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2015 college football predictions:
The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl takes place in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 19. The SWAC champion, Alcorn State (9-3) takes on the MEAC champ North Carolina A&T (9-2). The traditional matchup between black colleges is the seasons’ first bowl game. Alcorn State RB Darryan Ragsdale eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in last week’s win over Grambling to give the Braves a second consecutive SWAC title. NC A&T features a stud RB of its own in Tarik Cohen, the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year the past two seasons. The Aggies lost their last regular season game and their last meeting with Alcorn State (a 16-13 loss in 2004)… Alcorn State 27, North Carolina A&T 20.
Rich Rodriguez brings his Arizona Wildcats to take on the home team, New Mexico, in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 19. The Wildcats started fast going 3-0 before running into the Pac-12 schedule where they finished 3-6. They did pull a 37-30 upset of a 10th-ranked Utah late in the season. Now, they get to face one of the top rushing teams in the nation in New Mexico. Head coach Bob Davie’s squad is ninth in the country with 246.6 yards per game. Utilizing primarily a triple option attack, the Arizona defense will have its hands full… New Mexico 30, Arizona 27.
The Battle for Utah will take place at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 19 featuring a pair of 9-3 teams, BYU and Utah. The Cougars lost to ranked UCLA and Michigan early on and were upset by Missouri late. The school’s recent success resulted in head coach Bronco Mendenhall to a new job at the University of Virginia. Utah was an early contender for both the Pac-12 and the College Football Playoff until they lost RB Devontae Booker and three of their last six games. Both teams are solid on defense. BYU is healthier on offense… BYU 27, Utah 17.
It will be the first-ever bowl appearance for Appalachian State, which finished the season 10-2 and in second place in the Sun Belt Conference. The Mountaineers will face Ohio in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on Dec. 19. The Bobcats come in 8-4 and on a three-game winning streak. The excitement will be high for Appalachian State but will they be able to deal with the physical ground game of the Bobcats? Ohio 34, Appalachian State 28.
The R+L Carrier New Orleans Bowl looks to be a shootout with Sun Belt champ Arkansas State taking on Louisiana Tech. The Red Wolves (9-3) won the Sun Belt Conference and finished the season with three straight games where they scored more than 50 points. Quarterback Fredi Knighten leads an explosive offense against a Louisiana Tech squad led by former Florida QB Jeff Driskel, who was the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year. Expect lots of points… Arkansas State 48, Louisiana Tech 44.
The first AutoNation Cure Bowl takes place Dec. 19 from Orlando featuring San Jose State and a Georgia State team that is an interesting story. A new program just a few years ago, Georgia State snuck into a bowl game by upsetting powerful Georgia Southern in the final week of the regular season. The Panthers are led by QB Nick Arbuckle, who threw for 4,160 yards. San Jose State also snuck into a bowl at 5-7. It’s a long way to Orlando for the Spartans… Georgia State 34, San Jose State 28
After a successful 8-4 season that included an upset of Temple, head coach Willie Taggart and South Florida get to stay home for the bowl season. The Bulls will face Conference USA champion Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 21. WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 4,594 yards and 45 touchdowns. South Florida relies on a strong running game led by RB Marlon Mack (1,273 yards, 8 TDs). Running game and defense wins… South Florida 29, Western Kentucky 28.
Terry Bowden led Akron to its first winning season in 10 years and comes into the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on a four-game winning streak. Utah State has QB Chuckie Keaton the team’s spiritual, emotional, and physical leader. On Dec 22, expect Boise to be filled with Aggie fans and the Zips to face one of the better teams they have faced all year. Keaton doesn’t want to lose his final game… Utah State 30, Akron 17.
