2013 Independence Bowl, Sun Bowl, Liberty Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl Previews

December 30, 2013

Not much to say at this point. At 8-8 overall and in third place in my Bowl Mania group, I’m simply concerned with my own entry now. If I win out, I probably win. It’s still far too early to tell.

My birthday is tomorrow, and a nice gift would be picking all the games correctly.

Here are the previews for the Independence Bowl, Sun Bowl, Liberty Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl (Tuesday, 12:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Arizona vs. Boston College

The first bowl on the New Year’s Eve slate will feature running, and lots of it. The top two running backs in the nation with respect to rushing yards will dominate the headlines leading up to this one, with Boston College’s Andre Williams landing in New York City a few weeks back as a Heisman candidate and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey being a known talent within college football circles for the last two seasons. But don’t be surprised if a few unheralded performers steal the show in Shreveport.

I’m a huge fan of Ka’Deem Carey and know that this might be the final collegiate game for the junior, so I’m excited to see what his final act may be. Under Rich Rodriguez’s spread system, the Wildcats amass an impressive 265.8 yards per game on the ground, but not all of that is a result of Carey’s efforts. Quarterback B.J. Denker has rushed for nearly 900 yards this season making Arizona one of the few Pac-12 squads that doesn’t rely on a heavy dose of the passing game. Boston College is mediocre at stopping the run, so it could be a huge day for Denker, Carey & Co. on the ground. However, Denker could be lethal in the passing game against an Eagles defense that allows nearly 270 yards per game through the air. While Carey is great, Denker could prove to be the game’s MVP if the Wildcats win.

Arizona may rely heavily on the run, but it pales in comparison to how important the run game is to the Boston College Eagles. Steve Addazio’s squad is No. 115 in the nation in passing yards per game, and Arizona’s secondary isn’t incompetent. Translation: expect Andre Williams to be the focus of the offense. Williams burst onto the scene in 2013 to become the only player to rush for over 2,000 yards and averages an insane 175 yards per game. The Wildcats have seen some dynamic running backs in the Pac-12, but it’s hard to argue that any of them have possessed the speed and power of Williams. If you’re the type to bet on individual players having monumental performances, Williams isn’t a bad pick.

I’m probably putting way too many points on a game featuring two 7-5 teams, but to me Arizona has the ability to get things done in the passing game if the running game is being bottled up. Chase Rettig is a solid quarterback for Boston College, so I could be feeling very sad at the end of this game. I have the Wildcats for 23 points, but it’ll be close.

My Pick: 35-32 Arizona

Hyundai Sun Bowl (Tuesday, 2 PM ET – CBS)

No. 17 UCLA vs. Virginia Tech

The second of two Pac-12 vs. ACC matchups on New Year’s Eve takes place in El Paso, Texas at the Sun Bowl. Last season UCLA looked as flat as a board in the Holiday Bowl in a beatdown at the hands of Baylor, so it’ll be interesting to see if Norm Chow’s team looks better in the 2013 postseason while again being a heavy favorite. Virginia Tech has been to a bowl for 21 consecutive years, but is 0-3 all-time against Pac-12 squads in bowl games.

UCLA’s regular season resume isn’t overly impressive, but the Bruins did manage to beat every team they were supposed to which isn’t something that can be said of all Top 25 squads. With several high profile offensive players including quarterback Brett Hundley, running back/linebacker hybrid extraordinaire Myles Jack and wide receiver Shaq Evans, it isn’t surprising that this team puts up 36.5 points per game. Virginia Tech’s strong defense resembles Stanford’s, though, whom the Bruins struggled to move the ball against. Hundley’s ball security could prove to be very important in this game. Losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State account for five of his nine interceptions on the season, and the Hokies are second in the ACC with 19 picks on the year. If Hundley takes care of the football, UCLA probably wins.

Virginia Tech stumbled to a 2-3 finish down the stretch, which ultimately resulted in the Hokies losing out on a chance to play in the ACC Championship Game. Once again the Hokies employ the sometimes frustrating “Beamer Ball” which means that they are rarely out of games but often times don’t have the offensive firepower to win the close ones, either. Quarterback Logan Thomas will make you want to pull your hair out at times and there wasn’t much of a running game to speak of outside of freshman back Trey Edmunds. But unfortunately Edmunds will not play in this game, which could result in Virginia Tech becoming terribly one dimensional offensively. For a team that was only No. 56 nationally in passing offense, that isn’t good news at all.

