2012 Military Bowl, Belk Bowl and Holiday Bowl Previews

December 27, 2012

For the first time this bowl season, I do not have at least a share of the lead in Bowl Mania.

After starting off 5-1 and losing only four points, I now sit at 5-3 and have lost a total of 48 points. Things aren’t looking nearly as good as they were a couple of days before Christmas.

Today is an important day for a number of reasons. As we get closer to New Year’s Day, the other participants will have to start putting more confidence points on games. While that gives them the opportunity to catch up to me, it also gives them the opportunity to lose a lot more points. In addition, today marks the first day of the bowl season that more than two games will be played on the same day.

Here are the previews for the games taking place on December 27th.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman (Thursday, 3 PM ET)

#24 San Jose State vs. Bowling Green

In this game we will find out which is better: one of the MAC’s best defensive squads or one of the WAC’s most potent offensive attacks.

San Jose State surprised almost everyone this year by winning 10 games during the regular season and nearly beating Stanford to kick off the year. The Spartans have shown the ability to play the opponent’s game well, keeping things close in games against the Cardinal and BYU in defensive struggles but really opening things up against teams like Utah State and Louisiana Tech. The offense is led by junior quarterback David Fales, who will be tasked with finding a way to put a dent into Bowling Green’s pass defense which only gives up 173 yards per game. Fales is closing in on 4000 yards passing this season, and if he is able to hit that milestone the Spartans should have a good chance in this one.

Bowling Green is trying to prove to the nation that you don’t have to have a great offense to win in the MAC. The Falcons are not only one of the best defensive teams in their conference but in the entire nation, allowing just 15.8 points and 289.7 yards per contest. For Dave Clawson’s team to win, it will need a strong performance from its best defensive player, Chris Jones. The defensive tackle is one of the best in the nation at getting to the quarterback, which is imperative in limiting the success of Fales. Bowling Green doesn’t want to engage in an offensive shootout with the Spartans, so the defense has to make stops to keep that from happening.

Bowling Green’s defense looks very dangerous on paper, and it very well may be on the field. But the Falcons have only beaten one team with a winning record this season, and that team is Ohio. I haven’t been overly impressed with the MAC in bowl season, so I’m going to go with San Jose State and its prolific offense for 16 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 35-28 San Jose State

Belk Bowl (Thursday, 6:30 PM ET)

Cincinnati vs. Duke

Duke is going bowling for the first time since 1994, and the Bearcats will be without former head coach Butch Jones, who left Cincinnati for Tennessee. The Bearcats are heavy favorites in this game, but how much will the proximity of the field to Duke’s campus, the excitement of the Blue Devils and Cincinnati’s locker room mood affect this game?

Cincinnati’s success stems from its defense, which allows just 17.2 points per game and kept the Bearcats in every game this season. However, the offense is an underrated component of this 9-3 squad. After dealing with a quarterback controversy for the majority of the season, the Bearcats seem to have settled upon Brendon Kay, a senior who has led the team to a 3-1 record since replacing Munchie Legaux as the starter. Kay gives Bearcats the ability to throw downfield, which opens up the running game for George Winn. Although Winn is the best skill player on the team and the Bearcats get things going with the run, Kay’s success in the passing game will be key for Cincinnati.

Duke has to be excited about playing in Charlotte for its first bowl appearance in 18 years, but it can’t be happy about the way it ended the regular season. Four straight losses, three of which were blowouts, is a major reason why the Blue Devils come in playing the role of David in this game. However, the offense does have some life to it. Quarterback Sean Renfree doesn’t have a lot of W’s to show for during his collegiate career, but may one day end up starting for an NFL team. Renfree is smart in the pocket and doesn’t try to do too much, which is one of the reasons Duke is third in the ACC in turnovers. In addition to Renfree, receivers Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder will test Cincinnati’s strong pass defense both downfield and in the short passing game.

Duke cannot survive a defensive battle, so its offense will have to be humming for a chance to win. However, I think that head coach David Cutcliffe has a few tricks up his sleeve to win this game and the Blue Devils will put points on the board. If Cincinnati comes out flat, Duke has a chance to take advantage early and make the Bearcats play catch up. I’m going out on a limb here and picking the Blue Devils in an upset, but I only have them for 1 point in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 33-31 Duke

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl (Thursday, 9:45 PM ET)

Baylor vs. #17 UCLA

Already being dubbed the “most exciting non-BCS bowl game”, the Holiday Bowl has a lot to live up to. Both squads have the ability to light up the scoreboard, and Baylor returns to the postseason after winning a thrilling Alamo Bowl 67-56 over Washington last season. This game might actually come down to which team has the last possession, and at any rate is worth watching even if you are a casual fan.

Head coach Jim Mora has done a fantastic job with UCLA this season, making the Bruins relevant again after several seasons of being under the shadow of USC. The decision to go with freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has worked out well, as Hundley has become one of the most dangerous dual-threat play callers in the nation. The offense is very potent thanks to Hundley, running back Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria, and the Bruins will likely need to score a lot of points to win this game. However, UCLA can also play defense (as a 66-10 win over Arizona would suggest) which is an edge over a Baylor team that essentially scores and then waits for its next offensive possession. If UCLA’s secondary plays well, the Bruins will win this game.

Baylor is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. After losing four straight in the middle of the year, the Bears ripped off three straight victories to end the season, one of them coming against then top-ranked Kansas State. Led by quarterback Nick Florence and receiver Terrence Williams, Baylor’s passing game will be very difficult for UCLA’s suspect pass defense to contain. The Bears also have a strong running game thanks to sophomore Lache Seastrunk and junior Glasco Martin, who will be looking to gash the Bruins the way Stanford did. It will be interesting to see how Baylor responds to essentially being the visiting team in San Diego, as lots of UCLA fans should make the drive to watch this game.

This game should be very close. To some extent, I would say that it is a tossup. Oddly enough, this is the first appearance in the Holiday Bowl for both teams, which means excitement shouldn’t be an issue for either. Baylor is coming into this game with a lot of confidence, and some of UCLA’s confidence may have been lost after two straight losses to Stanford that bounced the Bruins from the Rose Bowl to this one. But it is hard to overlook Baylor’s porous run defense, and to be safe I have UCLA for 7 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 45-42 UCLA

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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