This Week’s College Football Bowl Games — What to Watch For
What says "happy holidays" more than ignoring your family so you can bask in the warm glow of a football game between two teams you don't know anything about and haven't seen play since, well, last bowl season? Here all the highlights from this week's slate of college football bowl games.
[All times Eastern.]
R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL: East Carolina (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
[Saturday, Dec. 22, at 12 p.m. on ESPN]
The Ragin’ Cajuns come into this game riding a three-game winning streak and are seeking their second consecutive nine-win season. However, they’ll be tested by an East Carolina squad that has also won three straight and is looking to go out on a high note after failing to make a bowl game last year for the first time in six seasons. East Carolina ranks just 108th nationally in pass defense and could struggle against ULL quarterback Terrance Broadway, who has already accounted for 3,187 total yards this season and needs just 258 to set the school record for total offense. Louisiana-Lafayette has won six of 10 all-time meetings with the Pirates, but the schools have not met since 1990.
MAACO BOWL LAS VEGAS: Washington (7-5) vs. #19 Boise State (10-2)
[Saturday, Dec. 22, at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN]
Boise State might not have put up the gaudy offensive numbers were used to seeing from past Broncos squads, but they’ve made up for it on the other side of the ball where Boise ranks in the top ten nationally in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. It could be a tough day for Washington’s offense, which ranks 101st in total offense and 92nd in scoring. A key in this game will be Washington’s mental state after blowing an 18-point fourth quarter lead against archrival (and 3-9) Washington State. This is first of back-to-back meetings between these two, as Washington will host the Broncos at Husky Stadium to open the 2013 season on August 31.
SHERATON HAWAII BOWL: Fresno State (9-3) vs. Southern Methodist (6-6)
[Monday, Dec. 24, at 8 p.m. on ESPN]
A year after going 4-9, Fresno State is hoping to close out this season with a sixth consecutive win that would give the Bulldogs their best season since 2001. In its first year in the Mountain West this season, Fresno won its first conference title since 1999. Led by quarterback Derek Carr (3,742 yards, 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions), the Bulldogs offense ranks 12th nationally in both passing offense and scoring. That doesn’t bode well for a Mustangs defense that is giving up over 271 passing yards per game (106th nationally). SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who transferred from Texas, will be making his first bowl game appearance since stepping in for an injured Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS national championship game.
LITTLE CAESARS BOWL: Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
[Wednesday, Dec. 26, at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN]
Western Kentucky comes into its first-ever bowl game after back-to-back 7-5 seasons. The Hilltoppers are led by a stout defense that led the Sun Belt Conference in sacks and is 12th nationally in tackles for loss. However, Western Kentucky, which ranks 33rd in rush defense, will be challenged by Central Michigan running back Zurlon Tipton, who is averaging 6.1 yards per carry (1,391 yards this season) and needs just one touchdown to tie the school record. The Hilltoppers will be without head coach Willie Taggert, who recently accepted the job at South Florida. Western Kentucky recently announced the hiring of former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino as the new head man.
MILITARY BOWL-PRESENTED BY NORTHROP GRUMMAN: #24 San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
[Thursday, Dec. 27, at 3 p.m. on ESPN]
San Jose State has already won ten games in a year for the first time since 1987. Now, the Spartans will try to get their elusive eleventh win for the first time since going undefeated in 1939. San Jose State is led by the potent aerial attack of junior quarterback David Fales, who has completed over 72 percent of his passes this year for 3,798 yards (seventh in the nation) and 31 touchdowns. This week, he’ll go against a Bowling Green defense that ranks seventh nationally in pass defense. The Spartans rank just 104th nationally in rushing so, if the Bowling Green defense can limit Fales success in the passing game, the Falcons could pull off the upset. The Spartans will be without head coach Mike MacIntyre, who has taken the Colorado job.
BELK BOWL: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)
[Thursday, Dec. 27, at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN]
Duke closed the season with four consecutive losses to finish 6-6, but the season is still a step in the right direction for a Blue Devils squad that had not made a bowl game since 1994 and had gone 37-158 between 1995 and 2011. However, they could face a tough task in seeking their first bowl win since 1960. During its current four-game losing streak, Duke’s defense has given up an average of 593.3 yards and 49.5 points per game. That doesn’t bode well against a Cincinnati offense that has scored 27+ nine times this season. Since taking over the starting job in early November, Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay has accounted for 1,170 total yards and eight touchdowns. The Bearcats will be without head coach Butch Jones, who was recently announced as the new head coach at Tennessee.
BRIDGEPOINT EDUCATION HOLIDAY BOWL: Baylor (7-5) vs. #17 UCLA (9-4)
[Thursday, Dec. 27, at 9:45 p.m. on ESPN]
Last year, Baylor was part of the highest-scoring bowl game in history (67-56 win over Washington), and this year could give us similar offensive fireworks. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence leads the nation in total yards and heads up a Bears offense that is first in the nation in total offense and fifth in scoring. However, they could be tested by a UCLA offense that averaged 42.8 points per game during a five-game winning streak before closing the season with two consecutive losses to #8 Stanford. Baylor is next-to-last in the nation in total defense, giving up 513.9 yards per game. So the Bruins offense should be able to put up some big numbers. But will they be enough? The Bears closed the season on a three-game winning streak that included victories over then-#1 Kansas State and then-#24 Oklahoma State to secure the Bears’ third-consecutive seven-win season (a first since 1949-51) and third straight bowl game (first time in school history).
ADVOCARE V100 INDEPENDENCE BOWL: Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)
[Friday, Dec. 28, at 2 p.m. on ESPN]
Ohio started the season 7-0 and many national experts thought they could be this year’s BCS buster. But the Bobcats stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their final five games and falling out of MAC contention. Now they’ll look to rebound against a Warhawks squad appearing in its first-ever bowl game. ULM quarterback Kolton Browning has already accounted for 3,271 total yards and 34 touchdowns this year, despite missing the last two games with a foot injury. He is expected to return for the bowl game and should find success against a Bobcat defense that has given up 965 yards and 80 points in its last two games. Ohio will attempt to counter with running back Beau Blankenship, who has rushed for a school-record 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL: Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
[Friday, Dec. 28, at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN]
Rutgers ranks 98th in scoring and 102nd in total offense, so its quest for a nation’s-best eighth straight bowl win and the third ten-win season in school history will rest squarely on the shoulders of the defense that has carried it most of this season. The Scarlet Knights rank sixth nationally in scoring defense and 14th in total defense. However, they could be tested by Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas who has accounted for 3,094 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. But Virginia Tech was 0-5 this season when Thomas threw more than one interception, and Rutgers recorded 16 picks this year, good for 17th nationally. This is the Hokies’ 20th straight bowl game, but they will finish this year with their worst record since going 2-8-1 in 1992.
MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS: Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
[Friday, Dec. 28, at 9 p.m. on ESPN]
Texas Tech ranks second nationally in passing offense and is in the top 20 in both total offense and scoring offense. Minnesota ranks 11th nationally in pass defense and will need to have its best game of the year if the Gophers hope to pull out a win. Minnesota’s offense has been atrocious this year, ranking 106th or worse in passing offense, total offense and scoring. The Gophers opened the season 4-0, but were held to 17 points or fewer in seven of their last eight games. However, this could be Minnesota’s breakout game as they go against a Texas Tech squad that lost four of its last five and gave up over 47 points pre game in the second half of the season. The Red Raiders will be without coach Tommy Tuberville, who abruptly left earlier this month to take the Cincinnati job.