Picks and storylines for all 40 bowl games

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I unabashedly love bowl season. This is the season where it’s popular to complain about the number of bowl games, and about participation trophies, and about whether 6-6 or 5-7 teams should “earn” a postseason bid, and a bunch of other nonsense.

I wonder whether those folks actually like college football. Fam, this is the greatest gatdang season of the year. Bowl season brings out all that is wonderful, wild, and weird about this sport. 40 games means 40 stories, and here they are.

(Or at least 37 or so of them. I’m actually not that good at this.)

(Also in case you were planning on actually betting on these games, why do you hate having money?)

THE NOT-SO-BIG ONES:

NEW MEXICO: New Mexico (-7.5) vs. UTSA

One of the quieter rebuilds these past few seasons has been the return of Bob Davie at New Mexico, whose pistol-based option attack leads the nation in rushing offense. Neither team is particularly strong defensively, so hopefully it’ll make for a fun opener to the season. New Mexico 42, UTSA 34

LAS VEGAS: San Diego State vs. Houston (-3.5)

Man, Vegas has given us some great matchups two years in a row, and this year it gave us running back Donnell Pumphrey vs. All-American freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver. I wonder how dialed in Houston will be with the questions surrounding the turnover on its staff. San Diego State 31, Houston 28

CAMELLIA: Appalachian State vs. Toledo (-1)

If you guys have been following the MAC and Sun Belt like I told you, you would appreciate this matchup for the glory it is. Toledo is explosive on offense but may or may not opt to stop Appalachian State, who will run and run and run. Appalachian State 34, Toledo 27

CURE: Arkansas State vs. UCF (-5.5)

While many bowl games are known for offense, this one might be a defensive showcase. Arkansas State’s 7-5 record belies its 7-1 record to close the season, but I trust a Scott Frost team that’s been close in all its games this year. (Minus Michigan, but no one really cared about that one.) UCF 24, Arkansas State 20

NEW ORLEANS: Southern Miss (-4.5) vs. UL-Lafayette

Congratulations, New Orleans: you’ve managed to put two teams together which I know absolutely nothing about. Southern Miss throws the ball a lot and Nick Mullens missed a couple games, but has been solid. Teams throw more than the national average on ULL, and that’s probably for a reason. Southern Miss 34, UL-Lafayette 20

MIAMI BEACH: Central Michigan vs. Tulsa (-12.5)

That spread is appropriate, considering CMU is only eligible because the refs gifted them a play that allowed them to Hail Mary their way to a win over Oklahoma State. Tulsa’s been consistently strong on both sides of the ball, they’ll be fine. Tulsa 38, Central Michigan 24

BOCA RATON: Western Kentucky (-4.5) vs. Memphis

-4.5 seems pretty generous given the Hilltoppers boast the nation’s fourth-ranked passing offense and second-ranked rushing defense. (Memphis’ passing defense and  rushing offense are 52nd and 58th). Western Kentucky 45, Memphis 28

POINSETTIA: BYU (-9) vs. Wyoming

This one’s tough. BYU is seldom elite but is always mature, steady, and physically tough, and its four losses came by eight total points. Wyoming is a team on its way up after beating Air Force, Boise State, and San Diego State this season. BYU won’t run away with this one but that line is a bit large for my liking. BYU 31, Wyoming 27

POTATO: Idaho vs. Colorado State (-13.5)

Poor Idaho drew a far superior opponent and didn’t even get a nice trip to Florida or anyplace in exchange. Colorado State 49, Idaho 21

BAHAMAS: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion (-4.5)

Two great stories: EMU getting bowl eligible after spending the last few seasons ranked amongst the very worst in FBS, and Old Dominion, making a bowl in its first year of eligibility after making the jump from FCS. The Monarchs have an edge offensively which will make the difference. Old Dominion 35, Eastern Michigan 27

ARMED FORCES: Navy Midshipmen vs. Louisiana Tech (-4.5)

Louisiana Tech has a great offense, Navy has a bad defense and maybe not a quarterback. The Mids will slow the game down but make too many mistakes. (This pains me, you guys know how much I love the service academies.) Louisiana Tech 31, Navy 17

DOLLAR GENERAL: Ohio vs. Troy (-4)

I checked and tickets are in fact rounded off to an even dollar amount. Troy 30, Ohio 28

HAWAII: Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee (NL)

A matchup so boring Vegas didn’t even want anything to do with it. If anyone from Murfreesboro is reading this, plate lunches sound weird but are actually delicious. I recommend Fatboy’s. Middle Tennessee 42, Hawaii 31

A plate lunch.

