TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4) vs. #22 Georgia Bulldogs (8-4)
January 01, 2014 (11:00 AM, ESPN2)
In the only bowl rematch this season of one of last year’s bowl games, the disappointing and banged up Georgia Bulldogs hope to send their seniors out on a positive note against the turbulent Nebraska Cornhuskers.
What makes this game a bit more intriguing is that both teams star quarterbacks, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (667 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT passing; 117 yards rushing) and Aaron Murray (3,075 yards, 26 TD, 9 INT; 7 rushing TD), will not be playing this game due to suffering season-ending injuries. The biggest difference here is that Martinez was injured early in the season, so backup QBs Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong Jr. have gotten plenty of playing time. On the other hand, Georgia’s Hutson Mason only played mop up duty until the last game of the season. He performed well against Georgia Tech in the finale throwing for 299 yards and 2 TD.
With Murray out all eyes will be on talented Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, who must put his team on his shoulders as he looks to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark once again. So far this year he has run for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns, and caught 30 passes for 344 yards and five scores.
Mason will have to face Nebraska’s dangerous pass rush and a pass defense that was ranked 22nd in the country. For Nebraska it has been the Ameer Abdullah show in 2013 without Taylor Martinez, as Abdullah has amassed 1,568 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, while Imani Cross added 445 yards and 10 TDs.
Georgia’s run defense is in the top 50 of the country while Nebraska’s is a bit further down so in this matchup between all star running backs it make come down to which QB can make a big play down the stretch. Armstrong has been Nebraska’s guy at QB as the season progressed so that will likely remain the case in the Gator Bowl.
PREDICTION: Georgia – 23, Nebraska – 10
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas, TX)
UNLV Rebels (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (8-4)
January 01, 2014 (11:00 AM, ESPNU)
UNLV is in its first bowl game since 2000, and North Texas has only one bowl game in its entire history. The Heart of Dallas Bowl takes place in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, while the Cotton Bowl has moved to Jerry’s World (Cowboys Stadium). North Texas prides itself on physical defense (No. 27 defense in the country) and a hard-nosed offense. Tailback Brandin Byrd has run for 1,023 yards and 11 TD, while quarterback Derek Thompson threw for 2,640 yards and 14 TD despite 13 INT.
For UNLV the offense has been explosive and well balanced. QB Caleb Hearing threw for 2,522 yards and 22 TD with just 4 INTs while Tim Cornette ran for 1,251 yards and 15 TD, and receiver Devante Davis caught 77 passes for 1,194 yards and 14 TD.
Two of the biggest factors in the outcome of this game could come down to the red zone. Despite being one of the leading scorers in the country UNLV was pitiful inside the red zone, 102nd in the country, while North Texas was No. 1 in the country, even ahead of teams like Alabama.
The other factor could be a gamebreaker like North Texas’ Brelan Chancelor who caught 47 passes for 718 yards and 4 TD and also returned a punt and a kickoff return for a TD. Chancellor is a big play threat at all times.
PREDICTION: North Texas – 20, UNLV – 19
Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL)
#19 Wisconsin Badgers (9-3) vs. #9 South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)
January 01, 2014 (12:00 PM, ABC)
The Badgers and the Gamecocks might provide one of the best matchups in non-BCS bowl games as the Badgers punishing running game goes head up with South Carolina’s ferocious defensive line.
Wisconsin’s two headed beast at running back Melvin Gordon (1,466 yards, 12 TD) and James White (1,337 yards, 13 TD) combined for over 2,800 yards and 25 TD on the ground. For South Carolina All SEC lineman Jadeveon Clowney (35 TKL, 10.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) and Kelcy Quarles (36 TKL, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks) lead a defensive line that combined for 35.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks between the starters and a defense that allows under 150 yards rushing per game.
South Carolina’s defense will certainly have its hands full with Wisconsin’s running game, but both running back Mike Davis (1,134 yards, 11 TD rushing) and QB Connor Shaw (2,135 yards, 21 TD, 1 INT passing; 511 yards, 5 TD rushing) have been brilliant this year as well. They will have to go up against the nations 6th best defense in the country and sixth-best run defense.
Both teams will sell out to try and stop the run and both defenses have top 20 pass defenses. Wisconsin QB Joel Stave has been picked off 12 times compared to just 1 interception from Shaw this year. Whichever defense can stop the run the best has the best shot at winning this one but one of the QBs will have to make a big play at some point in a defensive struggle.
PREDICTION: South Carolina – 16, Wisconsin – 13
Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL)
Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) vs. #16 LSU Tigers (9-3)
January 01, 2014 (12:00 PM, ESPN)
LSU has had a weird 2013, playing perfect at home including a win over Auburn and falling on the road to Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss. Things have flipped a bit this year for LSU, with the offense being much stronger while their defense was uncharacteristically weak at times.
The biggest hurdle for LSU in this one is star senior QB Zach Mettenberger being out due to tearing ACL late in the season. Mettenberger got beat around a lot as the season wore on, starting mainly with the Alabama game.
His replacement will be Anthony Jennings, who replaced Mettenberger late in the season finale against Arkansas, throwing the game winning 49-yard TD. Jennings threw just 10 passes all season for 99 yards and one score, so getting his first start in a bowl game could add some unneeded pressure to the youngster.
The athletic QB won’t be asked to put the team on his back, however, as All-SEC running back Jeremy Hill will called upon to add to his 1,185 yards and 14 TD rushing on the season. When he is called on to throw he has one of the most dynamic duos at receiver in the country in Jarvis Landry (75 catches, 1,172 yards, 10 TD) and Odell Beckham Jr. (57 catches, 1,117 yards, 8 TD).
