It’s the most wonderful time of the year but also the most bittersweet time of the year for diehard college football fans like me. Beginning on Thursday, December 19th there is a football game (college or pro) every day until January 4th. Bowl season is always fun because with all the coaching changes & a whole month to prepare, you never know how the games will turn out.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl – University Stadium (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 2pm
(6-6) Arizona Wildcats v. (7-5) New Mexico Lobos
A year after winning the Pac-12 South title, the Wildcats took a bit of a step back with a 6-6 record but they were playing in one of the most competitive divisions in all of college football. Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez flirted with South Carolina before turning them down to return to Tucson so it will be interesting to see how focused on this bowl game he actually is. As for the Lobos, this is their first trip to a bowl game since 2006 when they played in this bowl game and lost 20-12 to San Jose State. Believe it or not, New Mexico is looking for their first bowl victory since the 1961 Aviation Bowl in Dayton, Ohio, when they defeated at the time not even division 1 Western Michigan. There aren’t enough words to describe how good of a job Bob Davie has done in year 5 at New Mexico to get them bowl eligible.
Player to Watch: New Mexico running back Jhurell Pressley – Fresh off of a 170-yard, 3 touchdown performance, Pressley is the key cog to the Lobos offense.
Bradley’s Pick: Arizona Wildcats
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl – Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas, Nevada) 3:30pm
(9-3) BYU Cougars v. (9-3) Utah Utes
It’s not every day that you get a bowl game matchup of two bitter rivals like this one. The Holy War will get a very interesting new chapter written in 2015 right in the heart of Sin City. Let’s start from the top, Utah had one of the best years in program history this season as they were in the lead for the Pac-12 South Division title for most of the year until they hit a few snags in November. BYU, while still flapping in the Independence wind, managed to go 9-3 after their starting quarterback Taysom Hill went down with another season-ending injury in Week 1. Next up on the agenda is the fact that these two hated in-state rivals haven’t played since September of 2013 when BYU edged Utah 20-13 in Provo. Then there is the fact that this will be Cougars Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s final game with BYU as he is already slated to be the next Virginia Cavaliers Head Coach and oh yeah, one of the leading candidates for the job….Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham. We’ve hit the jackpot on great bowl games with this one.
Player to Watch: BYU wide receiver Mitch Mathews – The 6-foot-6 Mathews is quarterback Tanner Mangum’s favorite target & it is going to to be fun to see him go up against a suspect defensive secondary.
Bradley’s Pick: Utah Utes
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl – Cramton Bowl (Montgomery, Alabama) 5:30pm
(8-4) Ohio Bobcats v. (10-2) Appalachian State Mountaineers
The Bobcats were one of the 6-6 teams that didn’t get invited to a bowl games in 2014 but this year they have the distinct pleasure are playing in the Camellia Bowl down in Montgomery, Alabama, against one of the better Gang of Five teams in the country in Appalachian State. Ohio started the season strong but finished the season 3-3 in their final six games. Appalachian State will be looking for their first FBS bowl victory in 2015 when they take on the Ohio Bobcats and so far this season the Mountaineers have only lost to the number one ranked team in the land (Clemson) and the eventual Sun Belt Champions (Arkansas State). Everyone knows who Appalachian State is due to that win against Michigan a while back but getting a bowl win in year two of being an FBS team will legitimize them as a potential bracket buster in the future.
Player to Watch: Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb – The Georgia native has taken his talents to the mountains & flourished. Lamb has thrown 29 touchdowns this season and he’s only a sophomore.
Bradley’s Pick: Appalachian State Mountaineers
Autonation Cure Bowl – Citrus Bowl (Orlando, Florida) 7pm
(5-7) San Jose State Spartans v. (6-6) Georgia State Panthers
Year three in Georgia State’s young existence has turned out to be a success with the Panthers earning by far the most wins in a season in school history with 6 and their first bowl bid. Three of their six wins came on the road, the last of which was a huge 34-7 rivalry win over Georgia Southern in Statesboro. Somewhere former head coach Bill Curry is smiling & I’ll bet he’ll be in Orlando for the Panthers first bowl appearance. The Spartans are one of the fortunate teams to earn a bowl bid despite only going 5-7 this season. San Jose State failed to win back-t0-back games in 2015 but earned a bowl berth based on their graduations rates. Despite all of that, this will be a competitive game between the Spartans & Panthers.
Player to Watch: Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle – The senior from California threw for over 4,000 yards this season to lead the Panthers to their first ever bowl game & has a gunslinger mentality but rarely makes big mistakes; two qualities that rarely occupy the same player.
Bradley’s Pick: Georgia State Panthers
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Mercedez-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana) 9pm
(9-3) Arkansas State Red Wolves v. (8-4) Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
The season started on a sour note for Arkansas State with a 1-3 record with losses against USC, Missouri & Toledo but they finished it on an eight game winning streak on their way to the Sun Belt Championship. The Red Wolves dodged Georgia Southern in conference play but defeated conference powers UL-Lafayette & Appalachian State by 10 & 13 points respectively. Louisiana Tech really had a great season. Their four losses could have just as easily been four wins, three of which came on the road. The Bulldogs suffered narrow defeats at the hands of Western Kentucky, Kansas State, Mississippi State & eventual division champion Southern Miss. Besides those four games, LaTech handled their eight wins with ease for the most part. This will be an interesting game of matchups.
