A Week Crammed Full of Bowls!
The Minnesota Gophers Look to Make a Statement
(Jesse Johnson/USA Today Sports)
War Eagle, everybody! SEC bowl season is here and begins tonight in Houston, Texas. This is my favorite time of year, when I can sit back and watch lots of good teams from around the country and see matchups of the sort I normally don’t get to see during the regular season. And mostly, I love to see how the SEC stacks up against the rest of the country. Lately, that answer has not been good. The SEC hasn’t had a winning bowl record since 2015. Last year’s SEC teams went 6–6 after fielding losing records in 2016 and 2017.
Auburn faces a historic matchup at noon on New Year’s Day against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The two teams have never played each other in football. Minnesota has some pretty good scalps on its belt from this season, including knocking off Penn State when the Nittany Lions were 4th in the country. A perfect season was derailed at Iowa, and then the Gophers were thumped by 21 points at home against Wisconsin.
There is no question that Minnesota can pile up the points and the yards with a tandem of 1,000-yard receivers, a great quarterback in Tanner Morgan, and a 1,000-yard rusher in Rodney Smith. The Gophers are averaging 34.3 points per game. I think Auburn will be stronger up front on defense, so we will likely see Minnesota utilize quick-passing strategies like most Auburn opponents did this season. Auburn likes to use mostly man coverage. Opponents have tried to isolate size on cornerback Javaris Davis and speed on nickelback Christian Tutt. Auburn will allow short completions, but until the Iron Bowl, few of those passes went for very many yards as the Auburn secondary is fundamentally very sound tacklers.
Auburn’s key to winning is to get production out of the ground game. With a healthy Auburn backfield and offensive line, this should be possible. In its last game, Minnesota was blown out by Wisconsin 38–17. The Badgers did it by rushing for almost 5 yards per carry and eating the clock.
The Outback Bowl will kick off at Noon, Central Time on Wednesday (New Years Day) and will be televised on ESPN. We’ll have our usual trackemtigers.com open thread up and running.
There is quite the slate of post-Christmas bowl action this season. I had a great time last night watching the mighty Miami Hurricanes get shut out 14–0 in the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech. Miami has fallen fast in recent years.
Upcoming bowl games after the jump!
In just a few minutes, the Military Bowl kicks off in Annapolis, Maryland, and North Carolina will take on Temple. I’ve been impressed by the job Mack Brown has done at UNC. There have been some stumbles, but the Tar Heels won their last couple of games to get bowl eligible, including a 41–10 thrashing of North Carolina State. Temple has lost 3 of its last 6, including blowout losses to SMU and Central Florida. I’ll take the Tarheels in this contest.
This afternoon, Michigan State takes on Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl from Yankee Stadium. Wake was looking like a challenger in the ACC before a late-season fade. Meanwhile the Spartans barely made a bowl. This is the sort of game the Spartans seem to find a way to win, and they should have a crowd advantage as well.
SEC action kicks off at 5:45 PM in Houston in the Texas Bowl. The Texas A&M Aggies take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both teams underachieved this season, and I’ll be curious to see if the Aggies can get up off the mat after they were absolutely destroyed in the season finale against LSU.
This evening the Holiday Bowl features Southern Cal and Iowa. This should be a virtual home game for the Trojans. This will be a good opportunity to see what decent Big Ten and PAC-12 teams do in a showdown.
Late evening action has Washington State meeting Air Force in the Cheez-it bowl in Phoenix. The Air Raid meets the triple option in this one. I like Air Force.
Saturday features 4 games. Three of them are New Year’s Six games, and two are playoff games. A pair of 11:00 AM games precede the playoffs. Penn State takes on Memphis in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington Texas. Memphis won the AAC title while Penn State missed out on the Big Ten championship game. Memphis will be playing for pride, but it is worth noting that the Tigers lost head coach Mike Norvell to Florida State in recent weeks.
Also at 11:00 AM is the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Notre Dame takes on Iowa State. Iowa State is a potentially explosive team but lost some close games this season. I suspect the winner in this game is the team that is more excited to be there. Notre Dame fans were expecting to be back in the playoff this year.
At 3:00 PM on Saturday, we have the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl in the first game of the college football playoff as LSU hosts Oklahoma. I think LSU’s defense really came on in the second half of the season and should be able to slow Oklahoma down. No team except Auburn really slowed down LSU all season. LSU may be without the services of banged-up running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but the Tigers still should have plenty of firepower ready to go.
The other playoff game is Saturday evening in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona where Ohio State hosts Clemson. This is a matchup featuring the best of the ACC and the Big Ten. I think, overall, the ACC is the weaker conference, but Clemson played awfully well down the stretch. Also, Clemson has been in the playoff every year since 2014 and knows what it takes to win it all. I also point out that Clemson’s defensive coordinator has had a month to scheme up something for the Ohio State offense. In the past 4 Clemson playoff openers, the Tigers held Oklahoma to 17, Ohio State to zero, gave up 24 to Alabama, and held Notre Dame to 3 last season. I’m not looking for the Buckeyes to do any better.
