2015 St. Petersburg Bowl, Sun Bowl, Heart of Dallas Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Independence Bowl and Foster Farms Bowl Previews

December 26, 2015

Hopefully everyone has had plenty of quality time spent with family for Christmas, and may that continue throughout the next week as we get closer to ringing in the new year.

On Saturday, some may choose to spend time bonding around the television for a day chalk full of college football.

Six bowl games will entertain fans on December 26 to match the busiest day of the bowl season thus far, tying it with December 19.

Let’s take a look at the slate of games sure to keep us on the edge of our seats throughout the day.

St. Petersburg Bowl

Connecticut vs. Marshall (Saturday, 11 AM ET – ESPN)

The excitement on both sides should be high in this game – Connecticut is making its first bowl appearance since the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and has already improved four wins over its 2014 regular season campaign. Marshall finished the year 9-3 with a relatively young squad, and for many members of the Thundering Herd, this will be their first bowl game as heavy contributors to the team’s success.

Both teams rank second in their respective conferences in total defense, so expect this game to be dictated by that side of the football. To say that Connecticut’s offense is anemic is not an understatement – the Huskies average the fewest offensive yards per game of any bowl bound team this season. What the Huskies do well is force turnovers, intercepting an AAC high 17 passes. But Marshall’s Chase Litton has filled the gap left by Rakeem Cato quite well, throwing for over 2,000 yards and having just two multiple interception games this season since taking over as the starter in mid-September.

Connecticut should be ecstatic to be bowling, and that may bridge the gap in overall talent a bit. But the AAC has not fared well overall this bowl season and the Huskies are statistically the conference’s weakest team playing in the postseason. I have the Thundering Herd in this one for 8 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 28-17 Marshall

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Miami vs. Washington State (Saturday, 2 PM ET – CBS)

For the second time in three years, the Hurricanes will travel to El Paso, Texas for a date in the Sun Bowl. This time around Miami will not be led by Al Golden, but instead by interim coach Larry Scott. On the other side of the field will be the swashbuckling pirate himself, Mike Leach. As is often the case with the Sun Bowl, this should be one of the better matchups of the entire bowl season for several reasons.

Although Larry Scott will not be the permanent head coach of the Hurricanes next season, the players do know who will be leading the team already. Mark Richt was announced as the successor to Al Golden earlier this month, which should give the Miami players returning next season some added motivation to play well in this game. Richt is a proven winner and should be able to turn this program around. One such returning player is sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who will be in for a heck of a battle against opposing quarterback Luke Falk. Both Kaaya and Falk are terrific passers and should trade punches the entire game. Since both teams are similar in that they run pass heavy offenses, the team that can get some key stops in the second half and potentially force a turnover or two will be in good position to win.

Both teams come into this bowl game hot, with Miami winning four of its last five after being demolished by Clemson and Washington State winning three of its last four after nearly upsetting Stanford. Normally I would question Miami’s interest in this matchup, but with Richt taking notes for next season, the younger players should be motivated to play well. However, I think Falk and the Washington State offense will be a bit too much for the Hurricanes, who have proven to be shaky at times defensively. I have the Cougars for 27 points.

My Pick: 45-38 Washington State

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Washington vs. Southern Mississippi (Saturday, 2:20 PM ET – ESPN)

The young Huskies, in their second season under Chris Petersen, blew out in-state rival Washington State in the Apple Cup to become bowl eligible. Southern Miss needed no such result in its final game to go bowling – the Golden Eagles surprised most pundits by winning 9 games and winning the West Division of Conference USA. Expect a battle of strong offense against stout defense in this one.

Southern Miss is one of the rare teams that can win both a shootout and a defensive stalemate. The Golden Eagles are No. 10 in the country in offensive yards per game and average 40.6 points per contest, putting up 50+ points five times this season (all victories). But Todd Monken’s team also leads Conference USA with the fewest average yards per game allowed on defense, going on a four game streak between mid-October and mid-November in which the Golden Eagles didn’t allow more than 13 points per game. These statistics are in stark contrast to the Huskies, which have one of the Pac-12’s worst offenses despite its best defense. Much of the offensive struggles for Washington can be attributed to its youth, starting with true freshman quarterback Jake Browning. However, while the growing pains have been evident, there has been visible improvement as well. The Huskies have scored at least 45 points three times in their last six games, suggesting this team began to find its stride in the second half of the season.

The Golden Eagles appear to be one of the better Group of Five squads in the country, but it remains to be seen how they will do against a Power 5 squad that is probably better than its 6-6 record. Mississippi State has only one win against teams participating in a bowl game compared to Washington’s four. While this game should be interesting, I think that the talent of a Pac-12 team will take over in the second half, which is why I have Chris Petersen’s squad for 37 points.

