Predictions for Every 2017-18 College Football Bowl Game

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2017

Predictions for Every 2017-18 College Football Bowl Game

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The 2017 college football season is coming to a close, and we're sending the campaign into the sunset with the final predictions of the year.

    It's OK to shed a tear or two. But don't spend too long feeling bad; there's plenty of football to play.

    Pertinent injuries are mentioned and could affect the predictions at a later date. For instance, if Will Grier is available, West Virginia's chances of winning increase substantially. We're using the latest report as the expectation in those cases.

    Another possible wrinkle is whether top draft prospects declare for the NFL and elect to skip the postseason. Again, we're operating under the most recent available information.

    The games are organized chronologically, and all 40 matchups that involve Football Bowl Subdivision schools are predicted.

Pre-Christmas Bowls, Part I

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    Thomas Boyd/Associated Press

    R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 16, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Troy isn't flashy, but Neal Brown's team steadily won games with its methodical offense and bendy defense. North Texas can flip the matchup if quarterback Mason Fine connects on a few explosive gains. Otherwise, the stingiest red-zone defense in the country will propel Troy to a tight victory.

    Prediction: Troy 28, North Texas 23


    AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 16, 2:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

    In years past, Western Kentucky's balanced offense demanded attention during the regular season. That wasn't the case with the 2017 squad, which labored to 6-6 with the worst running game in the FBS. However, the matchup is favorable for quarterback Mike White and the country's No. 9 pass attack. Georgia State has ceded a 138.6 rating, which is 97th nationally.

    Prediction: Western Kentucky 27, Georgia State 17


    Las Vegas Bowl: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    In the seven contests Justin Herbert started this season, Oregon averaged 550.3 yards and 52.1 points. During the five games he missed due to a broken collarbone, those numbers plummeted to 320 and 15, respectively. Boise State sports a formidable defense, but a healthy Herbert with Oregon's running backs will win out.

    Prediction: Oregon 31, Boise State 26


    Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 16, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    If both offenses are at their best, the New Mexico Bowl could turn into a touchdown party that approaches 80 combined points. However, Marshall hasn't shown its potential consistently enough. Colorado State can lean on running back Dalyn DawkinsMarshall was 1-4 when allowing more than four yards per carrywhile getting some splash plays from Michael Gallup on the outside.

    Prediction: Colorado State 27, Marshall 23


    Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 16, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    The status of wideout Richie James will have a considerable impact on this contest. Unfortunately for Middle Tennessee, coach Rick Stockstill said he's not overly optimistic James can return, per Erik Bacharach of the Daily News Journal. The Blue Raiders won't quite keep up with the pass-happy Arkansas State attack.

    Prediction: Arkansas State 38, Middle Tennessee 30


    Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Akron (7-6) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)

    Game info: Tuesday, Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Akron deserves a golf clap for reaching the MAC Championship Game. Still, the reason for not being able to trust the Zips is simple: Opponents averaged 529.5 yards in wins over Akron compared to just 348.7 in losses. Lane Kiffin and Co. will cruise at home.

    Prediction: Florida Atlantic 51, Akron 24


    DXL Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)

    Game info: Wednesday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Incoming SMU coach Sonny Dykes will lead the Mustangs in the postseason game, according to Adam Grosbard of the Dallas Morning News. As if that's not interesting enough, he coached Louisiana Tech from 2010 to 2012. We cautiously favor SMU's talent over Tech's stability, but that situation could swing the Frisco Bowl.

    Prediction: SMU 31, Louisiana Tech 27

Pre-Christmas Bowls, Part II

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Temple (6-6) vs. Florida International (8-4)

    Game info: Thursday, Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    FIU's 8-4 record in Butch Davis' first season is tremendously impressive. However, storylines at FAU, Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF and USF overshadowed the Panthers. A loss in a bowl game wouldn't help. FIU has typically played poorly away from home, and Temple quarterback Frank Nutile has settled what was an inconsistent offense since taking over the starting job.

    Prediction: Temple 27, FIU 20


    Bahamas Bowl: UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 22, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    UAB is arguably the best story of 2017. Good stories don't require happy endings, though. The defense was relatively stingy all year, but the Blazers struggled when the offense labored to run the ball. Ohio's 10th-ranked run defense will be the difference.

