Bowl previews and picks against the spread: Everything you need to know for Friday's games

Temple (8-4) vs. North Carolina (6-6) 

Location: Annapolis, Maryland | When: Dec. 27 (Noon ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: North Carolina -5.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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Temple: Rod Carey’s first season in charge of the Owls turned out pretty well. A loss to Buffalo in Week 3 wasn’t exactly a highlight, but Temple beat Memphis 30-28 on Oct. 12 to make up for that.

Losses to SMU and UCF followed that upset win but Temple got back on track with wins in three of its last four games. That loss was a 15-13 defeat to a Cincinnati team that went to the AAC title game.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell has thrown 35 TDs. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell has thrown 35 TDs. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

North Carolina The Tar Heels improved by four wins in Mack Brown’s first season in his second stint. The former UNC and Texas coach was re-hired out of the broadcast studio to replace Larry Fedora and has gotten UNC back to respectability in just one season.

UNC beat South Carolina and Miami to start the year but then lost to Wake Forest and Appalachian State. A one-point loss to Clemson followed that, but UNC can at least say it’s played Clemson the toughest of anyone so far in 2019.

UNC was 4-6 with two weeks to go in the season but wins over Mercer and NC State got it to bowl eligibility. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Because it’s the Friday after Christmas and the day before the College Football Playoff. You’re going to be home and needing to watch some post-Boxing Day football.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Temple WR Branden Mack: Temple QB Anthony Russo likes to throw a lot to Jadan Blue, who has 87 catches for 975 yards. Mack’s come close to Blue’s yardage total with far fewer catches. Mack has 56 catches for 886 yards and leads the team with seven receiving touchdowns. The Owls are also 4-1 when he goes over 100 yards receiving. 

North Carolina QB Sam Howell: One of the gems of North Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class has quietly put together an impressive freshman season. Howell is 234-of-388 passing for 3,347 yards and has thrown 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Howell has averaged nearly nine yards an attempt in an offense that averages over six yards a play and could be really, really good next year. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Temple C Matt Hennessy: He’s a rising name in draft circles and could end up being one of the top-five interior OL prospects in 2020 if the redshirt junior opts to declare this season. Hennessy has been a fixture at the pivot the past three seasons and has graded out by Pro Football Focus as one of the best pass-blocking centers in college football the past two seasons. Hennessy lacks elite anchor strength, can be too penalty-prone (holds and false starts) and dealt with a knee injury. However, he’s smart, tough and effective, and Hennessy’s battle against underrated NT Aaron Crawford should be a good test.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Temple: The Owls have already reached the eight-win mark for the fourth time in the last five seasons. A win at the Military Bowl would be Temple’s first bowl win since a Gasparilla Bowl victory in 2017.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels haven’t been to a bowl since the 2016 Sun Bowl. And North Carolina hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2013 Belk Bowl. That was Fedora’s second season in charge.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: North Carolina -5.5

Sam Cooper: Temple +5.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: UNC -5.5

Pete Thamel: Temple +5.5

Dan Wetzel: Temple +5.5

Sean Sullivan: UNC -5.5

Can Michigan State finish above .500 this year? (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Can Michigan State finish above .500 this year? (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)

Location: New York City | When: Dec. 27 (3:20 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: Michigan State -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Michigan State: Michigan State had a second straight disappointing season and needed wins over Rutgers and Maryland in its final two regular season games just to get to six wins. The Spartans started the season 4-1 but endured a miserable five-game losing streak and were outscored 144-27 by Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in the process. MSU also blew a 28-3 lead in a 37-34 loss to Illinois. 

Wake Forest: Wake Forest was the second-best team in the ACC behind Clemson for much of the season. The Demon Deacons opened the season by going 7-1, only to lose three of four down the stretch. Wake Forest was besieged by injuries late in the year, including to star receiver Sage Surratt. Starting QB Jamie Newman was also hurt in the regular season finale against Syracuse, but he is expected to return for the Pinstripe Bowl. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

The Pinstripe Bowl is the preeminent bowl game played at a baseball stadium in a city that doesn’t care about college football. It will probably also be very cold, which is always an added dimension to a bowl game. The cold weather presumably favors Michigan State and could affect the fast-paced offense Wake Forest generally runs — especially if it’s windy. Wake likes to go the air and ranks No. 18 in the country in passing offense, averaging just under 300 yards per game. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Michigan State DT Raequan Williams: While Kenny Willekes gets a lot of the praise on Michigan State’s defensive line, Raequan Williams has been a constant presence in the middle for the Spartans for four years. Williams has started ever since his redshirt freshman season and has earned all-Big Ten honors the last two seasons. For his career, Williams has 150 tackles, 28,5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. 

