Bowl previews and picks against the spread: Everything you need to know for the New Year's Eve games

Belk Bowl: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)

Location: Charlotte | When: Dec. 31 (Noon ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Virginia Tech -2.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Kentucky: The Wildcats got here with some ingenuity and old-school offense. After quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith were injured, wide receiver Lynn Bowden moved to QB. And UK rebounded from three straight SEC losses to get to 7-5 and post a 3-5 record in conference play.

The Wildcats were 4-5 after losing 17-13 to Tennessee on Nov. 9 but ended the season on a three-game win streak with victories over Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin and Louisville. 

Kentucky's Lynn Bowden moved from wide receiver to quarterback in 2019. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Virginia Tech: It was hard to figure out the Hokies at the end of September. Tech had lost to Boston College and Duke and its wins were over Furman and Old Dominion.

Well, it turned out that Virginia Tech was pretty good. The Hokies won three straight games in October before losing to Notre Dame to start November. A win over Wake Forest followed that Notre dame loss and then shutouts of Georgia Tech and Pitt preceded a Commonwealth Cup loss to Virginia. That stung because it broke a 15-game win streak for the Hokies and also earned Virginia a spot in the ACC championship game. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

There’s no better way to end the year by starting the day with some football. And the Belk Bowl typically features a lot of points. Virginia’s 28-0 win over South Carolina in 2018 was the first time since 2009 that the winner of the game didn’t score at least 30 points.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Kentucky WR/QB Lynn Bowden: You may not have seen much Kentucky football this season. If you have, you can skip over this section. You know how awesome Bowden is. If you haven’t, now you’ll learn that Bowden has rushed 151 times for 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns while primarily operating as a single-wing QB. He’s thrown 62 times with 29 completions for 330 yards and also has 30 catches for 348 yards. He’s a multi-faceted playmaker for the Wildcats and surely has a place somewhere in the NFL. 

Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker: The sophomore emerged as VT’s primary QB as the season went on and has performed admirably. The two interceptions he threw against Virginia were his first two picks of the season. He’s thrown 11 touchdowns against those two picks and he’s also the team’s second-leading rusher with 306 yards. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Kentucky G Logan Stenberg: An absolute mauler in the run game at left guard, Stenberg could be the highest-drafted 2020 prospect on the field here. He struggles to play with proper leverage at times, standing too upright in his stance, and is good but not great as a puller. Stenberg also has been flagged for a whopping 12 penalties, one of the highest totals for any interior blocker in the country. But Stenberg could still be a force in this game, against Tech’s solid run defense. Stenberg reminds us a bit of 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars third-rounder Brandon Linder — but with even more mass.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Kentucky: A win pushes the Wildcats to 8-5 and would give UK back-to-back seasons with eight or more wins for the first time since 2006 and 2007. The bowl appearance is also Kentucky’s fourth consecutive postseason game. That’s the second-longest streak in school history.

Virginia Tech: A victory sends longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster out with a win and gives VT its first bowl win since a victory in the 2016 Belk Bowl. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Kentucky +2.5

Sam Cooper: Kentucky +2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: VT -2.5

Pete Thamel: VT -2.5

Dan Wetzel: VT -2.5

Sean Sullivan: VT -2.5

Arizona State and Jayden Daniels ruined Oregon's playoff hopes in 2019. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Sun Bowl: Florida State (6-6) vs. Arizona State (7-5)

Location: El Paso, Texas | When: Dec. 31 (2 p.m.) | TV: CBS | Line: Arizona State -4.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Florida State: Florida State needed two wins late in the year just to get to a bowl game. The year started poorly with losses to Boise State and Virginia and an overtime win over UL Monroe. The Seminoles were up-and-down from there, eventually dropping to 4-5 on the year with a Nov. 2 loss to Miami. That defeat brought along the firing of head coach Willie Taggart, and Odell Haggins ended up finishing the year 2-1 as the interim. The wins came over Boston College and Alabama State while the loss was a 40-17 decision at Florida. 

Arizona State: Arizona State was 5-1 and the No. 17 team in the country when it visited No. 13 Utah on Oct. 19. The Sun Devils would lose 21-3 that night in Salt Lake City in the first of four straight losses. But Herm Edwards’ team would finish the year strong, snapping the four-game losing streak by pulling off one of the upsets of the year, a 31-28 win over No. 6 Oregon. ASU then closed out the year by beating rival Arizona 24-14 to lock up a winning record for the year. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

These teams find themselves in interesting positions. Florida State has ex-Memphis coach Mike Norvell coming in next year. Will FSU’s players be motivated to play hard with their new coach looking on? Meanwhile, Arizona State is in its second season under Herm Edwards and is full of young talent, but a few of the team’s top skill position players have opted to skip the bowl. On top of that, the Sun Bowl features one of the coolest backdrops of bowl season with the mountains of El Paso surrounding the stadium. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Florida State WR Tamorrion Terry: Tamorrion Terry is a big play waiting to happen. Over his two years in Tallahassee, Terry is averaging 20.5 yards per reception on 86 total catches. Terry has 51 catches for 1,023 yards and eight scores this year. His 1,023 yards and 20.1-yard average are both the third-best mark in the ACC. 

Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels: Jayden Daniels arrived at ASU as the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country. He certainly lived up to the billing during his freshman year in Tempe. Entering the bowl game, Daniels threw for 2,748 yards, 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions while completing 62.3 percent of his passes. He also has 319 yards and three scores rushing. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Arizona State C Cohl Cabral: The best 2020 prospects from the two schools are sitting this one out, either to prep for the draft (Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk, ASU RB Eno Benjamin, Florida State RB Cam Akers and FSU CB Stanford Samuels III) or because of injury (FSU DT Marvin Wilson). The latter being out should make it an easier assignment for Cabral, even though FSU’s 346-pound nose tackle, Robert Cooper, is tough to move. Cabral isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s been valuable for the Sun Devils at left tackle for the first two games and at center ever since. We project him as a later Day 3 pick.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Florida State: When FSU went 5-7 in 2018, it was the program’s first losing season since 1976 — Bobby Bowden’s first year in Tallahassee. Now, to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1975-76, the Seminoles need to beat Arizona State. If FSU wins the game, it would be the program’s third straight bowl victory. FSU won the Orange Bowl in 2016 and the Independence Bowl in 2017, 

Arizona State: Arizona State has lost three straight bowl games entering the Sun Bowl. ASU lost to West Virginia in the 2015 Cactus Bowl, lost to NC State in the 2017 Sun Bowl and to Fresno State in the 2018 Las Vegas Bowl. ASU can also get to eight wins in a season for the first time since 2014. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: FSU +4.5

Sam Cooper: ASU -4.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: ASU -4.5

Pete Thamel: FSU +4.5

Dan Wetzel: ASU -4.5

Sean Sullivan: ASU -4.5

Navy's Malcolm Perry is one of the most dynamic rushers in the country. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Liberty Bowl: No. 23 Navy (10-2) vs. Kansas State (8-4)

Location: Memphis | When: Dec. 31 (3:45 ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Navy -2.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Navy: It’s the third 10-win season in coach Ken Niumatalolo’s tenure. Navy lost to Memphis in Week 3 before reeling off five consecutive wins to move to 7-1 and into the AP top 25 ahead of a matchup with Notre Dame.

That didn’t go well. Notre Dame’s exceptional talent dominated and won the game 52-20. But Navy bounced back the next week and beat SMU at home before finishing the season with wins over Houston and Army.

Kansas State: Until Oklahoma got its doors blown off by LSU on Saturday night, the Wildcats had the honor of being the only team to beat the Sooners in 2019. 

Kansas State moved to 5-2 on the season with that 48-41 victory over OU on Oct. 26. The Wildcats clobbered in-state rival KU the next week to move to 6-2 and it was easy for KSU fans to dream of a 10-win season given the schedule the rest of the way.

That didn’t happen. Losses to Texas and West Virginia followed to knock KSU back to 6-4. But the Wildcats responded with wins over Texas Tech and Iowa State to finish at 8-4 overall and in a four-way tie for third in the Big 12 standings.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Because running the football is fun too. Navy’s triple-option attack led by QB Malcolm Perry is great to watch when it’s clicking and Kansas State runs the ball on approximately two-thirds of its offensive snaps.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Navy FB Jamale Carothers: As you can imagine, Navy is going to run, run, run and run some more. The Midshipmen average 60 runs per game to just eight passes and boast the 11th-best scoring offense in college football at 39 points per game. 

The sophomore Carothers has been a big part of that rushing attack since a 154-yard performance at Tulane on Oct. 26. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher with 712 yards and averages 7.3 yards per carry, the most of anyone on the team. He’s also second with 14 rushing touchdowns and has caught two touchdowns on just four passes. 

