Bowl Games 2015: Playoffs?!?

So my last-minute switch to North Carolina didn’t quite work out, but it was mostly a fun game nonetheless. Watching a team that normally will get 600 years in the air do it on the ground was kind of amazing, really.

Anyway, let’s cover today’s games as well as the New Year’s Eve playoff slate which ESPN is desperately hoping you watch instead of Ryan Seacrest and company.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Wednesday, December 30
Noon: Auburn vs. Memphis (Birmingham Bowl @ Birmingham, AL; ESPN): Okay, I’m sure Memphis is probably slightly bummed about their season, even though it managed to propel their head coach to the Virginia Tech job. That said, they already managed to beat a pretty good SEC team this year (at least, one that is definitively better than Auburn) and Auburn’s offense is basically kind of a disaster this year. This game could be high scoring, but I’m thinking Memphis will win by double-digits.
Confidence: 34
Previous Meetings: Just two meetings of these two Tigers, in 1975 and 1976. Memphis won both, 31-20 and 28-27, respectively.
Last bowl game: Auburn’s three game bowl streak is a study in contrasts but also similarities. It dates to the 2013-2014 BCS Championship Game, where they lost 34-31 to Florida State. Last season, they lost… 34-31 to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. (If Auburn scores 31 in this game with their current offense, well, I’d be surprised.) Memphis beat BYU 55-48 in last season’s Miami Beach Bowl, but perhaps the real victory was getting the Stormin’ Mormons mad enough to spark a brawl afterward.
Announcers: Beth Mowins and Anthony Becht

3:30: North Carolina State vs. Mississippi State (Belk Bowl @ Charlotte, NC; ESPN): The Wolfpack’s schedule this year was an exercise in the fine art of ensuring bowl eligibility. They lost to every superior team they’ve played, and I expect that to continue here. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are not exactly juggernauts, but they’re a solid, middle-of-the-pack SEC. Given their respectively schedules, Miss State’s 8-4 is way more impressive than NC State’s 7-5.
Confidence: 39
Previous Meetings: Five, but none terrible recent. The series dates to 1930,and was followed up on again in 1931 and 1940. The two would then meeting again in the 1963 Liberty Bowl, and most recently in the 1995 Peach Bowl, which the Wolfpack won 28-24. Overall, they also hold a 3-2 lead in the series.
Last bowl game: NC State won last year’s St. Petersburg Bitcoin Bowl 34-27 over Central Florida. Miss State is currently riding a six game streak which dates to the 2010-2011 Gator Bowl, where they beat Michigan 52-14. They lost 49-34 in last year’s Orange Bowl to Georgia Tech.
Announcers: Clay Matvick and John Congemi

7:00: Louisville vs. Texas A&M (Music City Bowl @ Nashville, TN; ESPN): This is a battle of teams that never quite got it going this year, and two teams that I’ve probably failed to predict correctly multiple times. Louisville lost their first three games, but no one (at the time, anyway) would blame them, as those teams were Auburn (ranked sixth in the pre-season!), Houston, and Clemson. From there, they managed to go 5-3 in the ACC overall but lack any signature wins. TAMU is in the same boat, though. Their best win is probably over Arizona State, and while they did beat Arkansas and Miss State they lost to Alabama, Mississippi, (somehow) Auburn, and LSU. And then it seems like all their quarterbacks have transferred in the weeks since the regular season ended. Is something rotten in College Station? I don’t know, but I still have the Aggies here.
Confidence: 28
Previous Meetings: Three of ’em, from 1992-1994. Louisville lost all of them, with the most recent score 26-10 in TAMU’s favor.
Last bowl game: Louisville is also riding a six game bowl streak, dating to 2010’s Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, which they won 31-28 over Southern Mississippi. TAMU is doing them one better, though. Their current run started in the 2009 Independence Bowl with a 44-20 loss to Georgia. They beat West Virginia in last year’s Liberty Bowl 45-37.
Announcers: Tom Hart and Andre Ware

10:30: Wisconsin vs. Southern California (Holiday Bowl @ San Diego, CA; ESPN): It’s the mini-Rose Bowl! Much like Iowa, the Badgers managed to dodge all the good teams from the Big Ten East, so while they went 6-2 in conference, it’s not exactly an inspiring slate. (The two losses were to Northwestern and, of course, Iowa.) USC is a team that has some of the marks of a team that “figured it out” as the season went on. After losing a close game to Notre Dame, the Trojans went out and knocked Utah off their bandwagon and went on a bit of a run before getting beat by a healthy Vernon Adams (and his Oregon teammates). However, they then beat the tar out of their crosstown rivals and gave Stanford all they wanted in the Pac-12 title game. USC should be able to do enough on offense to get past the Badgers, who I think will have a hard time keeping up, literally and figuratively.
Confidence: 38
Previous Meetings: Southern Cal holds a robust 6-0 lead in this series. The first meeting was in the 1952-1953 Rose Bowl. They followed that up with regular season meetings in 1955 and 1956, and then it was back to Pasadena to kick off 1963, followed again by meetings in 1965 and 1966. (I sense a pattern here, perhaps?)
Last bowl game: For Wisconsin’s 14-game bowl streak, we have to flash all the way back to the 1993-1994 Rose Bowl, where they beat UCLA 21-16. They beat Auburn in last season’s Outback Bowl 34-31. This is USC’s fourth straight bowl game, dating to the 2012 Sun Bowl, which they lost 21-7 to Georgia Tech. They beat Nebraska 45-42 in last year’s edition of this game.
Announcers: Adam Amin and Kelly Stouffer

