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Bowl Picks 2016-2017: Bahamas Bowl to St. Petersburg Bowl

Fred Ross, Mississippi State
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (December 23rd)
Old Dominion Monarchs (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles (7-5)

Due to the fact they play in the MAC, Eastern Michigan didn't get the attention it deserved throughout much of 2016. The Eagles improved from a lowly one-win 2015 to win seven this season and finish off .500 in the conference. They will hope to keep the magical season going against an Old Dominion team looking to record their first double-digit season at the FBS level. The key for Eastern Michigan will be containing senior quarterback David Washington, a dangerous dual threat. Washington threw for 2,648 yards and 28 touchdowns, while also rushing for 205 more. Washington's arm is not quite as strong as others but the veteran makes the right reads and had just four interceptions all of '16. Junior running back Ray Lawry is also rock-solid, rushing for over 1,000 yards himself. Those two, paired with a defense hungry to prove itself after a relatively poor showing in the season's second half, should be enough to put the Monarchs in very good position. Old Dominion will have to contain the Eagles' cast of offensive weapons, namely sophomore back Ian Eriksen, who has run for 741 yards. If they do that, the EMU offense could struggle to move the ball, as quarterback Brogan Roback has not proven he can lead the Eagles to victories all alone just yet. No bowl games are locks, particularly in the crazy sport that is college football. However, this one may be as close to a lock as possible. The Monarchs were one of the best teams in the C-USA, and have won eight of nine, while EMU still has some serious flaws and is inexperienced in the postseason.
Old Dominion, 38 Eastern Michigan, 24

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (December 23rd)
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-5) vs. Navy Midshipmen (9-4)

Big-time offenses should be a common theme in the Armed Forces Bowl this season, as both Navy and Louisiana Tech have proven they can light up the scoreboard. However, these two squads light up the scoreboard in much different ways. The Bulldogs have a wonderful passing offense, behind the huge arm of quarterback Ryan Higgins, who tossed for 4,208 yards and 37 scores on the year, en route to C-USA MVP honors. Paired with underrated receiver Trent Taylor (1,570 yards, 124 receptions) La. Tech should put up points as usual, even against a Navy defense that has plenty of experience. On the other side, the Midshipmen are led by their triple-option offense, which was scorching hot near the end of the regular season, most namely a 75-point showing against SMU. That offense was terrifying to opposing defenses mainly because of the play of senior Will Worth, who leads Navy in both passing (1,397 yards) and rushing (1,198 yards). Unfortunately, Worth's career is most likely over after breaking his foot late in the year. Zach Abey, who began the year No. 3 on Navy's depth chart, appears to be the starter for the game, although that is still unclear. No matter who takes over the quarterback reigns, Navy will still lean on their orchestrated ground attack. Louisiana Tech is spotty throughout their defense, and they haven't faced a triple-option offense like Navy's this year. They may have time to prepare for the unique offense the Midshipmen run, but Navy should still find a way to put up points. It should be an intriguing battle of different football philosophies and should be competitive. I like Navy a lot this year, but it may be hard to imagine them overcoming the loss of so much at quarterback against a scorching hot Bulldogs team.
Louisiana Tech, 40 Navy, 28

Dollar General Bowl (December 23rd)
Ohio Bobcats (8-5) vs. Troy Trojans (9-3)

