NCAA Football

Predictions for Every Bowl Game

The time for the first College Football Playoff field has come. Naturally, there's a lot of controversy. Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon are in; Baylor and TCU are out. 

As Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports tweets, no one is getting "robbed"; rather selecting the final spot is extremely difficult. But that's what college football signed up for, and that's the committee's job. 

The rest of the bowl season? It took shape on Sunday as well, and there are some great matchups on hand. 

Here's how the two major Top 25 polls looked after Week 15. The following slides contain each and every postseason bowl matchup, including the four-team playoff. Click on the links below to view the latest College Football Playoff, Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls.

College Football Playoff 

Associated Press

USA Today Amway Coaches Poll

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Las Vegas Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for Colorado State vs. Utah

The Utah Utes have accepted a bid to the 2014 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, where they will play Colorado State on Dec. 20 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Whitney, Nevada.

Dirk Facer of the Deseret News reported on the postseason matchup, which is the third of five games to kick off the bowl season.

Utah managed to improve to 8-4 on the strength of a 38-34 victory over the Colorado Buffaloes in the regular-season finale. Although Colorado State is coming off an encouraging 10-2 campaign, it ended on a bit of a sour note.

A last-minute loss to Air Force, combined with the departure of head coach Jim McElwain to Florida, puts the Rams in a precarious position ahead of their final game of the year.

Below is a closer look at the game, including the basic viewing information and predictions as to how the impending showdown will unfold.

Note: Stats are courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

Las Vegas Bowl Preview, Predictions

The outcome will likely come down to how well Rams star quarterback Garrett Grayson plays. With a 32-6 ratio for touchdowns and interceptions, the senior signal-caller has played at an extremely high level.

But facing his best opponent all season without McElwain's help to prepare, how will Grayson fare? Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun documented what Grayson said regarding McElwain's departure:

That offers an idea of the type of turnaround McElwain orchestrated at Colorado State and how difficult it might be for the underdogs to get up for this one, even though it is a bowl game.

Andrew Gorringe of Scout.com notes how the Rams also boast two tremendous playmakers to help their cause:

Utah doesn't boast quite as much offensive firepower. Junior QB Travis Wilson is a towering presence, yet he isn't the same, dynamic threat Grayson is as a passer. The Utes defense is led by speedy linebacker Jared Norris, whose play will be instrumental in shutting down Rams ball-carrier Dee Hart.

A superior strength of schedule should help Utah compensate for any lack of offensive weapons it has. Its win on the road over UCLA earlier in the year showed that the No. 22 Utes indeed deserve to be considered among the country's best teams.

One big edge the Rams might have in this one is how proficient they are on third down, converting 51.2 percent of the time, which ranks them fifth in the nation, ahead of the likes of Oregon, among others.

That's a stark contrast to Utah's success rate of 39.2 in such situations. If Devontae Booker isn't established early for the Utes on the ground, the favorites could be in trouble if Wilson is asked to put the ball in the air too often.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has compared Booker favorably to a former NFL star, so that should shine through against a generous Rams front seven:

When Utah has had its most success, Booker has been the workhorse, so that should be the game plan—to keep Colorado State's amazing third-down offense off the field. The Rams concede a healthy 4.68 yards per carry, so Booker should be able to get downhill in a hurry and force obvious passing situations for Grayson and Co.

Neither defense is great, so this should be a high-scoring, entertaining showcase to help kick off the bowl season. In the end, though, the team deservedly in the Top 25 will emerge with the victory.

Prediction: Utah 34, Colorado State 31

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Liberty Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for West Virginia vs. Texas A&M

The Texas A&M Aggies (7-5) from the SEC will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5) out of the Big 12 on Dec. 29 in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee.

After kicking off the their 2014 season with a big win over the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks, the Aggies were ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation before suffering a string of losses and eventually dropping out of the Top 25 altogether.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers cracked the Top 25 briefly during the latter weeks of the season, but almost all of their losses were close contests with highly ranked teams, including a one-point loss to TCU and a six-point loss to Kansas State.

Texas A&M will enter the matchup with the 12th ranked passing offense in the country, while West Virginia boasts the 6th ranked passing offense. Neither team has a particularly effective defense, so this game will likely be a high-scoring shootout with both teams piling up big yardage.

Both teams were unable to take advantage of their high-powered offenses throughout the year and ultimately finished their seasons with disappointing records, but a bowl game win in Memphis would help either team build some much-needed momentum as they look toward a rebound season in 2015. 

Here are the details to know about the matchup:

Date: Monday, Dec. 29

Time: 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT

Place: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

TV: ESPN

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Final Playoff Bracket and Semifinal Predictions

The inaugural College Football Playoff has increased the intrigue surrounding the bowl season. For the very first time, four teams have the opportunity to come away with the title of national champion. However, they must first get through their respective semifinal bowl games.    

On Sunday, members of the CFP selection committee scrutinized every contending teams' strength of schedule, quality wins, poor losses, eye tests and whatever other criteria they deemed relevant to ultimately determine the nation's Top Four.

Here's a look at their findings in the form of the final playoff bracket:

With the semifinal matchups now set in stone, let's take a look at which two teams are likely to forge berths in the national championship game.

 

Sugar Bowl

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

There was very little doubt that Nick Saban's team would be ranked any lower than No. 1 overall following Alabama's 42-13 drubbing of the Missouri Tigers.

Throughout the season, the Crimson Tide have been consistent and very efficient on both sides of the ball, ranking 17th in the nation in points scored and fourth in points against.

Senior quarterback Blake Sims atoned for several miscues in the Iron Bowl against Auburn by producing a stellar performance in the SEC title game. He completed 23 of his 27 passing attempts for 262 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Sims' fine showing left him with this accolade, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Prolific wide receiver Amari Cooper hauled in 12 of those passes for 83 yards, while running back T.J. Yeldon carried 20 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama's offense racked up almost 37 minutes on the field, dominating the time of possession.

Ohio State's 15th-ranked defense is coming off a shutout win against Wisconsin; however, the Badgers were a very one-dimensional, run-heavy offense. A well-versed Alabama defense will pose a much larger threat.

With quarterback J.T. Barrett out for the season, uncertainty surrounded the Buckeyes entering the Big Ten Championship Game. However, backup Cardale Jones quickly put any doubts to rest, completing 12 of his 17 passing attempts for 257 yards and three touchdowns against the Badgers.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Jones is off to a historically good start:

Jones was complemented nicely by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who torched Wisconsin for 220 yards and two scores on 20 carries, balancing the offense and keeping a tough Badgers defense on its heels throughout the game.

