Riiiiight in that sweet spot of holiday week lack-of-work and loaded bowl slates. Let’s get to the games on today.
First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, TX
11:30am | ESPN | WKU -3.5 | O/U 53
After costing themselves a shot at the MAC Championship Game with a final week loss at Northern Illinois, Tim Lester’s Broncos get a shot to win their first game outside the friendly confines of Waldo Stadium (they’re 1-5 on the road)—as the First Responder Bowl gets a second chance to actually finish a game.
The Broncos’ recipe—and your viewing interest, to be honest—is pretty simple: If he’s healthy, run LeVante Bellamy (248 for 1412, 23 TDs) as much as possible, then let Jon Wassink get out in space and find any of Keith Mixon, Skyy Moore, and Giovanni Ricci.
Remember how this WKU team—coached by former Tennessee OC and brother of Clay, Tyson Helton—started the season? A 35-28 loss to FCS Central Arkansas. Since then, the ‘Toppers have only lost to Louisville, at Marshall, and home against Florida Atlantic, tossing in a 45-19 whoopin’ at Arkansas for good measure. The dual-threat Ty Storey and RB Gaej Walker have rolled up yards, with the former a decent throwing threat, picking out Lucky Jackson (77 for 985 and 3 scores) and Jahcour Pearson (71 for 772 and 6) with alarming regularity.
For my money, this will come down to strength-on-strength and (relative) weakness-on-weakness: The Broncos’ O against the Hilltoppers’ D, and vice-versa, respectively. WKU showed a propensity to bend, not break, while WMU relied on the big play. And I’m here for it—let’s hope this one turns into a barnburner, but it should be good mid-major football early on a Monday.
What Could Have Been: Western Michigan’s nickname until the 1930s was the Hilltoppers. Two directional schools, both called the Hilltoppers, meeting in Dallas would have been just fine by me.
My Pick: Western Kentucky (24 pts)
Music City Bowl: Mississippi St. Bulldogs vs. Louisville Cardinals
Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
3pm | ESPN | MSSt -4 | O/U 62.5
I’ll be honest—there might not be two teams that excite me less than these two, which is a little shocking, since I’m about to preview Cal and Illinois.
The Bulldogs have been a perfectly cromulent SEC also-ran in 2019, beating the teams they probably should’ve beaten in conference (Kentucky, Arkansas, and Ole Miss), beating the non-conference murderers’ row that was Louisiana, Southern Miss, and Abilene Christian (while losing at home to Kansas State), and getting woefully inconsistent QB play out of Garrett Shrader (out for the Music City Bowl) and Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens (80 for 135, 9:5). RB Kylin Hill and a deep coterie of wide receivers should test the Cardinals’ defense, which no one would accuse of being air-tight.
That’s not to say Louisville won’t put up points of their own on the Bulldogs’ vulnerable defense, which was above average only in forcing turnovers in 2019—the only reason the Bulldogs were as high as 70th in FEIDef was thanks to that and the third-toughest opponent adjustment. But the Cardinals—absent QB Jawon Pass—have found prolific big-play threats in RB Javian Hawkins (5.9 ypc, 8 TDs) and WR Chatarius Atwell (60 for 1125, 11 TDs), with the latter hooking up with dual-threat QB Malik Cunningham.
Honestly, this game should turn into a barn-burner, and it probably could. So maybe I’ll be flipping back if Cal-Illinois gets out of hand. If you like points, this may be where to turn. But I’ll remain skeptical this won’t just be a more honky-tonk Belk Bowl (and with those fucking cowbells) until then.
My Pick: Mississippi State (6 pts)
Redbox Bowl: California Golden Bears vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
3pm | FOX | Cal -7 | O/U 43
HERE’S THE ACTION.
