College football bowl schedule: 2021 breakdown, Part I – Dec. 17-18

By Amy Daughters -

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on ESPN while wrapping your Yule Log, it’s bowl season.

Yes friends, it’s 43 games in 19 days and it all starts with a doubleheader this Friday that kicks off early – at Noon EST on ESPN. Saturday is home to a whopping seven games, alternating throughout the day in a clear channel pattern – ESPN then ABC, then ESPN then ABC, then ESPN and ABC…You get the picture.

What follows is the first installment of a six-part series that will serve as your trusty companion as we walk together, game-by-game, through the good, the bad and the inevitable upset. Keep it handy as it’s your source for when to watch, what to watch for, and who to watch doing it.

As an opening tip – don’t assume that this first set of games is a bunch of sub-par squads in pillow fights. Instead, two ranked teams and five conference champions are in action this weekend. These hard-working athletes have earned the privilege to be watched and admired.

Friday, Dec. 17

BAHAMAS BOWL

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (6-6) vs. TOLEDO (7-5) – C-USA vs. MAC – Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas – Noon EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2014

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

Last year: Cancelled due to COVID-19

The Teams

Middle Tennessee is 2-6 in bowl action. It last went bowling in 2018, falling 45-13 to Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl. It’s most recent bowl win came a year earlier, in 2017, when it beat Arkansas State 35-30 in the Camellia Bowl.

Toledo is 10-8 in bowl play. It last saw action in the 2018 Bahamas Bowl, a 35-32 loss to FIU that was also its third-straight bowl loss. The Rockets haven’t won a bowl game since downing then (24) Temple 32-17 in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl.

The Matchup

This is Middle Tennessee and Toledo’s first-ever football meeting.

Line: Toledo -10

This is a solid matchup between Toledo’s ground attack (ranked No. 31 in the FBS) and Middle Tennessee’s rush D (No. 32 in the country). Where the Rockets closed out the regular season by averaging 267 rushing yards in its last three outings – all wins – the Blue Raiders went 4-2 down the stretch and held their final six opponents to 73 rushing yards per game. This is a gem of an early bowl.

Players to Watch

Middle Tennessee: senior S Reed Blankenship (#12) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in solo tackles), junior DE Jordan Ferguson (#91) (tied for No. 13 in the FBS in tackles for a loss), freshman CB Quincy Riley (#3) (tied for the second most interceptions in the FBS and No. 1 in interception return yards)

Toledo: junior RB Bryant Koback (#22) (No. 11 in the FBS in rushing yards per game and tied for No. 10 in rushing TDs), junior OLB Jamal Hines (#91) (tied for No. 16 in the FBS in sacks)

Tailgreeter CURE BOWL

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (9-4, MAC Champions) vs. COASTAL CAROLINA (10-2) – MAC vs. Sun Belt – Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 6pm EST – ESPN2

The Bowl

First year: 2015

Most appearances: Liberty (2-0), Georgia State (1-1)

Last year: (23) Liberty 37 – (9) Coastal Carolina 34 – OT

The Teams

Northern Illinois is 4-9 in bowl action, most recently falling 37-13 to UAB in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl, also its sixth-straight bowl loss. The last win came in the 2011/12 GoDaddy.com Bowl, a 38-20 decision over Arkansas State.

This is Coastal Carolina’s second-ever bowl appearance. The Chanticleers fell 37-34 in overtime to (23) Liberty in last season’s Cure Bowl.

The Matchup

This is Northern Illinois and Coastal Carolina’s first-ever football meeting.

Line: Coastal Carolina -10.5

This game features two of the most elite rushing attacks in the country taking on defenses that have enjoyed different levels of success vs. the run. On one hand it’s Northern Illinois’ ground game – ranked a lofty No. 5 in the nation – taking on a Coastal Carolina D ranked No. 35 against the run and No. 19 in scoring. Flip the script and it’s a Chanticleer rushing offense – ranked a just as impressive No. 6 overall – squaring off with a Huskie defense ranked No. 120 in the nation vs. the run. Only ten teams in the FBS have given up, on average, more rushing yards this season than has NIU.

