The NFL playoffs might take over the sports world for this weekend, but college bowl season still goes each day. It starts Friday night with a Cotton Bowl matchup that’s as good as any of the major bowl games, and then has lower-tier games on Saturday & Sunday, in the time slots that wrap around the four NFL first-round playoff games.
Each game includes the pointspread and Over/Under in parentheses, along with the TV coverage. TheSportsNotebook will make its pick on each game at the bottom.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 3
Missouri has more notable players to take about. The receivers, L’Damian Washington and Dorial-Green Beckham, are big, fast and almost impossible to matchup with. James Franklin is a steady presence at quarterback, Henry Josey a 1,000-yard rusher and they have a defensive line that is highly regarded in SEC circles. By contrast, Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf is a little erratic, and leading rusher Desmond Roland has only 745 yards.
Oklahoma State has the resume. The Cowboys have a non-conference win over Mississippi State, and have blown out Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor. A crushing loss in bad weather to Oklahoma cost Okie State the Big 12 title, but they’ve consistently hammered good teams, while Mizzou has been more of a take-care-business team. The Tigers lost to South Carolina and gave up 59 points to Auburn.
So do we conclude that Missouri is going to supply the players to the NFL, while Oklahoma State wins the football game on Friday night in Dallas? It’s a reasonable conclusion, but that depends on how much credence you want to give the SEC vs. Big 12 angle. Baylor and Texas have looked bad in bowls. This post as going online as the Oklahoma-Alabama matchup in the Sugar Bowl kicks off, but if the Sooners are blown out, it won’t speak well to the Big 12’s ability to compete.
Saturday, January 4: Compass Bowl—Houston vs. Vanderbilt (-2.5, 53.5) (1 PM ET, ESPN)—Two good receivers will be on display here, with Vandy’s Jordan Matthews and Houston’s Deontay Greenbury. Vanderbilt has quarterback problems with Austyn Carta-Samuels not expected to play, but he missed two games earlier in the year, one of which was a win at Florida.
The Commodores have also beaten Georgia, and played competitively in losses to Ole Miss and South Carolina. Houston got off to a 7-1 start, that included a win over Conference USA champ Rice, and a one-point loss to BYU. The Cougars lost three straight close games in November to Cincinnati, Louisville and Central Florida, the upper crust of the American Athletic Conference.
Houston’s conference has fared well thus far, with Central Florida upsetting Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, and Louisville blasting Miami. None of those were against SEC foes, but with an injured quarterback and a coach rumored to be in the discussion for the newly vacant job at Penn State, will there be any distractions?
Sunday, January 5: GoDaddy.com Bowl—Arkansas State-Ball State (-7.5, 64.5) (9 PM ET, ESPN)—Arkansas State is becoming the cradle of coaches. Three years in a row the Red Wolves have lost their head coach to a bigger job. It was Hugh Frieze going to Ole Miss two years ago. Last year Gus Malzahn went to Auburn. Now this year, Bryan Harsin has departed for Boise State. I suppose Arkansas State won’t have a problem attracting talent with that kind of track record, but it makes life at a bowl game kind of hard when the coach has always departed.
Arkansas State will have a big problem in this one. While they closed the season winning four of the last five, none of the wins have been impressive, and quarterback Adam Kennedy is dealing with a knee injury that has him questionable.
Ball State rolled to a 10-2 season. They went 7-1 in MAC play, and the only losses were to North Texas and Northern Illinois. Ball State won at Virginia, and has explosive skill position talent in quarterback Keith Wenning, running back Jahnwan Edwards and receivers Willie Snead and Jordan Williams.
Cotton Bowl: Missouri (Pick), Over 62.5
Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt (-2.5) Under 53.5
GoDaddy Bowl: Ball State (-7.5) Under 64.5
Bowl Handicapping Record (Through games of January 1)