Arkansas (7-5) vs #22Virginia Tech (9-4) – Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC – 5:30PM ET, ESPN (Thu 12/29)
Justin Fuente has more than exceeded expectations in his first year at Virginia Tech. Taking over for a retired Frank Beamer, Fuente inherited a team that went 6-6 in 2015, and barley scraped by Tulsa in the bowl game, and in just one year he turned the Hokies into the ACC Coastal Champions. As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks have improved under Bret Bielema, and are a consistent bowl team, but a win here which would mean an eight win season would be a next step of sorts for the Razorbacks. I really like Arkansas’ gritty play style, but I’m going to give the edge to Virginia Tech because of quarterback Jerod Evans. Evans got lost in the shuffle in an ACC filled with stellar quarterbacks, but despite not having thrown a college pass before 2016, the Junior has been fantastic, throwing for 3300 yards and 27 touchdowns. I’ve got Tech.
The Pick: Virginia Tech 38, Arkansas 30 (Virginia Tech -7, Over 61)
#12Oklahoma State (9-3) vs #10Colorado (10-3) – Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX – 9PM ET, ESPN (Thu 12/29)
A hidden gem in this bowl season will take place on the 29th. These two conference runner ups will square off in the Valero Alamo Bowl, a game that is probably better than two of the New Year’s Six. The Alamo Bowl has consistently been one of the best bowl games each year. In 2015 UCLA squeaked by Kansas State, and in early January of 2016 TCU came back from down 31-0 to stun Oregon in triple OT. Both of these teams are coming off losses in their respective conference championships (or de facto conference championship in the case of Okie State.) Both of these teams have been good this year, but they haven’t been tested enough for us to know how good, and this game should give us a final measure of that, this game will also determine which one of these teams will end the year in the top ten, something no one thought was possible for Colorado. The Buffs came into the year predicted to finish last in their own division, but led by a stellar defense Colorado has had a year so good that it earned HC Mike MacIntyre the coach of the year honors. The Colorado pass rush is complimented perfectly be a secondary that will be able to slow down the Oklahoma State passing attack, I’ve got the Buffs in a close one.
The Pick: Colorado 38, Oklahoma State 34 (Colorado -3, Over 62.5)
Georgia (7-5) vs TCU (6-6) – Autozone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN – 12PM ET, ESPN (Fri 12/30)
Both of these teams fell way short of expectations, Georgia was a favorite in the SEC East, but it’s been a rough year, losing to rivals Florida and Georgia Tech, as well as losing to Vanderbilt for the first time in years. TCU was a fringe playoff team preseason, and was projected to finish 2nd in the Big 12, but the Horned Frogs have had an average season, going 6-6 with losses to Arkansas and Texas Tech. I’m not too excited about either of these teams but this game will come down to Jacob Eason against the TCU pass rush. This will be Eason’s chance to shine, he’s been battling for the starting job for most of the year, but now he will finally be in the spotlight. He’s averaging 12 yards per completion, which is one of the best in the country. It will be close, and I’m not confident, but I’ve got Georgia.
The Pick: Georgia 27, TCU 26 (TCU +2.5, Over 48.5)
#18Stanford (9-3) vs North Carolina (8-4) – Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX – 2PM ET, CBS (Fri 12/30)
This game got some added buzz after Christian McCaffrey decided to skip this game to prepare for the NFL Draft. I personally am not a fan of the decision, but it’s a business decision, and that choice should be his, I would only get mad if someone skipped a New Year’s Six/Playoff game for the Draft. While that will probably end up being what this game will be remembered for, this game will probably be a pretty good matchup. North Carolina probably would have ended the year ranked , but the Heels ended the year losing their last two conference games, against rivals Duke and NC State. On the other hand, Stanford is the opposite. They started the year 3-3, but the Cardinal have turned on the jets the back half of the year, having won six straight. Stanford isn’t just McCaffery, backup RB Bryce Love has been great in relief for McCaffery so far this year, averaging seven yards per carry, and I think he leads Stanford to a win.
