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NCAA College Football Bowl Preview — Dec. 24-30

NC Tar Heels
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

With the holidays comes the second week of the bowl season. This coming week features a lot of intriguing matchups, with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in action, along with several big name teams who struggled through disappointing seasons. Here’s are all the info you need to know for the next week in college football.

SHERATON HAWAII BOWL: #21 Southern Miss (11-2) vs. Nevada (7-5)

[Saturday, Dec. 24 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Its last time out, Southern Miss scored one of the biggest upsets of the season, knocking off undefeated Houston in the Conference USA title game. They’ll look to build on that momentum and send coach Larry Fedora, who has accepted the North Carolina head coaching job but will be coaching the Golden Eagles in this bowl game, out a winner. A Southern Miss win would give the Golden Eagles the first 12-win season in school history.

This game could feature a lot of offense, as both teams rank in the top 13 nationally in total offense and top 30 in scoring. The Wolfpack ranks ninth in the nation in rushing, and this game will likely hinge on Nevada’s ability to run against a Southern Miss defense that has given up less than 113 rushing yards per game this season.

ADVOCARE V100 INDEPENDENCE BOWL: Missouri (7-5) vs. North Carolina (7-5)

[Monday, Dec. 26 at 5:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

These are two teams in transition who are looking to set the stage for next year. The Tigers closed out the season with three straight wins to earn a bowl bid in their final game as a member of the Big 12. After a rough final month (leading rusher Henry Josey going down with a knee injury, head coach Gary Pinkel getting arrested on a DUI), Mizzou is looking to end on a positive note before heading to the SEC next year. The Tigers defense has been suspect this year, but the offense ranks 12th nationally in total yards. They certainly have more weapons on offense than North Carolina, but they have underachieved at times this season and will need a complete effort against a young, but solid, Tarheels squad.

After former coach Butch Davis was fired just a month before the season began, many Tar Heel faithful questioned the ability of the young team to respond. And while there were certainly some speed bumps, a lot of credit goes to interim coach Everett Withers for keeping the team focused. Although the Heels lost four of their final six games, they still made a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season, the longest such run for UNC since 1992-98. The Heels will be without top receiver Dwight Jones in this game due to an NCAA suspension.

LITTLE CAESARS BOWL: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

[Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 4:30 PM ET on ESPN]

Four years ago, Purdue won a 51-48 shootout against Central Michigan in this game. This year, the Boilermakers will need a stronger defensive effort if they want to secure their first winning season since 2007. Purdue, which ranks 66th nationally in scoring defense and 68th in total defense, will look to slow down a potent Western Michigan aerial attack led by Broncos receiver Jordan White, who leads the nation in catches (127) and receiving yards (1,646). In his last four games, White has scored nine touchdowns and averaged over 163 yards per game.

Western Michigan has lost six straight to Big Ten opponents and is looking for its first bowl win in school history (0-4 all-time).

BELK BOWL: Louisville (7-5) vs. North Carolina State (7-5)

[Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

North Carolina State was one of the more Jekyll-and-Hyde teams down the stretch, dropping a late-season game to 4-8 Boston College before regrouping the next week to knock off then-#7 Clemson the week before Thanksgiving to become bowl eligible. This week, we’ll see which Wolfpack team shows up to play a Louisville team that lost four of its first six, but then closed with wins in five of its last six games after making a change at offensive coordinator.

Despite its recent success, Louisville ranks 103rd in the nation in scoring and 104th in total offense. However, the Cardinals, who start 10 freshmen, have found success under quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who set the school record for passing by a freshman. However, he will have his work cut out for him against a Wolfpack defense that led the nation in interceptions.

MILITARY BOWL-PRESENTED BY NORTHROP GRUMMAN: Toledo (8-4) vs. Air Force (7-5)

[Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 4:30 PM ET on ESPN]

If you like offense, this could be the game for you. Air Force put up 45 points in each of its final two games, while Toledo averaged an FBS-best 53.8 points per game during the month of November. With both team defenses giving up over 27 points a game this season, this could be a shootout. Air Force lives and dies by the run, utilizing the triple option to rank second in the nation in rushing. Toledo, on the other hand, features a more balanced attack that ranks 16th in rushing and 30th in passing. With the Falcons’ reliance on the run, this game could be decided by Toledo’s rushing defense, which has given up an average of just 123 yards per game this season.

Air Force had high hopes this year, but was hampered by a rash of injuries. Still, this is the first time in school history the Falcons have won seven or more games in five straight years. On the other side, the Rockets will be without former head coach Tim Beckman, who resigned to take the head job at Illinois. However, don’t expect an emotional letdown from Toledo as Matt Campbell, the architect of the Rockets’ high-powered offense, has been promoted to head coach.

BRIDGEPOINT EDUCATION HOLIDAY BOWL: #24 Texas (7-5) vs. California (7-5)

[Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Texas lost three of its last four coming into bowl season and, after missing the postseason last year for the first time in 12 years, is desperately looking to end the season on a high note. California, meanwhile, is riding high after winning three of its last four and nearly pulling off an upset of then-#9 Stanford. Texas offense continues to sputter (59th in the nation in scoring) as two quarterbacks — David Ash and Case McCoy — continue to split time without either really having much of an impact. The two have combined for just 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. On the other side, since a horrific four-interception game against UCLA in late October, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard has thrown for 763 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception in his last four games. He is complemented by running back Isi Sofele, who has averaged 142.3 yards per game over that same stretch.

