College Football Bowl Picks 2022: Predictions for Most Underrated Games on Slate
The college football bowl season gives us a chance to celebrate teams that flew under the radar in the regular season.
The Duke Blue Devils were not in the national conversation much, but they were one of the most surprising teams in the ACC.
Duke plays the UCF Knights in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28. That game serves as an example of what the Blue Devils are building under first-year head coach Mike Elko.
Bowl season can also offer up some unusual matchups, like the Armed Forces Bowl between the Baylor Bears and Air Force Falcons.
Air Force could have the advantage Thursday because Baylor does not usually face the triple-option offense and the three-week crash course on defending it may not be good enough to slow down the Falcons.
Others can just be fun matchups between average Power Five schools, like the Gasparilla Bowl on Friday between the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Missouri Tigers.
All of these games set the stage for the more popular games that are played around New Year's Eve, including the College Football Playoff.
Military Bowl (UCF vs. Duke)
Duke reeled off four wins in its last five games to finish at 8-4 and with a 5-3 record in the ACC as Mike Elko did a fantastic job turning around the Blue Devils in one season.
UCF has been one of the Group of Five powers for quite some time. It was one win short of becoming the G5 entrant into the New Year's Six. The Knights lost to the Tulane Green Wave in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game.
Duke has the edge at quarterback with Riley Leonard, who has 2,794 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. The sophomore finished the regular season with 391 yards and four passing scores in a win over Wake Forest.
Duke may score too much for UCF to handle. The Knights lost backup quarterback Mikey Keene to the transfer portal, and starter John Rhys Plumlee has been dealing with injury issues.
Central Florida may have to use third-string signal-caller Thomas Castellanos, who struggled in the AAC title game before Plumlee came back in the second half.
The Knights also lost offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to North Carolina last week.
UCF will be at a disadvantage, but it still has some talented players to utilize and it is facing a Duke defense that allows 382.6 yards per game.
Duke should be the favored to win, but UCF coach Gus Malzahn could come up with a game plan that keeps the Knights competitive for four quarters.
Prediction: Duke 34, UCF 24
Armed Forces Bowl (Baylor vs. Air Force)
The Armed Forces Bowl presented the worst-case scenario for any Power Five team in a bowl game.
Baylor just struggled through a 6-6 season, and now it has to defend Air Force's triple-option for four quarters. To add to Baylor's misery, the game is being played inside longtime rival TCU's stadium.
Air Force went 9-3 and closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak as its defense stood out. The Falcons held their last four opponents to 25 points and give up 13.3 points and 256.4 yards per game.
Head coach Dave Aranda, one of the best defensive minds in the country, could make the difference for Baylor.
The Bears could have a few new wrinkles in their defense to slow down Brad Roberts and the Air Force offense. The running back has 15 rushing touchdowns and 1,612 rushing yards.
Air Force might bring an offensive wrinkle of its own to the field in Fort Worth, Texas. The Falcons threw for 252 yards in their win over the Louisville Cardinals at the First Responder Bowl last year.
Haaziq Daniels has had three 100-plus-yard passing games this season, and all of them took place in the first five games.
Baylor's offense can be explosive, though. The Bears scored over 30 in all of their six wins, but consistency has been a problem. The Bears won three games in a row from Oct. 22 to Nov. 5 and then lost their final three contests to Top 25 teams.
Air Force has been more consistent this season, and that may lead to a win for the Mountain West side.
Prediction: Air Force 20, Baylor 14
Gasparilla Bowl (Wake Forest vs. Missouri)
The Gasparilla Bowl has one of the best quarterback matchups of the early bowl season. Wake Forest's Sam Hartman will go up against Missouri's Brady Cook in a game that is evenly matched.
Wake averages 36.8 points per game, while Missouri put up 74 points in its last two games to win and become bowl-eligible.
Both defenses have not been great, which is why we could see a high-scoring affair between these ACC and SEC squads.
The two sides will also be without some players because of the transfer portal. Wake Forest's second-best running back, Christian Turner, is gone. Missouri's biggest portal loss was wide receiver Dominic Lovett.
However, the quarterbacks in Tampa remain the most important factors.
Hartman and Cook have had time to work with players in elevated roles in the buildup to the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
The two experienced signal-callers should put on a show against two average defenses, and that might lead to the highest-scoring game of bowl season.
Prediction: Wake Forest 41, Missouri 37