2014 College Football Bowl Season Preview, Part 1

Alright, people. It does not take a genius to realize this is the first post in quite some time. You get no apologies. Sometimes you gotta take a few months to go really hard in the paint. Accept it, and then tackle the next challenge.

Let’s pretend that my use of the word “tackle” is an adequate segue, and dive in to previewing bowl games, as things kick off this Saturday. I’ll take you through seven days worth of bowls, beginning this Saturday and going through Boxing Day (okay I’m gonna have to scrap the plan of having the games previewed through Boxing Day and instead I’ll be taking you through) Monday the 22nd. Each preview will feature, in order:

Bowl Title
Team (Record, Conf. Record) vs. Team (Record, Conf. Record)
Day of the Week, Date at Time ET/Time PT
Stadium (City, State).
TV: Network (Commentators).
Radio: Radio Network, if applicable (Commentators).

Series History

Coaching Comparison
…as well as some information and insight, and my pick.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5, 4-4 in MWC) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4, 7-1 in Sun Belt)
Saturday, December 20 at 11 AM ET/8 AM PT
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, LA).
TV: ESPN (Bob Wischusen, Mack Brown, and Kaylee Hartung).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, and Joe Schad).

Series History: Nevada won the only matchup, 38-14 (Sep. 2, 1995).

Coaching Comparison:
39-year old Brian Polian is in his 2nd season as Nevada Head Coach with a record of 11-13 (.458). If that name sounds familiar, it’s because his father Bill is the former Indianapolis Colts executive and current ESPN personality.
46-year old Mark Hudspeth is in his 4th season as Louisiana-Lafayette Head Coach with a record of 35-16 (.686). This is Hudspeth’s second head coaching gig after leading the North Alabama Lions from 2002-08.

Last year, the Ragin' Cajuns won their third straight R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, 24-21 over Tulane. This year, they look to make it four in a row against the Nevada Wolf Pack. Photo Courtesy of Brad Kemp and the Ragin Cajuns official website.

Last year, the Ragin’ Cajuns won their third straight R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, 24-21 over Tulane. This year, they look to make it four in a row against the Nevada Wolf Pack. Photo Courtesy of Brad Kemp and the Ragin Cajuns official website.

It all kicks off with a Saturday matinée affair in the Big Easy. The Wolf Pack had an up and down season but ended the year with a 49-27 win against their archrival UNLV in Vegas, walking away with the Fremont Cannon. Nevada was among the most effective teams in the Red Zone this season, converting 94.1% of their opportunities (3rd in NCAA). The Wolf Pack calling card was their three-pronged rushing attack led by 6’2″ senior QB Cody Fajardo who finished the year with more than 3,000 total yards and 31 total touchdowns. Joining Fajardo in the running game are 5’10” junior Don Jackson (932 yards, seven TDs) and 5’9″ freshman James Butler (620 yards, five TDs). Nevada did struggle defensively, however, ranking 112th out of 125 teams in passing yards allowed/game (271.0).

Nevada’s opponent is no stranger to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. In fact, Mark Hudspeth and his squad are aiming to win their 4th straight New Orleans Bowl which would make them the first school to ever win any particular bowl game four years in a row. This year’s Ragin’ Cajuns team finished the year with wins in seven of their last eight including three of four on the road, and they did so in a way that is quite similar to Nevada — running the ball wall and allowing a bunch of points. ULL features their own three-headed monster running the ball, led by 5’11” sophomore Elijah McGuire (1,165 yards, 14 TDs, and a 7.7 yards/carry mark good for 3rd in the NCAA) and joined by 6’1″ senior RB Alonzo Harris and 6’2″ senior QB Terrance Broadway. On the defensive side of the ball, the Ragin’ Cajuns allowed 421.9 yards/game (86th in NCAA) and 275.3 passing yards/game (117th in NCAA).

Dylan’s Pick: Vegas sees this as a pretty even matchup and even though I’ve got two good friends who are associated with the Nevada team, I’ve gotta go with the side that has won the game the last three years. Louisiana-Lafayette, 35-34.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Utah State Aggies (9-4, 6-2 in MWC) vs. UTEP Miners (7-5, 5-3 in C-USA)
Saturday, December 20 at 2:20 PM ET/11:20 AM PT
University Stadium (Albuquerque, NM).
TV: ESPN (Mark Neely, David Diaz-Infante, and Kayce Smith).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Drew Goodman, Tom Ramsey, and David Shore).

Series History: Utah State leads 2-0 (Last matchup — 1961).

