Troy: 52nd scoring offense, 34th passing offense, 85th rushing offense; 11th scoring defense, 69th passing defense, 15th rushing defenseI’m cautiously optimistic that the first bowl of the season will be an entertaining one. Troy is on a six game winning streak with the closest game being by 8 against bowl-bound Arkansas State. North Texas is coming off a loss to Lane Kiffin’s red hot FAU team but prior to that they had won five straight, including two close wins to bowl-bound Louisiana Tech and Army. North Texas’ 20th ranked scoring offense was previously led by RB Jeffery Wilson (1,215 yards, 16TDs) but he has missed the team’s last two games due to an ankle injury. In his stead, undersized freshman Nick Smith will get the lion’s share of the carries. In the last two without Wilson, Smith went for 178 yards against Rice but just 50 against FAU. Since Troy has a strong rush defense, I’m hoping we get to see Wilson at full strength in the bowl. North Texas QB Mason Fine is just 5’11” and 180lbs but has been prolific with 3,749 yards (9th in the FBS) and 28 TDs.
North Texas: 20th scoring offense, 21st passing offense, 53rd rushing offense; 106th scoring defense, 64th passing defense, 107th rushing defense
Western Kentucky: 83rd scoring offense, 9th passing offense, 130th rushing offense; 69th scoring defense, 36th passing defense, 77th rushing defenseThe Hilltoppers struggled through the back half of the season, losing four of their last five. At 5-2, they may have thought they were on their way to repeating their recent history of double digit wins but alas they came crashing back to earth. Georgia State similarly ended on a sour note with two bad losses to Appalachian State (by 21) and Idaho (who finished at 4-8 and is moving down to the FCS next year). Chances are this is going to be a game to miss but the lone bright spot will be Western Kentucky QB Mike White. White is a fringe QB prospect that I introduced to my readers in the offseason. White is a former USF transfer who has prototypical size at 6’4″ and 225lbs. He excelled last season with Taywan Taylor (who was drafted by the Titans) with a 37:7 TD:INT ratio. In 2017, White regressed in ratio (24:7), completion percentage and yards per attempt. His stats are still good enough to warrant a late look in the NFL Draft. Amazingly, Georgia State managed to be bowl eligible despite finishing 119th in scoring offense. Don’t expect this one to be pretty. Prediction: Western Kentucky
Georgia State: 119th scoring offense, 31st passing offense, 117th rushing offense; 55th scoring defense, 92nd passing defense, 47th rushing defense
Boise State: 36th scoring offense, 44th passing offense, 91st rushing offense; 35th scoring defense, 44th passing defense, 20th rushing defenseThe Las Vegas Bowl is the crown jewel of the early bowl games. Sure, Oregon had a disappointing year at 7-5 (and a losing 4-5 record in conference) and just lost head coach Willie Taggart to Florida State but they will still be fun to watch. Oregon’s offense was less potent than in recent memory but still averaged 36.7 points per game. Most of those points were scored by RB Royce Freeman who had 16 rushing TDs. Freeman has 5,621 career rushing yards and 60 rushing TDs. He’s good. I wrote about Freeman in the preseason and in Week 3 – I still love him today. He’s a battering ram at 230+ pounds. My biggest complaint about Freeman this year would be that he did not progress as a pass catcher; he had just 14 receptions compared to 23 and 26 the previous two years. In order to consider him a true three down back I would have loved to see him hit the 30 reception plateau. He has been on fire as of late, finishing the season with six straight games with 122 or more yards. Freeman will face a stiffer test though in Boise’s rush defense. They held six opponents to less than 100 yards, including the nation’s 12th ranked rushing offense in San Diego State and Rashaad Penny. Sophomore QB Justin Herbert will get a lot of attention over the next year or two from NFL scouts. He is very tall at 6’6″ and efficient with the ball (64.7% completion percentage and just 7 INTs in his two season career).