Wake Forest WR Kendall Hinton: With Sage Surratt sidelined, Kendall Hinton becomes the go-to target for Jamie Newman. Hinton’s path to becoming a dependable wide receiver has been a circuitous one. Hinton began his career as a quarterback and made multiple starts, including twice as a true freshman. Hinton also endured a season-ending knee injury and a suspension before switching to receiver. He caught only six passes in 2018, but enters the bowl game — his final game in a Wake uniform — with a team-leading 70 receptions for 953 yards and three touchdowns. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Michigan State EDGE Kenny Willekes: Very little has come easily for Willekes, the recipient of  the Burlsworth Trophy as the best former walk-on in college football. But the high-energy rusher always seems to make his presence felt, despite lacking ideal athleticism or length. He has nine sacks this season, coming back from a broken tibia suffered one year ago, and has 24.5 over the past three seasons. Willekes might not test great, but he should be part of a rotation and bring energy and effort to an NFL defense. He could be a third- or fourth-round pick, we believe.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Michigan State: Michigan State is looking to avoid what would be just the third losing season during the 13-year tenure of Mark Dantonio. The Spartans went 6-7 in 2009, his third season, and had a surprising dip to 3-9 in 2016 on the heels of a 36-5 run from 2013-2015. Dantonio’s future has been the source of speculation in recent months, but it looks like Dantonio will be given the chance to dig out of consecutive seasons that were massively disappointing. A win here would at least give the program some positive feelings heading into the offseason. 

Wake Forest: A win in the Pinstripe Bowl would give Wake Forest four consecutive bowl victories under Dave Clawson. The Deacons beat Temple in the Military Bowl in 2016, beat Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl in 2017 and beat Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl in 2018. A win would also get Wake to the nine-win mark for the first time since 2007 and just the third time in program history.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Wake Forest +4

Sam Cooper: Wake Forest +4

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Michigan State -4

Pete Thamel: Wake Forest +4

Dan Wetzel: Wake Forest +4

Sean Sullivan: Michigan State -4

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard has been one of the best backs in college football this season. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard has been one of the best backs in college football this season. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

No. 25 Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)

Location: Houston | When: Dec. 27 (6:45 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Texas A&M -6.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys beat who they were supposed to beat. With one exception. Oklahoma State beat teams like Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia. All good or decent wins. The Cowboys lost to Texas (before the Longhorns season went down the drain), Baylor and Oklahoma. All totally justifiable losses.

The weird loss is a 45-35 game at Texas Tech on Oct. 5. There’s always a team that goes to Lubbock as a ranked opponent and struggles and this year it was OSU. 

Texas A&M: The Aggies started the season ranked No. 12 and were out of the AP top 25 by Oct. 13.

Texas A&M started the season 3-3 with wins over Texas State, Lamar and Arkansas. The losses came to Clemson, Auburn and Alabama. So, you can understand why they happened.

But the breakthrough win that people expected from A&M just never happened in 2019. The Aggies played five top-10 teams at various points in the season and it’s hard to call any of the games remotely competitive even if two of those losses were within 10 points. A&M is favored in this game because it played in the toughest division in college football. But it’s fair to wonder just how good the Aggies actually are.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

These teams look evenly matched. And it’s an old Big 12 showdown. Closing out the decade with a game between teams who started it in the same conference is appropriate.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard: This one is a no-brainer, especially since we’re not sure just how much OSU will have QBs Spencer Sanders and Dry Brown split time during the game. Sanders missed the end of the season with a thumb injury but could play in the bowl game.

Hubbard has been one of the best backs in college football this season and it’s worth keeping a close eye on him even if you’ve recognized his brilliance this season. Hubbard has rushed 309 times for 1,936 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2019. 

