Say what you will about there being 40 bowl games, but it does provide more room for judgment between conferences. This is the time of year when conferences that can’t always duke it out get a shot to do just that, pitting their best to mid-range teams together for generally exciting matchups.
While we don’t get the joy of seeing who has the worse bottom tier teams like the Big 12’s Kansas or Iowa State versus the SEC’s Vanderbilt, there’s a good representation from most conferences.
The Big 12 has half its teams heading to a bowl game, including Oklahoma heading to the College Football Playoffs as the No. 4 seed. Kansas State rounds out the list after a win to bring it up to an auto-bid with a win over West Virginia.
Let’s break it down.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
Texas Tech already had its say against the Razorbacks and the SEC, and now it’s the SnyderCats’ turn to continue the trend of Big 12 winning against the SEC. While it’s a low stakes game, this should be one of the best “old school” matchups of bowl season. Bill Snyder has had to rework the offense into a single-wing scheme with Joe Hubener at quarterback all season, while Bret Bielema’s offense has always been a ground and pound team. Don’t expect any fireworks. Rather, expect the illusion of strong defense as each team pounds the rock.
Prediction: 20-17 (Arkansas)
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
This is one of the most evenly matched bowls. For the most part, it’s like looking into a mirror as both teams score about 33 points per game, and ASU has just a 10-yard advantage per game on offense. Both have capable running backs in West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood and ASU’s Demario Richard, while both team’s quarterbacks can sling it deep as well. But if these two are even on offense, this will come down to defensive play. West Virginia is particularly feisty in coverage, leading all Power 5 programs with 6.5 passes defended per game and 23 interceptions.
Prediction: 38-27 (West Virginia)
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. No. 20 LSU (8-3)
Unlike the previous matchup, this is a game of north and south. Tech is a multi-dimensional team that lights up the scoreboard through the air but has no semblance of a defense. Conversely, LSU may not even manage 10 passes with Leonard Fournette running rampant in the backfield. The Tigers are also backed by a strong defense. But Tech has already shown the ability to operate against a strong SEC defense, managing over 400 yards against Arkansas thanks to trick plays. Tech has shown no sign of its bag of tricks running empty, and LSU won’t see it coming, even if it can keep running the score up alongside Tech.
Prediction: 38-30 (Texas Tech)
Russell Athletic Bowl: No. 17 Baylor (9-3) vs. No. 10 UNC (11-2)
Any stat known about Baylor at this point seems useless considering the damage at the quarterback position. Fox Sports reports that chances are freshman phenom Jarrett Stidham is unlikely to play, and Chris Johnson’s status is unknown for now. Without a quarterback, Baylor will have a hard time matching the offensive efficiency of UNC, which has scored 40 points per game this season. If Stidham manages to come back, though, this could be a real shootout as the Bears were averaging over 50 points per game before their top two quarterbacks went down. Baylor can only manage to keep running out of the Wildcat for long.
Prediction: 45-31 (UNC)
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 11 TCU (10-2) vs. No. 15 Oregon (9-3)
Similar to the other matchup with a Pac-12 school, both programs boast prolific offenses capable of working through the air and ground. But the edge will go the prevailing defense, and that appears to favor TCU. Even with all the injuries on that front, the Horned Frogs have held their opponents to just 26 points per game — 10 points less than the Ducks’ scoring defense. TCU receiver Josh Doctson hopes to get back into action before he heads for the NFL. If he suits up, he’ll be a true matchup nightmare for Oregon, which has not seen a player with his capabilities and size all season.
Prediction: 49-34 (TCU)
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0)
While it won’t help the conference to lose the rest of its battles, this is the one that will dictate how the Big 12 is ultimately judged. A case seems to always be made that the conference with the nation’s best team should be considered the best. Oklahoma is the hottest team in the nation right now, posting a nation-leading 46 points per game over the last four games. Baker Mayfield has shown the ability to perform well in primetime games and the running game is rolling on all cylinders. Though the Sooners look like underdogs, at first, there’s little doubt in my mind they won’t run away with this game. Not only is the offense performing well, but the defense has come up big. This should be very similar to the game against Baylor when Oklahoma won 44-34 after shutting down the Bears’ mobile quarterback. DeShaun Watson is a better player than Jarrett Stidham, but few teams have the caliber of Baylor’s offensive line.
Prediction: 34-24 (Oklahoma)