by Ian Boyd
Our next round of bowl games includes a smattering of Power 5 programs facing off in the lower, pre-holiday events, with some bigger contests such as the Miami vs. Wisconsin rematch and also the intriguing Houston vs. Army battle. These are your main Christmas offerings from college football, with a lot of Mountain West and American Athletic Conference teams in the mix facing off against various independents and a few Power 5 teams.
The main intrigue in these contests comes from the wonky matchups such as Boise State against a Power 5 school, explosive Houston playing sturdy Army, and all of the interesting lines and gambling around the cross-conference matchups.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl
Florida International vs. Toledo (-6.5) -- December 21, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Florida International (8-4)||Toledo (7-5)||F/+||89||73||Special Teams S&P+||41||31||S&P+||-1.9||4.6||When Florida International has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||21||113||S&P+||75||95||IsoPPP+||61||106||Rushing S&P+||95||119||Passing S&P+||75||93||When Toledo has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||113||34||S&P+||87||17||IsoPPP+||26||16||Rushing S&P+||114||12||Passing S&P+||71||46|
This one promises to be an exciting shootout. The Golden Panthers of Florida International have a potent offense that spreads the ball around quite a bit without a single skill player at even 700 yards rushing or receiving, but a quarterback in redshirt junior James Morgan with 2,727 yards at 8.4 yards per attempt and 26 touchdowns to seven interceptions. The Toledo defense hasn't offered a tremendous resistance this season and could be vulnerable to an attack that seems hard to key in on, even with the extra bowl prep. So long as Toledo defensive end Tuzar Skipper can't throw Morgan off his game, FIU should be able to score.
Toledo also has a balanced and explosive attack. Lead running back Bryant Koback has 875 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns at a clip of 6.3 yards per carry. Similar to FIU, the Rockets have also spread the ball around, with three receivers within the vicinity of 600 yards in one direction or the other. Sophomore quarterback Eli Peters has been somewhat inconsistent this year, but unless the FIU defense can really affect him or clamp down on the balanced attack, we'll probably see the better version of the player. This is likely a back and forth game that features some fun RPO offense on the part of Toledo.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Toledo
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Boise State, Idaho
Western Michigan vs. BYU (-13) -- December 21, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Western Michigan (7-5)||BYU (6-6)||F/+||94||68||Special Teams S&P+||130||90||S&P+||-6.3||3.1||When Western Michigan has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||46||75||S&P+||40||30||IsoPPP+||70||1||Rushing S&P+||67||32||Passing S&P+||20||18||When BYU has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||107||73||S&P+||106||84||IsoPPP+||128||108||Rushing S&P+||88||39||Passing S&P+||125||84|
BYU was a one-trick pony this season, excelling at preventing opponents from scoring enough points to pull away while grinding away on offense with their run game. They got beat up some during the year and ended with freshman Zach Wilson at quarterback, but potentially starting running back Squally Canada returning to the backfield with him. Wilson makes the run game even more effective than did previous starter Tanner Mangum as a dual-threat player who can run the zone-read from the shotgun. He also did some damage late in the year in the passing game, which could make this team fairly dangerous after bowl practices.
Western Michigan is in a tough spot here. They lost three of their last four games after starting quarterback Jon Wassink went out with injury, and backup Kaleb Eleby has been solid but error-prone. Overcoming a good defense like BYU's, which literally ranked No. 1 in the country at stopping the big play, is a tough task for a young freshman quarterback who was pressed into action late due to injury. While technically BYU is in the same situation, their freshman quarterback is going up against a much easier unit in the Western Michigan defense, and he has faced stout defenses already. For Eleby, this will be the toughest challenge of his young collegiate career.
The Broncos will lean on running backs LaVante Bellamy (1,172 yards, six touchdowns) and Jamauri Bogan (702 yards, 15 touchdowns). If that doesn't work against BYU's No. 32-ranked rushing defense (per S&P+), then it could be a bad time for Western Michigan.
