Liberty, Holiday bowl line, prediction: Take Mississippi, UCLA

VSiN’s college football expert dives into two of Tuesday’s higher-profile bowl games.

Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State (-10, 58.5)

This matchup might have been more interesting a decade ago, when it was not long after Mike Leach was forced out at Texas Tech under controversial circumstances. Most have likely forgotten — though, from what we gather, Leach hasn’t. That creates an interesting dimension to the handicap of the Liberty Bowl in front of the pro-MSU crowd that would like to see the Bulldogs run up a score no matter the foe.

It was an especially disjointed campaign in Lubbock. A coaching switch happened midseason, when Matt Wells was dismissed in late October and OC Sonny Cumbie was promoted in the interim, after which Tech went only 1-3 SU (the win was a doozy against Iowa State). Cumbie has parlayed this audition into a new upcoming HC gig at Louisiana Tech, which begins after this game, with Baylor aide Joey McGuire moving in thereafter at Lubbock. Got all of that?

The Red Raiders also have some other obstacles to overcome here. Tech ran through three starting quarterbacks, thanks mainly to Oregon transfer Tyler Shough breaking his collarbone in September. Frosh Donovan Smith was able to provide an occasional spark, and did pass for 322 yards and three touchdowns in the upset of the Cyclones, but had a deer-in-the-headlights look the next week vs. Oklahoma State when completing only 9-of-29 passes for a mere 83 yards.

Leach’s MSU seemed to figure out a lot by the end of the season when it went 5-0 ATS before a tough Egg Bowl loss vs. No. 8 Mississippi.

Of course, anyone who follows the SEC knows of QB Will Rogers, who was throwing 60 or more passes per game before Leach begrudgingly began to balance the offense, though, in truth, many of the Rogers dinks take the place of runs. Rogers also completed a staggering 75 percent of his throws for 4,449 yards and 35 touchdowns … not quite Bailey Zappe-like stuff, but probably more than the Red Raiders can handle.

Pick: Mississippi State, -10.5.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson
AP

Holiday Bowl: NC State (-2, 59.5) vs. UCLA

Bowls and the Bruins haven’t happened since the pre-Chip Kelly days of 2017, which is apparently why UCLA is uncommonly excited for the bid to the Holiday, played this year at the home of the Padres, Petco Park, and the first postseason experience for almost the entirety of the roster. How excited? As of late this week, no Bruins have opted out in prep for the NFL draft; the only expected absence is injured DT Otito Ogbonnia. It might also have some meaning for Kelly, who is in line for a contract extension that will be an easier sell with another high-profile win (earlier successes vs. lesser LSU and USC editions this season might not qualify).

UCLA must deal with the unreal efficiency of Wolfpack QB Devin Leary (35 TD passes vs. just five picks!) and big-play RB Bam Knight, who doubles as a return specialist and brought back kickoffs for touchdowns in back-to-back games this year. NC State, however, did most of its business within a lesser ACC, and its one challenge outside the loop resulted in a 24-10 beatdown administered by Mike Leach’s Mississippi State.

Meanwhile, the Bruins hit overdrive at the end of the season, outscoring Colorado, USC and Cal 138-47 across the last 10 quarters of the campaign. A real running game led by Michigan transfer Zac Charbonnet (1,137 rushing yards) has a home run dimension, and playmaker QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for 30 touchdowns via pass and run this season.

Pick: UCLA,+ 2.