Previewing Wednesday’s college football bowl games

Previewing Wednesday's college football bowl games

Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl

Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch.

Memphis (9-3) vs. Auburn (6-6).

Time/TV: noon ET/ESPN. Surface: Artificial.

Pregame.Com line: Auburn by 3. Sagarin difference: Auburn by 0.84.

This date on the bowl calendar is SEC heavy. It begins at Legion Field, where the Auburn Tigers have played more than a few games over the years. But the other Tigers already own a win against an SEC opponent and would like to get another to wrap up what was almost a spectacular season.

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A three-game November skid put a damper on things for Memphis, so perhaps the team can be forgiven for venting a little on hapless SMU in its regular-season finale. Memphis faithful already had to bid farewell to Virginia Tech bound-coach Justin Fuente, and this might be the collegiate swan song for QB Paxton Lynch. The junior has not said he’ll enter the NFL draft a year early but is projected to be one of the first two passers chosen should he do so.

This season, he has amassed 28 TD throws with only three picks, with WR Mose Frazier serving as his primary target. He can expect to get heat from Auburn LB Cassanova McKinzy and DT Montravius Adams. The Auburn offense struggled to get out of its own way for much of the season. Sean White has battled injuries since replacing Jeremy Johnson at QB. Both are likely to play in the bowl. They’ll likely lean on consistent TB Peyton Barber to keep things moving, but Memphis LBs Leonard Pegues and Wynton McManis don’t leave many holes unplugged.

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Belk Bowl in Charlotte

Mississippi State (8-4) vs. North Carolina State (7-5).

Time/TV: 3:30 p.M. ET/ESPN. Surface: Grass.

Pregame.Com line: Mississippi State by 6½. Sagarin difference: Mississippi State by 6.19.

On the surface, this game might not excite the casual observer. A win for the Wolfpack would be their first this season against a team with a winning record. The Bulldogs picked up a couple of victories in the rugged SEC West but fell short of the expectations of their cowbell-ringing fans.

But both teams feature veteran QBs who could put up big scores and provide an entertaining show. MSU’s Dak Prescott and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett are seniors who know how to take care of the ball. Prescott’s top weapons are WRs Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson. Brissett doesn’t have as many deep options but makes excellent use of Jaylen Samuels, who is officially listed as a TE but often lines up as more of an H-back.

Music City Bowl in Nashville

Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Louisville (7-5).

Time/TV: 7 p.M. ET/ESPN. Surface: Grass.

Pregame.Com line: Louisville by 4½. Sagarin difference: Texas A&M by 1.41.

The 2015 campaign has been interesting to say the least for both programs. The Cardinals had most of their toughest games in the first half of the schedule but managed to close on a 5-1 run, finishing with an always satisfying victory against in-state rival Kentucky.

The Aggies had the opposite experience, beginning 5-0 but struggling with the meat of the SEC batting order. As a result, Texas A&M enters with a lot more internal issues with high-profile QB transfers getting the most attention. Jake Hubinak, who was third-string for most of the season, will make his starting debut.

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The Louisville defense will have little film on him, and he has plenty of speed around him in the persons of WR Christian Kirk and TB Tra Carson. But Cardinals’ LBs Keith Kelsey and James Burgess don’t often get caught out of position. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson has overcome early mistakes to emerge as a solid dual threat. He could use support from TB Brandon Radcliff as he takes on DE Myles Garrett and the active Aggies’ defensive front.

Holiday Bowl in San Diego

No. 23 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Southern California (8-5).

Time/TV: 10:30 p.M. ET/ESPN. Surface: Grass.

Pregame.Com line: USC by 3½. Sagarin difference: USC by 2.87.

The day concludes with this clash of teams who’d hoped to be playing a few miles up the coast in Pasadena. In truth, however, the Badgers’ season has gone mostly according to script as far as winning the games they were expected to win.

Their two Big Ten losses against Iowa and Northwestern were both low-scoring affairs in which the offense simply couldn’t make enough plays. The Trojans had the opposite problem in most of their setbacks, surrendering 41 points or more in four of their five losses. Whether Wisconsin can take advantage remains to be seen.

Lacking his usually reliable ground support this year, senior QB Joel Stave has more INTs (11) than TD throws (10). Expect to see USC LB Su’a Cravens in the middle of things often. Trojans’ QB Cody Kessler and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster are capable of making the big connection at any time, but Badgers’ LB Joe Schobert must be kept out of the USC backfield.

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Jeff Sagarin’s power ratings show the relative strength of teams.