S&P+ Outright Pick: BYU
Jared Birmingham Bowl
Memphis (-3.5) vs. Wake Forest -- December 22, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Memphis (8-5)||Wake Forest (6-6)||F/+||43||82||Special Teams S&P+||28||72||S&P+||12||-.1||When Memphis has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||26||80||S&P+||8||78||IsoPPP+||11||73||Rushing S&P+||4||49||Passing S&P+||66||69||When Wake Forest has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||95||59||S&P+||75||56||IsoPPP+||83||119||Rushing S&P+||54||61||Passing S&P+||96||92|
Memphis was the subject of a few coaching rumors after the regular season concluded, with head coach Mike Norvell listed as a candidate at Kansas State before the Wildcats ultimately hired Chris Klieman of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. Now Norvell seems to be sticking around, but star running back Darrell Henderson is not -- he will skip this bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft after declaring early. The Tigers are very heavily oriented around Henderson's exceptional abilities; the lead back ran for 1,909 yards at 8.9 yards per carry with 22 touchdowns in Norvell's brutal spread rushing attack. The Tigers have a nice power run game; they like to run from 11 personnel sets (utilizing a true tight end) with pass options on the runs for the quarterback. That signal-caller was transfer Brady White, and he threw for 3,125 yards at 8.6 yards per attempt with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
After Henderson, the Tigers had another thousand-yard rusher who will play in the bowl game, Patrick Taylor Jr., and a running back/wide receiver hybrid named Tony Pollard who had 901 total yards. With all of that still in place, they may lose a step without Henderson, but they'll still be a top offense.
Wake Forest has a solid spread offensive concept as well, into which they plugged sophomore quarterback Jamie Newman down the stretch. They won two road games and dropped a home contest against Pittsburgh in that final stretch, making them bowl-eligible and resulting in this rather unfortunate draw. The Memphis defense isn't all that much, but Wake Forest hasn't been terribly impressive on either side of the ball and the Tigers have been elite at times on offense. The Demon Deacons' star on offense is wide receiver Greg Dortch, who is questionable for this bowl game. The speedy sophomore had 1,078 receiving yards and eight touchdowns working off the spread option rushing attack.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Memphis
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Fort Worth, Texas
Houston vs. Army (-3.5) -- December 22, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Houston (8-4)||Army (10-2)||F/+||52||47||Special Teams S&P+||42||123||S&P+||6.2||-1.6||When Houston has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||27||44||S&P+||11||77||IsoPPP+||4||77||Rushing S&P+||24||76||Passing S&P+||23||79||When Army has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||92||15||S&P+||100||52||IsoPPP+||36||130||Rushing S&P+||65||89||Passing S&P+||94||3|
The one thing Houston's defense was really effective at was something that Army barely bothers with: the Cougars were good this year at preventing the big play, while Army was uniquely great at sustaining absurdly long drives with fullback dives out of the triple option rushing attack. That's one of many components that make this one of the best early bowl games.
There were times this year when Houston could boast that they had the best player on the field on either side of the ball between defensive tackle Ed Oliver and quarterback D'Eriq King. But Oliver bowed out of the season early after an injury and has focused on preparing for the NFL draft, while King tore a meniscus and underwent season-ending surgery. Instead the Cougars are leaning on freshman quarterback Clayton Tune to distribute the ball in offensive coordinator Kendall Briles' "veer and shoot" offense, which is heavy on quarterback pass options and deep passing. The Cougars defense was fairly unimpressive this season, especially given that for much of it they had one of the most dominant nose tackles of the century.
Now they have to take on a very stout Army team coming off a 10-2 season that included taking Oklahoma to overtime in a game played in Norman. The Black Knights pounded the ball on the ground, with fullback Darnell Woolfolk (885 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns) and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. working the edge on the option (852 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns). It was the least explosive offense in FBS football, but it was brutally effective and could be a nightmare for Houston's defense, which hasn't been the most sound or physical in the country this year.
The Army defense also had a very solid year with a cutting edge approach to hurry-up, no-huddle defense organized by Jay Bateman, who is now taking the defensive coordinator job at North Carolina. They have a stout unit that will know how to confuse the reads for young Tune and force turnovers. They recovered 11 fumbles this season and were good at landing some big hits on opposing ball-carriers.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Houston
Dollar General Bowl
Buffalo (-2.5) vs. Troy -- December 22, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Buffalo (10-3)||Troy (9-3)||F/+||46||54||Special Teams S&P+||124||11||S&P+||4.2||5.4||When Buffalo has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||10||34||S&P+||32||35||IsoPPP+||13||22||Rushing S&P+||49||15||Passing S&P+||9||46||When Troy has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||96||93||S&P+||57||82||IsoPPP+||94||23||Rushing S&P+||80||100||Passing S&P+||83||70|
This is a really good "styles make fights" type of matchup because of the relative strength of both Buffalo's offense and the Troy defense. The Trojans have picked off 16 passes this year. They have a pair of inside linebackers in Tron Folsom and Carlton Martial who are quick (both are only around 210 pounds) and active (two leading tacklers and a combined 18 tackles for loss and six sacks). The Trojans defense is essentially a 3-4 but it utilizes smaller, faster linebackers at all four spots and is constantly shifting players around before and after the snap. All of the movement and speed has made life hard for opponents and helped encourage quarterbacks to throw the ball to the Trojans secondary which gets its hands on tons of passes both in terms of interceptions and break-ups.
