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Bowl Record: 4-1
Season Record: 63-24
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech
Time/TV: 1:00 PM EST Dec. 26, ESPN
Outlook: There’s a lot of interest in the Big Ten’s bowl performance, given the perceived down year for the conference. The Fighting Illini is the conference’s first crack at sending a message. Wins over Penn State and Northwestern gives Illinois fans hope heading into bowl season. The players are reportedly coming around to coach Tim Beckman’s style, which is a good omen for the future. With that said, Louisiana Tech is a better team. They dropped 76 points on Rice, who beat Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. Additionally, Marshall -- who thumped Northern Illinois 52-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl -- beat them by just three in the Conference USA championship.
Louisiana Tech 27 Illinois 20
Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers vs. North Carolina
Time/TV: 4:00 PM EST Dec. 26, ESPN
Outlook: The Scarlett Knights don’t have an impressive win on their résumé, while North Carolina owns a victory over Georgia Tech. With quarterback Marquise Williams leading the way, they should be able to outscore Rutgers in a high-scoring affair.
North Carolina 38 Rutgers 35
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: UCF vs. N.C. State
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST Dec. 26, ESPN
Outlook: After losing their first two games of the season, UCF went on a tear and won nine of their final 10. The Knights have one of the country’s most unheralded defenses, having allowed 10 or fewer points in four games this season. Overall, they give up just under 18 per game. N.C. State has a good running game, but I don’t think they’ll generate enough of it to beat UCF.
UCF 20 N.C. State 13
Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
Time/TV: 1:00 PM EST Dec. 27, ABC
Outlook: Cincinnati comes into this game having won seven consecutive games. They play in the much-maligned AAC (American Athletic Conference), which proved a bit scrappier than many anticipated going into the season. I think the same will apply throughout bowl season.
Cincinnati 28 Virginia Tech 23
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Duke vs. Arizona State
Time/TV: 2:00 PM EST Dec. 27, CBS
Outlook: On paper, the Sun Bowl has a chance to be one of bowl season’s most thrilling games. Both offenses feature explosive receivers. Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong resembles a younger Terrell Owens, and Duke’s Jameis Crowder is among the game’s top playmakers. However, the overall talent of Arizona State’s roster is more impressive than Duke’s is. Look for running back D.J. Foster to have a big game, and the defense to harass Duke quarterback Anthony Boone.
Arizona State 34 Duke 24
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami (FL) vs. South Carolina
Time/TV: 3:30 PM EST Dec. 27, ABC
Outlook: Neither of these two programs expected to play in a low-level bowl as they entered the season. The Hurricanes were hoping to continue to make strides in the ACC, while South Carolina expected to contend for an SEC championship. The Gamecocks’ disappointing season culminated in an embarrassing performance against Clemson in their regular-season finale. Clemson running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 191 yards in that game. Imagine what Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson is going to do.
Miami (FL) 34 South Carolina 27
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs. Penn State
Time/TV: 4:30 PM EST Dec. 27, ESPN
Outlook: Expect a hard-hitting, old-school football game when Boston College and Penn State play on Saturday. Both feature tough run defenses and offenses that lack the explosiveness to generate big plays. If there was an award for the most disappointing player of the year, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg would be the runaway winner. He threw for just eight touchdowns this season. Many, me included, were touting him as a future first-round draft pick back in September. Hackenberg has been bad, but Boston College’s passing game has been even worse. They’re averaging just 132 yards per game. I know they’re running game is good, but Penn State’s run defense was No. 1 in college football.
Penn State 13 Boston College 10
National University Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 24 USC
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST Dec. 27, ESPN
Outlook: Bo Pelini is out as Nebraska head coach, and Mike Riley is in. The Cornhuskers are expecting Riley to produce one of the top offenses in the Big Ten going forward. They may get a preview of how that offense could look as they take on the dynamic USC Trojans, who can attack in a number of ways. Quarterback Cody Kessler had a great season, throwing 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Receiver Nelson Agholor surpassed 1,200 yards receiving, and running back Javorius Allen rushed for 1,337 yards. All three are juniors. If all three return next season, we could be talking about the Trojans playing in the playoffs a year from now.
USC 49 Nebraska 23