Bowl Picks: Flying Tigers!
By Queen Carioca
Come in and have a seat. Close the tent flap behind you as once again I glance into my crystal ball.
Check out my bowl prophecies for Monday, December 31st:
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NC STATE (7-5) vs VANDERBILT (8-4): After guiding the Commodores to a pair of bowl berths in his first two years in town – including the program’s first 8-win season since 1982 – the Vandy faithful are an itch away from carving Head Coach James Franklin’s face into a mountainside. Paced by a defense that finished 17th in the country, Vanderbilt went on a 6-game tear to end the season, including three impressive road wins. NC State, meanwhile, is a team in transition. As Dave Doeren settles in as the Wolfpack’s new head coach, Tom O’Brien's O-Coordinator Dana Bible will slap on the “interim” tag and lead NCSU through the bowl game. Under these circumstances in particular, having a veteran quarterback like senior Sean Glennon (3,648 yards & 30 TDs) will help NC State’s cause, but defensive back Trey Wilson and Vandy’s greedy secondary could prove too tall of a task. Vanderbilt has allowed just 6 touchdowns through the air while holding the opposition to 176 passing yards per game. That level of production will stymie Glennon & company just enough to help the Commodores secure their first 9-win campaign since 1915. Vanderbilt 27, North Carolina State 16
HYUNDAI SUN BOWL
USC (7-5) vs GEORGIA TECH (6-7): This wasn’t how things were supposed to go for Southern Cal. As a popular top choice in many preseason polls, USC fans had hoped this season would end with Matt Barkley having a chance to hoist the crystal football and restore gridiron glory to Troy. Instead, the Trojans dropped 4 of their last 5 and have been cast into a second-tier bowl. Adding insult to injury, USC finds itself in a proverbial no-win situation, pitted as a heavy favorite in a nightmarish match-up against Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple-option offense. Southern Cal has been gouged for 213 or more rushing yards five times this year including a 468-yard meltdown against Oregon. Those numbers won’t exactly put a spring in a team’s step heading into a showdown against a Paul Johnson offense averaging 313/game on the ground, particularly since USC will in some respects be starting from scratch after defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin stepped down in late November. As is often the case in bowl match-ups, motivation – or lack thereof – will play a key role in this game. My left brain sees the Yellow Jackets moving the chains and playing "keep away" until a Trojan turnover or two frustrates Southern Cal into even more mistakes. My right brain, however, says USC hasn’t been in the postseason since 2009 and the Trojans will be bent on making a solid impression. This bowl venue obviously isn’t what Barkley (12,327 career yards) returned for as a senior, but with Marqise Lee (112-1,680-14 TDs) and Robert Woods at his disposal he has enough talent – and showmanship - to light things up in his last hurrah against a Jackets defense that got torched for 350+ passing yards three times this year. Southern California 38, Georgia Tech 24
AutoZone LIBERTY BOWL
IOWA STATE (6-6) vs TULSA (10-3): Haven’t we been through this before? When these two squads met to open their respective seasons on September 1st in Ames, ISU’s Steele Jantz stole the show – throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns and running for a third in a 37-23 victory. A lot’s changed since then – most notably Iowa State’s starting quarterback. After a dynamic performance off the bench in a November win over Kansas, freshman Sam Richardson (7 TD, 0 Int.) took over the starting job in the Cyclones regular season finale against West Virginia and is expected to lead Iowa State into Memphis against Tulsa. Richardson will have his hands full against a Golden Hurricane defense that has quietly matured into a very formidable force. Former Utah State Head Coach Brent Guy has done a solid job on Bill Blankenship’s staff as Tulsa’s D-Coordinator, transforming a unit that just two years ago finished 111th (451/game allowed) in the nation to the no. 33 spot (354/game) this fall. Guy’s weapon of choice has been penetration. The Golden Hurricane, paced by senior DL Jared St. John and senior LB DeAundre Brown, lead Conference USA in both Sacks (3rd nationally) and Tackles-for-Loss (4th nationally). Offensively, it’s hard to refute the success Tulsa has enjoyed with its RB-by-committee approach. The Golden Hurricane boast three different ball carriers with 765 yards or more. One member of that trio (Alex Singleton) has racked up 21 touchdowns on the ground, while another (Trey Watts) ranks 12th in the country in All-Purpose Yards (162/game). Nevertheless, you still get the sense that Head Coach Paul Rhoad’s overachieving Cyclones defense will find a way to get it done. Despite the midseason loss of all-conference linebacker Jake Knott, ISU has had plenty of talent remaining on the defensive side of the football – including ball hawking safety Durrell Givens (3 int. & 6 fumble recoveries) and reigning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year A.J. Klein. I’m not sure what will happen when these two programs meet again next September in Tulsa, but this time around the looking glass tells me the Clones will find a way to gut out another ugly win. Iowa State 24, Tulsa 20
LSU (10-2) vs CLEMSON (10-2): Let’s start this prophecy off with a bold, tongue-in-cheek prediction that Clemson won’t allow quite as many points in this bowl match-up as it did in its last one. (See: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33) Yes, LSU found its lost passing game in an early November loss to Alabama and rode the arm of Zach Mettenberger down the stretch for three wins to close out the regular season, but no one is confusing Louisiana State with Andre Ware’s Houston Cougars. Les Miles' crew is still about the old school basics: a bone breaking defense (no. 8 nationally) and a sturdy ground game (180 per contest). In terms of sheer flash, high tempo and aggressiveness, a compelling argument can be made that the purple and gold haven’t faced an offense as challenging as Clemson’s since last year’s trip to Morgantown when LSU beat West Virginia 47-21 but surrendered a gaudy 463 passing yards to Geno Smith. Dabo Swinney’s squad leads the ACC in both scoring (42/game) and yardage (518/game). With a pair of future NFL receivers in DeAndre Hopkins (57-1,214-16 TDs) and Sammy Watkins (57-708-3, despite missing 3 games), Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd has racked up numbers at a video game-like pace, throwing for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns while adding another 9 scores on the ground. Against an LSU defense that did show some holes down the stretch by allowing 300+ yards though the air in each of its final three games, Boyd and company will have their moments – but not enough of them. Miles defense had 31 takeaways this year – tops in the SEC. Expect a few more as Sam Montgomery and the LSU front seven smother Clemson’s ground game and reduce OC Chad Morris’ attack to just one dimension, forcing Boyd to put the football in the air more than he cares to. Louisiana State 38, Clemson 27