The bowl season heats up with numerous games taking place between the 26th and 29th of December, including some power 5 conference matchups. Our experts Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, and Mike Loveall are on hand to offer all of their previews and predictions.
Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State (Tuesday 7:00 P.M.)
Line: Washington State by 10.5
Steen: Washington State is on its second straight two game losing streak of the season, but the Cougars still know how to air the ball out. Minnesota should be distracted by all of the boycott turmoil of the past week, and the Golden Gophers are merely above average. Beating all of the teams they should beat, but not pulling any upsets this year. Washington State 49, Minnesota 27
Yesh: 10.5 points feels like a lot, but Washington State is a more talented team–and that’s not considering the motivation the Minnesota players might lack after all the suspension/walkout drama. I don’t think Minnesota has the athletes in the secondary to slow down Luke Falk and this air raid offense, and the Minnesota offense definitely can’t hold its own in a shootout, even against a weak defense. Washington State 44, Minnesota 28
John: This game initially made headlines when Minnesota’s players said they were boycotting team activities after ten players got suspended due to involvement in an alleged sexual assault. But when supplied with more details of the incident, the players ended their action and will now take part.
On the field, Minnesota will have to contend with one of college football’s most prolific passers in Luke Falk. The Washington State quarterback is one of just six quarterbacks in the nation to throw for over 4,000 yards. He’s also added 37 touchdowns to just ten interceptions.
That could be a problem for the Gophers whose pass defense was second worst in the Big Ten. Simply put, the Cougars should be expected to air it out early and often en route to victory. Washington State 45, Minnesota 24
Mike: This is the bowl that almost didn’t happen. Minnesota’s football team boycotted all football activities for a few days and threatened to boycott the bowl game in light of the suspension of 10 players. Missing the players will be a significant issue, but the damage to the team’s focus has already been done. Expect Washington State’s high-powered offense to get in gear in the good weather. Washington State 45, Minnesota 24
Russell Athletic Bowl: #16 West Virginia vs. Miami (Wednesday 5:30 P.M.)
Line: Miami by 3
Steen: Two good teams that didn’t quite live up to their promise this season. West Virginia went undefeated against teams not in the state of Oklahoma, in large part thanks to an above average defense by Big 12 standards. Miami went on two four game winning streaks, with a four game ACC losing stream in the middle. The Hurricanes are better than they have been in previous years, regardless of record, but West Virginia is the better team. Look for them to win this matchup of former Big East members. West Virginia 35, Miami 24
Yesh: This should be a solid game. Miami had an unremarkable season, though some expected far more in Mark Richt’s first year (and some expected far less). West Virginia went a very unappreciated 10-2, only losing to schools from Oklahoma. The Mountaineers have a stingy defense and Skyler Howard leads an offense that can be lethal. Maybe if West Virginia was playing Tulsa I’d be inclined to pick against the Mountaineers, but I’ll say they go 11-0 against schools not from the state of Oklahoma this season. West Virginia 37, Miami 17
John: This is one of the more puzzling lines of bowl season with unranked Miami favored by a field goal over 16th ranked West Virginia. But the game is in Orlando and the Canes are riding a four-game end of season winning streak. Mark Richt appears to have the U peaking at the right time in his first season as head coach.
The two teams boast dynamic quarterbacks in Miami’s Brad Kaaya and WVU’s Skyler Howard. Both are as close as you can get statistically with their pass yardage totals ranked 24th and 25th respectively in FBS. Phil Steele had Kaaya as his 2nd best NFL Draft eligible quarterback coming into the preseason.
The Mountaineers have beaten Miami just three times and haven’t done so since 1997. That all changes in this game as Dana Holgorsen, having signed a five-year extension with the school, closes out a standout season. West Virginia 31, Miami 23
Mike: West Virginia has been underrated all season. The ACC is better, but Miami couldn’t put together any signature wins this season. The Hurricanes had no wins against any team that finished third or higher in either conference division. There’s a lot of talent, but can Miami put everything together? West Virginia 24, Miami 23
Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State (Wednesday 9:00 P.M.)
