Bowl Season Six-Pack: From Boca Raton to Bahamas

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Though I am most certainly not one of the many bowl season detractors who crawl out of the woodwork every year, the stop-and-go nature of the bowl season’s early half is somewhat annoying.

The postseason began with a splash on Saturday, featuring five FBS bowls, and a sixth offering from the FCS. It felt almost like a true college football Saturday, with action kicking off in the morning here on the West Coast, and ending in prime time. That initial dive into bowls was the prelude to two days off, and a sprinkling of a bowl game-per-day from Tuesday through Thursday, and two games on Friday.

Your reminder: Thank ESPN for the expansive bowl season, as the Worldwide Leader owns and operates many of the games, and they thus exist for television inventory.

I will not look a college football gift horse in the mouth, as it were. We have five pre-Christmas bowl games to enjoy during the week! It’s not a full six-pack, but it’s close enough.

BOWL SEASON RECORD: 2-4 (2-4 ATS)

THE SIX-PACK: PORT BREWING SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER

Seeing as this isn’t a complete Saturday Six-Pack, your beer recommendation is not available in sixers. If you are coming home from your excruciatingly long last days at work before the holiday break, or have endured a brutal day shopping in preparation for Dec. 25, a bomber of Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper paired with a bowl game should restore your cheer.

It’s an imperial stout, so it’s a heavier beer; almost a dessert drink. I live near Port’s base of operations, so there’s a greater-than-zero percent chance I’ll toast the holidays with a pint of it in the coming days.

BOCA RATON BOWL: FAU vs. AKRON

Tuesday, Dec. 19, at FAU Football Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

Line: FAU -21.5

When bowl pairings were announced earlier this month, Conference USA champion FAU’s draw of an Akron team that finished 7-6 and lost the MAC Championship by 17 points immediately caught my attention. This is, without question, the most lopsided matchup of the bowl season — so much so, that I almost want to overthink it.

FAU enjoyed a breakthrough season under its first-year coach. You may have heard something about him at some point this season; the guy’s name is Lane Kiffin. Thus far, everything about the Kiffin experiment exceeded my expectations — including his signing a 10-year contract extension just today.

While some have speculated Kiffin would leave for another job during this coaching cycle, perhaps this really is an ideal fit for him. FAU has the potential to become a perennial Group of Five powerhouse, and Kiffin can do his thing without the microscopic focus that contributed to USC’s struggles in his time there.

In some ways, Kiffin’s comparable to his bowl-game opponent, Terry Bowden. Bowden spent years away from coaching altogether after the tumultuous split he made with Auburn. He returned at Div. II North Alabama, and has breathed life into a recently moribund Akron program. The Zips winning MAC East this season and getting to their second bowl game in three seasons is a considerable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, poor Akron’s 2017 postseason will not end as favorably as 2015.

The Zips rank No. 100 against the run in FBS. Trying to stop FAU running back Devin Singletary — whose 29 rushing touchdowns lead the nation — should prove futile. Singeltary needs 204 yards to finish the season at 2,000; given the Zips allow a shade below 200 per game, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Don’t expect this one to be close. If you entered into a Bowl Pool, I hope you assigned this one maximum confidence points.

PREDICTION: FAU 49, AKRON 14

FRISCO BOWL: LOUISIANA TECH vs. SMU

Wednesday, Dec. 20, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

Line: SMU -4

Fare thee well, Miami Beach Bowl. We hardly knew ye.

In its brief history, the Miami Beach Bowl was noteworthy mostly for a great Memphis-BYU game, which was completely overshadowed by an ugly melee.

And that was in its first year! With a dubious start and awful attendance for its duration, the Miami Beach Bowl moved to the home of the FCS National Championship Game: Frisco, Texas. No word yet on if the winner of SMU-Louisiana Tech will face the winner of James Madison-North Dakota State, but they should.