Coaching Comparison:
41-year old Matt Wells is in his second season as Utah State Head Coach with a record of 18-9 (.667). Wells served for two seasons as an assistant under Gary Anderson before he left for Madison.
48-year old Sean Kugler is in his second season as UTEP Head Coach with a record of 9-15 (.375). Kugler was born and raised in western New York and spent three seasons as a member of the Buffalo Bills coaching staff (2007-09).

University Stadium in Albuquerque, with a seating capacity of 37,457, will serve as the home of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Photo courtesy of the official website of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

University Stadium in Albuquerque, with a seating capacity of 37,457, will serve as the home of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Photo courtesy of the official website of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

The second game of Day 1 pits Utah State’s stout defense – particularly up front – against a UTEP program that hasn’t won a bowl game in 47 years. The Aggies had won seven of eight before ending their season with a 50-19 loss at Boise State and can reach double-digit victories for only the second time in school history. Utah State may not blow you away offensively, but their defense is potent (20.8 points allowed/game, 21st in FBS). Keep your eyes on the Vigil brothers as Zach, a senior, won MWC Defensive Player of the Year and ranks ninth in FBS with 145 tackles and Nick, a sophomore, whose five fumbles forced see him tied for fifth in FBS in that category.

UTEP kind of stinks, if we’re being somewhat honest with ourselves (and I’d like to think we are), but the Miners are able to run the ball with some effectiveness. They’re led in that regard by 5’10” sophomore Aaron Jones whose 1,233 rushing yards rank sixth most in a season in UTEP history. UTEP’s passing game is meager at best as they average only 144.3 yards/game (118th in FBS) and their 28.7 points allowed/game mark ranks 80th in FBS, so they’re not exactly a force defensively either. Though again, if we’re being honest, we should probably remind ourselves that no one in the country has an amazing defense.

Dylan’s pick: Utah State is favored by around 10 points and it’s hard to disagree with that. I’ll take the Aggies, 42-21.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
No. 22 Utah Utes (8-4, 5-4 in Pac-12) vs. Colorado State Rams (10-2, 6-2 in MWC)
Saturday, December 20 at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT
Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas, NV).
TV: ABC (Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor)
Radio: Sports USA (Eli Gold, Gary Barnett).

Series History: The two teams have spent 63 years in the same conference, most recently as part of the Mountain West from 1999-2010. Utah leads the series history 55-22-2, including wins in the last five matchups, though the two teams have never faced off at a neutral site.

Coaching Comparison:
55-year old Kyle Whittingham is in his 10th season as the Utah Head Coach with a record of 84-43 (.661). Whittingham played QB at BYU in the late ’70s and has been a part of the Utes coaching staff since 1994.
59-year old Dave Baldwin is in his 3rd season as an assistant coach at Colorado State and will serve as the Interim Head Coach following Jim McElwain’s acceptance of the Florida Gators job. Baldwin has been an assistant coach at eight different NCAA FBS institutions during his career.

Keep an eye on Utah DE Nate Orchard, who Mel Kiper has ranked as the seventh best defensive end prospect for the NFL Draft. Photo courtesy of Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics, and The Deseret News.

Keep an eye on Utah DE Nate Orchard, who Mel Kiper has ranked as the seventh best defensive end prospect for the NFL Draft. Photo courtesy of Tom Smart, University of Utah Athletics, and The Deseret News.

Saturday afternoon gives us the first bowl game featuring a ranked team, and it pits a Utah team that won six of their first seven including two victories over Top 20 teams, against a Colorado State squad that lost only twice this season with one of those two losses coming in their last game at Air Force. The Rams may be without Jim McElwain who turned the program around over a three-year period (win total increased by four wins in year 2 and two wins in year 3), but they still have a stud under center. 6’2″ senior Garrett Grayson, the MWC Offensive Player of the Year, rattled off his second consecutive season with more than 3,500 passing yards, finishing the regular season with a 32 TD/6 INT ratio and 314.9 passing yards/game (6th in FBS). The Rams have talent at the other skill positions as well in 5’9″ senior RB Dee Hart (1,254 rushing yards, 16 rushing TDs) and 6’2″ sophomore WR Rashard Higgins (1,640 receiving yards, 17 receiving TDs).

If the Utes have anyone who is going to blow you away offensively, it’s 5’11” junior RB Devontae Booker who ranks in the Top 25 in FBS in rushing yards (1,350) and rushing yards/game (112.5). Utah’s calling card however, is their defense, which led the nation in sacks with 52 and finished 3rd in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed/game (245.0). The names to watch on the Utah defense include 6’4″ 255 lbs. senior DE Nate Orchard who led FBS with 1.46 sacks/game, and 6’3″ 266 lbs. sophomore DE Hunter Dimick who finished the season with 10 sacks.

