2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl and St. Petersburg Bowl Previews

December 25, 2014
By K. Becks

After a one day break for Christmas, the bowls are back starting early Friday afternoon.

Let’s take a look at the matchups taking place on December 26.

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech (Friday, 1 PM ET – ESPN)

Two teams that know how to move the football will face off in the Cotton Bowl for this one. Illinois became bowl eligible in its final regular season contest, while Louisiana Tech made it to the Conference USA title game suffering a narrow defeat to Marshall. This is Conference USA’s final bowl game of the season and the Big Ten’s first.

Although the Bulldogs proved they can score at will in a 76-31 drubbing of Rice, things truly get started on the defensive end for Skip Holtz’s squad. Louisiana Tech leads the Conference USA in total defense, allowing just 355.7 yards per game. Offensively, the Bulldogs will look to running back Kenneth Dixon to lead the charge. Dixon is tied for sixth in the country with 21 rushing touchdowns and will be facing the worst run defense in the Big Ten statistically, so it could be a monster day for the junior. Illinois should be able to find some offensive success as well thanks to a passing game that has been by committee the entire season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt, Reilly O’Toole and even Aaron Bailey could see some time behind center for the Illini in this game. Louisiana Tech is strong overall on defense but struggles against the pass. That being said, true freshman receiver Mike Dudek could be used in multiple ways for Illinois in order to keep the Bulldogs on their toes.

Generally the Big Ten should be able to take care of Conference USA opponents, but in this case it isn’t so cut and dry. The Bulldogs were less than three minutes away from being C-USA champions and should be extremely excited to be playing in a bowl game after missing the postseason due to unusual circumstances the last time they were eligible. Additionally, Illinois is as unpredictable as teams come this season and its difficult to predict which Illini squad will show up in Dallas. I like how Conference USA has looked this bowl season and have Louisiana Tech for 33 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 34-27 Louisiana Tech

Quick Lane Bowl

Rutgers vs. North Carolina (Friday, 4:30 PM ET)

What used to be a bowl game sponsored by a pizza chain is now one with a tire and auto service center title sponsor. Welcome to Detroit, fellas. Neither of these teams have had the best season by any stretch, but both are playing well as of late and should be prepared to play in this one. This is the first bowl game on the schedule between two Power 5 conference schools which should perk up the ears of fans.

North Carolina is another team that has been wildly inconsistent this season. Wins over Georgia Tech, Duke and a close loss to Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish were highly ranked suggests that the Tar Heels are a dangerous team when they want to be. But blowout losses to N.C. State and Miami suggest that there is still a lot of work to be done on Larry Fedora’s squad from a focus standpoint. One of the most obvious reasons North Carolina has struggled is because of a porous defense that allows nearly 500 yards per contest. Rutgers hasn’t fared well against teams with a good defense, but does put up points against teams with a bad one. That being said, Rutgers has had trouble on the defensive end as well and will need to stop one of the most dynamic players in the ACC in Marquise Williams. The junior quarterback is a beast of an athlete at 6’2″ 220 pounds and will attempt to move the ball at any cost. The best way for Rutgers to limit his effectiveness is to force turnovers on his more risky plays.

The Scarlet Knights haven’t played very well in their last two bowl appearances; granted, those came against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. But Coach Fedora seems to get the best out of his team when the country is watching, so expect North Carolina to come out hot in this one. If Rutgers doesn’t respond quickly, this one could get ugly because the Tar Heels will look to score often. I’ll be surprised if either team can effectively stop the opposing offense. In a game where offense will tell the tale, I’m going with Williams & Co. for 25 points.

My Pick: 41-33 North Carolina

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

North Carolina State vs. Central Florida (Friday, 8 PM ET)

Central Florida will essentially be playing a home game at Tropicana Field, but that has amounted to mix results in two previous St. Petersburg Bowl appearances. N.C. State looks to follow up two straight victories with at least 35 points to end the regular season with another strong outing, but that won’t be easy against George O’Leary’s tough defense.

The Knights have always looked at bowl games like a business trip under Coach O’Leary, which is a good thing considering the way they play football. Without Blake Bortles under center UCF took a step back offensively this season, but the Knights are still the best defense in the AAC. North Carolina State would love to keep the clock moving by allowing its trio of backs to eat up yardage on the ground, but UCF has the No. 5 run defense in the country so that will be tough. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett will need to step up for the Wolfpack, which he has proven more than capable of doing this season. Granted, even that will be difficult as the Knights are also No. 1 in the AAC in pass defense.

N.C. State’s secondary will have its hands full with Breshard Perriman, Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton, so it will be imperative that the line gets pressure on UCF quarterback Justin Holman. If not, the Knights should be able to do enough offensively to give their defense time to rest and a bit of a cushion to work with. George O’Leary’s businesslike approach has worked well with the team he has this year and we shouldn’t be shocked by what we see out of UCF in this game. This should be enough for a tight victory. I have the Knights for 7 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 24-19 Central Florida

If you’d like to share your opinion on Around The Corn for any of the upcoming bowls, shoot me an email with your thoughts and prediction to kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. You can also like Around The Corn’s Facebook pageor send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two days before the game is to be played, I can assure you that your thoughts will show up in an article.

- K. Becks

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