2016-2017 College Football Playoff & Bowl Game First Predictions, Reactions
Quick reactions, predictions and projections before diving deep into the 2016-2017 College Football Playoff and bowl season
It’s my annual first thought on the bowl season with a quick, top-of-mind thought about each bowl game, followed up by a knee-jerk reaction and prediction.
We’ll all spend the next month diving into and dissecting these 40-plus-one-big-one games to death, so these picks might change, but as your third grade teacher said, always go with your first answer.
One other quirky part to this. Every year, I make it a point to not look at the lines before writing this up, and I make a guess on how close to the pin I can get it to what the actual line will be. And then, when I’m all done, I add in what the line opens at.
So with all that in mind, if you don’t feel like watching the bowl season, then you don’t need to. Here’s what’s going to happen.
All the big previews and breakdowns to come out starting tomorrow. But for now …
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico vs. UTSA, Dec. 17
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Love the fire UTSA will bring, but at home, the New Mexico running game will roar. The Roadrunner defensive front isn’t all that bad, but with time off to prepare, the Lobos will go ballistic.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: New Mexico 37, UTSA 23
Guessing The Line: New Mexico -7.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … New Mexico -7.5
Las Vegas Bowl: Houston vs. San Diego State, Dec. 17
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Houston’s defense is going to shut down San Diego State’s ground game cold and keep him from being the record book version of the all-time leading rusher. Forget about the loss of Tom Herman. This will be one time when having an interim head man for a bowl game won’t matter.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Houston 31, San Diego State 16
Guessing The Line: Houston -2
The Opening Line Is Actually … Houston -3
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo, Dec. 17
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Running game on running game action with lots and lots of yards from the tremendous backfields. But the Appalachian State veterans will come through in a terrific early bowl that’ll be worth the watch. The Mountaineers will come through again after last season’s bowl thriller over Ohio.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Appalachian State 30, Toledo 27
Guessing The Line: Toledo -3.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … Toledo -2
AutoNation Cure Bowl: UCF vs. Arkansas State, Dec. 17
Knee-Jerk Reaction: The one X factor we don’t quite know yet is whether or not Scott Frost’s attention will be elsewhere on another possible coaching gig. Let’s assume he’s back in Orlando for another year. His defense will rise up and slow down the Red Wolves in a low-scoring slugfest.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: UCF 23, Arkansas State 17
Guessing The Line: UCF -5
The Opening Line Is Actually … UCF -6.5
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Dec. 17
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Southern Miss will bring its share of fans, but the Ragin’ Cajuns in New Orleans will bring the game to another level. USM might have the firepower, but the ULL defense will rise up and end a rocky season on an impressive note.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 26, Southern Miss 23
Guessing The Line: Southern Miss -3.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … Southern Miss -2
Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Tulsa, Dec. 19
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Central Michigan won’t be able to keep up the pace. QB Cooper Rush will throw for a bazillion yards, and the Chippewa defense has been fine all season long, but the Golden Hurricane offense will start firing and keep firing in one of the season’s fun bowl games.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Tulsa 44, Central Michigan 38
Guessing The Line: Tulsa -9.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … Tulsa -11
Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis vs. WKU, Dec. 20
Knee-Jerk Reaction: How much will the loss of Jeff Brohm hurt? The talent is still in place to keep it all going, but this was going to be a tough game for the Hilltoppers no matter what. Memphis will keep up the momentum from the Houston win with an impressive performance.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Memphis 40, WKU 31
Guessing The Line: Memphis -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … WKU -7
San Diego County CU Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming, Dec. 21
Knee-Jerk Reaction: The Cougars are coming into the game on a roll, but Wyoming has found another gear at odd times this season. BYU doesn’t get the fun of a conference title to play for, so this really and truly is the game it’s been waiting for – and it’ll play like it, Tanner Mangum style.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: BYU 27, Wyoming 23
Guessing The Line: BYU -5
The Opening Line Is Actually … BYU -7.5
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho vs. Colorado State, Dec. 22
