College football’s grand finale is upon us, as the 41-game slate of Bowl Season for 2017 kicks into high gear any minute now. There’s never any shortage of storylines at play; future NFL stars on display, primetime matchups between great teams that might not have happened otherwise, schools breaking long postseason droughts, and more. This year’s games have plenty of that on display, with the possibility of a National Championship matchup the likes of which may never be seen again.
But enough about that for now. Here’s a break down of the first week or so of games–presented as briefly as possible–with predictions to help you in your own Pick’em group.
Grambling State vs North Carolina A&T
A bowl game created as a showcase for Historically Black Colleges, this year’s matchup features both of the teams that have won this bowl since its 2015 inception. Grambling won last year’s game 20-19 thanks to a blocked PAT attempt in the final minute of the game.
PREDICTION: GSU 24, NCAT 21. Never bet against a school that outscores opponents by 10 points per game, almost never turns the ball over, and was once coached by the man for whom the national Coach of the Year award is named.
New Orleans Bowl
Troy vs North Texas
A game of some interest for Indiana and Kentucky fans, as this matchup boils down to two head coaches–Neal Brown of Troy and Seth Littrell of North Texas–who once served as the offensive coordinators at UK (Brown) and IU (Littrell). True to both coaches’ roots, this game will be an air raid drill orchestrated by a pair of 3000-yard passers.
PREDICTION: TROY 48, UNT 39. Earlier this year, the Trojans went into Baton Rouge and embarrassed LSU. Facing the Mean Green on neutral turf won’t seem like quite as daunting a task by comparison.
Western Kentucky vs Georgia State
As indicated in Blue HQ’s more detailed preview of this matchup, both of these schools are appearing in a bowl in their first year under new head coaches. Although there are many similarities between them, the key difference stems from Western Kentucky’s 19th-ranked passing offense. Georgia State is not quite so productive in that department.
PREDICTION: WKU 30, GSU 21. In a year where talented QBs will likely be available late into the draft, keep your eyes on WKU’s Mike White, a player who makes 4000 yard/30 TD seasons look relatively easy, even after working with three different head coaches (Bobby Petrino, Jeff Brohm, and Mike Sanford).
Boise State vs Oregon
Oregon, still reeling from the unexpected departure of head coach Willie Taggart–who has taken the same job at Florida State–placed their program in the hands of offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal, whose previous head coaching experience at Florida International was mostly noted by his recruitment of future Indianapolis Colts wide receiver TY Hilton. His recruiting skill should serve the Ducks well in the future, but Taggart’s surprise exit won’t help Oregon’s gameplanning for this one.
PREDICTION: BSU 34, OREGON 24. Whether it’s through the air with Brett Rypien or on the ground with Montell Cozart, the Broncos’ talented QB duo can do plenty to keep Ducks running back Royce Freeman off the field.
New Mexico Bowl
Marshall vs Colorado State
This is exactly the sort of game that trips up people trying to make accurate bowl predictions. When looking at two teams with identical records from outside the Power Five, check the stats and schedules. If every single category favors one school, pick the other direction. In this case, Colorado State way outpaces Marshall in all offensive categories–especially yardage–and has nearly as many wins/close losses against other bowl teams.
PREDICTION: MARSHALL 30, CSU 28. Teams that churn yardage as much as CSU does run the risk of stalling out in the red zone, and all it takes is one drive that ends in a field goal instead of a touchdown to lose close games.
Middle Tennessee State vs Arkansas State
Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen has had an interesting season. On the one hand, he’s got twice as many passing yards and total touchdowns as both members of Middle Tennessee’s quarterback tandem combined. He also has more than twice as many turnovers. Whichever attribute is more dominant will decide the outcome here.
PREDICTION: MTSU 27, AK ST 14. Betting on turnover-prone players in big-time matchups is never safe. One of the few teams in their conference to schedule three Power Five opponents in nonconference play, MTSU can lean on that experience to mitigate Hansen’s big-play capabilities.
Boca Raton Bowl
Akron vs Florida Atlantic
To the surprise of the college football world, Lane Kiffin was able to hit the ground running, win 10 games and a C-USA title, and go bowling all in his first year. Many can–and have–questioned whether or not Kiffin should have been allowed to hire disgraced former Baylor offensive coordinator Kendall Briles and bring in a host of players with checkered pasts to revamp the program. But opinions aside, the results of that decision are showing on the field. Now, Kiffin’s first bowl win as a head coach comes down to an Akron defense that nearly cost rival Toledo a shot at a MAC championship.
PREDICTION: AKRON 24, FAU 17. Contrary to his pass-heavy past in the Big 12, Briles’ offense has been almost entirely reliant on running back Devin Singletary. FAU quarterback Jeff Driskel won’t make a lot of mistakes, but he won’t make many plays either. As long as the Zips keep the holes plugged up against the run, FAU should be an even easier foe than Toledo was.
Louisiana Tech vs Southern Methodist
Although SMU will definitely be able to put points on the board courtesy of quarterback Ben Hicks (3442 yards, 32 TD, nine INT), they’re going to have to compensate for the loss of head coach Chad Morris, recently departed to take the reins at Arkansas.