Virginia Tech’s defense may be the only thing keeping the Hokies in this game by the second half, which normally doesn’t translate into positive results against any Pac-12 squad. I have UCLA for 30 points in Bowl Mania assuming that the Bruins don’t self-destruct, which is probably what will have to happen for Frank Beamer’s squad to win this one.

My Pick: 35-20 UCLA

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Tuesday, 4 PM ET – ESPN)

Rice vs. Mississippi State

The SEC takes on Conference USA’s best in what appears to be a lopsided matchup. But those who think that Rice has no chance in this game clearly have not seen the Owls play this season, because David Bailiff’s team can play some ball. Don’t be surprised if this one comes down to the final minutes.

No one in C-USA runs the ball better than the Rice Owls, and fans can expect more of the same from the team in this game. Senior running back Charles Ross is a beast that has rushed for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. An x-factor in this game could be the play of wide receiver Jordan Taylor, though. Despite the Owls averaging less than 200 yards passing per game, Taylor has 846 receiving yards and 8 touchdown catches on the season. Against a decent SEC defense, it will be crucial for quarterback Taylor McHargue to mix things up offensively and avoid costly turnovers. This is a team that gave Texas A&M issues for a half to begin the season, so Rice probably won’t be intimidated by the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State is quietly making its fourth straight bowl appearance under head coach Dan Mullen, the longest string of postseason success in school history. But in order to avoid disappointment in bowl season for the second year in a row, the Bulldogs need to be able to stop the run game. In all six of Mississippi State’s losses, the opponent has rushed for over 100 yards (and in several cases, well over the century mark). Rice isn’t your typical SEC West power, but chances are that if the Owls are able to get things going on the ground, they will hang around with the Bulldogs. Mississippi State also needs another big performance out of quarterback Dak Prescott, who will play in the game and insists that a nerve injury to his non-throwing arm has healed.

I remember the 2010 Liberty Bowl all too well, when UCF battled a 6-6 Georgia team and outlasted the Bulldogs in a defensive struggle. I’m going with the upset here and picking the Owls for 1 point to do the same to a different Bulldogs squad. Offense may be more of a factor in this edition, however.

My Pick: 24-19 Rice

Chick-fil-A Bowl (Tuesday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 24 Duke

It’s not basketball season in the truest sense of the phrase, but Duke is still playing in a pretty meaningful athletic contest in late December. The Blue Devils are playing in arguably the biggest pre-January 1 bowl on the schedule, and will face a difficult challenge in Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M squad. Expect a lot of offense in the final college football contest of the calendar year.

Consecutive losses to LSU and Missouri to end the regular season put the Aggies in a precarious position – they are not playing good football right now. Texas A&M hasn’t been apologetic for having one of the worst defenses in the country, especially against the run, but it has hurt the team this season. Duke doesn’t have nearly as strong a run game as some of the SEC opponents the Aggies have faced, but a team that averages 39 rushing attempts per game isn’t going to just roll over and die against Texas A&M. It will be extremely important for the Aggies to slow down Duke’s offense, which posts a respectable 408.1 total yards per game. Then there is Johnny Manziel, who will almost surely feast on Duke’s porous defense. Don’t be surprised if Johnny Football one-ups Jameis Winston’s performance in the ACC title game against the Blue Devils in what is likely the last collegiate start for Texas A&M’s quarterback.

Unlike Texas A&M, Duke had been playing some of its best football of the season – right up until the Florida State game. The Blue Devils were riding an eight game winning streak before the Seminole beatdown, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for David Cutcliffe’s squad to shake off the loss since it has happened to nearly everyone Florida State has faced this season. Duke should be ecstatic to be playing in this bowl game, and the Blue Devils may have to be careful not to let the emotions spill over to begin the game. What got Duke to this point was trusting in its offensive playmakers and forcing turnovers. If the Blue Devils can force Manziel into making costly mistakes, the offense has enough firepower to keep up with the Aggies.

I’m happy that Duke has enjoyed success this season, but let’s be real here. Johnny Manziel is perhaps the most dynamic quarterback in college football and is playing in a controlled climate. A lot of points will be scored by both teams, but I’m far more confident in Texas A&M winning a barnburner than Duke. I have the Aggies for 35 points, my most confident pick in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 44-28 Texas A&M

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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