Welcome to the third piece in the 2014 College Football Season Preview. To check in on what’s been written previously, you can visit Part 1 and Part 2. Now let’s dig in with the games taking place on Boxing Day and December 27.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6, 3-5 in Big Ten) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-5, 7-1 in C-USA)
Friday, December 26 at 1 PM ET/10 AM PT
Cotton Bowl (Fair Park, Dallas, TX).
TV: ESPN (Mike Corey, Charles Arbuckle, and Kayce Smith).
Radio: Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Radio Network, coordinated by RedVoice LLC (Brian Estridge, John Denton, Rob Best, and Landry Burdine).
Series History: Louisiana Tech won the only meeting between the two programs, a 52-24 win on Sep. 22, 2012 at Illinois.
49-year old Tim Beckman is in his 3rd season as Head Coach at Illinois with a record of 12-24 (.333). Beckman served as the head coach at Toledo from 2009-11, guiding the Rockets to a record of 21-16.
Louis Leo “Skip” Holtz Jr. is in his 2nd season as Head Coach of the Bulldogs with a record of 12-13 (.480). Skip Holtz is seeking his first bowl win since 2010 when he led the USF Bulls to a victory in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The Fighting Illini had a very up-and-down season, starting the year off with wins in three of four, albeit against meager competition. Conference play rolled around and Illinois lost five of six including three at home before wrapping up the season with wins over Penn State and Northwestern. By all accounts this team doesn’t deserve to be playing in a bowl game, a statement supported by statistics (Illinois ranks no higher than 80th in red zone offense/defense, total offense/defense, scoring offense/defense, and rushing offense/defense). Keep an eye on true freshman WR Mike Dudek who finished the season with 965 receiving yards (28th in FBS) and six receiving touchdowns.
Louisiana Tech hit a rough patch to start the year, putting up a 2-3 record (though two of those losses were on the road against Top 5 opponents). The Bulldogs would then rattle off five straight wins and victories in six of seven before losing to Marshall in the C-USA title game. LA Tech’s success was fueled by stopping the run as they had the 15th ranked rushing defense in FBS. 6’2″ senior QB Cody Sokol passed for over 3,000 yards to go with 29 TDs/13 INTs, but the real stud of the offense is junior RB Kenneth Dixon. Dixon, a 5’10” 212 lbs back coincidentally from Strong, AR, has a touchdown in every game but one this season and finished with 1,236 rushing yards 21 rushing touchdowns (5th in FBS).
Dylan’s Pick: Some people would tend to lean toward the power five-conference program (Illinois) but it doesn’t take much of an examination to see that Illinois is not good. This one has a chance to be ugly, similar to so many of these games. I’m riding with Louisiana Tech, 31-20.
Quick Lane Bowl
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-5, 3-5 in Big Ten) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4 in ACC)
Friday, December 26 at 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT
Ford Field (Detroit, MI).
TV: ESPN (Mark Neely, Ray Bentley, and Niki Noto).
Series History: The all-time series between Rutgers and UNC is tied at three wins apiece. Rutgers took the first three and UNC has won the last three including the most recent matchup, a 24-22 win at UNC in 2011.
43-year old Kyle Flood is in his 3rd year as the Head Coach at Rutgers with a record of 22-16 (.579). Flood, a Queens, New York native, has spent all but three years of his coaching career in the Tri-State area.
52-year old Larry Fedora is also in his 3rd year as the Head Coach at North Carolina with a record of 21-16 (.568). Fedora came to Chapel Hill after a 4-year run as the head coach at Southern Miss where he was 2-2 in bowl games.
2014 marked the first season for the Scarlet Knights as members of the Big Ten, which makes absolutely no sense but here we are in 2014 and there are plenty of things that make no sense that keep happening. Rutgers started the year with wins in five of six including a 26-24 win at home against fabled Michigan. It was downhill from there, however, as RU lost four of five before beating Maryland in the battle of first year Big Ten teams. The Scarlet Knights won’t wow you statistically as a team, but they do feature 6’1″ junior wideout Leonte Carroo. Carroo finished the year with 1,043 receiving yards (19th in FBS) and 10 receiving touchdowns (12th in FBS).