All of that is going to be a load for Buffalo, but the Bulls have a highly potent offense to bring into this fight. Quarterback Tyree Jackson is a 6-foot-7, 245-pound pocket passer in his third year of starting regularly and had a respectable 2,857 yards this year and 27 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions. The Bulls' most dangerous dimension is their balance; running backs Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson led the way with 1,716 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns, while wide receivers Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn added another 1,779 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. Buffalo can always put at least three skill players on the field at the same time that are a threat to go for 100 yards that day. Troy will have to hope to confuse Jackson over effectively covering up all of his options.
On the other side of things, Buffalo hasn't been terribly effective on defense, but doesn't face a particularly daunting task from the Troy offense. The Trojans run an Air Raid style offense that has used two different quarterbacks this year after the starter was injured (and they weren't terrifying with him, either). Their main weapon is running back B.J. Smith, who had just over a thousand rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Troy will need a strong defensive effort to keep the game in reach for their own offense, but then that has been a fairly reliable formula for them this season in going 9-3.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Troy
Sofi Hawai'i Bowl
Hawai'i (-1.5) vs. Louisiana Tech -- December 22, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Hawai'i (8-5)||Louisiana Tech (7-5)||F/+||100||96||Special Teams S&P+||86||115||S&P+||-9.3||-4.5||When Hawai'i has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||44||81||S&P+||50||47||IsoPPP+||18||58||Rushing S&P+||85||98||Passing S&P+||37||49||When Louisiana Tech has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||118||95||S&P+||118||109||IsoPPP+||108||112||Rushing S&P+||117||78||Passing S&P+||121||101|
Louisiana Tech got where they are this season by playing passable defense and throwing the ball to star receiver Adrian Hardy, who had 1,052 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Inside linebacker Collin Scott and nickel linebacker Darryl Lewis paced the team in tackles, and each also picked off two passes while defensive end Jaylon Ferguson was the star of the show. Ferguson is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound redshirt junior who will probably head off to the NFL after this game. He had 23.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks this season for the Bulldogs.
Hawai'i is going to find Ferguson and the Louisiana Tech defense to be a nasty challenge given their own reliance on throwing the ball and keeping quarterback Cole McDonald clean to do so. Hawai'i generated attention earlier this season with an inventive run game that became pretty lethal when they ran it with McDonald (leading rusher with 370 yards) and effective use of the shovel pass rather than a running back draw, but eventually they just became another spread passing team flinging the ball around on almost every play. John Ursua led their wideouts with 1,343 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Cedric Byrd and Jojo Ward added 1,804 more and 16 more touchdowns. Missing a few games with injury kept McDonald under 4,000 passing yards for the year, but he threw 35 touchdowns to only eight interceptions for the Rainbow Warriors. Their passing attack is a major load for an opponent, and the big watchable point with this game is whether or not Ferguson can do enough to wreck it.
On the other side of things, Hawai'i has the sort of defense that tends to allow opponents to engage in a shootout with their own offense, while Louisiana Tech's offense is just potent enough that they might be able to keep pace with Hawai'i and turn this into a late-night barn-burner.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Louisiana Tech
Servpro First Responder Bowl
Boston College vs. Boise State (-2.5) -- December 26, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Boston College (7-5)||Boise State (10-3)||F/+||65||21||Special Teams S&P+||117||120||S&P+||1.2||10||When Boston College has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||80||30||S&P+||95||39||IsoPPP+||65||92||Rushing S&P+||108||52||Passing S&P+||41||45||When Boise State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||41||25||S&P+||28||18||IsoPPP+||39||82||Rushing S&P+||46||14||Passing S&P+||51||29|
Usually Boise State is involved in one of the more fascinating games of the bowl season. They drew Oregon last year when the Ducks' star quarterback Justin Herbert was healthy, but the game instead became a spotlight on Boise State's star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who was shortly thereafter drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round. Boise State carefully picked Oregon apart but made enough mistakes via turnovers to make it an interesting game.