There is some bad blood in this matchup, at least on one side. Cal fans still haven’t forgotten how, in 2004, Texas coach Mack Brown successfully lobbied poll voters to move Texas ahead of Cal in the final poll for a spot in the Rose Bowl, costing the Bears what would have been their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1959.

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL: Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)

[Thursday, Dec. 29 at 5:30 PM ET on ESPN]

Two of the most storied programs in history will match up in a game that features two teams who had much higher expectations than an 8-4 showing. Florida State was ranked as high as #5 before dropping three straight games following an injury to quarterback E.J. Manuel. And while a five-game win streak in mid-season and a season-closing win over archrival Florida were causes for celebration, Seminoles fans were thinking BCS, not Champs Sports.

Hopes were equally high for the Fighting Irish coming into this season, but an 0-2 start quickly threw some cold water on that enthusiasm. Aside from a September upset of then-#15 Michigan State, Notre Dame has continued to underachieve this season, scoring wins over largely mismatched opponents while never really being competitive in losses to USC and Stanford.

The bright spot for the Seminoles has been the defense, which ranks fourth in the nation in scoring and second in rushing, has thrown two shutouts and has given up more than 19 points just twice this season. That should pose quite a challenge to a Notre Dame offense without leading scorer, running back Jonas Gray (12 touchdowns before going down with a knee injury), and inconsistent quarterback play (quarterback Tommy Rees was benched in the Irish’s season-ending loss to Stanford).

VALERO ALAMO BOWL: #12 Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5)

[Thursday, Dec. 29 at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III will look to add to his legacy (he already holds 46 different school records) and give the Bears their first bowl win since 1992. With 3,998 passing yards to go with 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions, Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency in a single season (192.3), an NCAA record. RG3 has also added 644 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. The Bears rank second in the nation in total offense and third in scoring.

That certainly does not appear to be a favorable matchup for a Washington defense that ranks 94th in total defense and 99th in scoring. It certainly appears that for the Huskies to have a shot they’ll have to get it done on offense going against a Bears defense that ranks 114th in the nation. Quarterback Keith Price set a school record this year with 29 touchdown passes and has the luxury of a solid running game led by Chris Polk, who has rushed for over 1,300 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.

A Baylor win would give the Bears their first 10-win season since 1980.

BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL: Brigham Young (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4)

[Friday, Dec. 30 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

After dropping two of its first three games, BYU has been on a tear, winning eight of its last nine and scoring 40 or more points in its last three games. Despite those impressive offensive numbers of late, the Cougars are led by their defense, which ranks 17th nationally in total defense, seventh in pass defense and 23rd in scoring. That should pose quite a challenge to a Tulsa offense that has averaged over 34 points per game.

The Golden Hurricane offense is led by fifth-year senior quarterback G.J. Kinne, who has thrown for 2,876 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season. He is complemented by a running back tandem of Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts that has combined for over 1,700 yards on the ground. Tulsa’s four losses this season were all to teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston).

NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6)

[Friday, Dec. 30 at 3:20 PM ET on ESPN]

After pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the college football season over then-#2 Oklahoma State, Iowa State lost their final two games of the season to fall to .500. This week, the Cyclones will look to get a win and secure just their second winning season in the last six years. ISU is led by freshman quarterback Jared Barnett. Since taking over the starting job in late October, Barnett has thrown for 1,178 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions, while also running for 435 yards and a touchdown. In the upset of Oklahoma State, he accounted for 460 total yards and three touchdowns.

Rutgers will likely have to get the job done on defense. The Scarlet Knights rely on a defensive unit that ranks 14th in the nation in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. They’ll need to get the job done to compensate for an anemic offense that 115th in rushing and 100th in total offense. The one bright spot has been star wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who set a Big East record with 109 receptions this year.

FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL: Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

[Friday, Dec. 30 at 6:40 PM ET on ESPN]

Wake Forest was thinking about a potential ACC title after starting the season 5-2. But after losing four of their last five games, the Demon Deacons were lucky to even make a bowl game. You almost have to wonder how Wake Forest finds itself in this position, with the 76th-ranked offense and 69th-ranked defense. However, expect a solid effort out of the Demon Deacons, who are making their first postseason appearance in three years. Wake has won three straight bowl games, and six of its last seven.

Mississippi State has proven equally strong in the postseason, winning its last four bowl games. The Bulldogs offense has been woeful this year, ranking 87th nationally, but is bolstered by a defense that has given up fewer than 20 points per game this season. This marks Mississippi State’s first back-to-back bowl seasons since 1999-2000.

INSIGHT BOWL: #14 Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5)

[Friday, Dec. 30 at 10:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Already a heavy underdog to Oklahoma, what little chance Iowa had of pulling off an upset likely went out the window this week when star running back Marcus Coker was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Coker was the Big Ten’s second-leading rusher with 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Iowa still has a home run threat in wide receiver Marvin McNutt (a school-record 1,269 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns this year). But without Coker (the next most experienced back has just 18 carries for 79 yards), it is difficult to see Iowa’s offense having much success against the Sooners.

On the other side, Oklahoma was the preseason #1 team but were knocked out of BCS contention by a combination of upsets and injuries (leading rusher Dominique Whaley and all-time receiver Ryan Broyles were both lost with season-ending leg injuries). Despite those setbacks, the Sooners’ offense still proved to be plenty potent, ranking fourth nationally in both passing yards and total offense and 10th in scoring. However, this was not a vintage OU defense. During the Sooners’ 3-3 finish, they gave up an average of 449.2 and 29.7 points per game.

 

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