With the nation awaiting the start of the National Championship game, there are some interesting games taking place after New Year’s day that will have college football fans excited to see which team comes out on top. It all starts on Friday Jan. 2nd with intersectional contests that feature some great players taking part in their last collegiate game in front of a national television audience. The atmosphere surrounding college football is not like any other sport. The bowl games signify and epitomize the tradition of this great game that is not duplicated in any other venue. Sit back and relax as the bowl games listed below shall provide great entertainment that will be a prelude to a great National Championship game on January 12th,2015.
Onto the predictions…
Friday Jan. 2nd 12:00pm ESPN
LOCKHEED MARTIN ARMED FORCES BOWL: Houston +3 over Pittsburgh (Best Bet)
Storylines: This game will be played in Fort Worth, Texas which favors Houston having the “home field” advantage. Pittsburgh will not have head coach Paul Chyrst for this game as Chryst was named head coach for the Wisconsin Badgers. Houston will be without head coach Tony Levine who was fired after the Cougars season ending loss to Cincinnati.
Reason: Houston is balanced on offense averaging 29.3 points per game. The Cougars are passing for 226 yards per game and rushing for 181 yards per game. Led by dual threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr., the Cougars can stretch the field against opposing defenses. Ward has completed 67.8% of his passes for 1,736 yards with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions on the season. The most impressive aspect of Ward’s game is his uncanny ability to make plays outside the pocket when he breaks contain. Ward was moved to the quarterback position midway through the year and did not become the starter until after the Cougars’ fourth game of the season. Ward can stand in the pocket under pressure while keeping his eyes down the field to find open receivers. Ward’s favorite target is wide receiver Deaontay Greenberry who has 68 receptions for 756 yards with 4 touchdowns. Running back Kenneth Farrow is a tough inside runner that does not go down after the first hit and is the emotional leader of the offense. On the year, Farrow has rushed for 934 yards averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cougars have the 12th best scoring defense in the country giving up 19.5 points per game. Houston is very solid against the run yielding 136 yards per game and has physical defensive tackles that can clog the Pitt Panthers running lanes. Houston has been very opportunistic this year and is +8 in turnover margin (+5 on the road). The Cougars have corners that can play man to man coverage which allows defensive coordinator and interim head coach David Gibbs to utilize blitz packages to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Through 12 games this season, Houston has 19 interceptions. Junior defensive back Adrian McDonald leads the team with 5 interceptions.
Look for Ward to have a big day against a Pittsburgh defense giving up 25.6 points per game and 152 rushing yards per game as he leads the Cougars to the upset win.
Friday Jan. 2nd 3:20 pm ESPN
TAXSLAYER BOWL: Tennessee -3.5 over Iowa
Reason: The fans of the Tennessee Volunteers are excited to be back in a bowl game and are behind this young team as they face Iowa. Expect a huge turnout from the Volunteer faithful and for “Rocky Top” to be heard through the stadium on Friday afternoon. Tennessee played a very difficult schedule this season and still managed a 6-6 overall record. The Volunteers faced 9 bowl opponents (Utah State, Arkansas St., Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina and Missouri) on the schedule and were able to get better as the season progressed-winning 3 of 4 games down the stretch to become bowl eligible. Tennessee is averaging 27.6 points per game and is averaging 228 passing yards per game. Led by sophmore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, the Volunteers were able to become more acclimated in head coach Butch Jones’ system. Dobbs is a dynamic player that can take a game over and has completed 61.5% of his passes for 1,055 yards with 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Dobbs didn’t see action until October 25th against Alabama and immediately made an impact. Dobbs played very well in that game and led the Volunteers to a 3-1 record as a starting quarterback in Tennessee’s last four games of the year. Dobbs is lethal when he breaks contain and has rushed for 393 rushing yards (4.3 yards per carry) with 6 touchdowns on the ground. Freshman running back Jalen Hurd is a very tough inside runner that has the speed to take it to the house every time he touches the rock. Hurd leads the team with 777 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Tennessee started the year with five new offensive line starters. The Volunteers were the only team in the nation to start 9 first time starters on the offensive and defensive lines and have become a much better unit toward the end of the season. The offensive consistency shown down the stretch should carry over into this game and look for the Volunteers offensive line to play very well against Iowa.
