Merry Christmas! Last week we gave you a rundown on the first batch of bowl games, up to the 26th. The matchups get more interesting with the next group of games we'll look at, those scheduled from December 27th to December 30th. New Year's Eve will kick off a fantastic slate of games - arguably the single finest by-product of the playoff committee plan - that we'll cover next week in part 3.
Even though the playoff and the "New Year's Six" games are hotly anticipated, this second group of games has some really interesting pairings. There are games where the two teams are polar opposites and games where they're carbon copies, and a surprising number of big-name pairings. If you're anything more than a casual fan (and we don't judge *cough* loser *cough* if you're not), it should make for a fascinating few days of football.
OFD Bowl Pick 'Em Update: Weis-Guy fired a huge opening salvo, going 6-for-6 in the first round of games and racking up 117 confidence points to take a 27-point lead over NDForever. Following close behind is Hedonz Wonderful Pick Set - probably shouldn't ask. Yours truly also went 6-for-6 but, being less confident in the early picks, sits in a tie for 14th with 31 points. Check out the full standings (and/or edit your remaining picks) here; at the very least enjoy a hearty chuckle at some of the team names. "Pelini's Piquant Posole"? Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Note that all times are Eastern, because I'm still biased against other time zones.
Saturday, December 27th
Military Bowl presented by Northrop-Grumman
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Line: Cincinnati -3, O/U 51
TV: ESPN, 1:00 PM
Cincinnati had a good season overall in claiming a share of the American Conference title, but then again they weren't really competitive against the three best teams they faced - Ohio State, Memphis, and Miami - losing by 22, 27, and 21. The biggest story line for the Bearcats this season has unquestionably been the emergence of Gunner Kiel, who threw for 3,010 yards in his first season of action to go with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Virginia Tech beat Ohio State convincingly on the road but lost the pillow fight of the year to Wake Forest 6-3 - in overtime. They're 2-5 in single-score games this year - so do they not know how to win, or have they been unlucky? Expect to hear Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem mentioned often - the defensive end tandem has combined for 31.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks this year.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
Line: Arizona State -7.5, O/U 65.5
TV: CBS, 2:00 PM
After destroying Notre Dame to move to 8-1, the Sun Devils were very much alive for the Pac 12 title and a playoff berth. Those hopes were on life support a week later after a stunning loss to Oregon State, and dead two weeks after that with a loss to rival Arizona. This will almost certainly be the final game in the red and yellow for All-American receiver Jaelen Strong, who has spent most of his two seasons in the desert looking like an NFL talent.
Duke was further on the fringe of the playoff picture, but at 8-1 and in position to face Florida State in the ACC title game they had a chance. Until they lost to Virginia Tech and got obliterated by North Carolina in a game that was not nearly as close as the 45-20 score indicated, of course. The Blue Devils (is this Jerry Falwell's least favorite bowl game?) are losing their own star receiver, Jamison Crowder, who has a shot at the ACC career records for receptions and yards.
Between these two erstwhile dark-horse playoff candidates, who handles late-season disappointment better may well determine who wins this game.
Duck Commander Independence Bowl
Miami (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
Line: Miami -3.5, O/U 61
TV: ABC, 3:30 PM
Miami was a feast or famine team, beating some good teams soundly and almost knocking off Florida State, but also losing by double digits five times. All-conference back Duke Johnson would start for anyone in the country; his 1,520 rush yards and 7.0 per-carry average could spell trouble for South Carolina's 109th-ranked rushing defense. He has also built a nice rapport with freshman All-American quarterback Brad Kaaya, logging 33 receptions on the year.
Remember when South Carolina was a preseason top 10 team? Yeah, we barely remember that too. They can throw the ball and they can score, but they can't stop the run and they give up a ton of points. Sophomore wideout Pharaoh Cooper had almost half his production in just three games (Vandy, Auburn, and Tennessee), but his 16.1 yard per catch average still makes him someone to watch.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Boston College (7-5) vs. Penn State (6-6)
Line: Boston College -2.5, O/U 40
TV: ESPN, 4:30 PM
You read that line right, folks - that's comfortably the lowest O/U of bowl season and one of only three below 50. Whee!
