Bowl Season — Quarter #3

“It all comes down to this roll…if he strikes, he’s the 1979 Odor-Eaters champion.” — Ernie McCracken

Three days hence…

12/29 — Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. California

This setup is a rematch of the 2007 edition of this bowl, won by Cal 42–36. In that game, Bears WR DeSean Jackson exceeded expectations by managing to stay unsuspended for the final three quarters of the contest and advancing his 40-yard touchdown catch past the one-yard line. This time around, the UC passing attack remains just as potent, led by QB Jared Goff, who compiled a Pac-12-best 4,260 yards of total offense and led the league with 37 TD throws. Air Force continues to strategize counter to its name. The Falcons ground game ranks second in the country at 322 yards per game. Its approach is still carried out with military precision, though. AF rates fourth nationally, committing just four penalties per contest.

Roy Munson’s Pick: California

12/29 — Russell Athletic Bowl: North Carolina vs. Baylor

Russell has no idea just how athletic this bowl has the potential to be. Despite cycling through three quarterbacks and finishing with a receiver-turned-QB this season, the Bears video game numbers spiraled upwards unabated. Baylor averaged a national-best 48 points and 605 yards of total offense per game. And contrary to its reputation as strictly pass-happy, BU has an impressively balanced attack, as their fourth-ranked 300-yard per contest rushing average will attest. ACC runner-up UNC can match the Bears score for score. The league’s top-rated pass efficiency unit also notched ACC bests with 41 points per game, six yards per rush and 14 sacks allowed. Defensively, they picked off a conference-high 16 passes.

Ishmael’s Pick (via Roy): North Carolina

12/29 — Arizona Bowl: Nevada vs. Colorado State

If familiarity breeds contempt, then contempt ought to consider title sponsorship of the Arizona Bowl. A rare postseason matchup of league foes, the Wolf Pack and Rams played six common conference opponents this season. CSU wins that tiebreaker, having beaten both UNLV and Wyoming by double-digits after Nevada lost to those schools earlier in the MWC schedule. Both squads gave up 326 total points on the campaign, and both excel on special teams. The Rams dominate both ends of the punt game. P Hayden Hunt leads the conference with 46 yards per kick, while Joe Hansley tops all Mountain West returners with 13 yards per attempt. Nevada can respond with league-leading K Brent Zuzo, who converted 14 of his 16 FG tries.

Big Ern’s Pick: Colorado State

12/29 — Texas Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Louisiana State

A virtual buddy cop mismatch of offensive philosophies, the slinking, prowling Tigers, just three days from retirement, will match up with the renegade, gun-slinging Red Raiders. LSU likes to play it safe with an SEC-leading ground attack that averaged six yards per attempt, 246 yards per contest and scored 29 touchdowns. It’s expected to compensate for a passing game that ranked last in the league with just 1,904 yards on 135 completions. Tech is a disciple of the Big 12 tenet: Throw First and Ask Questions Later. The Raiders placed second in the nation with an average of 47 points and 595 yards of total offense per game; 390 of which came via air.

Claudia (The Whore)’s Pick: Louisiana State

12/30 — Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Auburn

Birmingham was thrilled to find out it was hosting two schools that played for three national championships in the last eight years. What organizers may have left out was that Memphis’ title shot was in basketball. UofM’s newfound football prowess should not be taken lightly, though. On the strength of the fifth-most efficient passing attack in the country, the Tigers defeated an Ole Miss squad that two weeks later travelled to Auburn and posted an eight-point win. AU, which will be playing on the familiar soil of the longtime former site of the Iron Bowl, has a potent kicking game that includes the nation’s fourth-best return unit, averaging 28 yards per attempt, and the SEC’s top K Daniel Carlson, who converted 22 of 26 FG tries.

Landlady’s Pick: Memphis

12/30 — Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. North Carolina State

Easily the most challenging Wheel of Fortune bowl matchup puzzle (until someone picks ‘s’), Charlotte will experience a battle between two schools that embody the best aspects of the hometown Carolina Panthers. MSU embraces Carolina’s passing proficiency, leading the SEC with 306 successful connections and a 67 percent completion rate. NCSU utilizes the Panther quality of tempo management with its balanced attack, maintaining possession for a league-best 33 minutes per game. The Wolfpack also tends to set itself up with good field position, compiling a collective 1,269 punt/kick return yards, tops in the conference.

The Gambler’s Pick: Mississippi State

12/30 — Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Texas A&M

Quarterback purists might lament that this matchup didn’t occur two seasons ago, when it would have been a Johnny Manziel — Teddy Bridgewater duel, but Nashville will still be privy to a strong SEC — ACC showdown. A&M developed a defense whose strength is limiting opposing QBs, ranking fourth in the nation with just 161 passing yards allowed per game. Complementing that unit is the country’s most prolific punt return team, gaining 20 yards per attempt. The Cardinals’ moneymaker is the takeaway. The ‘Ville leads the ACC with 16 interceptions for 229 yards and four fumble returns for 93 yards.

Mr. Boorg’s Pick: Louisville

12/30 — Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Southern California

No confirmation on whether the Trojans have been approached by representatives from the Adopt-a-Charger program to facilitate the Bolts’ potential relocation to Los Angeles. In any event, San Diegans will be treated to a Rose Bowl-level affair between a periodically explosive offense and a legitimate defensive superpower. The Badgers led the country in scoring defense, giving up just 13 points per game, ranked second in defensive pass efficiency and third in total yardage allowed per contest (267). USC will test their mettle with a passing attack that tallied just six interceptions on the year, and includes the Pac-12’s leading receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who averaged 107 yards per game.

Odor-Eater Babe’s Pick: Wisconsin

12/31 — Orange Bowl (CFP Semifinal): #4 Oklahoma vs. #1 Clemson

From a national championship legacy perspective, the PC meets Y2K in 2015’s first Final Four contest. Clemson’s last title came at the dawn of the personal computer revolution in 1981, when the Tigers capped their undefeated season with an Orange Bowl win over Nebraska. Oklahoma last topped the charts at the start of the new millennium in 2000, when the Sooners also wrapped up a flawless campaign with an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State. This New Year’s Eve, Miami will bear witness to a clash between a classic Big 12 offensive machine and a sturdy ACC defense. OU has the country’s third-most potent scoring offense, averaging 46 points per game, fueled by the #3 pass efficiency attack. Clemson will attempt to speed-bump the relentless Sooner steamroller with a pass defense that cedes just 167 yards per contest, rated fifth nationally.

Bunion Boy’s Pick: Oklahoma

12/31 — Cotton Bowl (CFP Semifinal): #3 Michigan State vs. #2 Alabama

Since the last time Michigan State won a national championship in 1966, Alabama has collected seven titles of its own. In the last seven seasons alone, the Tide has finished #1 three times and participated in New Year’s Day bowls the other four years. Despite the disparity in championship experience, the Spartans have performed on the big stage numerous times during that same span, playing in three of the first five Big Ten title contests and winning the Rose and Cotton Bowl respectively over the last two seasons. This edition of Sparty utilized a frenetic defense that compiled the country’s fourth-best turnover margin (+16) to knock both Ohio State and Iowa from the ranks of the undefeated. ‘Bama can splash the pot with a Heisman trophy, courtesy of RB Derrick Henry, to complement its own stonewall defense, which holds opposing rushing attacks to a national-low 74 yards per game.

Young Roy’s Pick: Alabama