2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl and Alamo Bowl Preview

December 28, 2023

The latter half of Thursday brings a couple of the best bowl matchups of the season outside of the CFP games.

Let’s take a look at the evening session for December 28.

Pop-Tarts Bowl

#18 North Carolina State vs. #25 Kansas State (Thursday, 5:45 PM ET – ESPN)

Both the Wolfpack and Wildcats lost a number of offensive pieces to the transfer portal ahead of this game, but possess enough depth to keep this one interesting. North Carolina State was fortunate enough to have not one, but two starting quarterbacks with experience on its roster this season. Although Brennan Armstrong lost his job briefly during the regular season, he took it back for the final three games and was clinical. Kansas State’s defense has been solid this season but will have its hands full against the feisty Armstrong.

Kansas State will be led at quarterback by Avery Johnson, presumably their guy for the future following the departure of Will Howard (transfer portal). There isn’t a lot of film on Johnson yet, which could serve as an advantage for the Wildcats in this game. Additionally, lead back DJ Giddens is expected to play in this game and should help loosen up the Wolfpack defense for Johnson. Giddens will be the bell cow without Treshaun Ward, who racked up an additional 643 rushing yards to Giddens’ 1,075 this season. Despite the number of key players out, Chris Klieman excels in drawing up run-first game plans and the Wildcats can win this game on the ground.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 30-27 Kansas State

Bowl Mania Confidence: 28 points

Valero Alamo Bowl

#14 Arizona vs. #12 Oklahoma (Thursday, 9:15 PM ET – ESPN)

The post-Dillon Gabriel era begins for Oklahoma, which will be without its starting quarterback following Gabriel’s decision to transfer to Oregon. In Gabriel’s place will be freshman Jackson Arnold, looking to make a good impression on Brent Venables’ coaching staff ahead of the 2024 season. Though Arnold will theoretically be handed the keys to the country’s fourth most potent offense, that’s true only on paper. Much of the run production for the Sooners will be missing in this game, putting even more pressure on Arnold to be sharp in his first collegiate start.

Arizona already knows who its quarterback of the future will be, and he was excellent this season. Redshirt freshman Noah Fifita took great care of the football, throwing just five interceptions to 23 touchdowns. His QBR of 167.51 puts him amongst the best in the business nationally and he’ll likely show up on the short list for national awards heading into next season. The Wildcats are balanced offensively and even with Fifita, will mix in a healthy dose of the run game to keep Oklahoma on its toes defensively. This should be a back and forth game, but unless Arnold has a Miller Moss-esque performance in San Antonio, Arizona’s total package should be a bit too much for the depleted Sooners.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 35-27 Arizona

Bowl Mania Confidence: 11 points

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