Just when you thought it was safe to turn on ESPN while wrapping your Yule Log, it’s bowl season.
Yes friends, it’s 42 games in just 17 days, a magnificent smorgasbord sure to send out the 2022 season in style. And you can count on us to be with you every step of the way with a seven-part series designed to be your trusty companion and sage guide.
As an opening tip – don’t assume that this first set of games is a bunch of sub-par squads in pillow fights. Instead, three ranked teams and three conference champions are in action. Included in the goodness are the first ranked vs. ranked and the first Power 5 vs. Power 5 matchups of bowl season. If that weren’t enough, three of the nine contests on offer feature first-ever matchups and three are between clubs that haven’t met in 20-plus years. There’s even a rivalry trophy up for grabs that we haven’t seen in almost a decade!
Here’s your mental checklist for Friday and Saturday.
(1) Friday’s double header starts early with the Bahamas Bowl kicking things off at 11:30am ET on ESPN. That’s followed by what might be one of the best matchups in the first half of bowl season when the C-USA champ squares off with the Sun Belt champ – both are ranked teams – in the Cure Bowl at 3pm ET on ESPN.
(2) Saturday’s seven-game odyssey follows a pattern, alternating games between ESPN and ABC with air times – all Eastern – at 11am, Noon, 2:30pm, 3:30pm, 5:45pm, 7:30pm, and 9:15pm. It’s as simple as setting the remote between the two networks and it’s away you go!
On a highly personal note, as a proud graduate of The Texas Tech University, I would like to express my dismay at the shocking passing of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach. I met Coach Leach, and his young quarterback Graham Harrell, in the spring of 2008 at the Touchdown Club in Columbus, Ohio. When I asked Harrell what he had learned from Leach he responded, “that the game is never over until the final second ticks off the clock. He’s always confident that we’ve got a chance until the very end, no matter what the odds, and therefore so does the team.” I had the opportunity to share a beverage with Coach Leach that night and he said, “I’d rather sit at the bar and talk to you folks than go into the awards.” He also told me that my teenage son should quit playing linebacker and instead, “go where the action is” and switch to tight end. He was an innovative, down to earth, genuine guy who did so much for Texas Tech and for college football. He reminds us that by simply being unapologetically our true selves that we can make the world a better place. RIP to the sword-swinging Pirate and sincere condolences to his wife Sharon and their family. Thanks Coach, you will be missed.
Friday, Dec. 16
HomeTown Lenders BAHAMAS BOWL
MIAMI OHIO (6-6) vs. UAB (6-6) – MAC vs. C-USA – Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas – 11:30am ET – ESPN
First year: 2014
Most appearances: Middle Tennessee (1-1), Toledo (0-2)
Last year: Middle Tennessee 31 – Toledo 24
Miami Ohio is 8-5 in bowl play, most recently downing North Texas 27-14 in last year’s Frisco Classic Bowl.
UAB is 2-3 in bowl action, last upsetting then (12) BYU 31-28 in the 2021 Independence Bowl.
This is Miami Ohio and UAB’s first-ever football meeting.
Line: UAB -10.5
The compelling matchup in this one is UAB’s rushing attack – ranked a lofty No. 7 in the FBS – taking on a Miami defense that finished the season struggling against the run. After giving up, on average, 108 rushing yards in its first nine games, the RedHawks gave up 220 in their last three including coughing up a season-high 265 to Ball State in the regular-season finale, a narrow 18-17 win. The only other elite ground attack Miami faced this season was Kent State, currently No. 24 in the nation, averaging 203 yards per game. How did it go? The Flashes only managed 109 ground yards, their second-lowest output in 2022.
With Trent Dilfer set to become UAB’s head coach in 2023, the Blazers will be led in the bowl game by interim Bryant Vincent who, after Bill Clark’s retirement in June, coached the team in that same capacity to a 6-6 finish this season. Vincent was UAB’s OC from 2018-21.