Dylan’s Pick: Though the Rams lost only twice this season and Garrett Grayson put up phenomenal numbers, the disparity in strength of schedule is stark. Utah finished the year 2-3 against ranked opponents; Colorado State played no one who was ranked at the time. Moreover, there’s no denying the supremacy of the Pac-12 over the Mountain West. I’ve got Utah in this one, 30-23.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan Broncos (8-4, 6-2 in MAC) vs. Air Force Falcons (9-3, 5-3 in MWC)
Saturday, December 20 at 5:45 PM ET/2:45 PM PT
Albertsons Stadium (Boise, ID).
TV: ESPN (Eamon McAnaney, Dan Hawkins, and Dawn Davenport).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Paul Loeffler, Pat Hill, and Marty Cesario).

Series History: This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams.

Coaching Comparison:
34-year old P.J. Fleck is in his 2nd season as Western Michigan Head Coach with a record of 9-15 (.375). When Fleck was named the head coach on December 17, 2012, he became the first ever head coach in the FBS that was born in the 1980s.
48-year old Troy Calhoun is in his 8th season as Air Force Head Coach with a record of 58-44 (.569). Calhoun spent four years as an assistant in the NFL – 2003-05 with the Broncos and 2006 with the Texans – before taking over at the Air Force Academy.

Most of you were likely  not as lucky as I was growing up to have a stuffed version of Spuddy Buddy, the mascot of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Here he is following last year's game.

Most of you were likely not as lucky as I was growing up to have a stuffed version of Spuddy Buddy, the mascot of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Here he is following last year’s game.

Saturday afternoon’s game in Boise will feature two teams who combined for just three wins in 2013, making great strides this season as both teams improved by seven wins. Western Michigan’s QB Zach Terrell, a 6’1″ sophomore from Fort Wayne, made a tremendous improvement over 2013, turning his 8 TD/8 INT mark from a year ago into a 23 TD/10 INT ratio and throwing for 3,146 yards while completing 70.0% of his passes (5th in FBS). The focus will likely be on each team’s respective run game, however. 6’1″ freshman Jarvion Franklin was a force for the Broncos this season, finishing with 1,525 rushing yards (10th in FBS) and 24 rushing TDs (Third in FBS), both leading marks among freshmen.

The Air Force Academy’s running attack was among the best in the country as they averaged 272.0 yards on the ground per game (7th in FBS). Leading the way for the Falcons was 5’11” sophomore Jacobi Owens (1,054 rushing yards, five TDs), though three other Air Force RBs all ran for at least 250 yards. AFA’s second leading rusher was their QB, 5’9″ senior Kale Pearson, who ran for 646 and six touchdowns while throwing 14 TDs and only three interceptions. One of the Falcons’ weaknesses is on pass defense (256.0 yards allowed/game, 98th in FBS) and this could prove costly against two phenomenal Western Michigan receivers in 6’2″ sophomore Corey Davis (1,232 yards and 12 TDs) and 5’10” sophomore Daniel Braverman (912 yards and six TDs).

Dylan’s Pick: Far too often, the service academies’ sports teams can get lumped in together and this is especially a problem as it concerns football. I want to say that Navy is far and away the most compelling of the three schools on the gridiron, but Air Force did finish 9-3 this year. That said, I think the Western Michigan offense will be too much and the Broncos will win yet again in Boise (see what I did there). Western Michigan wins, 42-31.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
South Alabama Jaguars (6-6, 5-3 in Sun Belt) vs. Bowling Green Falcons (7-6, 5-3 in MAC)
Saturday, December 20 at 9:15 PM ET/6:15 PM PT
Cramton Bowl (Montgomery, AL).
TV: ESPN (Dave Lamont, Joey Galloway, and Paul Carcaterra).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Jason Benetti, Gene Chizik, and Niki Noto).

Series History: Not surprisingly, this is the first ever matchup between BGSU and USA.

Coaching Comparison:
53-year old Dino Babers is in his first season as Bowling Green State Head Coach with a record of 7-6 (.538). Babers spent two seasons as the head coach at Eastern Illinois prior to taking over in Bowling Green.
52-year old Joey Jones is in his 6th season as South Alabama Head Coach with a record of 40-34 (.541), but only his 3rd season in the FBS (14-23, .378). Jones is a bit unique in that he’s never served as an NCAA assistant coach.

The Cramton Bowl is located right next to a cemetery, which should surprise no one.