This year the Broncos draw Boston College, which isn't a particularly flashy or explosive foil for Boise State's disciplined style, nor a good measure of where the school stands this season compared to the stronger programs in college football. The Eagles play old school football, combining a power run game with an aggressive 3-4 defense, a formula that tends to make them bowl-eligible from year to year and little else. But this is the last hurrah for four-year Boise State starting quarterback Brett Rypien, who will finish second all-time in a wide array of school records, because back in the day they had another four-year starting quarterback named Kellen Moore. This season looked more like a classic Boise State offense as lead running back Alexander Mattison carried a heavy load with 301 carries he took for 1,415 yards at 4.7 yards a pop with 17 rushing touchdowns. On top of that, Rypien added 3,705 passing yards at 8.3 yards per attempt with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Boise State defense looked promising coming into the season, with every starter except for Vander Esch returning, and turned in a solid but unspectacular season. Their linebackers missed Vander Esch and edge rushers Jabrill Frazier and Curtis Weaver were strong but not quite as dominant as hoped, combining for 15 sacks on the year. Boston College is going to come downhill on this group with 245-pound running back A.J. Dillon (1,108 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns) and if Boise State can make some stops then it'll come down to whether Boston College can handle the Broncos offense.
Boston College's own style is less dependent on big plays and athleticism than some of the bigger programs that Boise State normally victimizes. The Eagles will test the Boise State offensive line that was ravaged by Oklahoma State earlier in the year with a variety of linebacker blitzes and star defensive end Zach Allen, a 6-foot-5, 285-pounder who inflicted 6.5 sacks and seven pass break-ups this season. If Boise State can't make headway running the ball against the big, physiCalifornia Boston College front, then they could easily struggle to handle the Eagles pass rush.
S&P Outright Pick: Boise State
Quick Lane Bowl
Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech (-6) -- December 26, 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Minnesota (6-6)||Georgia Tech (7-5)||F/+||53||76||Special Teams S&P+||25||16||S&P+||2.9||.5||When Minnesota has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||84||108||S&P+||88||105||IsoPPP+||88||17||Rushing S&P+||86||90||Passing S&P+||51||118||When Georgia Tech has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||38||17||S&P+||44||31||IsoPPP+||111||121||Rushing S&P+||101||18||Passing S&P+||47||6|
This is going to be the final game for flexbone legend Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech before he retires. The Yellow Jackets have already hired Geoff Collins from Temple to replace him, and Collins has promised to evolve their offense into more of an "NFL-based" style. So this is it for the triple-option Georgia Tech team that we've all known for the last decade.
Their opponent is the P.J. Fleck Minnesota Gophers, who are still trying to "break the ice" with his "row the boat" mantra and attempt to build this program into a Big 10 power. The Gophers will be without star linebacker Blake Cashman for this game, and the Pioneer Press reports that as many as six to eight other Gophers may be suspended for the game. That could make this a tough outing for Minnesota, particularly going up against a team that will be fighting for their head coach to go out on a high note. The Gophers will also be starting a freshman quarterback, Tanner Morgan, who took over after another freshman quarterback (Zack Annexstad) was lost for the year to injury. Morgan averaged 9.1 yards per attempt but also threw seven touchdowns to six interceptions. The Gophers were at their best throwing RPOs and play-action to speedy slot receiver Tyler Johnson, who had 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns, although running back Mohamed Ibrahim also flashed potential with 5.5 yards per carry and seven touchdowns splitting the role. There's a chance that Minnesota could score some points on Georgia Tech; things mostly come down to how well prepared their defense is to stop the option.
It's a normal offensive attack from the Yellow Jackets. The two leading rushers are quarterbacks Taquon Marshall and Tobias Oliver, the latter of whom often moonlights as a pitch man. They have four players with over 500 rushing yards on the year and all of them have solid yards per carry averages, with Marshall the lowest at 4.6 and running back Jordan Mason the highest at 6.2. The last time Minnesota played a team with an option style and this many dangerous rushers, it was against Nebraska in the Big 10 season. The Gophers allowed three different Cornhuskers to finish with over 100 rushing yards and lost 53-28.
S&P Outright Pick: Minnesota
California vs. TCU (even) -- December 26, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||California (7-5)||TCU (6-6)||F/+||66||56||Special Teams S&P+||20||121||S&P+||1.6||3||When California has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||123||74||S&P+||121||23||IsoPPP+||127||33||Rushing S&P+||96||29||Passing S&P+||122||111||When TCU has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||15||114||S&P+||12||99||IsoPPP+||9||98||Rushing S&P+||27||92||Passing S&P+||14||98|
TCU had a nightmare season, losing starter after starter to injury over the course of the year, including first-string quarterback Shawn Robinson and also his backup Michael Collins. They'll start senior Grayson Muehlstein as the quarterback in this game against the California defense, which head coach Justin Wilcox has quickly turned into a highly effective unit.