Players to Watch

Northern Illinois: freshman RB Jay Ducker (#8) (No. 3 in the MAC in rushing yards per game)

Coastal Carolina: sophomore QB Grayson McCall (#10) (No. 1 in the FBS in passer rating), freshman DE Josaiah Stewart (#0) (tied at No. 4 in the FBS in sacks), senior RB Shermari Jones (#5) (No. 1 in the Sun Belt in rushing yards per game)

Saturday, Dec. 18

RoofClaim.com BOCA RATON BOWL

WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-5) vs. APPALACHIAN STATE (10-3) – C-USA vs. Sun Belt – FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla. – 11am EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2014

Most Appearances: FAU (2-0), Northern Illinois (0-2)

Last year: (13) BYU 49 – UCF 23

The Teams

Western Kentucky is 4-3 in bowl action. It most recently lost 39-21 to Georgia State in last year’s LendingTree Bowl. Its most recent win came the previous season, in 2019, when it edged Western Michigan 23-20 in the First Responder Bowl.

Appalachian State is a perfect 6-0 in bowl play, most recently destroying North Texas 56-28 in last season’s Myrtle Beach Bowl.

The Matchup

Western Kentucky and Appalachian State have met four times previously but not since 2000. The Mountaineers hold a commanding 4-1 lead in the all-time series, the Hilltoppers’ only win coming 48 years ago in 1973. This is the first postseason meeting between the two.

Line: Appalachian State -3

A quality battle between the runners-up in the C-USA and Sun Belt, this one will likely come down to how well Appalachian State’s solid defense can contain Western Kentucky’s blistering offense – the No. 1 passing attack in college football. The Mountaineers’ D – ranked No. 32 nationally vs. the pass – has faced three top-ranked air attacks this season, all successfully. They held a Miami Fla. offense averaging 321 passing yards per game (No. 10 in the FBS) to 200, an Arkansas State attack averaging 313 (No. 11 in the FBS) to 137 and a Marshall unit averaging 310 (No. 12) to 270. What may make the difference is WKU’s defense, which has struggled to a No. 89 overall finish in scoring and a No. 98 rank in total D.

Players to Watch

Western Kentucky: senior QB Bailey Zappe (#4) (No. 1 in the FBS in passing yards per game and passing TDs), junior WR Jerreth Sterns (#8) (No. 1 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), junior WR Mitchell Tinsley (#5) (No. 14 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), senior DE DeAngelo Malone (#10) (tied for No. 13 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)

Appalachian State: senior DB Steven Jones, Jr. (#6) (tied for No. 2 in the FBS in interceptions and No. 1 in interception returns for a TD), senior ILB D’Marco Jackson (#52) (tied for No. 4 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and No. 17 in total tackles), junior OLB Nick Hampton (#31) (tied for No. 13 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)

Cricket CELEBRATION BOWL

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (6-5, MEAC Champions) vs. JACKSON STATE (11-1, 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 (4-0)

Last year: Cancelled due to COVID-19

The Teams

South Carolina State is 6-7 in bowl play. It hasn’t gone bowling since the 1997 Heritage Bowl, a 34-28 loss to Southern. The last win came in the 1994 edition of the Heritage Bowl, a 31-27 victory over Grambling State.

Jackson State is 3-1 in bowl action, most recently edging Florida A&M 7-6 in last season’s Orange Blossom Classic.

The Matchup

Line: Jackson State -11.5

What’s powered Jackson State’s 11-1 run (the only loss a 12-7 defeat at FBS ULM) is an elite defense. The Tigers are ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring, No. 10 vs. the run and No. 3 vs. the pass. It may prove too much for an SC State offense that while not desperate hasn’t necessarily been on fire, averaging 24 points per game (No. 73 in the FCS). Flip the script and it’s a Jackson State passing offense averaging 255 yards per game (No. 26 in the FCS) vs. a Bulldog D that’s ranked No. 65 nationally vs. the pass.

Players to Watch

SC State: sophomore WR Shaquan Davis (#1) (No. 20 in the FCS in receiving yards per game)

Jackson State: freshman QB Shedeur Sanders (#2) (No. 15 in the FCS in passing yards), senior LB James Houston (#41) (No. 2 in the FCS in sacks and No. 5 in tackles for a loss)

PUBG Mobile NEW MEXICO BOWL

UTEP (7-5) vs. FRESNO STATE (9-3) – C-USA vs. MWC – University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M. – 2:15pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2006

Most appearances: New Mexico (2-2)

Last year: Hawaii 28 – Houston 14

The Teams

UTEP is 5-9 in bowl play. It hasn’t been bowling in seven years, falling 21-6 to Utah State in the 2014 New Mexico Bowl, also its sixth-straight bowl loss. The Miners haven’t won a bowl game in 54 years, last tasting victory in the 1967 Sun Bowl, a 14-7 win over Ole Miss.

Fresno State is 12-13 in bowl action. It most recently took down Arizona State 31-20 in the 2018 Las Vegas Bowl.

