Season-long trends suggest an ugly game
Once the exciting rapid-fire announcements of college football bowl games comes to an end, reality sets in. And some matchups are unappealing.
While we’re not suggesting you should avoid these contests — this is often a great accomplishment for the players and it’s the last of college football this year — our expectations are low. Season-long trends suggest an ugly game.
Since there are 39 bowls, several exhibitions won’t be that memorable. And when these games aren’t great, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
BYU’s offense may have seemed to improve late in 2018, but two clashes with dismal defenses and Utah’s special-teams issues boosted the Cougars. They’re a run-first team with a low scoring ceiling. On the other side will be Western Michigan, which surged to a 6-2 record but lost quarterback Jon Wassink to injury. His replacement, freshman Kaleb Eleby, could not buoy the Broncos and their subpar defense. If you’re actively trying to miss the Potato Bowl, the 4 p.m. ET kickoff happens at prime traveling time on the Friday before Christmas.
Save for the season-ending game at San Diego State, the efficiency of Hawaii’s offense had a tendency to disappear against solid competition. We’ll trust that trend instead of a bright performance in the finale. Louisiana Tech ceded more than six yards per play once in 2018 and seldom allowed explosive gains of 30-plus yards. But the Bulldogs have a pretty rough offense, too. They cracked 400 yards of offense on just three Football Bowl Subdivision foes. Our only hope is the combination of Hawaii’s home-field advantage and its shoddy defense creates an exciting fourth quarter.
We appreciate good defense. This season, both TCU and Cal posted top-25 marks in yards allowed per play. There’s nothing wrong with a showdown between two good defenses. The problem is these offenses are brutal. TCU never adequately replaced Kenny Hill, trying three QBs en route to a 6-6 record. It was a similar story for Cal, which alternated Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain before settling with the former. To say Cal lacked explosiveness with Garbers is an understatement. Ugly offense will overshadow good defense in the Cheez-It Bowl.
Alex Hornibrook can’t do it again, right? Last year, he shredded a superb Miami defense for career-high marks of 258 yards and four touchdowns in the Hurricanes’ home stadium. But this Miami defense is nothing short of elite. If the unit contains Jonathan Taylor, the ‘Canes should overwhelm an otherwise uninspiring Wisconsin offense. Will Miami score much, though? Poor blocking, drops and inconsistent play from quarterbacks have plagued Mark Richt’s team all season. Throw in likely sub-freezing temperatures to sting Miami, and this could be a low-scoring slog in New York.
Can you actually be confident in either South Carolina or Virginia? The Gamecocks piled up 500 yards in five games yet failed to reach 400 in the other seven. Virginia ripped off a 6-2 start but dropped three straight ACC games down the stretch. Although both defenses are decently opportunistic, the offenses were decidedly average at protecting the ball. The glass-half-full interpretation means takeaways will lead to easy points and a high-scoring game. The pessimistic view is it’ll be a mistake-filled affair only worth watching when the Peach Bowl is in a commercial break.
Through six games, Stanford’s defensive front was ineffective. If that had remained true, Pitt’s potential dominance on the ground would be enticing. Instead, the Cardinal turned in an impressive effort during their final six contests. And you needn’t look further than Pitt’s last two games to discover how the offense fared when forced to pass; Kenny Pickett mustered 3.5 yards per pass attempt. Dreadful. Hopefully, the efficient version of Stanford QB KJ Costello shows up. Otherwise, the Sun Bowl crowd will be observing a whole bunch of mediocre offense.
In the modern era, the 2008 Sun Bowl between Oregon State and Pitt accounted for the fewest points: three. There’s a non-zero chance the Holiday Bowl ties that record. Northwestern’s offense ranks 124th nationally in yards per play, while Utah’s defense is 13th in that category. Of Northwestern’s final seven opponents, only Notre Dame and Ohio State scored more than 17 points. Utah lost dual-threat quarterback Tyler Huntley and star runner Zack Moss to injury. If you thought Utah’s loss in the Pac-12 title was ugly, you might consider avoiding this one.