ST. PETERSBURG: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State (-13)

How the heck. Just. How on earth did we get this matchup. The RedHawks are coming in off a six-game winning streak, perfecting a wonderfully palindromic 0-6-and-6-0 season. Obviously one wonders whether Mississippi State will even be a little motivated for this game. They haven’t appeared motivated for much this season (so I’m leery about that spread), but it won’t matter. Mississippi State 31, Miami 20

QUICKLANE: Maryland (-1) vs. Boston College

Maryland played four quarterbacks this year and had a three-week stretch where it lost by a combined 149 to 13. BC’s defense will be fine. But maybe don’t block out time for this one. Boston College 13, Maryland 10

INDEPENDENCE: NC State (-4.5) vs. Vanderbilt

Really wanna get behind Vandy’s defense here, especially since I’m very proud of them for making a bowl for the first time in the Derek Mason era, but I can’t buy into the offense. NC State 24, Vanderbilt 16

HEART OF DALLAS: Army (-10.5) vs. North Texas

Service academies service academies service academies service academies. Army 27, North Texas 21

MILITARY: Wake Forest vs. Temple (-13)

It’s a shame the AAC champion and defensive stalwart Temple Owls couldn’t get into a better game. I wonder if Wake Forest caught its mole before he could sell the Deacs’ game plan to the Owls. Temple 31, Wake Forest 14

HOLIDAY: Minnesota vs. Washington State (-7.5)

The Golden Gophers’ brand of slow, plodding offense and aggressive defense will forever be a thorn in the side of better-stocked schools, but with so many players suspended for this game (including a few defensive backs), swing the dang sword. Washington State 31, Minnesota 20 [UPDATE: Wow, maybe Minnesota isn’t even going to play in this game. Stay posted, guys.]

CACTUS: Boise State (-7.5) vs. Baylor

Baylor completed the anti-Miami (Ohio) this year, completing a 6-0-and-0-6. The Broncos have been a bit streaky offensively but are consistent on defense, and will likely be pretty ramped up to put the wood to a Power Five foe. Boise State 45, Baylor 24

PINSTRIPE: #23 Pitt (-5.5) vs. Northwestern

Pretty generous spread for the Wildcats, who have either underperformed or played exactly to expectations this season, depending on how you viewed their 10-3 2015 campaign. Either way, Pitt beat Clemson and Penn State, I guarantee you nothing Northwestern throws at them will be too intimidating. Pitt 45, Northwestern 31

RUSSELL ATHLETIC: Miami (-3) vs. West Virginia

Miami’s gonna be a team to watch in 2017, as the Hurricanes exceeded my expectations this year and just needs the offense to catch up to its amazing defense. The Mountaineers will test that defense but Miami will pass it. Miami 33, West Virginia 23

FOSTER FARMS: Indiana vs. #19 Utah (-7.5)

Poor Indiana. Everyone’s favorite pick to challenge-but-never-beat elite teams parted ways with its coach. What’s the mood right now in Bloomington? Utah 30, Indiana 17

TEXAS: Texas A&M (-2) vs. Kansas State

I love this matchup of former Big 12 foes. Kansas State always seems capable of mucking up the game plan of even the most high-powered offense, and has undersized white people to spare who will always overperform. Kansas State 29, Texas A&M 28

BIRMINGHAM: USF (-10.5) vs. South Carolina

The challenge of Will Muschamp’s career might be finding a way to keep pace with Quinton Flowers, one of the most overlooked playmakers in the country. No one’s doubting Muschamp’s defensive prowess, but they’re not quite there yet and the offense has all the punch of a bowl of leftover pasta. USF 34, South Carolina 18

BELK: Arkansas vs. #22 Virginia Tech (-7)

Bret Bielema was pretty straightforward about 2016 being a building year for the Hogs, who lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball . . . but I’m not sure anyone anticipated the rushing defense would tumble from 59th to 115th. Virginia Tech 38, Arkansas 28

ALAMO: #12 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Colorado (-3.5)

This is probably the bowl I’m most excited about outside of the New Year’s Six. Colorado’s offense, led by Sefo Liufau, has been steady if not explosive, but they can move the ball on the Pokes. The Pokes can move the ball on pretty much anyone when they’re in the mood to . . . but Colorado’s secondary is as stingy as any in the country. Colorado will have to keep Oklahoma State off the field with their offense, which is just efficient enough to handle the task. Colorado 35, Oklahoma State 32

LIBERTY: Georgia vs. TCU (-1)

In the regular season I would have picked TCU all day, but I have a lurking suspicion Georgia’s gonna be one of those teams to blow up in a bowl and go into the next season ridiculously over-ranked. Just a feeling. Can’t quantify it. Sorry. This preview is v bad. Georgia 38, TCU 18

SUN: #18 Stanford (-3.5) vs. North Carolina

Stanford’s ignominious defeats to Washington and Washington State belied that the Cardinal have been on a bit of a tear in November. Mitch Trubisky is one of the nation’s deadliest passers. Hopefully it snows. North Carolina 35, Stanford 28

