RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL
MIAMI +3.5 vs Louisville 645pm – SATURDAY – ESPN
Being back in a bowl game this season means a lot for Miami. NFL scouts and fans will be tuned in to watch and evaluate Teddy Bridgewater. Miami QB Stephen Morris could influence his draft standing with a strong performance and I expect him to rise to the occasion. Al Golden and his staff have been recruiting well recently and the momentum of the program continues to grow. Especially for the undecided or wavering recruits, an impressive Miami win over UL could make a difference on signing day. This game matters. I think the Canes play well and use this as a springboard into 2014.
The media is very focused on rehashing the high-school recruiting saga that surrounded Teddy Bridgewater and Randy Shannon. Would I have loved to see Teddy in a Canes' uniform? Of course. That being said, I don't see the benefit of bringing it up now. That era of Miami football is over and I'm only focused on the future.
It is very hard to evaluate how good Louisville is, given the weakness of the AAC. Charlie Strong's team rode the wave of an upset bowl win over Florida last season to high preseason expectations in 2013. I think Miami matches up with the Cardinal. The Canes have struggled to defend spread offenses, especially against running quarterbacks. Louisville runs a more traditional offense and Miami will be ready after a few extra weeks of preparation. The bowl practices are so valuable to UM's young players on defense. The secondary is healthier and will challenge Louisville's talented WR's.
WR Stacy Coley will continue to shine and make explosive plays on both offense and special teams. WR Allen Hurns will make a few big catches in the biggest moments, as he has all season. Stephen Morris will quiet some of his doubters and end his Miami career on a high note. Bridgewater and the UL offense will be able to move the ball, but the Canes will get a few bounces to go their way and force two turnovers. Al Golden will briefly celebrate a 6-10 point win, before waking up at 5am on Sunday morning, ready to get back to work on making his team better in 2014.
MORE SATURDAY PICKS
"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." George W. Bush, 2002
All season I have publicized MAC football as much as possible. I have sung the praises of the conference and repeatedly pumped up NIU QB Jordan Lynch and the Bowling Green defense. When it came time for bowl season, I was excited about picking MAC games because I felt I knew the conference better than anyone. After Buffalo was destroyed by San Diego State, I should’ve seen this coming. I went ahead and confidently picked BGSU and NIU anyway and my support resulted in a lump of coal in my stocking. The MAC is now 0-4 in bowl games and my record dropped to 3-5 after Thursday night’s action. Hopefully Marshall, Minnesota, and Washington can help me get back on track today. Here are three more picks on Saturday to enjoy both before and after Miami’s win over Louisville. Follow me @JPickens15 for bowl game picks and Canes’ analysis.
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL
Wikipedia: “The New Era is a daily national newspaper owned by the government of Namibia. The newspaper is one of four daily national newspapers in the country. It is published in English and five indigenous languages.”
NOTRE DAME -14 vs Rutgers 12pm – SATURDAY – ESPN
While I lived in NYC, I’m not even sure I met a Rutgers fan, despite numerous trips to bars or restaurants to watch college football. Don’t be surprised if the Fighting Irish have more fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium. Rutgers barely qualified for a bowl and struggles to defend the pass, giving up nearly 300 passing yards a game against mostly AAC competition. QB Chas Dodd has played decent football for the Scarlet Knights, but he will be facing his toughest challenge on Saturday afternoon. Notre Dame’s defense is legit, despite losing several key contributors to season-ending injuries. ND QB Tommy Rees will end his tumultuous career on a high note, finding speedy WR TJ Jones for several big plays. Notre Dame will jump out to an early lead and coast from there. Rutgers doesn’t have an offense that is built to come from behind. I have complete faith in Brian Kelly to have the Irish focused and ready to play their best. This game shouldn’t be competitive.
Wikipedia: “Belk is a town in Fayette County, Alabama, United States. At the 2000 census the population was 214. According to the 2005 U.S. Census estimates, the town had a population of 211.”
NORTH CAROLINA -2.5 vs Cincinnati 320pm – SATURDAY – ESPN
I finally get to show some ACC pride and pick the Tar Heels. UNC QB Marquise Williams has improved all season and is talented enough to create problems for Cincy’s defense. His TE Eric Ebron will be an NFL star and I expect a big game from him to impress the scouts. The Heels will have a nice home-field advantage with the game being played in Charlotte. Cincinnati QB Brendon Kay played well down the stretch, but has been hampered by injuries and soreness. UNC will look to pressure Kay early and test how healthy he is heading into this matchup. North Carolina has more talent and will eventually pull away in the fourth quarter. I have horrible memories of Duke blowing last year’s Belk Bowl against Cincinnati in epic fashion. Hopefully my luck changes in 2013. The ACC finds a way to win this time against the Bearcats.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
Wikipedia: “Originally called Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck, from which the abbreviation BW3 was created (the third W was for the beef on weck sandwich), the restaurant became a franchise; as of December 27, 2009, it had 652 locations across 45 U.S. states. An alternate nickname in recent usage by the company is B-Dubs”
MICHIGAN +6 vs Kansas State 1015pm – SATURDAY – ESPN
Michigan will be without QB Devin Gardner who is out with a broken foot. Freshman Shane Morris will make his first career start and the highly-recruited lefty has an opportunity to prove he is the future in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines struggled down the stretch, but played inspired football against Ohio State in the season finale. The offensive line showed some resilience and the Wolverines finally had some success in the running game. Michigan has played well in both bowl games under Brady Hoke and I expect this team to be ready to go, especially on defense. CB Blake Countess will be an important player for UM because KState has an explosive WR in Tyler Lockett. The two-quarterback rotation of Daniel Sams and Jake Waters has been successful for Bill Synder. A lot has been made of Kansas State’s strong finish to the season, winning five of their last six games. I think that success had more to do with schedule timing, rather than a team improving dramatically. All five of those wins came against the bottom half of the Big 12. I think Michigan hangs around all game and has a chance to win late. Morris will gain confidence by completing short passes early to his star WR Jeremy Gallon and TE Devin Funchess. Go Blue.
SOTU STAFF PICKS
Juan Toribio (5 - 3 record) – Notre Dame, UNC, Miami, KState
Jerry Steinberg (5 - 3 record) – Rutgers, UNC, Miami, KState
Michael Grunewald (4 - 4 record) – Rutgers, Cincy, LVille, Michigan
Josh Maser (2 - 6 record) – Rutgers, UNC, Miami, KState