The second stanza of this year’s bowl festivities features five games spread between Thursday and Saturday, a lineup that includes a pair of ranked Group of 5 members in action.
The set kicks off on Thursday afternoon (Christmas Eve) with the New Mexico Bowl at 3:30pm EST on ESPN. The sole offering on Friday (Christmas Day) is the Camellia Bowl (2:30pm EST, ESPN), which features the runners up from the MAC and C-USA title games in a quality matchup.
If everything goes as planned — it’s still 2020 for a few more days — Saturday begins with a pair of games at 3:30pm EST – the First Responder Bowl on ABC and the LendingTree Bowl on ESPN.
The day wraps up – under the lights – with a compelling matchup between one-loss Liberty and perfect (12) Coastal Carolina (in its first-ever bowl game); it airs at 7:30pm EST on ESPN.
Happy holidays to one and all.
Thursday, Dec. 24
NEW MEXICO BOWL
HAWAII (4-4) vs. HOUSTON (3-4) – MWC vs. AAC – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas – 3:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 2006
Most appearances: New Mexico (2-2)
Last year: San Diego State 48 – Central Michigan 11
This year’s New Mexico Bowl – originally slated for Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. – has been relocated to Frisco, Texas due to “current state guidelines in New Mexico regarding intercollegiate athletics and travel.”
Hawaii is 7-6 in bowl play. It edged BYU 38-34 in last year’s Hawaii Bowl.
Houston is 11-15-1 in bowl action. It most recently got smashed 70-14 by then (22) Army in the 2018 Armed Forces Bowl. The most recent win came a season earlier, in 2017, when it zapped Fresno State 27-3 in the Hawaii Bowl.
Hawaii and Houston have only met once previously, in the 2003 Hawaii Bowl, a 54-48 win for the Rainbow Warriors.
Line: Houston -10.5
While not elite, both these squads’ offenses have had success through the air, both finishing the regular season ranked No. 4 respectively in their conferences in passing yards per game. Defensively, it’s Hawaii that has set itself apart vs. the pass, earning a No. 20 national rank in yards allowed. Compare that to Houston, at No. 77 nationally. Both defenses were battle-tested through the air this season, each squaring off with two opponents ranked in the Top 11 in the FBS in pass offense. The Warriors took on the No. 4-ranked passing attack (Fresno State), giving up 289 air yards to a unit averaging 356 and the No. 9 pass offense (Nevada), limiting a unit averaging 325 to 168. As for the Cougars, they took on the No. 11 pass offense (BYU) and gave up 400 air yards to a unit averaging 322 and then faced the No. 2 ranked attack (UCF), limiting a squad averaging 373 yards to 328.
Players to Watch
Hawaii: sophomore LB Darius Muasau (#53) (No. 1 in the FBS in solo tackles and No. 12 in total tackles), sophomore QB Chevan Cordeiro (#12) (No. 30 in the FBS in passing yards per game)
Houston: junior QB Clayton Tune (#3) (No. 24 in the FBS in passing yards per game)
Friday, Dec. 25
BUFFALO (5-1) vs. MARSHALL (7-2) – MAC vs. C-USA – Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. – 2:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 2014
Most appearances: Appalachian State (2-0), Arkansas State (1-1)
Last year: Arkansas State 34 – FIU 26
As a note, there were two “other” Camellia Bowls in history. In 1948 Lafayette, Louisiana hosted a postseason game by the same name in which Hardin-Simmons beat Wichita State 49-12. From 1961 to 1975 and then in 1980, the Camellia Bowl was a postseason championship/playoff game for the NAIA (1961-63), NCAA College Division (1964-72), NCAA D-II (1973-75) and NCAA D-IAA (1980) levels – all were played in Sacramento, California.
Buffalo is 1-3 in bowl action. It blasted Charlotte 31-9 in last season’s Bahamas Bowl.
Marshall is 12-3 in bowl play. It fell 48-25 to UCF in last season’s Gasparilla Bowl. The most recent win came the year before, in 2018, a 38-20 win over USF, also in the Gasparilla Bowl.
These two met consecutively from 1999 to 2004 as MAC members before Marshall moved to Conference USA in 2005. The Thundering Herd lead the all-time series 8-1 and have won eight straight. The Bulls’ only win came in 1959, a 37-12 victory in Buffalo.
Line: Buffalo -4.5
On paper, this one sets up to be one of the best – if not the best – strength vs. strength matchups of bowl season. On one side of the equation, it’s Buffalo’s rushing attack – ranked No. 1 in America – while on the other it’s Marshall’s D, ranked No. 2 – again in the nation – vs. the run. Where the Bulls hung up a season-high 515 rushing yards and 10 scores on Kent State on Nov. 28, the Thundering Herd gave up a season-best seven total rushing yards to Louisiana Tech on Oct. 17. And, where Marshall is the best defense Buffalo’s ground game will face in 2020, the Bulls’ attack is the most elite unit the Herd has faced.
Of critical importance is the health of Buffalo’s leading rusher, Jaret Patterson, who suffered a knee injury during the MAC championship. The Bulls were limited to a season-low 134 rushing yards in the loss. Head coach Lance Leipold has stated that Patterson is “day-by-day.”
