By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Connecticut (CBS) – Yesterday was a lot of fun. There were 5 games and the best was saved for last. The 4th quarter of the Orange Bowl between Florida State and Michigan will be talked about for quite some time. It will be hard for today’s games to top the excitement of that quarter, but with the semifinals tonight, a lot of fans are at least hoping to come close. The semifinal games will have their own preview coming later today. Let’s start with the first two bowl games.
Saturday, December 31st
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl – LSU (7-4) vs. Louisville (9-3) 11AM ABC
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Line: LSU -4
Bowl Fun Fact: This is the 3rd and final game being played at Camping World Stadium after the Cure Bowl and the Russell Athletic Bowl
LSU Points For: 28.3 Points Against: 16.4
Louisville PF: 45.3 PA: 23.3
LSU was another team that had high hopes heading in to the season. There was a lot of talk about whether this year would be the first year that two schools from the same conference could make the playoff. If LSU beat Wisconsin to open the season and only lost to Alabama, would that be enough to get them in? A lot of experts thought so. None of that mattered after the Wisconsin game though. LSU lost to the Badgers in a close game at Lambeau Field, 16-14 and immediately the questions about whether or not LSU could have a successful offense under Les Miles arose again. After LSU lost another heart breaker to Auburn in week 4, Les Miles was fired. Ed Orgeron was named the interim head coach. LSU fought hard against Alabama, but lost and lost a makeup game against Florida at home as well. LSU’s 4 losses came by a combined 23 points. They did have impressive road wins at Arkansas and Texas A&M towards the end of the season.
Not only was there talk about LSU possibly being in the semifinal, RB Leonard Fournette was supposed to be a Heisman Finalist and was on some expert’s short list to win the whole thing. Unfortunately, Fournette didn’t have a complete season as he only played in seven games and decided he would not participate in this bowl game to heal his injuries and prep for the NFL draft. Fournette’s decision created the same amount of debate that Christian McCaffrey’s did. Backup RB Derrius Guice was phenomenal in Fournette’s absence this season. He rushed for 252 yards at Arkansas, with an average of 12 yards per carry and ended the season with 285 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns at Texas A&M. It’s safe to say Fournette’s absence in this game shouldn’t really affect the Tigers as they’ve been used to it for a good part of the season.
Louisville was supposed to be an improved team coming in to this season, but no one could have predicted the start that the Cardinal had. They scored an average of 63.5 points per game in ther first four games including a 63-20 shellacking of Florida State in ESPN’s game of the week. They lost by 6 in one of the season’s best games in week 5, but then rallied to win their next 5 games to improve to 9-1. They were #3 in the college football playoff rankings, but lost on November 17th at Houston by 26 and that ended any talk of them possibly sneaking in to the top 4. Unfortunately for them, they followed up that loss with a home loss to Kentucky by 3 points as well. So Louisville doesn’t exactly come in to this game on the highest of highs.
An individual player is riding quite the high though. Even though Fournette wasn’t present in NY for the Heisman trophy presentation, Louisville’s QB Lamar Jackson was and he won it too. Lamar Jackson was on just about every highlight reel to start the season. Juking linebackers, jumping over safeties and stiff-arming cornerbacks on his way to 1,538 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also passed for 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns on top of that. Louisville’s defense seemed to play inspired by their hot start, but faltered down the stretch, giving up 77 points to Houston and Kentucky. James Hearns led the Cardinal with 8 sacks this season, but is not expected to play due to a gunshot wound to his elbow.
Will Louisville end its magical season on a high note? Will LSU ride the momentum of the program’s stability at the end of the season? While LSU’s defense isn’t exactly one of the best in program history, it is still very formidable. Will Jackson take over, or will LSU shut him down and take care of business early in this game? I think Louisville keeps things close early and then take over at the end.
Louisville 27 LSU 21
Saturday, December 31st
TaxSlayer Bowl – Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5) 11AM ESPN
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
Line: Georgia Tech -4
Bowl Fun Fact: Georgia Tech is making its 8th appearance in what was formally called the Gator Bowl. This is Kentucky’s first appearance in the bowl.
Georgia Tech PF: 27.8 PA: 25
Kentucky PF: 31 PA: 31.2
Georgia Tech opened the season with a 17-14 win over Boston College in Dublin, Ireland and beat SEC foe Vanderbilt 38-7 in week 3. Their schedule was extremely tough after that and they lost 4 of 6 including losses to Clemson, Miami, Pittsburgh and North Carolina. They were 5-4 with road games still to play against Virginia Tech and Georgia and were staring 6-6 right in the face. Georgia Tech turned a corner after their loss to North Carolina though and they won all their last 3 games in impressive fashion to finish 8-4.
Senior quarterback Justin Thomas didn’t have the most dynamic season, but he was very effective. Two years ago the QB threw for 18 TD’s, this year he only threw for 8. He countered that with only 2 interceptions though. His best game of the season was against Duke, where he passed for 264 yards and 2 touchdowns and also ran for 195 yards and 2 touchdowns. Georgia Tech’s defense was led by 5 players who had at least 2 interceptions.
Kentucky is making their first bowl appearance since 2010 and they haven’t won a bowl game since their 2008 Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina. This year was a prove it year for head coach Mark Stoops after failing to reach 6 wins in his first 3 seasons. Kentucky lost to Southern Mississippi and weren’t competitive in a week 2 loss to Florida and some fans in the Bluegrass state were already turning their attention to basketball season. But let’s be honest, their attention is always on basketball season. They won 5 of their next 6 games including wins over South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and only lost to Georgia by 3 points after that stretch. As mentioned in the Citrus Bowl preview, Kentucky finished the season with an impressive road win at Louisville to finish the season 7-5.
Kentucky has the convenience of handing the ball off to two 1,000 yard rushers this season. Stanley Williams and Benny Snell Jr combined for 20 touchdowns as well. Snell, a freshman, did his damage in only 10 games as well, missing the first two games of the season. With Snell in the lineup, Kentucky is 7-3. Kentucky some depth on defense with three players having 3 interceptions on the season and 3 players with at least 4 sacks as well.
Both teams are riding some momentum heading in to this game, so it will be interesting to see if the layoff between games affects either of them. This should be another fun game to watch between teams that didn’t have the highest of expectations but had solid overall seasons with some big wins.
Kentucky 28 Georgia Tech 24
Yesterday’s record 4-1, overall record 18-14
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini