2013 Pinstripe Bowl, Belk Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Previews

December 28, 2013

It has been a rough last two days.

After four straight losses, Washington saved me from almost completely losing hope, but I’m still at 4-7 overall despite still hanging onto second place in my Bowl Mania group. I’ve hemorrhaged a lot of points and really need a couple of strong days to feel good about my entry again.

Hopefully, today is one of those days. Here are the previews for the Pinstripe Bowl, Belk Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

No. 25 Notre Dame vs. Rutgers

Notre Dame followed up its undefeated 2012 campaign with an 8-4 record this season and a trip to the Big Apple for the postseason. The Fighting Irish will take on a Rutgers squad that struggled in the new look AAC this season and will be looking to avoid a sub-.500 record for the first time under head coach Kyle Flood. The cold weather could have an effect in this one, as both teams may have to rely on the running game more than usual.

The Fighting Irish may be 8-4, but were just two touchdowns away from potentially being 10-2 and finding themselves in a second consecutive BCS bowl under Brian Kelly. The defense is stingy once again, but has had to deal with the loss of defensive tackle Louis Nix III for the majority of the second half of the year. Having Nix would have been a tremendous advantage for Notre Dame, which must stop the Rutgers run game to be successful in this one. However, the Fighting Irish should be able to make do without him as the Scarlet Knights are fairly one dimensional offensively.

To that point, Rutgers must find some sort of passing game in order to have a chance at upsetting Notre Dame. Gary Nova has been extremely inconsistent this season and one of the reasons that a lot of promising Rutgers offensive possessions end without any points. Like last season, the Fighting Irish leave the door open for any team willing to go over the top of the golden domers, and the Scarlet Knights will have to take the risk (and the bait) to stay in this game.

As inconsistent as Rutgers is and as tough as Notre Dame has played solid opponents, you’d think I’d have the utmost confidence in the Fighting Irish. But the 26 points I have on them in Bowl Mania is but a bluff. I can totally see Notre Dame laying an egg in Yankee Stadium and letting an inferior Rutgers squad will its way to victory at the expense of my entry. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that, if the Fighting Irish lose, I have no problem getting angry at them.

My Pick: 30-17 Notre Dame

Belk Bowl (Saturday, 3:20 PM ET – ESPN)

Cincinnati vs. North Carolina

The Bearcats visit Charlotte for the second time in as many years to play in this bowl game, winning the 2012 edition in dramatic fashion over an upstart Duke squad. Cincinnati will look to make it back-to-back victories over North Carolina schools against the Tar Heels, who are probably just happy to be playing after a 1-5 start to the season.

When you look at Cincinnati’s record, it looks like the Bearcats are a largely underrated football team. But with one of the weakest schedules in college football, it isn’t much of a surprise that the team is 9-3. At 314 passing yards per game, the Bearcats have the second most potent attack in the AAC behind SMU. Led by senior quarterback Brendon Kay, Cincinnati will try to keep the chains moving with quick, short passes to a slew of speedy receivers. However, it’s the defense that could give the Bearcats consecutive victories in the Emerald City. A stout run defense which allows fewer than 100 yards per game could be the key in this one against a North Carolina team that has been revived by a dual threat quarterback.

The dual threat remark brings us to dynamic play caller Marquise Williams of North Carolina. His stats aren’t mind blowing, but that’s because he has only been the starter for a little over a month. His elusiveness in the pocket is a major reason why the Tar Heels went from being on the brink of bowl elimination to nearly capping off a six game winning streak with a victory over Duke in the season finale. In addition to Williams, receiver Quinshad Davis is a reason to watch North Carolina on offense. The 6’4″, 185 pound sophomore could be a matchup problem for Cincinnati’s small secondary, especially in the red zone where Davis is a major threat. The wideout has pulled in 10 touchdown receptions this season to lead the Tar Heels in that category.

On paper all signs point to Cincinnati winning this bowl game once again, but the same could be said of last year when the Bearcats took on Duke. I don’t know if North Carolina will be quite as excited as the Blue Devils were just to be playing in this game, but something tells me that the statistics up to this point are misleading. I have the Tar Heels for 12 points in a close one that will hopefully be just as excited as the 2012 Belk Bowl.