    Prediction: Ohio 27, UAB 23


    Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 22, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    The big unknown is whether Josh Allen will play. Wyoming's quarterback said he won't unless he's 100 percent healthy, per Brandon Foster of the Casper Star-Tribune. The Pokes mustered 24 points in two games without Allen late in the year. Given that uncertainty, we'll give the early nod to Shane Morris and the surging CMU offense.

    Prediction: Central Michigan 24, Wyoming 20


    Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 23, noon ET (ESPN)

    Last year, USF edged South Carolina in an 85-point Birmingham Bowl. There could be much of the same in 2017 opposite Texas Tech. Both teams boast a top-20 offense, but USF has a reliable running game and a more efficient defense. Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers will end his outstanding college career with a victory.

    Prediction: USF 41, Texas Tech 31


    Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State (10-2) vs. Army (9-3)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Do you like fast football games? This is the ground-pounding matchup for you. SDSU's Rashaad Penny is the nation's only 2,000-yard rusher to date, and Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has only attempted 40 passes all season. But the Aztecs rank 16th in yards allowed per carry, while the Black Knights are 99th. Army can't throw to catch up once SDSU pulls ahead.

    Prediction: San Diego State 28, Army 17


    Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State (8-4) vs. Toledo (11-2)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    In a rematch of an enjoyable 2016 bowl meeting, Toledo will challenge an Appalachian State team that surrendered just 30 points over its last three games. App State has a potential star in cornerback Clifton Duck, but Toledo's receiving group is too deep for the Mountaineers to adequately handle.

    Prediction: Toledo 45, Appalachian State 31


    Hawai'i Bowl: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)

    Game info: Sunday, Dec. 24, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Houston gives up plenty of yards, but it's rarely in an explosive manner. The Cougars ceded just 18 gains of 30-plus all season. Fresno State's defense sparked its remarkable one-year turnaround, but the offense was averageas well as inefficient in the red zone. Houston will do more with its scoring chances.

    Prediction: Houston 27, Fresno State 19

Dec. 26-28 Bowls

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)

    Game info: Tuesday, Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    West Virginia receiver David Sills told reporters he's unsure quarterback Will Grier (broken finger) will recover in time for the bowl game. And if the quarterback is out, we can't trust the Mountaineers offense. Utah is also dealing with injury concerns behind center, but the difference between Tyler Huntley and Troy Williams isn't major as long as the Utes ride Zack Moss anyway.

    Prediction: Utah 31, West Virginia 24


    Quick Lane Bowl: Duke (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4)

    Game info: Tuesday, Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Even during a six-game losing streak, Duke's defense was competitive. The problem was a disappearing act by the offense. But it seems the unit has recovered, and Northern Illinois' defense has allowed two yards per snap more on the road compared to at home in 2017. The Huskies may need a non-offensive touchdown to swing the result.

    Prediction: Duke 27, NIU 21


    Cactus Bowl: Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)

    Game info: Tuesday, Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Interim coach Jedd Fisch told the media quarterback Josh Rosen has returned to practice and appears healthy. Operating under the belief he'll play, UCLA should be expected to...keep it close. Look, this is a bad Bruins teamone that is perfect at home and winless otherwise. The defense has given up 45.5 points per contest on the road, and that trend will blemish what may be Rosen's college finale.

    Prediction: Kansas State 33, UCLA 27


    Walk On's Independence Bowl: Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Florida State (6-6)

    Game info: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Florida State will be happy to move on from 2017, but the program will enter 2018 with a new head coach and a bowl victory. So long as the 'Noles contain Southern Miss star Ito Smith like Kentucky and Tennessee did, the fourth quarter shouldn't be particularly interesting.

    Prediction: Florida State 34, Southern Miss 21


    New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

    Game info: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    In mid-October, Boston College became a stunningly dominant rushing team. Freshman standout AJ Dillon amassed 1,099 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last six games. Iowa, however, ranks 31st nationally in yards allowed per carry. Winning games through the air is not Boston College's strength.

    Prediction: Iowa 24, Boston College 20


    Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

    Game info: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET (Fox)

    If Jeff Brohm empties the playbook, there won't be a 2017 bowl packed with more creativity. Although Purdue hasn't faced a mobile quarterback like Khalil Tate, the defense hasn't ceded more than four yards per carry since Oct. 14. Limiting Tate is a big task, but the Boilers have proved capable.