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Colorado State is as hot as any team in the Mountain West – and it might be the hottest team. This might be an Idaho team coming in with a major attitude – this is its last fun moment as an FBS program, for now – but the Rams will bomb away in a wild shootout.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Colorado State 44, Idaho 34
Guessing The Line: Colorado State -11
The Opening Line Is Actually … Colorado State -13
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan, Dec. 23
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Both teams are going to be really, really jacked to be in a bowl game – and they’re going to play like it. Old Dominion will be too balanced and too careful with the ball, winning the turnover margin and capitalizing on the few EMU mistakes.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Old Dominion 30, Eastern Michigan 23
Guessing The Line: Old Dominion -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Eastern Michigan -1
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Navy, Dec. 23
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Navy will have the Army game to get the backfield right after losing QB Will Worth, but it won’t matter. The Midshipmen offense will run wild, but Louisiana Tech will make up for it with yet another massive passing day. Expect lots and lots of yards.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Louisiana Tech 45, Navy 37
Guessing The Line: Louisiana Tech -6.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … No Line (Navy has to play Army)
Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy, Dec. 23
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Ohio suffered a crushing bodyblow in last year’s bowl loss to Appalachian State – losing on a last-second kick. It’ll lose again to a Sun Belt team that’ll be far better and stronger than it was at the end of the season.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Troy 23, Ohio 16
Guessing The Line: Troy -4
The Opening Line Is Actually … Troy -5
Hawai’i Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Hawaii, Dec. 24
Knee-Jerk Reaction: How much will Hawaii be able get the offense going to keep up with the Middle Tennessee attack? Terrific late in the year, and explosive throughout, the Blue Raiders overcame the disappointment of not being among the players in the Conference USA title hunt with lots and lots of offense. Expect a shootout.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Middle Tennessee 45, Hawaii 37
Guessing The Line: Middle Tennessee -5
The Opening Line Is Actually … No Line Yet
St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Miami Univ., Dec. 26
Knee-Jerk Reaction: MAC vs. the SEC? Okay, Miami University’s defense has been stellar, and Gus Ragland has turned around the offense, but when it comes to the lines, the Bulldogs should be able to roll. What have we learned about the APR teams? They’re jacked up to be in a bowl, any bowl. MSU will show up.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Miami University 20
Guessing The Line: Mississippi State -13
The Opening Line Is Actually … Mississippi State -11
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College vs. Maryland, Dec. 26
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Complain all you want about fans having to travel to Detroit around Christmas, Boston College and Maryland are bowling – they’re going to try. BC’s defense will keep down the score, and the Terps don’t have the firepower to put up big points. Don’t expect fireworks, but it’ll a close, entertaining fight.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Boston College 23, Maryland 20
Guessing The Line: Maryland -1
The Opening Line Is Actually … Boston College -2
Camping World Independence Bowl: NC State vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 26
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Vanderbilt is about to rise up and rock with its defense against the NC State backfield. NC State is about to rise up and rock with its defense against the Vanderbilt backfield. The difference? The Commodores will play just enough stallball to muck it up in an ugly, low-scoring win.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Vanderbilt 20, NC State 17
Guessing The Line: NC State -2.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … NC State -4
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army vs. North Texas, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: We just did this a few weeks ago, and North Texas was able to figure out the Army running game. Now the Mean Green have a month to rest up and figure out the option all over again, but it’s so hard to beat the same team twice. Does Army have another wrinkle? Not really, but the defense will rise up and pull this off.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Army 31, North Texas 17
Guessing The Line: Army -5
The Opening Line Is Actually … Army -9
Military Bowl: Temple vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Loved it before as a sure-thing Temple win, now not so sure with Matt Rhule off to Baylor. Even so, the Owl defense will stop an awful Wake Forest offense cold, but the Demon Deacon D will do its part against the Temple running game. First team to 20 wins?