It may be difficult to find that kind of success against Alabama's 11th-ranked defense. The Crimson Tide are only allowing an average of 4.68 yards per play this season, and that doesn't bode well for an Ohio State team that didn't have to sustain a scoring drive longer than seven plays against Wisconsin.

Alabama will take away those big plays from Jones and Co., forcing the quarterback to sustain longer drives against its stout defense. While Urban Meyer will put his signal-caller in a position to succeed, Jones' inexperience will lead to some costly mistakes, and ultimately a loss.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 27

 

Rose Bowl

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Oregon enters the Rose Bowl boasting the nation's third-ranked offense, scoring an average of 46.3 points per game and coming off a 51-point performance in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Arizona.

Just how good has this Ducks offense been? It has scored at least 42 points in each of its last eight games.

Obviously, credit must be given to quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy hopeful has been electrifying this season, totaling 53 touchdowns while only throwing two interceptions along the way.

Here's the difference in passing numbers this season between Mariota and his upcoming opponent, via SportsCenter:

Although, Mariota hasn't done it alone. He's surrounded by highly skilled playmakers in running back Royce Freeman and wide receiver Byron Marshall.

Freeman rushed for 114 yards against Arizona, forming a perfect complement to Oregon's passing attack. While Marshall only caught five passes for 23 yards, his presence helped free up other targets for Mariota, as both Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson eclipsed 100 yards receiving.

Florida State hasn't been extremely stout on the defensive side of the ball this season, ranking 51st in the nation, allowing 378.3 yards per game and giving up 36 offensive touchdowns.

The Ducks should always expect to put some points on the board, so Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston needs to be in top form.

Luckily, Winston has plenty of momentum heading into this contest after completing 21 of his 30 passing attempts for 309 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.

However, Winston hasn't been able to get out of the gate quickly this season and has been forced to come from behind often. ESPN's Joe Schad humorously tweeted his take on how the quarterback can beat the Ducks:

Running back Karlos Williams missed the ACC title game, but Dalvin Cook was unleashed in a big way. The freshman ball-carrier accumulated 177 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards and one touchdown, combining with prolific wide receiver Rashad Greene to form two fantastic weapons for Winston.

The Seminoles put up 37 points on the Yellow Jackets, but they will need to find paydirt early and often to keep up with the Ducks. That's a possibility when considering Oregon's defense ranks 80th in the nation in yards allowed; however, in an expected shootout, it's hard to bet against Mariota.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 35

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 7.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Idaho Potato Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for Western Michigan vs. Air Force

There may be more exciting matchups in the 2014-15 bowl season, but you'll have a hard time finding two teams closer in skill level than Potato Bowl participants Western Michigan and Air Force.

The Broncos and Falcons each come into the Dec. 20 matchup with relatively similar resumes. Western Michigan averages 34.6 points per game, Air Force 30.9. Air Force allows 24.2 points per game, Western Michigan 23.8. Normalize those results for conference—the Falcons' Mountain West is stronger than the Broncos' desire for MACtion—and you get two near-mirrors of one another.

Football Outsiders, which normalizes team stats in the way just described, ranks Air Force 44th. Coming in three spots later is Western Michigan.

 

Of course, how those teams get to that relatively similar playing field is very different and should define this year's Potato Bowl.

Under head coach Troy Calhoun, Air Force has been defined by its ground game. The Falcons ranked eighth nationally with 272.2 rushing yards per game, led by a five-headed monster of ball-carriers with 60 or more carries. 

Jacobi Owens had a team-high 1,054 yards during the regular season, but Air Force will be forced to play without the sophomore star. Owens suffered a Lisfranc injury in a 45-38 win over Nevada and was ruled out for the remainder of 2014 after undergoing surgery.

In the two games since he went down, Air Force's ground game has been noticeably less explosive. The Falcons averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry in a 30-14 loss to San Diego State and were held in check against Colorado State despite pulling off a surprising upset. 

Calhoun's team was able to defeat the then-ranked Rams despite the injury bug biting its most important players. Not only was Owens unavailable, but an injury to quarterback Kale Pearson forced senior Nate Romine, the team's leading passer last season, back into the lineup. Romine completed just six of 15 passes but added a team-high 61 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Pearson's status for the bowl game has not been determined, but Air Force surely hopes he'll be in the lineup.

The 5'9" senior has brought a diversity to the offense so rarely seen under Calhoun. His stat line (1,513 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs, 59.3 completion percentage) looks like something Marcus Mariota may put up over three weekends.

Most major college quarterbacks would laugh at that line being a check in the "positive" column. Yet, for a team that couldn't manage double-digit touchdown passes either of the last two seasons, Pearson has been a godsend.

"There was a big misconception of him," Air Force offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen told David Ramsey of The Gazette last month. "We've known all along that he can spin it pretty good and that he was the total package, but we were happy to let other people think that he wasn't, so we could surprise them a little bit."

Western Michigan doesn't create its balance via the quarterback position, but it does have two young stars in the midst of breakout seasons.

Quarterback Zach Terrell threw for 3,146 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season, completing 70 percent of his passes and becoming one of the MAC's best all-around playmakers. Terrell has completed at least 69 percent of his passes in each of his last five games and hasn't dipped below the 56 percent mark all season.

For all his stellar play, though, Terrell is not the best player on his young offense. That distinction would go to true freshman Jarvion Franklin, perhaps the nation's best running back who no one knows. Franklin tied for third nationally with 24 rushing touchdowns behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Boise State's Jay Ajayi.

Western Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart—yes, that one—offered this assessment of his protege to Sports Illustrated'Martin Rickman

The thing that he has—that every great back has to have—is great vision. One thing you can’t teach a kid is to see a hole, you can’t teach him to get to that hole. He has great vision and great feet and great acceleration. It surprised me a lot. He’s hard to tackle. He’s slippery. The thing that’s going to set him over the top is getting him to use his size and be really physical on a consistent basis. He turns it on and turns it off, but if he can be physical on every single snap, which he has the capability of doing, then I truly believe he’ll be unstoppable.

Franklin's ascent has been vital in Western Michigan's rejuvenation under head coach P.J. Fleck. The second-year coach, who just turned the ripe age of 34 last month, turned a program that went 1-11 his first season into a dangerous up-and-comer. He was named the MAC Coach of the Year and has become so renowned nationally that his name has even been thrown around as a potential candidate at Michigan.

Odds remain against Fleck getting such a high-profile job, but he's been instrumental in drumming up support for the program. 

