1. COLLEGE BOWL PREVIEW

By Leo Haggerty

Yes, football fans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.  College Bowl Season so that means it’s time for my fearless prognostications of the winners in the 43 bowl games.

Just a quick reminder, I was off-the-charts with a 28-11 log last year during the Bowl season and that will be a tough act to follow.  I set a very high bar for myself to top this year but I’m going to give it my best shot so here goes.

But, before you get to my picks, a few tidbits of information.  Up in the Great Northwest now where the high for the Vikings game tomorrow is projected to be -11 with 10 inches of snow and it’s still coming down.  Going to get down Saturday night to somewhere between -25 and -45 in the Twin Cities.  Damn, that’s cold and that’s why I live in Florida.

Will be updating games this week so don’t panic that you think there’s some missing predictions.  There are.  Just want to post before the first game today.

Finally, Happy Holidays to everyone.  From all of us at Its Sports Magazine and Knights Sports Productions, may the new year exceed your expectations.

Now, let the picks begin!

CELEBRATION BOWL – ATLANTA, GA

North Carolina Central vs Grambling (No Line)

GRAMBLING – NCC may be good but Grambling is 11-1.  Plus, the guys from Louisiana use Atlanta as almost a second home.  Will be a great game to watch.  There will be Sunday-level athletes all over the field.  Tigers beat the Eagles in a shoot-out in Hot-lanta.

NEW MEXICO BOWL – ALBUQUERQUE, NM

University of Texas-San Antonio (+7 ½) vs New Mexico

NEW MEXICO – Got to admit, I don’t know much about either team.  Even had to look up the mascots.  With that said, I’m going with Vegas and the home team.  Lobos beat the Roadrunners but it will be close.

LAS VEGAS BOWL – LAS VEGAS, NV

San Diego State (+4) vs Houston

HOUSTON – This is a tough one.  Will we see the UH team that beat Oklahoma or the one that limped in losing to Memphis in the final regular season contest?   Also, who knows how Houston will react in their first game after HC Tom Herman bolted to Austin to become head man at Texas.  Plus, SDSU is the Mountain West champs so they’re not chopped liver.  Cougars beat the Aztecs with a late FG.

CAMELLIA BOWL – MONTGOMERY, AL

Toledo vs Appalachian State (+1)

APPALACHIAN STATE – Toledo plays in a very tough MAC conference and went 9-3.  All App State does is win when you don’t expect it.  This is one of those games.  Mountaineers beat the Rockets with a late goal line stand.

CURE BOWL – ORLANDO, FL

University of Central Florida vs Arkansas State (+6)

UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA – A big thumbs-up to the job UCF HC Scott Frost did in Orlando.  Taking an 0-12 team in 2015 to a 6-6, and could have won 8 games, bowl eligible squad in 2016 was remarkable.  Ark State will be a formidable opponent but I think Central Florida, playing what is essentially a home game, has too many weapons on both sides of the ball.  Golden Knights beat the Red Wolves but, in reality, wear them out to get a late victory.

NEW ORLEANS BOWL – NEW ORLEANS, LA

Southern Mississippi vs Louisiana-Lafayette (+5 ½)

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI – A battle of 6-6 teams.  USM played in Conference USA and UL-L competed in the Sun Belt.  Southern Miss has played the tougher competition and seems to be more battle tested plus has QB Nick Mullins under center.  Golden Eagles beat the Ragin’ Cagins by double-digits in a high scoring affair.

MIAMI BEACH BOWL – MIAMI, FL

Tulsa vs Central Michigan (12 ½)

TULSA – The AAC was a beast this year with USF and Temple both posting 10-win seasons.  Tulsa was 9-3 within the conference losing by two at Navy and 7 at Houston.  CMU played in the MAC and that was no slouch either.  Just think Tulsa offense will be hard to stop.  Golden Hurricanes beat the Chippewas with both teams scoring over 30 points.

BOCA RATON BOWL – BOCA RATON, FL

Memphis (+5) vs Western Kentucky

MEMPHIS – Yeah, I know WKU put up a 10-3 log and beat Louisiana Tech 58-44 in the Conference USA         championship game.  Western Kentucky can score points in droves but so can Memphis.  Heck, the over/under is 79 and don’t be surprised if both teams hit that by halftime.  Tigers beat the Hilltoppers in a first-one-to-50 wins, or maybe 60.

POINSETTIA BOWL – SAN DIEGO, CA

Brigham Young vs Wyoming (+9)

WYOMING-Two Rocky Mountain area teams heading to Southern California where weather will not be an issue. Wyo lost the Mountain West championship to SDSU and BYU, as an independent, played a vagabond schedule.  Look for this game to be high scoring.  Cowboys beat the Cougars with a late TD.

