The 2016 College Football Bowl Season will wrap up with a handful of quality bowl games outside of the New Years Six. Here is a look at those games as Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, and Mike Loveall are on hand to offer their previews and predictions.
Sun Bowl: #18 Stanford vs. North Carolina (Friday 2:00 P.M.)
Line: Stanford by 2.5
Steen: Stanford lost to three quality PAC-12 teams but still finished the season on a five game winning streak and seemed to improve as the year went on. UNC lost their final two games against FBS opponents, and despite a 4-1 start that included an upset win against Florida State, the Tar Heels were unable to reach the ACC title game. Christian McCaffrey not playing is a loss for Stanford, but I still think they will outmuscle their academic and athletic rivals in this one. Stanford 27, North Carolina 21
Yesh: What will Stanford’s offense look like without Christian McCaffrey? If earlier in the season is any indication, it won’t so good. I can see this being a good game, but when North Carolina has played well this season no one has really stopped the Tar Heels. Their win over Florida State was far more impressive than anything Stanford has done this season. North Carolina 41, Stanford 14
John: Heading into this game, the big story is Stanford running back Christian McCaffery deciding not to play in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. It has college football fans and analysts torn on a very real issue. Does it set a bad precedent, or is McCaffery simply being pragmatic at reducing the risk of major injury which could cost him millions of dollars at the next level?
McCaffery will be sorely missed. He accounted for 42.6 percent of Stanford’s total offensive output. Bryce Love will be the Cardinal’s likely replacement at starting running back. For the Tar Heels, quarterback Mitch Trubisky will look to steal the spotlight for himself. He finished the regular season with 3,468 pass yards, 28 touchdowns and a mere four interceptions. Only Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson had better yardage numbers out of the ACC. This should be a closely fought contest in El Paso but with McCaffery’s absence looming large, UNC escapes with a narrow win. North Carolina 31, Stanford 27
Mike: After a sluggish start to the season, Stanford’s offense finally got going late in the season. All-American Christian McCaffrey, however, won’t play in this game, and that might be trouble for the Cardinal offense. North Carolina has been up and down all season. But Mitch Trubisky can light up the scoreboard quickly. ACC continues a strong season. North Carolina 31, Stanford 27
Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. #21 Tennessee (Friday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Tennessee by 6.5
Steen: The Vols wanted to be more than “Champions of Life” after a 4-0 start, but after a mediocre 4-4 finish they will face off with another traditional power that had a disappointing year, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers started 7-0 and were playoff contenders but a close loss to Wisconsin, and a blowout loss to Ohio State cost them their shot at both the Big 10 and national titles. I still think Nebraska is better than a Tennessee team that is struggling right now, and they should notch a narrow win. Nebraska 28, Tennessee 24
Yesh: Are there two teams that disappointed in the second half of the season more than Tennessee and Nebraska? Maybe, but I can’t think of any (okay, I’ll say Baylor and Texas A&M). Both spent time in the Top 10 this year, and the loser will almost certainly not be ranked. Tommy Armstrong might not play, and Nebraska really has no chance if he doesn’t. We’ll see, though. Tennessee 34, Nebraska 31
John: 2016 was supposed to be the year Tennessee broke through out of the SEC East. Instead, they stumbled to a 4-4 conference record and finished two games behind a Florida team they beat for the first time in 11 years. A chance to lock up a Sugar Bowl berth was dashed after a 45-34 loss to Vanderbilt in the season finale. Instead, they’re forced to settle for a short trip west on I-40 to Nashville for the Music City Bowl.
The Vols opponent in Nebraska similarly finished the season on less than a high note. The Huskers laid an egg on the road in a 40-10 loss to Iowa which ended any hopes they had at winning the Big Ten West. After starting the season 7-0 and moving up to 6th in the coaches poll, Nebraska lost three of their next five games and are currently unranked in the CFP rankings.
