By Michael Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Connecticut (CBS) – It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The volume of foot traffic is quickly increasing in malls across the country. Yankee swaps and ugly sweater parties are seemingly taking up every night of your week. Anytime you turn on the radio you have a very good chance of hearing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”. But all of this means one thing. It’s officially bowl season.
This past Saturday, Army beat Navy 21-17 in a thrilling game that marked the end of the 2016 college football regular season. It was the perfect last page to compliment the season’s first page.
The first page was deemed one of the best, if not the best, opening weekends in college football history. Traditional powerhouses scheduled games against one another in hopes of improving their strength of schedule and getting into the College Football Playoff.
Not only were the matchups themselves great, the locations were great as well. LSU and Wisconsin faced off in Lambeau Field. Alabama and USC went head to head in Jerry World. It had everything a college football fan needed.
It was the closest thing to bowl season without actually being bowl season there was. But now bowl season has officially arrived, and it is time to take it all in and enjoy. Some say there are too many bowl games now. And while it is unusual to see a few sub .500 teams playing, I say the more football, the better. Bring on week one’s games.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl – New Mexico (8-4) vs. Texas San Antonio (6-6) 2:00 PM ET ESPN
University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Line: New Mexico – 8
Texas-San Antonio Points For: 29.9 Points Against: 28.3
Fun Fact: The 2016 New Mexico Bowl marks UTSA’s first ever bowl appearance. The program was a startup in 2011 and made the jump to FBS full time in 2012.
UTSA is led by its two running backs. Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes have a combined 1,903 yards from scrimmage and 18 total touchdowns.
New Mexico PF: 34.9 PA: 29.9
Fun Fact: The New Mexico bowl is played on New Mexico’s home field
New Mexico comes in to this game having won six of their last seven games. It’s no secret that the Lobos like to run the ball. They have a three-headed attack at running back. Tyrone Owens, Teriyon Gipson and Richard McQuarley have 35(!) rushing touchdowns between them. Owens and Gipson have more yards per carry (8.1 and 9.2 respectively), but McQuarley leads the team in touchdowns with 16. Owens has been dealing with a foot injury but is expected to play in the game. The depth at RB allows New Mexico to wear out its opponents throughout the game. Gipson’s 20 rushing attempts against Nevada were the most in one game for any of the running backs this season.
There won’t be many passes through the air in this game, so I anticipate a relatively quick game by college football standards. The defenses aren’t awful, but they aren’t great either. I expect the home crowd and running back depth to be the difference in this one.
New Mexico 36 UTSA 27
Las Vegas Bowl – Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3) 3:30 PM ET ABC
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
Line: Houston -4
This game is a very good match up for opening day, one I’d consider to even be in the top 10 of this whole bowl season. It is also a hard game to figure out. Both teams started the season with very high expectations, much higher than the Las Vegas Bowl. Both of these teams were ranked in the AP top 25 in week 5; Houston at #6 and San Diego State at #19. Houston had a shot at cracking the top 4 after their opening week win against Oklahoma. San Diego State was a favorite to head to the Cotton Bowl as the highest ranked “Group of Five” (any team not in the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12 or Pac-12) team.
Houston is playing with an interim head coach. Their coach for the last 2 seasons, Tom Herman, left to become the head coach at Texas. Houston has also had a few head scratching losses on the season. They are a team that is able to get up for the big games, as evidenced by their wins over Oklahoma and Louisville. But can tend to play down to their opponent as well, like when they lost 38-16 to SMU.
Houston is led by QB Greg Ward Jr who has 31 total touchdowns on the season. In the two and a half years since Ward was named the starting QB, he has a 27-5 record. During that time he has beaten Oklahoma, Florida State, Louisville twice, Temple twice, Memphis twice, Navy, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh. It’s safe to say that playing in the Las Vegas Bowl against San Diego State won’t be too much for him to handle.
San Diego State also has a player worth watching in this game. Senior running back Donnel Pumphrey needs 127 yards from scrimmage to pass Ron Dayne as college football’s all-time leader. Houston has a very good defensive line led by true freshman, and top 5 recruit, Ed Oliver. Pumphrey has 26 catches on the season, so we’ll see if SDSU tries to get him in space a few times in this one.