After a couple early wins, UNC lost four straight including their first two conference games. The Tar Heels would then rattle off wins in four of five before losing 35-7 to rival NC State at home to finish the year. North Carolina’s strength came more on offense (34.3 points per game ranks 31st in FBS) than it did on defense (38.9 points allowed per game ranks 116th in FBS). Under center for the Tar Heels is 6’2″ junior Marquise Williams, a dual-threat who finished with 2,875 passing yards (37th in FBS) and 20 passing touchdowns to go with 732 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns (28th in FBS).
Dylan’s Pick: Let’s go to one of the (usually) dumbest cliches in all of sports — who wants it more? Rutgers is looking to continue to prove that they belong in the Big Ten, while North Carolina may still be reeling from their loss to the Wolfpack in the final game of the season. I’m taking Rutgers, 45-35.
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
North Carolina State Wolfpack (7-5, 3-5 in ACC) vs. UCF Knights (9-3, 7-1 in AAC)
Friday, December 26 at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT
Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, FL).
TV: ESPN (Adam Amin, John Congemi, and Kaylee Hartung).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Dave Lamont, Anthony Becht, and Jack Arute).
Series History: This is the third all-time meeting between N.C. State and UCF. Each team has won one contest, with the Wolfpack winning the last battle in 2010, 28-21.
43- year old Dave Doeren is in his 2nd season as the N.C. State Wolfpack Head Coach with a record of 10-14 (.417). Doeren was the head coach at Northern Illinois in 2011 & 2012, winning the MAC in each season and losing only one conference game.
68- year old George O’Leary is in his 11th season as the UCF Head Coach with a record of 81-59 (.579). O’Leary, who was born on Long Island in Central Islip, made his mark as the Georgia Tech head coach from 1994-2001 where he was 2-2 in bowl games.
NC State started the year with four wins against weak competition, lost four in a row against some tougher opponents, and finished the season with wins in three of four including at rival UNC. 6’4″ 231 lbs junior quarterback Jacoby Brissett is in elite company as one of only three QBs in FBS with at least 20 passing TDs, 300 rushing yards, and no more than five picks. Brissett is joined in the running game by 6’1″ junior Shadrach Thornton (811 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) and 5’9″ sophomore Matt Dayes (495 rushing yards, six touchdowns). Junior DE Mike Rose (13 tackles for loss) and freshman LB Jerod Fernandez (76 total tackles, two interceptions) lead an improved Wolfpack defensive squad.
UCF looked just awful through their first three games with their only victory coming at the hands of FCS side Bethune-Cookman. The Knights lost only once in their next eight games, however, and using a hail mary to beat ECU clinched a share of the AAC conference title. Last year, UCF was known for their passing game and their quarterback Blake Bortles. The Knights’ calling card this year has been their defense as they’re ranked in the Top 10 in rushing defense (97.4 yards allowed per game), points allowed per game (17.9), and total yards allowed per game (282.8). Two players to watch on the UCF defense are 6’1″ senior linebacker Terrance Plummer (team-best 92 tackles) and 6’2″ senior safety Clayton Geathers, who Mel Kiper Jr. has ranked as the 10th best safety among NFL prospects.
Dylan’s Pick: If North Carolina State had a more phenomenal offensive attack, I think things might be different. But because this game is being played in St. Petersburg and the Knights are so tough on defense, I’m taking UCF, 35-17.
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3, 7-1 in AAC) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6, 3-5 in ACC)
Saturday, December 27 at 1 PM ET/10 AM PT
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, MD).
TV: ESPN (Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway, and Paul Carcaterra).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Eamon McAnaney and Jay Walker).
Series History: Through 10 meetings, the series is tied at five wins apiece with Cincinnati winning the last matchup, 27-24 on Sep. 29, 2012.
60-year old Tommy Tuberville is in his 2nd season at the helm of the Cincinnati Bearcats with a record of 18-7 (.720). Though it’s been six years since Tuberville left the SEC, he’s best known as the Auburn head coach from 1999-08 where he went 5-3 in bowl games and own the 2004 SEC title.
68-year old Frank Beamer has been the Hokies head coach since 1987, posting a record of 229-115-2 (.662) over 28 years at Virginia Tech. Beamer will be coaching from the coaches’ box, however, after recovering from recent throat surgery.
