Tag Archives: Citrus Bowl

How Many Games Will the SEC Lose This Weekend?

The SEC has plenty of all-but-guaranteed wins in the first week of the 2017 college football season. But, the SEC also has multiple games that are toss-ups and some that look like likely losses.

As a lover of all things SEC football, I’ve been contemplating what kind of record the SEC will emerge from this opening weekend of games with.

Last year, the ACC proved to be stronger than many anticipated (even though I made an early call on that one). But with three at least decent ACC opponents scheduled for SEC teams this first weekend, should the SEC be worried?

There’s also that Michigan-Florida rematch from about a year and a half ago when the Wolverines annihilated the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Should we go ahead and give this one to Michigan, too?

What about Texas A&M and UCLA? Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. Will he be able to get his second-straight win over the Bruins and ease the pressure down in College Station a bit?

Unfortunately, I am not Brandon Stark and I do not have “the sight.” I cannot give you a completely confident answer for any of those questions I just posed. I can, however, give you a few game predictions along with my reasoning for my picks.

The NC State Wolfpack and South Carolina Gamecocks face off on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. This game poses an interesting offense-defense matchup for the teams. NC State has a powerful defensive line but will be lacking in the secondary. South Carolina may be lacking on the offensive line, but boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season in Jake Bentley. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives NC State a 62.7% chance of winning this game. After seeing how the ACC fared last season and considering the intriguing matchup, I give a slight edge to the Wolfpack here as well. Regardless of the outcome, I expect this to be a close contest.

The Florida State Seminoles and Alabama Crimson Tide also face off in an ACC-SEC matchup on Saturday in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’ll never be one to bet against Nick Saban and Alabama, but if I were going to bet against him, I would be considering this game. ESPN’s FPI may give the Tide a 59%-41% advantage over the Seminoles, but the computers don’t know everything. Alabama returns numerous important pieces of its puzzle, and so does Florida State. Florida State seems to have the advantage on offense while Alabama has the defensive advantage. At the end of the day, this will probably come down to coaching. And in that scenario, I’ll take Nick Saban.

The Tennessee Volunteers play another ACC opponent next Monday, when they also visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A few weeks ago, I would’ve said Tennessee was likely in trouble in this game. After the Yellow Jackets dismissed top returning running back Dedrick Mills from the team, Tennessee’s chances to win this game surged. After a rough 2016 season defensively, the Vols might have had trouble defending such a dynamic offense. But the loss of Mills will be insurmountable for the Yellow Jackets at this point in the season, giving Tennessee a good shot at winning this game. And for what it’s worth, ESPN’s FPI also gives the Vols a good shot here with a 68.1%-31.9% advantage.

The Michigan Wolverines take on The Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Due to a 41-7 Michigan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl the concluded the teams’ 2015 seasons, there is doubt that Florida can even put up a good fight. Michigan returns almost nobody noteworthy from that 2015 team. So, I find that bowl victory to be irrelevant. Florida returns multiple starters, boasts a very talented receiving corps, and has very capable young defensive players to fill gaps left by last year’s departures. Michigan returns talent and has young players stepping up as well, make no mistake. But because of Florida Coach Jim McElwain, I’m leaning toward the Gators for this huge matchup. ESPN’s FPI isn’t any help here, being a near-toss-up at Michigan 50.5%, Florida 49.5%.

The Texas A&M Aggies travel to Pasadena, CA, this weekend to take on the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two teams kicked off the season in College Station, TX, with an overtime thriller. The Aggies finished the 2016 regular season at 8-4 while the Bruins finished at 4-8. The Aggies lost countless starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Their season is as unpredictable as ever under Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. The Bruins finished 4-8 last season, only winning one game after losing starting QB Josh Rosen to a season-ending injury. With Rosen back, the Bruins could be poised to bounce back with a vengeance this season. Because of Rosen and Texas A&M’s departures, I have to give the edge to UCLA here. ESPN’s FPI will back me up on this one, giving the Bruins a 68.4% chance of winning this game.

The question I posed remains. How many losses will the SEC endure in its first week of play this season? If you go by my answers here, it’s only two. But with a couple of my SEC wins being close calls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four losses from the SEC this weekend.

