2016 Liberty Bowl, Sun Bowl, Music City Bowl, Arizona Bowl and Orange Bowl Preview

December 29, 2016

In what serves as almost the main course to another main course, Friday is the busiest day of the bowl season save the opening Saturday. Five bowls are packed into roughly 12 hours for wire-to-wire action.

This comes just one day before New Year’s Eve, which of course is the crown jewel of this year’s bowl schedule, being the day that both Playoff games will be played.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to catch your breath this week, take a moment to do so right now. Because over the next 64 hours there will be enough football to make your mind spin.

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

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Georgia vs. TCU (Friday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

If defensive minded football is your preference, then this could be one of your favorite games of the bowl season. Neither Georgia nor TCU were spectacular this season, both finishing 6-6 and regarded as relative afterthoughts in the SEC and Big-12, respectively. First-year head coach Kirby Smart cleaned up the Bulldogs defense rather quickly, getting them back into the top 20 nationally in terms of yards allowed per game. TCU’s offense has been all over the board this season, but has clearly struggled with the better defenses so it could be tough sledding for the Horned Frogs in this one.

For as talented as Georgia’s offensive skill players are, the Bulldogs really could have done better offensively this season. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel played in all but one game this season, yet neither are 1,000 yard rushers. The focus seems to have been on Jacob Eason, the freshman phenom quarterback who has struggled with accuracy. Although opening up the passing game is low hanging fruit for Georgia, it can really make things difficult on TCU if Chubb and Michel return the form we’ve seen in prior years. I think it’s possible, and regardless Georgia’s defense will do enough to put them in position to win this game.

My Pick: 27-21 Georgia

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 24

Hyundai Sun Bowl

North Carolina vs. #18 Stanford (Friday, 2 PM ET – CBS)

It’s unfortunate that the biggest headline for this game is about a player that won’t be playing, but such is life when there are 40+ bowl games. The absence of Christian McCaffery may prove to be a bigger deal for Stanford than we know – it is unknown how it will affect the mindset of the offensive line, which has blocked for him all season long. On the other hand, sophomore running back Bryce Love will be looking to make a statement and has already rushed for over 100 yards in two games this season. David Shaw is a good motivator, so it is likely that the rest of the offense will be just as focused as Love to play well.

On the other side, junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be looking to make a statement, albeit to NFL scouts. Trubisky is projected to be the top quarterback off the board in next year’s draft, but unlike McCaffery will use this bowl game as a last chance to impress any remaining doubters. Trubisky has a talented arsenal of wide receivers to throw to, including fellow NFL prospect Bug Howard. The 6’5″ wideout can go up and make plays over smaller defenders, which makes him particularly deadly in the red zone. Trubisky will need to have a great game to win this one, though. The Tar Heels are poor defensively, and with Love running the ball Stanford should still be able to do what it wants to do defensively. This will be a fun one, but I think North Carolina will come up just short in El Paso.

My Pick: 38-35 Stanford

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 36

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Nebraska vs. #21 Tennessee (Friday, 3:30 PM ET – ESPN)

The Volunteers will be making the relatively short trip to Nashville for their bowl game, the same place where they finished the regular season. Tennessee fans are hoping that this game ends differently than that one, where Vanderbilt shocked their in-state rivals by hanging 45 points on the Volunteers to become bowl eligible. The biggest question for Butch Jones’s team will be, “do they care enough to go out and finish things the right way in the Music City?”

Nebraska was on track for a spot in the Big Ten title game, then the tough stretch hit. Back-to-back losses on the road to Wisconsin and Ohio State, the latter a blowout after Tommy Armstrong Jr. left the game prior to halftime after hitting his head on the turf, had them in catch-up mode. Then Armstrong’s hamstring injury kept flaring up near the end of the season, sending the offense sputtering. Nebraska has gained over 400 yards just once since October 22. But Armstrong would still like to be used as an “emergency guy” if possible in this game and the Cornhuskers will be led by a fifth-year senior and career backup guy Ryker Fyfe. I think that the Cornhuskers want to win this game, whereas I wonder if the Volunteers really care after suffering a second half letdown of their own that destroyed any national and SEC title hopes. Butch Jones has a good track record with Tennessee in bowl games, but this season was the first real letdown for them and the hope of a better year in 2017 isn’t as real as it had been the past two years.

My Pick: 34-31 Nebraska

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 35

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Air Force vs. South Alabama (Friday, 5:30 PM ET – Campus Insiders)

This is the only bowl game on the schedule that is available exclusively through online streaming, which means that if you want to watch this game you have to actually work to do it. South Alabama beat an SEC team to begin the season, beginning the wheels of thought that the conference may have some issues in 2016. Air Force is the Commander-in-Chief trophy holder after beating both Army and Navy, all three of which qualified for a bowl game. The Falcons to average nearly 55 yards per game in penalties, however, challenging the notion that all the service academies are extremely disciplined football teams.

The age-old question about whether it is easier to stop triple option teams with several weeks to prepare will be answered again in this game. Air Force averages over 320 yards of offense on the ground and South Alabama is typically not very good at stopping the run, allowing an average of 212 rushing yards per game. Senior quarterback Nate Romine does have a capable arm, however, so the Falcons aren’t nearly as tethered to the run option as, say, Army or Navy. It’s very difficult for me to pick against the service academies in bowl games because they will always show up focused – only injuries can really affect that.

My Pick: 30-28 Air Force

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 18

Capital One Orange Bowl

#11 Florida State vs. #6 Michigan (Friday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

This is one of the games that everyone has been waiting for this bowl season. Florida State’s potent although somewhat erratic and inconsistent offense will go up against Michigan’s stout although somewhat untested and perhaps overly intense defense. From a total yards per game standpoint, Florida State is the best offense Michigan will have faced this season after Ohio State and the only other one in the top 40 nationally. Michigan has made passing the football nearly impossible and the Wolverines don’t give you much time to do so, either. Jim Harbaugh’s squad leads the Big Ten with 44 sacks.

However, the Seminoles have a weapon in Dalvin Cook that could help soften Michigan’s pass defense. Cook’s combination of speed and strength top even the talented running backs that the Wolverines have faced week in and week out playing in the Big Ten and could be the X-factor in this game. Keep in mind that Florida State’s defense also gets to the quarterback – three more times than Michigan has this season, to be exact. If Cook can find some room to run and Michigan’s pass defense is compromised as a result of trying to stop him, Florida State has the ability to win this game. But a lot has to come together for Florida and it’s hard to argue that Michigan won’t be the more prepared team for this game. This is the upside of having a guy like Jim Harbaugh as your head coach.

My Pick: 28-23 Michigan

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 31

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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