Game of the Day: Saturday’s college football bowl games

Taxslayer Bowl

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Georgia Bulldogs (-6, 42.5)


Game played at EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida

TAXSLAYER BOWL STORYLINES

1. For the first time since 2000, Georgia will take the field without Mark Richt patrolling the sidelines when the Bulldogs face Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla. Interim head coach Bryan McClendon will direct the Bulldogs in the bowl game before Kirby Smart takes over at his alma mater, after Georgia fired Richt on Nov. 29. Preparations for the Bulldogs’ 19th consecutive bowl appearance have been different for a program accustomed to continuity, as most of the coaching staff is not expected to return for 2016.

2. The Nittany Lions have struggled offensively the past two seasons, ranking 106th and 114th in the nation in total offense and leading to the firing of offensive coordinator John Donovan. New coordinator Joe Moorhead will not take over until after the bowl game, leaving head coach James Franklin and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne to build the game plan against a Georgia defense ranked ninth in the country in points allowed per game (16.9). Penn State, which has lost three in a row, will rely on freshman running back Saquon Barkley (1,007 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) and junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg (2,386 yards passing, 16 touchdowns) to generate offense, but the offensive line must play better after allowing 39 sacks in 12 games.

3. Like Penn State, Georgia’s offense has struggled – in particular after Heisman hopeful running back Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury in early October. Junior quarterback Greyson Lambert (1,844 yards passing, 11 touchdowns) battled inconsistency, leading the Bulldogs to rely more on a running game now led by sophomore Sony Michel (1,076 yards rushing, seven touchdowns). The Nittany Lions, paced by defensive end and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Carl Nassib, lead the nation in sacks and are 14th in total defense (324.3 yards per game).

TV: Noon ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Books opened Georgia as a 7-point fave, but that has moved to -6. The total is up to 42.5 from the opening 41.5.

WEATHER: Temperatures in the low-60s under mostly cloudy skies. Wind will blow toward the south end zone at around six mph.

ABOUT PENN STATE (7-5 SU, 4-8 ATS, 5-7 O/U): Barkley provides some promise at running back, averaging 6.4 yards per carry while averaging 100.7 yards per game, but Hackenberg’s NFL prospects suffered as he completed 53.3 percent of his passes, throwing as many interceptions (three) as touchdowns in the past three games. Nassib led the nation with 15½ sacks and tied for the national lead with 19½ tackles for loss, but the Nittany Lions allowed 35.3 points per game in their final three contests. Middle linebacker Jason Cabinda moved from outside linebacker after a season-ending injury to Nyeem Wartman-White in Week 1 and excelled, leading Penn State in tackles (92).

ABOUT GEORGIA (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS, 3-9 O/U): Lambert will start in the Bulldogs’ second appearance in Jacksonville this season; he did not play in the first game, a 27-3 blowout loss to Florida that many believe sealed Richt’s fate. Michel has been impressive in picking up the rushing load for Chubb, but Georgia’s defense has anchored the Bulldogs’ better play down the stretch. Jake Ganus, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins combined for 220 tackles and 9½ sacks while forming one of the best linebacker corps in the nation, and the Bulldogs held opponents to 10 points per game in winning their final four games.

TRENDS:

* Nittany Lions are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 non-conference games.
* Bulldogs are 1-4 ATS in their last five games following a ATS win.
* Over is 4-1 in Nittany Lions last five games overall.
* Under is 6-0 in Bulldogs last six games overall.

CHEERLEADER WAR:

Autozone Liberty Bowl

Kansas State Wildcats vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (-13, 55.5)

Game played at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee

AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL STORYLINES

1. A pair of major-conference schools that are no strangers to bowl games — Arkansas and Kansas State — face off in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Jan. 2. The Razorbacks are in their seventh bowl game in the last nine seasons, which includes a victory over the Wildcats in the 2012 Cotton Bowl, while Kansas State is in a bowl game for the sixth straight season. Coaches Bret Bielema and Bill Snyder have plenty of experience in bowl games as well, combining for 10 victories in their 23 bowl appearances as head coaches.

2. After a 2-4 start to the season, the Razorbacks came roaring back to finish the regular season at 7-5, with the lone loss being a 51-50 shootout to Mississippi State. The Wildcats, on the other hand, had to recover with wins in their last three games just to get to 6-6, with a five-game losing streak putting them in that hole. Arkansas will look to control the clock with its running game, which averages 192.6 yards, while Kansas State’s run defense will try to slow down the Razorbacks after holding opponents to 159.4 yards on the ground.