The Matchup

UTEP and Fresno State have met 12 times previously but not since 2004. The Bulldogs lead the series 8-3-1 but the two have split the last four. This is the first-ever postseason meeting.

Line: Fresno State -11.5

This one features a solid strength vs. strength matchup pitting Fresno State’s top-ranked passing attack (No. 9 in the FBS) taking on a UTEP D that finished the season ranked No. 29 vs. the pass. It’s the same Miners’ unit that held a New Mexico State passing attack averaging 269 air yards per game (No. 26 in the FBS) to 92 passing yards and a Louisiana Tech O averaging 261 (No. 36) to 186. If UTEP can limit the Bulldog’s through the air it will be up to its offense, averaging only 25.2 points per game (No. 89 in the FBS), to find a way to score enough points to win.

With Kalen DeBoer off to take the head job at Washington, Fresno State will be led on the sidelines by interim head coach Lee Marks. Marks played running back at Boise State from 2002-05, returned to his alma mater as an assistant from 2014-19 and joined the Fresno State staff in 2020 to coach running backs. The Bulldogs have hired Jeff Tedford for next season.

Players to Watch

UTEP: sophomore WR Jacob Cowing (#6) (No. 7 in the FBS in receiving yards per game)

Fresno State: senior QB Jake Haener (#9) (No. 8 in the FBS in passing yards per game, as of the publication of this article it is unknown if Haener, who recently withdrew from the transfer portal, will participate in the bowl game), senior DE Arron Mosby (#3) (tied for No. 2 in the FBS in forced fumbles)

Radiance Tech INDEPENDENCE BOWL

UAB (8-4) vs. (13) BYU (10-2) – C-USA vs. Independent – Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La. – 3:30pm EST – ABC

The Bowl

First year: 1976

Previous names: AdvoCare V100 Bowl (2013)

Most appearances: Ole Miss (4-1), Louisiana Tech (3-1-1)

Last year: Cancelled

The Teams

UAB is 1-3 in bowl play, most recently falling 31-17 to then (20) Appalachian State in the 2019 New Orleans Bowl. The only bowl win in program history came the year before, in 2018, a 37-13 triumph over Northern Illinois.

BYU is 16-21-1 in bowl action. It downed UCF 49-23 in last season’s Boca Raton Bowl.

The Matchup

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

Line: BYU -7

Though this pairing lacks obvious curb appeal, it features a solid matchup between BYU’s offense (ranked No. 29 in scoring and No. 17 in yards per game) and UAB’s D (ranked No. 39 in scoring and No. 17 in yards per game). Where the Cougars are averaging 33.5 points per game, the Blazers are allowing 22.8. The common thread in BYU’s two losses this season was an inability to run the ball, averaging 206 rushing yards in its ten wins and then gaining 111 in the loss to Boise State and 67 at (7) Baylor – both were season lows. It sets up as a thing of beauty vs. a UAB D ranked No. 12 – in America – vs. the run, allowing a paltry 104 yards per game. It’s like finding hidden treasure!

Players to Watch

UAB: sophomore RB DeWayne McBride (#22) (No. 18 in the FBS in yards per carry)

BYU: sophomore RB Tyler Allgeier (#25) (tied for No. 1 in the FBS in rushing TDs and No. 6 in rushing yards per game)

LENDINGTREE BOWL

EASTERN MICHIGAN (7-5) vs. LIBERTY (7-5) – MAC vs. Independent – Hancock Whitney Stadium, Mobile, Ala. – 5:45pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 1999

Previous names: Mobile Alabama/GMAC Mobile Alabama/GMAC (1999-2010), GoDaddy.com/GoDaddy (2011-15), Dollar General (2016-18)

Most appearances: Arkansas State (2-2)

Last year: Georgia State 39 – Western Kentucky 21

The Teams

Eastern Michigan is 1-3 in bowl play, most recently falling 34-30 to Pitt in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl. The only bowl win in program history came 34-years ago, in the 1987 California Bowl, a 30-27 win over San Jose State.

Liberty is a perfect 2-0 in bowl action, winning back-to-back Cure Bowls in 2020 (a 37-34 upset win over then No. 9 Coastal Carolina in overtime) and 2019 (a 23-16 victory over Georgia Southern).

The Matchup

Eastern Michigan and Liberty have only met once previously, during the 1989 regular season, a 25-24 win for the Flames. The two are scheduled to meet again in a home-and-home series in 2023/24.

