After successive 5-7 campaigns, Northwestern put together one of the best seasons in school history to earn a shot at Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. The Wildcats started the season with a huge win over Stanford, holding the Cardinal without a touchdown. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s defense is the reason Northwestern is 10-2. They have a big task ahead in defending Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs. The 6-3 junior threw for 2,125 yards and rushed for 623 more. Of the Vols (8-4) four losses, two were to teams playing the College Football Playoff. The SEC is too strong for the Big Ten in this one… Tennessee 34, Northwestern 17.
If you need to watch high-powered offenses put up loads of points, you might not want to watch the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl where Michigan takes on Florida. The Gators, fortunately, are 8th in the nation in scoring defense (16.5 points per game) because their offense is horrible. In Florida’s last two games of the season, both losses, the Gators offense scored just once, late in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. Michigan does average 31 points a game, but they do it with an old-school power offense that relies on the run and a controlled passing game. The Wolverines have the better QB and that will make the difference… Michigan 27, Florida 20.
Besides the College Football Playoff semifinals, the most anticipated matchup of the bowl season may be the Notre Dame-Ohio State battle in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl. A late season loss to Michigan State cost the Buckeyes a shot at a Big Ten title and the chance to defend their national championship. They will look to win their 12th game with a high-powered offense led by QB J.T. Barrett and RB Ezekiel Elliott (1,672 yards rushing, 19 TDs). Notre Dame dropped the season finale to Stanford and with it a chance at the CFP. QB DeShone Kizer, RB C.J. Prosise, and WR Will Fuller lead a veteran Irish offense. The better defense will win this one… Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 37.
It is old school football at its finest in the Granddaddy of the All – The Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual as Stanford (11-2) battles Iowa (12-1). Both schools rely on tough, stingy defenses and powerful running games. The Cardinal have Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey, the team’s leading rusher (1,847) and leading receiver (540). It is senior QB Kevin Hogan that makes the offense go. Hogan, a three-year starter, has thrown for 2,644 yards and 24 touchdowns. Iowa relies mostly on RB Jordan Canzeri (976) but has two other backs with at least 450 yards. QB C.J. Beathard makes plays when needed, but Hogan has won more games. He wins this one too… Stanford 34, Iowa 27.
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The big story at this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl is that Ole Miss DE Robert Nkemdiche will not play against Oklahoma State. The Rebels roster is still chock full of NFL talent, but not having their defensive leader will hurt. It will especially hurt the pass rush against a Cowboys offense that averaged 357.3 passing yards and 41.2 points per game. QB Mason Rudolph (3,591) leads one of the most explosive offenses in college football. His backup, J.W. Walsh, also plays a role with 13 TD passes and 11 more scores on the ground. While it’s a virtual home game for Ole Miss, don’t be shocked… Oklahoma State 42, Ole Miss 41.
Two underachievers, Penn State and Georgia, will meet in this year’s TaxSlayer Bowl. The Nittany Lions (7-5) have just one win over a team with a winning record (San Diego State). Georgia did go 9-3, but a span of three losses in four games (to Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida) sealed the fate of head coach Mark Richt. The Bulldogs did hire Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, but neither he nor Richt will present when Georgia takes on Penn State. Nittany Lions QB Christian Hackenberg will likely play his last collegiate game. Penn State DE Carl Nassib won the prestigious Lombardi Award and led the nation in sacks. He’ll wreak havoc on the Bulldogs offense… Penn State 24, Georgia 17.
Kansas State had to win its last three regular season games to send head coach Bill Snyder to his 17th bowl appearance in this year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl against SEC opponent Arkansas. The Wildcats are 6-6 and have only won one of their last seven bowl games. Arkansas comes in having won five of their last six regular season games. Quarterback Brandon Allen has been phenomenal throwing for 3,125 yards and 29 TDs. Alex Collins leads the ground game with 1,392 yards and 17 scores. The Razorbacks defense could be a little better, but it will be their dominant offensive line that wins this one… Arkansas 35, Kansas State 31.
One thing is for sure in this year’s Valero Alamo Bowl – points will be scored, and lots of them. Two of the most prolific offenses of the past decade of college football, Oregon and TCU, will square off in San Antonio. After transferring from Eastern Washington, QB Vernon Adams struggled at first but then got hot and wound up completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,446 yards and 25 touchdowns. RB Royce Freeman took some of the pressure off of Adams with 1,706 yards rushing and 14 scores. The Ducks average almost 550 yards of total offense and 43.2 points per game. One of the few teams that can rival Oregon in most offensive categories is TCU. The Horned Frogs averaged 41.7 points and 564 yards of total offense per game. QB Trevone Boykin (3,575 yards, 31 TDs) leads the offense and star WR Josh Doctson (1,327 yards, 14 TDs) returns for the bowl game. This one will be fun to watch… TCU 51, Oregon 48.
The bowl season comes to a close on Jan. 2 when West Virginia meets Arizona State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. The Sun Devils beat rival Arizona to become bowl eligible before dropping their season finale to Cal. West Virginia won four in a row – after losing four straight – before losing their season finale, 24-23, to Kansas State. The Mountaineers offense is guided by QB Skyler Howard (2,613 passing yards) but it is RB Wendell Smallwood (1,447 rushing yards) that makes WVU go. QB Mike Bercovici (3,442 yards, 26 TDs) is one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and the Sun Devils have a 1,000-yard rusher of their own, Demario Richard (1,050). Arizona State gives up almost 33 points per game and that will be the difference… West Virginia 34, Arizona State 33.