Good morning. We hope you and yours had, and are having, a great Christmas/Yule/Saturnalia/Hanukkah/Festivus/Kwanzaa or any other ole’ excuse you generate to take a few paid days off of work to kick it with loved ones, eat a shameful amount of sugar, and get presents!
For the balance of the Bowl season, we’re going to consolidate some of our regular stuff and have an omnibus thread each day for you — television schedule, preview, and Giving Away Money. Let’s get it kicked off with today’s slate of four games that should all be remarkably competitive.
Military Bowl (RFK Stadium, DC)
11:00 Central ESPN
UNC -5 vs. Temple
Interesting game here between two programs breaking in new coaches. For the Tarheels, Mack Brown began to set the stage for a nice rebuild in 2019. UNC was more competitive, the defense played better (esp. at home), the Heels almost unended Clemson, and he brought in a nice class and a nice experienced staff. Mack inherited some good (if ill-fitting) pieces here, though it is still a young team and one trying to learn how to win. That is complicated somewhat by the fact that the offensive identity still hasn’t solidified. For the Temple Owls, their identity is still forged on defense. Like UNC they are also a much better home team. And, like his predecessors (Matt Rhule, Geoff Collins), HC Rod Carey isn’t going to tinker too much with the Big 10 formula that brought him success at NIU: It’s also a formula that handed Memphis its only loss of the season. The ‘Heels have the better athletes and the better staff. And though it will be a gloomy day, the field should be dry, which favors UNC. Still, the team that can best establish the line of scrimmage wins. This one likely degenerates into a defensive-minded scrum. UNC 24-17
Pinstripe Bowl (NYC, Yankees Stadium)
2:20 Central ESPN
Michigan State -4 vs. Wake Forest
After a red-hot 7-0 start, Wake faced a few bowl teams, had a few injuries, lost some key playmakers and the results were not pleasant for a team with no margin for error. They were absolutely torn apart by Clemson and VT, and gave up 62 in a loss to Louisville. Then, they ended the season with a really gross loss to 5-7 Syracuse, where they surrendered 39 points. The problem has been an undersized defense that hopes to bend-and-not-break. But, having surrendered 30 a game in the ACC and finishing 80th in total defense, it was a unit on blocks more often than not. And, with their injuries (which are laughable on offense), that becomes an even tougher uphill climb against a Spartans team that will look to line up and impose their will on the tiny Demon Deacons. It’s been an unsteady year in East Lansing, esp. with the passing game, but Mark Dantonio can have success against this woeful secondary. The defense also had many uncharacteristic lapses. But, Wake is really undermanned here. The Big 10 wins the first of what should be a 3-0 bowl showing for the conference today. Michigan State 26 Wake 17 in what will likely be the worst game of the day. It’s just the #brand for Mark Dantonio — Nick Saban’s joylessness without his boss’ delightful murderball.
Texas Bowl (Reliant, Houston)
5:45 Central ESPN
Texas A&M -5.5 vs. No. 25 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is not the No. 25 team in the country. Period. 8-4 teams of any respectability don’t struggle for a half against 3-9 Kansas, lose to 5-7 TCU and damn near lose to 5-7 West Virginia. A&M may have five losses but every team they lost to are in the Top 12, including two playoff contenders, Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama....and three of those games were on the road. So, yeah, that’s a tough schedule. Aggy was not aided by Kellen Mond’s lack of development either, a player with a ton of physical skills who has shown almost no improvement from his first throw of 2018 to his last one in the Aggies’ ghastly 50-3 loss to LSU. That may bve an issue today too. The A&M defense isn’t good enough to shut down the Pokes’ offense entirely. And, they’re down to just one scholarship running back too. These two coaches have a bit of a reputation of falling flat at times, and the Cowboys especially do so on the road. That’s their cross to bear. If Chuba Hubbard and the potent OSU running game gets slowed, and if the Aggies can get some offensive momentum playing a de facto home game, then A&M likely carries the day. After watching Jalen Hurts dismantle this OSU defense, I have some faith that Kellen Mond will also look better than he really is. Tight game between two chokers. But the Ags cover, led by their defensive line and another atrocious coaching job by Mike Gundy. Texas A&M 37 Oklahoma State 31 in what is probably the day’s best game.
Holiday Bowl (San Diego)
7:00 Central FS1
No. 22 Southern Cal vs. No. 16 Iowa (-2.5)
Weirdly, both of these teams are about where you would have expected them to be at season’s end — just a step behind the conference title holders, but bearing respectable records. The difference is how they got there. USC underacheived, suffered a lot of injuries, and were really #butt on the road — capped off with a gruesome showing in Provo, where BYU dismantled that popgun attack. In the Coliseum though? The Trojans are just a different, more formidable foe. Too bad San Diego is a few hours away, eh? The Hawkeyes were incredibly spirited all season, going toe-to-toe with four Top 10 teams at various points in the season. And, instead of a 1-3 record, an extra play here or there should have led a 3-1 record. For whatever reason, Iowa just gets up for these bowl games. They tackle well. They block well. Nate Stanley has been good-ish. Special teams are stellar. Kirk Ferentz is one of the steadiest operators out there, even if it’s so conservative your MAGA hat looks like a lib. Did we mention that luminary and Hawkeye legend Hayden Fry passed away this week? No way does Iowa not show up for this game. And, against a USC team that is losing even more momentum by retaining Clay Helton. that will probably make all the difference in the world. You can foresee a BYU reprise coming a mile away, especially against the Hawkeyes are even more motivated than usual. Iowa 27 USC 17
Cheez-It Bowl (Phoenix)
9:15 Central ESPN
Air Force +2.5 vs. Washington State
Washington State’s defensive front is simply an abomination unto the lord. The Cougs are 113th in total defense, 79th in rushing defense, and give up nearly 5 yards per carry. NBD today they face the nation’s No. 1 rushing team, the 10-2 Air Force Falcons. AFA should be ranked. This is a super nasty team that also sports the No. 16 defense in the country. The biggest impediment is a secondary that has given up 7.5 yards per attempt. NBD: The Falcons just face the nation’s No. 1 passing offense today! Weakness against weakness; strength against strength. Forget what I said about the OSU-A&M game, this nightcap is going to be the best game of the day. And, as usual, you have to like the triple option on the road. There’s just no way to prepare against it; even less so when your front seven are already so soft. Wazzu gets plenty of success through the air, maybe even picks up a few cheap freebies. But. at the end of the day, #RTDB is hard to beat and the wrong team is favored. Air Force 35 Washington State 34