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Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 22 Georgia
Time/TV: 12:00 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN2
Prediction: Just like last year, Nebraska and Georgia will square off in a January bowl game. The two teams played in last year’s Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31. The Bulldogs entered the year with national title aspirations, but injuries decimated their roster all season long. Todd Gurley, who was an early-season Heisman candidate, missed three games in October. Georgia was 1-2 without him. In addition, quarterback Aaron Murray, who is the SEC’s all-time passing leader, tore his ACL against Kentucky in the second to last regular-season game. Murray obviously won’t play, but the Bulldogs will have Gurley, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska in last year’s meeting. While the Cornhuskers’ defense is better in comparison to last year’s unit, it still doesn’t have the manpower to slow Gurley down.
Georgia 30 Nebraska 21
Heart of Dallas Bowl: UNLV vs. North Texas
Time/TV: 12:00 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPNU
Prediction: After finishing 2-11 in 2012, UNLV bounced back in 2013 and is playing in a bowl game for the first time in 13 years. The Rebels feature one the more exciting quarterbacks from a non-BCS school in Caleb Herring. The senior signal caller is coming off a season-high six total touchdowns against San Diego State. He’ll face his staunches test yet in a North Texas defense that ranks No. 9 in the country. The Mean Green has allowed just 20-plus points once in their last seven games. Unless Herring can make an impact, it’s going to be hard for the Rebels to muster up enough offense to walk away with a victory.
North Texas 21 UNLV 16
Capital One Bowl: No. 19 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 South Carolina
Time/TV: 1:00 p.m. Jan. 1, ABC
Prediction: As late as the final week of the season, both Wisconsin and South Carolina were hoping to sneak into a BCS bowl. The Gamecocks didn’t get the help they needed, though, and Wisconsin suffered a rare home defeat to Penn State. Led by their backfield tandem, Wisconsin possesses one of the best running games in the country. Melvin Gordon III and James White combined to rush for 2,803 yards and 25 touchdowns. If both running backs play well, even an SEC team as good as South Carolina would have problems defeating the Badgers. However, if you can get an early lead on them, quarterback Joel Stave has shown time and again to not have the ability to lead them back. The Gamecocks have the offensive firepower to do just that, especially if quarterback Conner Shaw (26 total touchdowns) gets in rhythm, but I believe Wisconsin has far more motivation for this game than South Carolina does. Appearing in the Capital One Bowl is a bit of an underachievement for the Gamecocks. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s senior class has yet to win a bowl game. In the end, I suspect the senior class’ motivation to go out with a win will be enough to lead the Badgers to an upset victory.
Wisconsin 27 South Carolina 20
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. No. 16 LSU
Time/TV: 1:00 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN
Prediction: The torn ACL that LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger suffered against Arkansas was one of the underrated stories of the year. Mettenberger -- an ascending NFL draft prospect -- was one of the best quarterbacks in the country, thanks to his development under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Nevertheless, LSU has enough firepower on offense to handle Iowa without their starting signal caller. The receiving combination of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is the best in the country. Both wideouts are on NFL radar. Additionally, running back Jeremy Hill is a punishing runner that could wear down Iowa’s defense. I have tremendous respect for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, but his Hawkeyes don’t have enough offense to keep pace with LSU.
LSU 34 Iowa 14
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO: No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 4 Michigan State
Time/TV: 5:00 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN
Prediction: It seems fitting that the 100th Rose Bowl features two teams that play a throwback style of football. Stanford and MSU feature grinding running games and high-level defenses. The Spartans allow only 12.7 points per game, which ranks fourth best in the country. Stanford ranks 10th in points allowed, giving up 18.6 per game. In a strange twist, Michigan State will be without their defensive captain. Michigan State head coach Mike Dantonio suspended middle linebacker Max Bullough indefinitely for a violation of teams rules. As of this typing, the details of the violation remain largely unknown, but there’s no question his absence hinders Michigan State’s ability to stop Stanford’s running game. This game's x-factor is wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who is among the best all-purpose players in the country. He’ll deal with Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who many consider the top draft-eligible defensive back. Montgomery is versatile enough to impact the game from a variety positions, but he makes his biggest impact from the slot. All it takes is one big play to turn the tide of a low-scoring game. As good as Dennard is, Montgomery is tough to contain for a full 60 minutes.
Stanford 16 Michigan State 13
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: No. 15 Central Florida vs. No. 6 Baylor
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN
Prediction: Defense takes the stage in the Rose Bowl, but the Fiesta Bowl belongs to the offenses. Central Florida and Baylor are explosive. In fact, the Bears dropped 69 or more points in five of their first six games. They finished the year with the No. 5 passing offense, No. 12 rushing offense, and No. 1 scoring offense. Statistically, Central Florida has a good defense, but they benefited from a soft schedule. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was the only elite quarterback they played, and he dropped 35 points on them. The story from that game, however, was UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. Down 28-7 in the third quarter, Bortles led UCF to three third-quarter touchdowns to tie the game. Louisville would regain the lead, but Bortles responded by going 75 yards in 11 plays for the game-winning touchdown. Bortles is a fast-rising NFL prospect, who many believe will go in the top 10, but he’s not the only big-time colligate quarterback in this game. Bryce Petty accounted for 4,036 total yards and 41 touchdowns, while throwing just two interceptions. Yet, the Baylor standout did not receive an invite to the Heisman ceremony, even though he led the Bears to their first Big 12 championship. Something tells me he has a chip on his shoulder and he’ll have the entire offense firing on all cylinders.
