Will the Chick-fil-A Bowl be Johnny Manziel's swan swan at A&M?
The college football bowl schedule heats up in earnest over the next week, with high-profile schools and top-25 matchups taking the stage. These games may not get as much press as the more ballyhooed New Year's Day games, but most are of a similar caliber.
Below are the spreads and predictions for all the remaining pre-New Year's bowls, with expanded analysis on three of the best games:
|Hawaii: Boise State vs. Oregon State||Dec. 24, 8 PM||ORSU, -3||BSU, 24-21|
|Little Caesar's Pizza: Pitt vs. Bowling Green||Dec. 26, 6:00 PM||BGSU, -4.5||BGSU, 28-24|
|Poinsettia: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois||Dec. 26, 9:30 PM||NIU, -1.5||NIU, 38-31|
|Military: Marshall vs. Maryland||Dec. 27, 2:30 PM||MRSH, -2.5||MD, 24-20|
|Texas: Syracuse vs. Minnesota||Dec. 27, 6:00 PM||MINN, -4.5||MINN, 17-10|
|Fight Hunger: BYU vs. Washington||Dec. 27, 9:30 PM||WASH, -3||WASH, 31-27|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Notre Dame||Dec. 28, 12:00 PM||ND, -14||ND, 38-14|
|Belk: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina||Dec. 28, 3:20 PM||UNC, -2||CIN, 21-16|
|Russell Athletic: Miami vs. Louisville||Dec. 28, 6:45 PM||LOU, -3||LOU, 31-21|
|Buffalo Wild Wings: Michigan vs. Kansas State||Dec. 28, 10:15 PM||KSU, -4||KSU, 20-10|
|Armed Forces: Middle Tennessee vs. Navy||Dec. 30, 11:45 AM||NAVY, -6||NAVY, 27-23|
|Music City: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech||Dec. 30, 3:15 PM||MISS, -3||GT, 34-30|
|Alamo: Oregon vs. Texas||Dec. 30, 6:45 PM||ORE, -13.5||ORE, 39-38|
|Holiday: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech||Dec. 30, 10:15 PM||ASU, -14||ASU, 41-35|
|AdvoCare V100: Arizona vs. Boston College||Dec. 31, 12:30 PM||ARI, -7.5||BC, 28-27|
|Sun: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA||Dec. 31, 2:00 PM||UCLA, -7||UCLA, 20-17|
|Liberty: Rice vs. Mississippi State||Dec. 31, 4:00 PM||MSST, -7||MSST, 19-16|
|Chick-fil-A: Texas A&M vs. Duke||Dec. 31, 8:00 PM||TA&M, -11.5||TA&M, 44-28|
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan vs. Kansas State
Michigan nearly salvaged a disappointing season with a monumental upset of Ohio State, but the Wolverines came up a two-point conversion short. Now, they must gear up for a much lower-profile opponent, a Kansas State team that many expected to miss the postseason following the graduation of Collin Klein and a season-opening loss to FCS foe North Dakota State.
However, the Wildcats have rebounded from the opening-day ignominy, and have actually exceeded expectations. Admittedly, Kansas State has only beaten one winning team, a 49-26 romp over 7-5 Texas Tech. Still, the Wildcats match up favorably with the 7-5 Wolverines, and according to SI.com's Colin Becht, could tee off on Devin Gardner:
Keep an eye on: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, who could be poised for a big day against a porous Michigan offensive line. Mueller's 11.5 sacks are tied for sixth nationally, and he'll face a Wolverines' offense that allows 2.92 sacks per game, 108th in the country. That could be amplified by Michigan's uncertainty under center: Turnover-prone Devin Gardner has been hampered by turf toe, meaning true freshman Shane Morris could make his first career start. Wildcats wide receiver Tyler Lockett, the Big 12's leader in all-purpose yards, could also be primed for a standout performance, though he is likely to see plenty of second-team All-Big Ten cornerback Blake Countess.
The Wolverines have played to the level of their competition for the majority of the season. Michigan may be the more talented team on paper, but look for Kansas State to exploit the leaky Wolverine offense and squeak out a victory.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas
Mack Brown's swan song comes with Texas as a significant underdog to Oregon. If the Longhorns are to overcome the odds and win as two-touchdown underdogs, it starts with mucking up the Ducks' lightning fast offense.
Texas played similar teams in Baylor and Texas Tech in conference play, and held the two teams to 46 points combined. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota presents a different challenge than anyone the Longhorns have faced, but it's at least reassuring that they've had success against turbo-paced offenses.
One common theme in Oregon's two losses has been success on the ground. The Ducks gave up 206 yards and four touchdowns to Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and 157 yards to Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. Unfortunately, Texas will be missing its starting right tackle and a valuable returner/backup running back due to academic ineligibility:
RT @gkketch: OB has confirmed that RB Daje Johnson and OT Kennedy Estelle will miss the upcoming Alamo Bowl game against Oregon.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) December 20, 2013
De'Anthony Thomas infamously stated that the Rose Bowl was "no big deal," so it's a bit alarming to think what he and the Ducks think of the Alamo Bowl. Still, so long as Oregon shows up with a reasonable effort, their far superior talent should win out.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Duke
Johnny Manziel likely didn't envision his final college game taking place before New Year's day, but the Aggies were victimized by a brutal SEC schedule. A&M"s four losses to Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Missouri came against opponents with just seven combined defeats themselves.
If the Aggies have faced a gauntlet of top-notch competitions, the Duke Blue Devils have barely seen any similar competition. Duke was crushed by Florida State in the ACC Championship game, and the Blue Devils do not own a win over a currently-ranked team. According to the Associated Press, Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin is down to playing the history card to motivate his troops:
"If we can win this game, it'll be the first time in the history of this program we've won three bowl games in a row," Sumlin said. "That's significant. There's been a lot of football games played and a lot of guys come through this room who can't say they've done that. That can be real special for our seniors and it can really propel us in the offseason."
Look for the Blue Devils to try and control the clock with rushing quarterback Brandon Connette and its stable of running backs against a Texas A&M defense that finished 112th in rushing yards allowed. Defensively, Duke may have a chance to contain matchup nightmare Mike Evans with a pair of All-ACC defensive backs, cornerback Ross Cockrell and safety Jeremy Cash.
Nevertheless, Johnny Football and the Aggies offense may be too much for Duke to hold down all game, much like Jameis Winston and Florida State eventually burst out. Expect Manziel to end his college career on a high note.