It's wall to wall bowl games this week and that's exciting. Today Utah squares off with West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, then Duke faces Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl and Kansas State and UCLA cap off the day in the Cactus Bowl.
Here's a look at today's 3 bowl games with predictions.
First week bowls: 5-8
Overall: 215-87, 71%
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Utah (6-6, 3-6 PAC-12) vs. West Virginia (7-5, 5-4 Big 12)
Cotton Bowl, Big D, 92,100
12:30 PM CT
Ray Philpott, Rene Ingoglia, Kris Budden
Whistles: ACC, Jeff Maconaghy
Utah by 6 1/2
The Utes are 10-1 in bowl games under Kyle Whittingham with their only loss coming in 2010, 26-3, to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. That's stout. Whittingham has been head coach for since 2005, 13 years. Quarterback Tyler Huntley was hurt for 3 games this season including the finale, a 34-13 victory over Colorado, which clinched a bowl berth for the Utes. Senior Troy Williams took over in the Colorado game and did well, but Huntley is back. He completed 187-of-286 passes, 65%, for 2,246 yards, 15 TDs against 10 interceptions. He threw too many interceptions which has to be a concern for Whittingham heading into today. But Huntley is explosive. He rushed for 480 yards and 4 more TDs. But if Utah has really got it going 2 playmakers stand out. Zack Moss has rushed for 1,023 yards and 9 TDs, and Oregon transfer, wide out Darren Carrington, has caught 66 passes for 918 yards and 6 TDs. They are explosive, take it to the house players. Moss mixes power with speed and Carrington catches about everything thrown his way and is highly explosive in the open field.
Utah plays physical ball, both on the offensive line and on defense. Defensive end Bradley Anae has 10 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Middle linebacker Sunia Tauteoli posted 10 tackles for loss and an interception. Utah has 12 ints on the season with cornerback Julian Blackman and safety Corrion Bullard leading the way with 2 apiece. Their punter and kicker are good. Mitch Wishnowsky averages 44.7 yards per punt, and kicker Matt Gay is 27 of 31 in field goal attempts, and 37-of-37 in extra points, which doesn't seem like a gimme this year with some college kickers.
The Mountaineers are really hamstrung in this game without quarterback Will Grier, who is out with a broken finger he suffered in mid November. Chris Chugunov will take over. He completed 34-of-62 passes, 55%, for 407 yards, 2 TDs and 0 ints in 2 starts. Additionally, tailback Justin Crawford is sitting this one out to get ready for the draft. Crawford rushed for 1,080 yards and 7 TDs. Kennedy McKoy will take over. McKoy rushed for 570 yards and 7 TDs. The Mountaineers have an excellent receiving corps led by David Sills, who caught 60 passes for 980 yards and 18 TDs. Ka'raun White caught 58 passes for 978 yards and 11 TDs. Gary Jennings has 94 receptions for 1030 yards, but only 1 TD catch on the season.
On defense, West VA is led by middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton who has posted 102 tackles to lead the team. Benton is the co-leader on the team in tackles for loss with 13 and posted 3 sacks. Outside linebacker David Long also has 13 tackles for loss as part of his 69 tackles. Defensive end Ezekiel Rose leads the defense in sacks with 4. The Mountaineers have 11 ints on the season led by safety Kenny Robinson and nickelback Kyzir White who have 3 apiece. Robinson has taken 2 back to the house.
It's hard to go against Whittingham and the Utes in bowl games, obviously, and West Virginia is hampered by Grier's injury and Crawford's decision not to play. But West Virginia will score. Coach Dana Holgerson always figures out a way to do that. It should be a pretty competitive game, but I like the Utes to come out on top at the end.
Utah 34, West VA. 27
Quick Lane Bowl
Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4, 6-2 MAC)
Ford Field, Detroit, 65,000
4:15 PM CT
Mike Couzens, Ray Bentley, Allison Williams
Stripes; SEC, James Carter
Duke by 5 1/2
The Blue Devils qualified for the Quick Lane by defeating Wake Forest on the road, 31-23, to finish off the season. The Blue Devils also defeated No. 21 Northwestern at home, 41-17, in the second game of the season. The Devils also have a quality victory over Georgia Tech, 43-20, in the next to last game of the season also. That was at home So Duke's in a good place right now heading into the game.
Quarterback Daniel Jones completed 230-of-413 passes, 56%, for 2,439 yards, 12 TDs, but 11 ints. Jones also rushed for 432 yards and 6 TDs. Running back Shaun Wilson rushed for 743 yards and 5 TDs. Wilson also caught 32 passes for 241 yards and 3 TDs. Duke's leading receiver is T. J. Rahming, who has 61 receptions for 733 yards and a TD. On defense, the Blue Devils are led by linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, who has 117 tackles, 15 for loss and 3 sacks. All those totals lead the team. Cornerback Mark Gilbert leads the team with 6 interceptions. Corner Byron Fields has 3 ints, 2 of which he's taken back for house calls. Their punter and kicker is Austin Parker who averages 42 yards per punt, and is 17-of-21 on field goals this season, 81%.