    Prediction: Purdue 27, Arizona 24


    Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5)

    Game info: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Missouri enters the postseason averaging 51.3 points during a six-game winning streak. Texas shouldn't get wrecked defensively, but can the offense keep up? Other than against dreadful 1-11 Baylor and Kansas teams, the Longhorns haven't scored 30 points in regulation since September.

    Prediction: Missouri 34, Texas 23


    Military Bowl: Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-6)

    Game info: Thursday, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Navy really backed into bowl eligibility, falling in six of its final seven outings. Good thing Virginia dropped five of its last six games, right? Navy, which hosts the matchup in Annapolis, played significantly better at home in 2017. The Mids will control the clock and sneak out a tight win.

    Prediction: Navy 24, Virginia 21


    Camping World Bowl: No. 22 Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State (9-3)

    Game info: Thursday, Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    The effectiveness of Virginia Tech's offense steadily dwindled as the season progressed. That's a major problem entering a clash with Oklahoma State. The Hokies can disrupt the timing of throws for Mason Rudolphand improvising is not his fortebut he'll stay in rhythm often enough to clip Virginia Tech.

    Prediction: Oklahoma State 31, Virginia Tech 26


    SDCCU Holiday Bowl: No. 18 Washington State (9-3) vs. No. 16 Michigan State (9-3)

    Game info: Thursday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (FS1)

    Losses to Northwestern and Ohio State were ugly, but Michigan State's abrasive style of play ordinarily worked well. And as productive as Luke Falk has been throughout his Washington State career, he tends to struggle in that type of matchup. The Cougs will fall short unless Falk finds the explosive gains MSU rarely allows.

    Prediction: Michigan State 20, Washington State 17


    Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Stanford (9-4) vs. No. 15 TCU (10-3)

    Game info: Thursday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Most of the numbers favor TCU. Call it a gut feeling, though, that the Alamo Bowl is where a mini-upset occurs. Stanford has been eliminated from contention since early November, while this contest will be TCU's first since dropping the Big 12 title. Bryce Love expects to be healthy, per Tim Griffin of DieHards, and the Heisman runner-up will propel the Cardinal past a decent, yet receding, TCU defense.

    Prediction: Stanford 24, TCU 23

Dec. 29-30 Bowls

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Belk Bowl: Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Both teams finished 0-3 this season when losing the turnover battle. In what should be a one-possession finish, one takeaway could shape the outcome. Wake Forest had slightly better success creating turnovers down the stretch, so we'll give a small edge to the Deacons.

    Prediction: Wake Forest 34, Texas A&M 31


    Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 24 NC State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 29, 3 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Arizona State's explosion in November, not coincidentally, happened when the running game eclipsed 200 yards in four straight tilts. North Carolina State's run defense went through a brutal stretch late in the year, but those problems appear to be gone. If Bradley Chubb elects to skip the matchup, this pick may flip to Arizona State. He's a huge difference-maker on the NC State front.

    Prediction: NC State 30, Arizona State 27


    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky (7-5) vs. No. 21 Northwestern (9-3)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    When opponents ran the ball effectively, Kentucky rarely liked the result. Five times the defense ceded at least four yards per carry; four times Kentucky lost. Northwestern is built on the success of its rushing attack, so whichever team wins that battle should secure the victory. We'll take the purple Wildcats.

    Prediction: Northwestern 24, Kentucky 20


    NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Utah State (6-6) vs. New Mexico State (6-6)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

    In its final outing as a Sun Belt school, New Mexico State is looking for the program's first bowl triumph since 1960. Senior quarterback Tyler Rogers threw for 300-plus yards in eight of his 11 appearances, and Utah State is 0-5 when giving up 200-plus yards (or eight yards per attempt) through the air.

    Prediction: New Mexico State 31, Utah State 23


    Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Ohio State (11-2) vs. No. 8 USC (11-2)

    Game info: Friday, Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    If the Buckeyes stay balanced on offense, they should have little trouble scoring on USC. Additionally, the defense has only surrendered five yards per play twice in the last 11 games. However, Ohio State repeatedly wasted chances to pull away from Wisconsin in the Big Ten title. The same story may apply here.