The Pick: Stanford 30, North Carolina 27 (Stanford -2.5, Over 54)
Nebraska (9-3) vs #21Tennessee (8-4) – Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN – 3:30PM ET, ESPN (Fri 12/30)
Both of these teams will really benefit from the extra month of rest that comes with a bowl game. Tennessee was riddled with injuries all year, and Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong will be back and ready to play after being out with a hamstring injury for a while. This game also means a lot for both coaches, Tennessee was a popular preseason playoff dark horse, and an 8-5 season would certainly make Butch Jones’ seat a little warmer. As for Nebraska, a ten win season in Mike Riley’s second year would make the hire that was questionable at the time look genius. Nebraska’s defense has been surprisingly good this year, and the Cornhuskers are very good at controlling the tempo, but I’ve got Tennessee in this one. The Volunteers have won their last two bowl games, and after a bad performance against Vanderbilt in the last game of the season, the Vols will be fired up to deliver a win in this one.
The Pick: Tennessee 34, Nebraska 27 (Tennessee -6.5, Over 58.5)
South Alabama (6-6) vs Air Force (9-3) – Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tuscon, AZ – 5:30PM ET, ASN (Fri 12/30)
The final group of five vs group of five game of the year is the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl, which is an odd game to say the least. The game will be on the American Sports Network, but for the many that do not have that station, the game will be broadcast online on Campus Insiders, the quickly growing sports media platform is the home of the Conference USA and Mountain West networks, and this game will probably be filmed very differently, so I would give it a watch just for that. Not only is the network interesting, but this is a sneaky good matchup. South Alabama has played up to it’s competition, holding wins over Mississippi State and Mountain West champion San Diego State. On the other side, Air Force comes into this game riding a five game winning streak, and I think they will be able to shut down the Jaguar run game. South Alabama might have one more upset win in them, but I’ve got Air Force.
The Pick: Air Force 34, South Alabama 24 (South Alabama +13.5, Over 57)
Georgia Tech (8-4) vs Kentucky (7-5) – Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, FL – 11AM ET, ESPN (Sat 12/31)
Most people probably didn’t even realize these two teams were in a bowl, Georgia Tech went 3-9 last year, and Kentucky went 5-7 last year, and no matter what happens in this one, both will finish above .500, which counts as a win in my book. This game will be a battle between two stellar rushing attacks, Georgia Tech, as an option team, obviously runs a lot, but Kentucky has really been a fantastic team on the ground over the back half of the year. The Wildcats have averaged 318 rushing yards per game over the last three games of the year. QB Justin Thomas has been a very serviceable quarterback in the Georgia Tech option system, the Senior hasn’t put up crazy stats, but he’s set up the rest of the Georgia Tech running backs for success. I do like Kentucky, and they had a great end to the year, but their run defense will not be able to stop a running attack like the Yellow Jackets. I’ve got Georgia Tech in a close one.
The Pick: Georgia Tech 35, Kentucky 31 (Georgia Tech -3.5, Over 62)
#20LSU (7-4) vs #13Louisville (9-3) – Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL – 11AM ET, ABC (Sat 12/31)
This is another one of those games that while isn’t technically a New Year’s Six game, it’s probably good enough to be one. I picked LSU as my preseason SEC West champion based on their numerous fantastic recruiting classes and all of their returning starters, and for a while Louisville looked like they could beat Alabama, so talent wise, these two teams are there. Both of these teams are probably better than their records indicate, both teams lost a couple games that they probably shouldn’t have, but nonetheless this should be a fantastic game. Lamar Jackson and Louisville come into this game after back to back losses, but with a month to prepare for this game, I think the Cardinal will be back on their feet. As for LSU, Leonard Fournette is skipping this game for the NFL Draft, but it’s not as big a deal as some think. RB Derrius Guice will start in Fournette’s absence, but Guice has actually had more carries, yards, and almost double the touchdowns as Fournette has had this year. On top of that, this is Ed Orgeron’s first game as LSU’s permanent head coach, a job he’s wanted for his whole life, and if anyone can get the Tigers fired up for a bowl game, it’s Ed Orgeron and a bunch of free Buffalo Wild Wings (The Tigers ate FOUR THOUSAND in the build up to this bowl game, Louisville only ate 2900).
The Pick: LSU 35, Louisville 28 (LSU -3, Over 59.5)