The college bowl schedule took a break for the NFL on Sunday, but gets back going full blast on Monday. We’ll take a look at the eight games that will go over the course of December 30-31, as the SEC swings into action and the Pac-12 looks to build off a strong early showing as most of their upper crust takes the field.
TV times, point spreads and over/unders are included with each game. At the end of the post, TheSportsNotebook will make its picks on each game.
Armed Forces Bowl: Middle Tennessee-Navy (-7, 56.5) (11:45 AM ET, ESPN)—On the surface this seems like a mismatch. Navy has been coming on strong down the stretch. They won at San Jose State, beat Pitt and lost a close one at Notre Dame. Earlier in the year, the Middies beat a respectable Indiana team. Keenan Reynolds operates the triple option with skill and precision. If the Blue Raiders have anything going for them, it’s that they beat Marshall, a team that’s already won a bowl game. But that’s about it.
Music City Bowl: Ole Miss (-3, 57)-Georgia Tech (3:15 PM ET, ESPN)—These are teams with pretty similar resumes. The losses are to good teams and often competitive. Ole Miss in particular, came up just short against Auburn and Texas A&M, while beating LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas. The Yellow Jackets dropped tough games to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, while beating Duke.
Where the comparison falls apart is that Tech’s near-miss against Georgia and their win over Duke came when the opponents dealt with injured quarterbacks. And Ole Miss has more than good losses, they have quality wins. They also have a good young defense and an exciting quarterback in Bo Wallace. And on top of it, the SEC’s record of dominance against the ACC is now a bowl tradition. I’m surprised the pointspread is this short.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon (-14, 68)-Texas (6:45 PM ET, ESPN)—Mack Brown coaches his final game at Texas, and the question of focus has to override all else. If you simply focus on each team’s resume, there is really no comparison.
Oregon is 10-2 and Marcus Mariota is a quarterback who can run, make big plays in the air and do it without making mistakes. Texas, by contrast, struggled early in blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss and struggled late in decisive defeats to Oklahoma State and Baylor.
But Oregon has already shown signs of mailing it in. They weren’t interested in going to the Rose Bowl, and turned in a non-performance in a 42-16 loss to Arizona that cost the Ducks the Pac-12 title. If Oregon is interested in playing on Monday night, they can cover that (-14) line by halftime. Otherwise, they become vulnerable to a team playing to send its coach out on a good note.
The one scenario I can’t see is one where Oregon wins but doesn’t cover. This has the feel of a game that’s either a blowout or an outright upset.
Holiday Bowl: Arizona State (-14, 71.5)-Texas Tech (10:15 PM ET, ESPN)—This is another mismatch if all goes according to form. The Sun Devils had won seven straight prior to getting smacked in the mouth by Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Those wins included five over bowl teams in their conference and the offense was humming. ASU has a 1,000-yard receiver in Jaelen Strong and a good sophomore quarterback in Taylor Kelly.
What Arizona State doesn’t have is a healthy running game. Marion Grice, who rushed for 996 yards in spite of missing the last two games, is again ruled out for this one. Without him, ASU bogged down against Stanford, although his absence didn’t stop the Sun Devils from hanging 58 on Arizona in the regular season finale.
Arizona State is another team that may have a focus issue. They won their bowl game a year ago for head coach Todd Graham, so that’s not a motivating factor. They had a Rose Bowl bid in their grasp on their homefield before the Stanford loss. So how excited are they to play Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl?
One problem with this theory though, is that it’s debatable whether Texas Tech is good enough to capitalize on any Sun Devil indifference. After a 7-0 start, Tech then played the five Big 12 opponents of consequence all in succession. They lost all five and were blown out in four. They have no running game and no way to keep ASU off the field.
We see strange things happen every college bowl season based on what teams are mentally into it, but it would take a massive checkout by Graham’s team for them to actually lose this game outright.
