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Bowl Picks 2015: Birmingham Bowl to Holiday Bowl

Lamar Jackson, Lousville, Music City Bowl
Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham (AL), @ Legion Field (Dec. 30th, 11 pm CT on ESPN)
Memphis Tigers (9-3) vs. Auburn Tigers (6-6)

Memphis football took a major step forward this season, as evidenced by their nine wins and just as importantly, a pretty substantial victory over Ole Miss. The Tigers will try to take down another SEC West opponent in 2015, as they square off against Auburn in the Birmingham. While Memphis exceed expectations this year, Auburn went the completely opposite direction. A popular preseason SEC favorite and Playoff pick, the Tigers struggled mightily en route to a 6-6 mark. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson, a popular dark horse Heisman candidate entering the year, was a complete disaster, and the offense overall lacked much punch. Also disappointing was the defense's performance, which didn't improve altogether much, despite the addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. Auburn will still look to their ground attack for their offensive production in this one, as youthful Peyton Barber showed plenty of promise throughout the campaign, with 976 yards and 13 touchdowns. The issue for Auburn offensively is their passing game, which has been nearly nonexistent this season. Neither Johnson nor Sean White has separated themselves at the team's most important position, and it is unclear who will start this one. Only hurting the pair of quarterbacks is the fact they no longer have stud wide receiver Duke Williams to pass to on the perimeter, as he was kicked off the team earlier in the year. Memphis, meanwhile, is very explosive on the offensive side of the ball, particularly through the air. Quarterback Paxton Lynch is not only making NFL scouts blush, but has put up big numbers all year long. Lynch had one of his best showings of the year against Ole Miss, and he could very well pick apart the Tigers' secondary. Moses Frazier remains his top target on the perimeter, a speedy quick deep threat that will challenge Auburn every which way. Although Auburn was a major disappointment on the defensive side of the ball this year, they still have some very good players that should look to play a huge role in this game. Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is a tackling machine that should be tasked with containing Memphis' run attack, while defensive end Carl Lawson has had his moments. Gus Malzahn is feeling significant pressure at Auburn; after a 12-2 debut, he was followed it up with an 8-5 mark last year and this year's struggle. Though, the Tigers could at least make up for the tough season by taking down Memphis in an interesting battle. Unfortunately, I don't think they have the personnel on defense to contain Lynch, and the offense is just way too one-dimensional.
Memphis, 35 Auburn, 26

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, @ Bank of America Stadium (Dec. 30th, 2:30 pm CT on ESPN)
NC State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4)

Mississippi State had an absolute breakthrough 2014, winning ten games and holding down the No. 1 spot in the entire land for a number of weeks. But, just as impressive perhaps, has been their encore. Sure, the Bulldogs have been far from great, but their eight wins and solid showing in the SEC prove the program has staying power under Dan Mullen. It has helped that senior quarterback Dak Prescott has clearly evolved into one of the nation's top quarterbacks. Prescott is a dual threat who is as quick as a running back, but also possesses a great deep arm. Mississippi State's adversary, NC State, will certainly have their hands full with Prescott. Though, the Bulldogs also have a number of other weapons on the offensive side of the ball, with receivers Fred Ross and De'Runnya Wilson and a solid stable of running backs. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack struggled after a 4-0 start (due mainly to easy scheduling), but will still pose a challenge. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett has found new life at NC State, and put together a strong finale this season. The gunslinger, though, continues to search for weapons on the edge to work with, something NC State does not have an abundance of. Running back Matt Dayes has put together a strong year, but Mississippi State has been stout against the run all year long. The Wolfpack's best bet will certainly be with Brissett through the air, especially considering Mississippi State is without their best corner, Will Redmond. Redmond, an established NFL prospect, has a torn ACL. Though, Brissett has struggled with turnovers at all stages of his career, and the Bulldogs will certainly be groomed to go after the ball in this one, expect them to jump a lot of routes. Mississippi State is not as good of a team as they were a season ago; but they still possess the dynamic Prescott and enough weapons on the offensive side of the ball to put up a nice sum of points. Unless NC State gets an unreal day from Brissett or finds a way to shut down Prescott, they don't have much of a chance in this one.
Mississippi State, 38 NC State, 27

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, @ LP Field (Dec. 30th, 6 pm CT on ESPN)
Texas A&M Aggies (8-4) vs. Louisville Cardinals (7-5)