On Monday December 30, we have a quartet of bowls. At 11:00 AM, the Servpro Bowl is in Dallas where Western Kentucky takes on Western Michigan. I’ll be honest. I know little about either team.
At 3:00 PM, we have the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Mississippi State takes on Louisville. Mississippi State did not have its strongest season but did make it to a bowl game. Louisville was blown out 52–27 by Miami and 45–13 by Kentucky in recent weeks. Here’s hoping the Bullies can win one for the SEC.
Also at 3:00 PM is the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, California where California takes on Illinois. Again, I watched neither team play this season.
Monday night also features the Orange Bowl in Miami. Florida will take on the Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavs won their last 4 regular season games to take their division but got blasted 62–17 by Clemson in the title game. Considering that Florida had close losses to LSU and Georgia, I think the Gators are much more talented and should bring a lot of in-state fans to the game. If Florida is motivated, I think we’ll see a big Gator win.
New Year’s Eve is a busy bowl day this year. The action kicks off with the Belk Bowl in Charlotte at 11:00 AM, and Kentucky will take on Virginia Tech. I keep on saying that Kentucky is unlikely to win with a wide receiver taking snaps at quarterback, and yet the Wildcats keep winning. The Hokies can put up some points, though. I don’t see Tech rolling over like Louisville did against Kentucky.
At 1:00 PM, we have the “Tony the Tiger” Sun Bowl, from El Paso, Texas. Florida State takes on Arizona State, and both teams are trying to build for next season after forgettable 2019 campaigns.
At 2:45 PM, the Liberty Bowl kicks off in Memphis as Navy takes on Kansas State. Normally I’d rank the Big 12 ahead of the Mountain West, but I suspect Navy may be more motivated.
At 3:30 PM, there is the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl is in Tucson, and Wyoming will take on Georgia State. I remember opening weekend when Wyoming knocked off Missouri, and Georgia State beat Tennessee. I think Wyoming will bring more fans, but I can’t really guess who might win.
At 6:30 PM on New Year’s Eve, the Alamo bowl kicks off from San Antonio, featuring Utah vs. Texas. Utah is fresh off an embarrassing loss to Oregon in the PAC-12 title game while Texas has been embarrassing for a good bit of this season. I suspect that the Longhorns will fall once again in their home state.
Wednesday, New Year’s Day, is strangely quiet this bowl season with only 4 games. Auburn will play in the Outback Bowl at noon in Tampa against Minnesota. Also at noon, the Citrus Bowl will be played in Orlando with Alabama taking on Michigan. I would have liked to see Alabama and Auburn play at different times. I think the Tide will play angry in this game and send Michigan fans home grumbling.
The Rose Bowl game kicks off at 4:00 PM in Pasadena, California. Oregon will take on Wisconsin, and I like Oregon’s versatility on offense.
The New Year’s nightcap is the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and Georgia takes on Baylor. This will be a tough game for the Bulldogs as Baylor is not an easy out. The Georgia skill-position players have had a lot of injuries lately, and it has been a sub-par passing year for the Bulldogs. I’m thinking we’ll see a 5th straight Georgia post-season loss.
A couple of bowls were pushed to Thursday, January 2nd. The Birmingham Bowl kicks off at 2:00 PM with Cincinnati and Boston College doing battle. I think the Bearcats will win this one easily. I wonder how well attended this game will be?
The Taxslayer Gator Bowl will also be played Thursday night with Tennessee taking on Indiana. Tennessee started the season off looking like the worst team in the SEC, and then won 6 of its last 7 games. I think Vol fans and players are excited to be back in a bowl game after a 2-year absence.
Friday afternoon at 2:00 PM, we’ll have the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl from Boise, Idaho. The Ohio Bobcats will take on the Nevada Wolfpack, and the extended forecast is rainy with temps around 40 degrees. Brrrrr.
Saturday, January 4th will have the earliest of the bowl kickoffs with the Armed Forces Bowl kicking off at 10:30 AM in Ft. Worth, Texas. Southern Mississippi will take on Tulane. I’ll be pulling for the Green Wave, whom Auburn defeated 24–6 this season.
The bowl season continues on Monday evening, January 6th, with the Lending Tree Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Louisiana takes on Miami of Ohio. I expect that the Ragin’ Cajuns will carry that one.
Finally, on Monday evening, January 13th we’ll have the College Football National Championship Game from New Orleans. It is an interesting situation this season as we have more than a 2-week delay between the semifinal games and the final. My prediction is that LSU and Clemson will do battle.