The bowl season has arrived with other a dozen games this week. Our experts Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, and Mike Loveall are on hand to offer their previews and predictions of this weeks games. We’ll start with the best five games this week, and also offer predictions on the remaining games.
Las Vegas Bowl: Houston vs. San Diego State (Saturday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Houston by 3.5
Steen: Regardless of the outcome of this game, Houston is a stable program that looks set to continue to build on the success that has been built in recent years. The Cougs however endured a coaching staff change and a disappointing season overall. SDSU isn’t as good as we thought they were, but they can still run the football and keep control of this game. SDSU 42, Houston 35
Yesh: This bowl had a chance to be amazing, and still probably could be. Tom Herman leaving Houston takes away the value a little, but this team is still very talented. San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is well within range of setting the NCAA’s all-time leading rushing record, and Houston’s rushing defense has had holes at times this season. Then again, there were no holes in that defense at all against Louisville. These are two of the most talented Group of 5 teams and should give us a great bowl game. San Diego State 33, Houston 31
John: There was a time when Houston was a trendy pick to make the College Football Playoff. But that opening week win over Oklahoma seems eons ago. The Cougars went on to lose three games in AAC play, failed to win their division in the conference, and are currently unranked. Oh, and head coach Tom Herman has since departed to take the Texas job.
Against that backdrop, they face San Diego State who is coming off a win on the road against Wyoming that clinched the Mountain West. The Aztecs boast one of college football’s best running backs in Donnel Pumphrey who’s one of just two players who ran for more than 2,000 yards. He’s also third all-time in career rushing yards with 6,290. SDSU appears to be the more motivated team heading into this one. San Diego State 31, Houston 24
Mike: The most disappointed team during this year’s bowl season? It’s got to be the Houston Cougars. A win over Oklahoma early in the season and a complete annihilation of Louisville late in the season would normally put a three-loss AAC team a little later in December rather than the third bowl game. In most cases, you would expect a team in this situation to come out flat. But Houston has moved quickly and already hired Major Applewhite as head coach and much of the staff is the same. Plus, they still have Ed Oliver and Greg Ward, Jr. While they match up poorly against San Diego State’s rush heavy offense, the Aztecs defense hasn’t fared well this year. Expect this bowl season to start with fireworks. Houston 52, San Diego State 41
Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo (Saturday 5:30 P.M.)
Steen: Two teams enter this game looking for a 10 win season, and only one will emerge with that accomplishment at the end of 60 minutes. Toledo will move the ball and can score against App State, which despite their own pedigree, is from a weaker conference. Edge to the MAC in this game. Toledo 38, App State 24
Yesh: I am really excited for this bowl game. Appalachian State and Toledo are two very solid Group of 5 programs. Each has the talent and coaching to beat Power 5 teams once in a while and each has a lot to play for in this game, as the winner will reach ten wins. This is also the final chance to see Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, who is an exciting running back that no one has seen enough. Toledo 35, App State 34
John: For the second straight year, App State’s season concludes in Montgomery, AL against a MAC foe. In 2015, the Mountaineers, playing in their first-ever bowl game, overcame a 24-7 fourth quarter deficit to knock off Ohio 31-29. Saturday’s game should see the team attempt to pound the rock with the Sun Belt’s leading rusher, Jalin Moore.
Toledo’s identity has consistently been associated with a high-powered passing attack. It’s no different in 2016. Quarterback Logan Woodside led the nation with 43 passing touchdowns and is second in passing efficiency. But he’ll face a challenge against a Mountaineer pass defense that’s forced 20 interceptions and is allowing just 200.2 yards per game. These two teams sports their own unique looks on offense which should make for a fascinating matchup. Toledo 34, App State 30
Mike: Toledo had a chance to derail Western Michigan’s hopes during Championship Week. After putting up a game effort, the MAC Championship slipped out of their hands. A similar story in Boone, as Troy’s last minute comeback against the Mountaineers prevented Appalachian State from claiming the outright Sun Belt title. Instead, they split the title and will appear in their second bowl game in program history. This game is another featuring two talented offenses. Appalachian State is better tested against big teams. Toledo has a potent passing attack. It’s midnight in Montgomery for the Mountaineers, as Toledo throws their way to a Camelia Bowl victory. Toledo 38, Appalachian State 31
Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis vs. Western Kentucky (Tuesday 7:00 P.M.)
