In the first installment of his 2012 bowl previews, Joe Healy takes a look at six minor bowl games.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
That’s right folks, bowl season is upon us, and I’m going to venture a guess that not many people are as excited than I am. I love all of the big BCS matchups just like any college football fan. But my love for bowl games doesn’t end there.
I watch all that I can. I watch games between 6-6 teams, games between directional schools and games that take place in exotic locales like Boise, Idaho.
Those types of games need love too and that’s what brings me here today. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’m going to preview each and every bowl game from the BCS National Championship Game all the way down to the San Diego Country Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
First, I will tackle what I have considered the 18 most minor bowl games. This part of the preview will come in three parts with six bowl previews in each installment.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Nevada vs. Arizona, Dec. 15, 2012, 1:00 PM Eastern Time
What we have here is a matchup between two pretty similar teams. Nevada averaged scoring 37 points per game. Arizona averaged 37.3 points per game. Nevada’s defense averaged giving up 32.5 points per game. The Arizona defense averaged giving up 34.3 points per game.
On top of it all, both teams finished 7-5.
Quietly, Nevada has continued to do what they always do on offense, just without a marquee player like Colin Kaepernick leading the way. Quarterback Cody Fajardo threw for 2,530 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 981 yards and 11 touchdowns. Running back Stefphon Jefferson rushed for 1,703 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Year one of the Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson has to be considered a success. Seven wins, including victories over Oklahoma State and USC, is a big step up for the Wildcats after their collapse last season.
It’s no surprise, given Rich Rod’s history, that the offense led the way in the desert. Quarterback Matt Scott was erratic at times, but he was fantastic at other times. All told, he threw for 3,328 yards, rushed for 485 and had 29 total touchdowns. Austin Hill was Scott’s favorite target in the regular season, as evidenced by his 73 catches and 1,189 receiving yards.
Running back Ka’Deem Carey kept the offense balanced by rushing for 1,757 yards and 20 touchdowns. Until NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch played in the MAC title game, therefore giving him an extra game, Carey led the nation in rushing.
I can guarantee you that there will be a ton of points scored in this game. They might as well play this game first to 50. When it comes to shootouts, I’ll go with the team that is more battle-tested against tough competition, and that’s Arizona.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Toledo vs. Utah State, Dec. 15, 2012, 4:30 PM Eastern Time
Much like the New Mexico Bowl, this game won’t have any shortage of yardage or points scored.
Toledo, a team that has long been known for putting up high scores, is at it again. The QB combo of Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin combined for over 3,000 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. Receiver Bernard Reedy is the primary beneficiary of those passing yards. The diminutive junior from St. Petersburg, Florida caught 82 passes for 1,051 yards and six touchdowns.
On the ground, David Fluellen ran for 1,460 yards on 5.8 yards per carry.
The Utah State Aggies are led by the dynamic Chuckie Keeton. Keeton threw for 3,144 yards with 27 touchdowns and rushed for 527 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Aggies also play some defense. They only allowed opponents 15.4 points per game. That’s good for eighth best in the nation.
Look for Utah State to pull this one out, as they are the more well-rounded team.
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg- UCF vs. Ball State, Dec. 21, 2012, 7:30 PM Eastern Time
This bowl game pits two teams coming off very different endings to the season.
UCF is coming off of an overtime loss to Tusla in the Conference USA title game. That loss stings even more when you consider that the Knights had lost to that same Tulsa team two weeks earlier.
Ball State, on the other hand, has won six games in a row. The Cardinals offense goes as running back Jahwan Edwards goes. The sophomore rushed for 1,321 yards at 6.1 yards per carry and scored 14 times.
The Ball State defense wasn’t anything to write home about this season, but they do have a ferocious pass rusher in senior defensive end Jonathan Newsome, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks.
The UCF Knights play better defense than do their counterparts in this game. Their defense averaged giving up just 22.5 points per game, which was good for 29th in the nation. Senior defensive back Kemal Ishmael leads the way with 116 total tackles, five tackles for loss and three interceptions.
How well a team plays in a bowl game has as much to do with motivation as it does talent. For that reason, I’m going with Ball State. The Cardinals had a great season, are playing great football and will want to show well. UCF, on the other hand, had bigger things in mind. They are no doubt disappointed to end up in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl and not the Liberty Bowl, as they had hoped going into the C-USA title game.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. San Diego State, Dec. 20, 2012, 8:00 PM Eastern Time
Despite the fact that this bowl has been widely ridiculed for its lengthy name, it has played host to some fantastic games in the recent past, including a 17-16 contest between Boise State and TCU, two teams that were ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively, at the time.
Don’t be surprised if we see a very similar game this year, at least in terms of scoring.
BYU is a team that hangs its hat on defense. The unit ranks fifth in FBS in scoring defense at 14.7 points per game. Without that stingy defense, BYU likely wouldn’t be in a bowl game at all. Their offense struggled all year. Quarterback Riley Nelson barely eclipsed 2,000 yards passing for the season with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. No BYU running back had more than 744 yards rushing.
The Cougar defense will be tested by the San Diego State rushing attack. Adam Muema leads the way with 1,355 yards and 16 touchdowns. Walter Kazee provides a fantastic second option. He rushed for 822 yards and eight touchdowns.
In games like this that are tough to predict, the safest bet is to go with the best unit on the field. That’s BYU’s defense. Take the Cougars.
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafeyette, Dec. 22, 2012, 12:00 PM Eastern Time
Both teams in this game should be plenty hungry. The Ragin’ Cajuns are ready to take the next step as a program. This is the second year in a row they have been in this game. No longer are they an FBS doormat.
The ECU Pirates are back in a bowl for the first time since 2010. They will be eager to win their first bowl game since 2007.
The Cajuns are led by electric dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway. The transfer from the University of Houston completed 65.4% of his passes for 2,526 yards and 16 touchdowns. On the ground, he rushed for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. If he has a good game, it’s going to be tough for ECU to emerge victorious.
The task of containing Broadway will fall to junior linebacker Derrell Johnson. During the regular season, he tallied 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Look for the Ragin’ Cajuns to secure their second straight victory in this game. I have a feeling that Broadway will be too much for a defense that was ranked 86th in scoring defense.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. Rice, Dec. 29, 2012, 11:45 AM Eastern Time
Once you tune into this game, don’t blink or you might miss it. These are teams that like to establish the run early and often. Unless plays end up out of bounds, the clock is going to be moving all game long.
For Air Force, running the ball is just part of their system. Quarterback Connor Dietz is less of a quarterback and more of a running back with a good arm. Although his yardage totals are rather paltry, Dietz has managed to complete 62% of his passes, which is just enough to keep the defense honest.
Cody Getz leads the team in rushing with 1,213 yards, but he is far from alone. Five different Air Force players rushed for over 400 yards, including Dietz, who is second on the team with 658 yards.
Like Air Force, Rice is led by a dual-threat QB. In addition to his 2,178 passing yards, Taylor McHargue is second on the team with 628 rushing yards. He has chipped in with 11 touchdowns on the ground.
I’ll go with Air Force in this matchup. This team is littered with players with tons of bowl experience and their wishbone offense is tough to stop for even the best of defenses. I think they will run all over Rice’s defense, which was 90th in scoring defense during the regular season.