My Pick: 27-24 North Carolina

Russell Athletic Bowl (Saturday, 6:45 PM ET – ESPN)

No. 18 Louisville vs. Miami

One of the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season takes place in Orlando when the in-state Hurricanes take on Teddy Bridgewater’s Louisville squad. This one is a difficult matchup to predict because Miami has clearly shown throughout the season that it has the athletes to beat any team in the nation, but Bridgewater could put on a show for the pro scouts evaluating him for the next level.

Louisville was but a mere three points away from making it back into the BCS party one final time under the current system, but UCF called its bluff as a team that was going to run roughshod through the AAC conference. On paper, the Cardinals have the best defense and second best offense in the conference, but three straight victories by just one touchdown to close out the regular season tells me that even teams in the AAC were able to figure out what Louisville was doing. Fortunately, the player that almost no one has questioned as having the “it” factor will be going up against one of the ACC’s worst pass defenses. Bridgewater has consistently shown the ability to make strong throws downfield and other than a few lapses in judgment does not force things. If he comes out ready to play in what is believed to be his final college game, Louisville should have success against Miami on offense.

Since this game is being played in the state of Florida, it is really anyone’s guess as to how motivated Miami will be to play in this game. The Hurricanes may try to employ a heavy dose of the passing game, which has been their obvious strength since the loss of running back Duke Johnson, but the loss of third leading receiver Herb Waters for this game could make things difficult. Regardless, it is imperative that quarterback Stephen Morris make good decisions with the football. Miami’s 14 interceptions on the season is concerning considering that Louisville has one of the more opportunistic defenses with 16 interceptions on the year. If Miami doesn’t win the possession battle in this game, they don’t win on the scoreboard, either.

After watching Cincinnati, a team that took Louisville to the brink during the regular season, in the first half of the Belk Bowl, I no longer feel like Louisville has the talent to get it done in Orlando. I have Miami for 13 points and think that the No. 2 defense in the country will be exposed as a fake against an ACC squad.

My Pick: 31-24 Miami

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

Michigan vs. Kansas State

The bowl with the most mouthwatering name of the bunch will wrap up a Saturday full of college football action. In this game, a struggling Big Ten team takes on a Big 12 squad that no one outside of the state of Kansas is really all that sure about. Sounds like a perfect dual in the desert, right?

The news that Wolverines starting quarterback Devin Gardner would not be starting in this bowl game due to a toe injury shocked some people enough to switch their pick in this game, but that might have been a premature move. Freshman Shane Morris is a big-armed quarterback who might actually be better than Gardner in the very near future. With Morris, the Michigan passing game could be more of a threat because Gardner had trouble hitting his targets, especially on short routes. Still, one has to wonder how the young man will deal with several different blitz schemes that he will probably see in this game to disrupt his flow.

While Kansas State has the Morris situation to think about, the Wildcats will also be looking for a marquee win of sorts that should keep this team motivated to play hard in this game. Fairly close outings against Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma suggest that Bill Snyder’s team is pretty good, but just might not have the personnel to close it out against the top competition. Luckily, Michigan is top competition in name only. The 2013 Wildcats are similar to last year’s Kansas State squad in that quarterback Jake Waters can run a little bit as well as throw. A strong rushing attack led by John Hubert and Waters will likely be the way that this team tries to beat Michigan’s defense, and it will also be a way to keep the ball out of Morris’s hands in case the freshman ends up being a hidden gem.

I have Kansas State for 21 points in this game, and I had the Wildcats even before Gardner went down. Without him, I just don’t know if the Michigan offense will be able to operate as effectively. Still, you have to imagine that if Morris was heavily recruited out of high school, he has the chops to do some damage. As my dad said yesterday, “just watch. This guy will go and win the game, then beat Ohio State the next three years.” I guess we’ll find out if that’s a possibility tonight.

My Pick: 30-24 Kansas 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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