By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut

Connecticut (CBS) – Yesterday was needed. Three of yesterday’s games were decided by 14 points. Pittsburgh and Northwestern traded jabs before the Wildcats held on for the win. Utah needed a field goal with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game to outlast Indiana. And Kansas State turned around the fortunes of the Big 12 by beating former Big 12 member Texas A&M. Today there are only three games, but they all will be worth watching.

Thursday, December 29th 2016

Birmingham Bowl – South Carolina (6-6) vs. South Florida (10-2) 2PM ESPN

Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama

Line: South Florida -11

Bowl Fun Fact: Both teams are making their 2nd appearance in the Birmingham Bowl. South Florida won in the bowl’s inaugural season in 2006, while South Carolina lost in 2010.

 

South Florida Points For: 43.6 Points Against: 31

South Carolina PF: 19.2 PA: 24.8

South Florida is the heavy favorite heading in to this game. But there are a lot of bowl related factors working against them. First, is that the AAC has not had a good showing in their respective bowl games so far. Memphis was handled by Western Kentucky, Houston failed to show up in the second half against San Diego State, UCF couldn’t handle Arkansas State in what was basically a home game, Navy gave up 48 points to Louisiana Tech and Temple was down 24 points at the half to Wake Forest before mounting a bit of a comeback. The only AAC school to show up and play like they are capable of playing for 60 minutes was Tulsa, who took it to Central Michigan in their game.

 

Next is the fact that USF is another program that is dealing with the loss of their head coach. Willie Taggart left to become the head coach at Oregon on December 7th. Teams that have lost their head coaches for one reason or another prior to their bowl games are 1-3. Can USF work with an interim coach for the Birmingham Bowl and get the job done? USF finished the season 10-2 and might feel as though they have proven all they can prove to this point.

 

The last factor is the rise of the 6-6 team. There are 5 Power Five teams that went into their bowl games 6-6 and came out 7-6. 3 of those games came against teams with significantly better records (Temple, Pittsburgh and Boise State).

 

South Carolina was the very definition of average this season, but average is a lot better than what most predicted this season. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Will Muschamp in his first season as head coach of the Gamecocks. Three or four wins is all that was expected. But South Carolina managed to win six even beating Vanderbilt and Tennessee along the way.

 

South Carolina wants to finish this season off strong, and let people know that they will be a team to be taken seriously heading in to next season. Will USF save the AAC from a disastrous bowl season? Or is 10 wins enough and it’s on to 2017 under Charlie Strong?

 

South Florida 27 South Carolina 20

 

Thursday, December 29th

Belk Bowl – Arkansas (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (9-4) 5:30PM ESPN

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Line: Virginia Tech -7

Bowl Fun Fact: Both teams are making their first appearance in the Belk Bowl, played at the home of the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.

 

Arkansas PF: 30.8 PA: 30.8

Virginia Tech PF: 35 PA: 22.7

Arkansas played a very tough schedule this season. They tested themselves out of conference in wins against Louisiana Tech and TCU and they also had one of the toughest conference schedules in the SEC. Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Mississippi State all faced the Razorbacks this season. So while Virginia Tech is a tough opponent, it won’t be something that Arkansas isn’t used to in 2016.

 

Arkansas is led on offense by Junior QB Austin Allen and RB Rawleigh Williams III. Williams III was particularly effective, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns. Arkansas defense was all over the place this season. They were really good in wins against Louisiana Tech and Florida, holding those two teams to a total of 30 points. And they were really bad against Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M giving up a total of 150 points in those three games. The Auburn game was especially bad. Auburn torched Arkansas on rushing touchdowns of 78, 9, 20, 1, 23, 31 and 51 yards respectively.

 

Justin Fuente did a great job in his first year as head coach at Virginia Tech. Coming over from Memphis, Fuente was able to get the Hokies to the ACC title game for the first time since 2011. There were a few bumps in the road this season, losing big to Tennessee and an inexcusable loss to Syracuse in week 6. But they figured it out along the way, and won 5 out of their last 6 going in to the ACC championship game where they lost by a touchdown to Clemson.

 

Junior QB Jerod Evans leads the way for Virginia Tech. He had a great first season as QB of the Hokies, throwing for 27 touchdowns and rushing for 10 more. He isn’t strictly a run first QB though, as he totaled 3,309 through the air as well. His favorite targets this season were Isaiah Ford (73-1,038-7) and Cam Phillips (70-868-5). On defense, Virginia Tech has five players that have at least 2 interceptions and five players with at least 2 sacks.

 

If Arkansas defense shows up, we could have ourselves a close one. If they decide to let Virginia Tech run all over them, which has happened at times this season, this one might turn into a multiple score deficit by midway through the 3rd quarter.

 

Virginia Tech 37 Arkansas 27

 

Thursday, December 29th

Valero Alamo Bowl – Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Colorado (10-3) 9PM ESPN

Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

Line: Colorado -3

Bowl Fun Fact: These two teams last played each other in 2009 when both were members of the Big 12.

 

Oklahoma State PF: 38.7 PA: 28.1

Colorado PF: 32.8 PA: 20.5

This is Oklahoma State’s 4th appearance in the Alamo Bowl, winning their last appearance in 2010 against Arizona. As noted an in earlier column, Oklahoma State’s season got off to a rough start, with a home loss to Central Michigan. They regrouped and beat Pittsburgh a week later, before Baylor got the best of them in week 4. They then won seven games in a row climbing all the way to #11 in the polls before their loss in the de-facto Big 12 Championship game on December 3rd against arch rival Oklahoma.

 

Oklahoma State is led by its offensive dynamic Junior duo of QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington. Both announced this week that they will be returning for their Senior years so there is a lot of optimism for next year around Stillwater. In his first season as the full-time QB Rudolph had an incredibly efficient season with 3,777 yards through the air and 25 TD’s to only 4 interceptions. He also ran for 6 touchdowns as well. Washington followed up a solid Sophomore season with an even better year this year (62-1,209-9).

 

Colorado was once a proud program that had fallen on some tough times in recent years. Their last bowl appearance was in 2007 and they only accumulated 14 total wins since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. This year things turned around quickly for head coach Mike MacIntyre. They opened the season thrashing Colorado State 44-7 and then played Michigan very tough on the road in week 3. They won 8 out of 9 in the middle of the season, their lone loss being by 4 points at the hand of a resurgent USC team. They were riding high going in to the Pac-12 championship game, but their high was short lived as Washington took care of business early and easily, winning by 31.

 

Colorado’s offense was a little banged up late in the season. QB Sefo Liufau hurt himself in the game against Washington in the first half, but returned in the second half. He was extremely ineffective however, throwing 3 back breaking interceptions that put the game out of sight for good. The good thing, is that leading up to that game, he only had 3 interceptions total on the season. He is a veteran QB that can run the ball effectively as well and there is no doubt that he will want to finish off this dream season strong. Philip Lindsay is the other player to watch on offense. He does it all. He rushed for 1,189 yards and 15 touchdowns and also caught 47 passes out of the backfield as well. He will be featured heavily in this game. Tedric Thompson (7 interceptions) and Jimmie Gilbert (10.5 sacks) are the ones to watch on defense for the Buffaloes.

 

This game should be a classic. It’s probably the best non New Years Six game this season. Two contrasting styles going head to head to finish off very strong seasons.

 

Oklahoma State 30 Colorado 27

 

Yesterday’s record 2-2, overall 11-13

 

Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini

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