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Saturday Bowl Games: New Mexico, Cure, Boca Raton, Camellia, Las Vegas, and New Orleans Bowls, oh my! Preview and Open Thread

Settle in for a full Saturday of college football with your friends at OTE!

NCAA Football: New Mexico Bowl-Central Michigan vs San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Well, with their ridiculously-fun, Dustin Crum-powered win over the Utah State Aggies (seriously, Gary Andersen, your teams ever defended a zone-read before?), the Kent State Golden Flashes have now won their first bowl game ever! Congratulations to them, and double-congrats for busting my bowl pick’em confidence bracket on Day 1.

One thing I really appreciated during the game—which was, admittedly, on mute because we were cramming 11 people and presents into our little suburban living room—was the photos and video of historic bowl games for Kent State and Utah State. It really helped put the Flashes’ bowl thither-to bowl irrelevance into perspective:

  • 1954 Refrigerator Bowl: L, Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens, 19-7
  • 1972 Tangerine Bowl: L, Tampa Spartans, 21-18
  • 2012 Bowl: L, Arkansas State Red Wolves, 17-13

Especially amid this context, it was really cool to see the Flashes’ D get after Jordan Love and win the game late.

Those historic bowl games, though...I have no idea the context that went into the refrigerator bowl, but the Tangerine Bowl...oh, man. That was the first season helming the now-defunct Tampa Spartans football program for one Earle Bruce, who was hired away after the season to coach Iowa State. He went on to coach Colorado State eventually, I think.

Tampa, for its part, was an NAIA school that went “big time” in 1971, moving up to D-1 football, before dropping it altogether in 1974 because of the costs associated with running a D-1 football program and the introduction of a new professional football team in Tampa, which I’m sure was an immediate success, too.

Saturday, December 21

Celebration Bowl: North Carolina A&T Aggies vs. Alcorn State Braves

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
11am | ABC | NCA&T -2.5 | O/U 51.5

This game is already happening! I’m sorry! I’m behind!

Go watch it because (1) it is football that means so much to both teams as the de facto HBCU national championship, (2) something about HBCU football gives us the chonkiest and most out-of-place kickers I have ever seen, and (3) the bands. Ohhhh, the bands.

My Pick: Alcorn State (2 pts)—I never pick this game highly, though.

New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. San Diego State Aztecs

Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
1pm | ESPN | SDSU -3.5 | O/U 41

Which team will be able to impose its style on the other? San Diego State has played, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the Game of the Year as far as I’m concerned:

The Aztecs, you’ll be stunned to learn, have one of the worst offenses in D-1 (115th in FEI Offense), but under Rocky Long’s 3-3-5, their defense is as legit as always. Meanwhile Jim McElwain’s decision to switch Tony Poljan from QB to TE and bring in Quinten Dormady at QB has paid dividends—made even stronger by the emergence of a two-headed backfield led by Kobe Lewis and Jonathan Ward (after this game, both will be 1000-yard rushers).

It’s been interesting to see the MAC swing away from high-flying passing offenses back toward the newer ground games (thinking of Buffalo, Kent State, and Central here)—someone can, of course, correct me on this, but it’s intriguing to see how the regional G5 programs have adapted to the ever-changing game.

This is a long way of saying I have no idea what to expect in this bowl game, because last year I was confident a superior Aztecs team would blow out Ohio behind Juwan Washington. They lost to the Bobcats 27-0. This year QB Ryan Agnew has shouldered more of the load in his own right and Washington has struggled with injuries, but you can’t count out that Rocky Long defense making anything close—for better or worse.

Which CMU shows up: The one that lost to wisconsin 61-0, or the one that played Miami Fluoride close in Miami Coral Gables? Given how the Chips closed out the season, I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. (Or I’m desperate to make up points in bowl pick’em.)

My Pick: Central Michigan (7 pts)

FCS Playoffs: #5 Montana State Bobcats at #1 North Dakota State Bizon

1pm | ESPN2 | NDSU -16.5 | O/U 47.5

There is, as ever, very little drama on one side of the FCS playoff bracket, where the Bizon have (mostly) steamrolled their way to what looks like yet another trip to Frisco. The Illinois State Redbirds gave NDSU a game in Fargo last weekend, but their complete and utter inability to throw or move the ball at all meant that the Bizon survived, 9-3, in their first home game without a touchdown since 2002. Incredible.

