Jeff Dantzler gives his Dirty Dozen Bowl Previews on a baker’s dozen of the bowl games for this 2015 – 2016 college football bowling season.
LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
December 29, 9 p.m.
From 7-0 and ranked as high No. 2, the Tigers had a tumultuous November. LSU lost three straight and Les Miles was rumored to be on the way out. There was a flirtation with Jimbo Fisher. LSU closed out with a win over Texas A&M and takes aim at the Red Raiders. Texas Tech made big strides this season. Kliff Kingsbury went from the hottest of seats into the postseason. This will be a huge challenge for LSU’s defense. As for the Tigers offense, the rushing attack is powerful, led by Leonard Fournette. LSU has lost its touch a bit in bowls of late. There is so much talent for the Tigers, and this is a time where they can show if any progress has been made in the passing game.
Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3)
December 30, Noon
It was a great season for Memphis, and they would love to close it out with a win over another Southeastern Conference school. The victory over Ole Miss is one of the biggest in school history. Even though this is a down Auburn team, if Memphis could beat the Tigers from the plains, having triumphs over two Southeastern Conference schools in the same season would be a great accomplishment. Memphis must deal with the loss of Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech. Auburn must deal with what has to be an extremely low interest level from everyone in the program.
Mississippi State (8-4) vs. N.C. State (7-5)
December 30, 3:30 p.m.
Mississippi State had another strong season.
Even though the Maroon Bulldogs were disappointed to go from 7-2 to 8-4, that win total is still much higher than what most had predicted for MSU. Dan Mullen has been an excellent fit in Starkville. Dak Prescott plays his final game for Mississippi State. He goes down as one of the best quarterbacks in school history. Mississippi State’s defensive front should present a big challenge to North Carolina State. But the Maroons know N.C. State will come in with their hair on fire, trying to chalk up a win over an SEC foe.
Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Louisville (7-5)
December 30, 7 p.m.
The Aggies had a third straight mid-season slide. That is the grind of the Southeastern Conference. Texas A&M has recruited several highly rated quarterbacks, and they have almost all seen action since Johnny Manziel’s departure to the National Football League. The Aggies just haven’t gotten settled at QB. Louisville did a nice job turning things around. The Cardinals got off to a slow start, falling to 0-3 out of the gate. But the Cardinals pulled it together to put a winning record on the ledger. They want to redeem themselves after last season’s Belk Bowl crushing from Georgia.
Houston (12-1) vs. Florida State (10-2)
December 31, Noon
This is one of the most attractive bowl match-ups out there. Tom Herman has done a great job in his first season at Houston, leading the Cougars to the championship of the tough American. The lone loss was an upset to Connecticut, but the Cougars put together several impressive wins, including Navy and Temple to close things out. Florida State’s loss on the blocked field goal at Tech marred what could have been an 11-1 season. The other loss came to undefeated Clemson in a great game at Death Valley. Dalvin Cook is a dynamite tailback.
Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1)
December 31, 4 p.m.
Last season in the Russell Athletic Bowl,
Clemson slaughtered Oklahoma 40-6. It was 40-0 at the end of the third quarter. The last three years, the Tigers have beat LSU, Ohio State and the Sooners in bowl games. This Oklahoma team was extremely impressive in November, taking down Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State to win the Big XII. The Sooners have a great history in the Orange Bowl, while Clemson clinched the 1981 national title with a victory over Nebraska in Miami. Bob Stoops led Oklahoma to the national championship in 2000 with a 13-2 win over Florida State. Deshaun Watson has had a phenomenal year for the Tigers. He will have to be at his best and the Clemson defense will have to lay better than it did in Charlotte vs. North Carolina.
Alabama (12-1) vs. Michigan State (12-1)
December 31, 8 p.m.