Cincinnati started the year late, not playing their first game until September 12, and won two games against MAC opponents Toledo and Miami of Ohio. After dropping three straight including a 50-28 defeat at Ohio State, the Bearcats didn’t lose again and claimed a share of the AAC conference title. Much more successful on offense (35.4 points per game, 24th in FBS) than they are on defense (447.8 yards allowed per game, 101st in FBS), the Bearcats are led by 6’4″ sophomore QB Gunner Kiel. Kiel was considered the No. 1 QB in the country coming out of high school, but transferred from Notre Dame after spending one season at fourth on the depth chart. This year, Kiel posted big numbers as he ranked 9th in FBS with 30 passing TDs and also finished with 3,010 passing yards.
6-6 is an accurate assessment of the Hokies’ season as they boast wins at Ohio State and at Duke as well as home losses to East Carolina, Miami, Boston College, and a 6-3 affair in double overtime to Wake Forest. Simply put, Virginia Tech is just ugly on offense. VT does however possess talent on the defensive side of the ball. 6’1″ sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller comes from a family of talented defensive backs and is tied for seventh in FBS in pass breakups. Joining Fuller in the Virginia Tech defense is 5’11” senior Kysheon Jarrett (three picks, a forced fumble, and three TFLs) and 6’4″ junior DE Dadi Nicolas (nine sacks, 17.5 TFLs).
Dylan’s Pick: Though Virginia Tech has some serious weapons on defense, it’s hard to see them as anything but mediocre — which is an unfamiliar statement to make about VT. I’ll take the Bearcats of Cincinnati, 21-17.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3, 6-3 in Pac-12) vs. Duke Blue Devils (9-3, 5-3 in ACC)
Saturday, December 27 at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT
Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX).
TV: CBS (Carter Blackburn, Gary Danielson, and Allie LaForce).
Radio: Sports USA (Wayne Randazzo and Gary Barnett).
Series History: This will be the first-ever matchup between the Sun Devils and Blue Devils.
50-year old Todd Graham is in his 3rd season as head coach at Arizona State with a record of 27-12 (.692). Graham will be coaching in his 7th career bowl game and enters with a record of 4-2 in bowl contests.
60-year old David Cutcliffe is in his 7th year as the head coach at Duke with a record of 40-47 (.460). The win-loss record alone can be misleading, however; Cutcliffe has turned Duke into a legitimate football program and won ACC Coach of the Year in both 2012 and 2013.
On Saturday, November 8, Arizona State took down then No. 10 Notre Dame at home 55-31 to improve to 8-1. The Sun Devils had defeated four different ranked teams and had inserted themselves into the playoff conversation. Those hopes faded fast, however, as ASU lost two of their last three including a 42-35 defeat at archrival Arizona to end the year. A sour end to the season notwithstanding, Todd Graham has the Sun Devils offense among the best in the country (37.0 points per game, 18th in FBS) and features two different quarterbacks in 6’2″ senior Taylor Kelly and 6’1″ junior Mike Bercovici who combined for 3,316 yards, 32 TDs and nine picks. Other key contributors at the skill positions include 5’11” junior RB D.J. Foster (1,002 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) and 6’3″ junior WR Jaelen Strong, who ranks in the Top 20 in FBS in both receiving yards (1,062) and receiving touchdowns (10).
This is the first time that Duke has gone to a bowl game in three straight seasons, and David Cutcliffe deserves credit for what he’s done to turn the program into what it is today. The Blue Devils defense ranked 21st in FBS in points allowed per game at 20.6, and features a couple of weapons on offense as well. 5’9″ running back Shaun Wilson was one of the best freshmen in the ACC, finishing with 590 yards and five touchdowns. 5’9″ senior Jamison Crowder had his third straight quality season, amassing 942 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Up front, 6’3″ 330 lbs senior guard Laken Tomlinson, an All-ACC 1st team selection, was a force for Duke and is ranked as the 5th best guard by Mel Kiper Jr.
Dylan’s Pick: I’ll say it again — David Cutcliffe deserves tremendous kudos for what he’s done in three years in Durham. They may very well make a game of it, but the Sun Devil’s offensive attack is just too potent. Arizona State, 42-21.
Duck Commander Independence Bowl
Saturday, December 27 at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT
Miami Hurricanes (6-6, 3-5 in ACC) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6, 3-5 in SEC)
Independence Stadium (Shreveport, LA).