Players to Watch
Miami Ohio: senior LB Ryan McWood (#35) (No. 6 in the FBS in total tackles), sophomore LB Matthew Salopek (#15) (tied for No. 22 in the FBS in total tackles)
UAB: junior RB DeWayne McBride (#22) (No. 1 in the FBS in rushing yards per game and total rushing yards)
Duluth Trading CURE BOWL
(24) TROY (11-2, Sun Belt Champions) vs. (25) UTSA (11-2, C-USA Champions) – Sun Belt vs. C-USA – Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 3pm ET – ESPN
First year: 2015
Most appearances: Liberty (2-0), Coastal Carolina (1-1), Georgia State (1-1)
Last year: Coastal Carolina 47 – Northern Illinois 41
Troy is 5-3 in bowl action. It hasn’t been bowling since 2018, downing Buffalo 42-32 in the Dollar General Bowl, also it’s fourth-consecutive bowl win.
UTSA is 0-3 in bowl play, most recently falling 38-24 to San Diego State in last season’s Frisco Bowl.
This is Troy and UTSA’s first-ever football meeting.
Line: Troy -2
The fascinating strength vs. strength matchup in this rare battle of champions is UTSA’s high-flying offense, ranked No. 12 in the FBS in scoring, taking on Troy’s elite defense, ranked No. 8 nationally in points allowed. Drilling down further, the real decision maker will likely be how well the Trojans can manage against the Roadrunners’ passing attack, ranked No. 12 in the nation. Troy has only faced one offense ranked better than No. 40 nationally in passing – Western Kentucky, the No. 2 air attack in the nation. How did it go? They coughed up a season-high 406 passing yards in a 34-27 win. Both Troy and UTSA started the season 1-2 (the combined losses were to Ole Miss, App State, Houston, and No. 20 Texas) only to go on ten-game winning streaks. This game deserves to be watched and these teams have both earned higher-profile bowl appearances.
Players to Watch
Troy: senior LB Carlton Martial (#2) (tied for No. 8 in the FBS in total tackles), sophomore DE T.J. Jackson (#98) (tied for No. 14 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)
UTSA: senior QB Frank Harris (#0) (No. 7 in the FBS in passer rating, No. 11 in passing yards per game), senior WR Zakhari Franklin (#4) (No. 3 in the FBS in receiving TDs)
Saturday, Dec. 17
Wasabi FENWAY BOWL
CINCINNATI (9-3) vs. LOUISVILLE (7-5) – AAC vs. ACC – Fenway Park, Boston, Mass. – 11am ET – ESPN
First year: 2021, Inaugural game, Virginia vs. SMU, Canceled due to COVID-19.
Cincinnati is 9-11 in bowl play, most recently falling 27-6 to then (1) Alabama in last year’s CFP Semifinal/Cotton Bowl. The Bearcats’ last bowl win came in the 2018 Birmingham Bowl, a 38-6 victory over Boston College.
Louisville is 11-12-1 in bowl action. It went bowling as recently as last year, suffering a 31-28 loss to Air Force in the First Responder Bowl. The last win came in 2019, a 38-28 victory over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl.
Cincinnati and Louisville have played 53 times previously but not since 2013, the Bearcats lead 30-22-1 and have won two-straight. The two rivals, who shared membership in C-USA (1996-2004) and the Big East (2005-12) and are located only 100-miles apart, play for the Keg of Nails – a replica of the old barrels used to transport nails – awarded to the team earning the right to be called “tough as nails”. The original keg is said to have gone missing in Louisville but has since been replaced.
Line: Louisville -1
The common statistical thread in Cincinnati’s trio of defeats this year is rushing yards allowed. Where the Bearcats gave up, on average, 111 ground yards in their nine wins, they coughed up more than double that number, or 234, in its three losses. It makes for a solid matchup with Louisville’s offense, a unit that has been more proficient running the ball (No. 35 in the FBS in rushing yards per game) than passing it (No. 92). Though Cincy has performed well against the three elite rushing attacks it’s faced in 2022, two of the three games resulted in losses. It limited an Arkansas club averaging 223 rushing yards per game (No. 9 in the FBS) to 224 in a 31-24 loss, gave up 258 ground yards to a UCF attack averaging 236 (No. 8) in a 25-21 defeat and held a Navy offense averaging 240 (No. 7) to 176 in a 20-10 win.
