College Football Bowl Season Preview

College Football’s Christmas Gift to Us 

The holiday music and Bing Crosby are quickly making their annual appearance, the downtown streets are beginning to fill with busy shoppers, and hopefully, you have your holiday tree up already. All of those can only mean one thing; it’s college football’s bowl season. Like the tradition of how your mom puts deodorant and toothpaste in your stocking and your grandma gets you socks and pajama pants for Christmas, college football gives the gift of amazing matchups each holiday season. 

Although most of the bowl publicity goes to the College Football Playoff with Alabama taking on Oklahoma and Clemson facing off against Notre Dame, there is so much more to bowl season than just those four teams. I mean sure Pasadena, California is great with all of their pageantry and whatnot, but who wouldn’t want to go to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, Michigan! I hear the Motor City is great this time of the year! 

In all honesty, bowl games are part of what make college football the great game that so many fans have fallen in love with. Along with the College Football Playoff games on December 31st, there are some great matchups out there that I can’t wait to watch. With that, here is my gift to you this holiday season, Tanner’s College Football Bowl Season Preview (I worked hard on the wrapping). 

My Top Five Must Watch Bowl Games:

Las Vegas Bowl – December 15th: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Fresno State (11-2)

I don’t care what anyone says, if you win 11 games at the Division I level, you’re a good football team. Fresno State came in ranked 21st in the final college football rankings and won the Mountain West last weekend in a showdown against Broncos of Boise State who finished their regular season 10-3. Unlike most California schools, the Bulldogs actually play defense too. They finished the regular season in the top 20 in team defense, but also remained inside the top 50 in total offense. That balanced attack will keep Sun Devil coaches up at night. 

Remember about a year ago when Arizona State was the laughing stock of college football for hiring Herm Edwards? Well, look who’s laughing now. The Sun Devils and the vivacious Coach Edwards enter the showdown against the Bulldogs with a 7-5 record, but were at one point one win away from making the Pac -12 Championship game. Behind the dynamic duo of ASU QB, Manny Watkins, and potential 1st round NFL Draft pick, receiver N’Keal Harry, the Bulldogs will have their hands full. Watkins finished the regular season 4th in the Pac-12 in passing yards, while Harry finished 2nd in the conference in receiving yards. Add in Enu Benjamin, who led the entire Pac-12 in rushing with over 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns; and it’ll be interesting to see how the Fresno State defense decides to handle this versatile attack. 

Prediction: Sun Devils 35 – Bulldogs 28 

Photo Credit to Kent Horner/Getty Images

Quick Lane Bowl – December 26th: Minnesota (6-6) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)

Am I a little biased here? Well, yes! If you’re not rowing the boat with PJ Fleck and the Golden Gophers, then you may want to move on down to the next game, though this one has the potential to get interesting regardless. The Gophers are fresh of getting a 15-year-old monkey off their back in beating their rival east of the Mississippi and getting Paul Bunyan’s Axe back for the first time since 2003. After firing Robb Smith from his defensive coordinator duties during the back half of the season, the Gopher defense has played much better. The receiving duo in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman could arguably be the best receiving duo in the Big Ten. If Tanner Morgan can limit turnovers and make quick and efficient decisions, and the defense that played against Wisconsin and Purdue shows up, the boat should continue to row for PJ Fleck and company.

Georgia Tech is coming into chilly Detroit, Michigan red hot as they have won six out of their last eight games, all of which are over high-quality opponents. Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson announced that he would be stepping down after eleven seasons with the program, so could this be the final hurrah for the triple option in college football? Other than Navy, I don’t think there are very many programs left that keep the triple option in their playbook. How new Gopher defensive coordinator, Joe Rossi, dials up to defend the option will be the story of the game.Yellow Jacket quarterback TaQuon Marshall, and running back Tobias Oliver present a dangerous rushing attack, as both average over 4.5 yards per carry. If Rossi can find a way to slow down the Georgia Tech offense, I think Minnesota will have a good chance at walking away with the win. If they don’t slow down this option attack, it could be a long day for the maroon and gold.

Prediction: Golden Gophers 24 – Yellow Jackets 14

Photo Credit to AP Photos/Stacy Bengs

Pinstripe Bowl – December 27th: Miami (7-5) vs. Wisconsin (7-5)

Well, Miami gets their shot at redemption. In last years Orange Bowl, Wisconsin took it to the Hurricanes as the Badgers walked away with a 34-24 win. In that game, Badger quarterback Alex Hornibrook passed for 258 yards and four touchdowns as he went 23/34 and 2018 Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor only ran for 130 yards on 26 carries. I expect that to be a much more run heavy attack if the Badgers aspire to win this game. Hornibrook has dealt with head injuries the last few weeks and played well below par in the loss to the Golden Gophers in their final game. With the Badgers bringing in Kansas native and elite top-tier quarterback recruit Graham Mertz  next year with the 2019 recruiting class, the Hornibrook era may end with this showdown if the junior signal caller lets the Badger faithful down. 

