The 2016 Bowl season kicks off this weekend and what better way to get it started than by breaking down the games. The first SEC game isn’t until the day after Christmas when Vandy plays NC State so we will have to sit through some mediocre games featuring Conference USA and other smaller conferences until the big boys play in the larger bowls around the holidays.
Vanderbilt is a 4.5 point underdog against NC State in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana
Vanderbilt and NC State’s seasons have mirrored each other. Both won games they probably shouldn’t have and then lost some they shouldn’t have. When you look at them you notice that both started strong then stumbled down the stretch but finished with big wins over rival in-state programs.
NC State won a game in a monsoon against Notre Dame early in the season. Had it been played in regular conditions the Fighting Irish probably would’ve won. The Wolfpack lost in OT to Clemson in a game that could’ve done wonders for recruiting and their entire program but they couldn’t finish against the top 5 juggernaut. NC State also beat their rivals, North Carolina on the road to get bowl eligible. The Wolfpack should’ve defeated a mediocre Boston College team at home late in the year but came up short in the fourth quarter.
The Commodores defeated Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee in conference play but lost close games to Kentucky, Florida and Auburn that could’ve put them in the SEC Conference Game had they won. The SEC East was wide open this year but Vanderbilt couldn’t capitalize against a bunch of mediocre teams to make their first ever Conference Championship Appearance.
I think that Vanderbilt has the better team and is peaking at the right time. With two double digit wins against Ole Miss and Tennessee to close out the season the Commodores have their offense finally clicking on all cylinders. Running back Ralph Webb will be back to 100% after playing injured for the last few games. Sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur found his rhythm in the last two games and threw for almost 700 yards and 4 TDs against the Rebels and Vols. Shurmur is the son of Vikings offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur and has the size and arm that NFL scouts love.
The Commodore defense has also been pretty stout for most of the season. Linebacker Zach Cunningham is a consensus All-American who will likely be playing in his last game so you know he will be showing out. Their secondary can be suspect and NC State QB Ryan Finley has put up some big games this year. But if the Vanderbilt defensive line can cause problems up front it could be a long day for Finley and the Wolfpack offense. Vandy head coach Derek Mason is thought to be a defensive genius and if he has a month to prepare he should be able to come up with a gameplan to shut down NC State’s offense.
The Wolfpack defensive line has been tough all year as Bradley Chubb and B.J. Hill have terrorized ACC offensive lines since September. Vandy’s offensive line has been hit or miss all year and you never know what you are going to get out of them. As long as Shurmur has time to get the ball out he could have his third big game in a row.
I think Vanderbilt gets the win and is the better team. The Commodores were competitive in the SEC which is a better conference than the ACC. Giving Vanderbilt 4.5 points is way too many, especially when they have better players. Take the Dores plus the points and Santa will bring you some free money on the day after Christmas.