Cincinnati – who bid farewell to Luke Fickell when he took the Wisconsin job – hired Louisville’s head coach Scott Satterfield on Dec. 5, just two weeks before the two teams were slated to meet in the bowl game. Satterfield won’t coach either team in the Fenway Bowl. The Bearcats will be led on the sidelines by interim head Kerry Coombs, who after serving as the DC at Ohio State from 2020-21 joined the Cincinnati staff this season coaching cornerbacks and special teams. The Cards will be led by interim head Deion Branch – Louisville’s director of player development – who played WR for Louisville (2000-01) and in the NFL, earning Super Bowl XXXIX MVP honors with New England. On December 8, the Cardinals hired Jeff Brohm, who played QB at Louisville (1989-93) and was the head coach at Western Kentucky (2014-16) and Purdue (2017-22). Holy Carousel of Coaching!
Louisville will be without starting senior QB, and the team’s No. 2 rusher, Malik Cunningham (tied for No. 25 in the FBS in rushing TDs) who is opting out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati: senior LB Ivan Pace Jr. (#0) (tied for No. 3 in the FBS in tackles for a loss, No. 10 in total tackles, and No. 14 in sacks)
Louisville: sophomore RB Jawhar Jordan (#25) (No. 7 in the ACC in rushing yards per game)
Cricket CELEBRATION BOWL
JACKSON STATE (12-0, SWAC Champions) vs. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (9-2, MEAC Champions) – SWAC vs. MEAC – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. – NOON ET – ABC
First year: 2015
Previous names: Heritage Bowl (1991-99), Pelican Bowl (1972, 1974-75)
Most appearances: North Carolina A&T (4-0)
Last year: South Carolina State 31 – Jackson State 10
Jackson State is 3-2 in bowl action, most recently falling 31-10 to South Carolina State in last season’s Celebration Bowl.
This is North Carolina Central’s second bowl game following a 10-9 defeat to Grambling in the 2016 Celebration Bowl.
Line: Jackson State -16
These two teams share the same statistical DNA with one exception, their offensive superpower. Where Jackson State is ranked No. 8 in the FCS in offensive scoring, it’s been far more successful moving the ball through the air (No. 10 in the FCS) than on the ground (No. 56). North Carolina Central, on the other hand, is ranked No. 6 in scoring offense but has relied more heavily on the run (No. 15) than the pass (No. 41). What puts a cherry on top of this one is the fact that both defenses are equally as elite – the Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the FCS in scoring D while the Eagles are No. 13. This is a quality matchup worth watching.
Despite being named the new head coach at Colorado, Deion Sanders will lead Jackson State on the sidelines in the Celebration Bowl.
Players to Watch
Jackson State: sophomore QB Shedeur Sanders (#2) (No. 5 in the FCS in passing yards per game), senior DL Justin Ragin (#92) (No. 12 in the FCS in sacks, tied for No. 18 in tackles for a loss)
North Carolina Central: junior QB Davius Richard (#11) (tied for No. 11 in the FCS in rushing TDs), junior DB Khalil Baker (#20) (tied for No. 19 in the FCS in interceptions)
SRS Distribution LAS VEGAS BOWL
FLORIDA (6-6) vs. (14) OREGON STATE (9-3) – SEC vs. Pac-12 – Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev. – 2:30pm ET – ESPN
First year: 1992
Most appearances: BYU (3-3)
Last year: Wisconsin 20 – Arizona State 13
Florida is 24-23 in bowl action, most recently falling 29-17 to UCF in last season’s Gasparilla Bowl, also its’ second-straight bowl loss. The last win came in the 2019 Orange Bowl, a 36-28 victory over Virginia.
Oregon State is 11-7 in bowl play. It fell to Utah State 24-13 in last year’s LA Bowl, also its’ first bowl appearance since 2013 when it downed Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl.
This is Florida and Oregon State’s first-ever football meeting.
Line: Oregon State -10
Both these clubs have been successful running the ball this season – where the Gators are averaging 214 rushing yards per game (No. 16 in the FBS), the Beavers are averaging 199 (No. 27). The difference between the two comes defensively – Oregon State is ranked No. 31 in scoring and No. 20 vs. the run while Florida is No. 90 in scoring and No. 101 against the run. The Beavers have faced two elite rushing attacks prior to going bowling with the Gators – limiting a (8) Utah ground game averaging 220 yards (No. 10 in the FBS) to 162 and, most recently, holding an (15) Oregon attack averaging 216 to 143.
