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. 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. Here is Part 2 of our Bowl Preview:
GoDaddy Bowl – Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Alabama) 8pm
(8-4) Georgia Southern Eagles v. (10-3) Bowling Green Falcons
Both of these teams had extremely successful seasons but they were so good that both head coaches bolted for other ‘greater’ jobs. Bowling Green’s Dino Babers split for the Syracuse Orange & Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz left for the vacant Tulane job. The Falcons lost only three games all season long: a close game against Tennessee, a shoot out against Memphis & a stubbed toe against a good Toledo team despite averaging a shade under 44 points per game this season, good enough for 5th in the country. The Falcons high flying aerial attack will be matched on the other side with Georgia Southern’s deadly triple option ground attack that averaged over 350 rushing yards per game which is good enough for the best in the country. Offensively, this will be a matchup of two teams from completely different ends of the spectrum in philosophy which makes this a super interesting bowl game. Neither team defends what the other does offensively very well so I expect this one to be a back and forth game in Mobile.
Player to Watch: Bowling Green senior quarterback Matt Johnson – He threw five or more touchdowns in a game four different times this season on his way to a 43 touchdown pass senior season with the Falcons.
Bradley’s Pick: Bowling Green Falcons
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – Robinson National Stadium (Nassau, Bahamas) Noon
(7-5) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders v. (7-5) Western Michigan Broncos
Of all of the Gang of Five teams in the country, no one had as difficult of a schedule as the Western Michigan Broncos. Head Coach PJ Fleck & company had Michigan State, Georgia Southern & Ohio State on the schedule outside of the MAC conference games where they also drew Northern Illinois, Bowling Green & Toledo. The Broncos went 1-5 in those games and for the most part handled business against everyone else. Similarly to Western Michigan, Middle Tennessee began the year 2-4 but finished strong with a 5-1 record down the stretch. Both of these teams love to throw the ball all over the yard & each also have pretty formidable defenses as well. These two teams have a lot to live up to from last years Bahamas Bowl shootout between Western Kentucky & Central Michigan but I think we’ll get some fireworks in the Caribbean this year as well.
Player to Watch: Middle Tennessee linebacker T.T. Barber – The Colquitt, Georgia native, Barber has led the Blue Raiders in tackles the last three seasons & will finish his career at Middle Tennessee in the bowl game as the 4th all-time leading tackler at the school.
Bradley’s Pick: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Hawai’i Bowl – Aloha Stadium (Honolulu, Hawai’i) 8pm
(10-3) San Diego State Aztecs v. (7-5) Cincinnati Bearcats
One team took a step back from last season with a rash of injuries coupled with the unexpected improvement of conference foes while the other took a massive step forward and is currently on a 9-game winning streak. The Bearcats of Cincinnati are the first team & entered 2015 with a lot of promise but most of it fizzled when the Bearcats dropped two conference games in the first month as well as their star quarterback with multiple head injuries. Meanwhile across the country, the Aztecs began the season with a 1-3 record but hasn’t lost since. Cincinnati runs a ‘pass first, ask questions later’ type of offense but the two quarterbacks that have played this season make as many mistakes as they throw touchdowns which explains their record while the Aztecs keep it on the ground and pound you into submission. This will be a fun bowl game to watch because typically the teams that let’s it all hang out (Cincy) give the uber-conservative teams (San Diego State) the most trouble.
Player to Watch: San Diego State junior running back Donnel Pumphrey – The 90 yard performance by Pumphrey in the Mountain West Championship game snapped an eight game 100-yard rushing streak. I expect Pumphrey to be by far the best player on the field as Santa makes his rounds.
Bradley’s Pick: San Diego State Aztecs
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl – Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, Florida) 11am
(6-6) Connecticut Huskies v. (9-3) Marshall Thundering Herd
Second year Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco has the Huskies on the right track and in a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and were completely watchable in 2015 with a top 40 defense. This is a stark contrast from the last couple years when the Huskies were one of the worst teams in the history of college football. Coach Diaco is a weird fellow but he has done a masterful job in Storrs. Not to be outdone, the owner of the best name in coaching, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday had to replace one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in Huntington in Rakeem Cato & did so with another freshman from South Florida in Chase Litton who turned in a pretty solid freshman campaign with 22 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. On paper this doesn’t look like it will be an entertaining game but with the way Connecticut plays defense while struggles on offense, this may be a low scoring game filled with some high drama.
Player to Watch: Connecticut sophomore running back Arkeel Newsome – Late in the season, the Huskies started giving Newsome more carries and he averaged over 110 yards per game over a three game stretch in November & might be the catalyst this offense needs.
Bradley’s Pick: Marshall Thundering Herd
Hyundai Sun Bowl – Sun Bowl Stadium (El Paso, Texas) 2pm
(8-4) Miami Hurricanes v. (8-4) Washington State Huskies
It’s amazing how these two teams have identical records but the scope of their season is completely different. The Hurricanes have been under the direction of an interim coach since mid-October and finished the season on a 4-1 tear while the Huskies closed out the season on a 6-2 mark that saved their coach’s job. The Hurricanes never sniffed the ACC Championship Game while the Huskies were essentially one missed field goal away from the Pac-12 Championship Game when they lost in that fashion to the eventual conference champion Stanford Cardinal. This will also be a great matchup of quarterbacks in Miami’s Brad Kaaya & Washington State’s Luke Falk. Kaaya finished the season with 3,019 yards and 15 touchdowns while Falk closed out the season with 4,266 yards and 36 touchdowns with almost 250 more pass attempts. Both signal callers missed some time due to injury this season but both should be at full strength when the bowl game rolls around.
