2015 Birmingham Bowl, Belk Bowl, Music City Bowl and Holiday Bowl Previews

December 29, 2015

With just two days remaining until the College Football Playoff games, even the casual fans will begin to take interest in the games being played on Wednesday.

Let’s take a look at the games being played on December 30.

Birmingham Bowl

Auburn vs. Memphis (Wednesday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Memphis began to receive national attention amidst an undefeated season when it walloped Ole Miss in mid-October, and the Tigers will end their strong season with a chance to beat another SEC foe. Head coach Justin Fuente is no longer with the team, so Memphis will be led by interim head coach Darrell Dickey in this game. Auburn isn’t without coaching vacancies, either, which means that this game will be incredibly difficult to predict.

The Tigers reached their highest ever ranking this season thanks in large part to the offense and quarterback Paxton Lynch. The 6’7″ junior is being touted as the top quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft if he decides to forgo his senior season, something that seems inevitable with the head coach that recruited him now gone. Lynch is a terrific decision maker, throwing only three interceptions this season, and keeps defenses on their toes with surprising athleticism for his size. The Tigers convert nearly 50 percent of their third down conversions, a statistic that could prove to be huge in this game. Auburn is one of the worst defenses in the country on third down, and the majority of their coaching vacancies are on the defensive end. If Memphis plays smart, they will likely keep the Auburn defense on the field for long stretches, tiring them by the fourth quarter.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has not had a losing season in his 10 years at the collegiate level, but that may change on Wednesday afternoon. Memphis actually comes into this game as a slight underdog, but the AAC representative has the best player on the field in Lynch and will take advantage of a suspect Auburn defense. I have Memphis for 28 points.

My Pick: 30-24 Memphis

Belk Bowl

Mississippi State vs. North Carolina State (Wednesday, 3:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Both of these squads flew under the radar this season, finishing as middle of the road teams in their respective conferences. However, the Belk Bowl sets up an interesting matchup between seemingly even programs. Strong quarterback play on both sides should dominate the headlines when this one is over, but plenty of youth makes this one unpredictable and may result in a crazy finish.

With the youngest offense in the SEC and no established running back, Dak Prescott’s 2015 season may be even more impressive than last year’s, when he was being considered a Heisman contender for much of the season. Prescott is second in the conference in passing yards and leads his team with 541 rushing yards, accounting for 35 total touchdowns. North Carolina State’s strong pass defense will be a test, but Prescott has played so well without much around him that it’s difficult to see the Wolfpack containing him entirely. Going head-to-head with Prescott is Jacoby Brissett, an underrated passer who isn’t surrounded by many studs, either. A new star could be born in this one, but it is more likely that the turnover battle will decide this game. Mississippi State has struggled with turnovers this season, committing multiple the past four games.

Overall Mississippi State may be a bit more talented, but North Carolina State can close that gap really quickly if the Bulldogs give the ball away. Prescott would love to go out a winner, but he can only do so much. If Mississippi State wins the turnover battle (or it’s a tie), it will win. Otherwise, the Wolfpack will steal a victory in Charlotte. I have the Bulldogs for 38 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-24 Mississippi State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Louisville vs. Texas A&M (Wednesday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

Louisville had an undesirable start to the season, dropping its first three games. But since that time the Cardinals are 6-2 and playing well. Texas A&M’s story is the opposite. Since climbing to No. 9 in the AP poll, the Aggies are 3-4 and haven’t beaten a bowl eligible team since October 3. This is one of those games that could make a big difference in Bowl Mania standings.

The reinvention of this Louisville team has been exactly that – a reinvention. The Cardinals have played three quarterbacks this season, eventually settling on dual threat freshman Lamar Jackson. The defense has had issues against the pass at times, but may not have as much trouble against Texas A&M’s offense as once thought. The Aggies were surprised to learn that both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray would transfer and will not play in this bowl game. Instead, Kevin Sumlin will go with sophomore Jake Hubenak, who has thrown all of 27 passes in his collegiate career. Hubenak will be tasked with operating against one of the best run defenses in the ACC, a sign that the young signal caller will be forced to make something happen through the air.

As if the stumbling near the end of the season wasn’t enough, the loss of two of the top quarterbacks in the Class of 2014 and Class of 2015 is a tough pill to swallow. One has to wonder if the Aggies are really all that excited to play in this game. On the other side, Louisville has clawed its way back to relevance this season and knows just how difficult wins are to come by. I like the Cardinals because of their toughness, which is why I have 18 points on them to win this game.

My Pick: 34-28 Louisville

National Funding Holiday Bowl

Wisconsin vs. #25 Southern Cal (Wednesday, 10:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Well, this looks strikingly similar to another bowl game played in California between a ranked Pac-12 squad and a seemingly overmatched Big Ten team, doesn’t it? Southern Cal has been as wildly inconsistent as UCLA and Wisconsin was better than Nebraska this season. The two conferences were arguably the toughest in college football this season, and if this one goes the Big Ten’s way I may have to rethink my opinion on which one is the best.

In Paul Chryst’s first season as head coach at Wisconsin, the former Badgers quarterback has already molded the offense to his own liking. After an injury to Corey Clement in the first game of the season, Chryst put his faith in Joel Stave to be the focal point of the offense. The results have been rough (Stave has thrown for 11 interceptions and only 10 touchdowns), but the Badgers are still winning football games. Much of this can be attributed to the defense, which ranks No. 3 in the country in yards allowed per game and has given up the fourth fewest passing yards to opponents. This is important going up against Cody Kessler, who has been my honorary college football Bro Crush this season. Kessler hasn’t had the type of year he had hoped for (both statistically and in the wins department), but this is a nice final audition for any scouts that may be hanging around Qualcomm Stadium Wednesday night.

This bowl game will be a story of opposite strengths. Southern Cal is better off forcing an offensive shootout, while Wisconsin would love to keep Kessler off the field and make this a defensive stalemate. If other bowl games between two Power 5 schools are any indication, the former is more likely to happen. That’s why I have the Trojans for 40 points, although I will admit that with UCLA’s loss last Saturday I’m not that confident in the pick anymore.

My Pick: 40-24 Southern Cal

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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