2012 Armed Forces Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Previews

December 29, 2012

Friday night changed my outlook on the rest of the bowl season completely.

Before the Virginia Tech game, I was 6-6 and in third place. After the Texas Tech game, I’m now back at the top of the leaderboard.

December 29th is a huge day for almost everyone in my group simply because of the number of games being played. In addition, those who didn’t change their confidence on any picks are starting to creep into the high teens for points on each game.

Here are the previews for the games taking place on December 29th.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Saturday, 11:45 AM ET)

Rice vs. Air Force

An interesting matchup between two former conference foes awaits us in the Armed Forces Bowl when the Rice Owls take on the Air Force Falcons. The teams ended the regular season very differently, with Rice reeling off four straight victories to become bowl eligible while the Falcons stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their final four games in embarrassing fashion.

Rice is an interesting team in the fact that it can score a lot of points while also winning the possession battle with a strong run game. The Owls rank second in Conference USA with 201.3 rushing yards per game, and will test an Air Force defense that has struggled against the run this year. However, those struggles can be at least partially attributed to the fact that the Falcons had to face Army and Navy, which both run the triple option. Instead of a new-age offense, Rice likes to pound it out with a traditional running game but can also air it out thanks to quarterback Taylor McHargue. McHargue is a dual-threat play caller and prevents opposing defenses from stacking the box too much. But it is likely that the Owls will continue to do what brought them success, which is hand the ball off to running backs Charles Ross and Luke Turner and also sprinkle in some runs by McHargue.

Air Force didn’t end the regular season the way it wanted, but injuries had a lot to do with that. Quarterback Connor Dietz suffered an ankle injury in the middle of the year which limited his ability to run the triple option to its full extent. After almost a month to rest, Dietz should be ready to return to the form that almost guided the Falcons to an upset victory over Michigan at the beginning of the season. Also suffering an ankle injury was running back Cody Getz, who led the team in rushing yards this season. Assuming both Dietz and Getz are healthy, the triple option should come alive again for Air Force.

A month to rest should be enough for Air Force to win this game, but it could serve as an advantage for Rice. The Owls have had more time to dissect the triple option and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the defense make some big stops against the Falcons. While this could be a high scoring game, the defense that better stops the opponent’s run game will win this game. Both teams will try to control the clock and grind it out despite the fact that both quarterbacks are capable of throwing the ball. I have Air Force for 25 points in Bowl Mania, but I think this contest will be closer than my confidence points suggest.

My Pick: 34-30 Air Force

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Saturday, 3:15 PM ET)

West Virginia vs. Syracuse

Since I have a collection of New Era hats, I love the title sponsor. I also love the matchup for this bowl because it should produce a lot of points and an exciting fourth quarter. West Virginia and Syracuse didn’t have to wait very long to revive an old Big East rivalry.

The Mountaineers have to be wondering how they ended up 7-5 and in the Pinstripe Bowl after beginning the season 5-0 and climbing to fifth in the national rankings. Two words: poor defense. During the middle of the season, West Virginia had perhaps the weakest secondary play in the entire country, giving about a ten yard cushion to some of the Big 12’s most dangerous wide receivers. Like the Big 12’s other statistical defensive bottom feeder Baylor, the Mountaineers did shore up their defensive play near the end of the season. But the numbers may have been skewed because of the competition; West Virginia’s final two wins came against Iowa State and Kansas. Offensively the Mountaineers were still pretty good, and despite falling from Heisman consideration after the Texas Tech loss on October 13th, Geno Smith still had a very solid season. However, the defense will be the X-factor in this game for Dana Holgorsen’s squad.

Syracuse has been flying under the radar this entire season, which head coach Doug Marrone probably doesn’t mind. The Orange have suffered five losses this season, all to bowl eligible teams and all by less than two touchdowns. Thanks to senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, Syracuse has a leader on offense in which it can trust. Nassib is extremely smart in the pocket but isn’t afraid to make throws downfield. He could have a field day against West Virginia’s defense like he did on Senior Day against then-undefeated Louisville. If running back Jerome Smith can find room to run, the Orange offense could be a machine in this game. Like West Virginia, the defense has had its issues this season, but if it can find a way to limit the big play, Syracuse could have the edge on both sides of the ball.

Something tells me that Syracuse is happier to be playing in this game than West Virginia. If this is the case, expect the Mountaineers to be a bit sloppy on both sides of the ball early. Syracuse will take advantage of this to build an early lead, and will hang on in the end. I have the Orange for 18 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 38-35 Syracuse

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

Navy vs. Arizona State

Navy already secured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with a win over Army a few weeks ago, and that’s the real prize for the Midshipmen this season. However, Ken Niumatalolo’s has a chance to make things twice as sweet by bringing back bowl hardware from San Francisco if it can upset Arizona State. The Sun Devils could be a tough draw for the service academy, though.