An interesting matchup in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl pits Toledo against American Athletic Conference runner-up Temple. Both teams are solid defensively. The Rockets recent success led to head coach Matt Campbell moving on to Iowa State. Offensive coordinator Jason Candle takes over. Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich is one of the nation’s best and has averaged over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons. Still, can they slow down the Toledo up-tempo offense? Toledo 27, Temple 24
It’s the 15th straight bowl appearance for Boise State as they take on perennial MAC power Northern Illinois in the San Diego Country Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23. A late season upset loss to New Mexico led to a loss to Air Force as the Broncos finished 8-4 in the regular season. Northern Illinois has underwhelmed this season thanks, in large part, to a rash of quarterback injuries. The Huskies played the MAC championship game with their fourth-string QB, Tommy Fiedler. Northern Illinois will have to rely on first-team All-MAC RB Joel Bouagnon, who rushed for over 1,200 yards this season. Can the Huskies end their four-year bowl-losing drought? Boise State 44, Northern Illinois 34
Talk about a contrast of styles. The GoDaddy Bowl features the nation’s leading rushing team, Georgia Southern, against Bowling Green, one of the nation’s more prolific passing games. Falcons quarterback Matt Johnson leads the nation with 4,700 passing yards. The BG offense was so successful that head coach Dino Babers was offered, and accepted, the job at Syracuse. The Falcons will still roll as will the Eagles, who have four players who have rushed for over 600 yards. Running back Matt Breida is the leader with 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns. Brieda averages eight yards every time he touches the ball. One thing is for sure; this will be a shootout… Bowling Green 55, Georgia Southern 48
If anything, college football fans should watch the Popeyes Bahama Bowl just to see Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck. One of the nation’s youngest head coaches, Fleck has resurrected the Broncos program. WMU beat Toledo on the final week of the season to knock the Rockets out of the MAC title game. Receivers Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman are the real deal. QB Zach Terrell is one of the nation’s highest rated passers. MTSU comes into the game on a four-game win streak, but the Blue Raiders don’t do well away from home… Western Michigan 31, Middle Tennessee 24
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Both San Diego State and Cincinnati will be loving their holidays since they will spend a good portion of them in Honolulu at the Hawaii Bowl. The game will take place on Christmas Eve and features two teams that go about scoring points in a different fashion. Aztecs head coach Rocky Long prefers a two-back, grind-it-out style of offense where the Bearcats (7-5) like to sling the ball around. The 10-3 Aztec2s won the Mountain West Conference title with RB Donnel Pumphrey (1,554 yards rushing, 16 TDs) leading the way. Head coach Tommy Tuberville’s Cincinnati offense was fourth in the nation in passing yards per game (373). In the end, the San Diego State defense prevails… San Diego State 24, Cincinnati 17.
It is the first bowl game for Connecticut since the days of Randy Edsall. Head coach Bob Diaco leads the Huskies to the St. Petersburg Bowl to face a very scary Marshall offense. The Thundering Herd (9-3) averaged 33 points a game led by QB Chase Litton (2,387 yards passing, 22 TDs). Head coach Doc Holliday has done a masterful job of rebuilding the program at Marshall. He has also done wonders with the defense which finished the regular season 14th in the nation in points against (18.4 per game), no small task in the pass-happy Conference USA. The UConn offense is one of the nation’s worst averaging just 17.8 points per game. That won’t cut it in the bowl game… Marshall 34, Connecticut 18.
After a revival season at Washington State, head coach Mike Leach leads his Cougars (8-4) against Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 26. Quarterback Luke Falk was one of the nation’s leaders in passing yards (4,266) and passing touchdowns (36) in Leach’s pass-happy Air Raid attack. Miami is in a state of transition after getting rid of Al Golden and ushering in a new era with former Georgia head coach Mark Richt. In the meantime, the Hurricanes and QB Brad Kaaya will try to add win number nine to their resume. It’s the second bowl game for Leach. Can he even his record? Washington State 42, Miami 40.
Two straight season-ending wins put Washington (6-6) into the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26 to face Conference USA title game loser Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles (9-4) have one of the more prolific passers in the nation in Nick Mullens, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. It was the defense of Huskies head coach Chris Petersen that really made the difference for Washington. Yielding 17.8 points per game, the Huskies were 12th in the nation, a pretty formidable task playing in the Pac-12 that featured some of the nation’s top scoring teams. Defense wins out in this one… Washington 24, Southern Mississippi 21.
It’s a battle of basketball powers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 26 from Yankee Stadium in New York City. The high powered offense of head coach Kevin Wilson leads the Indiana Hoosiers against the Duke Blue Devils (7-5). Coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils started the season 5-1, but then proceeded to go downhill after the eight-lateral kickoff return touchdown on the final play of the game with Miami. Duke will go as QB Thomas Sirk goes. He is the team’s leader rusher (648 yards) and passer (2,462). Indiana (6-6) hopes to have RB Jordan Howard (1,213 yards rushing) back from injury. The Duke defense will also have QB Nate Sudfeld (3,184 yards, 24 TDs) to contend with… Indiana 33, Duke 30.
It will be the final game for legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer in the Camping World Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. His long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster is going to have to figure out a way to slow down a very good Tulsa offense that averages 36 points per game. QB Dane Evans (3,958 passing yards) and WR Keyarris Garrett (1,451 yards receiving) can play. While the Hokies are very mediocre on both sides of the ball, they did win three of their last four and the only loss was a 30-27 defeat at the hands of a 17th-ranked North Carolina. Virginia Tech sends Beamer off with a win… Virginia Tech 28, Tulsa 26.