Line: Western Kentucky by 4.5
Steen: Memphis is improving, and while WKU is a very good football team, and conferece champions, they are undergoing a coaching change and that should throw off their focus and preparations. The Tigers are good enough to take advantage of the turnover at WKU. Memphis 35, Western Kentucky 28
Yesh: Western Kentucky had a bit of a down season without Brandon Doughty, but this team still won Conference-USA and has an absolutely explosive offense. The defense is porous but has managed to hold up when the time calls for it. Memphis is quickly developing into one of the better Group of 5 programs, a drastic turnaround from a few years ago. This should be an excellent matchup and battle. Western Kentucky 45, Memphis 38
John: There are always a handful of teams whose bowl preparation is affected by a coaching change. That’s what faces WKU as head coach Jeff Brohm has departed to take the same position at Purdue. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt will coach the team in the bowl game while Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is slated to take over as head coach afterwards.
This game features two of the more prolific pass games in college football. Hilltopper quarterback Mike White averages 309.8 yards per game, the eight best total in FBS. Riley Ferguson isn’t too far behind. His 277.2 yards per game is top 20 nationally. His favorite target, wide receiver Anthony Miller, has really caught fire late in the year. Expect this game to be among the higher scoring of the bowl season. Western Kentucky 51, Memphis 45
Mike: Double check the light bulbs in the scoreboard. Western Kentucky and Memphis travel to sunny Boca Raton, FL for what promises to be an offensive shootout. Both teams feature NFL-caliber wide receivers and quarterbacks that can get the ball to several playmakers. The difference here might be stability. Jeff Brohm has left Bowling Green and that will affect how the Hilltoppers prepare and call the game. Meanwhile, Mike Norvell’s Tigers have to be happy to prove last season’s success wasn’t just about Justin Fuente. Look for Memphis to cook up some blues for Western Kentucky. Memphis 55, Western Kentucky 51
Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming (Wednesday 9:00 P.M.)
Line: BYU by 9
Steen: BYU struggled early in the year but caught fire late and seemed to have worked out a lot of their problems heading into bowl season. Wyoming is a great story but they dropped three of their last four this season and look to be banged up and one dimensional. A physical BYU team should break Wyoming with their edge in talent. BYU 34, Wyoming 24.
Yesh: Is there any better story in college football this year than Wyoming? Maybe, because no one has really heard of what Wyoming did. But Craig Bohl has led this once-down program to eight wins, including over both Boise State and San Diego State. BYU has more talent than Wyoming (try explaining that loss to UCLA, though), but we’ve seen that Wyoming can play with just about anyone in the country when it plays its top football. BYU 28, Wyoming 27
John: Overall, Kalani Sitake’s first year as BYU head coach was a successful one. The Cougars went 8-4 with those four losses coming by a combined eight points. But they will be going into the bowl game without starting quarterback Taysom Hill, who suffered an elbow injury in BYU’s 28-10 win over Utah State last time out. It’s the latest in a long list of ailments Hill has suffered throughout his college career.
On the other side of the field will be a Wyoming team in the midst of its best season under head coach Craig Bohl. Bohl came to Laramie after winning three straight FCS titles with North Dakota State and in three years had the Cowboys a win away from winning the Mountain West. Brian Hill might be the best running back you’ve never heard of. He’s currently fourth nationally in both rushing yards (1,767) and touchdowns (21). The Cougars eight-ranked run defense may be up to the task at stopping Hill and making Wyoming one-dimensional on offense. BYU 23, Wyoming 16
Mike: Wyoming played one of the more underappreciated roles in college football this season. Knocking off Boise State and San Diego State paved the way for Western Michigan’s path to the Cotton Bowl. However, Wyoming didn’t play as well as favorites as they did as underdogs. Wyoming ended the season on a down note. BYU, on the other hand, finished very strong. The Cougars four losses this season were by a total of eight points. BYU’s offense – and familiarity in big game environments – will lead them to another bowl win. BYU 35, Wyoming 21
Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. #25 Navy (Friday 4:30 P.M.)
Line: Louisiana Tech by 4.5
Steen: Both teams enter this game on losing streaks, and Navy is the more accomplished program, but they are banged up, while LA Tech should be fresher. Expect a shootout, with LA Tech outscoring the Middies in the end. Louisiana Tech 54, Navy 38
Yesh: I feel bad for Navy. This is a talented team that really deserves a good ranking. Unfortunately, injuries on offense in the AAC Championship Game have spoiled what could have been a banner season. The defense isn’t good enough to stop Louisiana Tech enough to stay in this game without starting quarterback Will Worth. Louisiana Tech 52, Navy 21
John: Louisiana Tech comes into their bowl matchup with Navy having lost a 58-44 shootout with Western Kentucky in the C-USA title game. The Bulldogs explosive passing game was on full display, with quarterback Ryan Higgins throwing for 502 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, Higgins is averaging 350.7 yards per game, the third best total in the nation.