Player to Watch: Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel – The Florida transfer has accounted for 29 touchdowns in his senior season & has provided the perfect dual threat skill set for Skip Holtz’s offense.
Bradley’s Pick: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Miami Beach Bowl – Marlins Park (Miami, Florida) 2:30pm
(11-2) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers v. (8-4) South Florida Bulls
The Hilltoppers & Bulls have a tough act to follow after last season’s thriller on South Beach between BYU & Memphis. Hopefully tempers won’t flare towards the end but I expect the action on the field to be just as good between two of the hottest Gang of Five teams in the country. Western Kentucky entered the season as one of the potential teams to earn a New Year’s Six bowl bid but losses to Indiana & LSU thwarted those plans. The Hilltoppers still finished the season on a five game winning streak that included a Conference USA Championship Game win over Southern Miss. South Florida began the season 1-3 (losses to Florida State, Maryland & Memphis) but then proceeded to go 9-1 in their final ten games and were just one Temple loss from the AAC Championship Game. These were two of the hottest teams in the country to finish the season and hopefully that momentum will travel with them down to South Beach for the bowl game.
Player to Watch: WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty – If you find another quarterback who has thrown for more yards and touchdowns in the last two seasons, point them out because I haven’t seen any. (9,424 yards, 94 touchdowns & only 17 interceptions)
Bradley’s Pick: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Albertsons Stadium (Boise, Idaho) 3:30pm
(7-5) Akron Zips v. (6-6) Utah State Aggies
Zips Head Coach Terry Bowden has gotten Akron bowl eligible for the first time since he arrived in Akron but only the second bowl berth for the Akron Zips in their 28 year FBS history. Their one and only bowl game was a 38-31 loss to Memphis in the 2005 Motor City Bowl. This season they’ll be traveling to Boise, Idaho, to take on the Utah State Aggies on the blue carpet of Albertsons Stadium, formerly known as Bronco Stadium. Akron did finish the season on a four game winning streak to finish above .500 in conference play. Utah State might be a much different animal for the Zips tho, especially with this being Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton’s final game with Utah State. The Aggies have had plenty of success in the now defunct WAC & now in the Mountain West Conference but haven’t won a game on the blue carpet in Boise since 1996.
Player to Watch: Utah State wide receiver Hunter Sharp – The primary target for whoever is playing quarterback leads the team in touchdown receptions with 8 and has had two 100-yard receiving performances in the last three games.
Bradley’s Pick: Utah State Aggies
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl – FAU Stadium (Boca Raton, Florida) 7pm
(10-3) Temple Owls v. (9-3) Toledo Rockets
Quality teams from the AAC & MAC will be pitted against one another in this year’s Bocan Raton Bowl & it should be a fantastic game between two very good teams. The Temple Owls surprised everyone this season when they dominated in-state rival Penn State 27-10 in the opener & leaped out to a 7-0 record for the first time in school history. The Owls hit a speedbump against USF late in the year but was able to get to the American Athletic Conference Championship Game where they eventually fell to the Houston Cougars. Finishing the season with 10 wins is huge in the city of brotherly love; good enough for the university to give Head Coach Matt Rhule a four-year contract extension. Unlike the Owls, the Rockets were unable to keep their hot comodity young coach Matt Campbell who left earlier this month to take the Iowa State head coaching job. Before Campbell left tho, the Toledo Rockets were one of the best Gang of Five teams in the country & had wins over Arkansas & Iowa State. November losses to Northern Illinois & Western Michigan kept the Rockets from playing for a conference championship but make no mistakes, this team is loaded.
Player to Watch: Temple running back Jahad Thomas/Owls Defense – The workhorse for the Owls offense finished the regular season with over 1,200 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns & the Temple defense ranks 18th in total defense with 33 sacks on the season, second only to USF in the AAC.
Bradley’s Pick: Temple Owls
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego, California) 4:30pm
(8-4) Boise State Broncos v. (8-5) Northern Illinois Huskies
After last season’s 12-2 campaign, it appeared that Boise State was set for another run at crashing the party as a smaller school attempting to play with the big boys. It’s safe to say that 2015 was a step back for the Broncos who finished the season with uncharacteristic back-to-back home losses to New Mexico & Air Force. No strangers to the big bowls are the Huskies of Northern Illinois who quietly had another great season and reached the conference championship game for the 6th straight season but fell short against Bowling Green. Injuries in key positions turned out to be too much for the Huskies late in the season but Northern Illinois is still a very good football team. This will be a fun game to watch between two teams that like to open it up on offense & also have defenses that are capable of having a good night on any given night.
Player to Watch: Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols – The talented sophomore Broncos runner has had seven straight 100-yard performances & I don’t see that streak ending in San Diego against the 66th ranked rush defense in the country.
Bradley’s Pick: Boise State Broncos
Stay logged on to Sowegalive.com for Part 2 in the next few days!