Nebraska backed into the Foster Farms Bowl with a 5-7 record. The game on Dec. 26 pits the Cornhuskers against an 8-4 UCLA team that disappointingly gave away a shot at the Pac-12 title. While head coach Mike Riley’s squad may not even deserve to be in a bowl game, don’t forget that the only thing separating the Huskers from being 12-0 is 31 points. An eight-point loss to No. 4 Iowa in the season finale and a 10-point loss to Purdue aside, Nebraska did not lose another game by more than five points. They will be hungry to be here. The problem is that their defense will have to face nation’s best freshman QB in Josh Rosen (3,351 yards) and a very good RB in Paul Perkins (1,275 yards, 13 TDs). The Bruins may wish to be in a bigger bowl game, but they are still close to home and should not have a problem with the Huskers… UCLA 34, Nebraska 27.
The Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman takes place on Dec. 28 and features Pittsburgh against Keenan Reynolds and Navy. Reynolds broke the career record for rushing touchdowns and leads the potent Navy triple option offense. First-year Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is known as a defensive whiz and will no doubt have something dreamed up for Reynolds and the Navy running game. The Panthers, after losing last year’s ACC Player of the Year James Conner, regrouped and went on to finish 8-4. Narduzzi’s Panthers will be too strong for the Midshipmen and it will be the Pitt ground game that has the better day… Pittsburgh 35, Navy 27.
The Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 28 takes place in Detroit at Ford Field pitting two programs with head coaches who suffered from serious health issues. At Minnesota, Jerry Kill stepped aside and retired due to issues with epilepsy. Kill’s right-hand man, Tracy Claeys, takes over and leads the Golden Gophers against Central Michigan where head coach John Bonamego dealt with tonsil cancer in the offseason. He was given a clean bill of health and led the Chippewas to a 7-5 season. His QB, Cooper Rush threw for 3,703 yards and 25 touchdowns. This is close to a home game for CMU… Central Michigan 28, Minnesota 21.
After starting the season 5-0, Cal took a dive when it had to navigate a murderous Pac-12 schedule. Still, the Bears earned a berth in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl where they will face Air Force on Dec. 29. The Falcons triple-option offense was good enough to win the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division. Head coach Troy Calhoun’s name was tossed around as a possible candidate as a replacement at some of the FBS programs with vacancies. Calhoun will remain and brings the nation’s third-best running game (321 yards a game) against one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, Jared Goff. The Cal QB threw for 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns. Expect lots of points in this one… Air Force 44, California 41.
The scoreboard operator will get a workout at the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 when North Carolina takes on Baylor (9-3). The Bears stumbled down the stretch thanks mostly to injuries at the quarterback position. Jarrett Stidham, who took over for starter Seth Russell midway through the season, is expected to be ready to go for the bowl game. If he is, the Bears offense should roll. RB Shock Linwood leads a ground game that averages nearly 300 yards a game and WR Corey Crawford is one of the nation’s best. Tar Heels QB Marquise Williams (2,829 passing yards) makes the North Carolina offense go as does RB Elijah Hood, who has rushed for 1,345 yards and 17 touchdowns. Both teams can score. The winner will come up with a defensive stop when needed… North Carolina 55, Baylor 48.
The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl matches two teams, Nevada and Colorado State, who actually play in the same league (the Mountain West Conference). The Rams (7-5) offense is built around WR Rashard Higgins (935 receiving yards). Nevada features a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in RB James Butler (1,156 yards) and Don Jackson (1,025). QB Tyler Stewart has a solid pair of wide receivers in Hasaan Henderson and Jerico Richardson. Both teams will flash some offensive greatness, but defense will win this one and Colorado State’s is better… Colorado State 27, Nevada 19.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette was not a finalist for the Heisman Trophy as the Tigers floundered down the stretch, but head coach Les Miles and his squad should run all over Texas Tech in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Dec. 29. The Red Raiders defense gave up over 42 points per game…yes, 42 per game, and still managed to win seven games. The offense is top notch though. QB Patrick Mahomes threw for 4,283 yards, DeAndre Washington was a 1,000-yard rusher (1,455), and WR Jakeem Grant hauled in 80 passes for 1,143 yards. Too bad Texas Tech won’t be able to stop Fournette… LSU 34, Texas Tech 28.
The Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 30 pits Memphis against Auburn. Memphis head coach Justin Fuente left the Tigers to take the head coaching job at Virginia Tech. Auburn lost its defensive coordinator Will Muschamp who will be the new head coach at South Carolina. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has had a tough year. His offense hasn’t really taken off like it did in year’s past. Memphis QB Paxton Lynch is one of the nation’s best at the position. He will likely tear up the Auburn defense… Memphis 44, Auburn 30.