Advocare V100 Bowl: Boston College-Arizona (-7.5, 57.5) (12:30 PM ET, ESPN)—It’s a battle of the running backs as Andre Williams, the BC Heisman finalist, and Ka’deem Carey, the Pac-12 MVP, go head-to-head. The game will be in Shreveport, LA, so weather may be a factor and further put the focus on the run.
Both teams closed the season on good notes. Arizona had the aforementioned blowout of Oregon, while Boston College got on a late run that started with a November 2 upset of Virginia Tech at the exact time the Red Sox victory parade was going through the Charles River. Apparently the baseball’s team magic was able to extend itself to football.
Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech-UCLA (-7.5, 47) (2 PM ET, CBS)—The Hokies faded badly in November. A road win at Miami had Frank Beamer’s team poised to win the ACC Coastal Division, but that victory was surrounded by losses to Boston College, Duke and Maryland.
Virginia Tech plays very good defense, and quarterback Logan Thomas has talent, but the supporting cast is so bad that it negates his ability. Tech will be further hindered in this game, as they have been all year, but oft-injured corner Antone Exum looking like he’ll be out.
UCLA is a 9-3 team that’s only lost to Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon. The Bruins, in spite of injuries in the offensive backfield, have been tough and physical all year, while retaining good offensive balance. Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley is well-regarded by NFL scouts and has the ability to make plays with his feet and his arm.
We should note that UCLA no-showed its bowl game last year when they were embarrassed by Baylor. Whether that means the Bruins will be more focused this year or that this is going to be an emerging pattern is our psychology question for the day.
Liberty Bowl: Rice-Mississippi State (-7, 50.5) (4 PM ET, ESPN)—Mississippi State is the weakest bowl team out of the SEC, needing overtime wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss in their last two games just to reach the 6-6 threshold for eligibility. The Bulldogs have a bland offense, meaning that quarterback Tyler Russell missing the game with an injury isn’t that big a deal—in fact you could argue it’s a positive, since sophomore backup Dak Prescott has some potential.
Rice won Conference USA and peaked at the end of the season. They have a tough 1,200-yard runner in Charles Ross and a quarterback in Taylor McHargue who is a decent thrower and physical runner. Of course the only problem with all this, is wondering whether Mississippi State might have the same kind of profile if they played C-USA teams all year and Rice was in the SEC West.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke-Texas A&M (-11.5, 76)—Most people are assuming this is the final college game for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and I’m one of them. Manziel and the Aggie offense closed the season on a dour note, with subpar performances against LSU and Missouri, but both those defenses are considerably more talented than what Duke can throw out there.
Manziel’s statistical showing has been dazzling—69 percent completion rate, over nine yards per pass and 33 touchdown passes. He has thrown 13 interceptions, in part because the defense is so awful that the quarterback has to take more chances. That’s where Duke’s opportunity comes in.
The Blue Devils have been one of the country’s nice stories this year in winning their division. Their loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game is the only defeat since September. Jamison Crowder is a great receiver who should have a big night, and head coach David Cutliffe has a good offensive mind.
The SEC-ACC matchup problem is in play here, but the focus issue also is—how fired up is A&M going to be in a year that hasn’t expectations? Is Manziel’s mind going to be halfway into the NFL? On the flip side, is Duke going to see this game as the showcase it is for their program?
One thing we can say for sure—it’s not to understand why the linesmakers have set the total at 76.
Armed Forces: Navy (-7), Over 56.5
Music City: Ole Miss (-3), Under 57
Alamo: Texas (+14), Under 68—Texas wins outright
Holiday: Arizona State (-14), Over 71.5
Advocare V100: Boston College (+7.5), Under 57.5—Arizona wins outright
Sun: UCLA (-7.5), Under 47
Liberty: Mississippi State (-7), Under 50.5
Chick-fil-A: Texas A&M (-11.5), Over 76
BOWL HANDICAPPING RECORD
Outright Winners: 6-7