College football bowl schedule 2019 breakdown: Part I – Dec. 20-21

By Amy Daughters -

And just like that, it’s bowl season.

The college football bowl schedule kicks off early this Friday – at 2pm EST on ESPN – with the Bahamas Bowl. In the evening, it’s the Frisco Bowl at 7:30pm EST over on ESPN2.

Saturday serves up a full menu of seven games beginning with the Celebration Bowl at Noon EST on ABC. The mid-afternoon features the trio of the New Mexico Bowl (2pm EST on ESPN), the Cure Bowl (2:30pm EST on CBSSN) and the Boca Raton Bowl (3:30pm EST on ABC).

The evening starts early with the Camellia Bowl at 5:30pm EST on ESPN followed by the Las Vegas Bowl at 7:30pm EST on ABC. Things wrap up with the New Orleans Bowl at 9pm EST back on ESPN.

While this first stanza of the 2019 bowl-a-palooza might not seem as sexy as what’s ahead, keep in mind that there are four conference champions and two ranked squads playing in Saturday’s games. Also on offer are a plethora of delicious firsts: two FBS programs playing in their first-ever bowl game and two other squads attempting to score a bowl victory for the first time in program history. If that weren’t enough, five of the nine games are between teams who have never, ever met on the gridiron.

What follows is a blow-by-blow of when to watch, what to watch for and who to watch doing it. It’s the first in a six-part series that will boldly walk beside you this bowl season, feeding you information as you also feast on holiday goodness.

Gird your loins, friend. This is it.

Friday, Dec. 20

Makers Wanted BAHAMAS BOWL

BUFFALO (7-5) vs. CHARLOTTE (7-5) – MAC vs. C-USA – Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas – 2pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2014

Most appearances: FIU, Ohio, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and Western Michigan (all 1-0) and Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Toledo and UAB (all 0-1)

Last year: FIU 35 – Toledo 32

The Teams

Buffalo has never won a bowl game in program history, posting an 0-3 record all-time. Most recently it fell 42-32 to Troy in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl.

This is Charlotte’s first-ever appearance in a bowl game. It first fielded a football program in 2013 as an FCS independent and moved up to the FBS ranks in 2015.

The Matchup

This is the first-ever football meeting between Buffalo and Charlotte. The 49ers are 0-2 all-time vs. the MAC, losing to Eastern Michigan in a home-and-home series in 2016-17.

Line: Buffalo -7

This combo features both a huge mismatch and a compelling battle of strengths. First up, it’s Buffalo’s No. 9 ranked rushing attack – that’s a national ranking – taking on Charlotte’s No. 97 ranked rushing defense. The Bulls are rushing for more yards, on average, than (3) Clemson while the 49ers are allowing more than UNLV. On the plus side, it’s Charlotte’s No. 26 ranked rushing offense (the No. 1 unit in the C-USA) being severely tested against Buffalo’s No. 4 ranked rushing D (one of only seven units in the nation allowing fewer than 100 ground yards per game).

Players to Watch

Buffalo: sophomore RB Jaret Patterson (#26) (No. 6 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)

Charlotte: senior RB Benny LeMay (#32) (No. 22 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), senior DE Alex Highsmith (#5) (tied for both the second-most sacks and second-most tackles for a loss in the FBS)

Tropical Smoothie Cafe FRISCO BOWL

UTAH STATE (7-5) vs. KENT STATE (6-6) – MWC vs. MAC – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas – 7:30pm EST – ESPN2

The Bowl

First year: 2017

Most appearances: Louisiana Tech and Ohio (1-0) and San Diego State and SMU (0-1)

Last year: Ohio 27 – San Diego State 0

The Teams

Utah State is 5-7 in bowl play. It blasted North Texas 52-13 in last season’s New Mexico Bowl, it’s first win in three tries.

Kent State has never won a bowl game in program history. It most recently fell to Arkansas State 17-13 in the 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl and before that lost to Tampa 21-18 in the 1972 Tangerine Bowl.

The Matchup

Utah State and Kent State haven’t met in 45 years, last playing a home-and-home in 1973-74. The visiting team won on each occasion, deadlocking the series at 1-1.