Line: Texas A&M by 2.5
Steen: Texas A&M started 6-0, then lost four straight conference games to end up with a disappointing eight wins in the regular season. Once again, there was much hope in College Station, only for the year to end in disappointment, despite the Aggies talent on both sides of the ball. Kansas State continues to punch above their weight under the legendary Bill Snyder, they only lost to ranked teams this year, and should be more motivated for this game. TAMU is the better team, but look for the Wildcats to win with their hearts here. Kansas State 27, Texas A&M 24
Yesh: This game is basically a tossup, but the late suspension of Speedy Noil should actually make a real difference here. Kansas State is a solid team across the board, but the Wildcats really don’t have anyone that can handle the speedy Speedy. Without worrying about him, I think the Kansas State defense should be able to hold the Aggies in check enough to win this game. Kansas State 24, Texas A&M 21
John: Aggie Nation will likely come out in droves for this game being that NRG Stadium in Houston is a short drive away from College Station. Whether or not they can expect a victory over their former conference foe in Kansas State remains to be seen. They come into this game having lost four of their final six games after starting out the season 6-0 and being ranked fourth in the first CFP rankings.
K-State, on the other hand, ended their regular season on a relative high note. The Wildcats won five of their final six with the only blemish a narrow 43-37 loss to Oklahoma State. Quarterback Jesse Ertz is a dual threat sensation who led the team in both passing and rushing in 2016. This feels like one of those games where K-State comes in as the more motivated bunch. Wildcats get the upset win. Kansas State 27, Texas A&M 21
Mike: Texas A&M will benefit from the month off before this game. The Aggies lost three of four after QB Trevor Knight was injured against Mississippi State. Jake Hubenak will start his second straight bowl game and will have much more practice under his belt than he did last year. Speedy Noil’s suspension won’t matter with Myles Garrett bucking the trend and playing in a bowl game. Kansas State can’t keep up with A&M over four quarters. Texas A&M 31, Kansas State 17
Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. #22 Virginia Tech (Thursday 5:30 P.M.)
Line: Virginia Tech by 7
Steen: Arkansas ground and pound style of football has won some big games but the Hogs continue to spin their wheels in the SEC West. Virginia Tech lost to an SEC team this year (Tennessee), but they played well in the ACC title game against Clemson and I look for them to carry that momentum into this game and get a win. Virginia Tech 31, Arkansas 21
Yesh: For all of Bret Bielema’s hype at Arkansas, he really hasn’t been particularly successful. Justin Fuente has had a solid first season at Virginia Tech, and I think he can cap it off with a tenth win in a bowl game–especially against a pretty mediocre Arkansas defense. Virginia Tech 45, Arkansas 31
John: Hokies head coach Justin Fuente replaced a legend in Frank Beamer. Sometimes, that can be problematic. But it didn’t seem to be for him as he led Va Tech to a 9-4 season, an ACC Coastal Division title, and a near upset of Clemson in the conference title game. Not a bad first year in charge.
In Charlotte, he’ll be matched up against an Arkansas team that had impressive late season wins against Ole Miss and Florida but also puzzling losses. That included a 38-10 blowout against LSU at home. Head coach Bret Bielema’s had three straight winning seasons in Fayetteville and has yet to lose a bowl game. But he may begin to feel the pressure if the Hogs continue to remain also-rans in the SEC West.
This has the makings of a shootout. Both quarterbacks, Arkansas’ Austin Allen and Tech’s Jerod Evans, can sling the ball around the field. Hokies ultimately prevail, though. Virginia Tech 44, Arkansas 38
Mike: The Hokies have a ton of young talent and Justin Fuente has this team in good shape after year number one. Arkansas has disappointed yet again in the SEC West, but still has one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks in Austin Allen. The Razorbacks rushing attack isn’t what it has been, but they are still a tough out for anyone. If Virginia Tech can put together a full sixty minutes, they can win. Virginia Tech 31, Arkansas 28
Alamo Bowl: #12 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Colorado (Thursday 9:00 P.M.)
Line: Colorado by 3
Steen: Oklahoma State reeled off seven straight conference wins before falling to Oklahoma in the de facto Big 12 championship game. Colorado has had a remarkable season, and a win in this game would verify they will finish the year as a top 10 football team. The Buffs are much better when they are healthy, and with QB Sefo Liufau ready to play, they should find a way to beat this high octane Cowboys team. Colorado 38, Oklahoma State 31
Yesh: This, honestly, is one of my most-anticipated games of bowl season. It’s such a shame that it’s being played so early, because this is one of five games between Top 12 teams (by the committee’s rankings), better than two of the New Years’ Six bowls (Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl). Both teams have powerful offenses and underrated defenses. I think Sefo Liufau has enough to get Colorado the win, but this game should be a great one. Colorado 31, Oklahoma State 30
John: Two conference runners-up finish their seasons at the AlamoDome in San Antonio. Colorado was one of the pleasant surprises in college football this year in nearly winning the Pac-12. Oklahoma State continues to remain a consistent power in the Big-12 under Mike Gundy.
