2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Cactus Bowl Previews

January 2, 2016

Another round of New Year’s Day bowls have come and gone, and without a lot of excitement, quite frankly. The difference between this season and ones of recent memory is that the bowl season comes to a quick close after we have turned over the calendars. January 2 marks the last day of bowl games for the 2015-2016 season other than the national title game.

By this time, the majority of casual college football fans have moved on to other things. But for the hardcore fans that have stuck it out through this lengthy bowl season, there is a full slate of games for today.

Let’s take a look at the games being played on January 2.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Georgia vs. Penn State (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Mark Richt is no longer with the Bulldogs, and Penn State is one of the worst teams in the country at protecting their quarterback. Chances are this game will be decided by the defenses, and it won’t be a pretty game, either. The marquee Big Ten vs. SEC bowl matchups took place yesterday, but this one may end up looking closer on the scoreboard.

Georgia isn’t one of the better teams in the SEC at sacking the quarterback or forcing interceptions, two of the things that have plagued this Penn State team in 2015. But overall the Bulldogs have the best pass defense in the country and will make it very difficult for Christian Hackenburg to find any real estate downfield. The Nittany Lions don’t have the most feared rushing attack, so it will be up to Hackenburg to beat the best and his line to keep him upright.

When it comes down to it, the middle-of-the-road SEC appears to be stronger than the middle-of-the-road Big Ten (see: Northwestern vs. Tennessee). Georgia may be without a coach, but I don’t see how a Penn State offense that has struggled all season will be able to punish the best pass defense in the country. I have the Bulldogs for 25 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 27-17 Georgia

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Arkansas vs. Kansas State (Saturday, 3:20 PM ET – ESPN)

The Razorbacks didn’t quite meet the expectations fans and analysts had set for them in the preseason, but in reality those expectations may have been a bit high considering Arkansas plays in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Bret Bielema’s team has been playing particularly well as of late, however, and comes in hot against a Kansas State team that hasn’t looked special at any point this season.

Statistically, it’s difficult to figure out how Arkansas finished the regular season 7-5. The Razorbacks did have the worst pass defense in the SEC, but they also had the third best offense in the conference and averaged over 35 points per game, higher than that of Alabama. As has been the trend since Coach Bielema left Wisconsin for Fayetteville, the Razorbacks had trouble winning the close ones. Arkansas is 2-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer, but did go 2-1 in overtime games this season. Kansas State’s porous pass defense may prevent this one from remaining close, though. The Wildcats have been uncharacteristically poor on defense this season, which can be attributed to youth as much as anything else.

Although Arkansas would be in a precarious position if this one stayed close, I just don’t see that happening. The Razorbacks are 5-1 in their last 6 games and just have more talent on the offensive side of the ball than I think Kansas State is able to contain. I have the SEC squad for 41 points.

My Pick: 37-17 Arkansas

Valero Alamo Bowl

#15 Oregon vs. #11 TCU (Saturday, 6:45 PM ET – ESPN)

The best matchup of the day took a major hit when TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was arrested for assaulting a police offer early Thursday morning. Now the Horned Frogs will be without Boykin and starting wide receiver Josh Doctson, who was ruled out earlier due to a wrist injury suffered during the regular season. Oregon has been one of the hottest teams in the country, so without those two offensive stars TCU could have trouble keeping up in this one.

Some started to wonder if the loss of Chip Kelly as head coach was finally starting to catch up with the Ducks when they lost three games in a one month span to start the season 3-3. But then Oregon found its rhythm on offense, thanks to quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Since October 17 Adams has thrown for 21 touchdowns and four interceptions, compared with four TDs and two INTs in his first three games. The Ducks haven’t lost in over two months and the defense, a major problem because of an inability to stop the passing game early in the year, has also rebounded slightly. All in all, Oregon is a team that is on a roll. Compare this to TCU, a team that has lost its two best offensive players, limped to a 2-2 finish in its last four games and performed worse defensively in the second half of the season, and you’ve got a potential blowout brewing.

As much as I’d like to see this game stay interesting for its entirety, I just don’t think that is going to happen with all the distractions surrounding TCU amidst Boykin’s arrest. The Ducks have to be excited to be playing in a post-January 1 bowl game considering how the season started, so I think their focus will be much better. I have Oregon for 36 points.

My Pick: 42-24 Oregon

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl

Arizona State vs. West Virginia (Saturday, 10:15 PM ET – ESPN)

The nightcap, and last non-championship bowl game of the season, will spill into January 3 on the East Coast. Both teams can rack up offensive yards given the chance to do so, which is probably what will end up happening in this game. Hopefully it does, because I’m not sure that anything else will keep fans’ interest in this one.

Arizona State doesn’t play very good defense, but in several games this season that has not mattered. Six times this season the Sun Devils have scored at least 35 points, and they are 4-2 in those games. Despite a balanced offense with several talented players, the guy to watch for Arizona State is senior quarterback Mike Bercovici. The sometimes erratic signal caller is a gunslinger with good speed, meaning that West Virginia will have a heck of a time keeping him in the pocket. If Bercovici is given time or can escape the rush, the Mountaineers could be in trouble in the secondary. West Virginia will be aggressive defensively and try to force Bercovici into bad throws, as the Mountaineers are second in the country in interceptions and fifth in total takeaways.

Although West Virginia’s defense is unusually solid for a Big 12 team, Arizona State has beaten teams with statistically good defenses this season. When it comes down to it, this just does not seem like the type of football game that will be decided by smashmouth defense. If the Sun Devils can avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to win this game. I have them for 17 points.

My Pick: 35-31 Arizona State

Thank you to everyone who has read any of my bowl game previews this season. As longtime readers know, bowl season is when Around The Corn Sports Blog really began to take off back in 2009. As we look towards what should be a great 2016, please continue to come back and check out what the site has to offer. I have no plans of shutting down the blog any time soon, and may even have some exciting new things in store for this year.

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