Bowl prediction record: 9-10 SU, 7-12 ATS, 10-8-1 O/U
St. Petersburg Bowl
Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3), St. Petersburg, 11 a.m., ESPN
Marshall – 5 – O/U 44.5
UConn built a 6-6 record largely by only beating every losing team on its schedule. Its lone bright spot is the 20-17 upset of Houston that kept the Cougars out of playoff contention. They don’t excel on either side of the ball, but if there’s a strong suit, it’s their passing defense, which ranks 21st in the country. CB Jamar Summers leads a secondary that has picked off 17 passes this year. The offense is devoid of any stars of note. RB Arkeel Newsome has the greatest potential to do damage, with almost 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs this year. Marshall’s three losses all came to winning teams, but the Herd did manage to defeat Southern Miss. The offense can be potent and averages almost 33 points per game. QB Chase Litton (2,390 yards, 22 TDs) leads a balanced attack that excels through the air and on the ground. The defense can be exploited and was torched for 49 points by Western Kentucky in the regular season finale. LB Evan McKelvey (113 tackles, 9 TFL) will do the most damage. In a game pitting unimpressive teams, Marshall seems to be the least unimpressive. Their fans also tend to travel well, so the Herd should have a fan advantage. Prediction: Marshall 23, UConn 20.
Miami, Fla. (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4), El Paso, 2 p.m., CBS
Washington State – 3 – O/U 62
The Mike Leach improvement project has finally reached fruition for Washington State. In his fourth season as head coach, Leach has the Cougars bowling at 8-4 in a second-level game that used to be played on New Year’s Eve. QB Luke Falk (4,266 yards, 36 TDs) is the prototypical Leach passer. WRs Gabe Marks and Dom Williams are a great receiving tandem that combined for 2,100 yards and 25 TDs. Of course, true to most Leach teams, the Cougars are also weak on defense. In their three Pac-12 losses, WSU gave up 36 points per game. Miami QB Brad Kaaya (3,019 yards, 15 TDs) will try to exploit that weakness. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they really don’t have any consistent playmakers on offense. Still, against the Cougars, the Canes should put up some points. The question is, will they ever stop the Cougars’ offense? The only real playmaker on defense is Artie Burns, who had six interceptions. One interesting note: Miami won four out of five for Larry Scott, who took over in late October. Mark Richt takes over after the bowl. Prediction: Miami 35, Washington State 31.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (9-4), Dallas, 2:20 p.m., ESPN
Washington – 8.5 – O/U 54.5
A good coach can make all the difference in the world. Four years ago, Larry Fedora had Southern Miss at 12-2 and on top of Conference USA. The next season, Ellis Johnson had taken them to 0-12, the worst record in college football. Now, three years later, Todd Monken has return the Golden Eagles to bowl territory, largely due to a high-caliber offense that scores 41 points per game. QB Nick Mullens (4,145, 36 TDs) has passed for more than 250 yards in all but one game. Southern Miss also has two 1,000-yards rushers (Jalen Richard and Ito Smith) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Michael Thomas). LB Bryan Anderson (13.5 TFL, 4 sacks) and DE Dylan Bradley (11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) give the Golden Eagles solid pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Washington QB Jake Browning leads a Huskies offense that can crush opposing defenses. In wins against Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State, the Huskies won by an average of almost 50-7. Washington played one of the harder schedules in college football, and lost to six decent to very good bowl teams. If RB Myles Gaskin (1,121 yards, 10 TDs) can move the ball on the ground, the passing game should open up adequately. The big key is turnovers. In their wins, the Huskies were an average plus-2 in turnovers. In losses, they average minus-1. In the three aforementioned wins, Washington was 13-1 in turnovers. Therein lies the real key: Southern Miss is 98th in the nation in turnover margin. Prediction: Washington 38, Southern Miss 24.
Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5), Bronx, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Indiana – 2 – O/U 70.5
Welcome to bowl season 2015, where unspectacular teams that are average in every way get the reward of playing an extra game in a mostly empty stadium. In previous years, the Pinstripe folks had close to capacity crowds because of teams with New York or New England tie-ins. This year, it’s midwestern Indiana vs. southern Duke. And since neither team inspires the football heart, don’t expect a lot of locals to show up. Indiana has the 21st ranked offense in the nation – and the 117th ranked defense. Duke doesn’t score as easily, but is decent on offense. They’re also not horrible on defense, but they’re not really good either. The Hoosiers have a solid QB in Nate Sudfield (3,184 yards, 24 TDs) and a very good runner in Jordan Howard (1,213 yards, 9 TDs). Duke has tended to get the job done, in spite of having no real playmakers other than QB Thomas Sirk (2,461, 15 TDs). The Blue Devils most likely to make a difference come on defense, where the defensive back trio of Dwayne Norman, Jeremy Cash and Devon Edwards (combined 298 tackles, 27.5 TFL) terrorize opposing quarterbacks. This one could be interesting for its high-scoring potential. Prediction: Indiana 38, Duke 31.
Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Tulsa (6-6), Shreveport, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
Virginia Tech – 13.5 – O/U 61.5
Today will be the end of an era when Frank Beamer coaches his last game. He’d rather it be in a place like New Orleans than a few hours up the road in Shreveport, but at least he got his beloved Hokies to one more bowl before retirement. Throughout the season, Virginia Tech has been so close to victory in most of its losses. Other than Ohio State (18 points) and Miami (10 points), the Hokies lost the other four by an average of four points. A field goal here, a touchdown there and the Hokies could easily have 10 wins and be playing in a much better bowl game. When QB Michael Brewer (1,359 yards, 12 TDs) was healthy, the Hokies seemed to play stronger. He missed about half the season, including most of their losses. RB Travon McMillian (961 yards, 12 TDs) should have plenty of room to run against a porous Tulsa defense. While this defense isn’t a prototypical Beamer defense, it’s still fairly strong, led by a first-rate LB tandem – Deon Clarke and Andrew Motuapuaka (combined 143 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 6 sacks). On offense, Tulsa can be very effective and even posted 38 points against Oklahoma (though they gave up 52 that day). They scored less than 30 only three times this season, and lost all three of those game. QB Dane Evans (3,958 yards, 22 TDs) is a fairly accurate passer who will frequently try to target Keyarris Garrett (1,451 yards, 7 TDs). Zack Langer and D’Angelo Brewer are a strong running duo (combined 1,446 yards, 21 TDs). Tulsa will score some points, but they typically won’t stop anyone. They only twice surrendered fewer than 30 points, and five times gave up more than 40, losing four of those games. On a weak unit, LBs Trent Martin and Matt Linscott (combined 176 tackles, 25.5 TFL, 7 sacks) need to lead a strong charge to give their team a chance. The Hokies won’t score 40, but they should reach 30 and give Beamer a last win. Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Tulsa 24.
Foster Farms Bowl
UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7), Santa Clara, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
UCLA – 6.5 – O/U 61
This game is personally objectionable to me. Nebraska may well win this bowl, but placing losing teams in bowl games just to fill them out is a dangerous precedent. OK, so the Huskers lost their seven games by an average of less than four points. And while they upset Michigan State, they also lost to Purdue and Illinois. The days of the black shirts are a distant memory for this defense – they rank 76th in the country, and gave up 25 or more points eight times. On offense, Tommy Armstrong Jr. (2,856 yards, 21 TDs, 16 INTs) can pick up yards, but also tends to throw picks. Nebraska doesn’t really have any offensive stars, but somehow they tend to score points, averaging 32.5 per game. UCLA’s defense is definitely capable of shutting the Huskers down, but the Bruins are erratic. On the one hand, they shut out Oregon State and held Utah to nine points. But they also gave up 30 or more points six times. Like Armstrong, UCLA QB Josh Rosen (3,350 yards, 20 TDs) can be at least effective, but he’s a bit erratic. The real star for the Bruins is RB Paul Perkins (1,275 yards, 14 TDs). On defense, UCLA excels best when DT Kenneth Clark (8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and LB Aaron Wallace (12 TFL, 7 sacks) get pressure. This game will play largely as a home game for the Bruins, and if they get even a modicum of a good start, they should win easily. Prediction: UCLA 35, Nebraska 28.