Line: Utah State -8

Utah State’s biggest offensive weapon – its No. 32 ranked passing attack – matches up well with Kent State’s strongest suit defensively, a No. 55 ranked secondary. On the flip side, the Aggies’ biggest defensive weakness – a No. 103 ranked rushing D – could get exposed by the Golden Flashes’ offensive strength, a No. 44 ranked ground attack. Both defenses have struggled this season, especially vs. the run, the one that best steps up will likely win this one.

Players to Watch

Utah State: junior QB Jordan Love (#10) (No. 25 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior PK Dominik Eberle (#62) (No. 14 in the FBS in field goal percentage)

Kent State: junior QB Dustin Crum (#14) and senior RB Will Matthews (#2) (together they’ve combined for 1,074 rushing yards and seven TDs)

Saturday, Dec. 21

CELEBRATION BOWL

NORTH CAROLINA A&T (8-3, MEAC champions) vs. ALCORN STATE (9-3, SWAC champions) – MEAC vs. SWAC – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. – NOON EST – ABC

The Bowl

First year: 2015

Previous names: Heritage Bowl (1991-99), Pelican Bowl (1972, 1974-75)

Most appearances: North Carolina A&T (3-0)

Last year: North Carolina A&T 24 – Alcorn State 22

The Teams

North Carolina A&T is 6-4 in bowl play and has won three consecutive Celebration Bowls.

Alcorn State is 1-2 in bowl action. Its only bowl win came 50-years ago, in 1968, when it beat Florida A&M 38-9 in the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Fla.

The Matchup

While both teams have elite defenses (North Carolina A&T is ranked No. 10 in scoring while Alcorn State is No. 12), the Aggies’ D has been the more complete of the two on paper, also ranked No. 1 vs. the run and No. 19 vs. the pass (compared to the Braves’ No. 34 and No. 38 rankings in the same categories). Throw in the fact that both offenses have scored a lot of points this season (North Carolina A&T is No. 16 in scoring and Alcorn State is No. 25) and it sets up for a marvelous battle of strengths.

Players to Watch

North Carolina A&T: senior OL Marcus Pettiford (#73) (MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year)

Alcorn State: junior QB Felix Harper (#2) (SWAC Offensive Player of the Year)

NEW MEXICO BOWL

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (8-5) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (9-3) – MAC vs. MWC – Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M. – 2pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2006

Most appearances: New Mexico (2-2)

Last year: Utah State 52 – North Texas 13

The Teams

Central Michigan is 3-8 in bowl play. It most recently fell 37-14 to Wyoming in the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, also its fourth-consecutive bowl loss. The most recent victory came in the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl, a 24-21 win over Western Kentucky.

San Diego State is 5-9 in bowl action. It got blanked 27-0 by Ohio in last year’s Frisco Bowl. It most recently won the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl, a 34-10 victory over Houston.

The Matchup

This is the first-ever football meeting between Central Michigan and San Diego State.

Line: San Diego State -6.5

On one hand, this game is the story of San Diego State’s blistering defense (No. 4 nationally in scoring and No. 2 vs. the run) taking on a very balanced Central Michigan offense (No. 44 in scoring, No. 40 in rushing and No. 40 in passing offense). On the flip side, can the Aztec’s ineffective offense (No. 119 in scoring, No. 103 in rushing and No. 97 in passing) manage to score enough points to win?

Players to Watch

Central Michigan: senior RB Jonathan Ward (#5) (tied for No. 12 in the FBS in rushing TDs), sophomore LB Troy Brown (#8) (No. 2 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)

San Diego State: senior CB Luq Barcoo (#16) (tied for the second-most interceptions in the FBS)

FBC Mortgage CURE BOWL

LIBERTY (7-5) vs. GEORGIA SOUTHERN (7-5) – Independent vs. Sun Belt – Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 2:30pm EST – CBSSN

The Bowl

First year: 2015

Most appearances: Georgia State (1-1)

Last year: Tulane 41 – Louisiana 24

The Teams

Liberty is bowl eligible for the first time in program history, it moved up to the FBS ranks as an independent in 2018.

Georgia Southern has never lost a bowl game, winning in both its all-time appearances: the 2018 Camellia Bowl (a 23-21 win over Eastern Michigan) and the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl (a 58-27 win over Bowling Green).

The Matchup

This is the first-ever football meeting between Liberty and Georgia Southern.

