2017 Belk Bowl, Sun Bowl, Music City Bowl, Arizona Bowl and Cotton Bowl Preview

December 28, 2017

Heading into a holiday weekend, those taking the day off from work on Friday have the absolute green light from Around The Corn to sit around and do nothing but watch college football.

Five games in total are on the slate, the most since December 16.

Let’s take a look at the packed schedule of bowl games.

Belk Bowl

Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest (Friday, 1 PM ET – ESPN)

The Demon Deacons will be making just an hour and a half trip South for this game, meaning that the Wake Forest fans should be out in full force for this one. Texas A&M fans may be hard to come by in Charlotte, and not just because of the proximity to College Station, Texas. This season marks the first time since 2009 that the Aggies were not ranked at any point in the AP poll, just one of the many indicators that it was time for a change. The Aggies may have gotten their guy in Jimbo Fisher, but the loss of former head coach Kevin Sumlin has resulted in a lot of uncertainty on the current squad since Sumlin was let go at the end of November.

Defense was always an issue during Sumlin’s tenure, and in this game it may be the main reason the Aggies struggle to keep up. The Demon Deacons are led by a very capable dual threat quarterback in senior John Wolford, who has accounted for 35 of the team’s 50 touchdowns this season. Unless interim head coach Jeff Banks is able to light a fire under this Texas A&M team, Wake Forest is the better football team and should be more motivated to play well. The Aggies have no wins over teams with a winning record this season and I don’t think that changes in this one. I have Wake Forest for 20 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 34-23 Wake Forest

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Arizona State at #24 North Carolina State (Friday, 3 PM ET – CBS)

The Sun Devils must feel that they are part of the upper echelon of the college football world, because firing a head coach that spent six seasons with the program and had the best winning percentage since John Cooper in the mid-1980’s isn’t something that a mediocre football program would do. Oddly enough, Todd Graham will be finishing off his tenure with Arizona State by coaching its bowl game, setting up a “win one for The Gipper” type scenario.

Both the Sun Devils and Wolfpack can score a lot of points, but if North Carolina State wants to win this game its defense will need to show up. The Wolfpack have one of the most imposing defensive fronts in the country and can shut down Arizona State’s ability to run the ball. Rendering the Sun Devils one dimensional would be very helpful for the North Carolina State offense, which should be in good hands being led by Ryan Finley. The Arizona native is coming back close to home to play this bowl game, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a very effective day. The Sun Devils may play well in Coach Graham’s send off, but I still have the Wolfpack for 37 points.

My Pick: 42-38 North Carolina State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Kentucky vs. #21 Northwestern (Friday, 4:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Sometimes you look at bowl games and simply wonder how one or both of the teams in the game are actually being rewarded with a postseason opportunity. In the case of Kentucky, the previous statement applies. The 7-5 Wildcats have been on a slide as of late, finishing the regular season 1-3. Kentucky has not beaten a school located outside of the state of Tennessee since October 7, is ranked No. 10 in the SEC in total offense and No. 12 in total defense. In other words, there is going to need to be a lot of heart on the Wildcats sideline for them to have a shot at winning this game.

Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats are typically well prepared to play in bowl games, and the team is ranked in the top third of the Big Ten in total offense. Justin Jackson is a very talented running back and could have a big afternoon. As long as the Wildcats don’t turn the ball over and establish a balanced attack offensively, there isn’t any reason why superior talent won’t carry Northwestern to victory in this one. I’m confident in the Big Ten school and have 39 points on them to win this game.

My Pick: 38-21 Northwestern

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Utah State vs. New Mexico State (Friday, 5:30 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

In a day filled with Power 5 conference matchups, there is a strong likelihood that this game could get overlooked (it does not help that the game is on a channel that many people do not get). Utah State has employed a two quarterback system for most of the season not out of necessity, but by choice. Neither senior Kent Myers nor freshman Jordan Love has been able to separate himself from the other, so head coach Matt Wells has given the ball to both for a fair amount of snaps. Love has played the vast majority of the second half of the season, however, and considering that he has years left with the program, expect that he will see plenty of the field in this one.

New Mexico State does not share Utah State’s struggles at the quarterback position, as its signal caller is one of the best in the Sun Belt. Senior Tyler Rogers has attempted 512 passes this season, but is behind just Mason Rudolph in terms of average passing yards per game with 347.7. If Rogers can navigate Utah State’s decent pass defense, I don’t think there is enough on the other side for Utah State to keep up. The only way Utah State wins this game is if the total points scored in this game is under 40. I don’t see that happening, so I’ve got New Mexico State for 3 points.

My Pick: 34-28 New Mexico State

Goodyear Cotton Bowl

#5 Ohio State vs. #8 Southern Cal (Friday, 8:30 PM ET – ESPN)

The game of the day takes place in Arlington, Texas, where the Buckeyes and Trojans will duel to prove who may have been deserving of that final Playoff spot that was given to Alabama. Lots of NFL talent will be on display in this game, and the opportunity to go against one another has served as motivation not to sit on the sideline. For Southern Cal, most of that talent is on the offensive side of the ball, where Sam Darnold will look to slice and dice the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes are stacked with pro talent on the defensive side of the football, however, so Darnold will need to play well for the Trojans to be effective.

If Darnold can find his tight ends in open space downfield, it could be a long game for the Buckeyes. Losing the big guys was one of the main problems defensively for Ohio State in its head scratching loss to Iowa in the middle of the season, but film of that game likely provided the Trojans with their game plan for this one. If the Buckeyes can shut down that aspect of the Southern Cal offense, I think there is enough talent up front for Ohio State to get adequate pressure on Darnold and force him into mistakes that he has shown he makes from time to time. Ohio State’s offense remains a question mark as well, but if the running game is used effectively it should open up lanes for receivers to get open and make J.T. Barrett’s job much easier. I see this game resembling last year’s Rose Bowl quite closely, where the team with the ball last may end up winning. I have the Buckeyes for 33 points in Bowl Mania, but it will be a closer game than the high number of confidence points would suggest.

My Pick: 42-39 Ohio State

If you have interest in offering your insight for any of the bowl games this season, shoot me an email at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com or reach out on one of ATC’s social media sites (Facebook, Twitter). I’d be happy to accommodate.

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