NDSU is worth watching if just for QB Trey Lance. The 6’3” signal-caller—from, of all places, Marshall, MN—has nearly 900 rushing yards on the season to go with 2500 passing yards and not a single INT, a 67% completion rate, and 25 TDs.

In case that was unclear: a 25:0 TD:INT rate. That’s absurd.

Interesting piece from MSU ahead of today’s game, though, if you care to give it a read—a little history lesson on the MSU-NDSU “rivalry” (as much as you can call it that) and the program’s rich football history.

My Pick: Bizon, 35-23.

Cure Bowl: Tax-Evadin’ Fightin’ Falwells vs. Georgia Southern Eagles

Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, FL
1:30pm | CBSSN | GASo -4 | O/U 58

The great thing about this game is the mission—donating its profits to breast cancer research and advocacy—outweighs all the rest of it, particularly the non-Georgia Southern participant in this game. The Eagles, though, struggled against Minnesota with the one thing—throwing the ball high to Antonio Gandy-Golden (6’4”, 220) that I’m fairly sure their opponents are good at.

Whether the Fightin’ Falwells can do that all game is another question, but I think this game’s a sneaky over play.

Also, please appreciate the funniest part of soccer’s US Open Cup 2019, when Orlando City SC and New York City FC went to a penalty shootout in Orlando but chose the goal away from where the Orlando City supporters were stationed for the game. The fans decided they would not be ignored:

Will there be enough fans of Georgia Southern and tax exemption-seekers to fill Orlando City Stadium like that today? I hope so, because I desperately want it to confirm my theory that more bowl games, especially early in the slate, need to take regional teams rather than shipping, say, Georgia State fans out to Arizona.

My Pick: Georgia Southern (20 pts)

Boca Raton Bowl: SMU Mustangs vs. Florida Atlantic Owls

FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, FL
2:30pm | ABC | SMU -3 | O/U 69.5

One of the surprisingly better...defenses? FAU (21st in FEI!) meets the 16th-rated offense in the country, the Sonny Dykes juggernaut which has never met a pass Shane Buechele won’t throw.

The Owls have, unfortunately, lost not only Lane Kiffin (“I hope they find him!” “Daaaaaad.”) to Ole Miss—O/U on Willie Taggart shots at 6.5—but also leading rusher Malcolm Davidson and second-leading pass-catcher Deangleo Antoine to academic suspensions. This is the program Lane leaves you! Good luck, Ole Miss.

My Pick: SMU (25 pts)

Camellia Bowl: FIU Sunblazers vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves

Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, AL
4:30pm | ESPN | ARSt -2.5 | O/U 61

The most poetic part of this college football season (non-B1G edition) might have been Butch Davis and the FIU Sunblazers exacting revenge on Butch Davis’ former team, the Miami Fluoride Windybirds.

I’m still a little surprised Davis didn’t get hired at his alma mater, Arkansas, despite his winning record at FIU, but Thump tells me there are a lot of good HC candidates—and some terrible ones—out there.

There doesn’t appear to be a ton separating these two teams in the rankings, and they’ll contrast mostly in how they move the ball—FIU on the ground with Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell, Arkansas State through the air with Lane Hatcher chucking and Omar Bayless, fantasy point accumulator extraordinaire, catching. My general rule in bowl matchups like this is to take the passing team barring some sort of weather phenomenon.

My Pick: Arkansas State (10 pts)

FCS Playoffs: #3 Weber State Wildcats at #2 James Madison Dukes

5:30pm | ESPNU | JMU -17 | O/U 47

I am inclined to root for Weber State for four reasons: (1) underdogs, (2) as mentioned before, played in my favorite football game of 2019, (3) purple Wildcats, and (4) bumbled and stumbled through this snowy shitshow of a quarterfinal game:

I could not tell you a single thing about the Wildcats or Dukes, nor will I try. So go Wildcats, beat the Dukes and become the sacrificial lamb for North Dakota State.

