Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 17 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features five FBS bowl games as the 2016 postseason officially kicks off. The featured teams include four that won nine games in the 12-game regular season, one undisputed conference champion, a conference co-champ and one that thought it would still be in the midst of prepping for a New Year’s Six game — or even a playoff semifinal.
WHO: New Mexico (8-4) vs. UT-San Antonio (6-6)
WHAT: The 11th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Based on the circumstances surrounding the very first FBS bowl game of the 2016-17 postseason cycle, I’m really surprised the line is merely a touchdown. New Mexico far and away leads the nation in rushing at 360.9 yards per game — Army is No. 2 at 327. 8 — and feature a pair of 1,000-yard rushers who each average more than eight yards per carry, although UTSA is a respectable 52nd at stopping the run (157.8 ypg). The Lobos are playing on their home turf as well, and will be looking for just their second bowl win since 1961; the Roadrunners, meanwhile, will be looking for their first-ever bowl win as they’re in the FBS postseason for the first time. New Mexico closed out the season winning six of its last seven, including an impressive win over Mountain division champion Wyoming, and, given all they have going for them, there’s little reason to think UTSA will make its first bowl appearance its first win as well.
THE LINE:UT-San Antonio, +7
THE PREDICTION: New Mexico 39, UT-San Antonio 24
WHO: Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)
WHAT: The 25th Las Vegas Bowl Presented by Geico
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: San Diego State, +4
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.
WHO: Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)
WHAT: The 3rd Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: It’s not often you get one matchup of 9-3 regular-season teams on opening day of the college football postseason let alone two (San Diego State was 9-3 prior to their MWC title game win), yet here we are. Both teams can run the ball, as each averages over 200 yards per game on the ground. What sets the Rockets apart in this matchup is they are eighth nationally in passing yards; the Mountaineers, meanwhile, are 104th. App State, one of the Sun Belt’s co-champs, is relatively stingy in that area defensively, ranking 29th in passing yards allowed (200.2 per game). As mentioned, ASU was a co-champ of the SBC, along with Arkansas State. The Rockets opened the season with a 31-10 win over… the Red Wolves. There have been two Camellia Bowls previously, and they were decided by a combined seven points. Last year’s winner? App State, which beat a team from the MAC on a last-second field goal for its first FBS bowl win. UT, meanwhile, will be looking to push its bowl winning streak to three straight, which would be the football program’s longest since it won four in a row between 1969-81.
THE LINE: Appalachian State, +1½
THE PREDICTION: Toledo 34, Appalachian State 31
WHO: UCF (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
WHAT: The 2nd AutoNation Cure Bowl
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: Arkansas State began the season with four-game losing streak that put its five-year bowl appearance streak in jeopardy before righting the ship by winning seven of the last eight. UCF, on the other hand, lost its last two games, by at least 15 points each no less. The Knights are coming off a winless 2015 campaign, so the job Scott Frost has done just getting the AAC team into the postseason is borderline miraculous and should earn him votes in the myriad Coach of the Year awards. Part of the miracle can be attributed to the defense, specifically UCF’s third-down defense — the Knights were seventh nationally in allowing less than 30 percent of the opposition’s third downs to be converted into first downs. The noteworthy teams ahead of them? Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Clemson. The fact that this will essentially serve as a home game for UCF also tilts the odds in their favor, with the university’s campus less than a half-hour from the stadium where they’ll call home Saturday. In trying to steal a “road” win, ASU will looking to keep its bowl losing streak from reaching three in a row.
THE LINE: Arkansas State, +6
THE PREDICTION: UCF 26, Arkansas State 17
WHO: Southern Miss (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)
WHAT: The 16th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Between 2011 and 2014, Louisiana-Lafayette played in and won four consecutive New Orleans Bowls. After missing the 2015 installment of the game, UL-L is back in its own backyard. Then again, Hattiesburg is about 25 miles closer to New Orleans than Lafayette, so the Golden Eagles will be in their backyard as well. After a strong 4-1 start to the year that included a season-opening win over bowl-bound Kentucky in Lexington, USM stumbled its way to a 2-5 finish in barely clinging to bowl eligibility. Their opponents haven’t exactly been lights out coming down the stretch, although the 3-2 close of the regular season did get the Ragin’ Cajuns into the postseason after a one-year sabbatical. Are you getting the feeling I’m reaching for things to write about here? You’re right, which usually means this’ll end up being one of the best and most exciting bowl games of the year. That’s normally how these things work.
THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette, +4½
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Southern Miss 23