Welcome back for Part 5 of the Bowl picks. Through the first 20 bowl games, we are 12-8. We’re off to a great start. With the playoff semifinals now behind us, we’re on the back stretch now. This article will cover the Orange Bowl for Monday, December 30th, through Tuesday’s games (Six total games). Good luck this week!
#9 Florida (10-2) vs #24 Virginia (6-6)
I’ll admit, it took me nearly the entire season to trust this Florida team. From what we’ve seen over the past few years, this team always seems to be offensively challenged. This year has been drastically different. Florida’s offense is ranked 34 in scoring and their defense ranks 7th, averaging under 15 points allowed per game. Quarterback Kyle Trask has 24 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions, at a clip of 8.4 YPA.
The Gators tilt towards the air, attempting 35 passes per game and around 30 rushes. Defensively, The 7th ranked Gators defense relies on their solid pass defense (192 passing yards per game and 1.3 INTs). Their rushing defense is also solid (109 YPG and 3.3 YPC). Overall, this is a team littered with speed and talent, who ideally wants to spread you out on defense through their passing game and then relying heavily on their pass defense to maintain their leads.
Virginia doesn’t add up on paper, but games aren’t played on paper, obviously. The Cavaliers finished 9-4 but had more turnovers than takeaways (1.5 to 1.3 per game), which is impressive and kind of amazing. Their offense is a little tricky because their quarterback, Bryce Perkins, is responsible for 62% of all touchdowns. His 18 TDs to 11 INTs isn’t efficient by any means, but as you can see by the turnover anomaly, this team is more clutch than anything else.
There’s not as many positive things to say about Virginia. When this line opened, I was eager to find reasons to take Virginia as 14.5 underdogs, but after watching film on both teams, it seems pretty clear this is a big mismatch. One team (Florida) dominates on defense and features a potent, efficient quarterback, while the other team seems volatile and not particularly potent in any specific area. Keep in mind, Virginia struggles to protect the quarterback as well. I like Florida to win big.
Pick: Florida -14.5
The Belk Bowl
Kentucky (7-5) vs Virginia Tech (8-4)
If you have seen Lynn Bowden play quarterback, you already know how dynamic and electric he is as an athlete. Bowden came into 2019 as a wide receiver with NFL draft aspirations. Since injuries took their toll on the Wildcats quarterbacks, Bowden has stepped in and become extremely effective, running a variation of the old “Wildcat” offense (not to be confused with their own mascot, but the same Wildcat offense the Miami Dolphins used in 2009).
Bowden also apparently is extremely mad and motivated after some issues with the Virginia Tech players at a racetrack. By the numbers, Kentucky has a tremendous pass defense (172 YPG) and are great in the red zone. Overall, they’re the 13th ranked scoring defense. However, their big issue is rush defense. On the season, they average 151 yards allowed per game at a 4.5 YPC average.
Virginia Tech was one rivalry game loss away from playing Clemson in the ACC title game. That being said, they started out the season poorly. A blowout loss to Duke sent them to 2-2 with their only two wins against Old Dominion (by 14) and Furman (by 7). They’re a team that came on strong late in the season but consistency has been a major issue for them.
The Hokies lean rush-heavy (44 RPG to 24 PPG) but the dual-threat nature of their quarterback skews the numbers a bit. The Hokies run the ball relatively well as a team (173 YPG). Though the Hokies average .4 more turnovers than takeaways per game, their change to Hendon Hooker midway through the season has seemingly fixed that, as he’s thrown 11 TDs to just 2 INTs (both coming in the UVA game).
The motivated Kentucky quarterback and solid Kentucky defense have me convinced Kentucky will do a solid job against this Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, I’m looking at the Georgia Tech game as a reason why I expect the Hokies to win here. In that game, Georgia Tech, a triple-option offense, was shutout, 45-0. The Wildcat is a similar offense requiring good discipline and preparation to stop on defense. Given the weeks they’ve had to prepare, I think Virginia Tech will be able to keep Kentucky at bay and should give them a close win in a low scoring affair.
Pick: Virginia Tech -2.5
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl
Florida State (6-6) vs Arizona State (7-5)
Florida State has had a rough go of it under former coach Willie Taggart. Since he was replaced following their 4-5 start, the Noles have gone 2-1 with their only loss being against Florida. Quarterback James Blackman has done an okay job this season since relieving graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook by passing for 16 TDs and 7 INTs at a 7.9 YPA.
However, the story on offense for the Noles is Cam Akers. Akers averages 5 YPC and has 18 total touchdowns. The Noles utilize him in screens and like to get him into space. Akers does an excellent job reading holes, lowering his pad level, and accelerating. The Seminoles are a very balanced offense, averaging 36 rushes and 34 passes per game.
Arizona State appears to be a more efficient version of Florida State, with a better defense and better at forcing turnovers. The Sun Devils aren’t the typical Pac-12 team who airs it out all game and aims for shootout victories. They are a well-balanced team on both sides of the ball, coached by a former NFL legend, Herm Edwards. The Sun Devils lean big on the run to set up their efficient passing game.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels is averaging 8.9 YPA and has 17 TDs to just 2 INTs. Though their rushing offense isn’t great (3.6 YPC), they have managed a few big wins this season (Mich St, Oregon) and have the talent to compete with big-time programs.
