This Week’s College Football Bowl Games: What to Watch For
College football’s bowl season kicks into high gear with a slew of big-time games this week. Here is what to watch for as the season comes into the home stretch. We will have separate previews of all the BCS games posted soon, but in the meantime, here are the highlights of all the other remaining college bowl games this week.
[All times Eastern]
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL: Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Saturday, Dec. 28 at 12:00 PM on ESPN
Both teams stumbled down the stretch and are hoping to end their disappointing seasons on a positive note. Rutgers needed a win over South Florida in its final game to snap a three-game losing streak and become bowl eligible. Notre Dame, meanwhile, dropped two of its final three to fall out of contention for a bigger-name bowl game. Both teams rank 76th or lower in rushing yards, total yards and scoring so points could be at a premium. Both teams have struggled with turnovers, so look for the team that does the best job of protecting the ball to come out on top.
BELK BOWL: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
Saturday, Dec. 28 at 3:20 PM on ESPN
Both teams went on big winning streaks in mid-season to put themselves in bowl positions, but each were handed losses in their last game and will now look to close the season on a positive note. Cincinnati won this game last year, but the Tarheels should enjoy a strong home-field advantage as they return to their first bowl game after missing last year’s postseason due to NCAA probation.
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL: Miami (9-3) vs. No. 18 Louisville (11-1)
Saturday, Dec. 28 at 6:45 PM on ESPN
Louisville’s loss to Central Florida ended the Cardinals’ BCS hopes and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s Heisman chances. But Louisville still has a lot on the line in this game as they seek just the second 12-win season in school history. Bridgewater has thrown for over 3,500 yards this season while completing over 71 percent of his passes for 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. But he managed just five touchdown passes combined in his final four games. Miami, which has not won a bowl game since 2006, is making its first bowl appearance 2010 following a two-year self-imposed bowl ban.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL: Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
Saturday, Dec. 28 at 10:15 PM on ESPN
These are two big-name programs heading in opposite directions. After a rough start, Kansas State closed the season by winning five of its final six. Michigan, meanwhile, dropped five of its final seven and will now be without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who suffered a broken foot during the season-ending loss to Ohio State. Freshman Shane Morris will be making his first career start against a Wildcat defense that, in its last five games, has held opponents under 175 passing yards three times and recorded 11 interceptions.
BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL: Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
Monday, Dec. 30 at 11:45 AM on ESPN
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds already holds the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (29) and will have a chance to add to his record-setting career as Navy makes its first-ever appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl. Navy boasts the nation’s second-best rushing offense (behind Auburn) and leads the FBS in rushing touchdowns. They will face a Middle Tennessee defense that gave up over 400 yards per game this season but showed improvement during a season-ending five-game winning streak.
FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL: Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)
Monday, Dec. 30 at 3:15 PM on ESPN
Both teams are looking to end on a high note after disappointing regular season endings. Ole Miss had won four straight before dropping its final two games (scoring just 20 total points in the process) while Georgia Tech blew a 20-point lead against archrival Georgia and has not beaten an FBS team since Nov. 2. Georgia Tech’s potent triple option offense ranks fifth nationally in rushing. However, the Yellow Jackets rank 86th nationally in pass defense and could be tested by a Rebels offense that averages over 285 passing yards per game. Ole Miss is seeking a school-record sixth consecutive bowl win.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL: No. 10 Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)
Monday, Dec. 30 at 6:45 PM on ESPN
Mack Brown will be making his final appearance as Texas’ head coach as the Longhorns face the daunting task of slowing down the Oregon offense. While the Ducks dropped two of their final four, Oregon still boasts one of the nation’s top attacks (second nationally in total offense, third in scoring). This could pose a particular problem for a Texas defense that ranks 80th nationally in rush defense and will face the powerful tandem of DeAnthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota. While Texas is a decided underdog, the Longhorns showed in an upset win over archrival Oklahoma that they are capable of a spirited effort on behalf of their outgoing coach.
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HOLIDAY BOWL: No. 14 Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Monday, Dec. 30 at 10:15 PM on ESPN
After starting the season 7-0, Texas Tech dropped its final five and will now face an Arizona State squad that, despite falling in the Pac-12 title game, is still one of the nation’s hottest teams. This one could be a shootout as Texas Tech ranks second nationally in passing offense. However, the Red Raider defense has given up at least 35 points in six of its last seven games and will face a Sun Devil offense that ranks tenth nationally in scoring. Arizona State is seeking its first 11-win season since 1996.