"Some people think I'm crazy, some people think I'm insane or whatever people think I am," Fleck told David Drew of MLive.com last month. "I know this: We have something special to watch and a wonderful product that's not far from home that truly is the future of college football with what we're accomplishing and trying to accomplish in the future years."

Fleck will need both facets of his offense to fire on all cylinders against Air Force. The Falcons have limited opponents to 17 touchdowns through the air this season on a relatively paltry 55.6 percent. Their run defense has been a little more prone to allow scores but has held opponents under four yards per carry.    

With Western Michigan also excelling in run defense, something will have to give for both teams. Given the relative health of the Broncos, I like them to pull off a close victory.

Score Prediction: Western Michigan 34, Air Force 28

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Latest Projections After Playoff Rankings Reveal

It's a good thing the college football playoffs were introduced so we could finally put to rest all of the controversy. 

Oh, wait. 

The official Final Four was announced Sunday, with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State at the top, in that order. The obvious exclusions were TCU, who entered the Week at No. 3, beat Iowa State by 52 points and finished at No. 6, and Baylor, who emphatically beat No. 9 Kansas State but still came up just short. 

There was understandable disappointment from both Big 12 schools:

The major takeaways: Conference championships are undeniably important, and no matter how many teams make the playoffs, there will always be upset parties on the outside looking in. 

That said, let's take a look at the now-official college football playoff semifinals. 

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Urban Meyer has two national championships under his belt, but an argument can be made that this was the finest coaching job of his career. He endured the loss of two quarterbacks—one a Heisman candidate before the season and one a Heisman candidate by the end of it—and still did enough to get into the playoffs.  

But now he faces his toughest test of the year. 

Despite allowing 44 points against Auburn a couple of weeks ago, the Crimson Tide are second in the nation in points allowed per game (16.8) and 10th in yards allowed per play (4.6). As always, they have an array of future NFL players, led by safety Landon Collins. 

The Buckeyes' super-efficient offense—scoring at least 40 points in nine of their past 11 games—didn't miss a beat with Cardale Jones under center this week, demolishing No. 13 Wisconsin, 59-0. They will be able to move the ball, but Alabama's solid pass rush will be able to generate enough pressure to keep the sophomore QB uncomfortable and force some crucial mistakes. 

Moreover, as Meyer pointed out, via the Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt, Alabama's offense is no longer overshadowed by its defense:

Even if the inexperienced Jones lights up Nick Saban's defense, which will have nearly a month of preparation, the Tide have the weapons to be just fine in a shootout. 

Prediction: Alabama 38, Ohio State 28

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston. 

Even though the pair of quarterbacks won't be on the field at the same time until the final handshake, that's what the 101st Rose Bowl will be hyped as. Those two players alone won't decide the game, but it's undeniably captivating: 

As ESPN's David Hale pointed out, the pair of QBs have been quite similar over the past two seasons:

Comparing Winston & Mariota the last 2 seasons… pic.twitter.com/Z8f9ZnAipn

— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) December 7, 2014

But Mariota (better completion percentage, more passing yards, more rushing yards, more touchdowns, 15 fewer interceptions) has been better this season. And more importantly, the Ducks as a team have been better than the Seminoles. 

Since a loss to Arizona in early October, Oregon has won eight games by an average of just over 26 points. That includes dominant victories over Top 25 teams UCLA, Utah and Arizona. 

Comparatively, Florida State's last eight wins have come by less than eight points per contest. That includes narrow escapes against Louisville, Miami, Boston College and Florida. 

You can't fully discredit the Seminoles for continuing to win. And they have the talent on offense to give Oregon's occasionally inconsistent defense problems. But it's going to be a nightmare ofr Jimbo Fisher's squad to slow down Mariota, Royce Freeman, Byron Marshall and the Ducks' uptempo attack. 

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

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College Football Playoff 2014: Full Schedule, Predictions for Semifinal Matchups

Nothing is given in the College Football Playoff. That was made extremely clear Selection Sunday when the committee decided the Top Four teams in the final bracket.

In the end, it will be Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and (surprisingly enough) Ohio State playing for a shot at the national championship. The Buckeyes received the final spot thanks to a 59-0 bludgeoning of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

As a result, both TCU and Baylor missed out of the semifinal matchups despite convincing wins of their own. Neither was crowned the sole Big 12 champion, ultimately hurting the chances for each program.

With the playoff now set, here's a look at the bracket, schedule and predictions for the semifinal matchups.

 

Predictions Breakdown

It might be a controversial matchup, but Ohio State taking on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl will have no shortage of fireworks.

Both programs feature offenses playing at a very high level, but the Buckeyes come in after rolling Wisconsin. Cardale Jones got his first start under center and responded with three touchdowns to go along with Ezekiel Elliott's 220 rushing yards and two scores.

Playoff chairman Jeff Long noted the decisive victory thrust Ohio State into the playoff, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

Elliott and Jones will be in for their biggest test of the season against Alabama. The Crimson Tide ranked second in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (88.7) and fourth in scoring defense (16.6) to go along with their potent offense.

ESPN Stats & Info points out a staggering note about the Tide's defense this season:

In the end, it will be Alabama moving on from the Sugar Bowl to play for a fourth title in the last six seasons. While the Buckeyes will put up a good fight, Nick Saban will flex his defensive muscle against Urban Meyer as he did in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

Out on the West Coast, Oregon will be close to home in the Rose Bowl against Florida State. Each team's quarterback comes in with aspirations of being a first-round pick in the future, but Marcus Mariota has been the best player in the country all season.

On the other side of Mariota will be defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Both come in as two of the best college signal-callers in recent memory, as College GameDay points out:

Winston vs. Mariota will be the biggest storyline—and rightfully so—but two freshmen might steal the show.

Oregon's Royce Freeman has tallied 1,438 yards from scrimmage and 17 total touchdowns. Dalvin Cook has 905 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, including a 220-total-yard performance in the ACC Championship Game for Florida State.

Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat passed along a comment from head coach Jimbo Fisher on how special Cook has been:

The second semifinal will end with Mariota raising the roses after potentially taking the Heisman away from Winston. Cook has closing ability, but Freeman and Mariota will be too much for the Seminoles, and Oregon will play for a national title.

What happens after that will be determined by how the teams respond during the first semifinals in college football. Both matchups will be special, but the national championship is setting up as yet another huge showdown.   

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections and Odds for Top Matchups

The 2014-15 college football bowl schedule was released Sunday and it is time for the fans of the sport to start deciphering the latest predictions and projections for the top matchups.