I like the turnover efficiency of Arizona State and their 1.1 fumble recoveries per game demonstrate the work the staff has put into focusing on turnovers. I believe the Sun Devils will have issues with Cam Akers but I tend to side with the more disciplined teams in tight matchups such as this.
Pick: Arizona State -4
#23 Navy (11-1) vs Kanas State (13-0)
Navy is one of the most prolific offensive teams in the country. The Navy triple option has been a staple of this team for close to two decades now. In recent years, the worry for bettors in Navy Bowl games has been the prep time. Bettors believe teams with adequate prep time can properly game plan for such an attack. It’s been proven to be a hit or miss idea.
This season, Navy is led by Malcolm Perry at quarterback and Jamale Carrothers at fullback. The two have combined for 28 rushing touchdowns and highlight an offense that rushes for 363 yards per game. Defensively, the Midshipmen rank 39th in the country and force 1.8 takeaways per game.
Kansas State beat Oklahoma earlier in the season. Despite watching Oklahoma get destroyed by LSU, it was still an impressive performance. Kansas State excels in the running game, averaging 4.5 YPC as a team and 190 yards on the ground. Defensively, the Wildcats struggle against the run, averaging 4.9 YPC and 153 YPG.
As I said earlier, the prep time thing may be more myth than a useful idea, but Navy has been on the wrong end of a few bowl games, so it doesn’t lack total credibility. The key here will be whether Kansas State’s awful rush defense will be able to slow Navy down on offense. I think Kansas State has the weapons to keep up, but it won’t be enough against such a dynamic rushing offense.
Pick: Navy -3
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Wyoming (7-5) vs Georgia State (13-0)
Wyoming is a very solid defensive team. Unfortunately for them, a 6-2 start was spoiled when quarterback, Sean Chambers, was lost for the season to a knee injury after the Nevada game. Since then, they’ve only managed a 1:4 TD to INT ratio from backup Tyler Vander Waal (not to mention a meager 5.4 YPA). The Cowboys only allow 17.8 PPG (11th) and force 1.6 takeaways per game.
Georgia State is a lesser-known Sun Belt team that gained notoriety this season following a road upset victory over the Tennessee Volunteers. After a relatively hot start, GSU has cooled down, losing three of their last four. The Panthers have a dynamic rushing offense (245 YPG at 5.4 YPC) and a relatively effective air attack led by Dan Ellington (21 TDs to 7 INTs). Their problem this season has been their defense (36 PPG).
This is the classic “Offense vs Defense” game. In years past, I’d be more inclined to side with the defense, but in 2019, I’ve learned that the only thing that trumps a good defense is an inept offense and that’s just what the Cowboys have now. Aside from what their defense does to set them up, I just don’t see this Wyoming offense doing too much here. I think the Panthers will turn a few big plays into scores and Wyoming won’t be able to pull away. I think this is a game decided by a field goal, so I like Georgia State to cover.
Pick: Georgia State +7
#11 Utah (10-2) vs Texas (7-5)
Utah is in an eerily similar position as Georgia was a season ago. Both suffered disappointing conference title games that ultimately cost them a shot at the playoff. For the season, Utah had the #4 defense in the country. They were a run-first offense (43 rushes/game to 23 passes/game) who was both effective and efficient. Tyler Huntley is a dual-threat quarterback who averaged 10.7 YPA with 18 TDs and only 4 INTs. Zack Moss is the running back, averaging 6.2 YPC and responsible for over 1,700 yards and 17 total touchdowns on the season. Utah’s defense only allows 70 yards rushing, 186 yards passing, and forces 1.6 takeaways per game.
Texas ended 2018 on an extremely high note, defeating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in a massive upset that had quarterback Sam Ehlinger saying, “We’re back” afterward. 2019 came and it turns out they weren’t back. Texas struggled mightily on defense, averaging 28.9 points-against. Their secondary is the glaring weakness, averaging a whopping 306 yards through the air each game. Texas has 20 players listed as either questionable or out for the game as well.
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger (29 TDs and 9 INTs) was an early Heisman candidate, but the defensive woes and inconsistency cost him consideration as the year wore on. Texas’ rushing offense is solid (4.7 YPC) and Ehlinger’s dual-threat ability offers an appealing dynamic to the offense, but playcalling was an issue throughout the season and Texas couldn’t seem to count on the offense when they needed to in 2019.
Last year’s Sugar Bowl was encouraging for the Longhorns and served as a cautionary tale to all that sometimes, the disappointment of missing out on the playoff is just too much for a team to care enough for a bowl game. I think Texas played incredibly well in last year’s game and it energized the fan base, but much of the coaching staff has since been relieved, following the disappointing season.
I’m not too worried about the narrative that Utah won’t be motivated since they’re not a traditional power, but I am worried about this Texas team missing much of their staff for this game. I realize Tom Herman will likely give the offense a boost, but the Utes are a formidable opponent and I can’t see their defense breaking down much, even with three defensive backs out. I like Utah to win, but I think it should be a relatively close game throughout.
Pick: Utah -7