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NCAA College Football Bowl Preview — Dec. 17-23

Kellen Moore, the NCAA record holder for career victory, looks to go out with one more win.
Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

The college bowl season kicks off Saturday night and, while the next week of action doesn’t feature the biggest or most well-known bowl games, it does highlight some up and coming teams. Florida International and Temple are among them, as well as more prominent football powers TCU and Boise State. Here is what to look for this week as the bowl games get underway.

GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL: Temple (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-4)

[Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2:00 PM ET on ESPN]

After being left out of a bowl game last year despite an identical 8-4 record, Temple made sure it wouldn’t be home for the holidays this year, closing the season on a three-game winning streak. The Owls are led by junior RB Bernard Pierce, who rushed for over 1,300 yards this season and is third in the nation with 25 touchdowns. Expect him to get a lot of work this week against a Cowboys defense that is sixth worst nationally at stopping the run. Owls sophomore quarterback Chris Coyer, who started the last four games for Temple, suffered a sprained shoulder in the regular season finale and is still questionable for the bowl game.

Wyoming also features a solid run game, with two backs splitting carries and going over 600 yards rushing this season. They’ll need every yard they can get against a Temple defense that ranks third in the nation (behind Alabama and LSU) in scoring defense, giving up just 13.8 points per game.

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: Ohio (9-4) vs. Utah State (7-5)

[Saturday, Dec. 17 at 5:30 PM ET on ESPN]

Utah State won five straight games to close out the regular season and will look to keep that momentum going in its first bowl game since 1997. The Aggies are a run-first team (sixth in the nation in rushing) and are led by the nation’s tenth-leading rusher, running back Robert Turbin, the WAC offensive player of the year. He’ll go against an Ohio defense that allowed less than 127 rushing yards per game and held two of its final four opponents under 70 yards on the ground.

Under head coach Frank Solich, Ohio has made a bowl game each of the last three years, but has yet to win one and is 0-5 all-time in the postseason. The Bobcats also won five in a row to end the regular season, but squandered a 20-0 halftime lead in a loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game. This game could hinge on Ohio’s ability to keep moving the ball—the Bobcats have put up 400+ yards in eight of their last nine games and are going against a Utah State defense that has given up nearly 430 yards per game in its last five games.

R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL: San Diego State (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)

[Saturday, Dec. 17 at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Louisiana-Lafayette is making its first bowl appearance in 41 years thanks to a 5-0 home record that could benefit the Cajuns playing in their home state. ULL’s potent offense (32.3 points per game) is led by junior quarterback Blaine Gautier, who has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards this season to go along with 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He completed a career-best 62.3 percent of his passes this season. Gautier will need an efficient game to keep San Diego State’s powerful running game off the field.

The Aztecs are led by sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman, the nation’s third leading rusher. With his 1,656 yards this season, Hillman moved past Marshall Faulk for second place in the school’s single-season rushing record. He needs 187 yards to break the current mark, set by George Jones in 1995. While San Diego State’s offense centers around Hillman, they have shown the ability to strike through the air as well. Despite a career-low 52.5 completion percentage, Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley has thrown for 2,740 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. A senior, Lindley holds the school record for total yardage, completions and passing touchdowns. With him under center, San Diego State is enjoying its first back-to-back bowl seasons since 1966-67.

BEEF ‘O’ BRADY’S BOWL ST. PETERSBURG: Florida International (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)

[Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Florida International is already enjoying its best run in school history, recording the school’s first-ever eight win season and back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time ever. The Golden Panthers feature a balanced attack on offense, with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, the school’s career record holder in catches, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and total scores, recording 950 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season. He is matched by running back Kedrick Rhodes, the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since joining the FBS in 2005.

On the other side of the ball, Marshall needed to win its last two games of the season just to reach 6-6 and back into a bowl game. The Thundering Herd offense has been less than intimidating this year, ranking 101st nationally in both total offense and scoring. For Marshall to win, they will likely have to rely on an opportunistic defense that has recorded 28 takeaways this season, good for 16th nationally. They are led by defensive end Vinny Curry, who ranks in the top five in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL: #18 Texas Christian (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

[Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Despite closing the season with seven straight wins, TCU just missed out on making its third consecutive BCS bowl game. While past Horned Frogs teams were known for their dominant defenses, this year’s squad has gotten it done with offense, ranking ninth nationally in scoring. Quarterback Casey Paschall led the attack this year with 2,715 passing yards and 24 touchdowns on 213/314 (67.8 percent) passing. He has thrown just six interceptions this year, but will be tested by a Louisiana Tech defense that has recorded 20 interceptions this season, good for third in the nation. Paschall will be without play caller and co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente, who recently accepted the head coaching position as Memphis.

Louisiana Tech enters the game after winning its first ever conference championship and riding a seven-game winning streak, its longest such run since 1999. Since junior quarterback Colby Cameron took over at quarterback for the injured Nick Isham five games ago, the Bulldogs are averaging nearly 450 yards and 35 points per game. But this game will likely be settled on the ground as Louisiana Tech’s defense, which allows just 122 rushing yards per game (25th nationally) takes on a TCU rushing attack that averages over 210 yards per game and features three backs who have all gone over 600 yards this season.

MAACO BOWL LAS VEGAS: #7 Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6)

[Thursday, Dec. 22 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

This game certainly looks like a mismatch on paper, and it could get really ugly depending on the Sun Devils’ mental state after closing the regular season with four straight losses and coach Dennis Erickson getting the axe. The Sun Devils feature a solid offense (ranked 25th nationally in both total offense and scoring) that is led by junior quarterback Brock Osweiler’s 3,641 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. However, he has also thrown 12 interceptions and will need to avoid those kinds of mistakes if he wants to pull off the upset. The bigger concern, however, is on the other side of the ball where Arizona State’s defense allows nearly 420 yards per game (89th nationally) and has given up 36 points per game during its current four-game losing streak. They’ll be going against a Boise State offense that ranks seventh nationally in scoring and has put up at least 35 points in all but one game this season.

Boise quarterback Kellen Moore is already the winningest quarterback in football history. This year, the senior has thrown for 3,507 yards and a career-high 41 touchdowns. But this season he’s also been complemented by a strong running game led by senior running back Doug Martin’s 1,148 yards and 15 touchdowns. Although a last-second missed field goal against TCU cost the Broncos a spot in the BCS—perhaps even the national title game—Boise State is out to show that it’s offense can still go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country. On the season, the Broncos have averaged over 483 yards and 43 points per game.

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