Players to Watch
Florida: sophomore RB Montrell Johnson Jr. (#2) (No. 8 in the SEC in rushing yards per game)
Oregon State: freshman RB Damien Martinez (#6) (No. 4 in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game)
Jimmy Kimmel LA BOWL
FRESNO STATE (9-4, MWC Champions) vs. WASHINGTON STATE (7-5) – MWC vs. Pac-12 – SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif. – 3:30pm ET – ABC
First year: 2021
Most appearances: Utah State (1-0), Oregon State (0-1)
Last year: Utah State 24 – Oregon State 13
Fresno State is 13-13 in bowl action, most recently downing UTEP 31-24 in last season’s New Mexico Bowl, also the third-straight bowl victory. It last beat a Power 5 member in a bowl game in 2018, taking care of Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Washington State is 8-9 in bowl play, last losing 24-21 to Central Michigan in last year’s Sun Bowl, its’ second consecutive bowl loss. The most recent win came in the 2018 Alamo Bowl, a 28-26 victory over then (25) Iowa State.
Fresno State and Washington State have played four times previously but not since 1994. The Cougars lead the all-time series 3-1, the Bulldogs’ only win came in 1991 in Pullman. The two programs have a home-and-home booked in 2026 and 2027.
Line: Fresno State -3.5
These two clubs tout successful passing attacks – Fresno State is ranked No. 27 in the FBS in passing yards per game while Washington State is No. 35. The difference comes on the other side of the ball, where the Bulldogs’ defense is ranked an admirable No. 23 – again in the nation – vs. the pass, the Cougars are a dismal No. 112. Digging deeper into Washington State’s statistical resume reveals a picture that’s far from crystal clear. It’s the same defense that in a three-game run in October limited (10) USC, (14) Oregon State, and (8) Utah to 188, 141, and 175 yards passing respectively only to give up 357 and 485 to Arizona and (12) Washington in its final two regular season appearances. This one could be highly entertaining.
Players to Watch
Fresno State: senior RB Jordan Mims (#7) (tied for No. 7 in the FBS in rushing TDs), senior QB Jake Haener (#9) (No. 14 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior DE David Perales (#99) (No. 6 in the FBS in sacks, No. 16 in tackles for a loss), junior DB Cam Lockridge (#20) (tied for No. 8 in the FBS in interceptions)
Washington State: sophomore QB Cameron Ward (#1) (No. 31 in the FBS in passing yards per game)
SOUTHERN MISS (6-6) vs. RICE (5-7) – Sun Belt vs. C-USA – Hancock Whitney Stadium, Mobile, Ala. – 5:45pm ET – ESPN
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: Liberty 56 – Eastern Michigan 20
Southern Miss is 11-13 in bowl action, most recently falling 30-13 to Tulane in the 2019 Armed Forces Bowl. The last win came in the 2016 New Orleans Bowl, a 28-21 victory over Louisiana.
Rice is 7-5 in bowl play. It hasn’t been bowling since the 2014 Hawaii Bowl, a 30-6 win over Fresno State.
Southern Miss and Rice have played 12 times previously including consecutively from 2014-21 as members of C-USA. The series is tied at six games apiece with the Owls winning the last two meetings.
Line: Southern Miss -7
Even though Southern Miss has struggled to score points this season (averaging only 24.3 points per game), the Golden Eagles have only lost one game when they eclipsed the 130-yard rushing mark (a 252-yard day in the opener, a 29-27 loss vs. Liberty). This bodes well for the matchup with Rice, ranked No. 119 nationally in scoring D and No. 91 vs. the run. The Owls have only held three of their 12 opponents this season to fewer than 130 rushing yards, including coughing up 239 ground yards and three scores to a Charlotte offense averaging 116 rushing yards per game. Bonus coverage: Southern Miss’s defense is tied for the third-most interceptions gained in the FBS (16) while Rice’s QB, junior TJ McMahon (#7), is tied for the second-most interceptions thrown (14).
Players to Watch
Southern Miss: senior DL Dominic Quewon (#7) (tied for No. 14 in the FBS in sacks), sophomore RB Frank Gore, Jr. (#3) (No. 33 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
Rice: senior WR Bradley Rozner (#2) (tied for No. 15 in the FBS in receiving TDs)
NEW MEXICO BOWL
BYU (7-5) vs. SMU (7-5) – Independents vs. AAC – University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M. – 7:30pm ET – ABC
First year: 2006
Most appearances: New Mexico (2-2)
Last year: Fresno State 31 – UTEP 24
BYU is 16-22-1 in bowl action, most recently losing 31-28 to UAB in last year’s Independence Bowl. The last win came in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl, a 49-23 victory over UCF.