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Temple 20, Wake Forest 17
Guessing The Line: Temple -8
The Opening Line Is Actually … Temple -12
National Funding Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Washington State is going to be Washington State and bomb, bomb, bomb away, but Minnesota will be even more Minnesota and control the ground attack and control the clock to keep Luke Falk and company on the sidelines. Yeah, the Wazzu D isn’t all that bad, but that’s because it played Pac-12 teams.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Minnesota 27, Washington State 23
Guessing The Line: Washington State -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Washington State -4.5
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Baylor doesn’t have Matt Rhule quite yet. Oregon doesn’t have Bryan Harsin quite yet – but it’s inquiring. On a miserable losing streak, Baylor will try to salvage something fun out of the season, but Boise State will finally look like it was supposed to all season long. Jeremy McNichols will run wild on the Bear D.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Boise State 37, Baylor 30
Guessing The Line: Boise State -6
The Opening Line Is Actually … Boise State -9.5
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Northwestern vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Can Northwestern hold down the Pitt passing game? Not really, but Clayton Thorson should be able to bomb away against the helpless Panther corners. The Wildcats will bomb away in a fantastic shootout, but Pitt will be more balanced and better equipped to pull this out late.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Pitt 40, Northwestern 31
Guessing The Line: Pitt -6
The Opening Line Is Actually … Pitt -3.5
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami vs. West Virginia, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: It’s a big game for both programs. It can be the start of something massive for a young Miami team in 2017, and it could confirm that West Virginia’s 2016 really was that good. The Mountaineers won’t be able to handle the fired up Hurricane pass rush.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Miami 27, West Virginia 23
Guessing The Line: West Virginia -2
The Opening Line Is Actually … PICK
Foster Farms Bowl: Utah vs. Indiana, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: The Hoosiers are in limbo as they wait to see how their world is going to be without head coach Kevin Wilson. Utah is such a tough, tight, well-coached team, it was going to be a tough game for IU no matter what. Now it’s going to be even more of an uphill climb.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Utah 27, Indiana 20
Guessing The Line: Utah -5
The Opening Line Is Actually … Utah -6.5
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 27
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Can the Kansas State style and toughness overcome a talented Aggie team looking to close the season on a high note? Wavering on this from the start – like Kansas State to grind it out, then liked A&M’s offense to open it up. Even this year, when in doubt, go with the SEC.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Texas A&M 30, Kansas State 23
Guessing The Line: Texas A&M -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Texas A&M -2
Birmingham Bowl: USF vs. South Carolina, Dec. 29
Knee-Jerk Reaction: How much will Willie Taggart being off to Oregon matter? South Carolina’s defense should be just good enough and strong enough to keep the high-powered Bull ground game from going off, but USF can play a little D, too. The Gamecock offense won’t get going.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: USF 20, South Carolina 17
Guessing The Line: USF -7
The Opening Line Is Actually … USF -11
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas, Dec. 29
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Which Arkansas team shows up? Which Virginia Tech team shows up? Justin Fuente is playing with house money now after getting the Hokies to the ACC championship, but Bret Bielema might need this or else it might be a slightly testy offseason. The Hogs will play with a greater sense of urgency.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Arkansas 27, Virginia Tech 24
Guessing The Line: Virginia Tech -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Virginia Tech -6
Valero Alamo Bowl: Colorado vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 29
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Okay, Colorado, prove you belonged in the Rose Bowl. Oklahoma State is going to come out winging the ball around the yard, but the Buffs have the defense to hold up. This is a true prove-it game for Colorado, and it’ll show that it really was a good, solid team worthy of the hype.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Colorado 30, Oklahoma State 17
Guessing The Line: Colorado -4
The Opening Line Is Actually … Colorado -2
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU, Dec. 30
Knee-Jerk Reaction: At some point this season, TCU is going to show up and be TCU again. The Horned Frogs have been so flaky it’s hard to think they’re all of a sudden going to rise up and dominate a motivated team coming off a Georgia Tech loss, but it’ll happen. The Bulldog O won’t go anywhere in one of the bowl shockers.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: TCU 27, Georgia 13
Guessing The Line: Georgia -1
The Opening Line Is Actually … TCU -1.5
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. North Carolina, Dec. 30
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Christian McCaffrey vs. the North Carolina run defense? Uh oh. After being steamrolled over, around and through last year by Baylor, the Tar Heels need to come in ready to gear up the offense to make up for the defensive issues. The Cardinal might have been disappointing, but the 2017 hype starts now.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Stanford 26, North Carolina 20
Guessing The Line: Stanford -2
The Opening Line Is Actually … North Carolina -1
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. Tennessee, Dec. 30
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Maybe the most overachieving team this year – at least at times vs. one of the biggest underachievers, this smacks of one of those moments when Tennessee plays one of those games when it realizes it has talent. Nebraska, though, will finally have a healthy Tommy Armstrong. It won’t matter against the Vol defensive front.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Tennessee 34, Nebraska 17
