2013 Armed Forces Bowl, Music City Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl Previews

December 29, 2013

We’re about halfway through the bowl season, which on one hand is a little sad but on the other hand means that the juicy matchups are on the horizon.

At 7-8 overall, I can’t say I’m overly impressed with my prediction performance thus far. I blew a lot of points on a couple of games I shouldn’t have (thanks Bowling Green and Minnesota) and have lost more points than all but one other person in my Bowl Mania group. Matt Bidinger still leads the group, and I’m going to need some help to win despite the fact that I’m in second place.

Monday’s games could do the trick. Here are the previews for the Armed Forces Bowl, Music City Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Monday, 11:45 AM ET – ESPN)

Middle Tennessee State vs. Navy

The only service academy to play in a bowl game this season travels to TCU’s campus to take on a Middle Tennessee State team that was left out of the bowl season entirely last season despite winning the same number of games that it won this year. Expect the discipline of Navy against the motivation of Middle Tennessee State to result in an exciting, hard hitting battle.

The Blue Raiders come into this game with a ton of confidence on the offensive end. Middle Tennessee State is currently riding a five game win streak, and in four of those five games, the Blue Raiders have scored at least 40 points. It is surprising to learn that Rick Stockstill’s team is able to score so many points while employing an offense that is dominated by the run game. The Blue Raiders average 207 yards per contest on the ground, which is good for second best in Conference USA. The nice thing for Middle Tennessee State is that it can rely on a number of players to get the job done. Four running backs have run for at least 100 yards in a game this season, which will make the task of slowing down the attack difficult for Navy. Expect the Blue Raiders to continue to do what has gotten the team this far to try to win this game.

Navy hasn’t won a bowl game since 2009, but this might be the best chance the Midshipmen have had in awhile to bring home some postseason hardware. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is reminiscent of former Navy signal caller Ricky Dobbs, who led the team to its last bowl victory over Missouri. Reynolds actually broke Dobbs’ rushing touchdown record against Army to end the regular season, and chances are the sophomore will continue to add to that total in this game. He has the vision and athleticism to make Navy’s triple option offense very dangerous no matter what defense it is going up against. In the case of this game, Middle Tennessee State is nothing defensively that the Midshipmen haven’t seen before. Reynolds & Co. have a great chance to send the seniors on the team out as winners.

I don’t normally put a lot of points on the Midshipmen despite the fact that I root for them, and that does not change in this game. I don’t know what to expect of Middle Tennessee State, so I’m only putting 7 points on Navy. But I’m excited to see what Reynolds can do, as well as the slew of running backs that the Blue Raiders have. Don’t be surprised if this is one of the quickest games of the bowl season with all the running these teams will do.

My Pick: 28-23 Navy

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Monday, 3:15 PM ET – ESPN)

Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech

Nashville is the site of the first bowl game featuring an SEC team against an ACC team, which could perhaps serve as an indicator of future success in the national title game a week later. Differing offensive philosophies make this game extremely difficult to predict, but that goes without saying when two 7-5 teams meet up during bowl season.

Ole Miss was able to say that all of its losses this season came against ranked opponents in the SEC West until a heartbreaker in the Egg Bowl to close out the regular season. Now, the Rebels will try to regain some of the momentum that they had after beating LSU in mid-October that spurred a four game winning streak. Hugh Freeze’s team is fairly balanced offensively, but a lot of the production both through the air and on the ground comes through junior quarterback Bo Wallace. Over 3,000 passing yards are complemented by 269 yards rushing, which could give a Georgia Tech team that struggles against the pass huge problems. If Wallace can mix it up effectively, Ole Miss could score a lot of points on the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is most known for his institution of the triple option offense at a BCS school, and that may be the undoing of his team’s offensive effectiveness in bowl season. The Yellow Jackets are once again a top five rushing offense, and this year have backed it up with a defense that is No. 10 nationally in stopping the run. But if you give any BCS school three weeks to prepare for the type of offense Johnson employs, chances are they are going to find a way to slow it down. The victory over USC last season suggests this isn’t always true, but the Trojans were in disarray at the time. Georgia Tech may have to hope that the Rebels are extremely unmotivated in this one in order to have success moving the ball.

