AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State
Tuesday, December 28th 5:45 PM CT, ESPN
Texas Tech (6-6) kicks off the Big 12’s bowl slate this year with one of the most interesting on and off the field match ups, as they take on Mississippi State (7-5) in Memphis. The storyline going into this one will be all about Mississippi State coach Mike Leach playing against his former team, Texas Tech. Leach is undoubtedly the most successful coach in Texas Tech history, but was let go unceremoniously after controversy surrounding his supposed locking of a former player in an electrical shed. Leach has since sued the university for money he is owed. He even mentioned that the university still owes him millions of dollars in an interview about this game.
While there is certainly off the field drama that will surely be recounted during the broadcast, the on the field product ought to be just as intriguing. Tech has been playing much better after the midseason firing of head coach Matt Wells. Former Baylor assistant Joey McGuire is the head coach in waiting, but interim head coach Sonny Cumbie will coach this final game for the Red Raiders before taking over as the head coach of Louisiana Tech. In their last three games, the Red Raiders went 1-2 but that included a close road loss to Baylor and a big home win over Iowa State. Mississippi State was a wildly unpredictable team throughout the season in that they beat some good teams (top 25 wins over Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Auburn), but also lost to some less good teams (LSU, Memphis, and Arkansas). Mississippi State is currently an 8.5 point favorite. Even with Tech playing better, that feels about right, especially with a fired up Leach.
35-24 Mississippi State
Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia vs. Minnesota
Tuesday, December 28th 9:15 PM CT, ESPN
West Virginia (6-6) has certainly had a disappointing season. But, they have a chance to end on a high note as they battle Minnesota (8-4) in Phoenix. The Mountaineers have never been able to get much consistency on the offensive side of the ball this season, as quarterback Jarret Doege has been wildly inconsistent. The Mountaineers looked like they might not make a bowl game as they needed to win their last two games, but they secured those wins over Texas and Kansas (both by one score).
Minnesota had a bit of their own disappointment this year, starting the season 2-2 with a loss to Bowling Green before winning four conference games in a row. The Golden Gophers were looking to make it to the Big 10 championship before losing to Illinois and Iowa back to back. They did finish the season on a high note, however, beating Indiana and Wisconsin to end on a two game winning streak. This should be a lower scoring game, as both teams have average scoring offenses and Minnesota has an extremely stout defense. I can’t imagine West Virginia will be able to move the ball much. Minnesota is favored by 3.5.
Cheez-It Bowl: Iowa State vs. #19 Clemson
Wednesday, December 29th 4:45 PM CT, ESPN
So far the theme has been disappointment and that is certainly the case in this bowl game as well, as Iowa State (7-5) travels to Orlando to take on #19 Clemson (9-3). Iowa State returned so much of their Fiesta Bowl Champion team from last year, nearly everyone (myself included) thought they would be a major threat in the Big 12 and maybe even the College Football Playoff. However, the Cyclones just could not maintain offensive consistency throughout the season. That was especially true down the stretch, where they went 2-2 with dominating home wins and deflating road losses.
But the Cyclones should be excited that they get a shot at a dominate program like Clemson while they are going through their own issues. Clemson was a favorite for the College Football Playoff and quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei was supposed to be a contender for the Heisman. However, Uiagalelei has been very disappointing, throwing an equal 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions on the season. Clemson’s defense has been strong, but their defensive coordinator Brent Venables has now left to take the head coach position at Oklahoma. So even though Clemson is favored by one point here, I like the Cyclones outright: Iowa State has something to prove, especially for their senior ladened roster, while Clemson is trying to figure out how they might rebound next season.
27-23 Iowa State
Valero Alamo Bowl: #16 Oklahoma vs. #14 Oregon
Wednesday, December 29th 8:15 PM CT, ESPN
The Alamo Bowl has become the battle of interim head coaches, as #16 Oklahoma (10-2) travels to San Antonio to take on #14 Oregon (10-3). Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley bolted for USC a day after the Sooners lost to their instate rival, Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal left Oregon to become the head coach at Miami. For Oklahoma, legendary coach Bob Stoops will be the interim head coach for this bowl game. For Oregon, pass game coordinator Bryan McClendon will lead the Ducks. With all of that turnover and uncertainty, it’s hard to say what we can expect to see in this bowl game.