Despite this year’s disappointing campaign, UT is undefeated in bowl games under Butch Jones. In what should essentially be a home game for the Vols, don’t expect that to change. Tennessee 34, Nebraska 21
Mike: Tennessee is depleted with injuries – especially on the defensive front – and is singing the blues about not going to Atlanta this season. Nebraska ended the season on a low note as well after losing three of their last five by a total of 95 points. Expect this to be a high scoring affair as neither defense has been particularly impressive in the last month of the season. Special teams might decide this one. Tennessee 45, Nebraska 42
Citrus Bowl: #20 LSU vs. #13 Louisville (Saturday 11:00 A.M.)
Line: LSU by 3.5
Steen: Louisville had a case to grab the final CFB playoff spot until they lost two straight games at the end of the year (both non-conference games) and in the process missed out on the Orange bowl. When this team is hot they are one of the best in the nation, but when they have problems on the offensive line, they can look pedestrian at best. LSU is a physical team that will look to control the clock and should be able to grind away against Louisville. Look for Coach O to get a big bowl win over the Heisman winner. LSU 27, Louisville 21
Yesh: Louisville’s offensive line was horrendous to end the season. LSU has talented defensive linemen who have to be licking their chops when looking at Louisville’s game film. If Bobby Petrino can inspire his O-line enough that they can protect Lamar Jackson in this game, then Louisville can win easily. If the O-line can’t, though, then this will be a very long day for Louisville and its fans. Louisville 24, LSU 21
John: Much like Christian McCaffery, LSU running back Leonard Fournette will forego his team’s bowl game to focus on the NFL Draft. But the Tigers run game might still be in good hands with Derrius Guice. The sophomore speedster out-gained the oft-injured Fournette on the ground by 406 yards this season. He also had a 285 yard game in the season finale against Texas A&M, which broke his teammate’s school record set a few weeks earlier by a single yard.
LSU will clearly have their hands full with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. The dual-threat dynamo accounted for 4,928 yards of offense and 51 touchdowns. 21 of those came on the ground, a total bested by only four running backs in the entire country. Jackson has found ten different Cardinal players for touchdowns in the passing game, including four who have five or more. Both defenses are ranked top 15 nationally. Whoever does a better job neutralizing their opponents playmaker should emerge victorious. LSU 37, Louisville 31
Mike: Another game featuring a player choosing to sit out to prepare for the NFL draft. LSU has some fire power behind Leonard Fournette. The Cardinals feature Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. We saw how Houston’s defensive line mauled Louisville’s front five and LSU’s front seven is much better than the Cougars. That will cause Louisville trouble, but the Cardinals have enough talent on offense to stretch the Tigers defense out. Louisville 23, LSU 20
Taxslayer Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky (Saturday 11:00 A.M.)
Line: Georgia Tech by 3.5
Steen: Georgia Tech wasn’t quite good enough to mount a challenge in the ACC this year, but they still finished the season on a 3 game winning streak that included a win over rival Georgia, and a road win against eventual ACC finalists Virginia Tech. Kentucky started 0-2 with Mark Stoops on the hot seat but ended up having a great season by their standards, and they beat rival Louisville in an upset at the end of the year. Georgia Tech is back in form and should run past the Wildcats though. Georgia Tech 30, Kentucky 24
Yesh: Georgia Tech and Kentucky are both coming off big wins in rivalry games against favored opponents. Georgia Tech is a talented triple-option team that spent this season under the radar. Kentucky was in the spotlight for a bit this season, but is far less talented than its attention would hint. Georgia Tech 35, Kentucky 21
John: After a disappointing 2015 where they missed out on a bowl for the first time in Paul Johnson’s tenure, the Yellow Jackets rebounded this year. They finished 8-4, beat archrival Georgia and got an invite to the TaxSlayer Bowl for the first time since 2006. Johnson’s vaunted triple option has helped Georgia Tech finish top ten in rushing offense every year he’s been head coach.