The Cramton Bowl is located right next to a cemetery, which should surprise no one.

“There are too many bowl games,” is a statement uttered by both avid and casual college football fans alike. While I can see both sides of the argument, this is one of the games on the docket that would be among the first cut if you were to get rid of bowls. South Alabama is playing in their first ever bowl game which just so happens to be the first ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and their going up against a Bowling Green team whose coach, Dino Babers, is in his first season so…a lot of firsts. I got another shocker for you — South Alabama is bad. They barely finished above .500, played a weak schedule on top of the fact that they’re in the Sun Belt, and they lost 4 of their last 5 games. I guess if there’s a player to know about, it’s 6’5″ 235 lbs. senior QB Brandon Bridge. He’s Canadian, and he is the Jaguars’ quarterback. That said, he completed only 51.9% of his passes, threw for only 1,648 yards, and posted a 14 TD/6 INT ratio.

I think we can all agree that the MAC is a stronger conference than the Sun Belt…but I’m not sure how much that means here. Bowling Green is also not good. I could throw stats at you, sure, or I could tell you that the Falcons’ QB James Knapke finished with 13 TDs and 12 INTs, and they didn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher or receiver. Moreover, they allowed nearly 500 yards per game and rank 107th in points allowed per game at 33.9.

Dylan’s Pick: This one’s gonna be really ugly. I’m taking the Jaguars in their home state, 21-17.

Miami Beach Bowl
BYU Cougars (8-4) vs. Memphis Tigers (9-3, 7-1 in AAC)
Monday, December 22 at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT
Marlins Park (Miami, FL).
TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming, Danny Kanell, and Allison Williams).

Series History: This will be the first ever meeting between BYU and Memphis

Coaching Comparison:
48-year old Bronco Mendenhall is in his 10th season as BYU Head Coach with a record of 90-38 (.703). During his time as the defensive coordinator at New Mexico from 1998-02, Mendenhall developed some great blitz schemes for his star linebacker, Brian Urlacher.
38-year old Justin Fuente is in his third season as Memphis Head Coach with a record of 16-20 (.444). Fuente was named the 2014 AAC Coach of the Year and was rewarded this week with a five-year contract extension that will start at $1.4 million per season.

Memphis claimed a share of the AAC Championship this season, the Tigers' first conference championship since 1971. Photo credit to Justin Ford, USA TODAY Sports.

Memphis claimed a share of the AAC Championship this season, the Tigers’ first conference championship since 1971. Photo credit to Justin Ford, USA TODAY Sports.

Memphis is laying claim to a share of the American title because they’re one of three AAC teams with a 7-1 record. Not to detract from their quality season, however — the Tigers have won six straight and seven of eight en route to their best seasons in recent memory. Their late run was fueled by 6’7″ sophomore QB Paxton Lynch who completed 64.0% of his passes, set the school record for most touchdowns responsible for in a season (18 passing, 10 rushing), and didn’t throw a pick in Memphis’ last six games. Memphis is among the best in the country on defense, ranking 5th in FBS in points allowed per game (17.1) and 22nd in yards allowed per game (343.3). AAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Tank Jakes isn’t just a great name — the 5’11” senior LB finished with six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.

BYU’s season got off to a raging hot start to the season with four wins including two on the road and two against Power 5 conference schools. Then the heartbreak hit — their star quarterback – 6’2″ junior Taysom Hill – broke his left leg and was forced to miss the rest of the season. The Cougars fell and fell hard, losing their next four games including a 35-20 defeat to in-state rival Utah State. They rebounded, however, winning their last four games and capping their season off with a 42-35 win in Berkeley against the Golden Bears. 6’2″ senior Christian Stewart has done an admirable job stepping in for Hill (2,273 yards, 23 TD/6 INT in eight games) but the real stud has been the Cougars receiving corps led by 6’6″ junior Mitch Matthews (840 yards, eight TDs). BYU did a much better job of stopping the run (117.5 yards allowed per game, 14th in FBS) than they did the pass (266.7 yards allowed per game, 109th in FBS) and were overall a middle-of-the-pack team on defense.

Dylan’s Pick: This is the 10th straight bowl game for Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU Cougars, and the boys men from Provo had won four straight bowls prior to last year’s loss to Wisconsin in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. They’ll be looking to avenge said loss against a Memphis team that lost their only two games against ranked opponents and didn’t play an exceedingly tough schedule. I’ll take BYU, 35-24.

I’ve guided you all up to Tuesday the 23rd. Check back soon (likely Monday) for our next wave of game previews.

- Dylan

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2014 MLB All-Star Game Preview

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