Defensively, Tennessee has the speed to play with Iowa. The Volunteers are giving up 162 rushing yards per game and 197 passing yards per game. Tennessee is giving up 23.9 points per game and plays very disciplined football only committing 4.2 penalties per game.
Look for Dobbs to exploit a Hawkeyes defense that is giving up 158 rushing yards per game and has struggled with speed teams this season. Iowa is -5 in turnover margin overall on the year.
Friday Jan. 2nd 6:45pm ESPN
VALERO ALAMO BOWL: UCLA -1.5 over Kansas State (Best Bet)
Reason: UCLA’s speed can be an issue for the Wildcats in this matchup. Kansas State struggled late in the season on the road at TCU with the elusiveness of TCU quarterback Trev Boykin. In that game, Boykin ripped the Wildcats for 123 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns en route to a 41-20 victory in Forth Worth, Texas. UCLA’s quarterback Brett Hundley is the same type of player as Boykin and is dangerous when he breaks contain on the edge of the defense. UCLA is balanced offensively averaging 268 passing yards per game and rushing for 199 yards per game. Hundley has completed 70.4% of his passes with 3,019 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. On the ground, Hundley has rushed for 548 yards and 8 touchdowns averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Running back Paul Perkins leads the team with 1,378 rushing yards (6.0 yards per carry) and has 7 touchdowns. Big play wide receiver Jordan Payton is Hundley’s main target and leads the team with 63 receptions for 896 yards (14.2 yards per catch) and 7 touchdowns. Payton can stretch the Wildcats vertically and create match-up problems for a Wildcats defense that is vulnerable over the top. On the season, the Wildcats have given up 236 passing yards per game and look for the Bruins to attack the Wildcat secondary in this game.
Defensively, UCLA is allowing 157 rushing yards per game and is giving up 243 passing yards per game. UCLA is -1 in turnover margin overall, however, on the road (neutral field) the Bruins are a +4 in turnover ratio. UCLA does an excellent job in scoring off of their turnovers and have been able to change the momentum in games this season by making big plays (Arizona State, CAL, and Colorado).
Look for Brett Hundley to have a big day and for Bruin head coach Jim Mora Jr. to have his team prepared against the Wildcats as UCLA rolls in the Alamo Bowl.
Friday Jan. 2nd 10:15pm ESPN
TICKETCITY CACTUS BOWL: Washington -6 over Oklahoma State
Storyline: Oklahoma State starting running back Tyrek Hill has been kicked off the team and will not play in the game.
Reason: Washington is a very physical team on both sides of the football and will challenge Oklahoma State “in the trenches”. Behind a blue collar offensive line, the Huskies are averaging 195 rushing yards per game (40th in the nation) with running back Dwayne Washington leading the team with 655 yards and 9 touchdowns. Washington will game plan to attack an Oklahoma State defense that is giving up 168 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Cyler Myles is completing 66.7% of his passes with 2,129 yards with 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and plays within the system of head coach Chris Peterson’s offense (former Boise State head coach). Washington is averaging 30.8 points per game (54th overall) and wins games by wearing down their opponents.
Defensively, Washington holds a significant advantage in this game against the Oklahoma State offensive line. Washington is allowing 24.8 points per game (42nd in the nation) and is very solid in run support giving up 121 rushing yards per game. The Huskies have been very opportunistic this season holding a +12 in turnover margin ratio and pound their opponents physically. The Huskies are very good at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have recorded 49 sacks through 12 games (2nd in the nation) this season. Linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha leads the team with 18 sacks and is around the football on every play. Washington has two defensive lineman in Andrew Hudson (11.5 sacks) and Danny Shelton (9 sacks) that consistently force double teams and disrupt the timing of the spread offense. Oklahoma State has had problems on the offensive line this year and has yielded 37 sacks through 12 games this year.
