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10 bold predictions for college football bowl season: Group of 5 tops Power 5, big coaches head to NFL and more

From the Group of 5 dominating the Power 5 to a pair of big name coaches leaving for the NFL, here are 10 bold predictions for the college football bowl season:

The Group of 5 finishes with a winning record against the Power 5.

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Here are all of the G5 vs. P5 matchups this bowl season:

  • No. 19 Boise State vs. Washington (-3½) in Las Vegas
  • Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (-6) in Independence
  • Eastern Michigan vs. Pittsburgh (-11) in Quick Lane
  • Temple vs. North Carolina (-4½) in Military
  • Air Force (-3) vs. Washington State in Cheez-It
  • No. 17 Memphis vs. No. 10 Penn State (-6½) in Cotton
  • No. 23 Navy (-2½) vs. Kansas State in Liberty
  • No. 21 Cincinnati (-7) vs. Boston College in Birmingham

The G5 team is favored in just three of those eight matchups, but there are some coin flips here. Only Pittsburgh is a double-digit favorite among the P5 teams, and who knows how excited they'll be spending their Christmas in Detroit. There’s questionable motivation for Miami, too, and Memphis is sure to give Penn State all it can handle. It’s never wise to read too much into bowl results, but this could be a big moment for the G5.

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Baylor coach Matt Rhule, left, and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley talk at midfield prior to a game in Waco, Texas.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule, left, and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley talk at midfield prior to a game in Waco, Texas. (Ray Carlin/AP)

Matt Rhule and Lincoln Riley leave for the NFL.

Both coaches can become institutions at their respective schools, but the allure of the NFL — and the money — might be too much. Rhule just signed a contract extension that will keep him at Baylor through the 2027 season, and Riley agreed to a five-year deal with Oklahoma earlier this year. But if Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones comes calling, who knows how large an annual salary might be offered?

Rhule interviewed with the New York Jets last year, and might have taken the job if he was granted full autonomy with his coaching staff. He’s since taken Baylor to the cusp of the College Football Playoff, while Riley has helped tutor yet another Heisman Trophy finalist and has the Sooners in the playoff for the third straight season.

It would take the right situation — and the right price — to lure both away from college, but don’t underestimate the appeal of the pros for people as competitive as coaches.

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Clemson holds Ohio State under 20 points.

The last time these teams met in the playoff, Clemson won 31-0. It’s hard to imagine this Buckeyes team being held scoreless, but they haven’t faced a defense quite like the Tigers’.

Ohio State leads the nation in scoring offense at 48.7 points per game, but they’ve been held in check at times against good competition. The Buckeyes scored 28 points against Penn State and were held to seven in the first half of the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin before roaring back.

Clemson — albeit against a weaker-than-usual ACC schedule — allowed just 10.6 points per game, giving up just 16 touchdowns in 13 games. The Tigers haven’t faced an offense as talented as Ohio State’s, led by Heisman finalist Justin Fields and perhaps the nation’s best running back in J.K. Dobbins, but they’re capable of shutting down the Buckeyes with their speed and athleticism — especially if Fields’ knee isn’t fully recovered.

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) hugs wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2) after the Sooners' 30-23 overtime win over Baylor in the Big 12 Conference championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Arlington, Texas.
Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) hugs wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2) after the Sooners' 30-23 overtime win over Baylor in the Big 12 Conference championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. (Ian Maule/AP)

Oklahoma beats LSU in an all-time shootout.

For as well as Jalen Hurts and the Sooners offense have played this season, beating this LSU team would be truly stunning.

The only way to defeat Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and this high-powered Tigers offense is to match their scoring pace, and Hurts is uniquely capable of doing so. Remember how Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee ran wild against the Tigers? LSU has played much better on defense since then, but Hurts can attack the Tigers on the ground better than anyone.

With the over/under at 75½, Vegas oddsmakers are already anticipating a shootout. It might come down to whoever has the ball last.

Michigan beats Alabama by at least two touchdowns.

This is entirely dependent on how many of the Crimson Tide’s top players suit up as they prepare for the NFL draft. On paper, it should be an easy win for Bama.

But you can bet Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh will be looking for a signature win to take some momentum into the offseason and onto the recruiting trail. Nick Saban, on the other hand, might already be preparing for 2020 Week 1 opponent Southern California.

Virginia upsets Florida in the Orange Bowl.

Bryce Perkins’ college career nearly ended before it began when he suffered a neck injury at Arizona State. Now the senior quarterback gets to play his final game on a big stage, and he’ll be looking to make a statement. The Gators defense has been as good as any in the country, but a motivated Cavaliers squad might be able to dent it.

SMU quarterback Shane Buechele throws a pass against Navy during a game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Annapolis.
SMU quarterback Shane Buechele throws a pass against Navy during a game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Annapolis. (Julio Cortez/AP)

SMU vs. Florida Atlantic is the highest-scoring game in bowl history.

The record belongs to the 2011 Alamo Bowl, won by Baylor, 67-56, over Washington. The over/under is at 71 for this Boca Raton Bowl, so the Mustangs and Owls have some work to do. But they combine to average 78 points per game, just 45 shy of tying the record. Big days from both offenses might mean making history.

The SEC finishes the bowl season with a losing record.

Here are all of the matchups involving an SEC team:

  • No. 25 Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (-7) in Texas Bowl
  • No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 LSU (-14) in Peach Bowl semifinal
  • Mississippi State (-4) vs. Louisville in Music City Bowl
  • No. 9 Florida (-14) vs. No. 24 Virginia in Orange Bowl
  • Virginia Tech (-3) vs. Kentucky in Belk Bowl
  • No. 18 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Auburn (-7½) in Outback Bowl
  • No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 13 Alabama (-7) in Citrus Bowl
  • No. 5 Georgia (-7) vs. No. 7 Baylor in Sugar Bowl
  • Indiana vs. Tennessee (-1½) in Gator Bowl

The SEC team is the underdog in all but one of those games, so it would take a pretty monumental collapse to lose at least five. But there’s questionable motivation for many of these favored teams, and that could lead to some upsets. Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Tennessee are the most likely to lose. Georgia and Alabama could be tripped up if they’re not ready to play. Of course, if LSU wins the national title, nobody will remember how the other conference teams fared.

Air Force and Washington State combine for over 800 total yards.

What a glorious Cheez-It Bowl this will be. After the inaugural game featured a combined nine interceptions (including six in the first half) and 15 punts in TCU’s 10-7 overtime win, this edition is sure to bring the fireworks. The Falcons’ triple-option might not give the Cougars enough time to rack up yards, but Wazzu can strike in a hurry behind quarterback Anthony Gordon, who leads the country with 5,228 passing yards, is second in touchdown passes (45) and threw nine TD passes in a single game earlier this season.

Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr. rushes for over 200 yards against Virginia Tech.

The “People’s Heisman” deserves to go out with a bang. Since the former wide receiver became the starting quarterback Oct. 12 against Arkansas, he’s averaged 162.3 rushing yards per game and was held under 100 (just barely, at 99) just once during that seven-game span. This will be Bud Foster’s final game as defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, and if there’s any team that can slow Bowden, it’s the Hokies. But you can’t stop Bowden. You can only hope to contain him.

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