2014 Music City Bowl, Belk Bowl and Foster Farms Bowl Previews

December 29, 2014
By K. Becks

Monday and Tuesday are shaping up to be the most important days of the bowl season for my Bowl Mania entry. For those of you that don’t care, these two days also feature some pretty good football teams.

I have a ton of points on several of these games, which leaves me in a state of perpetual fear and cautious excitement.

Let’s take a look at the matchups taking place on December 30.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

#23 LSU vs. Notre Dame (Tuesday, 3 PM ET – ESPN)

The Fighting Irish, once on a collision course with at least a New Year’s Day bowl game, finished the year by dropping five of their last six contests. LSU didn’t have a spectacular season by the standards of the Baton Rogue faithful, but the Tigers did post a couple of victories over ranked squads and once again took the Crimson Tide down to the wire. This game looks lopsided on paper and it could very well play out that way on the field.

Contrary to popular belief, Notre Dame isn’t throwing in the towel by starting Malik Zaire at quarterback over Everett Golson. In fact, the Fighting Irish might be giving the offense the jolt it needs in order to compete against a stifling LSU defense. The Tigers are the SEC’s second best squad against the pass and held Bo Wallace to under 200 yards passing earlier this season, and considering Golson’s struggles the second half of the year he’d be stopped as well. What Zaire brings to the table is a breath of fresh air, someone who likely won’t be wishing he was somewhere else this bowl season. Zaire is making his first career start and the weapons around him are young, so at the very least this will be a learning experience for the Fighting Irish offense.

LSU is the better football team, has the better defense and plays better competition throughout the year. Notre Dame can go out and have fun, learn something along the way and maybe keep this thing close if the young players play a clean game. But make no doubt about it, the Tigers are the favorite in this one. I expect LSU to go out and take care of business against a reeling Fighting Irish squad and assure a sixth consecutive season ranked in the final Top 25 poll. LSU for 35 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-16 LSU

Belk Bowl

#13 Georgia vs. #21 Louisville (Tuesday, 6:30 PM ET – ESPN)

If you’ve been waiting for the premier matchups of the bowl season, there is no need to wait any longer. The Belk Bowl kicks off a string of 10 games between two ranked teams occurring throughout the week.

Georgia is committed to running the football, and why wouldn’t you be? With Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb in the backfield, few defenses have the personnel, or the necessary fitness, to slow down a rushing attack that ranks No. 13 in the country. But of the ACC teams, Louisville is the best prepared to stop the Bulldogs on the ground and force Hutson Mason to make plays through the air. If the Cardinals can manage to slow down Gurley and Chubb, their defense could take control in this one. Louisville is second in the nation with 25 interceptions and will be challenged to force Mason into making a rare mistake. The Georgia signal caller has just 4 interceptions on the season and has had the luxury of being able to take a conservative approach in the passing game thanks to his running backs.

In order for the Louisville to win this game, its defense will need to be aggressive in its attempt to stop the run but also be disciplined enough to stay back and bait Mason into making bad decisions in the passing game. It’s a tall task, and something that the Cardinals have only been able to do for about a half against the best teams in the ACC. Georgia is just fine with turning this one into a shootout, but Louisville needs to hold the Bulldogs under 24 points to win. I don’t see that happening and have Georgia for 30 points in this one.

My Pick: 34-24 Georgia

Foster Farms Bowl

Maryland vs. Stanford (Tuesday, 10 PM ET – ESPN)

The inaugural bowl game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California will be heavily attended by Cardinal fans, who have all of about 14 miles to travel. Maryland must cross the entire continental United States to play in this one, so it will be interesting to see how this late start affects the Terrapins. Additionally, the Big Ten representative is the biggest underdog in the bowl season according to the Vegas oddsmakers.

David Shaw’s team may not have taken a step back in the wins department this season, but the identity of the team is still clear defensively. The Cardinal led the Pac-12 in total yards allowed per game and were second in the conference in fewest penalty yards per contest. What the Cardinal lacked was any consistency on offense, failing to score more than 14 points three times. However, near the end of the season it appeared as though Stanford had found something in the run game, racking up 406 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in the final two games. Maryland presents another opportunity to eclipse the 200 yards rushing, as the Terrapins allow an average of 201.5 yards on the ground. While the Terrapins aren’t the most potent offense, they will need to find ways to score to stay in this one.

If the Nebraska-USC game is any indication, then a heavy Big Ten underdog will give the Pac-12 favorite everything it can handle in this game. The difference is that this game will be dominated by the defenses rather than offensively charged. The Cardinal were sort of a rebuilding project this year, so the players shouldn’t be totally uninterested to play in this game. Coach Shaw also understands what a victory to end the year could do for program morale heading into what should be a better 2015 for Stanford. I have the Cardinal for 39 points, my No. 1 confidence pick in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-16 Stanford

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 page or 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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