2018 Belk, Peach, Arizona, Cotton and Orange Bowl Preview

December 29, 2018

We’ve finally made it – CFP Saturday.

Already there has been enough conversation to fill an entire season’s worth of network talk shows, so today’s previews will be brief. And in actuality, I’m running behind and want to watch the games, too, not just write about them.

In Bowl Mania news, yours truly has taken his rightful place at the top of the Von Hugendong group after The Pirate took the booty in San Antonio on Friday night. The lead is slim but I’m feeling good about my chances of being in contention for win as the bowl season winds down.

Saturday is more than just the two Playoff games, so college football fans will be able to sit back and relax with tune up games prior to the marquee matchups.

Let’s take a look at the slate of games for the last college football Saturday of the year.

Belk Bowl

South Carolina vs. Virginia (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ABC)

Bronco Mendenhall has done a tremendous job turning Virginia into a program that looks poised to be a part of the postseason on an annual basis. His mantra is defense first, so expect the Cavaliers to look to control the clock on offense and try to find creative ways to keep South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley off balance.

If Bentley is able to spread the defense out, the Gamecocks will win this game. Virginia won’t be able to engage in a shootout and while South Carolina’s defense isn’t great, Will Muschamp still knows how to coach that side of the ball. I have the Gamecocks for 12 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 24-20 South Carolina

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

#7 Michigan vs. #10 Florida (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the bowl season outside of the Playoff games was diminished somewhat by the number of Michigan players that have decided to sit out this one. After watching what happened to West Virginia’s vaunted offense against Syracuse on Friday afternoon, it’s clear that these voluntary scratches will affect Michigan’s ability to both move the football on the ground and perhaps stop Florida from doing it as well.

I still have the Wolverines in Bowl Mania, but I dropped the confidence level slightly to 26 points. If Shea Patterson is unable to soften up the defense with his arm, Florida could bottle up Michigan’s entire offensive attack and make this game a defensive struggle. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because it would be a snoozefest.

My Pick: 27-23 Michigan

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Arkansas State vs. Nevada (Saturday, 1:15 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

Good luck trying to find this game – CBS Sports Network is for the privileged college football fan (i.e. non-streaming service user) and it’s really a shame that the kids in this game won’t be watched by the entire country as a result. Both teams boast a strong offensive attack that average at least 440 yards per game, so there should be plenty of scoring in this one.

Both the Red Wolves and Wolfpack are anchored offensively by stud freshman running backs and dual threat senior quarterbacks, leaving little to separate the two teams unless you’ve been watching the Mountain West and Sun Belt Conferences all season. By the stat line, Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen has been one of the best in college football and given that, I’m siding with the Red Wolves in this one, but only for 3 points.

My Pick: 41-35 Arkansas State

Goodyear Cotton Bowl

#2 Clemson vs. #3 Notre Dame (Saturday, 4 PM ET – ESPN)

Unless you’re living under a rock, by now you’ve heard that Clemson will be without star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for this game, a blow to a Tigers defense that nationally is ranked third in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. The absence of Lawrence will be felt – he’s a future first round Draft pick and Notre Dame establishing the running game is key to its offensive success. But will this news drastically affect who wins this game?

The answer, in my opinion, is “no”. Lawrence is flanked by two other future NFL players on the Clemson defensive line and this game is really more about whether Notre Dame’s defense, which has been good but against suspect competition, can stop the other Lawrence and his cannon for a right arm. The Fighting Irish will struggle with that and Clemson will move on. I have 38 points of confidence in Bowl Mania on this pick.

My Pick: 34-21 Clemson

Capital One Orange Bowl

#1 Alabama vs. #4 Oklahoma (Saturday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

Like Clemson, Alabama’s suspension of three players prior to this game has sent the media into a tizzy re-analysing all of the possibilities. The fact is, only one player was a starter (left guard Deonte Brown) and he had been dealing with an injury that may have kept him out of the game anyway. Unfortunately for Alabama, the Sooners are good enough offensively that even a perfect game by the Crimson Tide’s offense may not be enough.

Of the two Playoff games, I see this one being far more likely to end with a victory by the underdog. Oklahoma has been in this position before, albeit not with Kyler Murray, but the Heisman Trophy winner is capable of turning a game on its head and can do things no other player in college football can do. Alabama’s defense showed chinks in the armor against Georgia in the SEC title game, something that was surely studied in-depth by Lincoln Riley and his coaching staff. But even with all of this considered, I am not ready to throw 40 points on a team that is No. 92 in the country in defensive efficiency. Take those points and put them on the Crimson Tide.

My Pick: 42-35 Alabama

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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