Pokes quarterback Mason Rudolph put together a solid campaign in 2016. The junior signal caller threw for 3,777 yards and 25 touchdowns. His four interceptions on the year was fewest in the nation among players who had more than 3,500 yards passing.
On the other side of the field will be a stingy Buffaloes defense which gives up just 182.5 pass yards per game. Senior linebacker Jimmie Gilbert is the anchor of the unit, leading the team with 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. His combined sack yardage total of 100 yards is fourth best in FBS.
Colorado got blown out of the Pac-12 title game and may be due for a hangover here. But that doesn’t take away from the season they had under this year’s Walter Camp Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre. Oklahoma State 34, Colorado 27
Mike: Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in the nation. After being doubted the first half of the season, they made it to the Pac-12 Championship Game as the Pac-12 South Division Champs. The Pac-12 might be down, but they aren’t at the Big 12’s level. Colorado continues their surprising season. Colorado 35, Oklahoma State 34
Other Bowl Games This Week
St. Petersburg Bowl (Mississippi State by 13.5 vs. Miami (OH))
Steen: A win over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl got the Bulldogs into a bowl, and Dan Mullen appears to have found himself a good QB in the form of Nick Fitzgerald. This is a mismatch, and the power 5 school should dominate. Mississippi State 42, Miami (OH) 17
Yesh: Some of the more conspiracy-minded think that ESPN set up this game to give the SEC an easy bowl win. I’m not inclined to disagree. Mississippi State 34, Miami (OH) 21
John: Miami (OH) became the first team in FBS history to win six in a row after starting 0-6. They play one of two schools going bowling this year despite a 5-7 regular season record. Despite their below .500 record, Bulldogs win big in St. Pete. Mississippi State 41, Miami (OH) 14
Mike: Mississippi State snuck into a bowl through their APR success. They’ve already lost to South Alabama from the Sun Belt this season, can the MAC’s Miami (OH) repeat? Mississippi State 31, Miami (OH) 20
Quick Lane Bowl (Maryland by 1 vs. Boston College)
Steen: Both teams are improved, but were miserable against bowl elgible competition this year. Maryland has a better offense, so they should be narrow favorites. Maryland 23, Boston College 20
Yesh: This should be a very good game between two evenly-matched mediocre teams. Maryland has looked better for most of this season, though. Maryland 34, Boston College 21
John: These two teams were ACC brethren from 2005-2013. Then the Terps bolted for the perceived greener pastures of the Big Ten. In this battle between 6-6 teams, BC’s defensive prowess gives them the edge. Boston College 24, Maryland 17
Mike: Boston College has had a good year, but can they finish off strong? Boston College 24, Maryland 21
Independence Bowl (NC State by 4 vs. Vanderbilt)
Steen: NC State narrowly lost to two of the ACC’s best teams (Clemson and Florida State), Vandy found momentum at the end of the year and looks to be on the rise. The Wolfpack are slightly better if they show up. NC State 28, Vanderbilt 21
Yesh: I’m really looking forward to this game. Two talented teams each coming off a big upset of a rival. Should be great. NC State 24, Vanderbilt 21
John: Both these teams got upset wins over in-state rivals in the season finale to get bowl eligible. Vandy appears to be the hotter team heading into this one so the edge goes to the Commodores to get their first winning season under head coach Derek Mason. Vanderbilt 37, NC State 31
Mike: The Commodores are riding one of the best defenses around into bowl season; which Kyle Shurmur will show up? Vanderbilt 35, N.C. State 24
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Army by 10 vs. North Texas)
Steen: This is probably the worst game of the bowl season. The Mean Green are not a good football team, Army lost to them by a significant margin in their matchup. UNT is only bowl eligible because of APR, and that win. Army has the momentum and should get a win. Army 41, North Texas 27
Yesh: Army lost to North Texas this year but is favored by double digits. I don’t disagree. Army 34, North Texas 17
John: With the “haven’t beat Navy since 2001” monkey off their back, Army comes into this game a confident group. The Black Knights triple option should have no problem carving up North Texas’ 105th ranked run defense. Army 34, North Texas 20