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL – BOISE, ID

Idaho (13 ½) vs Colorado State

COLORADO STATE – Idaho’s big claim to fame was that they were one of Washington’s so-called “weak sisters” in their non-conference schedule.  Must have been pretty good to post an 8-4 log but that’s the end of the good news.  CSU played in the very competitive Mountain West and put up 63 points on the scoreboard against MW champ SDSU.  Rams beat the Vandals by a bunch.

BAHAMAS BOWL – NASSAU, BAHAMAS

Eastern Michigan (+4) vs Old Dominion

EASTERN MICHIGAN – Yes, I realize that ODU was 9-3 and EMU was 7-5.  Eastern is another survivor coming out of the MAC and has a non-conference win over Wyoming.  Old Dominion has really no significant wins and have not played the competition that the squad from Ypsilanti did.  Eagles beat the Monarchs by double digits.

ARMED FORCES BOWL – FORT WORTH, TX

Navy (+5) vs Louisiana Tech

LOUISIANA TECH – This is going against my better judgement.  I have been on the Navy bandwagon all season, except when they played USF, and have been rewarded.  Only problem is the Annapolis guys are down to their 3rd team QB.  Didn’t get it done in the AAC Championship game against Temple or against Army and I don’t see any different outcome against La Tech.  Still, Naval Academy finds a way to keep it close.  Bulldogs beat the Midshipmen in a very close contest that could go the other way very easily.

DOLLAR GENERAL BOWL – MOBILE, AL

Ohio (+4) vs Troy

TROY – Can’t go against the guys from Alabama.  They gave #2 Clemson all they could handle at Death Valley early in the season but that was three moths ago.  Don’t forget that OU played undefeated Western Michigan to a standstill in the MAC championship before falling 29-23.  The guys from Athens have been on the big stage so this will be a tough and extremely physical tilt.  Trojans beat the Bobcats but it wouldn’t surprise me if this result was reversed.

HAWAII BOWL – HONOLULU, HA

Middle Tennessee vs Hawaii (No Line)

HAWAII – To say this is a home game for Hawaii is an understatement.  MTSU has to fly close to 6,000 miles to Honolulu and deal with all the distractions of playing a football game in paradise.  Plus, the Murfreesboro crew will be playing a game in heat that they cannot prepare and they haven’t experienced in over a month.  Rainbow Warriors beat the Blue Raiders by less than a touchdown.

ST. PETERSBURG BOWL – ST. PETERSBURG, FL

Mississippi State vs Miami-Ohio (+13)

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Down year in Starkville but that was expected after QB Dak Prescott took his talents to the NFL and we saw how that’s transpired.  The Ohioans had a better record but, even in this down year, the SEC is tougher competition.  I believe this will be a much closer game than Vegas thinks.  Bulldogs beat the RedHawks by less than double digits.

QUICK LANE BOWL – DETROIT, MI

Boston College (+1) vs Maryland

BOSTON COLLEGE – Another tussle between 6-6 teams.  UM played a very tough schedule in the Big Ten and BC did the same in the ACC.  I like the Chestnut Hill gang because they’re a little bit better on defense.  One thing is for sure.  Both teams will hit you.  Look for an extremely physical and low-scoring contest.  Eagles beat the Terrapins but it will go down to the last minute.

INDEPENDENCE BOWL – SHREVEPORT, LA

North Carolina State vs Vanderbilt (+4 ½)

NORTH CAROLINA STATE – Two more 6-6 teams.  Remember, NCSU was a “wide right” away from beating #2 Clemson in Death Valley.  Took a while for the Raleigh crew to recover from that but the beat in-state rival North Carolina to become bowl eligible.  Vandy did the same with late-season wins against Mississippi and in-state rival Tennessee.  Sound familiar? Both teams on a roll and may be one of the best games of the bowl season.  Wolfpack beat the Commodores but don’t be surprised if this outcome is reversed.

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL – DALLAS, TX

Army vs North Texas (+10)

ARMY – The only question here is if the Black Knights of the Hudson will have a hangover after their first win over Navy in more than a decade.  This is almost a home game for the Denton guys but they only have a few practices to get ready for the Army ground assault.  UNT will not be a pushover but the West Pointers triple-option is like novocaine.  It takes a while to work but, when it does, look out.  Cadets beat the Mean Green in a ground-and-pound slugfest.

MILITARY BOWL – ANNAPOLIS, MD

Wake Forest (+13) vs Temple

TEMPLE – This one is hard.  Temple HC Mark Rhule bolted Philly for Baylor after winning the AAC title.  You have to wonder how the Red & White will respond.  Saying that, what WF has gone through with the “gameplanagate” is just flat out crazy.  Can’t see the Winston-Salem bunch recovering.  Owls beat the Demon Deacons by a lot.