Honestly, if you’re looking for anything close to a 2019 version of the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, this is probably your game. Thump’s already done the heavy-lifting here, so I won’t bother you with the nitty-gritty, but Cal could dink-and-dunk their way to putting up points on the Illini—much like some other shit smart school I know of. Give the Illini Brandon Peters and John Imatorbhebhe, though, along with the leg of Blake Hayes, and watch the Big Ten representatives win the field position battle, if nothing else.
And seriously, it’s the guy’s first bowl preview as an OTE staff writer. Give that link a click. You won’t be sorry.
My Pick: Cal (3 pts)
Orange Bowl: #9 Florida Gators vs. #24 Virginia Cavaliers
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, FL
7pm | ESPN | Fla -15 | O/U 54
One’s the picture of mediocrity, the other is an SEC failson who waddles into high rankings with one half-lucky upset and a brand name.
Honest to goodness, I’ll watch it because I want to see Feleipe Franks flip off his own fans again, and dual-threat (I’m sorry that I’ve used that three times in this preview; I’ll seek help) Virginia QB Bryce Perkins has high potential to make this fun. But honestly, the Hoos are boring as shit outside Perkins. Watch it if you have to.
My Pick: Florida (37 pts)
Yes, I know, you’re probably not a big EFL Championship guy like I am—or like I’m about to be now that West Ham is in for 18 months of David Moyes, amirite? But there’s other stuff on today, in case you’re a teacher or slacker or anything else and want something else to watch other than Clemson-LSU previews when ESPN hits halftime in the First Responder Bowl.
Derby County vs. Charlton Athletic FC
1:45pm | ESPN+
College Basketball (Selected Games)
11am | ACCNX | Pitt -13 | O/U 130
1pm | ESPN+
Jackson State Tigers at #7 Baylor Bears
2pm | ESPN+
5:30pm | FS1 | Villanova -5.5 | O/U 139.5
Green Bay Phoenix at Northern Kentucky Norse
6pm | ESPN+ | NKU -4.5 | O/U 153.5
6pm | ESPN+ | Buff -4 | O/U 144.5
6pm | CBSSN | W&M -5.5 | O/U 140
I had no idea the Colonial had a CBS Sports affiliation, but as a lover of bad basketball on mainstream cable networks, I am 100% here for this development.
6pm | ESPN+
Long live the Columbia University Marching Band.
6pm | ACCN | UNC -6.5 | O/U 133
UNC is only 6.5-point favorites at home against an Ivy League team. (1) That’s what happens to cheaters, but also (2) I am on record as saying Northwestern needs to consider cutting bait with Chris Collins if they can get a James Jones from Yale. So.
6pm | ESPN+ | UIC -4.5 | O/U 139
7pm | ESPN+ | L-CHI -1 | O/U 137.5
I ever tell the story of the bus ride back from Northwestern’s most crushing Big Ten Tournament defeat where we stopped at a Walmart in rural Indiana and I housed two $3 bottles of wine on the ride back to Evanston?
7pm | SECN+ | Mizz -33.5 | O/U 137
Long live Chicago State basketball. May it forever drain the Illinois state budget.
7pm | SECN+ | Dav -1 | O/U 142
Home dogs to an East Coast mid-major. Can you fucking imagine?
7pm | ESPN+ | INSt -7.5 | O/U 130.5
Former Northwestern center and Mike Turner Memorial Foul Sponge Barret Benson is doing really well (10.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 59.8% FG) at SIU, and I couldn’t be happier for him. Escaped this sinking-ass ship.
7:30pm | FS1
8pm | CBSSN | Mem -15.5 | O/U 144
8pm | PlutoTV | Web -11.5 | O/U 134
8pm | PlutoTV | Mont -5.5 | O/U 123.5
8pm | PlutoTV, I hope | EWU -7.5 | O/U 152.5
8pm | Eleven/PlutoTV | MTSt -5.5 | O/U 141
9:05pm | PlutoTV, I hope | PRSt -2.5 | O/U 144
Long live PlutoTV.
Here’s what I’m pretty sure is an overly thorough Open Thread. Usual rules apply. Enjoy.