2014 Military Bowl, Sun Bowl, Independence Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl and Holiday Bowl Previews

December 27, 2014

Bowl season is in full swing now, with the halfway point being reached by the end of tonight.

A full day of action awaits with five games on the Saturday slate.

Let’s take a look at the matchups taking place on December 27.

Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman

Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Saturday, 1 PM ET – ESPN)

The St. Petersburg Bowl featured an AAC co-champion against a middle-of-the-road ACC squad and the ACC proved why it is still one of the Power 5 conferences. Cincinnati will get a chance to improve the image of its conference in this one when the Bearcats battle Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech Hokies. Both teams played Ohio State this season with wildly different results, but this one should be a nailbiter.

Normally Cincinnati pairs a tough nosed defense with a serviceable offense, but this year the script has been flipped for the Bearcats. Offense sets the tone led by quarterback Gunner Kiel and a slew of quick junior wideouts who have been able to find space to run all season. The Hokies will need to find a way to get to Kiel and prevent him from finding a rhythm because the sophomore is not afraid of throwing the ball deep and letting his receivers do the dirty work. Cincinnati leads the AAC in passing plays over 50 yards and will likely try to beat Virginia Tech over the top at least a few times in this one.

The ACC has been inconsistent thus far in bowl season, with the North Carolina schools giving no indication whatsoever of the actual strength of the conference. Virginia Tech has been in several close games this season and could very well be 8-4 instead of 6-6. Throw in the fact that the Hokies have a proud defense that will have something to prove against Kiel, I don’t see this one getting out of hand either way. Cincinnati is the better team, but Virginia Tech will scratch and claw and won’t go down easily. I have the Bearcats for 19 points.

My Pick: 27-24 Cincinnati

Hyundai Sun Bowl

#15 Arizona State vs. Duke (Saturday, 2 PM ET – CBS)

The Sun Bowl welcomes the Sun Devils for the first time since 2004 while Duke travels out to El Paso for the postseason for the first time in school history. Both of these teams should be excited to play in what is generally a showcase bowl game and that is no different this year. These are two of the better teams in their respective conferences and lots of offensive fireworks should be on display in the Texas sun.

The Sun Devils weren’t quite able to make it back to the Pac-12 title game in 2014, but the talent to do so was still present on Todd Graham’s squad. Between running back D.J. Foster and wideout Jaelen Strong, Arizona State has two of the more explosive athletes in the entire country let alone the Pac-12. It will be interesting to see what Graham’s philosophy is regarding the quarterback position in this game. It would be Taylor Kelly’s final start in a Sun Devils uniform, but junior Mike Bercovici is more dynamic and could present a huge problem for a struggling Duke defense. Either way, Duke will need to find a way to keep Strong in check and prevent Arizona State from confidently moving the ball down the field every time it has the ball.

The Blue Devils sort of tailed off near the end of the season, dropping two of their final three games to 6-6 teams. Offense has not been the issue, so if Duke can find a way to slow down the Sun Devils there is a chance this one could be very exciting. But there appear to be too many weapons on Arizona State’s offense to be shut down completely. I have the Sun Devils for 28 points in this one.

My Pick: 35-24 Arizona State

Duck Commander Independence Bowl

Miami vs. South Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

Forget the fact that these are two 6-6 teams playing in a pre-January 1 bowl game. This is also a matchup between two historically powerful football programs that have a lot of pride. Neither team wants to end the year on a sour note, and perhaps worse, with a losing record. The Hurricanes are seeking their first bowl win since 2006 while a win by the Ole Ball Coach would be his fourth straight.

South Carolina’s defense is, to quote Charles Barkley, “turrible”. But despite a unit that gives up an average of 433.6 yards per contest, the Gamecocks still found a way to be competitive in all but two games this season. Offensively South Carolina is the team that pundits expected in 2014, with Dylan Thompson leading the SEC in passing yards per game and ranking second in passing touchdowns this season. The Gamecocks will rely heavily on Thompson to be at his best in this one, as the Hurricanes are second in the ACC in pass defense. Luckily, Thompson should have some time to find his receivers unless Miami’s defensive front has its best outing of the year.

