Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 24 bowl menu, which features two teams from Conference USA and one each from the MAC and Mountain West.
WHO: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The inaugural Popeyes Bahama Bowl
WHERE: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: This game serves as a rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars, won by Central Michigan 24-21. That’s of little import to this game, however, as the head coaches are different, the quarterbacks are different, etc. What is of import is that Western Kentucky comes into this game with a ton of confidence, riding a four-game winning streak that includes a win over Conference USA champ Marshall in the regular-season finale that knocked the Herd from the ranks of the unbeaten and out of a potential New Year’s Eve/Day bowl appearance. Even better for WKU? Central Michigan is a middling 45th in passing yards allowed and T-69th in touchdown passes given up, while Brandon Doughty leads the nation in yards passing (4,544) and touchdown passes (44). The Chips gave up more than 17 points in their seven wins just once (27, Miami of Ohio) and only gave up more than 27 points in four games total; conversely, the Hilltoppers scored fewer than 34 points in a game this season one time (59-10 loss to Louisiana Tech). When it comes to WKU’s scoring offense and CMU’s scoring defense, something has to give.
THE LINE: Central Michigan, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 51, Central Michigan 34
WHO: Fresno State (6-7) vs. Rice (7-5)
WHAT: The 13th Hawaii Bowl
WHERE: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Much to the dismay of some, I’m sure, this bowl game has the distinction of being the only one of the 38 postseason games on the 2014-15 slate to feature a team with a losing record (Fresno State, courtesy of a 14-point loss to Boise State in the Mountain West championship game earlier this month). Rice actually had a very real shot at earning a 13th game in Week 14, but a humiliating 76-31 loss to Louisiana Tech kept the Owls out of the Conference USA championship game. Not only are the Bulldogs looking to avoid the ignominy of an eighth loss in a bowl season (last accomplished: UCLA, 2011), but they are looking to snap a five-game bowl losing streak that stretches back to a loss in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl. In their last nine games, the Owls’ only losses were to the two teams that played for the league title (Marshall, LaTech). Two of their other losses came on the road to Notre Dame and Texas A&M the first two weeks of the season. Then again, three of the Bulldogs’ losses came against Power Five schools USC, Utah and Nebraska, with two others coming at the hands of MWC champion Boise State. A bad omen for Fresno? They are 113th in stopping the run (206.9 ypg) while Rice has rushed for 150-plus yards in seven of the last eight games. If the game is close, keep it out of the hands — or feet — of the kickers as both the Owls (63.1%) and Bulldogs (63.6%) struggled on field goal attempts this season.
THE LINE: Fresno State, +2
THE PREDICTION: Rice 34, Fresno State 31