The Horned Frogs were also able to play pretty good defense this season, despite all of their injuries, thanks to their own head coach Gary Patterson and his knack for making the most out of any available components like a patchwork quilt. Neither offense was particularly effective in 2018, and neither has a good draw in this game. California tried to be a running team, asking running back Patrick Laird to carry the load, and he finished the year with 935 rushing yards and just five touchdowns. The passing game did little to get points on the board or even add much yardage to the attack. The Frogs will be able to zero in on Laird and force California to throw the ball effectively in order to score points.
TCU actually has some explosive offensive talent, namely wide receiver Jalen Reagor who managed to go for 1,053 receiving yards and nine touchdowns despite playing with three different quarterbacks over the course of the season. He's a burner and a good route-runner to boot and should garner most of California's attention. The Golden Bears defense didn't have a dominant pass-rusher but was able to get results from bringing all of the linebackers at different times, with three of them finishing the year with four or more sacks. All three cornerbacks in nickel also had at least three interceptions, so this is a group that knows how to play the spread passing game. The turnovers are key; it's hard to see California getting enough points in this game to win unless their defense can create scoring opportunities on takeaways.
S&P Outright Pick: TCU
Walk-on's Independence Bowl
Temple (-4.5) vs. Duke -- December 27, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Temple (8-4)||Duke (7-5)||F/+||33||57||Special Teams S&P+||101||83||S&P+||8.1||1.4||When Temple has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||56||60||S&P+||61||49||IsoPPP+||48||95||Rushing S&P+||70||69||Passing S&P+||28||34||When Duke has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||25||76||S&P+||24||76||IsoPPP+||2||84||Rushing S&P+||38||73||Passing S&P+||1||78|
Temple played exceptional defense this season, leading to head coach Geoff Collins getting the Georgia Tech job and being replaced by Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. In the meantime, special teams and tight end coach Ed Foley is the interim coach who will try to get Temple ready to go against Duke. The Temple Owls have a smaller defense, loaded with hybrids like Delvon Randall, Sam Franklin, and Quincy Roche. They also have studs such as defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who had 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks this season.
The Owls had some struggles with the better offenses in the AAC, such as Central Florida or Houston, but still put together a strong season and made life hard on offenses that weren't able to sort out their shifting defense or beat their speed. On offense they rely on a bruising rushing attack led by running back Ryquell Armstead to carry the day. Armstead had 1,098 yards and 13 touchdowns this year, while three different players managed to hit 400 or more receiving yards. Quarterback Anthony Russo flashed some playmaking but also threw 13 interceptions on the year.
Duke also had an interesting season at quarterback, going only 5-5 with starter Daniel Jones, who averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt working off the Blue Devils run game. Duke's run game wasn't enough to carry the day without a more efficient passing attack, and lead rusher Deon Jackson had just 806 yards, while lead wideouts T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd had to join forces to break a thousand receiving yards or 10 touchdowns. They're not a great match for the Temple defense; things will likely come down to whether Duke's own defense is ready to make some stops.
The Devils were solid at playing fundamental football and keeping the ball in front of them, but lacked disruption. They didn't have a single player produce more than three sacks or more than one interception, but instead hoped to force enough punts that the opponent couldn't put up too many points for their own offense to match.
S&P Outright Pick: Temple
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
New York, New York
Miami (-4) vs. Wisconsin -- December 27, 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Miami (7-5)||Wisconsin (7-5)||F/+||26||37||Special Teams S&P+||100||116||S&P+||12.1||11.4||When Miami has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||94||46||S&P+||67||43||IsoPPP+||38||55||Rushing S&P+||44||61||Passing S&P+||112||64||When Wisconsin has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||7||48||S&P+||7||13||IsoPPP+||32||89||Rushing S&P+||25||2||Passing S&P+||9||80|
This is a rematch of last year's Orange Bowl, where Wisconsin beat up Miami 34-24 and built some hype for their 2018 season. Instead, Wisconsin had a tough year. Between their brilliant 2017 season and the fact that they returned loads of offensive linemen to block for star running back Johnathan Taylor, some voters put them in the top 10 preseason poll. However, losses across the defense combined with some suspensions of wide receivers and a rash of injuries left the team without the same kind of firepower against a tougher schedule. Taylor still ran for 1,989 yards at 7.1 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns, but there wasn't much else to the Badgers team besides their ability to pound the ball on the ground with their war horse.