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Citrus Bowl: #14 Michigan vs. #19 Florida

Let’s be honest here: if you came to me a year ago today and told me that Michigan was going to go 9-3 and could have been 10-2, would be ranked 14th in the country and about to play in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, I would’ve laughed at you. Coming off a five-win abomination of a season, no one expected this much of a turnaround from the Wolverines. If not for the blocked punt against Michigan State, Michigan most likely would have been 10-2. Although, then Ohio State would probably be in the College Football Playoffs and no one wants that.

Florida on the other hand is pretty much where everyone thought they’d be. Well, except for probably Florida fans. They lost their starting quarterback to suspension and were basically carried by their defense for the majority of the season. The Gators are also coming into the game about as cold as you can be. They scored a measly two points against Florida State and no that’s not a typo. Then they got smacked around by Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

Sure they won 10 games but the SEC was not good this season so it’s hard to say how good the Gators actually are. The same can be said for Michigan too though. The Wolverines started off slow, carried by defense only to have the defense suffer injuries and fifth year senior Jake Rudock suddenly become a touchdown machine. However they stalled against Ohio State so they’re not exactly streaking right now either.

When it comes down to it, the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl is going to be ugly.

Both offenses have shown flashes but this is going to come down to defense. Specifically the secondary. Florida probably has the best pair of cornerbacks that Jake Rudock will have seen this season in Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor while Michigan counters with Jourdan Lewis, one of the best cover corners in the nation, and Jabrill Peppers. There’s other guys out there but all eyes will be on these four. The game is going to be decided by them too. Neither team can really run the ball so it’s going to be an aerial attack from both sides.

However when it comes to passing, Michigan has something that Florida doesn’t: Butt.

Specifically tight end Jake Butt which if you haven’t figure out by now is the greatest name ever for a tight end. He always seems to come up with a big catch when it’s needed and to be in the right spot whenever the game calls for it. With Florida’s corners locked up with Michigan’s receivers, look for Butt to exploit the middle of the field.

The Betting

In what is undoubtedly part of the Harbaugh Effect, Michigan comes into the Citrus Bowl a 4-point favorite over Florida. When you look at the numbers they’re actually really similar in points allowed and yards allowed. Truth be told, there’s not a real glaring gap between any of their stats when you look at them on paper. Still though, I think the Wolverines just have “it” this year. They believe and I think they want this more than Florida. Look for them to cover.

The over/under is set at 39 which is laughably low. It’s really funny because I don’t think they’ll get there. If both teams crack 20 I will be surprised. Take the under on this one for sure.

The Pick

I’ve poked fun at the myth of Jim Harbaugh as Khaki Jesus all season but I’ve bought in now. There’s something about the guy that just somehow makes the kids that play for him better. He might not actually walk on water but don’t tell Ann Arbor that. Michigan wins 21-14.

Big Ten Bowl Predictions

Here are my predictions for all ten bowl games.

Holiday Bowl – Wisconsin vs. University of Southern California

It still is unclear to me and many others how good or bad this team really is but they will have a golden opportunity to prove they are for real when they take on USC in the Holiday Bowl . The Badger defense will face its hardest test of the year when they take on the highly-talented Cody Kessler but don’t expect a blowout or for USC to overpower the Wisconsin defense. This defensive unit is extremely talented and aggressive, constantly pressuring the opposition with Joe Schobert and is No.1 nationally in scoring defense. As for USC, the Trojans front seven will be licking their chops as they take on an injury-riddled offensive line, a turnover prone quarterback in Joel Stave and a run game missing its top threat in Cory Clement. Nonetheless, I predict a close game and that the Badger defense will give Stave a chance to atone for his shortcomings this year late in the game. Wisconsin wins 27-24.

Citrus Bowl – Michigan vs. Florida

Both Florida and Michigan made coaching switches before the season and those moves have paid off tremendously as each program shattered expectations. Also, both teams boast killer defenses but are offensively challenged particularly rushing the ball (Florida – 104th, Michigan – 93rd). I’m not sure how well Michigan can move the ball especially going up against a deep, athletic front seven and a secondary that gave up just 175 yards per game even with a healthy Jake Rudock. Conversely, Treon Harris has been highly inconsistent and the Wolverines defense has allowed the opposition to complete just 48% of their passes on the year with seven touchdowns. However, Florida has kicking problems as Austin Hardin has converted just 5/14 field goals and in what looks like a close, defensive battle, points will be hard to come by. I predict a Michigan win because after being humiliated by OSU, I can guarantee this team will not let Harris run free like J.T. Barrett did. Wolverines win 20-10.