Texas A&M WR Jhamon Ausbon: The junior is the only Aggie with more than 50 catches and caught four or more passes in 10 of Texas A&M’s 12 games and has 65 catches for 862 yards. The Aggies are 3-1 when he catches a touchdown pass so if he does find the end zone on Friday, Oklahoma State may be in trouble. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Oklahoma State CB A.J. Green: We don’t yet know if Hubbard will declare early, and A&M DT Justin Madubuike will not play in this one as he starts prepping for the draft. Those are our two highest-rated 2020 prospects on the respective rosters. But Green is an interesting player who has gone under the radar despite sharing a name with the Cincinnati Bengals star receiver. The 6-1, 190-pound Green is a really good tackler and has improved his man coverage immensely over the past year-plus. He looks like a really nice Day 3 sleeper. Fun fact: Green has good athletic genes, with one cousin playing in the WNBA, two more cousins playing college football and a fourth cousin who played college volleyball.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys don’t lose bowl games all that often under Mike Gundy. His teams have gone to 14 bowl games and he’s 9-4 in them. The last loss came in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. 

Texas A&M: It’d be a second-straight bowl win for the Aggies and, more importantly, would mean Jimbo Fisher hasn’t (yet) had a worse season than Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies never lost more than five games in a season when Sumlin was the team’s head coach. And as you know, Sumlin was fired before the team’s bowl game in 2017 because his consistent string of eight-win seasons wasn’t enough. A&M wins eight games if it beats the Cowboys. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Oklahoma State +6.5

Sam Cooper: Texas A&M -6.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Oklahoma State +7

Pete Thamel: Oklahoma State +7

Dan Wetzel: Oklahoma State +7

Sean Sullivan: Oklahoma State +7

AJ Epenesa and Iowa take on USC and its cast of fantastic receivers. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
AJ Epenesa and Iowa take on USC and its cast of fantastic receivers. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No. 22 USC (8-4) vs. No. 16 Iowa (9-3)

Location: San Diego | When: Dec. 27 (8 p.m.) | TV: FS1 | Line: Iowa -2

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

USC: USC lost starting QB JT Daniels to an ACL injury in Week 1, but that opened the door for the emergence of freshman Kedon Slovis. But Slovis would also miss time with a concussion, all part of a tough 3-3 start for the Trojans. But when Slovis returned, the Trojans hit their stride offensively USC won five of its last six games, but the lone loss came in blowout fashion, 56-24, to Oregon at home. Still, that strong finish was enough for head coach Clay Helton to be retained by the school’s new president and athletic director. 

Iowa: Iowa started the season 4-0 before dropping back-to-back close games to Michigan (10-3) and Penn State (17-12). From there, the Hawkeyes handled Purdue and Northwestern before dropping another road game, this time a 24-22 decision at Wisconsin. The next week, though, the Hawkeyes upset then-undefeated Minnesota in a move that opened the door for Wisconsin to win the Big Ten West. Like USC, Iowa enters the bowl game on a three-game winning streak. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This is one of the better matchups of the first half of bowl season. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis has thrown for at least 400 yards in four of USC’s last five games, including a school-record 515 yards in the regular season finale against UCLA. Iowa is a solid all-around team, but has especially defended the pass well. The Hawkeyes rank No. 10 nationally in pass defense, allowing just 184.2 yards per game. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

USC WR Michael Pittman Jr.: Pittman has been one of the best receivers in the country this season. The senior, a surefire NFL draft pick, is tied for third in the nation with 95 catches to go with 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns. He comes into this game on a hot streak, too, catching 37 passes for 430 yards and three scores over his last three games. For his career, Pittman has 165 catches for 2,466 yards and 19 TDs. 

Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa: Epenesa has consistently gotten into the backfield for Iowa over the past two seasons and is projected by some as a first-round draft pick next year. After putting up 37 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2018, Epenesa enters the bowl game with 45 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He was been playing at an especially high level late in the year, including a ridiculous stat line against Nebraska: 14 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

USC OT Austin Jackson: There might only be a handful of better “get your popcorn” matchups in this year’s bowl slate than the ascending Jackson facing off against Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa. Both players have brought out their best down the stretch, and Jackson might be the most talented blocker Epenesa has gone against this season. Although the 6-6, 310-pound Jackson remains a raw specimen and needs to refine both  his technique and mature into his impressive frame, he’s a player we could see landing in Round 1 to the right team. This is going to be a great test for both, but Jackson has been a mixed bag against some of the better pass rushers he’s faced this season.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

USC: Vibes haven’t been all that positive around USC, despite the strong finish to the regular season. That mostly revolves around the program’s poor 2020 recruiting class — currently ranked No. 84 in the Rivals.com team rankings — that came on the heels of the decision to bring Clay Helton for his sixth season. The negativity will only get worse if USC loses this bowl game. The program’s last bowl win came over Penn State in the 2016 Rose Bowl. 