This has been a season of massive success in Troy, but one filled with potential for even more. At the end of the day, the Trojans went 9-3 on the year, finished off in the top half of a sneaky tough Sun Belt, and were the first Sun Belt team to ever be ranked in the AP Top 25. However, two losses in their final three doomed slim New Year's Six Bowl chances, and lost any chance of a conference title. The Trojans also went toe to toe with Clemson for nearly four quarters, before the Tigers pulled out late. If Troy had managed to pull that one off, it would have possibly been the biggest upset of the year. The Trojans will hope for a positive way to finish off a wacky year against a tough Ohio squad who won the MAC East. Back Jordan Chunn and quarterback Brandon Silvers give Troy a dangerous 1-2 punch to work with, which is particularly dangerous against a solid, physical O-Line. Chunn can break off huge runs every time he touches the ball, while Silvers is an interesting dual threat. For the Bobcats, defense has been important, with veterans everywhere stepping up. Since their season opener when they allowed 56 in a loss to Texas State, Ohio has been great defensively. If they can stay disciplined and smart, they should be able to give Troy a tough time. The key will be on the other side, where Ohio has struggled to score themselves at times. QB Greg Windham has had his moments but the quarterback situation has been murky, although they do have a lethal perimeter option in Sebastian Smith (54 catches, 877 yards). Ohio is a rock-solid program that can compete every day with their defense, but this will be a tough one. Troy is a balanced and experienced football team, and the game is being played in their own backyard, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile. With that in mind, the Trojans should rise to the occasion and complete a ten-win campaign,
Troy, 27 Ohio, 20

Hawai'i Bowl (December 24th)
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-4) vs. Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (6-7)

It has taken some painful years, but Hawai'i has finally returned to a bowl game. Once a fun and interesting program to watch, Hawai'i suffered for years under former head coach Norm Chow, while undergoing a shift from their pass-happy air raid scheme to a pro-style attack (while the university struggled to even fund the team). They have returned to the postseason behind energetic first year head coach Nick Rolovich, who will hope to lead the Rainbow Warriors past a good Middle Tennessee team. The Blue Raiders have grown into a very respectable program, and were one of the best in the C-USA this season. Much of that success from Middle Tennessee can be attributed to immense talent at the skill positions. Ole Miss transfer I'Tavius Mathers has dominated at running back, rushing for 1,504 yards and 16 scores. Quarterback Brent Stockstill, the coach's son, is extremely efficient and doesn't turn the ball over. And then there is sophomore Richie James, one of the nation's most reliable receivers, hauling in 97 receptions for 1,463 yards. Those three should look to capitalize against a Hawai'i defense that has improved since letting up big yardage to Davis Webb and Cal in Week One, but still has issues. Something watch is the status of Stockstill, who is not 100 percent and is questionable. For the Rainbow Warriors, the key will be playing smart and controlling field position. They have a number of solid weapons to work with, but Middle Tennessee's defense is well-prepared; they have seen some explosive offenses in the Conference USA. Even to get Hawai'i to a bowl in Year One was a big success for Rolovich, and the home folks should go out and support in their home state. Even so, the Rainbow Warriors will need some magic and to force some turnovers in order to stop the Blue Raiders.
Middle Tennessee, 35 Hawai'i, 21

St. Petersburg Bowl (December 26th)
Miami (Ohio) Redhawks (6-6) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-7)

Often times in college football, we often do see teams start off 6-0 or 7-0 and fall flat in the season's second half, usually as depth issues and/or a tough schedule catch up to them. We usually don't see it quite the other way, when a team starts off 0-6, and then ends up running the table. Yet, that happened to Miami (Ohio) this year. The Redhawks started off the year lethargically, going 0-6 with a loss to FCS foe Eastern Illinois. Then, things just changed and they caught fire, winning their last six to become bowl eligible. The offense still has some issues, but the group improved in a big way defensively, and played with much more confidence in the second half of the year. They won't have an easy bowl test, though, as Mississippi State hopes to prove they deserve in a bowl. The Bulldogs had some moments, namely beating then-No. 4 Texas A&M, but overall had some issues adjusting to life without QB Dak Prescott. The Bulldogs even suffered a loss to South Alabama, a Sun Belt school that had never defeated anybody from the mighty SEC. Despite that, Miss. State looked much better as the year wore on, thanks in large part to the emergence of signal-caller Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald threw for 2,287 yards but was even better as a runner, rushing for 1,243 yards. He should be in store for a big day, even against a motivated Miami defense. Mississippi State can't allow him to do it all on his own. Receiver Fred Ross should be able to beat smaller defenders with his impressive size, and the youthful but athletic defense will be eager to play. Miami has had a truly incredible year, but it is tough to imagine them taking down an SEC team, particularly with the Bulldogs playing their best football of the year right now.
Mississippi State, 33 Miami (Ohio), 17

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