Like Air Force, the Midshipmen run the tricky triple option which could give the Sun Devils defense trouble. However, when you have a month to prepare, the offense isn’t nearly as difficult to pick up as it would be during the regular season. Navy will look to grind things out on the ground with a number of options, most notably fullback Noah Copeland. The sophomore is compact at 5’10” 205 pounds and does not shy away from a hit, which is good on third and short situations. Navy will have to take chunks of time off the board on each possession in order to keep things close, because Arizona State can score quickly. The Sun Devils have struggled against the run this year giving up 172 yards on the ground, which gives Navy hope.

Arizona State needs to play prototypical Pac-12 football and it could run away with this game. Navy struggles against teams that can throw, and quarterback Taylor Kelly can take advantage of that. When Kelly doesn’t commit turnovers, the Sun Devils don’t lose. Keeping an up-tempo pace and looking for receivers downfield should be the goal the entire game, as Arizona State does not want to let Navy control the clock. On defense, the Sun Devils will have to be extremely disciplined to stop the triple option.

I’d really like to see the Midshipmen pull out a victory, but I don’t think that is going to happen. I have the Sun Devils for only 2 points so I can root for Navy, but coach Niumatalolo’s team will have to force at least a couple of turnovers and cash in on those opportunities in order to win.

My Pick: 30-17 Arizona State

Valero Alamo Bowl (Saturday, 6:45 PM ET)

#23 Texas vs. #13 Oregon State

If this year’s Alamo Bowl is half as entertaining as the 2011 edition, then we’re in for a treat. This is the first bowl matchup between ranked teams, and it is also a follow-up to a highly anticipated Pac-12/Big 12 showdown that ended up not living up to the hype. Let’s hope that this one does.

Oregon State has had a fantastic season, and I have to give them all the credit in the world considering the fact that I predicted they’d finish 2-10. Mike Riley’s team has gotten things done primarily with solid defensive play, giving up just 19.8 yards per game and forcing 30 turnovers. It all starts on the defensive line, which is holding opponents to just 130.5 yards per game on the ground. The past two games have been rough for the Beavers up front, but largely because the teams they played (Stanford and Oregon) have two of the best run games in the nation. The Texas offense in general has struggled this season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Oregon State’s defense has the biggest impact in this game.

Texas announced Thursday evening that it has suspended quarterback Case McCoy and linebacker Jordan Hicks for this game, which takes the guesswork out of who will be taking the snaps for the Longhorns. David Ash has played more anyway, but it was clear near the end of the season that Mack Brown still isn’t sure who he wants to lead the offense in the future. Chances are the offense will have its issues again in this game going up against a solid defense, so the Longhorns will also have to play well defensively to have a shot in this game. Luckily for Texas, Oregon State doesn’t have an overpowering run game. But receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks make up one of the most dangerous tandems in college football and the Longhorns have to keep tabs on them and avoid giving up the big play.

Motivation shouldn’t be too much of a factor, as this is a nice bowl destination and both teams being ranked presents a challenge. Even though Texas should have a good crowd on hand, Oregon State boasts a better defense, and this game will be dictated by defensive play. I have the Beavers for 28 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 27-19 Oregon State

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Saturday, 10:15 PM ET)

TCU vs. Michigan State

A year ago, this game would’ve been a marquee matchup. This year, it’s a game between two teams whose records don’t indicate how close they were to having very good seasons once again despite both replacing quarterbacks. Don’t sleep on this one, because it has a chance to be very entertaining.

TCU could’ve gone 9-3 this season, but suffered close losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Even in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs managed to stay strong defensively, leading the conference in total defense. Led by defensive end Devonte Fields, TCU is exceptional at getting to the quarterback, averaging over 2 sacks per contest. The defense will play a big role in this game, but the Horned Frogs have also gotten more comfortable on offense with redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin at quarterback. Boykin has shown glimpses of being a very dangerous player, and could attract more attention heading into next year with a strong performance against the Big Ten’s top defensive unit.

As mentioned, Michigan State is also anchored by a strong defense, leading the Big Ten in yards per game allowed and points allowed. However, the Spartans have also seen flashes of brilliance from their young quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell is inconsistent with regards to accuracy but when he is on, Michigan State’s offense can be very efficient. Running back Le’Veon Bell would love to impress scouts with a strong showing against a top defensive squad, so do not be surprised if he has a good game. But the offensive line could hurt the chances of that happening as it has been hampered by injuries all season long. The bottom line is that the defense will have to stand tall, as points may be hard to come by in this game.

Michigan State suffered five losses by three points or less. TCU was within a touchdown in two losses. Both of these teams are good, but the overall records could suggest otherwise. Fans that enjoy good defense will love this game, but so will fans that enjoy close games. I have the Horned Frogs for 9 points.

My Pick: 17-16 TCU

Remember, 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. Or you can like Around The Corn’s Facebook page or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two games 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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