Oregon: 18th scoring offense, 97th passing offense, 8th rushing offense; 76th scoring defense, 75th passing defense, 26th rushing defense
Marshall: 81st scoring offense, 58th passing offense, 104th rushing offense; 17th scoring defense, 47th passing defense, 19th rushing defenseThe Thundering Herd and the Rams combined for just two wins in November (one each) so neither is hot at the moment. I’m still looking forward to this one though because it will be a chance to see Colorado State WR Michael Gallup against a decent defense. Gallup improved on a successful 2016 season by finishing 2017 with a 94-1,350-7 line. Those stats helped him finish first in the conference in receptions and receiving yards (he was 3rd and 4th respectively in the FBS overall). Gallup does not have elite measureables (6’1″, 200lbs, 4.50 speed) but has elite production so he’ll be considered at the NFL level and in most fantasy leagues. I watched some of Gallup early in the season against Oregon State and Alabama; both were pretty good games from him but I want to see more from Gallup and would like to re-watch the Alabama tape. Gallup resides in a no-man’s land of draft prospects size-wise. Of the twenty-six similar size/speed combine participants from 2010-2o17, the best comps would be Josh Doctson, Allen Hurns and Robert Woods. If you drafted Gallup in the third round of your rookie draft you’d be happy with that return but chances are he’s going in the second round based on his production.
Colorado State: 29th scoring offense, 23rd passing offense, 29th rushing offense; 73rd scoring defense, 96th passing defense, 86th rushing defense
Arkansas State: 15th scoring offense, 6th passing offense, 79th rushing offense; 51st scoring defense, 91st passing defense, 35th rushing defenseIf it weren’t for the Cure Bowl, this would be the dud matchup of the day. I am finding myself nonplussed, especially considering MTSU WR Richie James has an injured collarbone and is out for the year. If nothing else, this matchup will be Exhibit A as to why the bowl season needs to contract rather than expand. Arkansas State does have a late round draft prospect in TE Blake Mack and a very good quarterback in junior Justice Hansen. Like Yurachek, Mack is an undersized TE who likely figures to be a possession WR or maybe an H-back in the pros. Mack is 6’3″ and 231lbs with speed in the 4.70 range. Mack’s line in 2017 finished at 46-609-7, landing him in the Top 10 of most stats among TEs. I researched Mack in the preseason for my Sun Belt preview and at that time I said, “He was very versatile, lining up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield. He was not on the line often and I did not see a single highlight of him blocking (possibly more a feature of what constitutes a highlight, but my gut tells me he doesn’t block much). He has the speed to beat safeties and linebackers in coverage, which he did on a number of plays.” Hansen is a former Oklahoma and JUCO transfer so he’s had a circuitous route to success in the Sun Belt. He is a dual-threat QB who has thrown for 3,635 yards and 34 TDs this season and added six more scores on the ground. Hansen completes a high percentage of his passes (63.7) but has thrown too many INTs (15). He has good size so who knows maybe a good game puts him on the late round radar for 2019.
Middle Tennessee State: 92nd scoring offense, 45th passing offense, 90th rushing offense; 45th scoring defense, 46th passing defense, 34th rushing defense
Florida Atlantic: 9th scoring offense, 81st passing offense, 6th rushing offense; 44th scoring defense, 93rd passing defense, 67th rushing defenseI’m not a gambling man, given my horrible record of weekly picks this season that is a good thing, but if I were I would bet big on this one. This game is the lock of all locks this bowl season, in favor of the Owls and Lane Kiffin playing at home in Boca Raton. One caveat: that’s if Kiffin is still on campus. With the coaching carousel still spinning there is no guarantee Kiffin is still in Boca come December 19th. I predict he’ll stay unless Florida State comes calling. In the offseason, I called it a rebuilding year for Kiffin and he has done just that after a surprising 10-3 season. Both Phil Steele and Lindy’s had FAU projected as the 5th place team in C-USA’s East division. Not only did they win the division, and the conference, but they went undefeated (8-0) and finished three games ahead of second place FIU. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention FAU’s sophomore RB Devin Singletary. Singletary’s rushing numbers this season are literally unbelievable: 275 carries, 1,794 yards and 29 TDs. He ranks Top 5 in just about every relevant running back stat in the FBS. The one that impressed me most is the number of carries; 275 carries is good for 5th overall and is twice as much as he handled last season. He’s short at 5’9″ but stout enough at 200lbs (think Ameer Abdullah if he adds a few pounds). Singletary was not on my draft prospect radar previously but luckily I have another season to delve deeper since he’s just a sophomore.
