2018 Military, Sun, Redbox, Liberty, Holiday and Gator Bowl Preview

December 31, 2018

Now that the semifinal Playoff games have been played, the casual college football fan may be incorrectly assuming that there are no more bowl games until the beginning of next year.

But in actuality, New Year’s Eve is a college football fan’s dream, with six bowl games throughout the day to take us right into the New Year. It is the busiest day of the bowl season since the mania kicked off on December 15.

Speaking of Bowl Mania, in the Von Hugendong group I used the Playoff games to my advantage, putting a lot of points on Alabama and Clemson to advance. Heading into the last day of 2018, I currently sit at the top of the group. Hopefully things go my way on my birthday as well.

Let’s take a look at my birthday presents to be played on Monday.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman

Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Monday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

A rematch of the 2014 edition of the Military Bowl pits Luke Fickell’s Bearcats against Justin Fuente’s Hokies, where Cincinnati will look to win at least 11 games in a season for just the third time in school history. In order to do so, Fickell’s defense will need to be up to the task of stopping a Virginia Tech offense that came alive in the final two games of the season behind quarterback Ryan Willis, who has been playing in place of the injured Josh Jackson since late September. Jackson has been confirmed not available for this game.

While the Bearcats boast the No. 7 rush defense in the country and has shut out two opponents this season, Cincinnati hasn’t really shown up offensively against its best competition and that remains a question mark in this game. Virginia Tech is likely to get some positive production with Willis running the offense and if the Bearcats can’t respond, it could be a long day for them. Fuente’s team will put up a fight, but I think that the Bearcats will indeed notch victory number eleven. I have Cincinnati for 6 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 24-20 Cincinnati

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. Stanford (Monday, 2 PM ET – CBS)

It was a somewhat disappointing season for the Cardinal, who were never truly a threat to contend for the Pac-12 title despite having the pieces on offense to get the job done. Defensively, David Shaw’s team has been poor at stopping the pass, which is a problem against many Pac-12 teams. But against Pitt, that won’t be as much of an issue as the Panthers will look to get things done offensively with the ground game. Stanford is better at stopping the run and should give Pat Narduzzi’s offense trouble.

Offensively, the Cardinal will be without 2017 Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, who has decided to sit out this game in preparation of the NFL Draft. While having Love would definitely be a positive for Stanford, he has been battling injuries throughout this season and was limited to 10 games and held to under 800 rushing yards this season. Backups Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights are capable of picking up the slack. Additionally, this has really been K.J. Costello’s team in 2018, as the Cardinal feature a dangerous air attack that could really blow this game wide open. I don’t expect the Cardinal to have any problem winning this game and have them for 34 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 35-21 Stanford

Redbox Bowl

Michigan State vs. Oregon (Monday, 3 PM ET – FOX)

The news that junior quarterback Justin Herbert will stay another year at Oregon has Ducks fans excited about the potential for 2019, but it also has the defensive staff of Michigan State losing sleep at night. Herbert has all the tools to take advantage of the weaker portion of Michigan State’s defense, which is tops nationally against the run. Herbert’s success will likely determine whether Oregon can dictate the tempo of this game.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, not only does Oregon have Herbert, but a pair of freshman running backs in CJ Verdell and Travis Dye that will be a true test for Michigan State’s terrorizing defensive front. The two play beyond their years and Oregon was caught for the third fewest tackles for loss in the Pac-12 this season. Unless Mark Dantonio’s anemic offense, which averages just 19.8 points per game, comes alive in a way that hasn’t been seen since the non-conference schedule, Oregon’s offense will be too much for the Spartans. I have the Ducks for 28 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-20 Oregon

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Oklahoma State vs. #23 Missouri (Monday, 3:45 PM ET – ESPN)

This game is bound to produce plenty of scoring drives, as neither team has much to write home about defensively and both feature stars at the quarterback position. Missouri’s in particular, Drew Lock, could be the first signal-caller off the board in next year’s NFL Draft and will look to use this game as another opportunity to impress scouts before the Combine. Lock makes good decisions with the football and Oklahoma State has intercepted quarterbacks fewer times than any other team in the Big 12 this season, so the Cowboys likely won’t be able to count on takeaways being the X-factor in this game.

For Oklahoma State, Taylor Cornelius has stepped into the starting role nicely this season and is just as capable as Lock at slicing up the opposing defense in this one. Unfortunately for Cornelius, the rushing attack could be stunted by the absence of Justice Hill, who was injured near the end of the regular season and will not risk further injury in anticipation of the Draft, opting to sit out this game. Missouri’s attack is bolstered by two backs in Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett that have combined for over 1,700 yards rushing this season. While Lock will be the focal point of the Oklahoma State defense, it will be Rountree and Crockett’s efforts that will ultimately do too much damage for the Cowboys to make up for offensively. I have the Tigers in a close one for 20 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 49-45 Missouri

San Diego Credit County Union Holiday Bowl

#17 Utah vs. #22 Northwestern (Monday, 7 PM ET – FS1)

The Rose Bowl consolation game, featuring the losers of the Big Ten and Pac-12 title games, could be defensively dominated if Kyle Whittingham’s team has its way. The Utes are offensively challenged with Josh Shelley at the quarterback position, primarily due to experience. The bowl practices may have provided some relief for this, but Northwestern is good enough defensively to give the young Shelley problems with creative blitz packages. Shelley will be baited into throwing downfield but if he is able to do so, the Wildcats may end up getting burned several times on Monday night.

Offensively, Northwestern has had its own issues but have found a future star in running back Isaiah Bowser. The freshman is a tough runner who has shown the ability to come out of the backfield and be a competent receiver as well, something that will likely need to be done in order for the Wildcats to continue moving the football. This game may not feature a ton of scoring drives, but it’ll be close and both coaches know how to prepare their football team for the postseason. As much as I would like to see the Big Ten pull this one out, Coach Whittingham’s bowl record is hard to ignore (11-1 overall), so I have the Utes for 18 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 20-16 Utah

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

North Carolina State vs. #19 Texas A&M (Monday, 7:30 PM ET – ESPN)

This is an incredibly difficult game to predict, given that these teams are very similar to each other. Both have talented quarterbacks in North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. Finley is as experienced as they come and is one of the better pure passers in the college game. What Mond lacks in overall experience, he makes up for with creativity as a dual-threat option. This one has the potential to be a shootout given that both the Wolfpack and Aggies are the worst in their respective conference in terms of yardage allowed per game through the air.

The X-factor will ultimately be which team is able to win the battle in the trenches. Both teams feature a unit that is in the top 15 nationally at stopping the run. Texas A&M has allowed 35 sacks this season compared to North Carolina State’s nine, suggesting that Mond’s creativity could be hampered by poor protection. If the Wolfpack keep Mond running for his life, that is their best opportunity to win this game. However, I think Mond will be great in this game and lead the Aggies to a well-deserved victory in an entertaining night cap on New Year’s Eve. I have Texas A&M for 33 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 42-37 Texas A&M

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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