Guessing The Line: Tennessee -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Tennessee -3
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Air Force vs. South Alabama, Dec. 30
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Can South Alabama stop the option? QB Dallas Davis is a wee bit too turnover-prone, but the D gets a month to prepare for the Falcons. It won’t matter. The Air Force defense will come up with just enough plays to help the offense own the time of possession.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Air Force 31, South Alabama 17
Guessing The Line: Air Force -12
The Opening Line Is Actually … Air Force -15
Capital One Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Michigan, Dec. 30
Knee-Jerk Reaction: It’s going to be one of the biggest X factors of the bowl season – how will Florida State be after a month to get healthier? The defense will shut down the Wolverine offense, but the Michigan defense will return the favor. This should be one of the best defensive battles of the bunch, with Harbaugh’s team coming out roaring and looking to make a huge statement. It’ll put on a show on the defensive front.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Michigan 23, Florida State 16
Guessing The Line: Michigan -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Michigan -7
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: LSU vs. Louisville, Dec. 31
Knee-Jerk Reaction: In a battle that was one of my preseason College Football Playoff predictions, it’s the first game of the rest of Ed Orgeron’s life – the defense is going to come up with something special against the (I’m assuming) Heisman-winner. The Louisville defensive front will rally back from a rough last few games, but the offensive front won’t keep Lamar Jackson from getting popped way too much. The Tigers will be more physical.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: LSU 31, Louisville 20
Guessing The Line: Louisville -2
The Opening Line Is Actually … PICK
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky, Dec. 31
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Running game, running game, running game. Both teams will get the running game going, but Georgia Tech will do it better. Kentucky will get a month to prepare for the option, and it’ll have its moments of big plays, but the Yellow Jackets will get hot early and control the clock.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Georgia Tech 37, Kentucky 30
Guessing The Line: Georgia Tech -3
The Opening Line Is Actually … Georgia Tech -5
Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa, Jan. 2
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Both teams were disastrous last bowl season. Both teams will bring the defense, and neither team will throw well, but the key will be the time off. A Gator team devastated by injuries will start to look a whole lot better with a month to get some of the key parts back.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Florida 23, Iowa 20
Guessing The Line: Florida -2
The Opening Line Is Actually … Florida -2
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 2
Knee-Jerk Reaction: How much does Wisconsin care? The Badgers should be able to slam away on the Bronco defensive front, while the D has the pass rush to get to Zach Terrell after spending the second half of the Big Ten championship game not doing much of anything. Wisconsin will play hard, and that’ll be enough.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Western Michigan 13
Guessing The Line: Wisconsin -10
The Opening Line Is Actually … Wisconsin -7.5
Rose Bowl: USC vs. Penn State, Jan. 2
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Okay, Penn State. You didn’t get into the Rose Bowl – now show that you belonged. Everyone will jump all over USC as the hot team coming down the stretch, and because it’s USC vs. Big Ten in the Rose Bowl – but the Nittany Lions will rise up and rock. USC will get exposed for being just above-average.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Penn State 31, USC 27
Guessing The Line: USC -8
The Opening Line Is Actually … USC -7.5
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Auburn has its backfield back and healthy – at least that’s the hope – but it’ll be the defense that makes the difference. It won’t shut down the Oklahoma offense to a stop, but the pass rush will get to Baker Mayfield and slow things down just enough, while the running game will rumble.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Auburn 34, Oklahoma 26
Guessing The Line: Oklahoma -4
The Opening Line Is Actually … Oklahoma -5
College Football Playoff
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Washington vs. Alabama, Dec. 31
Knee-Jerk Reaction: Washington will show it can play. No one will give the Huskies any shot of hanging around, but this is a real-deal defense loaded with NFL starters bringing an attitude. The Crimson Tide offense will sputter and cough with empty drive after empty drive. On the other side, the Washington offense will be far better than it was in the loss to USC – the game everyone will use as a point of reference. Jake Browning will hit the short-to-midrange passes just enough to keep the O going.
But Alabama will manufacture the NOTs once again.
The offense will have problems, and the defense will get moved on, but the non-offensive touchdowns will kick in with a big special teams play and a key late turnover to survive a thriller.
Alabama will move on, but Chris Petersen’s team will look the part – it’ll prove it belonged.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Alabama 23, Washington 17
Guessing The Line: Alabama -13
The Opening Line Is Actually … Alabama -14
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson, Dec. 31
Knee-Jerk Reaction: I’m not going to flip-flop on a pick more than I will on this one. Clemson has the talent, the experience, and the coaching staff to come our roaring. The time off will do wonders for the Tiger team that’s been preparing for this game for almost a year. Alabama might be the only other team with the athleticism, speed and talent to hang with the Buckeyes – expect a different-looking Clemson team.
But this will be a rested Ohio State team, too, getting an extra week off that’ll help the overall cause. The midrange passing game will dink and dunk on the Clemson linebackers, while the defense will generate just enough pressure in the second half to come up with a few key late stops. Just when it seems like the Tigers will take over control, the Buckeye will get the right pick at the right time.
Knee-Jerk Prediction: Ohio State 30, Clemson 27
Guessing The Line: Ohio State -4.5
The Opening Line Is Actually … Ohio State -3