Kansas State RB James Gilbert: The Ball State transfer is having his best season since 2016. Gilbert rushed for 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore with the Cardinals but played just three games due to injury in 2017 and rushed for just 659 yards on 152 carries in 2018.

He came to Manhattan in the offseason and has emerged as K-State’s lead back this season. Gilbert has played in 10 games and has 133 carries for 698 yards and six touchdowns. He was especially effective against Oklahoma, when he rushed 13 times for 105 yards and a score. Thanks to some nagging injuries, that was the last time he topped the 100-yard mark. But he should be ready to roll on Tuesday.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Navy QB Malcolm Perry: He’s not likely to play much quarterback at all in the NFL, as we wrote a few weeks ago, but this fascinating prospect could be a specialist in the league — as a slot receiver, punt returner, runner or trick-play artist. The 5-9, 185-pound Perry will be capping his brilliant career with the Midshipmen by trying to find running room against a Wildcats defense allowing 4.91 yards per carry this season and 18 TDs on the ground. But NFL scouts watching this game will be continuing to measure Perry’s nearly elite-level athleticism and trying to figure out ways how that can be unleashed in the NFL. We think he’s got a shot to be drafted late.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Navy: The Midshipmen are looking for just the second 11-win season in program history. The first came in 2015 when Navy finished the year 11-2 and won the Military Bowl. That team finished No. 18 in the final AP top 25 and will probably be in that vicinity after the 2019 season with a win over K-State.

Kansas State: The transition from Bill Snyder to Chris Klieman has been an incredibly smooth one. We could look back in five years and say KSU’s snagging of Klieman from North Dakota State was the best coaching hire of the 2018-19 offseason.

A win not only gives Klieman his first bowl triumph as Kansas State’s coach but also extends Kansas State’s bowl winning streak to three. The last time the Wildcats lost a bowl game was in Memphis in 2015. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Kansas State +2.5

Sam Cooper: Kansas State +2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Navy -2.5

Pete Thamel: Kansas State +2.5

Dan Wetzel: Navy -2.5

Sean Sullivan: Navy -2.5

Tra Barnett has rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2019 for Georgia State. (Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arizona Bowl: Wyoming (7-5) vs. Georgia State (7-5)

Location: Tucson | When: Dec. 31 (4:30 p.m.) | TV: CBSSN | Line: Wyoming -6.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Wyoming: Wyoming opened the year 3-0, including a season-opening 37-31 home win over Missouri. From there, the Cowboys won three of their next five to get to 6-2 with a 3-1 mark in Mountain West play.

But Wyoming lost starting QB Sean Chambers to a knee injury in the win over Nevada on Oct. 26. The injury to Chambers, a run-first QB, forced backup Tyler Vander Waal into action. With Vander Waal as the starter, Wyoming lost three of its last four games to finish 7-5. 

Georgia State: Georgia State found itself in the national conversation when it shockingly upset Tennessee 38-30 in Knoxville in Week 1. The win over the Vols was part of a 2-2 start, but the Panthers got to bowl eligibility early with a four-game winning streak in the month of October. From there, Georgia State closed out the regular season by losing three of four games, including a 38-10 loss to Georgia Southern. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Wyoming has a really solid defense, allowing just 17.8 points per game. That’s the 11th-best figure in the country. The Cowboys will go up against the 28th-ranked offense in the country from Georgia State in this one, so it could prove to be a pretty competitive matchup to flip to if the Sun Bowl or Liberty Bowl aren’t catching your eye. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wyoming DB Alijah Halliburton: Halliburton emerged as a first-team All-Mountain West performer in 2019 for the Cowboys. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior leads the Mountain West with 119 tackles to go with 10 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. For his career, Halliburton has 212 total tackles. 

Georgia State RB Tra Barnett: Tra Barnett ranks 12th in the country with 1,389 rushing yards on 233 carries. The first-team All-Sun Belt selection also has 12 touchdowns on the year. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound speedster is averaging 6.0 yards per carry on the year and is up to 2,092 yards and 19 scores for his career. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Wyoming LB Logan Wilson: The 6-2, 250-pound linebacker is a three-time captain and the best player on the Cowboys’ defense. Yes, he’s a tackle machine, having racked up 414 (34 for loss) over his four seasons. But Wilson is more than that, displaying the kind of soft hands in coverage — 10 career INTs, four this season — that you’d expect from a converted high-school wide receiver. He’s smart, instinctive and assignment-sound and could land in the fourth or fifth round if he plays well here and at the Senior Bowl.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Wyoming: After winning a combined six games in Craig Bohl’s first two seasons in Laramie, Wyoming can get to eight wins in three of the past four seasons with a win in this one. Wyoming is 8-8 all-time in bowl games, so a win would put the team above .500 all-time in bowl play. 