Outback Bowl – Northwestern vs. Tennessee

The Northwestern Wildcats are aiming to put an exclamation point on a solid season by winning 11 games for the first time in history and the Tennessee Volunteers want to close out 2015 with six straight victories. The Volunteers high powered offense will have to work hard against one of the country’s stingiest defenses as the Wildcats have allowed just five passing touchdowns and tallied 12 picks while giving up 200 rushing yards twice. However, if Tennessee can somehow manage to solve the defensive puzzle and score, it could be a long day for Northwestern. They do not do well playing from behind as their offense lacks firepower – they only topped 200 passing yards once this year and are No. 120 in passing yards per game. Also, Joshua Dobbs presents problems with his dual-threat ability and has had time to heal. If Dobbs can perform the way he did against Florida and Georgia, it’ll be a tough task for the Wildcats to contain him. I see the Vols taking this one, 24-14.

Pinstripe Bowl – Indiana vs. Duke

Duke comes into this game losing four of its last five games while Indiana is just excited to be in a bowl game since 2007 and a chance for a rare winning season. The Hoosiers are the definition of polar opposites as their defense was one of the worst in the nation, allowing 37 points per game while their offense was a high-octane juggernaut, averaging 36 points a contest and scoring 41 points in the final three games even against Michigan. As for the Blue Devils, they will look to exploit the porous defense with dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk, but Duke has yielded 30 or more points in five of their last six games. This game has shootout written all over it and if that’s the case, then I have to give the edge to Indiana, 38-31.

Foster Farms Bowl – Nebraska vs. University of California-Los Angeles

Nebraska is like Jekyll and Hyde. Are they the bad-ass team that beat Michigan State even if it was controversial or are they the soft, pedestrian team that lost to Illinois? Its hard to gauge how good or bad this team is as six of their seven losses were by no more than eight points but will prove its worth versus UCLA. Speaking of which, despite having true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen throw over 3350 yards and 20 touchdowns, they were also inconsistent and had their own hiccups like a 19-point thrashing by USC. I feel the battle in the trenches will play a pivotal role as Nebraska ranked 8th in the country in stopping the run while the O-line was reliable, giving up only 13 sacks. However, Rosen gets to face a suspect Husker defensive backfield that ranks No. 13 in Big Ten pass defense and Tommy Armstrong faces a unit that allowed 394 ypg. Both teams are very evenly matched but I believe in the kid over the veteran and will take UCLA 21-17.

Quick Lane Bowl – Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

Minnesota had a tough year with close losses to TCU and Michigan, the retirement of Jerry Kill and comes in losing five of the last six games. Central Michigan is red-hot, winning five of their past six and features a high flying offense that averages 313 yards passing per game and if they get ahead, Minnesota’s maligned offense will have a hard time keeping up. Also, the Chippewa’s allowed only one 300-yard passing game and Minnesota is not built to go toe-to-toe passing the pigskin either. Their hope lies in getting the ground game going though it ranked 11th in the conference. Now Central Michigan has not yielded over 180 yards rushing in any of the last six games but teams that could pound the ball did against them and Minnesota could have a breakout game on the ground. Plus, the Gophers have a very strong secondary (15th overall) and while I see Cooper Rush making some plays, it won’t be enough as Minnesota ends their season on a positive note, 23-17.

Rose Bowl – Iowa vs. Stanford

Iowa has a chance to prove that they are an elite team and this year wasn’t a fluke in their first Rose Bowl game since 1990 while Stanford wants to make a statement about missing the playoff. The Achilles heel for Stanford has been their run defense as Northwestern ran for 225, Oregon for 231 and Notre Dame for 299, resulting in two losses and a near third. Iowa has manufactured 200 or more rushing yards seven times and averaged 192 per game on the season. If they can run the ball, Stanford could find itself in a hole. On the other side, the stout Iowa defense will have their hands full with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan but if they can force them to pass, they’ll have a chance especially with the Big Ten’s best corner, Desmond King. Both teams will have shining moments in this game but I feel with the defense and C.J. Beathard, Iowa will do just enough to win a close one, 20-17.