Steve Addazio has led the Eagles to a bowl game in each of his first two seasons after they went 6-18 in the two years before he arrived. Florida transfer Tyler Murphy is an adequate passing quarterback but a monster on the ground, logging 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 6.4 yard per carry average; Penn State's #1 rush defense will have their work cut out for them with this guy being a dude.
Surprisingly granted bowl eligibility this year after the NCAA decided to lift the Jerry Sandusky-related sanctions, Penn State will have to fight the "happy to be here" feeling and, more importantly, find some way for the 119th-ranked scoring offense to get some points. Much of that burden will fall to sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, whose second-half fade might have something to do with being sacked 42 times this season.
National University Holiday Bowl
Nebraska (9-3) vs. #24 USC (8-4)
Line: USC -7, O/U 61.5
TV: ESPN, 8:00 PM
On the flip side of the Pinstripe Bowl is this matchup of two potent offenses - Nebraska is 15th at 37.4 points per game, USC is 26th at 35.1 points per game. How they go about their business is very different, though, with Nebraska 17th in rushing offense and 92nd in passing, and USC 15th in passing offense and 70th in rushing.
Nebraska's premier running back and erstwhile Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah should finally be healthy after dealing with a nagging injury for most of the second half of the season. The biggest question for the Huskers, though, is easily how well they'll be able to focus in the wake of the Bo Pelini dismissal, which was met by righteous indignation from the players.
USC is neither as good as the final score against Notre Dame, nor as bad as their early season loss to Boston College would indicate. The theme for the Trojans, as always, is that they have exceptional talent at the skill positions that can make any game a track meet - and they win track meets. Transcendent receiver/punt returner Nelson Agholor may head to the NFL in April, so tune in to see him terrorize a college defense one more time.
Monday, December 29th
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Line: West Virginia -3.5, O/U 67
TV: ESPN, 2:00 PM
Texas A&M raced to a 5-0 start and #6 ranking with a win over eventual 6-6 South Carolina, three wins over cream puffs, and an overtime win over Arkansas. They then went 2-5, with a 21-16 win over Louisiana-Monroe as one of the wins, and were -100 on point differential over that stretch. Thud, as they say. Freshman, uh, speedster wideout Speedy Noil is 7th nationally in punt returns at 12.7 yards per return.
Through nine games, the Mountaineers looked like the best three-loss team in the country, with those three losses coming at the hands of Alabama, Oklahoma, and TCU by a combined 23 points; then they were drubbed by Texas and put away by Kansas State, and the bloom was off the rose. All-American receiver Kevin White has been a beast and could have another big day against a soft A&M defense.
Also, take the over. (Information provided for entertainment purposes only.)
Russell Athletic Bowl
Oklahoma (8-4) vs. #17 Clemson (9-3)
Line: Oklahoma -3.5, O/U 53
TV: ESPN, 5:30 PM
Speaking of lofty preseason rankings, Oklahoma was #4 at one point. Their 0-3 record against currently ranked teams doesn't bode well for the bowl game, although their 9th-ranked rushing attack is a nice thing to have in their pocket. Central to that attack is true freshman Samaje Perine, who broke the FBS single-game rushing record a week after Melvin Gordon did the same, and logged 21 rushing touchdowns on the season.
What may temper Sooners fans' excitement, however, is the fact that Clemson boasts the 7th best rushing defense in the country and the 7th best scoring defense, allowing a paltry 94 yards and 17 points per game. I'd make a joke about them Clemsoning it up this year, but they only lost to three pretty good teams. Senior defensive end Vic Beasley must be accounted for as he has recorded 18.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks on the season.
