The final college football game of the calendar year is set as Texas A&M and NC State will battle it out on New Year's Eve in Jacksonville. The last time we saw the Aggies, they were coming out on the winning end of the seven-overtime thriller against LSU that was undoubtedly the game of the year. NC State manhandled East Carolina on their season-closing game back on Dec. 1 in a game that was rescheduled from earlier in the year.
Who will prevail on Saturday in Jacksonville? That remains the seen, but plenty is on the line in the Gator Bowl, including a significant amount of momentum entering the new year, particularly for Texas A&M if it can continue the SEC's bowl-season domination. Let's break down the game and make a pick.
Event: TaxSlayer Bowl
Date: Monday, Dec. 31 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: TIAA Bank Field -- Jacksonville, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN
Texas A&M: The Aggies finished strong in coach Jimbo Fisher's first year with the program, closing with three straight wins including that 74-72, seven-OT thriller. The Aggies are led by running back Trayveon Williams, who finished the season as the SEC's most prolific rusher with 127 yards per game and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Kellen Mond has topped the 200-yard mark through the air in seven of the lat eight games, throwing 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions in November.
The rush defense for the Aggies has been stellar under first-year coordinator Mike Elko. They finished the regular season second in the nation at 92 yards per game and are led by veterans Kingsley Keke and Landis Durham. The back end of the defense is the polar opposite. The Aggies have given up an SEC-worst 262.7 yards per game and 27 passing plays of 30 or more yards.
NC State: Quarterback Ryan Finley is garnering plenty of NFL draft buzz, and there's a very good reason for it. The senior leads the ACC with 315.8 passing yards per game and is tied for third nationally with 60 passes of 20 or more yards. Leading receiver Kelvin Harmon decided to skip the bowl game to prepare for his future on Sundays, which will put a ton of pressure on Jakobi Meyers, Emeka Emezie and the rest of the receiving corps.
Despite massive turnovers along the defensive line, the Wolfpack were able to finish second in the ACC in rush defense at 109.08 yards per game and have only given up two rushing plays of 30 or more yards all season. First-team All-ACC linebacker Germaine Pratt leads the way with 104 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Like Texas A&M, though, NC State has been torched through the air. It's given up 271.2 passing yards per game -- the worst mark in the conference.
Game prediction, picks
As far as matchups go, this game is dripping with intrigue. I expect both offenses to exploit weaknesses of the opposing defenses, and Finley to have the last laugh. In a game that I expect to be a shootout, it comes down to which quarterback is more trustworthy. Finley has consistently proven that he has what it takes to finish off his career with a big game and a win over the Aggies. Pick: NC State (+7)
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