Oregon has lost two of their last three games, two of which were blow out losses to Utah (one in the regular season and one in the Pac 12 Championship). Similarly, Oklahoma has lost two of its last three games to Baylor and Oklahoma State. While Oklahoma looked pretty average in those losses, that was primarily because quarterback Caleb Williams could not get comfortable when facing strong opposition defenses. Oregon is a weaker defense than both Baylor and Oklahoma State, So Williams should be able to operate just fine (assuming the offense doesn’t significantly regress in the absence of Riley). Oregon has looked fairly lackluster in its last few games. Oklahoma is favored by 4 points. Give me the Sooners.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: #9 Oklahoma State vs. #5 Notre Dame
Saturday, January 1st 12:00 PM CT, ESPN
#9 Oklahoma State (11-2) looks to end its season on a high note as they were potentially inches away from a College Football Playoff berth and a Big 12 Championship. They will now try to rebound as they travel to Glendale, Arizona to take on #5 Notre Dame (11-1) in one of two New Year’s Six bowls the Big 12 is represented in. Oklahoma State had a really strong season, fueled by their outstanding defense. Baylor got a taste of that last week, as the Cowboys were able to make a number of halftime adjustments and shut out the Bears in the second half.
While the defense has been great, the Cowboys’ offense has been far more suspect. Quarterback Spencer Sanders threw four interceptions and the Cowboys only rushed for 70 yards as a team in their Big 12 Championship loss. Notre Dame ranks 9 spots ahead of Baylor in terms of total defense, so this game will not be easier for the Cowboys. However, Notre Dame has had a much easier season than Oklahoma State. The only really strong competition Notre Dame faced was Cincinnati, and they handled the Irish wire-to-wire in South Bend. The Irish are 2.5 point favorites, but I like the Cowboys to win this one outright in a defensive battle.
21-17 Oklahoma State
Allstate Sugar Bowl: #7 Baylor vs. #8 Ole Miss
Saturday, January 1st 7:45 PM CT, ESPN
The game you’ve all been waiting for. Your reigning Big 12 champions, #7 Baylor (11-2), travels to New Orleans to take on SEC foe, #8 Ole Miss (10-2). For Baylor, the big question will be which quarterback we see starting in this New Year’s Six bowl game. Gerry Bohanon has been out of commission since suffering a hamstring injury against Kansas State three weeks ago. Considering he dressed out for the Big 12 Championship Game, he should hypothetically be good to go for this game that takes place weeks from now. However, in Bohanon’s absence, Blake Shapen has played well enough to create some healthy intrigue. That was especially true in the Big 12 Championship, where Shapen played out of his mind in the first half, opening with 17 completions in a row. That earned him the honor of being the Big 12 Championship’s Most Outstanding Player. But certainly, Bohanon has played exceptionally well all season. So all that to say, it might be a difficult choice and we’ll see in the coming weeks if it looks like Bohanon or Shapen will be starting in the Sugar Bowl and what that might mean moving forward.
For Ole Miss, coach Lane Kiffin has put together an excellent season, with their only two losses coming to top 25 opponents Alabama and Auburn. Outside of that, Ole Miss only had two games that were decided by a single score. The Ole Miss offense will look familiar to many Baylor fans, as Jeff Lebby, former Baylor assistant (and son-in-law of former coach Art Briles), has been the Rebels’ offensive coordinator. However, OU has hired Lebby away, so we’ll see what that means for the high-powered Ole Miss offense in this bowl game. While offense is the standout for Ole Miss, their defense has been decent as well. Clearly not one to shy away from controversial assistant coaches, Kiffin has former Maryland head coach D. J. Durkin (who was fired from Maryland after a player died during practice) as the Ole Miss defensive coordinator.
The matchup to watch in this game, however, ought to be the Baylor defense versus the Ole Miss offense. Baylor’s defense has certainly been a strength, but the secondary has been susceptible at times. Ole Miss is a team that can absolutely test that secondary given the exceptional play of quarterback Matt Corral. Nevertheless, Baylor should be able to move the ball well enough on offense that they can take advantage of some key defensive stops to squeak out a win. Baylor is favored by 1.5 points at the writing of this article.
TaxAct Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. LSU
Tuesday, January 4th 8:00 PM CT, ESPN
The final bowl game for the Big 12 will take place in Houston as Kansas State (7-5) takes on LSU (6-6). Similar to Iowa State above, this is another great opportunity for a Big 12 team to get a shot at a name brand team while they are in a down year. LSU fired coach Ed Orgeron midway through the season, but he stayed on as interim throughout the regular season. Offensive line coach Brad Davis will now lead the Tigers in their bowl game, as newly hired head coach Brian Kelly waits to take over.
For Kansas State, it was once again another injury ladened season as quarterback Skylar Thompson went down multiple times with injures. Further, the Wildcats have fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham in the hopes of being able to establish a more dynamic offense. However, for the game at hand, Kansas State has had a stronger defense throughout the season while LSU has had a slightly stronger offense. But, if Thompson isn’t able to go for the bowl game, I would lean heavily in favor of LSU as the Wildcats have been far worse without him at quarterback. LSU is a two point favorite and I’ll go with them given the quarterback uncertainty for Kansas State.
FieldinOfDreams’ 2021 prediction record through the regular season: 57-19