With the College Football Playoff committee voting in to the inaugural bracket and a slate full of other intriguing bowl battles, the fans of the sport having trouble saying goodbye to the regular season will be calmed by the postseason possibilities.

Here are the top matchups and the predicted winners in each must-watch, College Football Playoff bowl game.       

 

*Betting information via OddsShark.com.

 

Breaking Down Alabama vs. Ohio State

One of the biggest postseason matchups of the year will be the No. 1 overall Alabama Crimson Tide squaring off with the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes in the semifinals of the first-ever College Football Playoff.    

Alabama will face Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The Crimson Tide have earned their No. 1 spot. They're coming off an SEC Championship Game victory and have won eight games since their lone loss of the season. Based on their overall resume this season and recent performances, their place atop the rankings is deserved.   

Alabama may be known for the program’s defensive ability on the field, finishing the season ranked fourth in the nation allowing just 16.6 points per game, but it has been the offense that has helped the team make it to No. 1.

Led by senior quarterback Blake Sims and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Crimson Tide have been better than expected thus far, finishing the regular season 17th in the nation with an average of 37.1 points per game. The rushing attack is once again a big part of the game plan (36th overall), but it has been the success of the 22nd-ranked passing attack that deserves the most credit.

When asked about Sims, head coach Nick Saban told reporters, “You love to see a guy who's gone through what he's gone through, who's worked so hard and always persevered, then have success. It's a credit to his character and work ethic.”

As great as Alabama has been, the team will face a tough test against the tenacious Buckeyes. Ohio State has dealt with two devastating, season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, but there is no doubt that the Buckeyes deserve the honor of making the Top Four.

Despite being forced to deal with major obstacles all season, Ohio State finished the year as the Big Ten champions by crushing Wisconsin in decisive fashion. This in spite of the need to trot out former third-stringer Cardale Jones under center.

OSU ranked fourth in the country with an average of 45.2 points scored per game. Add in a defensive unit that is ranked 23rd overall allowing just 21.2 points per game, and the Buckeyes are the kind of all-around team that fans love to watch against top competition this time of year.    

Ohio State deserves credit for making a dream run to the Top Four despite adversity, but Alabama is the best team in the nation for a reason. With a superior offensive unit and a better overall defense, the Crimson Tide will use the Buckeyes as a warm-up game for the National Championship.

Predicted Winner: Alabama 33, Ohio State 20

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alamo Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Kansas State vs. UCLA

The Valero Alamo Bowl will pit two of the better Big 12 and Pac-12 squads against one another as the Kansas State Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins will square off in San Antonio. It will be the first top 15 matchup in Alamo Bowl history. 

The game will kick off on January 2 at 6:45 p.m. EST. 

Two of the best quarterbacks in the country will be squaring off as Jake Waters will try to out-duel Brett Hundley. 

With that, let's check out both team's keys to victory and players to watch in the Alamo Bowl. 

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Camellia Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for South Alabama vs. Bowling Green

There are many bowl games worthy of watching on the first day of the postseason, but few will feature the excitement that will be showcased in the 2014 Camellia Bowl when the South Alabama Jaguars square off against the Bowling Green Falcons.

With South Alabama representing the Sun Belt Conference and Bowling Green representing the Mid-American Conference, this is the inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and one of the most underrated matchups of the early bowl season.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2014 Camellia Bowl.

 

Where: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama

When: Saturday, Dec. 20

Start Time: 9:15 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

Breaking Down the 2014 Camellia Bowl

Casual college football fans may not know much about South Alabama and Bowling Green, but the two teams should put on a matchup worthy of the national stage.

The Falcons are coming off a devastating loss in the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green finished the season first in the MAC East standings but was thoroughly overmatched by Northern Illinois in the championship. Add in back-to-back losses coming into the title game to Ball State and Toledo, and the Falcons have struggled down the stretch.

When asked about the blowout loss to Northern Illinois, Bowling Green coach Dino Babers spoke to reporters:

We weren't able to match them in any facet of the game. They just had too much strength and speed for us on both sides of the ball. Last year, it seemed like they were a one-man offense and then the defense was built around the safety. I was interested to see how they were going to respond to losing two superstars, and the answer is that they've become a much more complete team. They now play 22 deep instead of relying on a couple guys.

The Falcons have a solid offensive unit, ranked 63rd in the league with an average of 29.8 points per game, but the program has struggled defensively. After allowing 33.9 points per game (108th in the nation), South Alabama will be ready to take advantage.

The Jaguars may have the opportunity to beat Bowling Green’s suspect defense, but the offensive unit has not been overly impressive. South Alabama is 107th in the nation, scoring 22.1 points per game, but the team is coming off a loss to Navy in which the Jaguars scored 40 points.

With big-game experience from playing teams like Mississippi State and South Carolina, South Alabama and its defensive unit (allowing just 25.8 points per game) should step up and shut Bowling Green down.

Both teams deserve credit for making it to the inaugural Camellia Bowl, but South Alabama has the better overall defense and should be able to pull out the victory.

Predicted Final Score: South Alabama 30, Bowling Green 24

 

*Stats via ESPN.com. 

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New Orleans Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Nevada

The 2014-15 college football bowl season features 39 games, including the three games that will determine a national champion, but the one that kicks the whole thing off is the New Orleans Bowl between the SunBelt representative Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns and the Nevada Wolf Pack.

This game has become old hat for Louisiana-Lafayette, and not only because it's so close to home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This is the team's fourth consecutive appearance in the New Orleans Bowl, having won the last three. 

Nevada was taken as the second participant in the game, as expected. Tim Buckley of The Advertiser listed the Wolf Pack, along with Utah State and Fresno State, as the most likely candidates if the organizers went with a Mountain West team. 

 

Game Preview

Louisiana-Lafayette was pegged for this spot before the bowl games were officially announced. Head coach Mark Hudspeth said after his team accepted the bid Dec. 3 that they are always honored to be part of this game, via the school's official athletic website:

We are very excited to be heading back to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. It has become home to us the last three years. The New Orleans Bowl provides such a great overall experience, not only for our players but also for our fans. We've been very successful there, and we are looking forward to heading back to New Orleans once again.

The Ragin' Cajuns turned their season around once they got into conference play. After a 1-3 start, which included losses to Mississippi and Boise State, they went on to win their next six games to secure another winning season. 

Even though he doesn't get much national attention, running back Elijah McGuire is one of the best in the country. The sophomore has 1,165 yards and 14 touchdowns on 150 attempts and was also a huge factor in the return game, per the school's official Twitter account:

McGuire isn't the only player who can light up a stat sheet in this game. Nevada has a dynamic quarterback in Cody Fajardo, who leads the team in rushing with 997 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He also has 2,374 passing yards and 18 touchdowns through the air. 

According to Travis Webb of KATC, Fajardo's career numbers compare favorably to those of current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick:

The statistical matchup between the Ragin' Cajuns and Wolf Pack is nearly identical, as this graphic from StatMilk shows:

Nevada has been battle-tested so far this season, losing by one touchdown against Arizona and five points against Boise State, so this stage won't be anything new to the team. There's little separation between the two teams, so looking at who they have played provides a better idea of where they are. 

The Wolf Pack have that spread-option attack that's so difficult to contain. Fajardo has been a one-man wrecking crew with at least 100 rushing yards in his last three games. He went 5-of-13 in Nevada's last game against UNLV yet finished with three touchdown passes. 

Everything points to a close game, but you have to go with the most dynamic player on the field to find a way to win. 

Nevada 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 28

 

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Orange Bowl 2014: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech Schedule, Early Predictions

The Orange Bowl has long been one of college football's most coveted postseason venues, and that trend continues with the introduction of the College Football Playoff. This contest won't yield a national champion this year, but it will feature two of the nation's best teams as one of the New Year's Six games.

We received quite a show when the Orange Bowl last took place, on Jan. 3, as Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Clemson's Tajh Boyd lit up the scoreboard, combining for 10 total touchdowns in a 40-35 victory for the Tigers.

So, which two teams will face off in this prestigious bowl game? College GameDay tweeted the answer:

With the prolific offenses of Mississippi State and Georgia Tech set to compete, expectations are high once again. Here's a look at the contest's complete viewing information to ensure not a moment of excitement is missed.

 

Viewing Information

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

Mississippi State is coming off a devastating 31-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. That defeat ended the Bulldogs' hopes of participating in the inaugural College Football Playoff, forcing the team to enter bowl season surrounded by uncertainty. Well, a trip to the Orange Bowl isn't a bad consolation prize.

Although, the Bulldogs' berth in this contest came as a bit of a surprise after jumping Michigan State in the rankings, via Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Quarterback Dak Prescott has been Mississippi State's catalyst this season, passing for 2,996 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and adding 939 rushing yards and 13 scores. He's even reeled in two receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown, making him an all-around weapon.

Prescott is complemented nicely by running back Josh Robinson. The junior ball-carrier runs with a punishing style, and he's racked up 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry along the way.

The duo of Prescott and Robinson led the Bulldogs to rank 20th in the nation in rushing offense. They'll have plenty of chances for success against a Georgia Tech defense that ranks 69th in the nation against the run and allowed 23 rushing touchdowns this season.

Georgia Tech's triple-option is one of the most feared attacks in college football. Quarterback Justin Thomas makes extremely smart, quick decisions, putting his offense in great position to gain chunks of yardage at a time. Thomas combines with senior running back Zach Laskey to form the nation's third-ranked run defense.

Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, they aren't much of a passing team, ranking 122nd in the nation due to a limited number of attempts per game. Mississippi State's greatest weakness is its 122nd-ranked secondary that allows an average of 285.2 yards per game through the air. 

While the Yellow Jackets can put up some points, their defense has been inconsistent throughout the season, allowing more than 30 points to three unranked teams in Georgia Southern, Duke and North Carolina. That's not a good sign when they are slated to face a very well-rounded Mississippi State offense.

If Prescott and Co. get out to a big lead, Georgia Tech will be forced to rely on the pass. Even against a porous Bulldogs secondary, the Yellow Jackets are at a disadvantage with a quarterback who has completed only 89 passes this season. The advantage on both sides of the ball goes to Mississippi State.  

Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Georgia Tech 28

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 7.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Standings and Playoff Bracket

Another full college football season is in the books and the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket is set. As expected, there were quite a few surprises in the top four and final poll overall.   

The most resounding change was Ohio State taking the final spot in the playoff to face No. 1 Alabama. That change, of course, left two Big 12 powerhouses in Baylor and TCU out of the race for a national championship.

Instead, the Bears and Horned Frogs had to settle for the Cotton and Peach Bowl, respectively. Both will have to cope with missing out and wondering what might have been if either had won, say, a Big 12 championship game.

On the heels of the final list being announced, here's a look at the latest CFP Top 25 Standings and bracket.

 

Analysis

If fans thought the regular season was wild, the College Football Playoff is setting up to be even more chaotic.

All four teams in the bracket are conference champions. Whether it was another nail biter for Florida State or a dismantling for Ohio State, each program made a huge statement this year.

Now it's time to prove who deserves the right to play for a national title. One team that is clearly comfortable with this environment is Alabama, as evidence by Nick Saban's reaction to the announcement, via Will Brinson of CBS Sports:

The biggest surprise in the bracket is obviously Ohio State, who recently lost J.T. Barrett for the remainder of the season. In his place, Cardale Jones passed for 257 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin.

Following that matchup, Athletics Director Gene Smith put it simply when talking about why OSU deserved a spot over Baylor or TCU, via Brian Bennett of ESPN:

Jones isn't the only offensive leader now for the Buckeyes. Ezekiel Elliott (220 rushing yards, two TDs) was explosive out of the backfield and Devin Smith (137 receiving yards) caught all three scores from Jones.

Even with those explosive weapons, many believed it would be difficult for OSU to overtake TCU or Baylor after decisive wins. Matt Winer of Turner Sports passed along his take on the movement:

Controversy has surrounded the committee's decisions recently and likely won't end after Sunday. If Alabama demolishes Ohio State on the national stage, expect cries from Big 12 fans about either the Bears or Horned Frogs missing out on the Sugar Bowl.

Regardless of who "deserved" or "earned" the final spot, there is no question three of the best four teams made the bracket. Between Alabama and Oregon, both programs will be favorites in their matchups to potentially tie up for the title.

Less than a month stands between now and the two semifinals. The madness has already begun but will reach all new heights in the Sugar and Rose Bowls. Buckle up college football fans.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Baylor vs. Michigan State

Even with the College Football Playoff stealing most of the sizzle of New Year's Day, there will be no shortage of conference pride in the remaining bowl games. That might not be more evident anywhere than it will be in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, where No. 5 Baylor will do battle with eighth-ranked Michigan State.

Representing the Big 12, the Bears will look to prove that they were deserving of a spot in the much-talked about playoff, while the Spartans will aim to add a signature win to the reputation of the Big Ten. Factor in Baylor's high-powered offense squaring off with Michigan State's dominant defense and the Cotton Bowl figures to be one of the most interesting games of the college football bowl season.

Will the Bears leave the playoff committee with regrets, or will the Spartans steal the show? We'll find out on New Year's Day, but until then, here's everything you need to know about this year's Cotton Bowl:

 

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Time: 12:30 p.m. ET

Place: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

TV: ESPN

Radio:Spartan Sports Network, Baylor Bears Radio

Spread: Baylor (-1.5), via Odds Shark

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Arizona vs. Boise State Schedule and Early Predictions

Participants of the Fiesta Bowl may not have a shot at the national title, but they still have the privilege of playing in one of the coveted New Year's Six games.

Recognized as one of the top-tier bowl games, the Fiesta Bowl has produced some of the bowl season's most exciting contests in recent years. UCF and Baylor kicked off 2014 in style, combining for 94 points in a New Year's Day shootout. Also, who can forget Boise State's overtime victory over Oklahoma in 2007 via the Statue of Liberty?

So, which teams will compete this time around? College GameDay tweeted the information:

Will Boise State repeat history, this time against Arizona?

To ensure the next batch of memories produced by this game don't go missed, here's a look at all of the essential viewing information for the upcoming Fiesta Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

The Broncos were a rather surprising team over the back half of the regular season, bouncing back from a brutal loss to Air Force with eight consecutive wins, culminating in a 28-14 victory over Fresno State to claim the Mountain West Conference title.

TheScore deemed Boise State as "college football's best kept secret":

Junior running back Jay Ajayi has been phenomenal for Boise State this season, rushing for 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns, adding 45 receptions for 536 yards and four scores. He's been an absolute workhorse for the Broncos, and he'll get a great chance to rip it up once again versus Arizona's 72nd-ranked run defense that is allowing an average of 170.4 rushing yards per game.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick began the season in rocky fashion, tossing four interceptions in both of Boise State's losses. Since then, he's been highly efficient, throwing 17 touchdown passes against four interceptions. The Wildcats' weakness on defense is their 118th-ranked secondary, and Hedrick's 70.9 completion percentage this season will certainly work in his favor.

If Arizona is to overcome Boise State's prolific offense, it must continue to utilize the blitz to get pressure on Hedrick, throwing the quarterback off balance. The Wildcats have been very good in that department this year, accumulating 37 total sacks. They'll get some opportunities in the Fiesta Bowl against a Broncos offensive line that gave up 27 sacks this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Arizona really needs to get running back Nick Wilson going early against Boise State's 36th-ranked run defense. The ball-carrier only averaged 2.0 yards per carry against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship, and that led to a stagnant offense.

The Wildcats struggled under center against the Ducks, as Jesse Scroggins replaced Anu Solomon, and Scroggins was later replaced by Jerrard Randall. The quarterback position is absolutely a weakness heading into this contest, furthering the importance of establishing the run.

While Arizona is a highly talented team, Boise State comes into this contest as the more well-rounded squad. The Wildcats have given up a total of 86 points over their last two games, and they'll continue to struggle against the Broncos' ninth-ranked offense.       

Prediction: Boise State 38, Arizona 30

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 7.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Early Odds, Predictions for Playoffs and Top Games

College football has taken the magic of Selection Sunday in college basketball, whittled it down to four teams to provide more drama than you can find in an Aaron Sorkin movie and wrapped it in a nice bow that can be talked about for long after the announcement is made. 

With the final College Football Playoff rankings being released and the 2014-15 bowl schedule set, it's time to start the analysis of what will happen and what games to focus on closely. While the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will get all the attention, since they are the semifinal games, they aren't the only big games. 

There's nothing better than bowl season, especially this year, so here is an early look at odds and predictions for the games that have us most excited. 

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State 

Even though traditional bowl rules have fallen by the wayside since the BCS came around, it's nice to see the Rose Bowl still feature a Pac-12 team. Oregon has been tapped for this spot since it reclaimed the No. 2 spot in the rankings November 9 and secured it by destroying Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

No team enters the playoff hotter than the Ducks, who have won eight straight games and the last five by at least 24 points. Marcus Mariota has been more than just one of the best players in college football this season, as SportsCenter tweeted out before Friday's game against Arizona:

Even in weather conditions that were less than ideal at Levi's Stadium against Arizona, Mariota added five total touchdowns (two passing, three rushing) to his career total and had 313 yards passing in the game. It was his third straight game with at least 300 passing yards. 

However, Oregon is here because of a revamped defense that flies under the radar because of how potent the offense is, as Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated wrote:

Oregon bottled up Arizona superstar running back Nick Wilson, didn’t let any Wildcat receivers catch a pass longer than 10 yards and sacked quarterback Anu Solomon four times. It’s easy to say Arizona had a rough night. But that was due mostly to a defense that sent a message Friday night: This team is more than a snazzy offense.

How fitting that Oregon's matchup is against Florida State. Mariota is the likely Heisman winner this season, going against the 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston. 

The Seminoles aren't always pretty to watch, but all that matters is winning games. No one has found a way to do that better than Jimbo Fisher's team, which comes into the playoff as the only undefeated team in FBS. 

Despite a 13-0 record, the deck is stacked against Florida State. In fact, per SportsCenter, the Seminoles will likely find themselves in a spot they haven't been in a very long time:

There's nothing sexy about Florida State's resume. It did get a good win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, along with wins over Clemson and Louisville, but the Seminoles will be up against it in Pasadena. 

Winston remains an enigma, going from a four-interception game against Florida in which he looked lost to a near-perfect game against the Yellow Jackets that reminded everyone what makes him so special. He needs to be the second guy against Oregon for the Seminoles to have a chance. 

Florida State's defense has regressed considerably from last year, allowing 23 points per game in 2014. Fisher's defense has given up 684 rushing yards in its last three games, going against an Oregon offense that averages 237.3 yards per game on the ground and 46.3 points. 

It's been an incredible run for the Seminoles, but the Ducks are simply better and will prove it on New Year's Day. 

Oregon 37, Florida State 23

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

It's strange to look at how dominant Alabama has been under Nick Saban, then realize it has won only three SEC championships since 2007. There was no doubt about the Crimson Tide in 2014, as they knocked Missouri around early and often to secure their spot as the No. 1 seed.

The unique thing about this year's Alabama team is how it's had to rely more on offense to win than in past years. Saban has always had solid offensive teams with efficient quarterbacks, but Blake Sims has put this team at a different level. 