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Arkansas (6-6) vs. Texas (6-6)
TV: ESPN, 9:00 PM
This game features two good young coaches who recently took over marquee programs and could possibly be turning things around. Interesting story lines abound.
Arkansas might be the best .500 team in the country, losing to each of Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Missouri by a single score. Bret Bielema has installed a tough defense and a power run game that should make a lot of noise in the SEC West next year. Driving that run game are junior Jonathan Williams and sophomore Alex Collins, who have almost exactly split 2,109 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season.
Charlie Strong, meanwhile, began the culture cleanup in Austin early and in earnest, which made the first half of the season a bit rocky. Despite big losses to Kansas State and TCU, Texas looked pretty good overall in their last five games with big wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State. Junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown may be the best in the country at his position; the married father of two will probably head to the NFL after this game.
Tuesday, December 30th
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Notre Dame (7-5) vs. #23 LSU (8-4)
Line: LSU -7.5, O/U 52.5
TV: ESPN, 3:00 PM
At 7-1 with a controversial last-second loss on the road to then-#1 Florida State, the Irish seemed poised for an elite season and a potential playoff rematch with the Seminoles. The wheels fell off with a catastrophe of defensive injuries that was compounded by a loss of confidence by some offensive personnel and some puzzling coaching decisions as the Irish went 1-4 the rest of the way. Any chance Notre Dame has to win may well hinge on how effective the interior defensive line triumvirate of Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, and Daniel Cage can be.
LSU has an elite defense, ranking 3rd in points allowed, and an impressive power running game; unfortunately for them, they went 1-3 against the top of the SEC West this year anyway. Their running game has not quite been unstoppable, but if it gets going in earnest here it's hard to imagine the Irish winning. True freshman Leonard Fournette is their workhorse back, and also their primary kick returner. Not a lot of fun to bring down with a full head of steam.
#13 Georgia (9-3) vs. #23 Louisville (9-3)
TV: ESPN, 6:30 PM
Georgia has been the quintessential Jekyll and Hyde team this year, hammering Clemson, Missouri, and Auburn but losing to a weak South Carolina team, giving up 400 rushing yards to Florida, and taking the lead against Georgia Tech with 18 seconds left only to lose in overtime. Georgia will need true freshman Nick Chubb to continue his strong play in Todd Gurley's absence to avoid being forced to pass against an excellent pass defense.
Many expected Louisville to become an offensive machine in Bobby Petrino's return, but it's the defense that has raised eyebrows with its impressive performances; they sit 4th nationally in FEI defense, right between Ole Miss and Alabama, and are tied for the national lead in interceptions with 25. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason has to know the whereabouts of Cardinal safety Gerod Holliman at all times, as he has an absurd 14 picks all by himself.
Foster Farms Bowl
Maryland (7-5) vs. Stanford (7-5)
Line: Stanford -14, O/U 48
TV: ESPN, 10:00 PM
This is one of the few bowl games this year that looks like an obvious mismatch on paper, as evidenced by the two-touchdown spread.
Maryland didn't embarrass themselves in their first Big Ten season, going 4-4 in conference play with wins over Penn State and Michigan; that's about the nicest thing I can say for a team that ranks 67th in scoring offense and 83rd in scoring defense. Of particularly grave concern for the Terps should be their 100th-ranked run defense; linebacker Cole Farrand, who leads the team with 111 tackles, will be instrumental in slowing down Stanford's running game.
Stanford managed to salvage some dignity in a disappointing year by closing the regular season with a 31-10 thumping of then-#8 UCLA, which moved them to 1-4 against currently ranked teams. Running and tough defensive line play are once again the Cardinal's theme; while performance is down a bit from recent years, the chosen template is the same. Ty Montgomery has been held mostly in check as a receiver this year, but has been arguably the best punt returner in the country; he sports a 19.8 yard per return average that would lead the nation if he had two more returns.