The multiple blitz packages and schemes used by the Huskies’ defense will put pressure on a young Cowboys offensive line. Look for Washington to start fast and get the victory over the Cowboys in this game.
Saturday Jan. 3rd 12:00pm ESPN
BIRMINGHAM BOWL: East Carolina +6.5 over Florida (Best Bet)
Storyline: Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp was fired after the season ending loss to Florida State and has been named defensive coordinator for the Auburn Tigers.
Reason: East Carolina has one of the most potent offenses in college football averaging 37.2 points per game (14th in the nation) that will attack a “suspect” Florida Gators defense. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden will be making his last career start for East Carolina and will be determined to have a big afternoon against the Gators. Carden has completed 65.0% of his passes for 4,309 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Carden is a poised leader and has orchestrated victories over Virginia Tech (28-21) and North Carolina (70-41) this season. Carden has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, with wide receiver Justin Hardy leading a talented group of receivers that can stretch the field vertically. Hardy leads the team with 110 receptions for 1,334 yards and 9 touchdowns. East Carolina is averaging 367 passing yards per game (3rd in the nation) and is still able to run the football averaging 165 rushing yards per game. Running back Breon Allen leads the team with 869 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. Allen is a great compliment to the offense and has the speed to take it to the house on every play. Allen will force Florida to play disciplined on the edge of the perimeter and not allow the Gators to be aggressive with blitz packages.
Defensively, East Carolina is very good at shutting down the run and is giving up 107 rushing yards per game. The Pirates have big interior lineman that can fill the rushing lanes of the Florida offense and have played well against the “bigger” teams they have faced this season. East Carolina will not be intimidated by the Gators and look for the Pirates to utilize different defensive looks to force Gators quarterback Treon Harris to read the defense.
Look for East Carolina to pull off the upset as the Pirates attack a Gators secondary that is giving up 194 passing yards per game.
Sunday Jan. 4th 9:00 pm ESPN
GODADDY BOWL: Toledo -4 over Arkansas State
Reason: Toledo has a very good offense that is averaging 34.4 points per game. Head coach Matt Campbell was recently signed to a contract extension which is a positive sign heading into this game. The Rockets are balanced averaging 247 rushing yards per game and passing for 239 yards per game. Quarterback Logan Woodside is completing 61.1% of his passes for 2,096 yards with 19 touchdowns and 7 interceptions on the season. Over his last five games of the year, Woodside has thrown 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in leading the Rockets to a 4-1 mark down the stretch. Running back Kareem Hunt is a dynamic player that fuels the offense for the Rockets. On the year, Hunt has rushed for 1,390 yards averaging 7.9 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns. Hunt has great vision and will look to attack an Arkansas State defense allowing 191 rushing yards per game. Wide receivers Corey Jones and Alonzo Russell are players that have great speed to stretch the Arkansas State secondary. Jones leads the team with 67 receptions for 827 yards and 5 touchdowns while Russell has added 47 receptions for 721 yards and 8 touchdowns. Look for Toledo to attack an Arkansas State team that is allowing 27.8 points per game and a secondary that is yielding 219 passing yards per game.
Defensively, the Rockets are giving up 29.3 points per game, however, they have been very good at shutting down the run this year. Toledo is giving up 120 rushing yards per game and has a solid group of linebackers. Led by senior Junior Sylvestre (team leading 94 total tackles), the linebacking group can run sideline to sideline and force Arkansas State to adjust their offensive game plan. Toledo is good at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has recorded 27 sacks on the season. Look for the Rockets to mix up their defensive schemes to put pressure on an Arkansas State offensive line that has given up 29 sacks through 12 games.
Look for the Rockets to knock off the Red Wolves as Hunt has a big night against the Arkansas State defense.
Joseph Lisi, a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. Joe is currently the content editor at www.2FiveSports.com and contributes to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com. He has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson (www.sportsxradio.com). Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network (Razzball Radio) and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2. Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: THE NCAA WEEKLY BLITZ.
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