If Maimi wants to win this game, they have to force the Badgers to throw the ball and make them throw it often. Obviously, that is easier said than done when you’re going up against the best running back in college football and he is behind an offensive line that could possibly send three lineman to the NFL in next spring’s draft. If there is any team that can do it, however, it would be the ‘Canes. In 12 games, Mark Richt’s defense was second in the country in yards allowed per game giving up only 268.3 yards. If the Hurricanes and their rock-solid defense can get Bucky into passing situations, they should set themselves up for a great chance to win this game. What hasn’t mentioned enough that the Badgers turned the ball over four times last week against Minnesota, and that amount could have been higher if things didn’t bounce their way. Mark Richt’s defense forced 24 turnovers on the year, tying them for 12th in all of the FBS. I’m also curious to see how the Miami boys travel to New York City where it could very well be in the mid-teens come kickoff. 

Prediction: Hurricanes 21 – Badgers 17

Credit to AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Peach Bowl – December 29th: Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida (9-3)

Well, does it get any better than this? Two of the most prestigious blue bloods going head to head in a game that should live up to expectations. Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverine’s revenge tour continues as his team look to get the sour taste out of their mouth after being absolutely thrashed by Dwayne Haskins and the Ohio State Buckeyes. If the Wolverines want to get back to their winning ways, they have to stop the pass. Against Ohio State, they gave up nearly 400 yards through the air, while also allowing six touchdowns via the pass. Along with tightening up the back end of their defense, they have to stop the run more effectively. They gave up 5.2 yards per carry over 43 carries. Granted, a good chunk of those yards came on one run, but the Wolverines will not win this game if their defense gives up big play after big play like it did against the Buckeyes. However, behind the leadership of Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, and Rashon Gary, I expect the college football’s top defense to be back and be hungry for a win. 

Although the Gators don’t have quite the elite defense that the Maize and Blue have, the Florida defense is no slouch. Linebacker Vosean Joseph is an absolute stud, wrangling in 87 tackles, four sacks, while also having four passes defended on the season. Along with Joseph is Jachai Polite, a big boy up front who has a knack of getting to the quarterback. The junior has racked up 11 sacks, placing him 2nd in all of the SEC in that category. If you like defense, this should be a fun matchup. One in-game matchup to keep an eye on is how Florida’s secondary matches up against Harbaugh’s explosive offensive weapon in Donovan Peoples-Jones. The young WR has given Big Ten corners fits all game long and can take over a game if he’s given a chance. With good quarterback play from Shea Patterson, that could very well happen in Florida isn’t careful. 

Prediction: Wolverines 24 – Gators 21

Photo Credit to Tony Ding

Fiesta Bowl – January 1st: UCF (12-0) vs. LSU (9-3)

I know what people say about UCF and how they play a weak schedule every year, but despite facing off against a few pansies and cupcakes in a non Power 5 conference, the Golden Knights are solid. There’s a reason why we’re starting to see them produce solid NFL talent every year. It’s an absolute shame that superstar and Golden Knight quarterback, McKenzie Milton, is injured for the remainder of the year and won’t be able to play in such a monumental game for his program. The one time Heisman hopeful suffered a gruesome knee injury against USF. The AAC Conference Champions haven’t lost a game in over two years and I think if they take it to LSU, there has to be a legit discussion on whether or not to put them in the Playoff next year (if they go without a loss once again) or possibly expanding the current playoff system to eight teams. The receiving duo of Gabriel Davis and Dredrick Snelson has been unbelievable for the Golden Knights this year as they, along with Milton, were a big reason for UCF averaging over 46 points per game this year. With a new man under center, I expect Davis and Snelson to receive a boatload of targets, but going up against “DB U” in LSU’s secondary will be like nothing these two have ever seen. Although I would like the Golden Knights chances better if Milton was under center, backup Darriel Mack Jr. led UCF to a comeback win against Memphis is AAC Championship game going 19/27 for 328 yards and two touchdowns, so if you think this game is going to be a blowout, you’re greatly mistaken. 

Coming off of a 9-3 season where LSU had hopes of at one point of being in the playoff themselves, they come in hungry in hopes of ruining UCF’s shot at crowing themselves “National Champions” for the second consecutive year. After seemingly being loaded at running back for the last handful of years, LSU has taken a step back in their rushing attack this year as they ranked 8th in the SEC in rushing the ball. With a lackluster rushing attack, you would think they would be great through the air. Not so fast my friend! LSU ranks 9th in the SEC in passing the ball and have dished out a dismal 13 passing touchdowns on the year, the worst in all of the SEC (yes, even behind the dumpster fire that is Arkansas football). The LSU defense is what wins games for coach Ed Oregon. Ranking 38th in the country in rush defense, only allowing just under 140 yards on the ground, as well as ranking 9th in the nation in passing efficiency defense allowing a passer rating of 106.10 is what makes Tiger fans smile. 

Prediction: Golden Knights 42 – Tigers 35 

Photo Credit to Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

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