If Houston is up for this game they will win. It’s just a matter of where their heads are at with this one. If they are caught slipping, San Diego State will take advantage. I’ll bet on Houston and Greg Ward Jr wanting to end this season on a high note.
Houston 32 San Diego State 24
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl – Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3) 5:30 PM ET ESPN
Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
Appalachian State PF: 29.1 PA: 17
Fun Fact: This is Appalachian State’s 2nd ever bowl appearance. Their first was last year, also in the Camellia Bowl.
This Appalachian State team is very good. They are 9-1 against teams not named Tennessee or Miami this season and lost their only conference game by 4 points. Against Tennessee, they led 13-6 in the 4th quarter only to eventually lose on the road on opening weekend. Appalachian State’s QB Taylor Lamb has accounted for 22 total touchdowns and has thrown only eight interceptions while running backs Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox have a combined 2,355 total yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns.
Toledo PF: 38.8 PA: 25.2
Toledo is one of the few teams that play this Saturday that like to throw the ball around. They are led by QB Logan Woodside, who threw for 43 touchdowns this season. That total is far and away the leader of the ten quarterbacks playing this weekend. They are not one dimensional though. They have a running back tandem of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson who have a combined 2,380 total yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns. Toledo lost to Ohio and BYU by a combined 7 points before losing at Western Michigan by a combined 20 points on the final week of the season.
This will be another very good game. It’s probably just a hair below the New Mexico bowl in my opinion. Appalachian State has a very stingy pass defense and they are only allowing their opponents 17 points per game all together. So it will be fun to watch them try to stop Toledo’s high powered offense in this one. The line is even for a reason, but I’ll give the slight edge to Toledo.
Toledo 30 Appalachian State 25
AutoNation Cure Bowl – Central Florida (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5) 5:30 PM ET CBS Sports Network
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Line: UCF -6
Fun Fact: The Cure Bowl is played in UCF’s home city of Orlando
UCF PF: 27.8 PA 22.2
Central Florida is the definition of average. They are what their record says they are. Their 6 wins have come against non-bowl eligible teams and their 6 losses come to bowl teams. The beat who they are supposed to beat and they lose to the teams they are supposed to lose to. But trust me; they will take 6-6. First year Head Coach Scott Frost did a great job just getting the team to bowl eligibility just one year after the team went 0-12. They are led by True Freshman QB McKenzie Milton, who isn’t asked to do too much, with only 33 pass attempts per game and 6.1 yards per attempt. But he also doesn’t make many mistakes either, with 7 total interceptions on the season.
Arkansas State PF: 27 PA: 22.2
Arkansas State is one of the more consistent Group of Five teams year in and year out. Which is why everyone was a little surprised at their 0-4 start to the season. They quickly regrouped to reach their 6th straight bowl game. Arkansas State has a very balanced offensive attack, but nothing that will overwhelm you. They are more likely to throw the ball as evidenced by QB Justice Hansen’s 57 pass attempts in week 11 against Louisiana-Lafayette.
This is another game that should be fun and close, if not as exciting as the previous two bowl games. I’ll give the edge to the team playing 17 miles from its campus.
UCF 24 Arkansas State 21
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Southern Mississippi (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6) 9PM ET ESPN
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Line: Southern Miss -5
Fun Fact: This is Louisiana-Lafayette’s 5th appearance in the New Orleans Bowl in the last 6 years. They won the previous 4 games.
Louisiana-Lafayette PF: 23.8 PA: 25.1
ULL’s opponents have scored just 18.7 points per game in the past 6 games, which includes a 35-21 loss to Georgia. So while they have given up more points on the year than they have scored, they are playing much better of late. They also won 3 of their last 4 games just to become bowl eligible, including a win over Arkansas State.
Southern Miss PF: 33.2 PA 30.2
Southern Miss is making back to back bowl appearances after a three year absence. Southern Miss beat Kentucky to open the year, a win that looks more and more impressive each day as Kentucky improves. But they also come in to this game having lost 5 of their last 7 games. They are a team that likes to score and let the other team score as well.
My head tells me that this is a game that Southern Miss should win. But I just can’t ignore the fact that the Superdome is like a second home to the Ragin Cajuns. I expect their New Orleans Bowl success to continue.
Louisiana-Lafayette 30 Southern Miss 27
Week 2 preview to come…