The inaugural Frisco Bowl is the unofficial Sonny Dykes, as the air-raid disciple began his head-coaching career at Louisiana Tech, and returns to the ranks following a one-year layoff with SMU, replacing Chad Morris. 

Quarterback Ben Hicks comes in with 32 touchdown passes on the season, playing with one of the most explosive wide receiving corps in the nation. Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton are two of the top 27 most prolific pass-catchers in college football, and both are destined for NFL careers.

Since Dykes’ departure for Cal in 2013, Louisiana Tech reinvented its image as a defense-first program under Skip Holtz. Though the Bulldogs still flourished with an aggressive offense the last few years, including Jeff Driskel’s career resurgence in 2015, NFL caliber defensive talent has shaped Tech. In 2017, outstanding defensive end Jaylon Ferguson sets the table and the Tech secondary clears it with 16 interceptions.

Tech needs to generate takeaways to limit SMU’s prolific passing attack. Otherwise, the Mustangs should roll.

PREDICTION: SMU 38, LOUISIANA TECH 27

GASPARILLA BOWL: LOUISIANA TECH vs. SMU

Thursday, Dec. 21, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

Line: Temple -7

First-year head coaches Geoff Collins and Butch Davis both exceeded expectations in 2017, albeit for different reasons. Long the dregs of FBS, Temple football began to gain momentum under Al Golden in the late 2000s. His departure for Miami after 2010 brought on Steve Addazzio, who had one outstanding and one middling season. Matt Rhule struggled mightily initially, but quickly got Temple to a level not just meeting that of Golden and Addazzio’s peak, but actually surpassing it.

Rhule’s teams reached the Top 25 and won the American Athletic Conference, but his departure last offseason for a Baylor program headed for a structural rebuilding suggested that Temple maxed out. That initial dip that began under Addazzio and carried over into Rhule’s first year speaks of the difficulty of maintaining success at Temple. The Owls should have taken a massive step back in 2017 — and sorta did, to be honest — but the regression was not nearly as severe as one might anticipate. What’s more, the Owls finished the regular season, winning three of their last four, including one over Navy, to get bowl eligible.

Butch Davis took over a much different situation at FIU, inheriting the smoldering wreckage that was the Ron Turner era. Pete Garcia’s abrupt firing of Mario Cristobal just a year removed from the Panthers appearing in only their second bowl game, and two years after winning the Sun Belt, sent the once-promising program into a tailspin.

Davis was an excellent hire, given his track record in South Florida at the University of Miami, but it seemed he would need time to get FIU moving in a positive direction. All Davis accomplished in Year 1 was win eight games and lead the Panthers to just their third bowl game ever.

A low-scoring game seems likely. Since Golden’s tenure, Temple staked its reputation on defensive football, which culminated with the Owls ranking 11th nationally in points allowed a season ago. This year’s team plummeted to No. 73, but still has playmakers in defensive back Delvon Randall and the outstanding defensive line tandem of Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin.

FIU is similarly constructed, featuring talent in the front seven with defensive end Fermin Silva and linebackers Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint.

The Panthers failed to score into the 20s in four of their first five games, but came alive for point totals of 41 (twice) and 63 in the back-half of the regular season. Temple saved its highest output, 43 points, for the regular-season finale and bowl-clinching defeat of Tulsa. Frankie Nutile taking over as starting quarterback helped kick-start Temple’s offense in the latter portion of the campaign, while FIU senior Alex McGough played his best ball down the stretch.

The similarities should make for an exciting game.

PREDICTION: TEMPLE 28, FIU 24

BAHAMAS BOWL: UAB vs. OHIO

Friday, Dec. 22, at Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT

TV: ESPN

Line: Ohio -7

I have been vehement here at The Open Man that UAB’s Bill Clark was the only rational choice for National Coach of the Year. Voters proved their lack of creativity, particularly the AP, which voted Clark sixth in the race. Whatever. If UAB completes its unprecedented season, #TheReturn, with a Bahamas Bowl defeat of Ohio, I’ll feel personally vindicated.