Akron: 103rd scoring offense, 74th passing offense, 118th rushing offense; 60th scoring defense, 82nd passing defense, 98th rushing defense
SMU: 8th scoring offense, 16th passing offense, 45th rushing offense; 113th scoring defense, 121st passing defense, 113th rushing defenseBy the time you read this preview, there is a very good chance that Chad Morris is no longer SMU’s head coach and is instead at either Arkansas or Tennessee. Don’t these ADs know how difficult it is to write a good bowl preview when you don’t know who the head coach will be? Woe is me, we’ll press on. The biggest draft prospect of this early slate of games is undoubtedly SMU’s WR Courtland Sutton. I am an active member in Reddit’s dynasty fantasy football subreddit called DynastyFF. The sub runs bi-weekly rookie mock drafts and I have been compiling the results for you, dear reader. As of the mock started on 11/29, Sutton was the 1.03 pick and was in a clear tier with Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb and James Washington just behind Saquon Barkley. In that forum, Sutton is the WR1, has been picked as high as 1.02 and has never gone later than 1.05. I have written extensively about Sutton this season so I won’t go into detail here but here’s a short summary: Sutton has elite size, good speed and fantastic body control but has feasted mostly on subpar defenses and saw a reduced role in 2017. SMU has an awful defense and is coming off a poor end to the season (a close win against Tulane kept them from losing their last four games).
Louisiana Tech: 63rd scoring offense, 64th passing offense, 55th rushing offense; 66th scoring defense, 59th passing defense, 81st rushing defense
Temple: 118th scoring offense, 107th passing offense, 116th rushing offense; 83rd scoring defense, 6th passing defense, 126th rushing defenseButch Davis, much like Lane Kiffin, sought the sunny shores of Florida to rehab his career. Davis also succeeded, although to a lesser degree than Kiffin. FIU finished 8-4 which is just the second time the team has won eight or more since they joined the FBS in 2004. It’s also just the team’s third bowl, although it’s not the most ridiculously named bowl the Golden Panthers will have played in. That ignominious award goes to the 2011 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl (named for a restaurant I predict I will never patronize).
Florida International: 74th scoring offense, 56th passing offense, 65th rushing offense; 79th scoring defense, 95th passing defense, 79th rushing defense
PickCenter consensus pick: 68 percent pick Alabama. Steele: My computer had Oklahoma defeating Clemson in the semifinals. After watching Clemson's dominating second half and the way the Tigers College Football analyst Phil Steele released his annual college football preview magazine and had the following CFB playoff projections with Alabama, Clemson, Everyone But Clemson And Alabama College football guru Phil Steele picked Oklahoma and LSU as betting dark horses to win the CFP. Until somebody topples the Tide or the Tigers, even top-10 teams College football guru Phil Steele picked Oklahoma and LSU as betting dark horses to win the CFP. Until somebody topples the Tide or the Tigers, even top-10 teams are huge underdogs. Week 15 picks from our panel of expert predictors and prognosticators are graded and the results are in. Winners this week were Desmond Howard with an impressive 9-0 record picking straight up on College Gameday, and Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports going 6-2 against the number this week.
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Phil Steele, owner of Phil Steele's Publications, joined The Game with Ryan Fowler and talked about a potential championship rematch between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers. Go ... Shaun and Mike's breakdown and predictions for college football week 5 or 2019. Be sure to enter for a chance to win a free copy of Madden 20. For details wa... On the Tuesday, January 8 That Betting Show Donnie & Teddy recap Clemson's historic beatdown of Nick Saban's Alabama program in the national title game. Phil Steele giving you a personal tour of how Phil Steele Plus can benefit the Hardcore football fan. PHIL STEELE PLUS PEELS BACK THE CURTAIN AND GIVES YOU ACCESS TO ALL OF THE STATS I USE WEEK IN ... Steve Fezzik and Brady Kannon take a look at Pregame.com's recent signing of College Football expert Phil Steele. There is a free pick from Steve Fezzik at the end of the Video.