WHAT: BBVA Compass Bowl (8th year)
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
WHEN: Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
WHY: For Vanderbilt, this bowl business is suddenly becoming old hat. The Commodores are in their third consecutive bowl after making it just four previous times in their history. This is the first time Vandy — winner of five of its last six to close out the regular season — will be playing in a bowl after Jan. 1.
The Cougars, meanwhile, are looking for their first bowl victory since 2009 and are trying to snap out of a late-season funk that saw them lose three of their last four.
Vandy doesn’t shine in any particular area. Its offense is ranked 94th in yards per game and is 66th in points per game, but the Commodores are opportunistic, play tough defense (24th nationally in total defense) and don’t hurt themselves. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels has 2,268 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions and has also rushed for five scores. His main target is all-star wide out Jordan Matthews, who has 107 catches for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. He catches everything he touches. Leading rusher Jerron Seymour has 635 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Houston is led by freshman quarterback John O’Korn, who has 2,889 passing yards with 26 TDs and just eight picks. Many of his passes went to wide out Deontay Greenberry, who caught 76 balls for 1,106 yards and 10 scores. But the calling card for these Cougars is a stingy scoring defense. Houston is 13th in scoring defense (20 ppg) despite finishing next-to-last in the American Athletic Conference in total yards allowed. Junior linebacker Efrem Oliphant leads the team with 123 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss while linebacker Derrick Matthews has 12 tackles for loss and a team-leading seven sacks.
With a victory over Houston, Vandy can tie its program record for most wins in a season. However, a win for the Cougars over an SEC team would be a great way to cap their season. Look for the Commodores to be their usual scrappy selves and pull this one out.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 27, Houston 20