Mike: A bowl rematch of a regular season game where Army lost due to seven turnovers. Army 34, North Texas 21
Military Bowl (#24 Temple by 12 vs. Wake Forest)
Steen: Temple has won seven straight games, and I see no reason why Wake Forest will stop them from making it eight straight. The Owls deserved better than this matchup against a struggling outfit that has is just 1-5 in its last six games. Temple 38, Wake Forest 17
Yesh: Temple is playing some of the best defense in the country right now. Wake Forest is distracted by Wakeyleaks. Temple 45, Wake Forest 14
John: Despite losing head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor, Temple still has quite the advantage on paper over Wake in this one. After all, they’re coming off an AAC title clinching blowout of Navy. Temple 38, Wake Forest 16
Mike: Temple has gotten progressively better as the season progressed, culminating with the American Athletic Conference Championship. Temple 38, Wake Forest 24
Cactus Bowl (Boise State by 7.5 vs Baylor)
Steen: Boise State was upset twice this year and Baylor, a team in freefall, having lost six straight, will try to make it a third upset. The Bears are still in turmoil however, and the Broncos are simply better. Look for Baylor to not show up, and Boise State to roll. Boise State 51, Baylor 17
Yesh: Boise State is one of the most talented teams in the country. A shocking loss to Air Force is the only reason they’re not in the Cotton Bowl. They’ll throttle Baylor. Boise State 45, Baylor 21
John: Boise State’s Brett Rypien was the only quarterback in the Mountain West to throw for more than 3,000 yards. Baylor will be short-handed in this game with starter Seth Russell out for the year. Advantage Broncos in Phoenix. Boise State 37, Baylor 20
Mike: Baylor continues their slide, including a bowl loss this season. Boise State 42, Baylor 31
Pinstripe Bowl (#23 Pittsburgh by 5 vs. Northwestern)
Steen: Pitt has wins over Penn State and Clemson this year, and is a very good football team, with some puzzling losses. Northwestern has a loss to an FCS team this year, this game shouldn’t be close. Pittsburgh 45, Northwestern 17
Yesh: Northwestern is a decent team and Pitt is mercurial. Anything can happen, but Pitt is far more talented. Pittsburgh 41, Northwestern 24
John: Northwestern has just one bowl win in program history and they’re unlikely to get number two in the Bronx. Pittsburgh boasts the nation’s 11th best scoring offense and averaged 58.3 points in their final three games, all wins. Pittsburgh 45, Northwestern 31
Mike: Northwestern doesn’t have a good recent history against tough teams in the bowls. Pittsburgh 31, Northwestern 21
Foster Farms Bowl (#19 Utah by 7 vs. Indiana)
Steen: Indiana is in turmoil, while Utah has lost three of their last four games down the stretch. The Utes dropped themselves out of contention for a major bowl, but they should still ease past the Hoosiers. Utah 38, Indiana 24
Yesh: This is one of the biggest mismatches in all of bowl season. The line is shockingly low to me. Utah 42, Indiana 17
John: Indiana made an abrupt coaching change after the season, with defensive coordinator Tom Allen taking over for Kevin Wilson who was forced to resign after reports of alleged mistreatment of players surfaced. But the motivation factor might be there for the Hoosiers against a Utah team that lost two straight to close out the year. Indiana 27, Utah 26
Mike: Utah is probably the most underrated team in the nation right now. Utah 31, Indiana 20
Birmingham Bowl (South Florida by 10.5 vs. South Carolina)
Steen: USF has won four straight, while South Carolina scratched their way into a lower tier bowl game despite their weak offense. The Bulls should show who the better team is in this one. South Florida 38, South Carolina 21
Yesh: South Carolina got shredded by Clemson and DeShaun Watson. USF and Quinton Flowers are no Watson and Clemson, but they’re not so far behind. South Florida 49, South Carolina 21
John: The Gamecocks are going bowling in Will Muschamp’s first season in charge of the program. Their reward: a date with one of the nation’s best Group of Five teams in USF. But will the Bulls come out flat now that head coach Willie Taggart has departed for Oregon? South Florida 31, South Carolina 24
Mike: I’m always leery of teams switching coaches before bowls, but USF has a lot of talent and South Carolina …. Doesn’t. South Florida 31, South Carolina 24