Oh, and it would be a fitting way for the Blazers to cap things off, too.

UAB is playing its first bowl game in 13 years, which could factor into the game’s flow. It’s not unlike Eastern Michigan a season ago, which participated in this same bowl game against Old Dominion, marking the end of an almost 30-year bowl drought. The Eagles fell behind by two scores early, and despite battling back, could never gain the lead.

UAB as bowl newbies stand in stark contrast to Ohio, a program that Frank Solich quietly built into a perennial winner. This marks the Bobcats’ eighth postseason appearance since 2009, and third straight.

While UAB attempts to win the first bowl in program history, Ohio U. has not been much better. The Bobcats’ 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl defeat of Utah State marked the program’s first-ever bowl win. They won the St. Petersburg Bowl the following year, but now ride a three-game losing skid.

For Ohio to win this time around, the Bobcats must contain a multidimensional UAB rushing attack. The Blazers roll with an outstanding feature back in Spencer Brown, the breakout freshman star who put up more than 1,200 yards rushing. Coupled with quarterback A.J. Erdely, who rushed for 13 touchdowns, UAB will throw different looks at an Ohio defense that ranked 11th nationally against the rush.

Erdely does not commit many mistakes in the passing game, throwing just four interceptions all season and completing 62 percent of his attempts, but he threw fewer than 300 passes. Establishing the run is critical for UAB to strike the balance on which it has thrived, and that may prove difficult Quentin Poling and the rest of the Ohio front seven.

PREDICTION: OHIO 24, UAB 21

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: CENTRAL MICHIGAN vs. WYOMING

Friday, Dec. 22, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho

Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

Line: Wyoming -3

The variables of this game that go beyond the players involved make this one of the more fascinating bowls to pick. So many factors favor Central Michigan, as the Chippewas come in hot, winners of their last five straight. Central Michigan also vastly exceeded expectations in 2017, getting to eight wins despite being tabbed for fifth place in the MAC West. As a general rule of thumb in bowl games, I prefer a season-long overachiever to an underachiever seeking one last shot at glory.

And, indeed, Wyoming did not quite live up to the expectations established in a breakout 2016. The Cowboys won the Mountain West’s Mountain division a season ago and even hosted the conference championship game. Despite losing some key pieces, the return of celebrated NFL prospect Josh Allen was enough to earn Wyoming modest support as a potential spoiler to Boise State.

The Cowboys finished tied for second in the Mountain, which isn’t a failure by any stretch. Still, a late-season dip sends them into the bowl game on the wrong trajectory compared to that of Central Michigan.

And yet, Wyoming has the advantage of playing closer to home, in a stadium with which it’s familiar and already saw once previously this season. Elevation is much less of a factor for the Cowboys, dropping 5,000 feet from their typical environment, while Central Michigan climbs nearly 2,000 feet.

So, assuming these external factors are a wash, let’s get down to the players. Allen’s been the focal point of Wyoming’s season, and never quite delivered the numbers one would anticipate of a potential first-round draft pick. He’s thrown just 13 touchdowns and completed fewer than 59 percent of his pass attempts, partially the result of a shoulder injury — a shoulder injury that could affect him still on Friday.

Conversely, Central Michigan was excellent against the pass all season, allowing just 13 touchdown throws against 19 interceptions. The Chips’ 19 picks rank second-most in the nation. Josh Cox and Sean Bunting account for 11 of those interceptions. They could cause headaches for Craig Bohl’s bunch, even without generating takeaways. If Wyoming’s rendered ineffective with the pass, the Cowboys struggled mightily running the ball this season.

Wyoming may be the favorite, but the factors in Central Michigan’s favor just seem too overwhelming for me to not project a multiple-score Chip win.

PREDICTION: CENTRAL MICHIGAN 31, WYOMING 17