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Bowl Picks 2021-22: Frisco Football Classic - Camellia Bowl (Dec. 23 - Dec. 25)

Emory Jones, Florida (Gasparilla Bowl)

Frisco Football Classic (December 23)

North Texas Mean Green (6-6) vs. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks (6-6)

A pair of .500 teams who finished their regular seasons strong will hope to keep things rolling in the new Frisco Football Classic, as North Texas clashes with Miami (Ohio). North Texas began the year 1-6 and it looked like head coach Seth Littrell may be on his way out, while the Redhawks began 2-4 but flipped the script to go 6-6.

The Mean Green under Littrell have gained a reputation for explosive offenses, particularly through the air. This edition still has a high-scoring offense but they go about it in a different way, leaning more on a tough ground game than the aerial attack. They have the third-ranked rush offense in the country, with DeAndre Torrey leading the way after rushing for over 1,200 yards on the season. Torrey is the feature guy, but he's far from the only guy that hit a huge run. Ikaika Ragsdale and Ayo Adeyi both have proven to bring plenty of playmaking when needed, with Adeyi always looking to burst open a huge play. In their last two games, Adeyi has only ran the ball 16 times, but has recorded 158 yards and two scores. North Texas and their depth in the backfield is a commodity most Group of Five teams don't have, giving them an interesting advantage against a rock-solid Miami defense. The passing game, on the other hand, has simply not lived to expectations in 2021. A pair of former Power Five transplants, Austin Aune and Jace Ruder, have split quarterback duties but neither have gotten the job done. They've combined for an underwhelming 12-12 TD-INT ratio and there doesn't seem to be much confidence when they've chosen to throw. The assumption is that Aune will start and there's options on the outside, but I'm not confident that the team's weakness all season will be magically solved leading up to bowl practice.

The Redhawks have relied on their defense for much of the season, but this is an offense that has proven they can put up points. Quarterback Brett Gabbert, the younger brother of NFL veteran Blaine, has followed up a productive first season on campus in 2019 by throwing for 2,418 yards and 24 touchdowns. Gabbert has impressive arm talent and plays with a lot of confidence, but he can't take too many risks against a North Texas secondary that finished the year hot. At receiver, the Redhawks boast one of the best 1-2 punches anywhere in the country, let alone the MAC. Jack Sorenson is the best receiver you've never heard of; the veteran is a crisp route runner and tremendous athlete who finished the regular season with 69 receptions for 1,290 yards. Sorenson is going to get a shot at the next level. He's been helped out by the emergence of Mac Hippenhammer, who began his career at Penn State. Hippenhammer hasn't been as consistent as Sorenson, but he's the type of talent you don't often see at a place like Miami Ohio. Add in a tough matchup in tight end Jack Coldiron, and there's enough on this roster to cause the Mean Green real fits, no matter how they finished off the months of October and November.

Littrell deserves a bunch of credit for keeping this North Texas team from throwing in the towel and instead securing five straight wins. With that being said, I like the Redhawks here; this is a much better team than a 6-6 record may indicate. Their last three losses have been by a combined four points, including a heart-wrencher on the road to Kent State to finish the regular season. Gabbert, Sorenson and Hippenhammer should give them more than enough to end the Mean Green win streak.

The Pick: Miami (Ohio), 37 North Texas, 27

Gasparilla Bowl (December 23)

UCF Knights (8-4) vs. Florida Gators (6-6)

Ever since UCF's "National Championship" season in 2017 and their recent run of success, college football fans have clamored for the opportunity to see them play one of the big boys in the Sunshine State. They'll get that chance this bowl season, albeit against one of the weaker Florida teams in the past decade, as the Gators needed to win their final two games to reach the postseason.