MUSIC CITY: #21 Tennessee (-3) vs. Nebraska

Vegas is being kind to Nebraska here, who may or may not have a quarterback, and won’t have do-everything receiver Jordan Westerkamp. With Tommy Armstrong’s legs I take Nebraska by ten. Without them . . . Tennessee 27, Nebraska 10

ARIZONA: South Alabama vs. Air Force (-13.5)

Service academies service academies service academies service academies. Air Force 44, South Alabama 24

CITRUS: #20 LSU (-3) vs. #13 Louisville

Leonard Fournette is gonna sit but the Tigers still have Derrius Guice to beat the Cards’ front into a pulp, and the Tigers’ defense is the rare one that can actually make the Heisman Trophy winner look human. LSU 41, Houston 28

TAXSLAYER: Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech (-3.5)

You know me, I tend to slant things the way of the triple option team, namely because . . . things tend to slant the way of the triple option team. Watch this one, I think it’ll be fun. Georgia Tech 41, Kentucky 38

OUTBACK: Iowa vs. #17 Florida (-2.5)

 

 

 

 

Iowa 20, Florida 18

THE KINDA-BIG ONES:

ORANGE: #6 Michigan (-7) vs. #11 Florida State

I think Florida State is being written off a little too easily after their 3-2 start. The Noles have played great defense and consistent offense and could spoil the postseason for a Michigan team with questions at quarterback. (The Wolverines have been understandably mum as to the condition of Wilton Speight, without whom it nearly beat Ohio State.) But that Wolverine defense seems to be doing just fine. Dalvin Cook will make for a proper challenge. Michigan 27, Florida State 17

COTTON: #8 Wisconsin (-7.5) vs. #15 Western Michigan

Don’t look now, but through two seasons of the Committee organizing these games, the Group of Five teams are 2-0. Against all odds, P.J. Fleck appears to be staying in Kalamazoo. He’s gonna have his guys ready. Wisconsin can control possession so the Broncos will need to make the most of its possessions and take shots. Penn State provided some nice film on how to do that. Western Michigan 31, Wisconsin 28

ROSE: #5 Penn State vs. #9 USC (-7)

The Hot-Seat-Gone-Cold Bowl. Young quarterbacks, dangerous but imperfect defenses, tough running backs. USC has Adoree Jackson, who I think shines on a huge stage in front of a veritable home field, and makes a game-flipping play or two. USC 32, Penn State 29

SUGAR: #7 Oklahoma (-4) vs. #14 Auburn

Auburn can score on Oklahoma, that I’m certain of, which will put pressure on Baker Mayfield and his obscene array of weapons to score a lot, and thank goodness for that, because this should be an extremely entertaining game. Oklahoma 38, Auburn 35

THE SUPER-BIG ONES:

Jalen Hurts’ name forms a pretty appropriate complete sentence.

PEACH: #1 Alabama (-17) vs. #4 Washington

The thing about Alabama this year has been that while Jalen Hurts has done the typical freshman quarterback things you expect freshmen quarterbacks to do (e.g., flashes of brilliance amidst flashes of oh-my-god-what-was-that), we’re not hearing much about the oh-my-god-what-was-that because the Tide has been able to overcome it because the defense and special teams are usually good for as many points as they allow. It’s absurd. If you give Alabama’s defense or special teams an inch, they’ll take a hundred yards.

So it’s relatively simple for Chris Petersen’s squad, in theory: don’t make any mistakes. Petersen isn’t being shy about the challenge his team faces. Everyone wants Bama until they get Bama. It’s going to be very difficult for the Huskies to run, but I think Jake Browning can throw on the Tide if his line can just give him any dang time. And he can’t make any mistakes. But he probably will, because nobody’s been better at forcing fatal errors this season than the Crimson Tide. Alabama 33, Washington 14

FIESTA: #2 Clemson vs. #3 Ohio State (-3)

A lot of love is given to Clemson’s defense, and rightfully so. They wait out their chances and then jump all over mistakes. If they can force J.T. Barrett to pass, they can shut down Ohio State. But I don’t think they can force Barrett to pass. The Ohio State rushing game has been too good, and Urban Meyer, one of the best gameplanners in the business, has too much time to break down Brent Venables’ unit. Curtis Samuel is going to stretch the field horizontally and Mike Weber can beat it up between the tackles. If Clemson shows anything, Meyer will jump on it with RPOs. Ohio State’s gonna get yards and points.

So Clemson has to, also. Contrary to Clemson’s much-ballyhooed defense, I feel like too little praise has been heaped upon Greg Schiano and Luke Fickell’s stronger unit. They’ll have one heck of a task stopping one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers in Deshaun Watson. Watson, in turn, will face the greatest test of his season. Clemson has not been a great rushing team this year, and if they can’t get something going against the Buckeyes they’ll be in for a long night against one of the nation’s best secondaries. Ohio State 34, Clemson 17

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