Line: Georgia Southern -8-5

This pairing offers two significant mismatches – first, tune in to see Liberty’s No. 21 ranked passing attack do its thing against a Georgia Southern defense ranked No. 91 vs. the pass. Next up, and perhaps most frightening, check out the Eagles’ option offense – ranked No. 8 nationally in rushing yards per game – against a Flames’ D ranked an egregious No. 100 vs. the run. This one ought to be entertaining.

Players to Watch

Liberty: senior WR Antonio Gandy-Golden (#11) (No. 6 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), senior QB Stephen Calvert (#12) (No. 12 in the FBS in passing yards per game)

Georgia Southern: junior RB J.D. King (#15), junior RB Wesley Kennedy III (#12) and junior QB Shai Werts (#1) (combined they’ve rushed for 2,219 yards and 23 TDs)

Cheribundi BOCA RATON BOWL

SMU (10-2) at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (10-3, C-USA champions) – AAC vs. C-USA – FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla. – 3:30pm EST – ABC

The Bowl

First year: 2014

Most Appearances: Northern Illinois (0-2)

Last year: UAB 37 – Northern Illinois 13

The Teams

SMU is 7-8-1 in bowl action. It most recently got smashed 51-10 by Louisiana Tech in the 2017 Frisco Bowl. The last win came seven years ago in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl, a decisive 43-10 victory over Fresno State.

FAU has never lost a bowl game, earning a 3-0 mark since first going bowling in 2007. Its most recent win came in the 2017 Boca Raton Bowl, a 50-3 beatdown of Akron.

The Matchup

This is the first-ever football meeting between SMU and FAU.

Line: SMU -3.5

What you’ve got here are two proficient passing offenses taking on defenses which have struggled vs. the pass. SMU is ranked No. 12 nationally in passing yards per game while FAU is No. 30. On the flip side, the Mustangs are an awful No. 121 vs. the pass (only nine teams in the FBS have been more generous) while the Owls are a more respectable No. 81. While the two squads’ schedules aren’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, overall FAU has the better defense, earning a No. 33 rank in scoring (22.3 points per game) vs. SMU’s No. 93 mark (31.3).

With the Owls’ Lane Kiffin stepping down to take the head job at Ole Miss, FAU will be led by interim head coach Glenn Spencer. He has served as the defensive coordinator for the Owls since December 2018, prior to that he was the DC at Charlotte for a single season, a role he took on after a ten-year run at Oklahoma State. Former Florida State head coach Willie Taggart will take over the reigns at FAU in 2020.

Players to Watch

SMU: junior QB Shane Buechele (#7) (No. 7 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior WR James Proche (#3) (tied for No. 3 in the FBS in TD catches), senior RB Xavier Jones (#5) (tied for No. 2 in the FBS in rushing TDs), senior S Patrick Nelson (#2) (No. 10 in the FBS in sacks and No. 16 in tackles for a loss), senior DE Delontae Scott (#35) (No. 12 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and No. 15 in sacks)

FAU: junior CB Meiko Dotson (#15) (No. 1 in the FBS in interceptions), sophomore QB Chris Robison (#2) (No. 22 in the FBS in passing yards per game)

CAMELLIA BOWL

FIU (6-6) vs. ARKANSAS STATE (7-5) – C-USA vs. Sun Belt – Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. – 5:30pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2014

Most appearances: Appalachian State (2-0)

Last year: Georgia Southern 23 – Eastern Michigan 21

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. 

The Teams

FIU is 2-2 in bowl action, it edged Toledo 35-32 in last season’s Bahamas Bowl.

Arkansas State is 3-6 in bowl play. It fell 16-13 to Nevada in last year’s Arizona Bowl, its second consecutive bowl loss. The most recent win came in the 2016 Cure Bowl, a 31-13 victory over UCF.

The Matchup

These two met consecutively from 2005-12 as Sun Belt members before FIU moved to Conference USA in 2013. Arkansas State leads the series 6-2 but vacated its 2005 and 2006 wins.

Line: Arkansas State -4.5

The most compelling matchup in this one is Arkansas State’s potent aerial attack – ranked No. 14 in the FBS – taking on an FIU secondary that’s ranked a lofty No. 6 (nationally) vs. the pass. On the other side of the ball, you’ve got the Golden Panther’s below average offense (No. 84 in scoring, No. 60 in rushing and No. 91 in passing) taking on a Red Wolves’ defense which has struggled epically this season (No. 115 in scoring, No. 122 vs. the run and No. 104 vs. the pass).