Thursday, December 31
Noon: Houston vs. Florida State (Peach Bowl @ Atlanta, GA; ESPN): This is the least confidence I have in any game that doesn’t have any weird or otherwise extenuating circumstances. For starters, how good is Houston actually? Their Power Five wins are over an okay Louisville team and an abysmal Vanderbilt squad. Their record is unblemished except for a disaster suffered at UConn, in which the otherwise potent Cougar offense imploded with four turnovers. The Seminoles, meanwhile, did basically everything right this season. Their two losses are to a Clemson team that was clearly better than them and my favorite fluke of the season. But other than that, none of FSU’s win truly inspire. They beat Florida by 25, yes, but the Gators essentially had no offense by the end of the season. Will FSU’s defense be able to shut Houston down? Will Houston’s passing offense be the difference against FSU’s Dalvin Cook-based offense? I have no idea, but I picked FSU anyway.
Confidence: 5
Previous Meetings: Sixteen of ’em, and a record that would shock you until you remembered that, as per EDSBS, football in the state of Florida didn’t really exist before 1980. Indeed, Houston holds a 12-2-2 advantage, but all the games took place between 1960 and 1978. The Cougars won the most recent edition 27-21.
Last bowl game: Houston had a three game bowl streak going. They beat Pitt 35-34 in last season’s Armed Forces Bowl. Florida State, of course, owns the largest active bowl streak in the country (and it’s not especially close). It’s now at 34 straight seasons, dating back to the 1982 Gator Bowl where they beat West Virginia 31-12. However, they also went 6-5 in 1981 and 8-3 in 1978, so suffice it to say under the modern bowl regime they’d be able to add five more games to that list. The lost last season’s Rose Bowl (and playoff semifinal) 59-20 to Oregon.
Announcers: Dave Pasch and Brian Griese

4:00: Clemson vs. Oklahoma (Orange Bowl @ Miami Gardens, FL; ESPN): SO IT BEGINS. The Tigers are undefeated, and while their schedule wasn’t great, they did beat Notre Dame and Florida State, so it’s legitimate. Oklahoma beat all the contenders in the Big 12, they just, well, I still have no real idea how they lost to Texas. But if that’s what the Sooners needed to light a fire under them, then it worked, as they absolutely torched the opposition they played next, outscoring Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Iowa State (two good to okay teams, two bad teams) 232-50. They then cleared the dual hurdles of Baylor and TCU and resumed the clobbering against Oklahoma State. Baylor and TCU are definitely much closer to Clemson than any other team on their schedule, and so while the Sooner defense rates highly due to several shutouts or near-shutouts, they definitely tend to give some points to an offense with a pulse. The Tigers definitely have a pulse. I think Clemson’s defense can do the job here. I have the Tigers headed to Arizona.
Confidence: 6
Previous Meetings: The first two were in 1963 and 1972, both Clemson losses. The Tigers won the 1988-1989 Citrus Bowl 13-6, as well as last season’s meeting in the Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6.
Last bowl game: Both is an 11-game bowl streak, dating to the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, where they beat Colorado 19-10. (And if they’d gone to a bowl in 2004 at 6-5, they’d be able to add 6 more to the list.) This is Oklahoma’s seventeenth straight bowl, dating to their 27-25 loss to Mississippi in the 1999 Independence Bowl. The Sooners got pasted by these very Clemson Tigers in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, 40-6.
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge

8:00: Alabama vs. Michigan State (Cotton Bowl @ Arlington, TX; ESPN): The Spartans are about the closest Alabama can come to playing their own defense, basically. Indeed, this game will probably hinge on the Tide’s offense, and I don’t see a lot of scoring either way. The closest things the Spartans have probably seen to the Crimson Tide in terms of potency are probably Michigan and Ohio State. Assuming that Nick Saban won’t criminally underuse his best player (a la Urban Meyer), I’m giving a slight edge to Alabama here.
Confidence: 7
Previous Meetings: Just once, in the 2010-2011 Capital One Bowl. Alabama won 49-7.
Last bowl game: Alabama’s twelve game bowl streak mostly takes me back to happier times, when they were terrible and doing things like going 6-6 and losing to Minnesota 20-16 in the 2004 Music City Bowl. The Tide lost 42-35 to Ohio State in last season’s Sugar Bowl (and playoff semifinal). Sparty’s nine-game streak dates to the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl, which they lost 24-21 to Boston College. They beat Baylor 42-41 in last season’s Cotton Bowl.
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit