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This Week’s College Football Bowl Games — What to Watch For

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College football’s bowl season kicks off this weekend with several intriguing matchups and a handful of big names. Here are some of the highlights of this season’s first bowl games.

[All times Eastern.]

GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL: Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6)

Saturday, December 21, at 2:00 p.m. on ESPN

This is an intriguing matchup between two teams on the upswing. While 6-6 might not sound like a great record for many teams, Washington State fans are hopeful that Mike Leach has the Cougars pointed in the right direction after posting their first non-losing record since 2006 and securing their first bowl bid in ten years. The Rams, meanwhile, will be bowling for the first time since 2008. If you like offense, this could be the game for you: Washington State is fourth nationally in passing offense while Colorado State was the only team in the nation to boast both a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,500-yard rusher.

ROYAL PURPLE LAS VEGAS BOWL: No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) vs. No. 25 Southern Cal (9-4)

Saturday, December 21, at 3:30 p.m. on ABC

While the title sponsor might not be a household name, the two teams playing in this sold-out bowl game certainly are. Fresno was poised for a BCS bid before a late-November loss to San Jose State dropped them all the way to the Las Vegas bowl. No stranger to the BCS themselves, USC has to be pleased to have worked their way into this bowl—after starting the season 4-3 and having coach Lane Kiffin fired, the Trojans rolled off five straight wins under interim coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron elected to leave the USC program after not being given the permanent head coaching job, so the Trojans will be playing for their third acting coach (offensive coordinator Clay Helton) this season. This will be a classic offense vs. defense matchup. Fresno State senior quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. But he will be tested by a Trojans defense that led the Pac-12 in pass defense.

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5)

Saturday, December 21, at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN

After an 0-3 start that included a 40-19 loss to FCS Eastern Illinois, San Diego State rebounded by winning seven of its next eight to secure the Aztecs’ fourth straight bowl game, a school record. Likewise, Buffalo overcame a rough start—blowout losses to Ohio State and Baylor and needing five overtimes to beat FCS Stony Brook—to secure just the second bowl game in school history. A key player to watch will be Aztecs running back Adam Muema. After rushing for 840 yards and 10 touchdowns during a six-game stretch in October and early November, the junior has been held to just 57 rushing yards and one touchdown in his last two games. In all eight of its wins this year, Buffalo has held its opponents to less than 150 yards rushing.

R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL: Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)

Saturday, December 21, at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN

Louisiana-Lafayette has won two straight New Orleans Bowls, but will face a tough test against in-state rival Tulane, which will be playing on its home field. The Green Wave has already secured its first winning season and bowl game since 2002 but will need a strong defensive performance to earn its third straight bowl win. Tulane ranks 19th nationally in scoring defense but just 118th in total offense.

BEEF ‘O’ BRADY’S BOWL ST. PETERSBURG: Ohio (7-5) vs. East Carolina (9-3)

Monday, December 23, at 2:00 p.m. on ESPN

Ohio limps into this matchup after dropping three of its last four games by an average margin of nearly 36 points per game. The Bobcats could be facing a nightmare scenario against an East Carolina squad that ranks 10th nationally in passing offense and 11th in scoring.

SHERATON HAWAII BOWL: Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6)

Tuesday, December 24, at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN

After starting the season 6-1, Oregon State went in the tank, dropping its last five games by an average margin of over 16 points per game. They’ll look to get their high-powered passing game going against a Boise defense that ranks 93rd in pass defense. Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion threw for over 4,400 yards this year (second most nationally) and will be looking for Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks, who caught a Pac-12 record 120 balls for 1,670 yards and 15 scores this year. Boise will counter with a balanced attack that ranks 32nd nationally in both passing and rushing offense. The two teams combine for an average of over 73 points per game, so look for a shootout in this one.

LITTLE CAESARS BOWL: Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)

Thursday, December 26, at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN

These are two teams heading in opposite directions: Bowling Green upset Northern Illinois to claim its first MAC title in over two decades while Pitt, after starting 4-2, lost four of its final six games to fall to .500. This one could be a defensive showdown. The Falcons boast the nation’s fifth-best scoring defense while Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the most decorated college defender since Ndamukong Suh, winning the Nagurski, Lombardi, Outland and Bednarik trophies. Bowling Green will be without head coach Dave Clawson, who has accepted the Wake Forest job.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL: Utah State (8-5) vs. No. 23 Northern Illinois (12-1)

Thursday, December 26, at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN

Although they fell short in their quest for a second consecutive BCS bid, Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois Huskies can still reach their goal of the most wins in school history (13) in their MAC-record sixth straight bowl game. Lynch finished third in the Heisman voting after compiling an NCAA record 1,881 rushing yards, 2,676 passing yards and 46 total touchdowns. However, he’ll face a tough test against one of the nation’s best defenses. The Aggies are in the top ten nationally in both rushing and scoring defense.

MILITARY BOWL: Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5)

Friday, December 27, at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN

Despite dropping four of its final six games, Maryland is still celebrating its first winning season under Randy Edsall. However, they’ll face a tough challenge against a Marshall squad that ranks 13th nationally in total offense and sixth in scoring. Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 36 touchdowns (third-best nationally). A Marshall win would give the Thundering Herd its first ten-win season since 2002.

TEXAS BOWL: Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4)

Friday, December 27, at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN

Minnesota lost to Texas Tech in this game last year, but has higher stakes this season. A win would give the Gophers just their second nine-win season since 1905. Both teams average less than 182 passing yards per game, so look for this one to be decided in the trenches, with who ran control the line of scrimmage and run the ball determining the outcome.

FIGHT HUNGER BOWL: BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)

Friday, December 27, at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN

With Steve Sarkisian leaving for the USC job, it will be up to interim coach and former UW quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo to lead the Huskies in their quest for their best record in 13 years. BYU, meanwhile, is looking for its seventh win in its last eight bowl games. Both teams feature powerful running games. Washington running back Bishop Sankey rushed for a school-record 1,775 yards this year while the BYU tandem of quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams combined for over 2,400 yards this season. With the two teams averaging over 1,000 yards and 69 points per game combined, this one could be one of the more entertaining shootouts of this year’s bowl season.

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