Welcome to Part 2 of the 2014 College Football Bowl Season Preview. To see what you missed in Part 1, click here. Now, let’s get going with a little action down in Florida.
Boca Raton Bowl
Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1, 7-1 in C-USA) vs. Northern Illinois (11-2, 7-1 in MAC)
Tuesday, December 23 at 6 PM ET/3 PM PT
FAU Stadium (Boca Raton, FL).
TV: ESPN (Dave Lamont, Desmond Howard, and Quint Kessenich).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Marc Kestecher, John Congemi, and Ian Fitzsimmons).
Series History: Northern Illinois leads the all-time series 4-3, with the last match occurring in 2001.
57-year old John “Doc” Holliday is in his 5th season as Marshall’s Head Coach with a record of 39-25 (.604). Doc Holliday was a three-year letterwinner at West Virginia from 1976-78 and spent the following 20 years as a member of the Mountaineers coaching staff.
43-year old Rod Carey is in his 2nd season as Northern Illinois’ Head Coach with a record of 23-5 (.821). This is only Carey’s second year as an FBS Head Coach, but it will be his third bowl game.
You don’t have to wait til 2015 to get a battle of conference champions as the Huskies and Thundering Herd will be doing battle in the first ever Boca Raton Bowl. Let’s start with Marshall, the Conference USA champions, and let’s start by getting the one (rightful) knock against them out of the way — their schedule was awful. I was all aboard the, “Marshall deserves more recognition” bandwagon early on until I realized that they didn’t face one quality opponent all season. That said, Marshall dominated every opponent they faced until the last week of the regular season when their contest against Western Kentucky turned into a knock-down, drag-out fight that saw the Thundering Herd lose 67-66 in overtime. At the center of it all is record-setting quarterback Rakeem Cato. Cato’s career numbers are incredible, his 2014 stats are solid (3,622 yards, 37 TD/13 INT, 58.5% completion pct), and he’s thrown a touchdown pass in an FBS-record 45 straight games. If that weren’t enough, Marshall can also hand the ball to 6’1″ 243 lbs. RB Devon Johnson who ran for 16 TDs (11th in FBS) and 1,636 yards (6th in FBS). Marshall’s defensive numbers certainly aren’t atrocious – 24th in FBS in passing yards allowed per game, 51st in passing yards allowed – but one has to remember they didn’t play any quality opponents all year.
You remember Jordan Lynch? Guy was a stud at NIU, twice named an AP All-American. He’s no longer there but the Huskies have fared alright this season without him, winning their last seven games and eight of their last nine, though they also didn’t play an exceptionally tough schedule. Senior Cameron Stingily and sophomore Joel Bouganon both ran for over 500 yards and had at least five TDs on the ground, and 6’1″ sophomore QB Drew Hare got it done both through the air (17 TDs/2 INTs) and on the ground (850 yards, 8 TDs). The real offensive weapon for Northern Illinois, however, is 6’0″ senior Da’Ron Brown who finished with six TDs and over 1,000 receiving yards.
Dylan’s Pick: This one figures to be an entertaining, high-scoring affair, with points put up left and right. So at the very least, I’m telling you this is one you’re gonna want to tune in for. I’ve got Marshall, 63-48.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Navy Midshipmen (7-5) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (7-5, 5-3 in MWC)
Tuesday, December 23 at 9:30 PM ET/6:30 PM PT
Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego, CA).
TV: ESPN (Tom Hart, Mike Bellotti, and Heather Mitts)
Radio: ESPN Radio (Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, and Joe Schad).
Series History: The Aztecs have won all three matchups in the series, with the last being four years to the date in this same game, a 35-14 final.
49-year old Ken Niumatalolo is in his 7th season as the Navy Head Coach with a record of 56-35 (.615). Niumatalolo played QB at Hawaii from 1987-89 and was a part of Hawaii’s first bowl team in his final season.
64-year old Rocky Long is in his 4th season as San Diego State Head Coach with a record of 32-19 (.627). Long was the head coach of the New Mexico Lobos from 1999-08 with a record of 65-69 (.485) and five bowl appearances.
Let’s start with the San Diego State Aztecs, who I’d argue are the less intriguing of the two teams involved. SDSU played two tough non-conference games – at No. 21 UNC and at Oregon State – and lost both, but they did finish their season with wins in three of their last four games. Their calling card was much more their defense (20.1 points allowed per game, 15th in FBS; 337.6 yards allowed per game, 21st in FBS) than their offense (25.8 points per game, 83rd in FBS; 400.1 yards per game, 63rd in FBS). The Aztecs do feature a key weapon on offense, however; 5’9″ sophomore RB Donnel Pumphrey who ran for 1,755 yards (3rd in FBS) and 19 rushing touchdowns (8th in FBS).
Pumphrey may be a great running back, but if we’re talking about running the football as a team then you’ve got to talk about the Naval Academy. Their triple option offense poses nightmares for opposing defenses and the effects of gameplanning can be devastating — teams who played Navy were 3-8 in their next game. The Midshipmen’s running game, whose 345.1 rushing yards per game were the best in the country, were led by 5’11” junior QB Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds rattled off his second consecutive season with more than 1,000 rushing yards and now has 62 career rushing touchdowns, the most ever by a quarterback and seventh among all NCAA players. Joining Reynolds in the triple option attack are two fullbacks — 5’10” senior Noah Copeland (889 rushing yards, five TDs) and 6’1″ 245 lbs. junior Chris Swain (621 rushing yards, four TDs). Navy’s defensive numbers are comparable with San Diego State, though they did hold opponents below 20 points in two of their last three games.
