2017 TaxSlayer Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl Preview

December 29, 2017

As we near the final full weekend of the 2017-2018 college football bowl season, Colin still leads the Von Hugendong group.

Could we have a tape-to-tape leader for the first time in the bowl group’s history?

Only time will tell, but there are still a handful of games that could shake things up. Let’s take a look at several of those games.

Here are the bowl matchups taking place on December 30.

TaxSlayer Bowl

Louisville vs. #23 Mississippi State (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Many people were rooting hard for the Bulldogs when they took on Alabama back on Veteran’s Day, and Mississippi State nearly knocked off the Crimson Tide, failing to set up a chance to tie the game on a last second heave as time expired. As that may be the one Bulldogs game fans outside of the southeastern United States saw this season, there may be some false confidence being placed on Mississippi State for this bowl game. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they lost their quarterback in the Egg Bowl two weeks after the Alabama game to a nasty knee injury. At the time, Nick Fitzgerald led his team in rushing and passing yards on the season. In other words, the Bulldogs lost their most dynamic playmaker in its final regular season contest.

The Bulldogs will also be without former head coach Dan Mullen, who will be going back to Florida to coach the Gators next season. Interim head coach Greg Knox will look to keep pace with one of the country’s top offenses in Louisville without his own top playmaker on offense. This one could be a struggle for the Bulldogs, unless Louisville simply does not want to be playing in this game. I don’t see that being the case, and as a result I’ve got 38 points on the Cardinals.

My Pick: 35-21 Louisville

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Iowa State vs. #20 Memphis (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET – ABC)

Both of these programs have had a very good year, and the opportunity to cap off the season with a victory would be a nice feather in the cap. Memphis has the luxury of playing right in its own backyard, and since the Tigers will be playing a Power 5 opponent, the fans should be out in full force. The Tigers lead the AAC in total offense this season, so in a plot twist, it isn’t the Big 12 school that would love to engage in a shootout in this one. Riley Ferguson has plenty of weapons around him on offense and if he plays well, has the ability to slice and dice Iowa State’s solid pass defense.

The Cyclones may be known for their defensive prowess this season, but the offense is full of guys that were overlooked and play with a chip on their shoulder. Exhibit A is quarterback Kyle Kempt, who has seemingly been around the country and back before winding up in Ames. Kempt has the ability to slice and dice just as well as Ferguson does for the Tigers, so this game could very well turn into a back-and-forth offensive battle. Although the Cyclones have played well against the best competition in the Big 12 this season, I think the Tigers will be excited to play in front of a home crowd so I see them winning in close fashion. I have Memphis for 17 points.

My Pick: 35-31 Memphis

Playstation Fiesta Bowl

#9 Penn State vs. #11 Washington (Saturday, 4 PM ET – ESPN)

Not surprisingly, the Fiesta Bowl is a monster matchup between two teams that, while obviously not deserving of a Playoff spot, are capable of beating any of the four teams playing in those games this season. Penn State’s offense has been tough to stop this season, and in this game we’ll get the opportunity to see Saquon Barkley go up against the nation’s top run defense. Barkley has actually been held in check this year by the best defenses he has gone up against, so if the Huskies can get a push on the line then it could be tough sledding for the Nittany Lions.

Offensively, the Huskies have been a bit of a different story. Once an improving offense under Jake Browning, Washington seems to have taken a slight step back this season. It’s not that Browning has been ineffective (with an 18 to 5 TD-to-INT ratio there are many teams that would love his production), but the Huskies were expected to take a step forward in order to compete for another Playoff bid this season. That didn’t happen, and instead the Huskies will try to prove that they are part of that “second group” of teams nationally after the top four. Unfortunately for Chris Petersen’s squad, I think that Penn State will produce just enough points to win in the desert. I have the Nittany Lions for 24 points.

My Pick: 27-23 Penn State

Capital One Orange Bowl

#10 Miami (FL) vs. #6 Wisconsin (Saturday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

Wisconsin will look to rumble and tumble to victory against Miami’s Chain Gang defense, which should produce plenty of good hits and potentially some chippiness between these two teams. The Badgers have posted good defensive numbers as well, so the potential for this one to be a low scoring game is definitely there. Miami needs balance to move the football on Wisconsin’s defense. Against Ohio State, the Badgers did well against J.T. Barrett but had no answer for the two-headed rushing attack that the Buckeyes threw at them. Hurricanes leading rusher Travis Homer must have a good outing to soften up the coverage and help out Malik Rosier.

The only loss of the season for the Badgers was also the only game of the season in which they failed to gain at least 100 yards on the ground. Miami won all three of its games in which the opponent gained at least 200 yards on the ground and held those opponents to under 24 points. In other words, Miami may allow Wisconsin to do what it does best and still come out of this one victorious. That is exactly what I think is going to happen in the Orange Bowl, which is why I have the Hurricanes for 22 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-24 Miami (FL)

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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