Iowa: Iowa is in its 21st season under Kirk Ferentz. With a win over USC, the Hawkeyes can reach the 10-win mark for the sixth time during his tenure. The first three came in consecutive seasons from 2002-04. The Hawkeyes also won 11 games in 2009 and 12 games in 2015. A win would also give the program three straight bowl victories. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Iowa -2

Sam Cooper: USC +2

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: USC +2

Pete Thamel: Iowa -2

Dan Wetzel: USC +2

Sean Sullivan: Iowa -2

Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III has 24 touchdowns in 2019. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III has 24 touchdowns in 2019. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Washington State (6-6) vs. Air Force (10-2)

Location: Phoenix | When: Dec. 27 (10:15 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Air Force -2.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Washington State: The Cougars won three games to start the year and then promptly lost three-straight Pac-12 games to UCLA, Utah and Arizona State. A win over Colorado broke that streak and then Washington State lost to Oregon and Cal. The Coogs got bowl eligible with wins over Stanford and Oregon State — that game was wild — before the traditional Apple Cup defeat to Washington. 

Air Force: The Falcons were a loss away from making the Mountain West title game. Air Force’s only conference loss came to, you guessed it, Boise State. Despite going 7-1 in the conference the Falcons finished second in the Mountain division because it’s also occupied by the Broncos.

Air Force lost to Navy outside the conference but got wins over both Army and Colorado to make up for it. It’s the third time in six seasons that Air Force has won 10 games.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Who doesn’t want to watch a Mike Leach-coached team against a triple-option offense? It’s better than sleeping, that’s for sure. Also, this Cheez-It Bowl produced one of the most wild bowl games in recent memory a year ago with TCU and Cal. And this is the same Washington State who let UCLA come back for a win in the craziest comeback of the season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Washington State RB Max Borghi: When Borghi gets the chance to run the ball he’s extremely effective. Borghi has rushed for 790 yards on just 121 carries in 2019. That’s the most rushing yards by a Mike Leach-coached RB since Baron Batch ran for 884 yards in 2009 at Texas Tech. 

Borghi is a threat in the pass game too. He leads the team with 81 catches and has 566 yards receiving. 

Air Force QB Donald Hammond III: Hammond doesn’t throw the ball much. He attempted just 99 passes. He ran the ball 106 times and had the fourth-most rushing attempts on the team. While Hammond is the team’s fourth-leading rusher he leads the Falcons in rushing touchdowns with 11 and overall TDs with 24. 

He’s dangerous when he does attempt a pass too. Hammond averages 13 yards an attempt and his two leading receivers average over 25 yards a catch. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Washington State QB Anthony Gordon: The out-of-nowhere NFL prospect is 606 passing yards away from breaking the NCAA record for most passing yards in a season, held by former Texas Tech QB BJ Symons, another Mike Leach protege. Lest you think that total is unreachable, Gordon actually threw for 606 vs. Oregon State this season — despite coming into the year with a mere five college pass attempts — and averages nearly 436 passing yards a game. He’s an easy thrower with a rubber arm and will get to showcase his talents at the Senior Bowl, but this game is a sneaky-good test against an Air Force defense that only allows 208.1 pass yards per game

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Washington State: A win would be five straight winning seasons for the Cougars. A stretch like this hasn’t happened since Washington State was in the Pacific Coast Conference before World War II and was coached by O.E. Hollingberry. 

Air Force: The Falcons haven’t won 11 games in a season since a 12-1 campaign under Fisher DeBerry in 1998. That season culminated in a win in the Oahu Classic over a Washington team coached by Brock Huard. Yes, the same Brock Huard who does color commentary for Fox. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Washington State +2.5

Sam Cooper: Air Force -2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Air Force -3

Pete Thamel: Air Force -3

Dan Wetzel: Air Force -3

Sean Sullivan: Air Force -3


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