 Florida (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4)

So the last time these two teams faced off was a decade ago in this very bowl game. Florida won that one, but don’t expect history to repeat itself. Both teams have good defenses and hit-or-miss offenses, but the Hawkeyes look like they might have a slight edge. Iowa will shut down the Gators and win in a low-scoring affair.

Winner: Iowa

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Big Six Bowls

Orange Bowl (Dec. 30 – 8 p.m.)

#11 Florida State (9-3) vs. #6 Michigan (10-2)

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is a noted lunatic, but Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher definitely provides his fair share of quips and quotes. So the lead-up to this game should be fun. The Seminoles get to play in their home state and will have the best offensive player on the field in running back Dalvin Cook. However, the Wolverines were legitimate contenders for the playoff and put one of the most punishing defenses in FBS on the field. It’s going to boil down to whether Cook can effectively move the ball against the Michigan front – and I don’t believe he will.

Winner: Michigan

Cotton Bowl (Jan. 2 – 1 p.m.)

#15 Western Michigan (13-0) vs. #8 Wisconsin (10-3)

Another highlight of bowl season is finding out which surprising team from the erstwhile “Group of Five” makes a splash. This year, we have the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos – a team that has averaged almost 44 points a game and boasts the all-time FBS receiving yardage leader in Corey Davis. Wisconsin is probably disappointed to have let their Rose Bowl aspirations slip away after their loss to Penn State; that said, they won’t let that stop them from bringing their usual outstanding defense to the table. In the end, I’m rooting for the lightning-in-a-bottle squad.

Winner: Western Michigan

Rose Bowl (Jan. 2 – 5 p.m.)

#5 Penn State (11-2) vs. #9 USC (9-3)

Penn State can make an argument – a reasonably compelling one – that they deserve to be in the playoff. However, a spot in the sport’s most revered bowl game is a decent consolation prize. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, they’re running into a USC team that has very much hit its stride in the latter half of the season. The Trojans have shown phenomenal offensive balance in winning their last eight. Penn State has won nine in a row as well, but they just don’t look quite strong enough to take down this stellar USC team.

Winner: USC

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2 – 8:30 p.m.)

#14 Auburn (8-4) vs. #7 Oklahoma (10-2)

It seems a bit odd to see a four-loss team among the Big Six participants; Auburn had a good year and its losses were all against top-quality opponents, but still – four losses. Oklahoma, on the other hand, struggled to start against a tough opening slate before running off nine wins in a row. The Sooners also have two Heisman finalists in QB Baker Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook. So while the Tigers will put up a fight, they’ve struggled this year against strong opponents; it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to muster up enough to fend off the Oklahoma attack.

Winner: Oklahoma

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Playoff Semifinals

Peach Bowl (Dec. 31 – 3 p.m.)

#1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #4 Washington (12-1)

Talk about your mixed blessings. The Washington Huskies have put together their best season in years, with a Pac-12 conference title and a quarterback (Jake Browning) who was second in FBS in TD passes. Their reward? Taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide, a team riding a 25-game winning streak, plenty of playoff experience and one of the most dominant defenses in recent college football history. While there’s no doubt that Washington has done enough to deserve their spot in the playoff, the truth is that until somebody beats ‘Bama, it’s impossible to pick against them. Roll Tide.

Winner: Alabama

Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 31 – 7 p.m.)

#2 Clemson (12-1) vs. #3 Ohio State (11-2)

This matchup looks a good deal more competitive than the other semifinal pairing. Clemson is back in the playoffs after last year’s championship loss to Alabama; they’re looking to score an opportunity for revenge. Ohio State is as good as ever, featuring their standard high-end defense and a general wealth of talent. Clemson is led by QB Deshaun Watson, wildly talented but turnover prone. J.T. Barrett quarterbacks the Buckeyes; he’s more involved with his legs than Watson. Ultimately, Clemson has struggled to take care of the ball and Ohio State has dominated the turnover battle. The winner of that fight will ultimately win the game.

Winner: Ohio State

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And finally, regardless of who comes out on top in the Fiesta Bowl, the national champion will be – once more – the Alabama Crimson Tide.

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