Ward’s Winners: Bowl Preview 2

By James Ward 

Overrated/Underrated:

Tulsa: The Miami Beach Bowl between Tulsa and Central Michigan had one of the biggest Vegas spreads on the bowl schedule, and while some people took Central Michigan to cover the large number, a quick look at Tulsa’s schedule showed that the Golden Hurricane were the better play. Tulsa entered the game 9-3, with their three losses all coming on the road against Ohio State, Houston and Navy – all tough opponents. The Golden Hurricane beat the Chippewas 55-10 and the 11.5-point spread was never in doubt. Underrated.

Bob Stoops: The Joe Mixon assault video was released this week and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said if the assault had taken place this season, Mixon would’ve been dismissed from the team. Great. Except Stoops took a chance on Mixon, and Dorial Green-Beckham after DGB was kicked off the Mizzou football team for pushing a woman down a flight of stairs, and Dede Westbrook – another Sooner with a domestic violence history. Eventually the blame has to lie with Stoops. Overrated.

Donnel Pumphrey: In the Las Vegas Bowl, San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey passed Ron Dayne for the all-time career FBS rushing leader, but there is a caveat: Dayne’s bowl statistics aren’t included in his rushing total. While the haters on the Internet are quick to point out this important piece of information, can’t we all just appreciate Pumphrey’s career? Pumphrey is 5 feet 9 inches tall and 170 pounds, and he rushed for over 6,400 yards in college, after he was lightly recruited out of high school. Underrated.

Hot Takes: Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey (and Shock Linwood) announced they’d skip their respective bowl games to get ready for the NFL. The uproar is crazy because this is something coaches do all of the time. If LSU and Stanford were playing in the College Football Playoff, Fournette and McCaffrey would be playing, just like if Houston were playing in the playoff, Tom Herman would still be coaching the Cougars. Fournette and McCaffrey are leaving their unpaid internship for a Fortune 500 company board seat. You wouldn’t do the same? Overrated.

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. Donnel Pumphrey finishes his career with 6,405 rushing yards and earlier in the season he became the sixth running back to eclipse 6,000 rushing yards.   Oregon running back Royce Freeman announced he was returning to Eugene for his senior season and he has a chance to join Pumphrey in the 6,000-yard club.
  2. Boise State’s terrific running back Jeremy McNichols is the fifth-leading rusher in the country heading into the Cactus Bowl. You’d think the fifth-leading rusher would lead the Mountain West Conference in rushing yards, but McNichols is well behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey and Wyoming’s Brian Hill for rushing yards on the season.
  1. The Boca Raton Bowl featured two high scoring teams and unfortunately for my picks last week, the Western Kentucky offense was too much for a suspect Memphis defense. After scoring 51 points against the Tigers, the Hilltoppers now have the No. 1 scoring offense in the country at 45.5 points per game.

Ward’s Winners:

Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt (+4) & NC State: The Independence Bowl features two 6-6 teams that both reached bowl eligibility with upset wins in the final game of the regular season. Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in Nashville and NC State knocked off North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  The Commodores were led all season by running back Ralph Webb and linebacker Zach Cunningham, as Vanderbilt’s power rushing attack and tough defense gave them SEC wins against Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Cunningham is the best defensive player in the SEC, not on Alabama, and he will be playing his last college football game.

These teams are mirror images of each other and while the Vanderbilt defense looks to be the most well rounded unit behind Cunningham, the NC State defense is the No. 5 rush defense in the country. The Commodores offense behind quarterback Kyle Shurmer will play an integral role against a stout Wolfpack run defense. Shurmer turned the corner in November, including a 416-yard passing output against Tennessee, and he needs to continue to play well in order for the Commodores to win the game. NC State started the season 4-1, but limped to the finish line after struggling in conference play. On the other side, the Commodores played some of their best football in conference play. Vanderbilt and NC State are No. 27 and No. 32 respective in scoring defense, so I expect this game to be low scoring and decided by less than a field goal.

Cactus Bowl: Baylor & Boise State (-7.5): A Group of Five team favored by more than a touchdown against a Power Five team, and the Group of Five team is the better play because this is a huge mismatch. Boise State was one of the most consistent teams in college football, fighting for the Group of Five New Year’s Six bowl bid. Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols might run for 300 yards against an unmotivated Baylor defense that ranked No. 96 in the nation, allowing 202.3 yards per game on the ground. McNichols is currently the fifth-leading rusher nationally and figures to take advantage of Baylor’s suspect run defense and tackling.

Baylor started the season 6-0, but the Bears have since lost six straight, and four games following Seth Russell’s gruesome ankle injury. Baylor freshman quarterback Zach Smith has thrown 6 interceptions in three starts since taking over for Russell and he has looked inexperienced and unprepared. Smith is still looking for his first FBS win and it’s not happening this week against Boise State. This game will be a blowout favoring the Broncos.   

Pinstripe Bowl: Northwestern & Pittsburgh (-5.5): The Power Five has five conference champions and those teams have combined for six losses. Pitt was responsible for two of those losses, as they beat Clemson and Penn State. While Pitt is usually known for their defense, this year, the Panthers are getting it done on offense. Pitt kicks off the Pinstripe Bowl on a three-game win streak, averaging 58.3 points per game in those wins. On the season, the Panthers are ranked No. 11 nationally, averaging 42.3 points per game. The Panthers scored 42 points against Penn State and 43 points against playoff-bound Clemson. To make a long story short: the Pitt offense is good.

The Panthers defense makes me nervous and rightfully so, as they’ve allowed 35.6 points per game, which ranks them No. 109 in the FBS. But Northwestern is 6-6 this season, including a 9-7 loss to FCS Illinois State – an FCS team that lost six FCS games. This game will be high scoring and fortunately for the Panthers, only one of these teams is equipped to win a shootout. Take the Panthers before the line gets any higher.

Last Week: 2-1

Season Record: 21-24

Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 51-44-0

James Ward is the Associate Producer of the DA Show, as well as the Executive Producer of CBS Sports Radio Weekends and Sunday Morning Football. On Saturdays, you can find him in studio producing Eye on College Football and catching as many games as possible. Check him out on Twitter (@JamesWardCBS).

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