Player to Watch: Washington State junior receiver Gabe Marks – His first reception in the bowl game will be his 100th on the season and he’s recorded a touchdown catch in every game this season but three.
Bradley’s Pick: Washington State Cougars
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl – Cotton Bowl Stadium (Dallas, Texas) 2:20pm
(6-6) Washington Huskies v. (9-4) Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Year two in Seattle for Washington head coach Chris Petersen didn’t go exactly as planned with a two game slip in win totals and the Huskies went 2-3 versus teams from the Pac-12 North but Washington was competitive in every one of those games which is positive. Earning any win in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has turned into a big deal for Southern Miss fans and they got to celebrate a lot in 2015. The Golden Eagles have only won four games in the last three seasons but head coach Todd Monken has done a fantastic job this season & guided Southern Miss to the Conference-USA Championship Game where they gave Western Kentucky all they wanted. The Huskies have one of the better defenses in the country and have raised some eyebrows around the country despite some of those performances coming in losing efforts. That defense will definitely get tested by the all-out aerial assault that the Golden Eagles will attack with led by junior quarterback Nick Mullens who has thrown for over 4,100 yards & 36 touchdowns this season.
Player to Watch: Southern Miss senior wide receiver Michael Thomas – He’s second on the team in catches but leads the team in receiving yards by almost 400 yards which should tell you how explosive he actually is.
Bradley’s Pick: Washington Huskies
New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Yankee Stadium (Bronx, New York) 3:30pm
(6-6) Indiana Hoosiers v. (7-5) Duke Blue Devils
Get your basketball jokes in early because these two athletic departments are quickly developing two solid football programs as well. The Hoosiers began the season with a lot of promise and a 4-0 start but then found themselves on a 6-game losing streak that included four losses by single-digits and three of those losses came against ranked opponents. This is Indiana’s first bowl game since 2007 & the first under 5th year head coach Kevin Wilson. The Blue Devils found themselves in a four-game losing streak late in the year as well. Duke lost in unbelievable fashion at home to Miami a week after the Canes fired their coach on a multiple lateral play that never should have counted in the first place. It took the Blue Devils almost a month to pick themselves up off the mat. These two football programs that have long lasted in the shadow of their basketball programs will meet in ‘The House that Steinbrenner Built’ for what will be a good game between two very well coached teams. Indiana will rely on their rushing attack & strong-armed quarterback and Duke will lean on their bend-but-don’t-break defense.
Player to Watch: Indiana senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld – The ‘California Kid’ hasn’t thrown an interception since November 7th & since then has thrown for 955 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Bradley’s Pick: Indiana Hoosiers
Camping World Independence Bowl – Independence Stadium (Shreveport, Louisiana) 5:45pm
(6-6) Tulsa Golden Hurricanes v. (6-6) Virginia Tech Hokies
Golden Hurricanes Head Coach Philip Montgomery took over a bad football team that went 2-10 last season & got them to a bowl game in his first year in Tulsa which is a testament to his coaching ability. He also did it in a very crowded American Athletic Conference Western Division with the likes of Houston, Memphis, Navy & the suddenly watchable SMU Mustangs. Juxtapose Montgomery’s first year as a head coach at any level this season with the fact that he’ll be coaching against Virginia Tech’s legendary coach Frank Beamer in his final game on the sideline for the Hokies. Montgomery comes from the Art Briles school of football where the ball stays in the air & expect the Hurricanes to try and sling it all over the place in Shreveport. Virginia Tech on the other hand brings, yet again, one of the nation’s top defensive units to the game & will try and slow down the up-tempo attack of Tulsa. The Hokies next coach, Justin Fuente, formerly of Memphis is already on the job for Virginia Tech & I wonder if he’ll have a hand in the game-planning because it took a career day from the Tigers’ senior quarterback Paxton Lynch for Memphis to get by Tulsa back in October.
Player to Watch: Virginia Tech junior quarterback Brenden Motley – When called upon because starter Michael Brewer went down with a broken collarbone, Motley showed flashes of greatness as a versatile player at the quarterback position. he may be the x-factor for the Hokies in this bowl game and in 2016.
Bradley’s Pick: Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
Foster Farms Bowl – Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California) 9:15pm
(8-4) UCLA Bruins v. (5-7) Nebraska Cornhuskers
We can rename this the ‘Massively Underachievers Bowl’ based on the the seasons that these two teams had. UCLA came into the season with super high expectations, loads of returning starters, the top freshman quarterback in the country & let it all slip away with inexcusable home losses to Arizona State & Washington State, two teams the Bruins had no business losing to. The record for the Cornhuskers speaks for itself, as they are one of the two teams who got a special waiver from the NCAA to participate in the bowl season despite not being bowl eligible. Nebraska canned their head coach last season and hired Mike Riley out of nowhere (insert Oregon State joke here) with less than stellar results. Riley is a good coach but this just wasn’t his year in Lincoln. Both teams are super talented but both are plagued by making huge mistakes in the absolute worst times which tells me that this should be a fantastic game full of blunders. Plus we get a huge contrast in coaching styles from UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora’s frenetic, animated antics with Riley’s almost bored facial expressions.
Player to Watch: UCLA true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen – I’ve never seen a true freshman quarterback walk into a big time college football game and be completely in command like Rosen did this season. He was the number one high school quarterback in the country for a reason & he’ll soon be the top college quarterback in the country.
Bradley’s Pick: UCLA Bruins
Stay logged on to Sowegalive for the Southern Football Report: Bowl Preview Part 3 coming soon!