UCF's offense hasn't quite up to the preseason expectations many had after they brought in Gus Malzahn as head coach, but much of that can be credited to the loss of star QB Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel broke his clavicle and has since transferred to UCLA, opening the door for Mikey Keene. Despite being incredibly young, Keene has handled QB1 duties admirably, taking care of the football and generally making the right reads. It hurts that there hasn't been much consistent offensive support around him; loads of Knights have had stretches of success, but they've been unable to string it along for multiple weeks. Receivers Brandon Johnson and Ryan O'Keefe have had their moments, but they've been streaky. O'Keefe is the possession wide out who will work underneath, while Johnson came over from Tennessee and has brought home-run ability with him. At running back, Isaiah Bowser had a huge first week against Boise State but has dealt with injuries and a mediocre offensive line in front of him. Instead, it's been Johnny Richardson who has taken over feature back duties. He's a lot different back than Bowser; while Bowser is a physical, punishing runner, Richardson is a lightning bug at 5'7" who reminds me a lot of former UCF Knight Adrian Killins Jr. It's an interesting matchup for UCF against a Florida defense that has had a brutal campaign, but has the talent to be much better than they've shown. Coordinator Todd Grantham was fired midseason before Dan Mullen's eventual demise, but the Gators have been playing with more energy as of late. If there is one spot where they should hold a clear advantage over UCF it's at the line of scrimmage, where they are loaded with future NFL guys.

Florida's offense has been very difficult to figure out this season. They've constantly switched between a pair of quarterbacks, Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson, and seem to be a different unit every week they step out on to the field. Jones has already announced his intention to transfer but is expected to not only play in this one, but start, as Richardson has been ruled out. Richardson is a massive loss for Florida; he's been their chief big-play threat all season and although he leaves something to be desired as a passer, he can heave the ball down the field. Jones is at least a dual threat who will give UCF some worry, but he's struggled against competent offenses all season. Beyond the quarterback questions, the Gators haven't been able to find much consistent weapons, either. Veteran Jacob Copeland is their top receiver and tight end Kemore Gamble is one of the best in the SEC, but there's not much beyond that. The ground game is split between Jones and a pair of backs, Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, who are solid but don't exactly strike fear into opposing defenses. It's also unclear what UCF is going to see from the Florida O-Line; these blockers dominated Alabama in a near upset earlier in the year, but have been outplayed nearly every other week. They have the advantage over UCF in terms of star-rating, but will it show up on the field?

Even though this isn't a major bowl game, both teams should have ample motivation. UCF wants to prove themselves against one of the SEC "big boys" inside the state, while the Gators want to impress the new coaching staff. Florida seems to have an edge in terms of pure talent, but with Richardson out and so many other questions, the Knights seem like a much safer pick.

The Pick: UCF, 30 Florida, 23

Hawai'i Bowl (December 24)

Memphis Tigers (6-6) vs. Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (6-7)

The Hawai'i Bowl on Christmas Eve is a college football tradition and it just feels right this season to see the Rainbow Warriors once again playing in the postseason in their home state. However, both programs enter this matchup on a serious slide, hoping to change their fortunes and build momentum for 2022.

Hawai'i has become synonymous with high-scoring offenses throughout the June Jones days and eventually on to Nick Rolovich, but that hasn't been the case under current head man Todd Graham. Their average of 28.8 PPG has been downright mediocre in 2021 and they just watched their starting QB, Chevan Cordeiro, transfer to San Jose State. Expect freshman Brayden Schager to get the start in this one, but the youngster has struggled to take care of the ball, with five interceptions on just 107 attempts. Schager is going to need a lot of help, particularly from names like Nick Mardner and Calvin Turner Jr. Mardner is a home run threat who averages nearly 20 yards per reception, while Turner is one of my favorite players in all of college football. He's the definition of do-it-all, as you'll see him catch passes, run out of the backfield, and who knows, maybe throw it. Will those two provide enough support for a young quarterback making a start in a bowl game? Memphis has been susceptible through the air all season and the defense is undergoing a transition, as coordinator Mike MacIntyre recently accepted the head coaching job at Florida International.