What a tale of two seasons it was for both of these teams. Texas A&M for the second consecutive year, opened the year flaming hot behind a young sophomore quarterback. Kyle Allen was on an absolute tear and the Aggies opened up 5-0 with a win over Arizona State to their credit. Things went downhill quick, as the Aggies once more looked fruitless against Alabama, resulting in a decent, but disappointing 8-4 mark. Even more worrying was the sudden transfers of Allen, and then backup (although he did start a number of games) Kyler Murray, who was a five-star recruit. That left the job to Jake Hubenak, a former JUCO transfer, for the time being. He will square off against Louisville, who on the other end of the spectrum, began the year 0-3. Wins against Samford and NC State next got them back on track, but a bad loss to Florida State seemed to indicate they had a lot of work to do. Instead, the Cards ended the year five of their final six. Sure, none of the wins were overly impressive and were generally close, but it gives Louisville tons of momentum coming into this one. The Cardinals will lean on freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson, who quickly become a star for the team. Jackson won't pass the ball much but he is an exciting runner, who led the Cards in rushing on the year, with 734 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has plenty of experience against good defenses, squaring off against Auburn, Clemson and Houston earlier in the year, meaning he should be ready for the Aggies. Under John Chavis though, Texas A&M's defense has taken tremendous strides. Sure, it can still be a major liability, but there should be no denying the improvement. Watch out for defensive end Myles Garrett; the sophomore is so similar to Jadeveon Clowney, it is scary. He is absolutely massive, has been dominant since he stepped on campus, and was a former five-star recruit. He should find ways to make an impact in this game. Outside of Hubenak, the Aggies will hope for big days from back Tra Carson and their talented bunch of receivers. Carson was perhaps the quietest Power Five 1,000 yard rusher, while true freshman Christian Kirk is an absolute weapon on the outside. Defensively, Louisville has been good all year long, but did struggle against elite competition. They certainly will try to keep the hands away from Kirk, Josh Reynolds and the rest of the Aggies' playmakers at receiver. Texas A&M has undeniably talent throughout their roster, but there are questions about the state of the program with an eye towards 2016. Unless Hubenak is secretly Johnny Manziel, or Myles Garrett and the defense smother Jackson and Louisville, the Aggies should finish off 8-5 for the second straight year.
Louisville, 31 Texas A&M, 21

National Funding Holiday Bowl, San Diego, @ Qualcomm Stadium (Dec. 30th, 9:30 pm CT on ESPN)
USC Trojans (8-5) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (9-3)

USC and Wisconsin are nearly complete opposites. USC has long been the flashy West Coast team, and has had a tumultuous 2015. From the pure disappointment of five losses to the wacky Steve Sarkisian situation, to still somehow winning the Pac-12 South. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is a grind-it-out program located in the dull Midwest, who quietly just kept winning under new head coach Paul Chryst, going 9-3. Now, the polar opposites will collide in a very intriguing Holiday Bowl. Perhaps just as impressive as the nine wins this season for the Badgers has been the fact they have done it mostly without back Corey Clement, who all but disappeared this season. The Badgers still feature a back that can make plays when needed in Dare Ogunbowale, but the rushing attack has really lacked this season by normal Wisconsin standards. Though, senior Joel Stave has been strong at quarterback, and the Badgers have showed a much more multidimensional passing game. It also helps they have the nation's top defense, letting up just 13 points per game. Linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert have been monsters, while Michael Caputo leads a strong defensive backfield. That defense will have to be up to the task against a Trojans' offense that can certainly move the ball. Quarterback Cody Kessler can chuck the ball all over the place, and he has plenty of tools to work with. Adoree' Jackson can literally do everything; from receiver to cornerback, to return specialist. No matter what he is doing, expect Jackson to be impressive doing it. JuJu Smith is another dangerous weapon, over at receiver. Not only is Smith a dangerous speedster, but he also is very powerful, with great size. Also, running back Ronald Jones has had a huge freshman year, coming out of nowhere to lead USC in rushing. On defense, expect USC to lean heavily on do-it-all Su'a Cravens. The former five-star prodigy will be playing in his final game at 'SC, and will hope to come out on top. A hard-hitter who is excellent in coverage, Cravens can dominate at either safety spot or even at outside linebacker, due to his ideal size. This game may feature complete opposites, but the motivation for both sides is certainly there. Both teams are stocked with seniors and juniors heading to the NFL hoping to go out in a big way. Meanwhile, Clay Helton is trying to prove he was the right choice for the Trojans, while Chryst is hoping to end his first year at Wisconsin with a bowl win. USC is crazy explosive and if Kessler can find some holes in the Badgers' secondary they should come out on top.
USC, 34 Wisconsin, 23

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