This Week’s College Football Bowl Games: What to Watch For
The first week of the bowl season is a great time for strange-sounding games named after local companies you’ve probably never heard of. For college football junkies, though, it’s a great time to see some exciting players who may not be household names, but may soon be. For example, the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday afternoon features the nation’s top two leading rushers, both of whom will be back next year.
Here are all the highlights from the first week of the bowl schedule:
[All times Eastern.]
GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL: Nevada (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Saturday, December 15, at 1 p.m. on ESPN
There should be plenty of points put on the board as two of the nation’s top offenses meet up. Nevada and Arizona rank 11th and 7th, respectively, in total offense and both average 37-plus points per game. Each is team led by one of the nation’s best running backs. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing at 146.4 yards per game and set a school record this year with 1,757 yards. The sophomore has racked up 742 yards and seven touchdowns in his last three games. The Wolf Pack, however, will counter with junior Stefphon Jefferson, who ranks second in the nation in rushing at 141.9 yards per game. He has already set a school record with 22 touchdowns this season and needs just 30 more yards to set the school rushing record. The key in this game could be the arm of Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who has thrown for 3,238 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. But he has also tossed 12 interceptions, eight of which came in three losses (the Wildcats are 6-2 when he throws one pick or fewer). Nevada has gotten just four interceptions all year (fourth-lowest in the FBS) and the Wolf Pack, which lost four of its last five, will likely need to improve in that area to secure a win. These two teams have met three previous times, with the series tied 1-1-1. But they have not met since 1941.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: Toledo (9-3) vs. #22 Utah State (10-2)
Saturday, Dec. 15, at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN
Utah State is coming in after winning its first outright conference title since 1936. Now, in their second straight appearance in this bowl on the blue turf of Boise, the Aggies will try to win their first postseason game in 19 years. Their only two losses this year came by a total of five points at Wisconsin and at BYU. Senior running back Kerwynn Williams has rushed for 740 yards and nine touchdowns during the Aggies’ current six-game winning streak. He needs just 39 total yards to set the WAC conference record for all-purpose yardage. Standing in his way, however, is a Toledo squad that is seeking its first ten-win season since 2001. The Rockets had moved up to #23 in the polls before dropping two of their last three to end the regular season. Running back David Fluellen, who ranks 12th nationally in rushing, is expected to return for Toledo after missing the season-ending win over Akron with a sprained ankle. Both teams feature potent offenses, but Toledo faces an uphill battle as they bring in a defense that ranks 108th nationally in total defense.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL: Brigham Young (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
Thursday, Dec. 20, at 8 p.m. on ESPN
San Diego State will be playing in front of a friendly home crowd as it attempts to secure its first eight-game winning streak since 1975. The Aztecs are averaging more than 35 points per game behind a running attack led by sophomore Adam Muema, who has rushed for 1,355 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. This will be a strength vs. strength matchup, as BYU’s second-ranked rush defense works to slow down a San Diego State offense that averages over 230 rushing yards per game (16th nationally). If the Cougars can shut down the San Diego State running game, it could be a long day for the Aztecs. San Diego State ranks 106th nationally in passing offense and will be facing a Cougars defense that is giving up just 14.7 points per game (fifth nationally). BYU has been to eight straight bowl games and won its last three. San Diego State coach Rocky Long, the Mountain West coach of the year, was an assistant for six seasons under Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall.
BEEF O’ BRADY’S BOWL ST. PETERSBURG: Ball State (9-3) vs. Central Florida (9-4)
Friday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
After a heartbreaking overtime loss in the Conference USA title game, Central Florida will try to close the season on a high note in front of what should be a friendly home crowd. Offensively, these two teams are mirror images of each other. Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown for 2,787 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning has put up similar numbers (2,878 yards and 22 touchdowns), but the Cardinals could face a quarterback quandary as both Wenning and backup Kelly Page suffered injuries in Ball State’s final two games. At press time, Wenning’s status for the bowl game is unknown. If Wenning and Page can’t go, the Cardinals will likely rely on a sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards, who has rushed for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns, to carry the offensive load. However, Ball State’s biggest concern may be on the other side of the ball where a unit that ranks 104th in total defense and 90th in scoring defense could struggle against a balanced UCF attack that has averaged 42 points per game in its nine wins this season. Ball State is 0-5 all-time in bowl games, while a UCF win would give the Knights their second-ever bowl win and the fourth 10-win season in school history.