SMU is 7-9-1 in bowl play; it was slated to play Virginia in last season’s inaugural Fenway Bowl but that was scrapped due to COVID. Its’ last bowl appearance was in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl a 52-28 loss to FAU. Its’ most recent win came a decade ago, in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl, a 43-10 victory over Fresno State.
A rematch of the 1980 Holiday Bowl, BYU and SMU have met three times previously but not since 1997. The Cougars have never lost to the Mustangs.
Line: SMU -5.5
After holding its first five opponents to 176 passing yards per game, BYU’s defense has struggled, giving up, on average, 278 to its last seven foes. The early success included limiting a Baylor offense averaging 235 air yards per game to 137 and an Oregon attack averaging 291 to 227. And – the late digression included allowing 367 air yards to an Arkansas club averaging 230 and 318 to a Stanford attack averaging 256. It’s the same unit that coughed up 340 passing yards to FCS Dixie State. It all adds up to a worrisome matchup with high-octane SMU, ranked No. 6 in the nation in passing yards per game. PS Speaking of pass defense, did you know that the Mustangs’ D is ranked No. 123 in the nation vs. the pass? Only eight teams have given up more!
Players to Watch
BYU: junior QB Jaren Hall (#3) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in passing TDs) – Hall has been battling an ankle injury and is questionable for the New Mexico Bowl. As of a Dec. 13 statement by BYU OC Aaron Roderick, “Yesterday, I thought he had a great chance to play. Today I’d say his chances aren’t as good as I hoped.”
SMU: senior QB Tanner Mordecai (#8) (No. 10 in the FBS in passing yards per game, tied for No. 9 in passing TDs), senior WR Rashee Rice (#11) (No. 1 in the FBS in receiving yards per game)
NORTH TEXAS (7-6) vs. BOISE STATE (9-4) – C-USA vs. MWC – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas – 9:15pm ET – ESPN
First year: 2017
Most Appearances: San Diego State (1-1)
Last year: San Diego State 38 – (24) UTSA 24
North Texas is 2-10 in bowl play, its’ 27-14 loss to Miami Ohio in last season’s Frisco Classic was its fifth-straight bowl defeat. The most recent win came in the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 36-14 victory over UNLV.
Boise State is 12-7 in bowl action, it was set to play Central Michigan in last season’s Arizona Bowl but withdrew due to COVID-19 issues. Prior to that, it lost 38-7 to Washington in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl. Given that their 2018 appearance in the First Responder Bowl vs. Boston College was also scrapped – this time due to severe weather – the Broncos haven’t won a bowl game since beating Oregon 38-28 in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl.
This is North Texas and Boise State’s sixth meeting in football and the first since 2000. All six games were played between 1994-2000 with each club winning on three occasions.
Line: Boise State -10.5
Boise State has quietly become one of the best defenses in the land, finishing the regular season ranked No. 11 in scoring, No. 25 vs. the run, and No. 4 vs. the pass. Its’ No. 6 national rank in total defense is the highest its climbed since 2010 when it was No. 2. It all adds up to a compelling matchup with North Texas, an offensively minded team that is ranked No. 29 nationally in points scored, No. 24 in rushing yards per game, and No. 36 in passing. The balanced success has it ranked No. 20 in the FBS in total offense. What may be the deciding factor is the Mean Green’s defense, ranked No. 110 of the 131 FBS clubs in scoring, No. 107 vs. the run, and No. 115 vs. the pass.
With the release of Seth Littrell after seven seasons in Denton, North Texas will be led in the bowl game by interim Phil Bennett who has been the Mean Green’s DC since 2021. Bennett, who played defensive end at Texas A&M from 1974-77 was the head coach at SMU from 2002-07 and the DC at Baylor from 2011-16. On December 13, North Texas hired Washington State OC Eric Morris -who played WR at Texas Tech from 2004-08 and was the head coach at Incarnate Word from 2018-21 – as its new head coach.
Players to Watch
North Texas: junior QB Austin Aune (#2) (No. 8 in the FBS in TD passes), senior LB KD Davis (#1) (No. 6 in the FBS in total tackles and No. 8 in solo tackles)
Boise State: junior RB George Holani (#24) (No. 25 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)