Players to Watch

FIU: senior RB Anthony Jones (#2) (No. 8 in C-USA in rushing yards per game)

Arkansas State: redshirt freshman QB Layne Hatcher (#3) (No. 8 in the FBS in passer rating and No. 11 in passing yards per game), senior WR Omar Bayless (#7) (No. 2 in the FBS in receiving yards per game and TD catches)

Mitsubishi Motors LAS VEGAS BOWL

(19) BOISE STATE (12-1, MWC champions) vs. WASHINGTON (7-5) – MWC vs. Pac-12 – Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, N.V. – 7:30pm EST – ABC

The Bowl

First year: 1992

Most appearances: BYU (3-3)

Last year: (19) Fresno State 31 – Arizona State 20

The Teams

Boise State is 12-6 in bowl play. It earned a spot in last season’s First Responder Bowl vs. Boston College, but the game was cancelled due to weather. Its most recent win came in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl when it upset Oregon 38-28.

Washington is 17-20-1 in bowl action. It got edged 28-23 by then (5) Ohio State in last season’s Rose Bowl, also its third consecutive bowl loss. Its last win came in the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 44-31 victory over Southern Miss.

The Matchup

A rematch of the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl (a 28-26 win for Boise State), these two have met four times with each contest being played since 2007. The series is deadlocked at two games apiece.

Line: Washington -3

On paper this is a great matchup – Boise State’s No. 14 ranked scoring offense vs. Washington’s No. 23 ranked scoring D on one side of the ball and Washington’s No. 47 ranked scoring offense squaring off with Boise State’s No. 24 ranked scoring D on the other. Even though the Broncos appear to have the advantage in both statistical battles, they earned their numbers vs. an MWC schedule as opposed to Washington’s Pac-12 slate.

Players to Watch

Boise State: junior LB Curtis Weaver (#99) (No. 3 in the FBS in sacks and No. 9 in tackles for a loss)

Washington: sophomore PK Peyton Henry (#47) (tied for No. 7 in the FBS in field goal percentage)

The Las Vegas Bowl will be Washington head coach Chris Petersen’s final game on the sidelines. Petersen announced he was stepping down in December and will be replaced by Jimmy Lake who has been an assistant at Washington since 2014 most recently serving as the DC.

R+L Carriers NEW ORLEANS BOWL

(20) APPALACHIAN STATE (12-1, Sun Belt champions) vs. UAB (9-4) – Sun Belt vs. C-USA – Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La. – 9pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2001

Most appearances: Southern Miss (4-1)

Last year: Appalachian State 45 – Middle Tennessee 13

The Teams

Appalachian State is a perfect 4-0 in bowl play. It moved up from the FCS to the FBS in 2014 and has been to a bowl game, and won it, in every season it’s been eligible to.

UAB is 1-2 in bowl action. Its 37-13 win over Northern Illinois in last season’s Boca Raton Bowl was the first in program history.

The Matchup

This is the first-ever football meeting between Appalachian State and UAB.

Line: Appalachian State -19.5

UAB has a solid defense – ranked No. 25 nationally in scoring, No. 13 vs. the rush and No. 13 against the pass. It sets up as an excellent test of strengths vs. App State’s offense – ranked No. 9 in scoring and No. 17 in rushing. What may ultimately cost the Blazers is their offense, which has struggled to find the endzone this season (No. 100 in scoring) taking on a Mountaineer D ranked No. 22 in scoring.

Players to Watch

Appalachian State: junior running back Darrynton Evans (#3) (tied for the fifth-most rushing TDs in the FBS), sophomore DB Shaun Jolly (#3) (tied for the fifth-most interceptions in the FBS)

UAB: sophomore OLB Jordan Smith (#22) (tied for the tenth-most sacks in the FBS and No. 25 in tackles for a loss), junior LB Kristopher Moll (#6) (No. 20 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)

With the departure of Eli Drinkwitz to Missouri, Appalachian State will be led in the New Orleans Bowl by new head coach Shawn Clark. Clark played offensive line at App State (1994-98) and after a series of coaching positions across the country landed back at his alma mater in 2016 as an O-line coach.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com and FCSFootball.com. Lines courtesy of OddsShark

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