This shapes up as a classic slobber-knocker, old fashioned defense and running game classic. Michigan State’s 22-play, 9:04 drive to beat Iowa and win the Big Ten is one of the best of all time. Alabama is the two-time defending Southeastern Conference champion. The level of success in Tuscaloosa has been astounding in the Nick Saban era. Last season’s loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl stings. Saban will certainly frame this as vindication against another Big Ten power. Alabama’s defensive line is awesome. The offensive line is outstanding. Michigan State will be focused in on Derrick Henry. But Bama has play-makers who can get downfield. Sparty needs this game to be in the teens or low 20’s. Connor Cook will be the best quarterback that Alabama has faced.
Tennessee (8-4) vs. Northwestern (10-2)
January 1, Noon
Pat Fitzgerald has done a tremendous job at the North-western helm. They have proven their mettle against Southeastern Conference teams in bowls past and figure to be at their best against Tennessee. The Volunteers have been on the uptick the last two seasons and certainly look like the best team in the SEC East. They should have beaten both Oklahoma and Florida. Joshua Dobbs is a threat running and passing. The Vols have a lot of pieces and are big along the line of scrimmage. Their defense will really be tested by the Northwestern spread passing attack.
Florida (10-3) vs. Michigan (9-3)
January 1, 1 p.m.
These two met in Orlando following the 2007 season. It was Lloyd Carr’s final game, and the Wolverines pulled off the upset of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Te- bow’s Gators. This figures to be a low scoring game. Florida’s offense in November and the SEC Championship Game was dreadful. But the Gators are talented and have power, strength and athleticism defensively. It can keep them in the game. Michigan has taken a huge leap with Jim Harbaugh. No surprise, but this quickly has to be a bit of a surprise. Florida also has a first year coach Jim McElwain, and he did a great job getting the Gators to the SEC Championship Game. Florida doesn’t want to end the season on a three-game losing streak. Michigan doesn’t want to drop its last two.
Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
January 1, 1 p.m.
It’s the nature of the beast to think “what if?” Notre Dame was right there, but Stanford had the drive and field goal in the closing seconds. Ohio State lost in overtime to Michigan State. There was no shame in that, but it kept the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Championship game. Last year’s loss for the Buckeyes was to a pedestrian Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes never really got on track this season. But they are tremendously talented, and Urban Meyer is a coach for the ages. Brian Kelly has been the best coach at Notre Dame since the glory days of Lou Holtz.
Stanford (11-2) vs. Iowa (12-1)
January 1, 5 p.m.
This is one of the most attractive games of the bowl season. The Cardinal lost the opener at Northwestern then got hot, falling only by two points to Oregon. This should be another classic power football game. Iowa had a dream season and came up just short of the Big Ten championship and one of those coveted playoff berths. Stanford’s record in the 2010’s has been uber impressive. It is interesting that the Cardinal has derailed Oregon a couple of times, but this year it was the Ducks who dealt Stanford its lone league loss.
Ole Miss (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2)
New Orleans, LA
January 1, 8:30 p.m.
That over-the-shoulder flip by Arkansas on one of the all-time miracle plays in Southeastern Conference history wound up keeping the Rebels out of the SEC Championship Game and went a long ways towards the Alabama’s playoff berth. It has been a long time since Ole Miss has been to the Sugar Bowl, and you can bet the faithful who frequent the grove will embark on the Crescent City in full force. The Cowboys are in a major bowl and that isn’t a regular experience for the program, so there will be a lot of Orange in New Orleans. This should be a great game.
Arkansas (7-5) vs. Kansas State (6-6)
January 2, Noon
From a loss to Toledo and another to Texas Tech, to finishing 5-3 in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas once again did a lot of good things down the stretch, and the big win over LSU in Baton Rouge qualifies as a highlight moment. This is one that the Hogs should get. Kansas State has been a so so team this season, but Bill Snyder is an excellent coach. Alex Collins is an excellent back and Brandon Allen has been the most improved quarterback in the SEC this season. There figures to be a lot of Razorback fans in Memphis, making it a de facto home game. Arkansas pounded Texas last season to go 7-6. They aim for another Big XII bowl win to punctuate a turnaround season.