By Brad Carroll
As we all wait patiently for the first ever College Football Playoff to take place, there are still plenty of bowl games to keep us interested before that historic moment plays out. There's a three-pack of bowl games Friday to grab your attention, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, featuring Illinois at Louisiana Tech, the Quick Lane Bowl, between North Carolina and Rutgers, and the St. Petersburg Bowl, with NC State playing Central Florida.
We preview both of those games and our college football experts pick each against the spread. Follow all of our picks and more on Twitter here.
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Heart of Dallas Bowl
Dallas, 1 p.m., ESPN
Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)
The Spread: Illinois +6; Louisiana Tech -6
Brad's Breakdown: Illinois got impressive victories over Penn State and Northwestern the last two weeks of the regular season to clinch its first bowl appearance since 2011. Louisiana Tech won the Conference USA West division and then came up just short in the conference title game against Marshall, losing by three on a late touchdown. It didn't help that six Louisiana Tech players, including five starters, were deemed academically ineligible to play in that game and this game against Illinois. The Bulldogs have a ball-hawking defense and a high-scoring offense. The defense has forced 40 turnovers in 13 games, including 31 in the past eight games alone. The Bulldogs are ranked 12th in the nation in scoring 37.5 points per game. Illinois is minus nine in scoring differential, the worst of all teams playing in a bowl game. The Illini score 26.6 points per game and allow 33.9 per game on defense. Illinois is peaking at the right time, but Louisiana Tech should have no problem putting up points on the Illini's porous defense.
Brad's Score: Louisiana Tech 44, Illinois 24
Craig's Score: Louisiana Tech 48, Illinois 28
Glenn's Score: Louisiana Tech 56, Illinois 24
Matt's Score: Illinois 28, Louisiana Tech 27 (upset pick)
Quick Lane Bowl
Detroit, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Rutgers (7-5) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
The Spread: Rutgers +3; North Carolina -3
Brad's Breakdown: Both programs allow more than 30 points per game on defense, so this could be a high-scoring affair in Detroit. Rutgers had a solid first season in the Big Ten, better than most expected by winning three of its eight conference games. The Scarlet Knights beat Michigan, Indiana and Maryland. Rutgers has trouble scoring on offense, however, averaging just 25.6 points per game, which could help North Carolina's defense that averages 38.9 points per game allowed. The Tar Heels have one of the worst defenses in football, but they have rebounded to win four of their last six games this season. They need a win here, however, to avoid an under-.500 season. The difference with these two programs is offense, which is something North Carolina can brag about. The Tar Heels average 34.3 points per game, 33rd in the nation. There should be a ton of scoring, and North Carolina will do more of it.
Brad's Score: North Carolina 56, Rutgers 42
Craig's Score: North Carolina 30, Rutgers 17
Glenn's Score: North Carolina 28, Rutgers 24
Matt's Score: North Carolina 42, Rutgers 21
St. Petersburg Bowl
Saint Petersburg, Florida, 8 p.m., ESPN
NC State (7-5) vs. Central Florida (9-3)
The Spread: NC State +2; Central Florida -2
Brad's Breakdown: A year ago, Central Florida got a huge performance from quarterback Blake Bortles in a huge upset of then-No. 6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. Bortles is gone to the NFL and the Knights, despite winning its second straight American Athletic Conference title, couldn't capitalize on that great win and will settle for the St. Petersburg Bowl against NC State. Having to play an ACC school could be all the motivation UCF needs, however, to get another big performance. After opening with two straight losses, UCF won nine of its last 10 games and the last four in a row. The Knights don't do much scoring, averaging 28.2 points per game, but have one of the nation's top defenses, allowing just 17.9 points per game, eighth best. They also have the third-ranked defense overall and are ranked fifth in rush defense. NC State won seven games this season after winning just three last year. The Wolfpack beat Wake Forest and North Carolina the last two weeks to become bowl eligible. NC State won those games with a rushing attack that totaled 362 against the Deacons and 388 against the Heels. The Wolfpack will find the going tough on the ground against the Knights.
Brad's Score: UCF 33, NC State 28
Craig's Score: UCF 27, NC State 24
Glenn's Score: UCF 35, NC State 24
Matt's Score: UCF 17, NC State 14