Dylan’s Pick: If San Diego State had star power – think Jordan Lynch with Northern Illinois last year – or some underrated aspect, things may be different. But this Naval Academy triple option attack is just too prolific. I’ve got Navy in this one, 34-20.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Central Michigan Chippewas (7-5, 5-3 in MAC) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5, 4-4 in C-USA)
Wednesday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) at Noon ET/9 AM PT
Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium (Nassau, Bahamas).
TV: ESPN (Steve Levy, Lou Holtz, Mark May, and Laura Rutledge).
Radio: ESPN Radio (John Brickley and Pete Najerian).
Series History: This is the 2nd ever meeting between the Chippewas and the Hilltoppers, a rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl that saw Central Michigan win 27-24.
46-year old Dan Enos is in his 5th season as the Head Coach at Central Michigan with a record of 26-35 (.426). Enos was a quarterback at Michigan State from 1987-90, helping the Spartans secure a share of the Big Ten Championship in 1990.
43-year old Jeff Brohm is in his 1st season as the Head Coach at Western Kentucky. Brohm had a seven year professional career and has served in the college coaching ranks since 2003.
You can add this to the list of bowl games that we could probably do without, though it is in the Bahamas and a great man named John Brickley has the radio call so I can live with it. First for the Chippewas, coming to us from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The highlight of the season may have been their 38-17 win at Purdue in the second game of the year. But after allowing 40 unanswered points the next week to Syracuse as well as losing to rival Western Michigan at home in their final game of the year, CMU will certainly be looking to get a bad taste out of their mouths. 5’10” senior Thomas Rawls, a transfer from Ann Arbor, is the Chippewas running back and he finished the year with 122.6 rushing yards per game (16th in FBS) and 10 touchdowns. The hallmark of this CMU team is running the clock (33:27 time of possession ranks 8th in FBS) and getting defensive stops (331.2 yards allowed per game ranks 16th in FBS).
Jeff Brohm’s first season with the Hilltoppers saw some exciting football in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as WKU finished the season ranked in the Top 10 in FBS in points per game (44.0), pass completion percentage (67.4%), defensive TDs (five), passing yards per game (365.0), and total yards per game (525.3). This potent offensive attack helped Western Kentucky win five of their last six, culminating with a thrilling 67-66 overtime victory at then No. 24 Marshall. At the forefront of the Western Kentucky offense is 6’3″ senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, the Conference USA MVP. Doughty led the nation in passing yards (4,344), passing TDs (44), and finished 9th in FBS with a completion percentage of 67.5%. As if Doughty weren’t enough, the Hilltoppers also feature 6’1″ 235 lbs. junior RB Leon Allen whose 1,490 rushing yards rank 14th in FBS.
Dylan’s Pick: On one side, you’ve got a decent defense and an offense that wants to keep the opposing defense on the field. On the other side, you’ve got an offense that will put up points like there’s no tomorrow. At the end of the day, I’m riding with Brandon Doughty and Western Kentucky, 40-30.
Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl
Fresno State Bulldogs (6-7, 5-3 in MWC) vs. Rice Owls (7-5, 5-3 in C-USA)
Wednesday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT
Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium (Honolulu, Hawaii).
TV: ESPN (Allen Bestwick, Rod Gilmore, and Holly Rowe).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Kevin Winter and Trevor Matich).
Series History: Fresno State and Rice were both members of the WAC from 1999-04 and the Bulldogs won all six of the meetings.
51-year old Tim DeRuyter is in his 3rd season as the Fresno State head coach with a record of 26-13 (.667). This will be DeRuyter’s fourth consecutive bowl game, as he served as the interim head coach at Texas A&M when the Aggies took down Northwestern in the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
56-year old David Bailiff is in his 8th season as the Rice Head Coach with a record of 47-53 (.470). Bailiff and DeRuyter have now both led their teams to three consecutive bowl games.
The Bulldogs saw their best player – star quarterback Derek Carr – depart for the NFL where he’s now starting on Sundays for the Raiders. Without Carr, Fresno State took it on the chin at the start of the year, losing by a combined score of 166-59 to three Big 5 conference opponents (at No. 15 USC, at Utah, vs. Nebraska). Fresno State bounced back however, winning three of their last four, and now seek their first bowl win since 2007. Keep an eye on 6’1″ senior and NFL hopeful Josh Harper, who had his second consecutive season with more than 1,000 receiving yards and capped off the season with 10 catches for 131 yards at No. 22 Boise State.
For Rice, their season also got off to a real rough start as they lost their first three games including 48-17 at Notre Dame and 38-10 at Texas A&M. The boys from Houston bounced back though, rattling off six consecutive wins before ending their season with a brutal defensive performance at Louisiana Tech (76-31 was the final). On offense, 6’5″ senior wideout Jordan Taylor had his third straight solid year, amassing 781 receiving yards and six touchdowns. 6’3″ 230 lbs. junior defensive end Brian Nordstrom, an All Conference-USA first team selection, also had a great season. He led C-USA with 18.5 tackles for loss, a new program record, and also had 7.5 sacks.
Dylan’s Pick: This game doesn’t project to be incredibly thrilling in part because there isn’t a whole lot that stands out. That said, I can’t pick a team who finished their season with a losing record. I’ll take Rice, 35-21.
That takes us from today through Boxing Day. Be on the lookout for the next in the bowl preview series over the next couple of days!