Bowl season is officially in full swing, and before New Year's Eve rolls around, there will be seven more exciting matchups across the college football world. Kendall Hunter, Mikel Leshoure and Robert Griffin III highlight a slew of exciting young skill players who will take to the field over the next 36 hours.
The only sure thing about bowls is that they are entirely unpredictable: Witness Iowa's 27-24 win over Missouri in the Insight Bowl, after losing three straight games and a pair of offensive studs coming into the contest. Since half the fun of the season is trying to predict them anyway, though, here are previews and predictions for each of the bowl games that will be played Wednesday and Thursday.
The Terps have to be the favorites in this one, although it could still go either way. Maryland rolled to an 8-4 record, largely on the strength of junior receiver Torrey Smith. Smith needed only 65 receptions to tally 1,045 yards and score 12 times, and his all-around skill set will require double-teams if ECU wants to slow him down. They do not have anyone to defend him one on one.
The defense for Maryland will have to deal with Dominique Davis, the junior quarterback for the Pirates who threw for very nearly 3,700 yards this year and racked up 36 touchdown tosses. In one two-week stretch, Davis totaled 744 yards and 10 touchdowns without throwing a pick. The defense is so bad, though, that the Pirates went 1-1 in those games. Bet on the over in this one, and bet on Maryland.
Prediction: 45-37 Maryland
This game, not unlike the Military Bowl, pits two high-octane offenses against one another. Illinois relies on the running game, wherein Mikel Leshoure has over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Baylor, though, prefers a passing attack centered upon sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III. He has almost 3,200 passing yards on the year, and has added nearly 600 with his feet.
The crowd could be a factor in this one. It is always an interesting dynamic in games (and this has come to be the case in most bowls, really, at least prior to New Year's Eve) where one team has a virtual home game. Illinois travels well, though, which should slice into any presumed advantage for Baylor. This is another game where there is no reason not to expect a bunch of points.
Prediction: 36-33 Baylor
If Oklahoma State had pulled out just one of their two heart-breaking home losses (the one on Nov. 27 against Oklahoma leaves an especially bitter taste), they would probably be staring at a BCS berth right now. As it is, they will have to settle for knocking around a lesser foe on Wednesday, as they take on Arizona.
The weapons are ridiculous for the Cowboys: Brandon Weeden has over 4,000 passing yards, Kendall Hunter has easily eclipsed 1,500 on the ground and Justin Blackmon cruised right past both 100 receptions and 1,600 yards receiving. They cannot stop much of anyone, having surrendered 28 or more points seven times this season, but the Wildcats are not much of anyone to stop. This game looks to be one-sided.
Prediction: 30-13 Oklahoma State
The Military Bowl being out of the way, we can finally turn our attention to the grand-daddy of all bowls named after our fighting men and women, the Armed Forces Bowl. This year, it pits Army and SMU. Two guesses whom the crowd will prefer.
The Black Knights are the 10th-best rushing team in the nation, averaging over 250 yards on the ground per game. Six players had at least 200 yards rushing. Meanwhile, June Jones (who famously succeeded with the pass-happy spread offense in Hawaii) has the Mustangs throwing the ball all over the lot even as Zach Line proves himself a highly capable runner. Talk about a couple teams with diametrically opposed philosophies.
Prediction: 24-16 SMU
In a matchup between the Big 12 and the Big East this season, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Big East is the favorite. Such is the case here, as Kansas State has to be the presumptive winner unless/until it doesn't happen. Daniel Thomas is a really solid runner who runs with punch, and the Wildcats rode him to nearly 1,500 yards.
Syracuse's strength is a defense that ranked 13th in the country in points allowed, which is great, because defense is often at a premium in these lesser bowls. Unfortunately, the odds of that unit stopping Thomas and K-State all day are not good.
Prediction: 17-6 Kansas State
Both of these teams have the same essential identity: they're average. They play well and beat bad teams; they play poorly and lose to good teams. They pass a little bit better than they run; they defend a little bit better than they actually move the ball. It could be a thoroughly boring matchup.
North Carolina has to be wondering what might have been this season, but as it is, they have no good wins and a couple of really embarrassing losses. Tennessee has faced better competition, and though they haven't necessarily played better (or even as well) against them, that counts for just enough.
Prediction: 27-21 Tennessee
Despite the preponderance of available holidays (four or more within an eight-day window), the organizers of this bowl continue to place it on a decidedly average day each year. I just can't understand it.
This one will be a nice laugher to cap the night, though, as there is no earthly way Washington ought to be able to hang with Nebraska. Roy Helu, the Huskers senior running back, has a shade over 1,200 yards rushing this season—in 177 attempts. That's preposterous. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored 11 times.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker has actually hurt his draft stock with an up-and-down season, so this is his last chance to prove the NFL should still consider him an elite prospect. He might do fine, but the Huskies will not win.
Prediction: 28-14 Nebraska