Cotton Bowl – Michigan State vs. Alabama

Michigan State will not beat itself with costly turnovers, silly penalties and will control the pace of the game as veteran quarterback Connor Cook is savvy enough to move the chains. Alabama will be looking to attack a weak, suspect secondary that gave up 200 or more passing yards in four of its last six games as the Spartans run defense has been solid all year, and with time to prepare, will be ready for Derrick Henry – though containing him is a different story. I will also be watching how the Spartans offensive line matches up with the athletic front seven that lead the nation in sacks with 46 but keep in mind, MSU’s also one of the few teams that could possibly hold up itself against the Crimson Tide’s lines as it proved that against Ohio State. Now, Michigan State has a chance if it can attack Alabama’s secondary with Aaron Burbridge but I think the Alabama defensive line will apply good pressure and prevent Cook from having a clean pocket. And I think Henry will wear down this defense as the games goes on. Alabama wins 28-20.

Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

Ezekiel Elliott is the heart and soul of this offense and considering it’s his final game as a Buckeye, I expect OSU to pound away against Notre Dame and lean on him. If the Irish do succeed in bottling him up, OSU still should be able to control the game with the speed and elusiveness of J.T. Barrett. As for the Irish, I see them pounding the interior of the defensive line as Adolphus Washington will be suspended to set up play action and manageable third downs for quarterback Deshone Kizer. The Buckeyes secondary also hasn’t faced a receiver like Will Fuller, who found the endzone 13 times and averaged 20.5 yards a catch though, the Silver Bullets were second in scoring defense and sixth in efficiency, allowing over 17 points only twice in the last 11 games. With all that said, I think Urban Meyer will have his team focused and ready to play. Plus, Ohio State has more talent. Buckeyes win 35-21.

Taxslayer Bowl – Penn State vs. Georgia

The Nittany Lions have little offense as they rank 110th in total yards per game (325) and score 24 points a game (101st), and to make matters worse, Georgia features the top passing defense in the country, allowing just 146 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are No. 83 in passing offense, averaging 209 yards per game. However, Penn state also has an elite defense (No. 12 in total defense) andGeorgia has a flimsy passing game (103rd; 187 ypg) so it relies on its ground game and I see PSU loading the box to make Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert beat them. Lambert is not an NFL prospect like Christian Hackenberg but he is a good game manager and will take care of the ball. I see this as a low scoring defensive battle with each offense grasping for any foothold and I believe in the Bulldogs run game with Michel running effectively en route to victory. Georgia wins 17-10.

Badgers Going Bowling…Again

Saturday’s 37-0 shutout of Rutgers featured exactly what we’ve come to expect from this year’s Badgers (great run game, shoddy passing attack, and fast, aggressive defense), plus an added boost from an improving special teams unit that blocked a punt and converted three field goals. Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten games, the last two by a combine 89-7 differential, and appears to be hitting its stride as the regular season reaches its final month. The last four games will go a long way in determining how the 2014 season is viewed in the future. Win out and UW will have earned a chance at a fourth conference championship in five years, while simultaneously add to the frustration of losses to LSU and Northwestern as it pertains to the College Football Playoff. Suffer a loss in November, and it likely proves that Wisconsin will always remain a better than good team, but never elite without a star at quarterback. Before the games against Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota decide who wins the Big Ten West, let’s celebrate the other significant meaning to the win in New Jersey: bowl eligible.