    Prediction: Ohio State 34, USC 27


    TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville (8-4) vs. No. 23 Mississippi State (8-4)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 30, noon ET (ESPN)

    Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will not play in the TaxSlayer Bowl due to an ankle injury, so Mississippi State will start Keytaon Thompson. The team's defense should prevent an unwinnable high-scoring game opposite Lamar Jackson, but the 2016 Heisman winner and 2017 finalist will guide the Cardinals past the short-handed Bulldogs.

    Prediction: Louisville 28, Mississippi State 20


    AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State (7-5) vs. No. 20 Memphis (10-2)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    Iowa State allowed eight yards per pass attempt four times in 2017, ending those contests 1-3. Riley Ferguson reached that mark in six of Memphis' last eight games. Unless the Cyclones can limit Ferguson, they'll be forced into a shootout that favors the Tigers.

    Prediction: Memphis 41, Iowa State 31


    PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 11 Washington (10-2) vs. No. 9 Penn State (10-2)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Penn State is likely to feel the absence of now-former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who called plays for the Saquon Barkley-led offense. The Nittany Lions need the defense to pick up the slack, but Washington quietly sported an equally balanced attack and an even stingier point-stopping unit.

    Prediction: Washington 27, Penn State 24


    Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1) vs. No. 10 Miami (10-2)

    Game info: Saturday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Succeeding against the Wisconsin defense at full strength is hard enough. Miami will be without its most talented running back (Mark Walton), receiver (Ahmmon Richards) and tight end (Chris Herndon) in the bowl game. However, the combination of Miami's run defense and Alex Hornibrook's turnover woes is a major problem for the Badgers in what is effectively a home game for the 'Canes.

    Prediction: Miami 23, Wisconsin 17

New Year's Day Bowls

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Outback Bowl: Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)

    Game info: Monday, Jan. 1, noon ET (ESPN2)

    While replays of Jadeveon Clowney obliterating Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl are sure to make several appearances, South Carolina won't be on the winning side this time. The Gamecocks played two top-10 defenses earlier this season and totaled 20 points. Michigan should overwhelm South Carolina while Brandon Peters and Co. slowly create separation.

    Prediction: Michigan 24, South Carolina 13


    Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 12 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 7 Auburn (10-3)

    Game info: Monday, Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    The eye test is important. Stats are essential. Some things, however, are not quantifiable. It's fair to expect that Central Florida, in its final game with Scott Frost as head coach, will open the Peach Bowl as a motivated group. Sustaining that will be key, and we'll trust the physicality of Auburn to ultimately win out. But the Tigers will need all four quarters to hold off a spirited effort.

    Prediction: Auburn 34, UCF 24


    Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) vs. No. 17 LSU (9-3)

    Game info: Monday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

    Notre Dame recorded a per-carry average of four-plus yards in nine games, winning all of them. Below the mark, though, the Irish went 0-3. LSU ceded a meager 3.8 yards per rushing attempt during the regular season. Earning the advantage in the trenches is paramount for this matchup, and LSU enters as the favorite to achieve it.

    Prediction: LSU 27, Notre Dame 23


    Rose Bowl Game: No. 3 Georgia (12-1) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1)

    Game info: Monday, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    With Baker Mayfield behind center, the matchup doesn't matter; the Sooners will score. The key question is how much Oklahoma's defense will require of him. If the unit can contain Georgia's two-headed rushing monster, Mayfield should have an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter. And we're not going to doubt the Heisman winner.

    Prediction: Oklahoma 33, Georgia 30


    Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (12-1)

    Game info: Monday, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    The health of Alabama's defense presents the largest variable, and it's something we can't predict. Either way, Round 3 of this wild series should be a low-scoring, bruising, 60-minute show. Clemson's best chance to win involves controlling the third-down battle, and that's absolutely foreseeable. But right now, we give the slimmest edge to Jalen Hurts and his experience over Kelly Bryant.

    Prediction: Alabama 24, Clemson 20

National Championship

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    B/R prediction: No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

    Game info: Monday, Jan. 8, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    This is not the best Alabama team we've seen. But if Oklahoma manages to survive Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, it's tough to imagine an inconsistent Sooners defense can hold up for the second straight week. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough shoulder a heavy workload in this contest, and a final-possession score helps the Crimson Tide secure the title. Don't let Mayfield have the ball last, though. We'd change our minds mid-game.

    Prediction: Alabama 34, Oklahoma 31