HOLIDAY BOWL – SAN DIEGO, CA

Minnesota (+9 ½)9 ½) vs Washington State

WASHINGTON STATE – U of M football program in turmoil.  WSU scores points in bunches. Not a good scenario if you’re the Twin Cities crew. Cougars beat the Gophers going away.

CACTUS BOWL – PHOENIX, AZ

Boise State vs Baylor (+7)

BOISE STATE – BSU has a tradition of winning bowl games. Baylor is a program in transition. I’ll take the tradition, thank you. Broncos beat the Bears with a trick play or two thrown in.

PINSTRIPE BOWL – BRONX, NY

Northwestern (+5 ½) vs Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – Personally, this is a tough one for me to pick. I really like what both coaches are doing. Pat Fitzgerald has NU the most competitive it has ever been and Pat Narduzzi has the Pitt faithful seeing a return to the glory days. The “X Factor” is Pittsburgh RB James Connor and he will make the difference. Panthers beat the Wildcats with a late score.

RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL – ORLANDO, FL

Miami-FL vs West Virginia (+3)

MIAMI – Hey, UGA , how does  HC Mark Richt look to you now?  All he did was bring “The U” back to respectability and a bowl berth. WVU won’t be a pushover and this could be one of the best games of the bowl season. Hurricanes beat the Mountaineers with a late defensive stop.

FOSTER FARMS BOWL – SANTA CLARA, CA

Indiana (+7 ½) vs Utah

UTAH – With the unexpected firing of IU head coach Kevin Wilson, the program in Bloomington is in a state of flux. Hiring former USF and current DC Tom Allen will help but this isn’t the distraction you want going against a team as talented as Utah. Utes beat the Hoosiers in a low scoring affair.

TEXAS BOWL – HOUSTON, TX

Kansas State (+2) vs Texas A&M

KANSAS STATE – A&M started out on fire and faded down the stretch after the season-ending injury to QB Trevor Knight. All K-State HC Bill Snyder does is find a way to get his team to a bowl game every year. Wildcats beat the Aggies in overtime.

BIRMINGHAM BOWL – BIRMINGHAM, AL

South Florida vs South Carolina (+10 ½)

SOUTH FLORIDA – USF is a scoring machine. The Tampa crew hasn’t been held under 30 points all season and, with QB Quentin Flowers and RB Marlon Mack lining up on offense, don’t expect that trend to change. Normally, the loss of HC Willie Taggert would be a problem but the hiring of Charlie Strong will ease the transition. USC won’t play dead but they can’t go point-for-point with South Florida. Bulls beat the Gamecocks with a lot of offensive fireworks.

BELK BOWL – CHARLOTTE, NC

Virginia Tech vs Arkansas (+7)

VIRGINIA TECH – If this is the VaTech team that showed up to play Clemson in the ACC Championship game, this game is a blowout. If this is the Arkansas team that demolished Florida, this game is a blowout. I think both teams bring the their A game and the difference is VT QB Jerod Evans. Hokies beat the Razorbacks with a late score by #4.

ALAMO BOWL – SAN ANTONIO, TX

Oklahoma State (+3 ½) vs Colorado

COLORADO -The outcome of this game will be determined by one matchup. Can the CU defense keep the Ok State offense under 30 points? If they can, Colorado wins. If not, OSU get the victory. Simple as that. I say Boulder guys get it done for departing DC Jim Leavitt. Buffs beat the Cowboys in a low-scoring affair.

LIBERTY BOWL – MEMPHIS, TN

Georgia vs Texas Christian (Pick)

TEXAS CHRISTIAN – Both teams had unrealistic expectations as the season unfolded. UGA never recovered  from the Hail Mary against Tennessee and TCU couldn’t stop anyone. Georgia’s offense is suspect and Big 12 teams score points. Horned Frogs beat the Bulldogs by at least 10 points.

SUN BOWL – EL PASO, TX

North Carolina (+4) vs Stanford

NORTH CAROLINA – The Stanford offense was questionable with RB Christian McCaffrey. Without him it could be non-existence. SU HC David Shaw will find a way to score points but not enough to counteract the prolific offense of UNC. Tar Heels beat the Cardinal by two scores.

MUSIC CITY BOWL – NASHVILLE, TN

Tennessee vs Nebraska (+3)

NEBRASKA – Both teams have major injury issues and come limping into this game. Rocky Top is beat up and NU isn’t far behind. This will be a war of attrition with the last team with the ball winning and I think that’s the crew from Lincoln. Cornhuskers beat the Vols with a late score.

ARIZONA BOWL – TUCSON, AZ

Air Force vs South Alabama (+13)

AIR FORCE – Can’t go against the team that won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and posted a 9-3 log in the very competitive Mountain West Conference. USA will put up a fight but not enough weapons to go point-for-point with Air Force. Falcons best the Jaguars by at least a touchdown.

