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.