The Huskies have a solid record at 8-4, and defeated Nebraska, 21-17, the third game of this season, but lost its final game to Central Michigan, 31-24 which just got blasted in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl by Wyoming, 37-14. Quarterback Marcus Childers has put together a solid year completing 137-of-239 passes, 57%, for 1,445 yards, 15 TDs and 5 ints. He has also rushed for 459 yards and 5 more TDs. Running back Jordan Huff rushed for 740 yards and 4 TDs. Note****Huff is out with ankle injury.*** The Huskies leading receivers are Christian Blake and Spencer Tears. Blake has 39 receptions on the season and 4 TDs. And Tears' stat line is almost identical as he has also caught 39 passes for 461 yards and 4 TDs. Defensive end Sutton Smith leads the country in tackles for loss at 29 and is second nationally in sacks with 14. Joe Ostman of Central Michigan led the country because he had 14 solo sacks while Smith had 12.
I always like Duke coach David Cutcliffe if Duke is in a toss up game. Not going against him this time either. Like the Blue Devils to win pretty easily in the Motor City.
Duke 45, Northern Illinois 28
Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. UCLA (6-6, 4-5 PAC-12)
Chase Field, Phoenix, 48, 519
8 PM CT
Jason Benetti, Jordan Rodgers, Olivia Harlan
Refs: ACC, Jerry Magallanes
K State by 6 1/2
The Wildcats under 78 year old Bill Snyder defeated Oklahoma State on the road, 45-40, and Iowa State, 20-19 at home, to finish off the season and qualify for the Cactus Bowl. Quarterback Skylar Thompson took over for the injured Jesse Ertz and completed 48-of-76 passes, 63%, for 662 yards 5 TDs and 2 ints. In his last 2 games, Thompson threw 4 TDs against 0 ints. Thompson also rushed for 263 more yards and 3 TDs. Running back Alex Barnes led the team in rushing with 702 yards and 6 TDs. Isaiah Zuber pulled in 51 passes for 510 yards and 4 TDs. Byron Pringle added 28 receptions for 705 yards and a team leading 6 TDs. Defensively, linebacker Trent Tanking led the team in tackles with 96. Linebacker Jayd Kirby was second in tackles with 93 and led the team with 10 1/2 for loss and 4 sacks. Cornerback D.J. Reed led the team in interceptions with 4. Safety Kendall Adams posted 3 ints and took one of them back to the house. Corner Duke Shelley had 2 ints and took one back for a house call as well. The Wildcats special teams are outstanding. Reed has taken a punt and a kickoff back to the house, and Pringle has also posted a house call on a kickoff return. Punter Nick Walsh is averaging 43.7 yards per punt and kicker Matthew McCrane is 21-of-26 on field goals, 81%. So that's a huge advantage for K State.
The Bruins opened the season with great promise coming back from a huge deficit to defeat Texas A&M, 45-44 in the final seconds. Junior quarterback Josh Rosen was spectacular in that game and has a resume that is highly interesting to pro scouts. He's top 5 draft pick material and maybe the 1st pick overall, but he may want to come back and not be sentenced to Cleveland. The tough news for the Bruins is Rosen is doubtful with a concussion, so they'll go with Devon Modster, who completed 30-of-45 passes, 67%, for 376 yards, 2 TDs and 0 ints. They've also fired coach Jim Mora and hired Chip Kelly, who is considered a home run hire, but I'm withholding judgment on that. While Kelly had good success at Oregon, he was a disaster in the pros at Philly and San Francisco. So I'm not sure if he can become a good coach again. Maybe he's just cut out for the college game and he'll excel in LA. His ability to get UCLA to PAC-12 champion contender on a yearly basis is subject to debate. He has to out-recruit USC and the other schools in the PAC-12, so I'll reserve commentary on him until next season. Also, we'll see how his first recruiting class looks like. Jedd Fisch will be the interim coach for the Bruins in this game. Fisch was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Mora this season. Tnis will be his last game at UCLA unfortunately. Bolu Olorunfunmi led the team in rushing with 542 yards and 5 TDs. Soso Jamabo is also a solid running back as he rushed for 447 yards and 6 TDs. Wide receiver Jordan Lasley led the team with 61 receptions for 1,136 yards and 8 TDs. Darren Andrews led the team in TD receptions with 10 and caught 60 passes for 773 yards. On defense, outside linebacker Kenny Young led the team in tackles with 101, and added 7 1/2 tackles for loss, while defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner tied Young for the team lead with 7 1/2 tackles for loss and led the team with 5 1/2 sacks. Cornerback Darnay Holmes led the team in ints with 2, one of which he returned for a house call. The Bruins only had 7 ints on the season though, so not a real ball hawking defense. Kicker J.J. Molson converted 16-of-20 field goals and 47-of-48 PATs, while punter Stefan Flintoft averaged 43 yards per punt.
UCLA was pretty dysfunctional this season and there is still some uncertainty on the team with a new coach coming in and their quarterback possibly leaving for the NFL draft and most likely out for this game unless the Bruins are sandbagging. Kansas State looks solid and had a couple of super victories to finish off the year. Like the Wildcats to take home the Cactus Bowl Trophy to Manhattan, KS, or better known as the Little Apple.
Kansas State 38, UCLA 30