Monday, December 12, 2016

Bowl Season 2016: What to Watch

By Jean Neuberger

Forty-one games. Eighty teams. One champion.

The college football postseason has begun. And, while many have ranked the 40 bowl games the national title is our 41st), we're here to trim things down to the moments of intrigue that should be found during this feast for football gluttons.

With that being said, let's get right to it.

Best Game (Playoff) — I'm looking forward to Alabama/Washington, mostly because of the chess match that will be between Nick Saban and Chris Petersen. We all know this is Saban's time of the year; however, since the Statue of Liberty play in the Fiesta Bowl that knocked off Oklahoma, Petersen's track record in bowl games stands pretty tall, as well. I think, like most, Alabama is the best team in college football. However, I think this is the test that will best determine if that belief is for real. Washington will throw the kitchen sink and then some at the Tide. If 'Bama survives, business as usual. But don't expect it to be easy.

Best Game (Non-Playoff) — There's a lot of good ones (Florida State/Michigan was really tempting), but I'm taking the Citrus Bowl showdown between LSU and Louisville. The Cardinals come in slumping, yet have Lamar Jackson and an explosive offense that, given a month to prepare, should have a lot of wrinkles up their sleeves. Meanwhile, LSU got stronger as the season progressed, giving Ed Orgeron his well-deserved promotion to permanent head coach. I expect this to be similar to the Louisville/Clemson throwdown earlier this season: intense on both sides, some big plays and the game to be decided late.

Player You Haven't Seen, Yet Should — San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey. He's rushed for over 2,000 yards this season and is the catalyst of the Aztec offense. SDSU is 1-2 when Pumphrey rushes for under 100 yards; they're 9-1 when he goes over the century mark. Houston will be geared to stop him.

Dangerous Teams to Watch — To me, those are the teams that are more excited than usual to be in a bowl game. This year's examples are.

1) Vanderbilt — Vandy ended red-hot to finish their season and, while Shreveport isn't the hottest bowl destination, rest assured that the Commodores are pumped to be there.

2) Wyoming — Craig Bohl left the juggernaut he built at North Dakota State to turn around the mess in Laramie. It's taken a few years, but Wyoming seems to be on the right track. BYU used to be a conference rival in the old WAC days, so the Cowboys will be primed.

3) Idaho — The Vandals will be in the FCS come 2018. Think they'd like to make some noise in Boise?

Possible Slumper — The team that looks great on paper but might just lay an egg come kickoff? I'd say Tennessee. When you go from a Sugar Bowl slot to a quick trip within your state, it's a tough blow for the Volunteers. Nebraska is smarting from a brutal loss as well; however, the Vols lost much more in their fall at Vandy. Could be a rough go; though a feisty crowd could change that assessment.

Best Bet — It's really weird to pick a 5-7 team as a best bet, but Mississippi State found their offensive groove over the last few weeks and is thrilled to be in any bowl game, so expect Nick Fitzgerald to raise a few eyebrows against Miami (Ohio) in what should be a fun game, but I'm taking the Bulldogs.

Upset Alert — It's common in bowl season for anyone to pull off an upset. In this case, though, I really like Iowa's chances against Florida. Iowa's offensive line could give Florida fits and the Gator offense doesn't have the firepower to rattle Desmond King and company.

Wild Prediction — The service academies sweep their bowl games. I like Air Force over South Alabama in a close one down in Arizona. I like Army to take down North Texas and I'll take the Midshipmen over Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech.

Playoff Predictions — I'm going with a repeat in the title game.

Alabama over Washington. Clemson over Ohio State. Alabama over Clemson.

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