ADVOCARE V100 BOWL: Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 12:30 PM on ESPN
If you like battles in the trenches, this could be a game for you as college football’s two best running backs go head-to-head. BC’s Andre Williams finished fourth in the Heisman voting after rushing for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns. For the Wildcats, running back KaDeem Carey holds the school record for rushing yards and has rushed for 100+ yards in a Pac-12 record 15 straight games.
HYUNDAI SUN BOWL: Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-3)
Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 2:00 PM on CBS
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, accounting for over 3,400 total yards and 31 touchdowns this season. However, he’ll face one of his toughest tests to date against a Hokies defense that ranks fourth nationally in total defense and is among the nation’s best in sacks and interceptions. Hundley has been sacked 33 times this season, so look for the Hokies to be aggressive against the UCLA front. UCLA is one win away from its first 10-win season in eight years.
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL: Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6)
Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 4:00 PM on ESPN
After winning its first conference title in 56 years, Rice will be seeking a school-record 11th win to cap the Owls’ best season in history. This game could hinge on Mississippi State’s ability to slow down the run. Rice ranks 16th nationally in rushing offense and will face a Bulldogs defense that has given up an average of four or more yards per carry in five of its last seven games. Rice is making its first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1960-61.
CHICK-FIL-A BOWL: No. 24 Duke (10-3) vs. No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4)
Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 8:00 PM on ESPN
Despite setting a school record for wins, Duke is facing a brutal ending to the season. After being lit up by Florida State in the ACC title game, the Blue Devils now face the tough task of corralling 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. “Johnny Football” finished fifth in this year’s balloting after accounting for 4,400 yards and 41 touchdowns. However, despite his individual numbers, the Aggies fell flat in big games, going 0-4 against ranked opponents this season.
TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL: Nebraska (8-4) vs. No. 22 Georgia (8-4)
Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 12:00 PM on ESPN2
Although this is a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl, it will be two very different teams facing off this season. Both team’s record setting quarterbacks (NU’s Taylor Martinez and the Bulldogs’ Aaron Murray) will be out with season-ending injuries and both squads have been hit hard by injuries at other positions as well. Look for both teams to try to pound the ball with potent running games. Georgia’s Todd Gurley rushed for 903 yards despite missing three games in October. The Cornhuskers’ Ameer Abdullah is seventh in the nation in rushing and has topped 100 yards in 10 of his 12 games this season.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL: UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4)
Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 12:00 PM on ESPNU
Both teams should be fired up for this one, as each is making a bowl appearance for the first time in several years. UNLV is making its first bowl appearance since 2000 and the first outside Las Vegas since 1984. North Texas, meanwhile, is playing in its first bowl game since 2004. The Mean Green ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense and gave up an average of just 12.5 points in its last seven games. They’ll be tested by UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring, who has thrown for 22 scores and just four interceptions this season.
OUTBACK BOWL: Iowa (8-4) vs. No. 16 Louisiana State (9-3)
Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 1:00 PM on ESPN
LSU boasted one of the nation’s most balanced offenses this year but will be forced to give true freshman Anthony Jennings his first start after a knee injury ended senior Zach Mettenberger’s career. Jennings will face an immediate test against a stingy Iowa defense that ranks 17th or better in passing, rushing, scoring and total defense. Iowa struggled early in the season but, thanks in large part to solid defense, righted the ship and won four of its final five games.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL: No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. No. 9 South Carolina (10-2)
Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 1:00 PM on ABC
If you like smashmouth football and strong defenses, you won’t want to miss this one. Wisconsin’s running back tandem of James White and Melvin Gordon combined for over 2,800 rushing yards and 15 scores this year. However, they’ll face a stout Gamecock defense that gave up an average of less than 16 points per game in winning six of its last seven. This could be a showcase for two of the nations’ best individual defenders with USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the Badgers’ All-American linebacker Chris Borland.
AT&T COTTON BOWL: No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 8 Missouri (11-2)
Friday, Jan. 3 at 7:30 PM on FOX
These two teams have a long history as past opponents in the Big 8/Big 12. But it will be a different ballgame this year as Missouri has shown it has the talent to compete on college football’s biggest stage in the SEC. Both teams come into this game off of disappointing losses that knocked them out of the BCS—Missouri lost big to Auburn in the SEC title game while the Cowboys suffered a heartbreaking last-minute loss to archrival Oklahoma. This one could be filled with fireworks as both teams rank in the top 17 nationally in scoring. Oklahoma State is seeking its third 11-win season in four years (they had never won more than 10 before Mike Gundy became head coach). For Missouri, a win would give the Tigers their second 12-win season in school history and move coach Gary Pinkel past Don Faurot for the most wins in school history.