Las Vegas Bowl: #19 Boise State Broncos vs. Washington Huskies

Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
6:30pm | ABC | Wash -3.5 | O/U 49.5

It feels unfair to make Chris Petersen play the school he left in his final game as a college football head coach (unless he resurfaces as HC of the Cleveland Browns or something).

Anywho, the Vegas Bowl—which will finally become a Big Ten bowl every other year beginning next year!—has had both its stupid and competitive moments: witness Oregon scoring two defensive touchdowns in the last :37 of 2017’s make it 24-14, rather than 24-0, Boise State at halftime. Hell, even the 2015 Holy War in Sin City, the first neutral-site meeting of Utah and BYU (which ended a two-year hiatus), saw the Utes run out to a 35-0 lead then hold on to win 35-28.

So could dumb things happen in the last iteration of the Las Vegas Bowl to be played in Sam Boyd Stadium? Sure! With a risk-welcoming program like Boise State, that’s always the possibility—but against their now risk-averse former head coach, the whole bit is in danger of becoming an oddly-somber affair.

My Pick: Boise State (9 pts)

New Orleans Bowl: #20 Appalachian St. Mountaineers vs. UAB Blazers

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
8pm | ESPN | App -17 | O/U 47.5

I remain incredibly annoyed that this game is not the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns versus at least UAB, if not Louisiana Tech—Appalachian State should have been selected for the Belk Bowl, moving the Cajuns into New Orleans. But both the SEC not placing an additional team in the College Football Playoff/NY6, plus the Sun Belt Conference’s selection process, appears to have blunted that dream:

The Sun Belt said in October that there was no waiver process for a school to attempt to play in another bowl and that the only exception the conference would make would be for a New Year’s Six game, which is the Cotton Bowl this season.

Keith Gill, the Sun Belt commissioner, addressed the growing Belk Bowl-App State connection today during the Sun Belt title game media day. The contracts, Gill said, are pretty inflexible.

I gotta say: If the Sun Belt is determined to “honor its contracts” rather than seek out a marquee game for its top team and move an incredibly popular and local team into its top bowl tie, then it deserves to be regarded below the MAC in my estimation.

Meanwhile App State coach Eliah Drinkwitz has Todd Grahamed his way to Mizzou, leaving popular OL coach Shawn Clark to get a jump on his head coaching career by starting in the bowl game. The ‘Neers still have Zac Thomas, though, and one of the best defenses in the country. That should be enough to stop a UAB team whose advanced stats suggest it’s a bit of a paper tiger.

beez: App State’s 2019 season is the epitome of the pointlessness of the G5 grouping in the playoff era. 12-1, conference championship, two wins on the road against P5, finished the season in the top 20. The reward? A bowl game against a 4-loss team where App is favored by 17.

This will be App’s...5th? most interesting or exciting game of the season, at best. I’ll still watch it all and root for App to win, but hooooooo boy does this feel like a major letdown to finish your season.

It’ll be interesting to see how App’s first game under their new, and hopefully long term, HC goes. Oh and they’re playing UAB, a team which didn’t exist like three years ago because Bama fans are crybabies.

But in UAB’s defense, their logo has always ruled.

Dead Read: I agree with beez. I may be conflating some things, but weren’t there years when Utah(?) and Boise played? They played each other close...the winner might play on NYD. If you lost, or didn’t win overwhelmingly enough, you played in Vegas before Christmas. G5 are almost always playing for crumbs.

MNW: Agreed. Let’s seize the means of production and overthrow the P5 bourgeoisie! TO THE BARRICADES!

My Pick: Appalachian State (38 pts)

Here’s your open thread for the day’s football! Usual rules apply. Don’t be a dick.

Looking for basketball coverage? We’ve got you there, too! Braggin’ Rights tips off soon, and Thump came in niiiiiiice and spicy on his preview of Illinois-Mizzou:

Grab a beer, pick at some leftovers from the friends Christmas party you hosted last night, and settle in for a long day of football watching. Thanks for making OTE one of your homes for college football and Big Ten talk.