3. The two coaches in the game, Snyder and Bielema, are more than familiar with each other, having coached together with the Wildcats in 2002 and 2003. Bielema served as Snyder’s co-defensive coordinator those years before moving on to Wisconsin. Both have roots with Iowa as well, where Bielema was a player, graduate assistant and linebackers coach prior to joining Snyder’s staff, and Snyder spent nine seasons from 1979 to 1988 as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

TV: 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Books opened Arkansas as a 12-point fave, but that has moved to -13. The total is down to 55.5 from the opening 59.

WEATHER:
Temperatures in the high-40s under clear skies. Wind will blow across the field at around six mph.

ABOUT KANSAS STATE (6-6 SU, 6-6 ATS, 7-5 O/U):
As they head into the Liberty Bowl, the Wildcats are still unsure who will start under center, with Joe Hubener and Kody Cook both remaining options. Hubener has the gaudier stats, throwing for 1,837 yards and nine touchdowns to go with nine interceptions, while Cook, a receiver with 27 catches when he’s not at quarterback, had 284 yards passing with three touchdowns and three interceptions. “We practice both of them there every single day,” Snyder told reporters. “They take an equal amount of reps, which has been reasonably consistent throughout the latter stages of the season. Nothing changes there.”

ABOUT ARKANSAS (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS, 5-7 O/U): If there’s one player the Razorbacks want to get going in the bowl game, it’s junior running back Alex Collins, who has been on a roll in the late part of the season. Collins had six 100-yard games in SEC action this year, equalling the school record, and his 17 touchdowns are tied for second-most in Arkansas single-season history. While the Wildcats will be keying on Collins to try to slow down the Razorbacks’ ground attack, look for him to get the ball plenty early in the game to try to set up the rest of the Arkansas offense.

TRENDS:

* Wildcats are 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral site games.
* Razorbacks are 6-1 ATS in their last seven vs. Big 12.
* Over is 7-3 in Wildcats last 10 games overall.
* Under is 7-0 in Razorbacks last seven Bowl games.

CHEERLEADER WAR:

Valero Alamo Bowl

(14) Oregon Ducks vs. (10) TCU Horned Frogs (+7, 73.5)

Game played at Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

VALERO ALAMO BOWL STORYLINES

1. Two high-octane offenses will be looking to put a bushel of points on the scoreboard when TCU – without suspended senior quarterback Trevone Boykin – faces Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 at San Antonio. The Horned Frogs average 41.7 points per game and scored 50 or more points on five occasions while Oregon checks in with a 43.2 average and four outings of over 50. The Ducks are shaky on defense – allowing 36.8 per contest – despite ending the regular season with six consecutive victories.

2. Boykin was suspended two days before the contest after being arrested outside a San Antonio bar and charged with assault on a public servant, a third-degree felony. Boykin, who passed for 3,575 yards and 31 touchdowns, allegedly fought employees of the bar as they attempted to get him to leave and could also face charges of resisting arrest and public intoxication. Either senior Bram Kohlhausen (369 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) or redshirt freshman Foster Sawyer (155 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) will start in Boykin’s place.
 
3. Ducks sophomore running back Royce Freeman somehow flies under the national radar despite racking up 1,706 yards and 14 touchdowns. Freeman posted 10 100-yard rushing games this season and needs an even 100 yards to break the school’s season-single rushing mark set by LaMichael James in 2011. “He’s a guy that I think was very overshadowed, unfortunately, with kind of some early losses,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. “He was out of any talk for individual awards and accolades. I know that doesn’t mean a ton to him, but it’s unfortunate for him.”

TV: 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: TCU opened as a 1.5-point fave, but that moved to +7 following the Boykin suspension. The total is now 73.5 after originally opening at 78.

WEATHER: N/A

ABOUT OREGON (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS, 8-4 O/U): Senior quarterback Vernon Adams overcame an early season finger injury to pass for 2,446 yards and 25 touchdowns and the offense took off once he was healthy. Junior wideout Bralon Addison caught 58 passes for 775 yards and 10 touchdowns, while big-play sophomore Darren Carrington averaged 20.1 yards per catch and had five touchdowns in six games after returning from an NCAA suspension for failing a drug test prior to last season’s College Football Playoff title game. Senior defensive end DeForest Buckner is the star of the defense with 16 tackles for losses (including 9.5 sacks) with senior linebacker Tyson Coleman (10 tackles for losses), senior inside linebacker Joe Walker (team-best 82 tackles) and sophomore strong safety Tyree Robinson (team-high three interceptions) also being key figures.
 