The Hurricanes have looked good at times this season but other times have looked every bit the 6-6 team that they are on paper. Both of these teams will need a big game from their quarterback and statistically Brad Kaaya is better set up to do so. But Thompson and the Gamecocks face tougher competition week in and week out in the SEC, and until I am proven otherwise I have to go with the stronger conference in a tossup game like this. I have South Carolina for 17 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 33-27 South Carolina

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Boston College vs. Penn State (Saturday, 4:30 PM ET – ESPN)

One of my favorite bowl game title sponsors (remember, I have a fairly deep hat collection) of the season, New Era should be pleased with the matchup that it got at Yankee Stadium. Both Boston College and Penn State are gritty football teams with coaches that will surely get their squad excited to be playing in this game. It is also a little known fact that these two teams are rivals and will be playing for the Lambert Trophy in addition to the bowl game hardware.

Under head coach Steve Addazio the Eagles have built a reputation for being a rough and tumble offense that loves to grind out yards on the ground. Somewhat surprisingly, this season the workhorse has been the quarterback Tyler Murphy. One of three quarterbacks in the nation (Georgia Southern’s Kevin Ellison and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo being the others) to accumulate 1,000 passing and rushing yards this season, Murphy will be a stiff challenge for the Big Ten’s top overall defense. Penn State has seen players like Murphy before, however, shutting down Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for most of the second half and allowing 300+ yards only once this season. The biggest question for the Nittany Lions will be whether they can get enough production out of Christian Hackenberg, who has thrown for almost twice as many interceptions (15) as he has touchdowns (8).

This will be a defensive struggle on both sides, make no doubt about it. Touchdowns will come at a premium and field position will be extremely important in deciding this one. With little else to go on, it seems more conservative to pick the team with a player that can both pass and run well over a team with a player that passes well but also makes lots of questionable decisions. That being said, I’m going with the Eagles for 9 points in this one.

My Pick: 14-9 Boston College

National University Holiday Bowl

Nebraska vs. #24 Southern California (Saturday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

The first year of the Steve Sarkisian era at Southern Cal looked a lot like what we came to expect from the head coach during his time at Washington. In fact, a Holiday Bowl berth may feel like déjà vu for Sarkisian, who faced and beat a heavily favored Nebraska squad with the Huskies in the 2010 edition the bowl. It will be interesting to see how Coach Sark handles being on the other side of that equation heading into the game as the Cornhuskers are a major underdog without former head coach Bo Pelini, who was let go at the end of the regular season.

How Nebraska responds to playing without its former head man will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this game. Pelini was a defensive guy, but the Cornhuskers had suffered a string of mediocre seasons on that side of the ball which was likely a contributing factor in the decision to let him walk. In this game Nebraska must find a way to stop what is an underrated offense for Southern Cal. With a solid outing tonight, there is reason to suggest that Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler could be on the Heisman shortlist heading into the 2015 season. Kessler’s 9 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio is incredible and his 70.7 percent completion rate is second in the country. While Ameer Abdullah may be the most recognized name on the field in this game, Kessler may be the only one with a Heisman Trophy by the time his career is over.

Nebraska has the offensive firepower to keep up in this game, but the real question mark is whether it has the defensive aptitude to stop the Trojans. Southern Cal is solid against the run, so expecting Ameer Abdullah to totally compensate for both offensive and defensive passing woes is ridiculous. As long as the Trojans didn’t blow off preparation for this game, they should win this one comfortably. I have Southern Cal for 38 points in this game, which makes it my No. 2 most confident pick in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 38-24 Southern California

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. You can also like Around The Corn’s Facebook page or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two days 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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