2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl, Military Bowl, Holiday Bowl and Cactus Bowl Preview

December 27, 2016

Yesterday was a great example of why the bowl season is so hard to predict.

A 6-6 MAC squad took an SEC squad to the brink in the St. Petersburg bowl, which would have been the first bowl win for the MAC this season.

Meanwhile, up in Detroit the country’s No. 127 offense (next to last, for those not counting) put up 36 points on a Maryland defense that had only allowed that many points four other times this season.

Today there are four more bowl games, each with their own interesting storylines. And of course, they’ll be just as difficult to predict.

Currently, Taylor still leads the Von Hugendong X Bowl Mania group, but the gap has closed to just six points between first and second. Perhaps today will be the first lead change of the bowl season.

Let’s take a look at the games being played on December 27.

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Army vs. North Texas (Tuesday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

North Texas convincingly won the first meeting between these two teams this season, but what has happened since then has favored the Black Knights. Army is 3-2 since the game, with a win against Navy for the first time since 2001 that essentially gave this season all the meaning it needed. The Mean Green 1-4 since the victory over the Black Knights, giving up lots of points to some of the better offenses in Conference USA.

If North Texas is going to beat Army a second time in 2016, it may need to find a spark similar to Boston College’s in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Mean Green are last in Conference USA in offensive yards per game, and the 320 yards they gained against Army last time is the fewest in a win for the team this season. What the Black Knights do offensively is not rocket science – and sometimes it comes back to bite them when an opposing defense has three weeks to prepare. But Jeff Monken’s team should still be riding the high of the Navy game and come into this one ready to play. This year has been all about redemption for the Black Knights, after all.

My Pick: 34-28 Army

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 25

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman

#24 Temple vs. Wake Forest (Tuesday, 3:30 PM ET – ESPN)

After everything that has surrounded Wake Forest’s football program regarding one of its game announcers leaking game plans to opposing teams, it’ll be great for the players to get on the field again and focus on what they came to the school to do. Whether it will garner positive results, however, is questionable. The Demon Deacons must face a very solid football team in the Temple Owls, which are coming off of an AAC title game victory and just recently popped back in to the national rankings.

The Owls are terrific defensively, boasting the nation’s No. 3 overall defense and the No. 2 pass defense. Wake Forest averages fewer than 20 points a game, so even if Temple didn’t have one of the best defenses in the country, chances are this was going to be a low scoring affair. If the Owls can get a push on the offensive line and let Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead find room to run, Temple will be able to control the clock and stifle Wake Forest defensively. I have this game as my highest confidence pick of Bowl Mania, so I don’t see the Demon Deacons being able to overcome all of the obstacles they face in this one.

My Pick: 33-17 Temple

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 42

National Funding Holiday Bowl

Minnesota vs. Washington State (Tuesday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

We talk so much about the mental state of teams heading into a bowl game, so it will be very interesting to see how a team whose players threatened a boycott of this game will fare. One would think that would give Washington State a definite advantage, but with Mike Leach on the sideline anything is possible. The Pirate will look to right his ship in San Diego after the Cougars suffered two straight losses to end the regular season, extinguishing their chances at a Pac-12 North Division title.

Washington State definitely has the advantage at the quarterback position, a key point since Minnesota’s pass defense has had issues this season. Luke Falk has made his way up Mock Draft boards after posting another season of at least 4,000 yards passing and 35 passing touchdowns. Falk has been without wide receiver River Cracraft for the last two games, which has had a noticeable effect on the offense. However, the Cougars still have Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr., who could both have a big evening against this Minnesota pass defense. Unless the Golden Gophers can force turnovers and control the clock, Washington State likely has too much firepower for Minnesota to keep pace.

My Pick: 42-31 Washington State

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 30

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl

Baylor vs. Boise State (Tuesday, 10:15 PM ET – ESPN)

Two high powered offenses face off for a duel in the desert, but whether both will show up is the question for the day. The bottom completely dropped out for Baylor the second half of this season, as the Bears went 0-6 to follow up a 6-0 start. Boise State finished the year a healthy 10-2 but failed to win its conference for a second straight year, the first time that has happened since 1996-1998, the first three years that the Broncos played in Division 1-A (now FBS).

Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien is usually the most important piece of the Broncos offense, but Baylor’s pass defense is stingy, so Bryan Harsin may need to find offensive production elsewhere to win this game. Luckily for Boise State, running back Jeremy McNichols is a tank who has the ability to gash Baylor’s defense for big gains all night long. The 5’9″ 212 pound junior has rushed for over 150 yards in a game five times this season and has failed to find the end zone just once. The battle between McNichols and Baylor’s Shock Linwood would have been very exciting, but Linwood announced he will be sitting the game out. I think that will actually be the difference in this game, as McNichols gives Boise State enough of a balance on offense to outscore the Bears.

My Pick: 45-42 Boise State

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 26

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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