My Pick: 27-21 Washington

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Indiana vs. Duke (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

In a matchup that would appear to be better suited for the hardwood than the gridiron, Indiana will be making just its second bowl appearance in 22 years while Duke continues to extend its program record by playing in its third consecutive bowl game. Duke will look to end on a high note after stumbling down the stretch, while Indiana looks to finish on a three game winning streak.

Believe it or not, the Hoosiers are the Big Ten’s most potent offense in terms of yards per game and it’s not even close. Indiana leaned heavily on its offense this season, surrendering over 500 yards per contest and allowing more touchdowns (60) than any bowl team except Texas Tech. But thanks to senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld, the offense is dangerous and balanced. Sudfeld is a master distributor, allowing three Indiana receivers to top the 500 yard mark this season and opening the running game up for Jordan Howard, who is third in the Big Ten in rushing yards. Although Duke isn’t terrible defensively, the Blue Devils did struggle against the better offenses in the ACC. Turnovers could also play a huge role in this game. Indiana is tied for No. 5 in the country for fewest turnovers with just 11 all season, compared to Duke’s 18. Fumbles are a particular problem for the Blue Devils, who have had 11 on the year.

At one time, Duke simply making a bowl game was a huge accomplishment. Now the Blue Devils have become a postseason regular and are going up against what is essentially a carbon copy of the program three years ago. Indiana is thrilled to go bowling and have a chance to bring home some hardware, especially by beating a fellow Power 5 program. I have the amped up Hoosiers for 31 points in a game that could get wild.

My Pick: 38-35 Indiana

Camping World Independence Bowl

Tulsa vs. Virginia Tech (Saturday, 5:45 PM ET – ESPN)

This year’s Independence Bowl will mark the end of an illustrious career for head coach Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, one in which he led the Hokies to 23 consecutive bowl games. His team will try to send him off a winner against a surprising Tulsa squad, making its first bowl appearance since 2012 and first ever as an AAC member.

It became apparent that the Golden Hurricane were going to be a force to reckon with in the AAC this season when they put up 38 points on Oklahoma in mid-September. Since that time, Tulsa emerged as the No. 14 offense nationally in terms of total yards per game and No. 11 specific to passing yards per game. What separated Philip Montgomery’s team from being a true AAC title contender was a horrendous defense that ranked No. 126 in the country. Montgomery, the former offensive coordinator at Baylor, had to work with what he was given as a first-year head man. Coach Beamer has been doing a little bit of that himself at Virginia Tech, taking a team lacking the usual talent of a Hokies squad and molding them into an extremely competitive bunch. Virginia Tech may only have six wins, but lost only one game by more than 10 points.

Assuming that the Hokies are inspired to play well in Beamer’s last game, the pace of the game will be dictated largely by Virginia Tech’s defensive play. If Virginia Tech can stifle the effectiveness of Tulsa’s offensive weapons, then the Hokies have enough offensive firepower to score points against the Tulsa defense. In a battle of “ifs”, I like the coach with 29 years of head coaching experience at one school. I have the Hokies for 34 points.

My Pick: 23-17 Virginia Tech

Foster Farms Bowl

Nebraska vs. UCLA (Saturday, 9:15 PM ET – ESPN)

The Cornhuskers are one of the three teams with a 5-7 record that got invited to a bowl game based on academic performance, but classroom proficiency isn’t going to make up for poor play on the field in this one. UCLA has been inconsistent but showed flashes of being a top 15 football team at times this season. Get ready for perhaps the most lopsided matchup of bowl season.

Where do the Cornhuskers begin on offense? Statistically they are the second best in the Big Ten, but the running game isn’t anything special and Tommy Armstrong Jr. has thrown for nearly as many interceptions (16) and touchdowns (21) this season. Nebraska does manage to put points on the board, but stopping the opposition from doing the same has been trouble at times. Enter Josh Rosen and Paul Perkins at ULCLA, the two most well-known offensive threats looking to break down that inconsistent Nebraska defense. Rosen has already come a long way in what looks to be the beginning of a great career in Los Angeles, while Perkins has been churning out yards for three seasons now. It seems like we’ve said this the past three seasons, but if UCLA is interested in winning this game then they should be able to do it handily.

Long plays from scrimmage (10 to 30+ yards) are something that the Cornhuskers have lived on all season. UCLA is one of the best in the Pac-12 at stopping those, so unless Armstrong Jr. finds a way to consistently produce in the short passing game the Bruins should force a lot of of fourth downs. I have UCLA as my most confident pick in Bowl Mania for 42 points.

My Pick: 41-24 UCLA

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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