Taking a quick-hit look at the Jan. 2 bowl menu, the final multi-game day of the 2014-2015 postseason.
WHO: Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
WHAT: The 12th Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
WHERE: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Tex.
WHEN: noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: You could very easily dub this one the Interim Coaches Armed Forces Bowl as both squads will be led by someone other than the one who did the leading during the regular season. Houston’s Tony Levine was replaced by Tom Herman, the Ohio State offensive coordinator who stayed with the Buckeyes for their playoff run, while Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst returned home to Wisconsin. Regardless of what you dub it, it marks the third meeting between the football programs and the first since 1997. Pitt is a team of streaks, having won its first three games of the season and its last two, while a stretch in the middle portion of the schedule featured a pair of three-game losing streaks wrapped around a win over Virginia Tech. Both teams are middling scoring offenses, but UH is 12th in the country in points per game at 19.5. The Panthers, meanwhile, eclipsed that total in 11 of 12 games. Pitt will also look to prop up its conference’s subpar postseason record this go around, with the ACC currently struggling along at 4-6. That’s fourth among the Power Five conferences, ahead of only the Big 12’s 1-4 mark. Perhaps the most interesting matchup will be Houston’s run defense vs. James Conner as the latter is fifth in the country in rushing yards per game at 139.6 while the former is 29th at 136.3 ypg. UH has only given up 14 rushing touchdowns, while Conner’s 24 are tied for third nationally.
THE LINE: Houston, +3
THE PREDICTION: Houston 26, Pittsburgh 17
WHO: Iowa (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
WHAT: The 70th TaxSlayer Bowl
WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
WHEN: 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The last of four Big Ten-SEC bowl matchups (the Big Ten currently leads 2-1) is the third matchup between the two football programs. The only other postseason game between the two was the 1982 Peach Bowl, a 28-22 Hawkeye win. After struggling through the first two-thirds of the season at 3-5, Butch Jones righted the listing ship to push the Vols to their first bowl game since after the 2010 season. The bad news for the Vols is that they struggle sometimes to score as they average 23.4 points per game — that number drops to 16.6 ppg if you take out the 95 combined points in wins over South Carolina and Kentucky — while the Hawkeyes give up 24 points per game, 35th in the country. The player I’ll be watching the closest? UT quarterback Josh Dobbs, who is a star in the making. The sophomore had a game for the ages against the Gamecocks, and the Vols went 3-1 in games he started. While the Vols struggled to score for most of the 2014 season, they didn’t when Dobbs was under center. That could very well be the difference in the contest.
THE LINE: Iowa, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Tennessee 31, Iowa 28
WHO: Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3)
WHAT: The 22nd Valero Alamo Bowl
WHERE: Alamodome, San Antonio, Tex.
WHEN: 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: As mentioned earlier, the Big 12 is struggling mightily this postseason, and it could really use a quality win to salvage something from what’s been a lost bowl season. And, fortunately for that conference, K-State is just the team that can do that; whether they do it is another matter entirely. The Wildcats have one of the best offenses and defenses in not only the league but in the country, entering the third-ever meeting between the teams (last: 2010) 24th nationally in scoring offense (35.8 ppg) and 25th in scoring defense (21.8 ppg). The fact that K-State can put points up on the board doesn’t bode well for a UCLA defense that is currently 75th nationally and ninth in the Pac-12 by giving up 27.5 ppg. Eight times this season, the Bruins gave up 30 or more points; in all three of their losses, they gave up 30-plus points. K-State has struggled in the postseason of late, though, going just 1-5 in its last six bowl games. They did, however, claim the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, so they have that going for them. Which is nice.
THE LINE: Kansas State, +1½
THE PREDICTION: Kansas State 44, UCLA 31
WHO: Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
WHAT: The 26th TicketCity Cactus Bowl
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
WHEN: 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: In a weird oddity, this is the fourth of the four games today that marks the third-ever meeting between the two teams. If you had to pick a squad with momentum heading into this game, it would have to be Washington as Oklahoma State lost five of its last six games to close out a disappointing campaign. All five of those losses, incidentally, came by at least 21 points. The Huskies haven’t exactly been world-beaters of late, though, as, prior to winning its last two games, dropped five of seven. There likely isn’t a more uneven mismatch, at least on paper, in this 2014-15 postseason than Oklahoma State’s offensive line vs. Washington’s front seven. OSU has given up 37 sacks this season, tied for 17th-worst in the country; UW’s defense is second in the country in sacks with 49. If the Cowboys can’t protect their quarterback, it could very well be a long day as they likely won’t even have a running game on which to fall back — OSU is an abysmal 102nd (135.3 yards per game) out of the 128 teams at the FBS level. Even worse? The Huskies are 21st in run defense at 121.9 ypg. Yes, there’s a reason why OSU is nearly a touchdown underdog as this is just not a good matchup for the Big 12 squad.
THE LINE: Oklahoma State, +6
THE PREDICTION: Washington 27, Oklahoma State 13