"Everyone can say they want to win, but are you willing to put in the work, properly, to get it done." - Mark Richt at his first UM Press Conference
By winning four of their last five games, Miami showed signs of promise. The hire of Mark Richt immediately brought excitement to the program. The traffic and support from Canes fans clearly demonstrated the impressive growth of State of the U.
Entering the month of November, my picks were at a crossroads. My record was 88-85 on the season, still hovering far too close to the dreaded forcefield of Precise Mediocrity. I summoned up every cliche in the book. I circled the wagons. I stepped up under pressure. I found a way to win. I rallied the troops. I did what I had to do. During the final five weeks, I went 60-40, consistently winning at a rate no one could have anticipated. For the year, a 54% success rate (148-125) over that many games is more difficult than people think, but trying to keep that up during bowl season might be harder than beating the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.
My bowl struggles are well documented. So many new variables come into play. Interim coaches, coordinators calling games while recruiting for their new school, kids looking ahead at the NFL, the unpredictability of player motivation. All of it stresses me out. There are 40 bowl games and I've been agonizing about my picks over the past two weeks. Should I trust what I saw from these teams in October or November? We shall see. I will use the power of OUR internet to predict games during this three week journey. As Ben Carson said during Tuesday's debate - "I don't do a lot of talking, I do a lot of doing." It's time to win.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
NEW MEXICO +9 vs Arizona - 2pm
Will Arizona show up for this game? Will the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez care? Arizona had a disastrous 6-6 season and was ravaged by injuries. Scooby Wright will make his return for the Wildcats, but his presence alone isn't enough to fix the defense. New Mexico has the benefit of playing a home game and Bob Davie's team runs the option as well as anyone, led by QB Lamar Jordan. The Lobos will play inspired in the program's first bowl game since 2007. Davie is happy to be at New Mexico while Rich Rod spent December interviewing at South Carolina. Motivation matters as the Lobos hang around and have a chance to win it late.
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
UTAH -2.5 vs Byu - 330pm
Bring on the rivalry. This is the game everyone wants to see. Utah DT Viliseni Fauonuku already called BYU a dirty team at the bowl reception last night. These two fan bases hate each other and the game is always known as "The Holy War." Utah will be without injured RB Devontae Booker, but the Utes still have more overall talent on their roster than BYU. QB Travis Wilson will play well in his final game. BYU is in flux, still without a new head coach after Bronco Mendenhall bolted for Virginia this month. Kyle Whittingham will have Utah fired up and ready to play. The Utes win by 7-10.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
APPALACHIAN STATE -7.5 vs Ohio - 530pm
I expect this game to be a blowout. Ohio finished 8-4 by winning three straight, but two of those wins came against weaker opponents and the win over Northern Illinois was aided by injuries to the Huskies' QB's. App State has an aggressive spread offense led by QB Taylor Lamb and RB Marcus Cox. Ohio's offense isn't explosive and the Bobcats struggled to finish drives once reaching the red zone. App State puts up 40 and wins easily.
SAN JOSE STATE -3 vs Georgia State - 7pm
AutoNation partnered with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and will be making a significant donation with the proceeds from the game. Anytime college football can help raise money for organizations like BCRF, I'm all for it.
San Jose State is 5-7 on the season and Georgia State is 6-6, so don't expect NFL level execution. Led by QB Nick Arbuckle, Georgia State surprised everyone by winning four consecutive games to finish the season and become bowl eligible. Despite that momentum, I'm taking SJSU to win by a touchdown. The Spartans were more battle tested in the Mountain West and rely heavily on RB Tyler Ervin, who finished with 1469 yards and 13 TD this year.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
LOUISIANA TECH -2 vs Arkansas State - 9pm
This should be one of the week's most exciting games. Both offenses can put up big numbers and both fan bases should be able to make the trip to nearby New Orleans. This is Jeff Driskel's biggest opportunity to prove to a national audience how much better he is since leaving UF. RB Kenneth Dixon has NFL talent and Driskel has a deep talented group of WR's at his disposal. The Bulldogs also have a solid run defense, which will force Arkansas State QB Fredi Knighten into too many 3rd and long situations. The Red Wolves always play hard, but they'll come up just a bit short on Saturday night. Don't waste a second watching the Jets destroy Matt Cassell. Spend your time watching this C-USA vs Sun Belt shootout.
Miami Beach Bowl
SOUTH FLORIDA +2.5 vs Western Kentucky - 230pm
The advertising for this game is hilarious. The bowl's website has a banner at the top written in a font that makes it look like it's advertising Bad Boys II. It declares this game as "The BATTLE of the BEACH." Marlins Park is a nice stadium for baseball, partially because you can sit anywhere you want. Given Western Kentucky's limited fan base and the kickoff being smack in the middle of the work day, I would expect to see a lot of empty blue seats.
Both teams finished the year on winning streaks, but USF's 7-1 stretch was particularly impressive. USF QB Quinton Flowers improved dramatically and his dual-threat ability was difficult for defenses to deal with late in the season. The Bulls have a tough defense that is underrated nationally, holding teams to just 20ppg over the final eight games. WKU QB Brandon Doughty had an incredible season statistically, throwing for 45 TDs and just 7 INT. That being said, USF's defense will be the best he's faced since a midseason loss to LSU. USF has dozens of players from the Miami area and will be playing in front of friends and family. The Bulls win a close one by a field goal.