TV: ABC (Dave Neal, Andre Ware, and Laura Rutledge).
Radio: Sports USA (Eli Gold and Tony Graziani).
Series History: This will be the 16th all-time matchup between the Hurricanes and Gamecocks with Miami leading the series 8-5-2.
45-year old Al Golden is in his fourth season at the helm of the Miami Hurricanes with a record of 28-21 (.571). Golden will be seeking his first bowl win after the Hurricanes lost in the Russell Athletic Bowl last year to Louisville, 36-9.
69-year old Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina with a record of 83-45 (.648). Spurrier was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and is one of only two coaches – Bear Bryant being the other – to have the most wins as a coach at two different SEC schools.
After a 9-4 campaign in 2013, it looked like Al Golden had the Hurricanes program turned around after a number of tough years. But 2014 saw Miami lose their last three, starting with a Florida State game that the Hurricanes could have won and ending with a 35-23 home defeat to Pittsburgh. Now, the Hurricanes seek their first bowl victory since the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl and they’ll do so using a number of weapons on offense. 5’9″ junior Duke Johnson is one of the best running backs in the country, having amassed 1,520 rushing yards (12th in FBS) and 10 rushing touchdowns, earning All-ACC 1st team honors. Johnson is joined on offense by 6’4″ 258 lbs senior TE Clive Walford (676 receiving yards and seven TDs), a second-team All-ACC selection, as well as 6’4″ senior center Shane McDermott, a first-team All-ACC honoree and Mel Kiper’s 7th ranked center. First-team All-ACC selection Denzel Perryman, a 6’1″ senior linebacker, leads a defense that allowed only 184.1 passing yards per game (10th in FBS).
South Carolina may have been the most overrated team in the country this season, as they started the year ranked No. 9 in the AP poll and ended with only one win against a ranked opponent. With Connor Shaw gone, it was 6’3″ senior Dylan Thompson who took the reins under center, finishing the year with 3,280 passing yards (Best in SEC, 19th in FBS) and 24 passing touchdowns (2nd in SEC, 22nd in FBS). Thompson’s top target was 5’11” sophomore wideout Pharoh Cooper, an All-SEC first-team selection who caught 60 passes for 966 yards (2nd in SEC) and eight touchdowns. Joining Cooper and Thompson on the offensive side of the ball is 6’4″ 311 lbs senior guard A.J. Cann, the top-rated guard heading into the NFL Draft according to Mel Kiper Jr. The Gamecocks were woeful defensively, allowing at least 34 points on six different occasions and ending the season 91st in FBS in yards allowed per game (433.6).
Dylan’s Pick: Steve Spurrier is almost 70 and after three consecutive 11-2 seasons, it looked like the Gamecocks were about to make that final push toward national title contender. Instead, they took a massive step backward. I don’t see USC getting up for this one, and I expect Al Golden to have his team more motivated. Miami, 38-27.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Saturday, December 27 at 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT
Boston College Eagles (7-5, 4-4 in ACC) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-6, 2-6 in Big Ten).
Yankee Stadium (Bronx, NY)
TV: ESPN (Bob Wischusen, Matt Millen, and Quint Kessenich).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Kevin Winter, Jack Ford, and C.J. Papa).
Series History: This will be the 24th all-time meeting between the Eagles and Nittany Lions, with Penn State leading the series 19-4. BC has won the last three meetings, however (1992, 2003, 2004).
55-year old Steve Addazio is in his 2nd season as the head coach of Boston College with a record of 14-11 (.560). Addazio is seeking the second bowl victory of his career after losing in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl last season, a 42-19 victory for Arizona.
42-year old James Franklin is in his 1st season as the head coach at Penn State and is seeking the first bowl win for Penn State since 2009. Franklin turned the Vanderbilt Commodores program around in his three years in Nashville, finishing 9-4 in both 2012 and 2013 and winning a bowl game in each of those two seasons.
