College football fans in western Pennsylvania get another special treat this year with Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia all playing in bowl games. But the status of each of program based on their bowl draw is not as easy to decipher as the next.
One thing the three teams have in common: they all have to travel to play in either their opponents’ back yard, or just a toss of a cornhole bean bag away. And for two of them, the matchups don’t help much, either. Let’s break it all down here:
– Military Bowl, Annapolis, Md.: Pitt (8-4) vs. Navy (10-2)
Considering Pitt is coming off a very successful first season for head coach Pat Narduzzi in which Pitt could have been a nine-win team (sorry, Ken Laird), this matchup looks like it’s a consolation prize for being passed over for the Pinstripe Bowl or the Belk Bowl… at least on the surface.
But by drawing Navy at their home stadium, Pitt has a better chance than NC State (Belk) and Duke (Pinstripe) to show how much they’ve grown as a program by facing a team who has one of the best players in the country, quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Beating a team with a player who can break the FBS career rushing touchdowns record if he finds the end zone three times makes for a damn good storyline.
That said, while it is a great opportunity for Pitt to show what they can do, I also remember how much they struggle with mobile quarterbacks. Even if the Panthers keep Reynolds from breaking the career rushing touchdowns record, they won’t slow him down enough to win.
Prediction: Navy 24, Pitt 17
– TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla.: Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)
James Franklin’s team with an offense currently in transistion seems like an odd, yet perfect placement against Georgia, an entire program in transition with former head coach Mark Richt leaving and taking the job at Miami.
The uncertainty of the coaches taking over the offensive play-calling in this game — quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne will call plays for Penn State, tight ends coach John Lilly for Georgia — makes it hard know what to expect from the respective offenses. But the one stat that I’ll lean on is third down efficiency: Georgia has the ninth-best FBS defense in the country, allowing only 29.6 percent of third down attempts. Meanwhile, Penn State has converted third downs at only 28.1 percent all season.
Factor that in with a healthy Carl Nassib playing his last game in a blue and white uniform and I’m expecting a very low-scoring game, but not one the Nittany Lions can come out of on top.
Prediction: Georgia 20, Penn State 10
– Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, Phoenix, Ariz.: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
My guess is this game was stuck with being named the Cactus Bowl because the “Peter’s Pub Pitt Fan Schadenfreude Bowl” took up too many characters. The challenge for West Virginia is pretty obvious (traveling across country right at the turn of the new year to play ten miles from their opponent’s campus), but this matchup is better for the Mountaineers than one might expect.
Arizona State had six games this season where they allowed at least 135 yards rushing and four yards per carry. They were 3-3 in those games. Meanwhile, West Virginia averaged less than four per carry only twice all season (3.8 vs. Liberty, 3.7 at Oklahoma), and they still surpassed 170 yards on the ground in each of those games.
This is a game tailor-made for Wendell Smallwood to gash the Sun Devils for big chunks of yardage and Skylar Howard to throw just enough to keep them honest and move the football. West Virginia found their stride late with four straight wins and falling just short of a fifth. The success they’ve had with a consistent running game and pretty competent defense in that same span should carry over nicely.
Prediction: West Virginia 31, Arizona State 24
– My other bowl predictions:
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State over Akron
Boca Raton Bowl: Temple over Toledo
Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State over Northern Illinois
GoDaddy Bowl: Bowling Green over Georgia Southern
Bahamas Bowl: Western Michigan over Middle Tennessee State
Hawaii Bowl: Cincinnati over San Diego State
St. Petersburg Bowl: Marshall over Connecticut
Sun Bowl: Miami over Washington State
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Southern Miss over Washington
Pinstripe Bowl: Indiana over Duke
Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech over Tulsa
Foster Farms Bowl: UCLA over Nebraska
Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota over Central Michigan
Armed Forces Bowl: Cal over Air Force
Russell Athletic Bowl: North Carolina over Baylor
Arizona Bowl: Colorado State over Nevada
Texas Bowl: LSU over Texas Tech
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis over Auburn
Belk Bowl: Mississippi State over NC State
Music City Bowl: Louisville over Texas A&M
Holiday Bowl: USC over Wisconsin
Peach Bowl: Florida State over Houston
Outback Bowl: Northwestern over Tennessee
Citrus Bowl: Michigan over Florida
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State over Notre Dame
Rose Bowl: Stanford over Iowa
Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma State over Ole Miss
Liberty Bowl: Arkansas over Kansas State
Alamo Bowl: Oregon over TCU
Orange Bowl (CFB Playoff Semifinal): Oklahoma over Clemson
Cotton Bowl (CFB Playoff Semifinal): Alabama over Michigan State
College Football Playoff National Championship: Alabama over Oklahoma