They face a Navy side who finished the season on a two-game losing skid. It included a 34-10 rout at the hands of Temple in the AAC title game, followed by their first loss to Army since 2001. The Midshipmen’s quarterback situation is a mess, with a hugely inexperienced Zach Abey now the starter after Will Worth broke his foot against Temple. Both teams are coming off disappointing ends to the season. LA Tech appears to have the edge with a healthier team, particularly at quarterback. Louisiana Tech 38, Navy 20
Mike: Navy enters this bowl season almost as disappointed as Houston. The Midshipmen entered Championship Week with a good shot at getting the G5 bid to the New Year’s Six bowl. Navy finally succumbed to their injuries and lost to Temple and Army in back-to-back weeks. The loss to Army is especially painful, as it ended a 14-year winning streak in one of the sport’s great rivalries. The Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech averaged 44 points per game this season and hit half-a-hundred five times this season. Even with the extra rest, Navy can’t healthy enough to bottle the Bulldog attack. Louisiana Tech 48, Navy 31
Other Bowl Games this Week
New Mexico Bowl (New Mexico by 7 vs. UTSA)
Steen: UNM beat Wyoming and Air Force in the Mtn West conference this season and as a reward they get an extra home game in the New Mexico Bowl. UTSA is rising program that had close shaves against Arizona State and Texas A&M. The Roadrunners are getting better, and being based on Texas helps, but UNM should be better in the short term. New Mexico 38, UTSA 24
Yesh: Bob Davie is the most under-appreciated coach in college football. His job turning New Mexico around has been near-miraculous. New Mexico 35, UTSA 21
John: For the second straight year, the Lobos are effectively hosting their own bowl game. In 2015, they narrowly lost to Pac-12 side Arizona. That’s unlikely to happen against the Roadrunners of UTSA who are playing in their first ever bowl game. New Mexico 34, UTSA 17
Mike: Frank Wilson will be the hottest coach in the nation at the end of the 2017 season. Easiest upset pick here. UTSA 35, New Mexico 31
Cure Bowl (UCF by 5.5 vs. Arkansas State)
Steen: Arkansas State made the Sun Belt look terrible when they got swept in non-conference play, but then ran the table in their conference. The Red Wolves have been up and down all season, while UCF enters this game on a two game losing streak. Neither team is great, but UCF should have an edge in Florida. UCF 45, Arkansas State 35
Yesh: Arkansas State has talent, but this team has been awful in non-conference games. UCF hasn’t beaten a team with more than four wins all season. Arkansas State 31, UCF 27
John: First-year head coach Scott Frost helped the Knights realize a six-win improvement after going 0-12 last year. They’ll have home field advantage against a Red Wolves team that won seven of their final eight games. Expect UCF to get their fourth bowl win in school history. UCF 27, Arkansas State 20
Mike: Scott Frost is slowly building a consistently high performing program in Tampa. He’ll be in the Power 5 soon enough and McKenzie Milton looks comfortable at the helm of the offense. It’s also practically a home game for the Golden Knights. Book this cover. UCF 35, Arkansas State 24
New Orleans Bowl (Southern Miss by 4.5 vs. ULL)
Steen: USM slumped after a solid start, going just 2-5 in their final seven games. ULL has won two straight and despite probably not being as good as USM their momentum should give them an edge in this one. ULL 34, Southern Miss 31
Yesh: This has been a very disappointing season for Southern Miss, but the Eagles are still more talented than the Ragin’ Cajuns. Southern Miss 41, ULL 35
John: The Ragin’ Cajuns needed to win their final two games to get bowl eligible and that’s exactly what they did. They face a Southern Miss team who suffered a three-game losing streak to fall to 5-6 but similarly won their season finale to solidify a bowl berth. This will be the fifth time in six years that UL-Lafayette have appeared in this game. ULL 24, Southern Miss 21
Mike: Southern Miss is another of the high-powered Conference USA offenses. Southern Miss 41, ULL 34
Miami Beach Bowl (Tulsa by 12.5 vs. CMU)
Steen: This Tulsa team is very good, while Central Michigan isn’t even one of the strongest teams in the MAC. Look for Tulsa to finish the season strong and continue their undefeated record over lesser teams this season.