Line: Liberty -9

Though Eastern Michigan’s offense has been more effective through the air (No. 33 in the FBS in passing yards per game) than on the ground (No. 112), it’s running success that links its wins. The Eagles averaged 173 rushing yards per game in its seven victories vs. 41 in its five losses. That puts the pressure squarely on a Liberty D that is allowing 141 ground yards per game (No. 49), the same unit that held an Ole Miss offense averaging 224 (No. 8 in the FBS) to a mere 142. Liberty is fresh off three straight losses with a combined turnover margin of -11 (six interceptions and three fumbles), plummeting them, almost overnight, to a No. 125 rank in turnover margin.

Players to Watch

Eastern Michigan: senior QB Ben Bryant (#8) (No. 11 in the FBS in completion percentage)

Liberty: junior QB Malik Willis (#7) (the No. 3 rushing QB in the FBS)

Jimmy Kimmel LA BOWL

UTAH STATE (10-3, MWC Champions) vs. OREGON STATE (7-5) – MWC vs. Pac-12 – SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif. – 7:30pm EST – ABC

The Bowl

First year: 2021, Inaugural game

The Teams

Utah State is 5-8 in bowl play, most recently falling 51-41 to Kent State in the 2019 Frisco Bowl. The last win came the year before, in 2018, a 52-13 beatdown of North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl. The Aggies have never beaten a current Power 5 member in a bowl game.

Oregon State is 11-6 in bowl action. It hasn’t gone bowling since the 2013 Hawaii Bowl, a 38-23 win over Boise State.

The Matchup

Utah State and Oregon State have played three times previously but not since 1998. The Beavers are a perfect 3-0 vs. the Aggies, this is the first-ever postseason meeting.

Line: Oregon State -7

These two teams have opposite offensive strengths – where Utah State has been successful through the air (No. 15 in the FBS in passing yards per game), Oregon State has gotten it done on the ground (No. 12 in rushing yards per game). What they share are defenses that have struggled this season against their bowl opponent’s strengths – the Aggies’ D is No. 86 nationally vs. the run while the Beavers’ defense is No. 87 vs. the pass. While these aren’t extremes, the better defense wins this one.

Players to Watch

Utah State: senior WR Deven Thompkins (#13) (No. 3 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), junior QB Logan Bonner (#1) (tied for No. 6 in the FBS in passing TDs), senior ILB Justin Rice (#3) (No. 16 in the FBS in total tackles), senior DE Nick Heninger (#42) (tied for the second most forced fumbles in the FBS)

Oregon State: junior RB B.J. Baylor (#4) (No. 14 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)

Oregon State will be without junior ILB Avery Roberts (#34) (No. 6 in the FBS in total tackles) who is out due to a recent “minor surgery”.

R+L Carriers NEW ORLEANS BOWL

(23) LOUISIANA (12-1, Sun Belt Champions) vs. MARSHALL (7-5) – Sun Belt vs. C-USA – Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, La. – 9:15pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2001

Most appearances: Southern Miss (4-1), Louisiana (4-1), North Texas (1-4)

Last year: Georgia Southern 38 – Louisiana Tech 3

The Teams

Louisiana is 6-2 in bowl play. It most recently knocked off UTSA 31-24 in last season’s First Responder Bowl.

Marshall is 12-4 in bowl action but has dropped two-straight. Its most recent win came in the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl, a 38-20 victory over USF.

The Matchup

This is the first-ever football meeting between Louisiana and Marshall.

Line: Louisiana -5

This intriguing little number features Marshall’s elite passing attack – the No. 12 unit in all the land – taking on a Louisiana D ranked No. 26 nationally vs. the pass and No. 9 in scoring. On one hand it’s an aerial show that’s hung up 320-plus passing yards on six of its opponents this season and on the other it’s the same guys who held five of their opponents to fewer than 140 passing yards this year. Whose strength is stronger? What may decide things is the Ragin’ Cajun ground game – a highly respectable No. 33 overall – taking on a Thundering Herd defense ranked a slightly disreputable No. 105 nationally and No. 12 in the C-USA vs. the run.

With Billy Napier off to the cash-rich shores of Florida, the Cajuns will be led on the sidelines by Michael Desormeaux, who was recently promoted to head coach. Desormeaux played QB at Louisiana from 2004-08 and has served as an offensive assistant there since 2016.

Players to Watch

Louisiana: senior LB Chauncey Manac (#17) (tied for No. 12 in the FBS in sacks)

Marshall: freshman RB Rasheen Ali (#22) (tied for the most rushing TDs in the FBS), freshman QB Grant Wells (#8) (No. 15 in the FBS in passing yards per game)

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

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Comments (2)

This is good stuff! Great detail with added little nuggets that give me a reason to watch these lower tiered bowls. Thanks for putting these together.