PREDICTION: LA TECH 27, SMU 24. The Mustangs have the talent and the home-field advantage to keep this close, but never underestimate how much wind losing a head coach can take out of a team’s sails.
Florida International vs Temple
While you’re trying to figure out exactly what a “gasparilla” is, prepare yourselves for a matchup that’s probably going to be as close on the field as it looks on paper. Dual-threat FIU quarterback Alex McGough rarely makes mistakes and sneaks up on you with how well he can run, as IU fans can attest from previous contests.
PREDICTION: FIU 38, TEMPLE 13. How a Temple offense that barely registered more TDs than turnovers this season won six games is a mystery. If your Pick’em League uses confidence points, this is a safe bet to get you 35-plus.
Alabama-Birmingham vs Ohio
One of the genuine feel-good stories of this year’s bowl schedule is the resurrection of UAB football after a two-year exile that stemmed from the school getting duped into a money-saving scheme engineered by a consulting firm that may or may not have wanted to steer those resources towards the Alabama main campus in Tuscaloosa. This year, the Blazers are playing like they’ve never left, with a trip to the Bahamas and a battle with an identically-built Ohio team as their reward.
PREDICTION: UAB 37, OHIO 35. Once again, the stats are so similar that a clear advantage can’t be found there. Expect a storybook ending here, with UAB nailing a 50-yard game winning field goal as time expires.
Idaho Potato Bowl
Wyoming vs Central Michigan
Originally thought to be a sure-fire top 10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Wyoming QB Josh Allen’s stock is in a state of flux. He’s still got all the physical attributes you look for–big frame, big arm, enough mobility to pick up 10-12 yards with his feet on occasion–but the stats haven’t been there, with Allen only accumulating 1,658 yards and 13 TD this season. With USC’s Sam Darnold possibly heading back to school, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson dividing the opinions of scouts, Allen can compete with UCLA’s Josh Rosen to be the first signal caller off the board with a good display in this game.
PREDICTION: WYOMING 31, CMU 21. The Cowboys are going to cater this game to Allen’s strengths in an effort to help his case. As long as he’s properly motivated, racking up three or four TD passes shouldn’t be too much to ask.
South Florida vs Texas Tech
This one’s like A Tale of Two Cities for head coaches. South Florida is thriving in its first year under Charlie Strong, and the program dodged a bullet after his name was connected to a number of coaching vacancies. Meanwhile, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury could sure use a bowl win to save his job after another season of failing to leapfrog Texas while schools like TCU, SMU, and Houston are consistently outperforming the Red Raiders.
PREDICTION: USF 42, Texas Tech 24. Bulls QB Quinton Flowers watched his team switch from an offense-oriented coach (Taggart, in 2016) to a defense-oriented one (Strong, this year) and didn’t lose a step, with a loss to the unbeaten UCF Golden Knights being the Bulls’ only blemish this year. His mobility gives South Florida a dimension the pass-happy Red Raiders just don’t have.
Armed Forces Bowl
San Diego State vs Army
I’m sure there’s an explanation for the Armed Forces and Military Bowl games both being sponsored by defense contractors–as opposed to the military branches they’re contractually tied to–but I’m not sure what it is. In any case, it’s always nice to see Army win enough games to qualify for its own bowl, but they’re going to have their hands full in this one. After rushing for over 2000 yards this season, many felt that San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny had a case to earn a Heisman invite. The Black Knights should give him a great chance to prove it.
PREDICTION: SDSU 23, ARMY 14. Army has less than 400 yards passing as a team all year, the lowest figure in all of Division One football. Penny at least has QB Christian Chapman to make a handful of throws to open things up for him.
Dollar General Bowl
Toledo vs Appalachian State
This one’s a candidate for the best game not to feature Power Five teams. Sun Belt co-champs Appalachian State bring one of the nation’s top 50 rushing offenses to the table, with five players–including quarterback Taylor Lamb–having racked up triple-digit yardage on the ground this season. Meanwhile, MAC champs Toledo feature a 3800-yard passer in Logan Woodside, a 1000-yard rusher in Terry Swanson, and a 1000-yard receiver in Diontae Johnson. You may come away from this one convinced that the Group of Six conferences deserve their own playoff.
PREDICTION: TOLEDO 54, APP STATE 37. There’ll be fireworks aplenty, but the Rockets have the better man under center, and it should carry them to the win.
Houston vs Fresno State
Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford has settled in nicely to his new job at Fresno State. The wins are there–nine this season–even if the air-raid numbers of Cal’s Aaron Rodgers years haven’t popped up yet. Fresno’s going to need to find a way to use their closer proximity to Honolulu (relative to Houston) to their advantage, because monstrous Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver can have a JJ Watt-like effect on all your offense’s gameplans. Plus, Houston can throw a pair of dual-threat QBs at you, and both Kyle Postma and D’Eriq King will get their share of snaps.
PREDICTION: HOUSTON 28, FRESNO 20. Postma and King’s speed will allow Houston to get creative and run up time of possession just long enough to get an extra drive or two, making all the difference.
Stay tuned for our predictions about the rest of this year’s bowls, including a special look at the College Football Playoff and the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls.
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