And it could be a useful weapon against a Kentucky defense ranked 108th in FBS against the run. That said, the Wildcats finished the season relatively strong. They won four conference games for the first time since 2006 and closed out the year with a huge upset of Louisville. Their two-headed monster rushing attack of Stanley Boom Williams and Benjamin Snell will be expected to spearhead UK’s 16th ranked run game.
But the ‘Cats inability to stop the run on the other side of the ball could be their undoing in Jacksonville. Georgia Tech 30, Kentucky 24
Mike: Kentucky has finally ended the season on a high note, with a big win against Louisville. But Kentucky is very vulnerable against the run, and running is what Georgia Tech does. And Paul Johnson takes special pleasure in playing and winning against SEC teams. They’ve beaten Georgia and Vandy this year, Georgia last year, and Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl in 2014. Georgia Tech 45, Kentucky 31
Outback Bowl: #17 Florida vs. Iowa (Monday 1:00 P.M.)
Line: Florida by 3
Steen: Both teams feature good defenses, while Iowa would love to get a second big win this season after they defeated Michigan to knock the Wolverines out of the national title hunt. Florida struggled mightily at the end of the season, and I don’t see them finding enough of an offensive spark in this one. Iowa should play victorious underdogs once again. Iowa 17, Florida 10
Yesh: This should be a hard-hitting old-fashioned football game. Both of these teams have great defenses and inconsistent (at best) offenses. Little mistakes will be the difference here. The team that makes fewer will win. This could even come down to who has the better field goal kicker. Iowa 24, Florida 21
John: If there’s one word that might encapsulate Florida’s 2016 season, it might be perplexing. The Gators got a huge 16-10 win on the road against LSU but followed that up with two losses to Florida State and Alabama where they were outscored a combined 85-16. For all the talk about Jim McElwain being an offensive mastermind, it’s his defense that played the biggest role in UF’s second straight SEC East title.
On paper, that unit should feast on an Iowa offense that ranks 120th in total offense. But the Hawkeyes are a confident bunch coming into this matchup, having won three in a row including a huge upset of Michigan. The run game really came alive in those games, with LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley combining for 673 yards on the ground in that span. Iowa 17, Florida 14
Mike: Iowa had one of the more impressive finishes to the season in college football. The Hawkeyes knocked off Michigan, blanked Illinois 28-0, and then manhandled Nebraska 40-10. C.J. Beathard will learn from his experience against Michigan, and that will be key against Florida’s defense. The Gators still haven’t found answers on offense. Iowa 23, Florida 16
Other Bowl Games
Liberty Bowl: TCU even vs. Georgia
Steen: Georgia had an up and down year under a new coaching regime but they finished the year on a positive 3-1 note and should be much better next year with the pieces they have coming back. TCU went 2-4 in the second half of their season and their defense leaves much to be desired. Georgia should win this game. Georgia 38, TCU 24
Yesh: Georgia was not good this year, but the defense isn’t bad. TCU was pretty awful across the board. Georgia 41, TCU 17
John: Both Georgia and TCU endured up and down seasons and limp into this bowl game after season-ending losses. But the Bulldogs defense sees them through in this one. Georgia 24, TCU 10
Mike: Georgia has enough playmakers on defense to slow TCU down and with a healthy corps of running backs, the Bulldogs look to salvage a disappointing season. Georgia 34, TCU 31
Arizona Bowl: Air Force by 13.5 vs. South Alabama
Steen: Air Force beat Navy this year and has posted a solid season with their flexbone attack overall. South Alabama is a rising program that beat Mississippi State and San Diego State this year. Air Force should win but this game won’t be a blowout. Air Force 31, South Alabama 24
Mike: South Alabama has a month to prepare for the triple option. They’ve played some big boys already this season. Air Force 21, South Alabama 20.
Yesh: South Alabama’s best game of the year was against a Mountain West team. I think Air Force is far more talented here, though. Air Force 31, South Alabama 21
John: Air Force finished on a five-game winning streak and can cap off their second ten-win season in three years if they beat 6-6 South Alabama in Tucson. Falcons win big. Air Force 41, South Alabama 17