It's also a testament to the job Lane Kiffin has done in his first year as offensive coordinator. Even though it's been easy to bash the controversial former Oakland Raiders head coach, Saban said after the SEC Championship Game he had no doubts about him, via B/R's Barrett Sallee.

"I think I got exactly what I expected," Saban said on Friday. "I don't think anybody else expected what I expected, to the point where I even got criticized for doing it by a lot of people."

Another thing that's helped Alabama's offensive evolution is Amari Cooper, who has had the best season ever by a Crimson Tide receiver, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Alabama still has the defensive chops to shut an offense down, though Auburn did expose some holes in the team's coverage down the field. That's where you see the value of an upgraded offense come into play, because the Crimson Tide are capable of putting up a lot of points when they need to. 

Ohio State earned its spot in this game with a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes should be riding high now, but they will have a much tougher time against Alabama's defense. 

First, Urban Meyer's team ran for 301 yards on 38 carries against the Badgers. Alabama ranks second in the country in rushing yards allowed per game and yards allowed per carry, per Yahoo Sports. Those running lanes aren't going to be open for the Buckeyes in this game. 

The ripple effect of not being able to run the ball is that it limits the effectiveness of play-action passing, which the Buckeyes were able to exploit against Wisconsin. Alabama is just a bad stylistic matchup for Ohio State, to say nothing of Saban having three weeks to prepare for Cardale Jones, which is why this game won't be close. 

Alabama 34, Ohio State 13

 

Best Non-Playoff Game: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State (Cotton Bowl)

Even though Baylor came up just short of its ultimate goal, it will have a chance to make a loud statement to anyone who doubted its credentials against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. 

The danger with a game like this is neither team being able to get pumped up for a lesser bowl than either would have liked. Baylor was hoping/expecting to have a shot at the national title. Now, it doesn't even get a bid in one of the major bowls, though the Cotton Bowl is in the Bears' backyard in Arlington, Texas. 

Here is what Baylor head coach Art Briles said after his team defeated Kansas State on Saturday, via ESPN's College GameDay:

Briles' team has to go from the high of one of the best days in the history of Waco to one of the most disappointing. 

Michigan State also has to be wondering where things went wrong, as the Spartans seemed like a safe bet to play in the Orange Bowl before the invitation was given to Mississippi State. 

On paper, the matchup is fantastic. Baylor's offense leads the nation in scoring with 48.8 points per game and ranks fifth in passing yards per game with 346.2. Michigan State isn't lacking for offense, averaging 43.1 points per game, but the Spartans make their money on defense. 

In fact, ignoring their two losses for a moment, Michigan State held eight opponents under 20 points. It wasn't the greatest competition, with teams like Michigan, Maryland and Rutgers included, but it was still a good accomplishment for any defense. 

As far as those losses at Oregon and against Ohio State go, the Spartans aren't likely to have the same problems with Baylor. The Ducks and Buckeyes featured dual-threat quarterbacks capable of extending plays. 

While Bryce Petty is a terrific quarterback, he's a traditional dropback passer who sits in the pocket and waits for plays to develop. 

In addition to having high-scoring offenses, the gap between Petty and Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook isn't as significant as you might think, via Matt Hoeppner of ISportsWeb.com:

Both teams enter the Cotton Bowl on a relative high note. Michigan State has won its last three games, while Baylor is riding a five-game streak. These teams are capable of lighting up a scoreboard, though one has been more adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone. 

The Bears will have to be at their best to conquer the Spartans, which they will be in a close game that gets decided by a late touchdown. 

Baylor 45, Michigan State 35

 

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Orange Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

For all the debate stirred up after the College Football Playoff selection committee tabbed its Top Four, the Orange Bowl features a matchup that's relatively controversy-free.

Two 10-win teams will do battle, with Georgia Tech and Mississippi State squaring off in Miami. 

For all the glitz and glamor of South Beach, New Year's Day will likely be a slugfest. That's what happens when you pair two top 25 rushing attacks, with both Dan Mullen and Paul Johnson building their programs around the power game. 

For Georgia Tech, that means Johnson's triple-option. After four straight seasons of averaging seven wins, the Yellow Jackets took a big step forward in 2014.

While it wasn't enough to pull off the upset of defending national champion Florida State in the ACC title game, the 10-win season earned Johnson a four-year contract extension and a bowl berth that's among the most envious of the non-playoff games.

In Starkville, Mullen's sixth season was finally Mississippi State's breakthrough in the SEC. While the Bulldogs faded down the stretch, the 10-win season put Mullen's program on the map after spending much of the past in the cellar of the SEC.  

Let's get you ready for the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Date: Wednesday, December 31

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

TV: ESPN

Radio: ESPN Radio

Point Spread: Mississippi State by 7, according to Odds Shark

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GoDaddy Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Arkansas State vs. Toledo

Sunday, January 4 will see the renewal of the GoDaddy Bowl as the Arkansas State Red Wolves, this year's Sun Belt champions, will take on the Toledo Rockets. 

The game will kick off at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN. 

Check out this bowl's biggest players, as well as each team's keys to victory. 

Begin Slideshow

New Mexico Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for UTEP vs. Utah State

College football fans thirsty for bowl action will only have to wait until Dec. 20, when UTEP takes on Utah State in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Bowl.

The 7-5 Miners are headed to their first bowl game since 2010, when they also descended upon Albuquerque for the very same bowl. They will be looking for a very different outcome this time around, however, as BYU drubbed them 52-24 four years ago.

Utah State's season began in earnest with the return of Chuckie Keeton, but the Aggies have had to rebound ever since losing their star quarterback in early October. They have done just that, winning five of six to close out 2014.

Both squads overcame the odds to get here, which had Bryan Fischer of NFL.com lauding the coaching jobs of Utah State's Matt Wells and UTEP's Sean Kugler:

While some of the bowl-bound teams have nearly a month to prepare, just days separate us from the New Mexico Bowl. Let's go ahead and break down everything you should know.

 

2014 New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Utah State

When: Saturday, Dec. 20

Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Start Time (ET): 2:20 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

The Book on UTEP

In mid-October, even getting to this point seemed like a stretch for the UTEP Miners.

That was largely due to starting 2-3, which included understandable losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. But after being trounced 55-3 on the road by Louisiana Tech, the Miners rattled off five of their last seven to notch a 7-5 record and secure their right to go bowling.

The New Mexico Bowl seemed like the likeliest destination given the geography and their spot in Conference USA, but it didn't matter much to the players where they ended up. For guys like safety Wesley Miller, one of the few on the team for the 2010 bowl loss, they just wanted to get back to the big stage and prove themselves, per the El Paso Times' Bret Bloomquist: "It was a lot of fun early in the week. It wasn't as fun on game day (when UTEP got blown out by Brigham Young). That wasn't a good memory and it left a bad taste in our mouth. We want to wash that away this year."

The Miners' biggest strength on the field comes by running rampant on the ground. Aaron Jones is the conference's No. 5 leading rusher both in terms of yards (1,233) and carries (217), but Nathan Jeffery and quarterback Jameill Showers combine for a strong three-pronged rushing attack.

UTEP will be feverishly watching tape of Utah State's 50-19 loss to Boise State in order to replicate the Broncos' rushing success. Jay Ajayi scampered for 229 yards and five touchdowns in that game, beleaguering the Aggies' front seven all game. 

The Miners may not have the rushing prowess of Boise State, but they should look to replicate it as much as possible in the New Mexico Bowl.

 

The Book on Utah State

Cut out the Utah State Aggies' season opener and their season finale, and you'd have a more impressive team than the 9-4 squad entering the New Mexico Bowl.

Utah State was welcomed into the 2014 season with a trip to face Tennessee in Neyland Stadium and came out battered and bruised en route to a 38-7 defeat. Keeton's shaky performance ended up being a sign, as the talented quarterback was never 100 percent on his surgically repaired knee and eventually reinjured it.

The Aggies' season seemed lost when they shut Keeton down for the season, but they showed their worth even without their star quarterback in the fold. They bounced back from that news in impressive fashion, including a 35-20 upset win at then-No. 18 BYU.

But with a chance to possibly win the Mountain West and thwart No. 23 Boise State in the season finale, the Aggies were housed in a 50-19 decision.

Utah State may not have Keeton, but freshman Kent Myers has filled his shoes nicely ever since his debut Oct. 25. Also a dual-threat weapon, Myers has five touchdowns through the air and four scores on the ground.

LaJuan Hunt and Joe Hill help to take the pressure off Myers, as the two running backs each have more than 100 carries on the year. 

Along with establishing their multifaceted rushing attack, getting out to an early lead will also be crucial for the Aggies. UTEP trailed at the half in four of its five losses, and the Miners—with a strong rushing attack but not much through the air—aren't built to come from behind.

 

Prediction

The Miners will come to play in Albuquerque, unlike in 2010, but it won't result in a different result. UTEP will keep it close throughout, but the Aggies will establish the run to grab an early lead. That will force the Miners to push the envelope through the air, and Utah State's ball-hawking secondary will be up for the challenge in a defensive struggle of a game.

Prediction: Utah State 20, UTEP 14

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College Football Playoff Committee Welcomes Boise State Back to the Big Time

Boise State is headed to a marquee bowl for the first time since 2009, when it beat TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

The College Football Playoff selection committee announced Sunday that the No. 20 Broncos will play No. 10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl December 31 in Glendale, Arizona.

Boise State won the Mountain West Conference with a 28-14 win over Fresno State Saturday, finishing the season 11-2. One of those losses came on a neutral field to No. 9 Ole Miss in Week 1. The other came against a plucky Air Force team in Week 5. Its eight consecutive wins are tied for the third-longest streak in the country.

In the BCS era, there is no way an 11-2 Broncos team would have made an Access Bowl. Thanks to the CFP, which mandates that the highest-ranked champion from a "Group of Five" conference be included, they will be back in Glendale for the third time in nine years.

Not a bad first season for head coach Bryan Harsin.

Harsin came to Boise after one year as the head coach at Arkansas State. He spent the previous two years as the co-offensive coordinator at Texas and the nine years before that as an assistant with the Broncos.

From 2006 to 2010, Harsin was the offensive coordinator under head coach Chris Petersen, a Boise State legend who in December 2013 became the head coach at Washington. Petersen had flirted with and shot down a number of high-profile jobs in the past, so when he left it seemed the Boise State "dynasty" might be dead.

But Harsin never wavered from the standard he helped Petersen establish. This is one of the most balanced teams in college football, a roster with no discernible weak spot. The pass defense is the only unit on either side of the ball that does not rank in the national Top 40 in yards per game, and even that is a misleading number.

The Broncos rank No. 5 in the country with 20 interceptions.

Much like the other great Boise State teams of the past decade—the 2007 and 2010 Fiesta Bowl Champions—this year's team is led by one of the best backfields in college football: dual-threat quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi.

Hedrick ranks No. 9 in the country in passer rating (157.78) and has rushed for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. He is No. 19 in ESPN's Total QBR metric, which adjusts for rushing stats and context. Only two non-power-five quarterbacks rank higher.

But Ajayi is the real star of the team. The 6'0", 216-pound bruiser is a redshirt junior but will likely declare for the NFL draft this offseason.

It is rare to find a player with his size and power who can also move like a scatback and catch like a tight end. He ranks No. 9 in the country in rushing yards per game (179.69) and No. 2 in rushing touchdowns (25) and flashed his versatility with 12 catches for 93 yards against Ole Miss in Week 1.

"Most of the national attention on the running back position has been directed towards Melvin Gordon, Telvin Coleman and James Conner for their spectacular efforts, but Ajayi is beginning to generate some buzz on the West Coast with his sensational production as the Broncos' workhorse runner," wrote Bucky Brooks of NFL.com.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Even with Petersen in Seattle, Boise State is the Alabama of non-power-conference football. It is the team every other team wants to beat. And for that, Harsin takes more (or at least different) pride in this year's achievements than anything he accomplished in the past.

"For the guys in our program right now, this is the most difficult time to win a championship, because Boise State is on the map," Harsin told reporters after Saturday's win. "And that’s what I’m most proud of, to go out there every single week and know that we have a history and a record. We still step out there and give their very best.

"I don’t know if there is a another group, not to take anything away [from previous teams], but it’s been five years and one last time on the blue as seniors in particular, that’s what they’ve set out to do."

We all know what happened the first time Boise State made the Fiesta Bowl. With Petersen at the helm, it upset Adrian Peterson's Oklahoma Sooners with a hook-and-lateral at the end of regulation and a statue-of-liberty two-point conversion in overtime.

The Broncos will not shock the world with another win, which in part speaks to the state of their own program and in part speaks to the widespread opinion of Arizona, which looked awful, to put it kindly, in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. But in some ways, that might be more fitting. Boise State is in no shape to be shocking anyone or anything. Not anymore, it isn't.

When it wins, we should all nod our heads.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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