Baylor 48 UCF 34
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 11 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Alabama
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 2, ESPN
Prediction: The improbable return by Auburn’s Chris Davis off a missed field goal cost Alabama an opportunity at winning three consecutive national titles. Because this is clearly a disappointment for the Crimson Tide, you can expect to hear a lot about Alabama’s loss to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. Many attribute the Crimson Tide’s poor showing in the ‘08 Sugar Bowl to a lack of motivation, as they were coming off a loss to Florida in the SEC championship. Will history repeat itself against Oklahoma? I don’t think so because the circumstances are different. Oklahoma probably has no business playing a BCS bowl. Their campus’ proximity to New Orleans and their rabid fan base made them a logical choice to play in the Sugar Bowl, though. This is also the final game for arguably the most decorated senior class in Alabama history. This group of players will go down in Alabama lore, so I can‘t imagine them ending their careers on a losing note.
Alabama 34 Oklahoma 17
AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Missouri
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3, FOX
Prediction: For these two former Big 12 rivals, the Cotton Bowl probably represents a consolation prize. Had Oklahoma State and Missouri won their last games, both would be playing in a BCS bowl. In fact, there was an outside chance that Missouri would’ve jumped Alabama in the BCS had they beaten Auburn in the SEC championship. As a result, they would’ve played Florida State for the national title. Regardless, when these teams play, you expect a high-scoring affair. It’s true both teams are capable of scoring in the high 30s, but these are two of the better defenses in college football. The Cowboys allow just 20 points per game and possess a playmaking secondary. In many ways, their defense carried them to another 10-win season. Missouri’s aggressive pass rush backfired against Auburn, but they still feature one of college football’s best defensive lines. They could really disrupt Oklahoma State’s passing game. I’m not so sure that Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf can deal with a heavy pass rush, but I trust Mike Gundy will establish the run early in order to keep Missouri’s rush honest.
Oklahoma State 27 Missouri 23
Discover Orange Bowl: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 3, ESPN
Prediction: One of the best matchups of bowl season, both Clemson and Ohio State has the ability to drop 40 on each other. In recent years, Clemson is a program that’s been unable to take the next step. They’ve won many games, but they remain just below the elite programs. This year is a prime example as they combined to lose 82-31 to Florida State and South Carolina. There’s no question that Ohio State is an elite college program, but are they an elite team in 2013? The matchup to watch is Ohio State’s underwhelming defense against Tajh Boyd and Clemson’s offense. The Buckeyes have allowed 75 points in their last two games and Clemson will be the best offense they’ve seen all year. Highly touted cornerback Bradley Roby’s status remains up in the air. If he doesn’t play, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins could have a field day against Ohio State’s secondary, though that could even if Roby plays.
Clemson 45 Ohio State 35
BBVA Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Time/TV: 1:00 p.m. Jan. 4, ESPN
Prediction: If you haven’t heard by now, Texas head coach Mack Brown was fired resigned. Apparently, it’s a big deal, as the Longhorns seem to think they can hire just about any coach. I’m surprised they don’t just find a TARDIS, travel back in time, and hire Vince Lombardi. Or is Lombardi a fixed point? You might be wondering why I’m making Doctor Who references and talking about Texas. I can’t speak to the former, but I can say that Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin would be a perfect choice to replace Brown. He’s taken the Commodores to three consecutive bowl games, despite coaching in the rugged SEC. The resources just aren’t there at Vanderbilt, yet he’s doing an admirable job. Imagine the success he could get from the talent pool and resources at Texas. He may not be the high-profile candidate that Texas wants. But he’s the right man for the job. Oh, and he’ll lead Vanderbilt to a bowl victory over Houston.
Vanderbilt 26 Houston 17
GoDaddy Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Ball State
Time/TV: 9:00 p.m. Jan. 5, ESPN
Prediction: A 3-4 start left Arkansas State on thin ice, but they won four of their last five to finish the season 7-5. Under Pete Lembo, Ball State cruised to 10 wins. At one point, they won seven consecutive games. Earlier this month, Arkansas State lost head coach Bryan Harsin to Boise State. Defensive coordinator John Thompson will sever as interim head coach for this game. It’s also possible that Lembo could find himself in the coaching carousel, if the NFL (or Texas) poaches a coach or two from the college ranks. He’ll coach this game, though, and the Cardinals are favored. They do struggle on the defensive side of the ball, but their offense is very productive. Keith Wenning -- an underrated NFL prospect -- was one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC and he has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers at his disposal.
Ball State 37 Arkansas State 21