ORANGE BOWL – MIAMI GARDENS, FL

Florida State (+7) vs Michigan

FLORIDA STATE – MY UPSET SPECIAL! Hey, Big Blue, welcome to the Dalvin Cook Show. UM hasn’t seen a running back of his pedigree since Zeke at OSU. I look for #4 to put up at least 225 all-purpose yards and a couple of TDs. Michigan has a pedestrian offense at best and wants a low-scoring game. Good luck with that. Seminoles beat the Wolverines convincingly.

CITRUS BOWL – ORLANDO, FL

Louisiana State vs Louisville (+3 ½)

LOUISVILLE – The Heisman Trophy winner, UL QB Jamar Jackson, will be out to prove his selection was no fluke. He’ll get that chance against a top-notch LSU defense. I’m going with JJ to have a big game and lead Louisville to victory especially going against a very average Louisiana State offense.    Cardinals beat the Tigers with a late score.

TAXSLAYER BOWL – JACKSONVILLE, FL

Kentucky (+3) vs Georgia Tech

GEORGIA TECH – The team you don’t want to play in a bowl is Tech and UK is going to find that out quickly. Their offense is so unique and their blocking schemes so different that it takes you the whole practice time leading up to game to give your defense a good look. Guess what, Kentucky. Still not enough time to get ready. Jackets beat the Wildcats in a “ground and pound” slugfest.

PEACH BOWL – ATLANTA, GA – NATIONAL SEMIFINAL

Alabama vs Washington (+15)

WASHINGTON – Why is this not the upset special, you ask? Because I think Alabama is vastly overrated and UW vastly underrated. Bama has problems with a good QB and Washington HC Chris Petersen has probably been watching the first half of the Ole Miss game 24/7 when QB Chad Kelly torched the Tuscaloosa crew. UDub has two Sunday level WRs in Pettis and Ross and QB Browning can light it up if given time. Plus, and here’s the big reason, Washington has not given up a special teams or offensive turnover TD. If UA doesn’t score on defense, their offense may not be able to survive a high- scoring affair. Huskies beat the Crimson Tide in a shoot out.

FIESTA BOWL – GLENDALE, AZ – NATIONAL SEMIFINAL

Clemson (3 ½) vs Ohio State

CLEMSON – Also think the underdog is much better than the favorite here. Clemson scores 30 points by mistake and scoring points is the Achilles heel of OSU. Plus, after finishing 2nd in the Heisman Trophy voting again, QB DeShaun Watson is on a mission to show people he’s the best college football player in the country. Ohio State will stay close for a while but, in the end, can’t score enough to keep up with the Watson-led juggernaut.  Tigers beat the Buckeyes with an offensive barrage.

OUTBACK BOWL – TAMPA, FL

Florida vs Iowa (2 ½)

IOWA – Iowa scores touchdowns when they get to the red zone. Problem is they don’t get in the red zone very often. UF doesn’t know what the red zone looks like. Game will be decided on which team can score 24 points and I’m betting on UI. Hawkeyes beat the Gators in a very low-scoring affair.

COTTON BOWL – ARLINGTON, TX

Western Michigan (+7 ½) vs Wisconsin

WISCONSIN  – Normally, I would pick the Group of Five representative because their opponent has nothing to play for. If you win you’re suppose to and the Group of Five team plays like it’s the National championship final.  Let’s use UCF and Houston as prime examples. Here’s the difference. UW will run it down Western’s throat to wear the defense down and, unlike Baylor and FSU, Wisconsin will be happy to get out of the Frozen Tundra. Badgers best the Broncos but it will be close.

ROSE BOWL – PASADENA, CA

Penn State (+6 ½) vs Southern California

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA – If PSU wins this one, HC James Franklin needs to be Coach of the Year. He has to get a team ready to play USC after watching OSU get embarrassed by Clemson. Every Penn State player is thinking we should have been playing in that game and not focusing on Southern Cal. That’s a deadly combination. Trojans beat Nittany Lions big.

SUGAR BOWL – NEW ORLEANS, LA

Oklahoma vs Auburn (+3)

OKLAHOMA – OU will still be smarting from being left out of the championship playoff picture.  They will take it out on Auburn with a vengence.  Plus, Oklahoma HC Bob Stoops has a knack for getting his teams ready to play in bowl games and this will be no exception.  Auburn will score but not enought.  Soons beat the Tigers by a touchdown.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP – TAMPA, FL

Clemson (+7) vs Alabama

CLEMSON – Yeah, I know these two met in last year’s title game and Bama came out on top.  This year, though, Clemson is on a mission and the ringleader is QB DeShaun Watson.  That was proven by their total domination in embarrassing Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl.  Don’t get me wrong, Alabama is a great football team and I expect both teams to bring their A game as they did last year in Glendale.  Bottom line is that I’m going with the best player on the field continuing to be that best player and bring home the National Champuionship trophy to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Tigers beat the Crimson Tide by at least 10 points.