ABOUT TCU (10-2 SU, 6-6 ATS, 5-7 O/U): Senior receiver Josh Doctson was enjoying the best receiving season in school history – 79 receptions for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns – before breaking his left wrist in early November. He was recently ruled out for the contest and his absence takes away more firepower from an offense that also has a strong running back in senior Aaron Green (1,171 yards, 10 touchdowns). The Horned Frogs allow 26.1 points per game and had to patch holes on defense most of the season due to injuries but have a couple of dependable standouts in senior free safety Derrick Kindred (79 tackles, team-best two interceptions) and junior defensive end Josh Carraway (team-leading eight sacks).

TRENDS:

* Ducks are 5-1 ATS in their last six games overall.
* Horned Frogs are 6-2 ATS in their last eight non-conference games.
* Under is 5-1 in Ducks last six Bowl games.
* Under is 8-0-1 in Horned Frogs last nine Bowl games.

CHEERLEADER WAR:

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (+1, 64.5)

Game played at Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona

MOTEL 6 CACTUS BOWL STORYLINES

1. A pair of prolific offenses square off in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl when West Virginia travels to Phoenix to take on Arizona State on Jan. 2. Both teams rank in the top 30 nationally in total offense and in the top 50 in scoring, and both boast balanced attacks. Each team has scored 30 points or more in seven of its 12 games and topped 40 points four times.

2. West Virginia has recorded 23 interceptions among its 31 turnovers – both ranked second nationally – and has posted two or more takeaways eight times. With one more interception, the Mountaineers would match the school record set in 1948 and tied in 2000. Arizona State had a huge edge in turnover margin its first three years under coach Todd Graham but has 19 takeaways and 19 giveaways this season and has been outscored 68-49 in points off turnovers.

3. Arizona State leads the nation in sacks per game (3.67) and ranks fourth in tackles for loss (8.9 per game). When the Sun Devils don’t make a big play behind the line of scrimmage, though, they’re prone to giving up big plays. They’ve allowed at least 449 total yards in five straight games including a season-high 680 in a 48-46 loss at California in the regular-season finale. 

TV: 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Books opened Arizona State as a 1.5-point fave but that has moved to +1. The total is down to 64.5 after opening at 66.

WEATHER: N/A

ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (7-5 SU, 5-7 ATS, 3-9 O/U): The Mountaineers boast the dynamic offense coach Dana Holgorsen’s teams have come to be known for with quarterback Skyler Howard leading a balanced attack. Howard has passed for 2,613 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while adding 479 yards and six touchdowns on the ground to complement running back Wendell Smallwood (1,447 rushing yards, 9 TDs). The defense, led by All-Big 12 linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, was torched for more than 600 yards in consecutive games against Baylor and TCU in October but played well down the stretch, holding its last three opponents to an average of 265.7 total yards and keeping all three under 100 yards rushing.

ABOUT ARIZONA STATE (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS, 5-7 O/U):
Quarterback Mike Bercovici (3,437 yards, 26 TDs, 9 INTs) ranks in the top three in school history in most single-season passing categories and does a nice job of spreading the ball around with a trio of receivers with at least 50 receptions and 500 yards, including Devin Lucien (57 receptions, 931 yards, 7 TDs) and D.J. Foster (54 receptions, 544 yards, 3 TDs), who has caught at least one pass in a Pac-12 record 52 consecutive games. The Sun Devils can also move the ball on the ground, though, as Demario Richard (1,056 rushing yards, 7 TDs) has topped 100 yards rushing in seven straight games. If it comes down to the kicking game, the Sun Devils could have the edge with junior kicker Zane Gonzalez, who ranks second in school history for field goals (69) and points (370) and needs just 11 points to surpass Luis Zendejas’ school scoring record.

TRENDS:

* Mountaineers are 1-5 ATS in their last six bowl games.
* Sun Devils are 1-6 ATS in their last seven bowl games.
* Under is 17-4 in Mountaineers last 21 games overall.
* Over is 4-1 in Sun Devils last five Bowl games.

CHEERLEADER WAR:

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