It was an interesting season for Steve Addazio and the BC Eagles. Last year’s 7-6 finish was powered by Doak Walker award winner and Heisman finalist Andre Williams and with his departure, Boston College was picked to finish 6th in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. The Eagles bested those expectations, however, finishing 4th in the division, losing no more than two consecutive games, and though they finished 1-2 against ranked opponents, the two losses were by no more than four points. Make no mistake — Boston College will not hurt you through the air. 6’2″ senior Tyler Murphy and the BC passing game averaged 132 yards per contest, 121st out 125 FBS teams. The Eagles are all about the running game; executing it (251.8 rushing yards per game, 13th in FBS) and stopping it (95.5 rushing yards allowed per game, 4th in FBS). Though Murphy didn’t get it done through the air, he did run for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns. 6’0″ freshman Jon Hilliman joins Murphy in the backfield and his 712 yards and 12 touchdowns helped him earn All-ACC third-team honors.
Things looked great for Penn State early on as the Nittany Lions reeled off four straight wins to start the year. The high hopes soured quickly however as Penn State lost four straight and finished the year with losses at Illinois and home to No. 10 Michigan State. The Nittany Lions were brutal on offense this year, scoring 19.8 points per game (112th in FBS) and averaging only 325.5 yards per game (114th in FBS). Defense was a different story as they held opponents to 17.7 points per game (7th in FBS) and 269.8 yards per game (2nd in FBS). Watch out for two seniors, 6’4″ 274 lbs lineman Anthony Zettel and 6’1″ 232 lbs linebacker Mike Hull, both All-Big Ten first team selections.
Dylan’s Pick: Though the Nittany Lions defense is among the best in the country, I’m gonna roll with Steve Addazio’s motivational abilities and the Eagles running game. Expect a low-scoring affair — Boston College, 17-10.
National University Holiday Bowl
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3, 5-3 in Big Ten) vs. No. 24 USC Trojans (8-4, 6-3 in Pac-12).
Saturday, December 27 at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT
Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego, CA).
TV: ESPN (Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack, and Samantha Ponder).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, and Joe Schad).
Series History: These two teams have met five times with USC leading the series 3-0-1. The Trojans defeated Nebraska in Lincoln in their last matchup, 49-31 in 2007.
With Bo Pelini out (he’s now at Youngstown State with Jim Tressel) and Mike Riley on his way in (by way of Oregon State), Barney Cotton will serve as the interim coach for this game. The 58-year old Cotton has been on the Nebraska coaching staff since 2008.
40-year old Steve Sarkisian is a bit of a jackwagon and is in his 1st season as the head coach at USC after coaching the Washington Huskies from 2009-13. Prior to his time in Seattle, “Sark” spent four years as an assistant coach on the offensive side of the ball with the Trojans.
Two blue bloods of college football are set to do battle in San Diego. First, for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Huskers started the season 8-1, their only loss at Michigan State. Then they faced Melvin Gordon and before you know it, Nebraska had lost two of their last three and Bo Pelini was out of a job. You don’t have to look hard to find a star for Nebraska; 5’9″ senior running back Ameer Abdullah has a litany of awards and honors to his name and heads to sunny San Diego with 1,523 rushing yards and 18 rushing TDs this season, 10th and 11th in FBS respectively. On defense, 6’6″ 240 lbs junior Randy Gregory finished with seven sacks and is ranked as the No. 2 linebacker by Mel Kiper.
In his first season back with the Trojans, Steve Sarkisian’s USC opened the year as the No. 15 team and won their first two games including at No. 13 Stanford. But after losses at Boston College and home against Arizona State, USC’s big season hopes had come to an end less than one week into October. Though they finished 8-4, Sark’s Trojan roster is littered with talent. It starts with junior Cody Kessler, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, who finished with 3,505 yards (10th in FBS), 70.7% passes completed (2nd in FBS), and 36 touchdowns (4th in FBS). Kessler had the privilege of throwing to one of the best receivers in the country, 6’1″ junior Nelson Agholor. Agholor finished in the Top 10 in FBS in receiving yards (1,223) and receiving touchdowns (11). The list goes on and on and it all means that USC has the 15th best passing offense (294.6 yards per game) but finished 1-3 against ranked opponents.
Dylan’s Pick: Nebraska is no stranger to the Holiday Bowl, as they made appearances in both 2009 and 2010. A small handful of players will remember that last trip to San Diego however, while their opponents are no strangers to Southern California. The Trojans will be just too much for Nebraska to handle. USC, 42-24.
Check back soon for the next set of previews in Part 4!