2015 Armed Forces Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl, Arizona Bowl and Texas Bowl Previews

December 28, 2015

When tomorrow’s slate of bowl games concludes, we’ll officially be over halfway through the bowl season. Which means if you’re already exhausted, grab a Red Bull. Because between December 30 and January 2, we’ll do it all over again.

Let’s take a look at a full day of college football taking place on December 29.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force vs. California (Tuesday, 2 PM ET – ESPN)

It will have been 12 days since the last MWC vs. Pac-12 bowl game, and this one is primed to be the best yet. Neither Air Force nor California will shy away from putting up a lot of points on the scoreboard, and defense will be just a minor obstacle. Expect plenty of offensive fireworks in the first bowl game of the day.

California’s Jared Goff has been a stud since the day he stepped foot on the Berkeley campus three years ago, and the Armed Forces Bowl may be his last as a Golden Bear. The junior is projected to be one of the top of the quarterbacks chosen in the 2016 NFL Draft if he chooses to forgo his final season at California, a decision that seems inevitable. So this game will serve as both a final audition and a chance to lead his team to their first bowl victory since 2008. Goff’s performance won’t be the sole decider for the Golden Bears, however. Air Force is second in the country in rushing offense and will be going up against a Swiss cheese like defense. If California can’t get stop the rushing attack and ideally force a couple of turnovers, whatever Goff can do on the other side of the ball may not be enough.

Generally the stronger conference has a leg up in games that appear to be level on paper. California closed the season with a win, but had struggled for the majority of the second half. Air Force limped to the finish as well, dropping its final two games of the regular season. Additionally, one has to wonder how excited the Falcons truly are to be playing in their fifth Armed Forces Bowl in the past seven seasons. This one should be close, but motivation and overall talent gives the Golden Bears a slight edge. I have them for 19 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 41-37 California

Russell Athletic Bowl

#17 Baylor vs. #10 North Carolina (Tuesday, 5:30 PM ET – ESPN)

One of the most anticipated matchups of the entire bowl season takes place prior to New Year’s Eve, and this is it. Both Baylor and North Carolina had excellent seasons and were rewarded with a game in the Orlando sun. We as fans should be rewarded with one of the better games of the bowl season, if you are a fan of offense. Prepare for back-to-back games dominated by offense with the Armed Forces Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl.

The Tar Heels were a questionable call away from recovering an onside kick with a chance to tie the ACC title game. But just the fact that they were in position to do so is a testament to what kind of offense Larry Fedora has at his expense. Marquise Williams has developed into a very capable passer, which is only accentuated with several receivers that can break for long gains on any given play. The X-factor on offense is grinder Elijah Hood, who trailed only Dalvin Cook in the ACC in rushing touchdowns (17) and yards (1,345). North Carolina will test Baylor’s defense, which has been pretty good by Big 12 standards. The Bears will need to be prepared defensively, because they will be without quarterback Seth Russell, backup Jarrett Stidham, wide receiver Corey Coleman and running back Shock Linwood.

If Baylor was healthy, they’d be as good if not better than North Carolina from a personnel perspective on offense. But without three of its key players, defense will be extremely important for the Bears. If they can slow down Hood and contain Williams in the passing game, they have a chance. But if the Tar Heels are allowed the type of offense they displayed in the ACC title game, this one will be North Carolina’s game to lose. I have the Tar Heels for 24 points.

My Pick: 41-31 North Carolina

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Colorado State vs. Nevada (Tuesday, 7:30 PM ET – Campus Insiders)

This is the only bowl game that you could work hard to find on television and still not be able to – Campus Insiders is an online sports network and in order to watch this Mountain West Conference bowl game, you’ll need to do it with your computer. The two previously mentioned facts are only a couple of the numerous things wrong with this matchup. But, take solace in the fact that the public face of Campus Insiders is Bonnie Bernstein. Still looking good at age 45, fellas.

Sophomore Nick Stevens filled the void left by Garrett Grayson nicely, establishing Colorado State as a threat through the air once again. Stevens led the Mountain West in touchdown passes this season with 21, but also threw the second most interceptions in the league. Turnovers have been an issue for the Rams all season, something that cannot be said of Nevada. The Wolf Pack get things done on the ground, boasting two backs with over 1,000 yards rushing on the year. But for a team that runs the ball far more often than it passes, time of possession is not a major concern. Nevada and Colorado State hold onto the ball for about the same amount of time per game on average, something that would presumably favor the team that scores more often.

It’s very odd to see two teams from the same conference play each other in a bowl game. In fact, the last time in happened in a non-championship game was the 1979 Orange Bowl. Chances are it won’t happen again for awhile. So if you’re interested, fire up the laptop and log onto CampusInsiders.com. If you’re not, I don’t think anyone would blame you. I have Colorado State for 3 points for no other reason than “because”.

My Pick: 33-28 Colorado State

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Texas Tech vs. #20 LSU (Tuesday, 9 PM ET – ESPN)

A Southern showdown will take place at Reliant Stadium on Tuesday night, when Les Miles brings his team into the Lone Star State to battle Kliff Kingsbury’s Texas Tech Red Raiders. At first glance this may appear to be a lopsided mismatch, but upon further investigation this one should serve as a very exciting nightcap.

At the midpoint of the regular season, LSU was being touted as a legitimate playoff contender and Leonard Fournette was seemingly running away with the Heisman Trophy vote. Fast forward two months, and LSU is playing in a pre-January 1 bowl game and Fournette was held to fewer than 110 yards in three of his final four games. Texas Tech’s run defense – well, defense is general, is awful. In fact, the Red Raiders have the No. 126 run defense in the country. But look what happened in the Independence Bowl last Saturday evening. Tulsa, boasting the No. 14 offense in the country, hung 52 on Virginia Tech and nearly pulled off an incredible comeback. Texas Tech has the country’s No. 2 overall offense in terms of yards per game. LSU’s defense is suspect against the pass, which should make Coach Kingsbury salivate.

Most people have probably already written this game off as a future blowout. But the Red Raiders play with a chip on their shoulder thanks to their fiery coach, and I’m not sure how badly LSU wants to play in this one after losing three of its last four to close the regular season. Bowl games often times produce unusual results, and it appears that the Tigers are ripe for an upset. I have Texas Tech for 3 points in Bowl Mania, but they’ll only win if they can put the ball in the endzone at least six times.

My Pick: 48-42 Texas Tech

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.

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