Marshall will be without senior LB Tavante Beckett (tied for No. 17 in the FBS in total tackles), junior RB Brenden Knox (the Herd’s leading rusher) and senior OT Josh Ball – the trio is opting out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Players to Watch
Buffalo: junior RB Jaret Patterson (#26) (No. 1 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
Marshall: freshman QB Grant Wells (#8) (tied for No. 20 in the FBS in TD passes)
Saturday, Dec. 26
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
UTSA (7-4) vs. (19) Louisiana (9-1) – C-USA vs. Sun Belt – Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas – 3:30pm EST – ABC
First year: 2011
Previous names: TicketCity (2011-12), Heart of Dallas (2013-17)
Most Appearances: North Texas (1-1)
Last year: Western Kentucky 23 – Western Michigan 20
UTSA has never won a bowl game, only appearing once previously, a 23-20 loss to New Mexico in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl.
Louisiana is 5-2 in bowl play. It beat Miami Ohio 27-17 in last season’s LendingTree Bowl.
This is the first-ever football meeting between UTSA and Louisiana.
Line: Louisiana -14
This one will likely come down to which defense does a better job of containing the other team’s ground game. Where UTSA is ranked No. 23 nationally (No. 2 in C-USA) in rushing yards per game, Louisiana is No. 26 (No. 3 in the Sun Belt). The Roadrunners – averaging 215 ground yards per game – will take on a Cajun D that has given up 205-plus only twice this season (223 in a win vs. Georgia State and 212 in the only loss in 2020 vs. Coastal Carolina). Similarly, ULL – averaging 207 rushing yards – will face a UTSA D which has also only given up 205-plus twice (214 in a loss at UAB and 305 in a loss vs. Army).
Players to Watch
UTSA: sophomore RB Sincere McCormick (#3) (No. 5 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), sophomore S Rashad Wisdom (#0) (tied for the third-most interceptions in the FBS)
Louisiana: senior RBs Elijah Mitchell (#15) and Trey Ragas (#9) – combined they’ve rushed for 1,411 yards and 16 TDs
WESTERN KENTUCKY (5-6) vs. GEORGIA STATE (5-4) – C-USA vs. Sun Belt – Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala. – 3:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1999
Previous names: Mobile Alabama (1999-2000), GMAC (2001-10), GoDaddy (2011-15), Dollar General (2016-18)
Most appearances: Arkansas State (2-2)
Last year: Louisiana 27 – Miami (Ohio) 17
Western Kentucky is 4-2 in bowl play. It edged Western Michigan 23-20 in last season’s First Responder Bowl.
Georgia State is 1-2 in bowl action. It fell 38-17 to Wyoming in last season’s Arizona Bowl. The only bowl win in program history came in the 2017 Cure Bowl, a 27-17 victory over Western Kentucky.
Western Kentucky and Georgia State have met twice previously – the 2017 Cure Bowl (a win for the Panthers) and during the 2013 regular season (a 44-28 road win for the Hilltoppers).
Line: Georgia State -3.5
The most compelling matchup in this one is Georgia State’s No. 37 nationally ranked scoring offense (averaging 33 points per game) taking on a Western Kentucky D also ranked No. 37 (allowing 24 points per game). It’s unfortunate that the Hilltoppers – currently ranked No. 111 nationally in pass offense – don’t (at least on paper) have the firepower available to expose the Panthers’ biggest defense weakness – a secondary ranked No. 118 in the FBS in pass D. Only nine teams have been more generous through the air.
Players to Watch
Western Kentucky: senior DB Devon Key (#2) (No. 23 in the FBS in total tackles)
Georgia State: junior OLB Jordan Strachan (#7) (tied for No. 4 in the FBS in sacks)
FBC MORTGAGE CURE BOWL
LIBERTY (9-1) vs. (12) COASTAL CAROLINA (11-0, Sun Belt Champions) – Independent vs. Sun Belt – Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 7:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 2015
Most appearances: Georgia State (1-1)
Last year: Liberty 23 – Georgia Southern 16
Liberty is 1-0 in bowl action, winning its first-ever bowl game last season, a 23-16 victory over Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl.
This is Coastal Carolina’s first bowl appearance in program history. The Chanticleers first fielded a football team in 2003 and moved up from the FCS to the FBS in 2017.
Liberty and Coastal Carolina have met 14 times previously but not since 2016. The series is split evenly at seven wins apiece, this is the first-ever postseason meeting.
Line: Coastal Carolina -7
These two share similar statistical DNA – elite rushing attacks paired with solid defenses. Where Liberty is ranked No. 8 nationally in rushing yards per game, Coastal Carolina is No. 15. And where the Flames’ D is ranked No. 17 in the FBS in scoring, the Chanticleers are No. 18. What the two squads don’t share is success vs. teams with winning records. Liberty’s eight FBS opponents in 2020 combined for a 22-51 (30%) record. Only one – (23) NC State (8-3) – finished the season with a winning record. Is it any coincidence that the Wolfpack are the only team the Flames lost to this year? Coastal Carolina, on the other hand, played ten FBS opponents that combined for a 54-53 (50.4%) mark. Of these, four finished above .500 with two (No. 16 BYU and No. 19 Louisiana) ranked in the final CFP Top 25.
Players to Watch
Liberty: junior DE Durrell Johnson (#11) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in sacks), junior QB Malik Willis (#7) (tied for No. 15 in the FBS in TD passes and No. 17 in rushing TDs)
Coastal Carolina: junior CB D’Jordan Strong (#7) (tied for the second-most interceptions in the FBS), junior WR Jaivon Heiligh (#6) (tied for No. 5 in the FBS in receiving TDs), senior DE Tarron Jackson (#9) (tied for No. 8 in the FBS in sacks and No. 13 in tackles for a loss), senior RB CJ Marable (#1) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in rushing TDs), freshman QB Grayson McCall (#10) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in TD passes)