Miami played great defense but couldn't score enough points with freshman quarterback N'Kosi Perry to make the most of it. Lead running back Travis Homer had 969 yards at 6.3 yards per carry while backup Deejay Dallas added 609 at 5.8 yards per carry, and that was the main thrust of the offense. Their read-heavy spread run game is going to face a tough challenge against a Wisconsin defense lead by inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, who each had 10 tackles for loss this season. Wisconsin's main struggle on defense was the injuries and inexperience at defensive line and the secondary, along with a lack of pass-rushing ability at outside linebacker, where they are normally exceptional. However, they'll know how to fit the run against Miami's rather simple offense and make life hard for the Hurricanes.
Wisconsin's offensive options after "hand the ball to Taylor" include a lot of play-action on standard downs and then a passing-downs scheme built around attacking linebackers with flex tight end Jake Ferguson and third-down running back Garrett Groshek in order to create easy reads for the quarterback. They had to play sophomore quarterback Jack Coan after starter Alex Hornibrook endured some concussions. Hornibrook returned for the season finale and threw three interceptions in a loss to Minnesota, capping a final stretch in which Hornibrook threw two or more interceptions in each of his last four games. Hornibrook will try to end his bad junior season on a high note against Miami, but this is perhaps the best defense he has faced all season.
The Hurricanes have a talented cast at defensive line and several multi-year starters at linebacker and in the secondary, including safeties Jaquan Johnson (leading tackler) and Sheldrick Redwine. Their defense has picked off 15 passes this year and will be licking their chops to get another shot at Hornibrook and the Badgers after their disappointing Orange Bowl performance a year ago.
S&P Outright Pick: Miami
Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl
Baylor vs. Vanderbilt (-5) -- December 27, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Baylor (6-6)||Vanderbilt (6-6)||F/+||84||58||Special Teams S&P+||89||98||S&P+||-1.9||1.4||When Baylor has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||42||40||S&P+||57||70||IsoPPP+||109||18||Rushing S&P+||43||105||Passing S&P+||94||25||When Vanderbilt has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||101||40||S&P+||90||45||IsoPPP+||112||27||Rushing S&P+||83||41||Passing S&P+||81||50|
This is Baylor head coach Matt Rhule's first bowl game for the Bears after his inaugural season resulted in a 1-11 finish. They needed a gritty season from quarterback Charlie Brewer, who led the team with 117 rushing attempts at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds while throwing for 2,635 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He'll be without his favorite target, flex tight end Jalen Hurd, who injured his knee and will be focusing on the NFL draft. The Bears still have some other talented targets, including Chris Platt (504 receiving yards) and speedy Denzel Mims (699 yards and eight touchdowns in a letdown follow-up to his thousand-yard season in 2017).
The Bears are still building up this program and lack the kind of downhill rushing attack that Rhule hopes to have in future seasons. That'll make Vanderbilt a tough opponent, as the Commodores played good pass defense this season and defensive backs Frank Coppett and Joejuan Williams had seven combined interceptions. Without having to worry about matching up to big Jalen Hurd in the middle of the field, Vanderbilt will be able to lock in on Mims and Platt, which could make for trouble for the Bears.
The other side of the ball looks even more grim for Baylor. Vanderbilt is led by senior quarterback and three-year starter Kyle Shurmur, who threw for 2,844 yards with 23 touchdowns to just six interceptions this season. The Commodores run a balanced offense; lead running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn had 1,001 carries at 7.0 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns as the main feature. Tight end Jared Pinckney had 698 yards and seven touchdowns as a receiver, and star wideout Kalija Lipscomb had another 886 yards and nine touchdowns. The Commodores can make Baylor worry about multiple dimensions and attacks from play to play, which is trouble for a unit that has had to shuffle their lineups regularly.
S&P Outright Pick: Vanderbilt
S&P+ PICKS: Bowl Week 2
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick|| S&P+ pick
| Ian's pick
|Toledo||6.5||Florida International||Toledo||Florida International||Toledo|
|BYU||13||Western Michigan||BYU||Western Michigan||BYU|
|Hawai'i||1.5||Louisiana Tech||Louisiana Tech||Louisiana Tech||Hawai'i|
|Boise State||2.5||Boston College||Boise State||Boise State||Boston College|
|Minnesota||6||Georgia Tech||Minnesota||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech|
S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 46-38
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 49-34