One of the most consistent programs in the AAC over the past half-decade, Memphis began 2021 3-0 before a rough stretch over their next nine. The offense has shown significant potential down the stretch and there's reason to believe it could be a real strength in 2022. Seth Henigan emerged from a crowded quarterback room to run the offense and he's put together a quality campaign, with 3,322 yards and 25 touchdowns. He's not the most accurate passer, but he plays with tremendous confidence and poise for his age and has a big arm. It helps that he has had a nice collection of pass-catchers to throw to, spearheaded by Calvin Austin III and tight end Sean Dykes. With that being said, Austin has already announced he will opt out of this game and focus on the NFL Draft, which could really limit what the Tigers are able to do. Expect names like Javon Ivory and Eddie Lewis to be the primary focus for the Rainbow Warrior defense, although Dykes should also present a challenge. Memphis is really hoping they can finally find a ground game that has been nonexistent for big chunks of the fall; Rodrigues Clark flashed a bunch of upside in 2020 but has been held in check all season, leaving Brandon Thomas to take over feature back duties. The Tigers are hopeful one of those two will be able to create plays, but Henigan is the obvious X-factor. He's going up against a Hawai'i pass defense allowing nearly 290 yards per game on the season.

Both of these teams enter the postseason at a crossroads; Hawai;i has been gutted by the transfer portal and the future under Todd Graham is in question. Memphis has slipped quickly under Ryan Silverfield after a run of success with Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell, but this team is better than their record may indicate. Even without Austin, the Tigers are the better team top to bottom.

The Pick: Memphis, 36 Hawai'i, 21

Camellia Bowl (December 25)

Georgia State Panthers (7-5) vs. Ball State Cardinals (6-6)

One year after winning the MAC, Ball State has been full of ups-and-downs in 2021, heading into the Camellia Bowl at 6-6. Their opponent will be the 7-5 Georgia State Panthers, who won six of their last seven to make another bowl game.

Despite having an extremely leaky defense, the Panthers have been able to finish the year strong because of an improving offense and clutch playmaking. Quarterback Darren Grainger has been rock-solid all season after winning the job over Cornelious Brown IV. Grainger won't throw a ton, but he's shown he can make the big throws necessary. However, the unquestioned strength of this entire Georgia State team is their rush offense, which is led by Granger, Tucker Gregg, and Jamyest Williams. Grainger is a true dual threat who notched over 500 yards with his legs, while Gregg and Williams are an imposing 1-2 punch. Gregg is more of your prototypical, power-running workhorse, while Williams is the game-breaker who is averaging nearly seven yards per rush. Williams began his career at South Carolina and has made the most out of his opportunity in the Sun Belt. Plus, he's finishing the year strong, with two straight 100-yard performances. The question is, can Ball State find a way to slow down this rushing attack? They've been decent against the run most of the season and have more size up front than a lot of Group of Five teams, but it will still be a difficulty.

Ball State has the talent to have a very effective offense, but it simply has not shown up in 2021. They've averaged just over 24 points per game this fall and reached the 20-point threshold just once during the month of September. They're playing better down the stretch and quarterback Drew Plitt gives them a fighting chance against a porous Georgia State secondary. Plitt, a senior, doesn't have the natural arm talent of others in the MAC but he's proven to be the type of steadying presence you need at the position. The question is whether the Cardinals can identify enough playmakers around him to move the ball; junior Jayshon Jackson, who came from Cincinnati, has been a weapon, but there's not a ton beyond him. Justin Hall finished just behind Jackson in most receiving categories, but he's been held in check over the last several weeks, meaning others will be forced to step up. The ground game has been decent this year, but has leaned nearly exclusively on freshman Carson Steele. Steele has generally been consistent in 2021 but is also coming off a quiet game, as he averaged under two yards per carry in the win over Buffalo.

Even though many might consider Ball State somewhat of a "one-hit wonder" after winning the MAC in 2020, I think this team is better than a 6-6 mark may indicate. However, Georgia State's recent play makes it hard to pick against them and their rush offense is. areal pain to stop. I think they wrap up 2021 winning seven of their final eight games.

The Pick: Georgia State, 27 Ball State, 18

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