Georgia State: Georgia State began playing football in 2010 and moved up to the FBS level in 2013. Since then, the team has played in two bowl games: a loss in the 2015 Cure Bowl and a win in the 2017 Cure Bowl. Additionally, a win over Wyoming would get Georgia State to eight wins in a season for the first time. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Wyoming -6.5

Sam Cooper: Wyoming -6.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Wyoming -7.5

Pete Thamel: Wyoming -7.5

Dan Wetzel: Wyoming -7.5

Sean Sullivan: Wyoming -7.5

Utah QB Tyler Huntley (1) and RB Zack Moss (2) have been a fantastic combination. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Alamo Bowl: No. 11 Utah (11-2) vs. Texas (7-5)

Location: San Antonio | When: Dec. 31 (7:30 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Utah -7.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Utah: Do we need to relive why Utah is in San Antonio and playing on New Year’s Eve instead of playing LSU in Atlanta on Saturday?

The Utes were in position to make the College Football Playoff for the first time with a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Instead, the Ducks clobbered the Utes and relegated Utah to the Alamo Bowl against a team that’s three losses worse. If Utah is motivated for this game the Utes shouldn’t have any trouble with an underachieving Texas team with a coaching staff in flux.

Texas: The answer to the cliche “is Texas back?” question was a resounding “nah” in 2019. The Longhorns looked like a good team against LSU in Week 2 and hung around against Oklahoma in Week 7 in a 34-27 loss. 

But things went really poorly after that. Texas needed a last-second field goal to beat Kansas a week after the OU game. Then the Longhorns lost by 10 to a TCU team that ended up missing a bowl game. After beating Kansas State, Texas then lost consecutive games to Iowa State and Baylor before beating Texas Tech to avoid a 6-6 season. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

It’s New Year’s Eve and parties and socializing are overrated. Watching football is the better choice. You can have a celebratory drink, watch a college football game, get to bed before midnight and be well-rested for the games on Jan. 1 and what will hopefully be a great 2020.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Utah QB Tyler Huntley: His stats aren’t going to blow you off the page like many other QBs in 2019. But Huntley was one of the most efficient QBs in the country this season.

Huntley is 205-of-278 passing for 2,966 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2019. If you don’t want to do the math, that’s over 10 yards an attempt. As defenses worry about Utah’s stellar rushing attack, Huntley can hurt teams deep, especially to tight end Brant Kuithe. The sophomore leads the team with 523 yards and six touchdowns on just 27 catches. 

Texas WR Devin Duvernay: This is the guy you need to keep an eye on when Texas is facing a third down. Duvernay has caught 103 passes for 1,294 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Over half of those receptions have gone for first downs.

He operates out of the slot and can wriggle his way open in the middle of the field. He’s also far and away Texas’ most important receiver. No other Longhorn player has more than 35 catches in 2019. With No. 2 receiver Collin Johnson expected to be healthy for Tuesday’s game, Duvernay could have plenty of space to work with behind Utah’s linebackers.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Utah RB Zack Moss: We’re big fans of Moss, who capped off his third 1,000-yard rushing season for the Utes, despite having suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2018. Separating himself in a loaded RB class is going to be a chore. But Moss — the cousin of former NFL receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss — has excellent burst, terrific vision and a vicious jump cut to get to where he needs to go. Despite Moss’ injury history, he’s playing in this game. We think he ultimately lands in the second or third round.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Utah: The Utes have already won 11 games for the first time since that famous 13-0 season in 2008. A 12-win season just adds to how great Utah has been — albeit with a bittersweet taste of missing the playoff.

Utah’s Holiday Bowl loss last season was the first time the school had lost a bowl game since the Maaco Bowl in 2010. Coach Kyle Whittingham is a remarkable 11-2 in bowl games since taking over for Urban Meyer at the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.

Texas: A win for Texas runs Tom Herman’s bowl record with the Longhorns to 3-0 and avoids a second 7-6 season in three years. It also gives Texas just its second eight-win season since Mack Brown went 8-5 in 2013, his final season with the Longhorns. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Utah -7.5

Sam Cooper: Utah -7.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Utah -7

Pete Thamel: Utah -7

Dan Wetzel: Utah -7

Sean Sullivan: Utah -7

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