Bowl Previews (December 31 Six-Pack)

December 31, 2018 by CFP Staff

College Football breaks out a six-pack early on New Year's Eve with the Noon (Eastern Time) kick-off of the Military Bowl, followed by the Sun, RedBox, Liberty, Holiday and Gator bowls.

The Military Bowl matches No. 66 Virginia Tech (6-6) and No. 29 Cincinnati (10-2) for the fourth time in a bowl game, the second time in this particular bowl game, and the 12th time in history. The Hokies hold a 6-5 advantage over-all and a 3-1 edge in bowl game clashes with the Bearcats, having only lost the 1946 season edition of the Sun Bowl. Virginia Tech needed wins in its last two games to get here and accomplished that feat by upsetting Virginia, and then crushing an 8-3 Marshall team. Cincinnati brings a 10-2 record to Annapolis, but played just 4 bowl teams with losses to Temple and UCF and victories over Ohio and Tulane. Virginia Tech faced 7 bowl teams and went 3-4. Vegas installed Cincinnati as a 5-1/2-point favorite while the computer has Virginia Tech winning big (-8.65).

The Sun Bowl (2:00 p.m ET) pairs No. 56 Pittsburgh (7-6) and No. 25 Stanford (8-4). These teams met in the 1928 Rose Bowl (1927 season) and played regular season games in 1922 and 1932. This marks the first meeting in 86 years. Pitt won the ACC Coastal division with a 6-2 conference record and come into this game on a two-game losing streak that saw them get outscored by a cumulative 66-13. The Panthers were blown out 42-10 by Clemson in the conference championship game, a week after losing 24-3 to Miami. Pitt has played 11 games against bowl teams and went 6-5 in those contests. The Panthers were 1-1 vs. non-bowl qualifying teams (lost to North Carolina). The Cardinal have been rather predictable all year, largely winning the games they were supposed to win and losing the games they were expected to lose. The computer expects the Cardinal to win this one with relative ease as it favors Stanford by 9.04.

The 17th annual bowl game in San Francisco/Santa Clara will take place on Saturday when the RedBox Bowl (3:00 p.m. ET) matches No. 35 Michigan State (7-5) with No. 33 Oregon (8-4). This game was previously known as the Foster Farms Farms Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Emerald Bowl and the San Francisco Bowl. This season's combatants have split six previous meetings, including a home-and-home series in 2014 and 2015 in which both teams won the home game. Michigan State opened the 2018 season with the most returning talent of any team in the nation as 19 starters and 47 lettermen were back on the field. They also had a favorable schedule with Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan at home. Expectations of challenging for the Big Ten title - even a national title - were realistic. The computer had them going 12-0. Well, they lost all three of those home games, in addition to winnable road games at Nebraska and Arizona State. This group essentially laid an egg and it's not the first time it's happened on Mark Dantonio's watch. In 2009, a 12-0 forecast became a 6-6 reality. In 2016, another 12-0 projection became a 3-9 nightmare. Meanwhile, the Ducks finished above the expectations of a 5-7 season by going 8-4 overall, and 5-4 in the conference. About the only thing we see that works in Michigan State's favor in this game is Dantonio's mystifying habit of winning bowl games. He is 5-1 in the postseason over his last 6 tries, eking out 4 of those wins by 4 points or less. The Spartans are the computer's pick to win this one by 8.44.

The Liberty Bowl at 3:45 ET has No. 57 Oklahoma State (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) facing No. 21 Missouri (8-4, 4-4 SEC West) as a 6.61-point underdog. A loss would make this the first losing season for the Cowboys since Mike Gundy's first season in 2005. Oklahoma State is 8-4 in bowl games during Gundy's tenure and is 18-10 in its bowl history. At Missouri, head coach Barry Odom is looking for his first bowl win. The Tigers lost to Texas in last year's Texas Bowl and were a no-show in 2016 with a 4-8 record. Missouri is 15-17 in its bowl history. These former Big 12 rivals have met 52 times with Mizzou holding a 29-23 edge in the series.

At 7:00 p.m. ET, Northwestern and Utah tee it up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The No. 30 Wildcats (8-5) were the Big Ten west division champs with an 8-1 conference mark, while the No. 24 Utes (9-4) were the PAC-12 South champs with a 6-3 league record. These teams split their only two previous meetings which occurred in 1927 and 1981. Utah leading rusher Zack Moss (1,096 yards, 11 TD's) suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice in early November. He missed four games and was still the PAC-12's 5th-leading rusher. Utah QB Tyler Huntley also missed the last four games from a broken collarbone in the loss to Arizona State days earlier, but is probable for a bowl game return (as of December 11).  The Utes managed to go 3-1 down the stretch with backup Jason Shelley at QB but the team only had a single 100-yard rushing performance (Armand Shyne vs. Colorado) after Moss had six such games. In the 10-3 conference title game loss to Washington, Shelley had 3 interceptions and the team was held to 51 yards rushing and 188 total yards.  Northwestern is without RB Jeremy Larkin but the 'Cats are a passing team and won't feel the effects of his absence nearly as much as Utah will miss Moss. And Utah's pass defense is suspect, allowing 16 TD's even though they picked off 14 passes. The computer takes Northwestern by 0.91.

The Gator Bowl (7:30 p.m. ET) features No. 18 North Carolina State (9-3, 5-3 ACC Atlantic) and No. 27 Texas A&M (8-4, 5-3 SEC West). The Wolfpack had their best division finish (2nd) in Dave Doeren's 6-year tenure in Raleigh. Jimbo Fisher is wrapping up his first season with the Aggies. Doeren is 4-1 as a head coach in bowl games, including 3-1 with N.C. State. Fisher was 5-2 in bowl games with Florida State. N.C. State enters this game ranked 15th in the nation in total offense. Wolfpack QB Ryan Finley has thrown for 3,789 yards with 24 TD's and 9 INT's. He ranks 5th nationally in yardage per game but 24th in passer rating. The Aggie offense is ranked 19th in total offense and runs through QB Kellen Mond (2,967 yards, 23 TD's, 8 INTs). Mond ranks 31st in yards per game but 53rd in passer rating. NC State has a 70% reliance on the pass, but Reggie Gallaspy, Jr. was still the 4th-leading rusher in the ACC with 1,012 yards and 18 TD's.  Texas A&M brings a more balanced attack to the table with nearly 44% of their yardage accrued via the ground, led by Trayveon Williams' 1,524 yards and 15 TD's. Williams ranks 1st in rushing in the SEC and 4th nationally. The computer favors Texas A&M by 3.99.