Yesh: This is one of the biggest mismatches in all of bowl season. Then again, Central Michigan’s last game against an Oklahoma school turned out to be pretty awesome. Tulsa 45, Central Michigan 21
John: Tulsa’s high-powered offense that includes the two-pronged rushing attack of James Flanders and D’Angelo Brewer will be expected to run wild in this game. But pay attention to Chippewa quarterback Cooper Rush who’s an intriguing pro prospect. Tulsa 40, Central Michigan 24
Mike: A bowl game that features two of the most underrated teams in the nation. Tulsa pulls away at the end, but that’s a big spread against a very capable Chippewa offense. Tulsa 44, Central Michigan 34.
Potato Bowl (Colorado State by 13.5 vs. Idaho)
Steen: Idaho has won four straight and next year will have a real shot at the FCS national championship (they are self demoting). In their final bow game, they will look to go out on top against an up and down Colorado State team that has a good offense but little else. Momentum should favor Idaho, who have nothing to lose in this game. Idaho 38, Colorado State 27
Yesh: Idaho has very quietly had a solid year in one of its last seasons in FBS. Colorado State has a potent offense, but hasn’t been consistent all year. Colorado State 45, Idaho 38
John: Idaho ended the season on a four-game winning streak to finish with eight wins, more than they had in their previous four seasons. The Vandals will certainly have their hands full with CSU wideout Michael Gallup whose 11 receiving touchdowns is tied for 16th best nationally. Colorado State 48, Idaho 17
Mike: Mike Bobo’s success at Colorado State might be overshadowed by Colorado’s success, but the Rams are definitely on the right track. Colorado State 31, Idaho 21
Bahamas Bowl (Old Dominion by 4.5 vs EMU)
Steen: Eastern Michigan went from one of the worst FBS programs, to bowl eligible this year, while ODU is a program on the rise. Having won five straight to close out the year, including a win over Southern Miss, ODU should have an edge, despite the Eagles improvements. Old Dominion 52, Eastern Michigan 45
Yesh: Everyone likes Old Dominion in this game, but ODU’s nine wins came against bad teams. Eastern Michigan 31, Old Dominion 28
John: Eastern Michigan will be making their first bowl appearance since 1987. Old Dominion will be going bowling for the first time ever. What better destination for both programs than the Bahamas, then. Two lesser heralded quarterbacks will be on the field with EMU’s Brogan Roback and ODU’s David Washington. Eastern Michigan 31, Old Dominion 28
Mike: My only complaint about bowl season? Teams like Old Dominion and Eastern Michigan end up in Nassau. Old Dominion 31, Eastern Michigan 28
Dollar General Bowl (Troy by 4 vs. Ohio)
Steen: Ohio is a solid team that played tough against better teams this year, and they’d win most of their bowl game options, except for this one. Troy is one of the better group of five teams, and despite a late season slump, the Trojans have had a great season. Look for the South Alabama squad to reach 10 wins this year. Troy 27, Ohio 20
Yesh: Last year, Ohio played an incredible bowl game against a Sun Belt team. I expect another one this year. Ohio 32, Troy 31
John: Troy has one of the more impressive bodies of work among Group of Five teams, having lost by just six to Clemson and finding themselves ranked at one point. They face an Ohio team that gave Western Michigan a bit of a scare in the MAC title game. Ohio 30, Troy 23
Mike: Frank Solich’s Ohio team took Western Michigan down to the wire. Look for them to seal the deal against the Trojans in Mobile. Ohio 34, Troy 31
Hawai’i Bowl (Hawai’i vs. MTSU)
Steen: The only FBS team to not have all of their games broadcast on television or online, Hawaii is bowl eligible under a first year head coach, but somewhat forgotten, especially with the time zone difference. They welcome MTSU, a program that seems to make a bowl game most years without making too much noise. Like other G5 teams the Blue Raiders aren’t consistent, but Hawaii should be outmatched. MTSU 47, Hawaii 31
Yesh: Hawaii is playing a bowl game on the Islands. Will that be inspiration enough to pull of an upset against a more talented team? MTSU 28, Hawaii 27
John: Hawai’i will be making their first postseason appearance since 2010 when they also stayed on the islands for the bowl game. The Rainbow Warriors 117th ranked run defense might struggle against the Blue Raiders ground game which includes running back I’Tavius Mathers. His 1,504 rushing yards ranks tenth in the nation. MTSU 45, Hawai’i 27
Mike: A home game doesn’t help the Warriors handle the Blue Raiders offensive attack. MTSU 48, Hawaii 31.