I originally wanted to go with the Yellow Jackets in this one, but it’s hard to go against the logic that I explained in the last two paragraphs. Ole Miss should be at least marginally interested in playing, and that will probably be enough for the defense to shut down Georgia Tech’s uncharacteristic offense. Bo Wallace could have a big day passing, which will result in points for the Rebels and an ultimate victory on the scoreboard. I have Ole Miss for 3 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 38-27 Ole Miss

Valero Alamo Bowl (Monday, 6:45 PM ET – ESPN)

No. 10 Oregon vs. Texas

At first glance it looks like this game is primed to be a blowout. But several factors suggest that this one might not be as lopsided as the rankings of the two teams. One has to wonder about the motivation of Oregon to be playing in this game compared with the Longhorns wanting to send their coach out a winner, as well as the fact that the majority of the crowd will be wearing burnt orange.

A couple of Ducks players were less than enthused about the prospect of playing for a Rose Bowl instead of a national championship, so you have to imagine they’re not thrilled about playing in a pre-January 1 bowl, either. Coach Mark Helfrich may have the most difficult task of any head coach this season trying to get his team motivated to play in a bowl game. Oregon clearly has the advantage with regards to speed and offensive efficiency, but it won’t matter much if the Ducks come out playing like zombies. In addition, Texas beat Oregon State in this same bowl game last season and the Longhorns would love to make it back-to-back against the Beaver State. Marcus Mariota may be the saving grace for this squad, as the redshirt sophomore quarterback appears to take every game seriously and could tear apart the Texas defense on his own.

Texas will be trying to send Mack Brown out a winner, but it will be a tall task for the Longhorns. Since a convincing victory over Oklahoma in the Red River Classic, it has been difficult to figure out what the Longhorns have really done to make people think this team was really a Top 25 squad. In games against West Virginia and Texas Tech, it was clear that Texas has a strong run game. But those performances came against porous run defenses, and teams such as Oklahoma State and Baylor snuffed out the Texas attack and held Brown’s offense to under two touchdowns. Oregon is extremely quick to the ball on defense, and unless Texas gets as physical as Stanford, it is unlikely that Oregon will have a lot of trouble stopping the run. Despite the longshot it may be, Case McCoy needs to have a big game. His success would surprise Oregon’s secondary (and everyone, really) and could keep the Ducks off-balance to allow the run game some room to work.

You’ve seen it before: coach is leaving, team plays inspired and carries coach off on their shoulders after emotional bowl victory. Most people (Oregon fans aside) would even like to see it because Mack Brown has been such a class act. But I just don’t know if the Longhorns have what it takes on either side of the ball to beat the Ducks. If Oregon plays extremely unmotivated, maybe. But this game is played indoors, which is a huge advantage for a team with speed. I have Oregon 32 points in Bowl Mania, my most confident pick yet.

My Pick: 44-35 Oregon

National University Holiday Bowl (Monday, 10:15 PM ET – ESPN)

No. 14 Arizona State vs. Texas Tech

The Holiday Bowl features two teams that were headed in completely opposite directions to end the regular season. Before being beaten soundly by Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, Arizona State had won seven straight games. Texas Tech ended the regular season on a five game losing streak after opening with seven straight victories.

Todd Graham has done a wonderful job with Arizona State in his two years with the program, elevating a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2007 to back-to-back winning seasons. This year’s team has improved quite a bit since the beginning of the year and is a sound squad on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is a gritty dual threat quarterback that doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention that he should from the national media. In this game, however, Kelly may face some of the same problems that he did against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. With running back Marion Grice still questionable for the game, Kelly becomes the focal point of the offense and the guy that Texas Tech will key on for 60 minutes. It will be interesting to see if his passing yards dip without the presence of Grice to mix things up offensively.

Texas Tech has been heading in the wrong direction for over a month now, and one has to wonder if the coaching staff was late to make adjustments due to the success the team experienced early in the year. Kliff Kingsbury’s squad is built around the passing game, which averages 392 yards per contest to lead the Big 12. But quarterback Baker Mayfield has been inaccurate in his last three games, completing about 55 percent of his throws which is simply not cutting it in an offense that favors the short passing game and screen plays. Mayfield will need to be sharp to have success against an Arizona State defense that gave up just over 221 yards passing per game in the pass happy Pac-12. Otherwise, the Red Raiders will add a loss in bowl season to a campaign that looked so promising in mid-October.

Texas Tech has the ability to score a lot of points, and last year’s Holiday Bowl is proof that the favored team doesn’t always show up. But Arizona State appears to be a good bet, which is why I have 28 points on them in Bowl Mania. This game should have a lot of offensive fireworks, so it’s worth staying up into the wee hours of the morning if you’re on the East Coast.

My Pick: 42-35 Arizona State

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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