Michigan State v WisconsinAt 6-2, Gary Andersen’s squad is now bowl eligible for the 13th consecutive year, a streak that stands as the longest current stretch in the Big Ten. This remains a tremendous feat for a program that since its first bowl appearance at the 1953 Rose Bowl, has endured stretches of 19 and 9 years without a postseason berth before Barry Alvarez’s first of three trips to Pasadena. The run of success over the past two decades has made Badger Nation immune to how special that is, taking for granted that every season ends in a bowl appearance. It’s the same under-appreciated reaction to the basketball team’s postseason consistency under Bo Ryan. But back on the gridiron, the current 13 year streak now sits third behind Michigan (33, 1975-2007) and Ohio State (15, 1972-1986) in Big Ten history. (It should be noted that both Nebraska and Penn State had stretches of 35 and 13, respectively, though both came prior to their addition to the conference. This blogger has not, and will not, accept that those marks should transfer into the Big Ten record books.) The Badgers baker’s dozen since 2002 is tied for seventh among longest active in the NCAA.

Naturally, it’s time for a little bowl prognostication! Here are the bowl game possibilities for the 2014 Badgers:

  • College Football Playoff Bowl Game (as B1G champ): A best case scenario for Wisconsin is to win their final four regular season games, followed by a victory in the Big Ten Championship Game. It would give UW the distinction of league champ, which carries different meaning in the inaugural campaign of the College Football Playoff. Since the Rose Bowl is slated as one of this year’s semifinal games, and the Badgers are not Final Four-worthy, the B1G champion will be eligible to play in either the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl. The committee would place the Badgers in one of those three games based on a combination of factors, like geography, rankings, rematches from the regular season or previous bowl games, and trying to create “the most compelling matchups”. There is a lot to be played out before this picture can begin to take shape, though a matchup with an SEC foe in the Fiesta Bowl appears to be a good candidate.
  • CFP Bowl Game (as B1G runner-up): This is a possibility, but with a very small likelihood. Should Wisconsin reach Indianapolis on December 6 and lose, they could still earn an at-large bid into the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl from the CFP selection committee. For this to be a possibility, UW will need to continue to climb back into and up the rankings into December. Since only one of their remaining opponents is ranked, making big jumps will be a challenge without the aid of higher ranked teams losing. Also working against Wisconsin and the Big Ten this year is lack of a limit on teams from a single conference in CFP bowls, meaning the SEC could nab several spots.
  • Citrus Bowl (formerly the Capital One Bowl): Entering November, this seems to be the most likely fit for Bucky. The Citrus will take the highest Big Ten team not in a CFP bowl game, meaning a West Division title would put the Badgers in line for an appearance in Orlando for a second consecutive year, and fifth time since 2005. The real intriguing part to this game is the matchup against an SEC opponent, which could range from that league’s third best team to its fifth or sixth if the committee gets SEC-happy when filling the four non-playoff bowls.
  • Outback Bowl: A trip to Tampa seems plausible should UW: 1) finish second in the West or 2) win the West, but trail the East’s second place team (Michigan State or Ohio State) in the final rankings and have the committee pass that team up. The January 1 game would also be against an SEC school, with a range slightly lower – or wider – than the Citrus.
  • Holiday Bowl: Though it plays on December 27, a visit to San Diego awaits Big Ten’s #4. The Holiday Bowl seems probable if Wisconsin falters twice this month to finish the regular season 8-4. While that would certainly damage faith and optimism in the program, fans would be treated to a new post-season travel venue (Wisconsin has never played a bowl game in San Diego) and a matchup with a Pac-12 opponent.
  • Remaining Bowls: Since anything is possible, the Big Ten has five other bowl game affiliations that could host the Badgers if all hell breaks loose over the final four weeks. Those bowls are (in order): Music City Bowl, San Francisco Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

After two outstanding performances, the Badgers are back in the AP and USA Today Top-25 polls. A spot in Tuesday’s second CFP poll would go a long way to seeing how the committee (which includes UW AD Barry Alvarez) views this team and the league. There is no doubt, the immediate future is brightening, with or without a consistent passing game.

Badger Bites (Weekly nuggets about Wisconsin’s next opponent): Two current trends indicate yet another blowout is expected Saturday in West Lafayette. One is the Badgers performances the past two weeks, and the other is their eight game winning streak against Purdue, with the past six by an average of 29.8 points. The Boilermakers have looked better than expected in Big Ten play, remaining competitive in losses to Michigan State, Minnesota, and Nebraska after beating Illinois on the road. The defense has become their biggest concern, ranking 11th in the league against the run and 13th against the pass. Prediction: Wisconsin 42, Purdue 13.