Defensively LSU has slipped a bit from previous seasons, but is still a top 20 total defense despite giving up a lot of yardage and big plays during the year. Iowa has the seventh-ranked defense in the country, allowing just over 300 yards total per game. Iowa’s three starting linebackers, Anthony Hitchens (102 TKL, 13.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT), James Morris (98 TKL, 14.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 4 INT), and Christian Kirksey (97 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) each had over 90 tackles on the season.
On offense Iowa QB Jake Rudock threw for 2,281 yards and 18 TD but also threw 12 interceptions, and was prone to making mistakes. No receiver had 400 yards receiving either but running back Mark Weisman ran for 937 yards and 7 TD and should go over 1,000 yards on the season in this one. The questions in this one are will Iowa be able to play productively on offense and will LSU be able to remain explosive on offense against Iowa’s physical defense despite starting a new QB?
PREDICTION: LSU – 23, Iowa – 13
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Arlington, TX)
#13 Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2) vs. #8 Missouri Tigers (11-2)
January 03, 2014 (6:30 PM, Fox)
Oklahoma State and Missouri will renew a matchup that was a regular occurrence in the Big XII before Missouri left town for the SEC. Oklahoma State has defeated Missouri the last three times the two have met, but this is the first meeting of the two since Missouri moved to the SEC.
Oklahoma State averaged 40 points per game while Missouri averaged 39, so many will expect a ton of points, much like the SEC Championship. At the same time, Oklahoma State’s defense allowed just 4.7 yards per play and Missouri did not let a single opponent score more than 28 points on them until the SEC Championship.
Oklahoma State was 65th in the country while the passing offense was 31st in the country and averaged over 260 yards through the air per game. Missouri’s pass defense was 99th in the country, so Oklahoma State may have some fireworks through the air.
OSU quarterback Clint Chelf has been extremely inconsistent in 2013, torching some defenses like Baylor while being below average against others like Oklahoma. He ended the season completing just 56 percent of his passes for 1,792 yards and 15 TD with 6 INT.
J.W. Walsh played after Chelf was benched earlier in the season, but then Walsh himself got benched late, he may get to see some playing time anyway as he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,333 yards and 9 TD with five INT.
OSU has four receivers with triple digit receiving yards in Josh Stewart (52 catches, 623 yards, 2 TD), Tracy Moore (44 catches, 638 yards, 6 TD), Jhajuan Seales (36 catches, 529 yards, 2 TD), and Charlie Moore (31 catches, 415 yards, 5 TD). OSU’s biggest hurdle could be the relentless pass rush of Missouri’s Michael Sam (45 tackles, 18.0 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR), Markus Golden (51 TKL, 13.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks), and Kony Ealy (37 TKL, 12.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT).
Missouri’s offense is led by senior quarterback James Franklin who completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,255 yards and 19 TD with five INT along with 474 yards rushing and four TD. On the ground Henry Josey returned from a severe knee injury in 2011 to amass 1,074 yards and 13 TD, while his backup Russell Hansbrough added 660 yards and 4 TD and Marcus Murphy had 571 yards and nine TD. Franklin’s favorite target in the passing game is the incredible talented, massive Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught 55 passes for 830 yards and 12 TD.
Both defenses have superstars and potential first round draft picks in the secondary despite giving up big plays in the passing game as a team. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert (40 TKL, 6 INT, 7 PBU) is considered the top senior cornerback in the country while Missouri’s EJ Gaines (68 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 4 INT, 2 PBU) is drawing similar comparisons.
In the end the game will likely come down to the running game or lack thereof when it comes to Oklahoma State, and Missouri’s ability to stay balanced offensively.
PREDICTION: Missouri – 48, Oklahoma State – 38
BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham, AL)
Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4) vs. Houston Cougars (8-4)
January 04, 2014 (12:00 PM, ESPN)
Vanderbilt beat Florida, Tennessee and Georgia in the same season for the first time in the school’s history. To call the 2013 season “historic” would be an understatement for Vanderbilt. This game pits two of the country’s best receivers in Houston’s Deontay Greenberry, who was the first 5-star recruit to ever sign with Houston, and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews. Greenberry ended 2013 with 76 catches, 1,106 yards, and 10 TDs, while Matthews hauled in a staggering 107 catches for 1,334 yards and 5 TD.
Both defenses allowed a ton of points in 2013 (Vanderbilt allowed an opposing team to score 50+ points twice) but both offenses also put up a ton of points as well. Houston’s biggest hurdle could be its absolute inability to run the football and Vanderbilt’s SEC battle tested defense could take advantage of a one dimensional team, especially considering the Vandy defense intercepted 16 passes, good enough for second in the SEC. Houston QB John O’Korn amassed 2,889 yards and 26 TD with eight interceptions, while Vanderbilt’s Austin Carta-Samuels threw for 2,268 yards and 11 TD with 9 INT which could lead to a fun dual among the QBs.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt – 42, Houston – 41
GoDaddy Bowl (Mobile, AL)
Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-5) vs. Ball State Cardinals (10-2)
January 05, 2014 (8:00 PM, ESPN)
On paper this is one of the most one-sided matchups in the bowl season and Ball State is a double digit favorite in Vegas. Ball State is ninth in the country in passing offense as QB Keith Wenning threw for 3,933 yards and 34 TD with just 6 INT while Arkansas State allows nearly 250 yards passing per game spelling trouble for the Red Wolves.
What could make things interesting is Arkansas State’s dual threat QB Adam Kennedy who threw for 2,349 yards and 11 TD and ran for 514 yards and 4 TD. Northern Illinois dual threat Jordan Lynch gave Ball State fits leading to a big loss for the Cardinals which could be an opening for Red Wolves though Kennedy is no Lynch.