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Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs. Navy
Time/TV: 11:45 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN
Prediction: Winners of four consecutive games, Navy is making their 10th bowl appearance in their last 11 tries. The Midshipmen feature a high-scoring offense that’s averaging nearly 40 points per game since losing 35-7 to Duke in October. Middle Tennessee State also possesses a productive offense. The Blue Raiders have scored 40-plus points in their last three games, all of which were wins. In fact, they enter this game on a five-game winning streak following a 3-4 start. You can thank quarterback Logan Kilgore for their late-season surge. In their first seven games, the senior threw for 1,086 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. During the five-game win streak, he threw for 1,203 yards, 10 touchdowns, and just 3 interceptions. Look for his college career to end on a high note, as he leads the Blue Raiders to just their third bowl victory in school history.
Middle Tennessee State 40 Navy 31
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
Time/TV: 3:15 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN
Prediction: Ole Miss is a better team than their record indicates. If you examine their schedule, they held up against quality opponents, including a 27-24 victory over LSU. Their toughest defeat came at the hands of rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, matches up well with their SEC counterparts. The Yellow Jackets run the ball well using the spread option, while the Rebels struggle to stop the run. Football is a game of matchups, and while I think the Rebels are a good team, they simply drew a poor bowl matchup.
Georgia Tech 27 Ole Miss 24
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 10 Oregon vs. Texas
Time/TV: 6:45 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN
Prediction: The final game for Mack Brown at Texas could be an emotional one. Brown means a lot to the program, despite any recent misgivings. A slow start had many writing off the Longhorns (and Brown) this season, but they rebounded, and were a victory away from winning the Big 12. It makes you wonder what would’ve happened had they beaten Baylor in the regular-season finale. Unlike Texas, Oregon started quickly by winning their first eight games. Through that span, they scored 40-plus points in each contest. However, they’ve lost two of their last four, scoring less than 40 points in three of them. The key matchup is whether Texas can slow Oregon’s offense down. The Ducks average over 70 plays per game. Baylor and Texas Tech both run similar offenses, though, so Oregon‘s fast style shouldn‘t catch Texas off guard. Plus, the Longhorn pass rush could make things interesting. Oregon struggled against Stanford because the Cardinal was able to harass Marcus Mariota throughout the game. Texas has the players to copy Stanford’s blueprint, but they must force Oregon into pass situation. They‘ll need to slow Oregon’s run game down to accomplish that, but the Ducks average 278.3 rushing yards per game. Texas is allowing over 180 rushing yards per game. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Oregon 45 Texas 28
National University Holiday Bowl: No. 14 Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
Time/TV: 10:15 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN
Prediction: One of the more surreal storylines this bowl season was the decision of Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield to transfer to Oklahoma prior to the Holiday Bowl. The short-term consequences means Texas Tech will be without one of their quarterbacks. I’m not sure the long-term consequences are that significant, however. Losing your starting quarterback to a conference rival is embarrassing, as it could hurt the Red Raiders on the recruiting trail. However, Texas Tech has depth at the position, so I suspect they’ll come out of this fine. Regardless, the Red Raiders enter this game as underdogs. Before losing in the Pac-12 championship, Arizona State reeled off seven consecutive wins. Through that seven-game span, their defense held six opponents to less than 30 points. An underrated defense gives Arizona State the advantage.
Arizona State 35 Texas Tech 28
AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Arizona vs. Boston College
Time/TV: 12:30 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN
Prediction: This game features two of the country‘s top running backs. Boston College’s Andre Williams -- a 2013 Heisman finalist -- finished the season with 2,102 yards, while Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey finished with 1,716 yards. Both rushed for 17 touchdowns. In truth, despite winning the Doak Walker award, Williams isn’t a better player than Carey is. The Arizona running back is more consistent, as he‘s rushed for 100-plus yards in every game he‘s played in this season. Which defense is capable of slowing the opposing running game down? It depends on the flow of the game. Arizona likes to go up-tempo, while the Eagles prefer to grind the clock. The first 15 minutes tend to decide these matchups. If Arizona gets out to a fast start, it’ll force Boston College out of their comfort zone, as they’ll be playing from behind. However, if Boston College can sustain an early long drive or two, then Arizona’s defense will find itself worn down, which could impact the fourth quarter. I’m going to roll the dice with latter scenario.
Boston College 35 Arizona 27
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. No. 17 UCLA
Time/TV: 2:00 p.m. Dec. 31, CBS
Prediction: The Hokies enter this game dealing with injuries. Most notably, starting running back Trey Edmunds broke his leg in the regular-season finale against Virginia. This further sets back an offense that simply isn’t very good. UCLA, however, has a very potent offensive attack. Brett Hundley, though inconsistent, is one of the better quarterback prospects in the country. His decision to return to college for another year is a wise one, as it’ll help him hone his skills. Hundley isn’t the only high-profile Bruin playing in this game. Anthony Barr is a likely first-round pick in April’s draft and freshman Myles Jack has become a college football sensation because of his contributions on both sides of the ball. Because of injuries, Jack filled in at running back, even though he also starts at linebacker. Despite UCLA’s marquee talent, I like Virginia Tech in this game. The Hokies defense is among college football’s most underrated and I suspect they’ll force Hundley into a couple of costly mistakes that’ll shorten the field for their offense.
Virginia Tech 21 UCLA 17
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Rice vs. Mississippi State
Time/TV: 4:00 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN
Prediction: Two overtime wins to close out the regular-season was enough to carry MSU to a bowl game. The difference down the stretch was an improving defense, which held Arkansas and Ole Miss to a combined 27 points. The Bulldogs also held Alabama to just 20 points earlier this season. They’ll face one of the country’s top rushing attacks in the Rice Owls. This year’s Conference USA champion averages 240.2 rushing yards per game. It’s also the first time since 1960-61 that Rice is playing in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons. Despite their 10 wins, picking Rice is difficult. They lost to Texas A&M 52-31 earlier this year and that was with Johnny Manziel sitting out the entire first half. The game was never really in doubt when Texas A&M played MSU, but the Bulldogs did manage to pull within 10 early in the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, despite the record differential, this is still a battle-tested SEC team against a non-BCS foe.
Mississippi State 28 Rice 27
Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 24 Duke vs. No. 21 Texas A&M
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN
Prediction: The Duke Blue Devils were perhaps the best story of college football’s 2013 season. Duke finished with its first 10-win season in school history and made it all the way to the ACC championship. It’s an outstanding year for a program known for being a basketball powerhouse, but their soft schedule was a major factor in their success. The ACC is weak with Clemson and Florida State being the only two powerhouses. The Blue Devils didn’t play Clemson at all and were demolished 45-7 by the Seminoles in the ACC championship. They’ll face a similar opponent in Texas A&M. The Aggies’ defense isn’t near Florida State’s level, but they do have one of the most explosive offenses in college football. At one point during the year, they scored 40 or more points in nine consecutive games. They struggled in their final two games, but Jonny Manziel was dealing with injuries. He has had about a month to heal now, and given that this is probably his final college football game, he’ll have extra motivation to put on a show.
Texas A&M 52 Duke 31