College football bowl schedule breakdown: Part III – Dec. 26 – 28

By Amy Daughters -

There are a whopping 11 bowl games on the bowl schedule from Tuesday, Dec. 26 to Thursday, Dec. 28.

It breaks down to three games on Tuesday and then four apiece on Wednesday and Thursday. Each day follows a similar blueprint which makes viewing easy – kick off at 1:30pm EST on ESPN, second game at 5:15pm EST on ESPN and then the closer at 9pm EST on, you guessed it, ESPN.

The only games not on ESPN are the Foster Farms Bowl (Arizona vs. Purdue) on Wednesday at 8:30pm EST on FOX and the Holiday Bowl (No. 18 Washington State vs. No. 16 Michigan State) on Thursday at 9pm EST on FS1.

The must-see TV comes on Thursday evening when the first three ranked vs. ranked matchups of bowl season come consecutively. Not only does each feature two of the best teams in the land squaring off, each offers a stellar statistical matchup.

Hold on to your hats folks. This is not the time to turn off your television set.

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Zaxby’s HEART of DALLAS BOWL

Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5) – Pac-12 vs. Big 12 – Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas – 1:30PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2011

Previous names: TicketCity (2011-12)

Most appearances: North Texas (1-1)

Last year: Army 38 – North Texas 31

The Teams

Utah is 16-4 in bowl play. It edged Indiana 26-24 in last season’s Foster Farms Bowl, also its fourth-straight bowl win. It hasn’t lost since the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl, a 26-3 defeat to (10) Boise State.

West Virginia is 15-20 in bowl play. It fell 31-14 to Miami Fla. in last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl. Its most-recent win came the year before, in 2015, when it edged Arizona State 43-42 in the Cactus Bowl.

The Matchup

Utah and West Virginia have only met once previously, 53-years ago in the 1964 Liberty Bowl. The Utes won 32-6 in Atlantic City, N.J. – the only time the Liberty was played there. It was also the first time a major bowl game was played indoors, in this case in the city’s Convention Center. The Liberty was played in Philadelphia from 1969-63 and has been in Memphis since 1965.

Line: Utah -4.5

The intriguing matchup in this one is West Virginia’s No. 12 passing attack taking on Utah’s No. 54 ranked pass D. Though the Utes don’t play in the pass-happy Big 12, they’ve earned their stripes against the best aerial attacks in the Pac-12 – holding UCLA (No. 5 in the FBS in passing yards) to a mere 115 yards in November. Keep in mind that WVU’s starting quarterback – Will Grier – will not play due to a hand injury. Sophomore Chris Chugunov (#11) will make his second start under center in relief. On the other side of the ball, while Utah’s offense comes way short of being prolific, the Mountaineers rank No. 111 nationally in total defense.

Players to Watch

Utah: sophomore running back Zack Moss (#2) (No. 9 in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game), senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II (#9) (No. 2 in the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game).

West Virginia: junior wide receiver David Sills V (#13) (No. 1 in the FBS in receiving TDs), senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton (#3) (No. 8 in the FBS in solo tackles).

QUICK LANE BOWL

Duke (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4) – ACC vs. MAC – Ford Field, Detroit, Mich. – 5:15PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2014

Last year: Boston College 36 – Maryland 30

The Teams

Duke is 4-8 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2015, edging Indiana 44-41 in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl. The most recent loss came the year before, in 2014, when it fell 36-31 to (15) Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

Northern Illinois is 4-7 in bowl play. It also last went bowling in 2015, a lopsided 55-7 loss to Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. It was the fourth-consecutive bowl loss for the Huskies. Its most recent win dates to the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl, a 38-20 win over Arkansas State. NIU has never beaten a Power school in a bowl game.

The Matchup

Duke and Northern Illinois have never met previously. The Blue Devils are 2-0 all-time vs. the current membership of the MAC – scoring two wins over Ohio in Durham in 1985 and 1986. NIU is 1-10 against the ACC, the only victory a 42-41 upset of Wake Forest in DeKalb in 2002.

Line: Duke -2.5

This game features two of the best defensive units in the FBS. First up, Duke has earned a No. 12 rank nationally against the pass this season, allowing a paltry 174.8 yards per game. It’s second only to (1) Clemson in the ACC. Next, NIU is No. 11 – in the FBS – against the run. The Huskies’ average of 112.25 yards allowed puts them just ahead of Georgia (112.62) and Clemson (112.85).

Duke: sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris (#44) (No. 19 in the FBS in total tackles), sophomore cornerback Mark Gilbert (#28) (tied for the second-most interceptions and the third-most passes broken-up in the FBS).

Northern Illinois: sophomore defensive end Sutton Smith (#15) (No. 1 in the FBS in both sacks and tackles for a loss).

CACTUS BOWL

Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6) – Big 12 vs. Pac-12 – Chase Field, Phoenix, Ariz. – 9PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 1989

Previous names: Copper (1989-1996), Insight.com (1997-2011), Buffalo Wild Wings (2012-13)

Most appearances: Kansas State (2-1) and Minnesota (0-3)

Last year: Baylor 31 – Boise State 12

The Teams

Kansas State is 8-12 in bowl play. It beat Texas A&M 33-28 in last season’s Texas Bowl. Its most recent loss came the year before, in 2015, when it fell 45-23 to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl.

UCLA is 16-18-1 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2015, losing 37-29 to Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl. Its most recent win came in 2014 Alamo Bowl when it downed, ironically, K-State.

The Matchup

A rematch of the 2014 Alamo Bowl – a game (14) UCLA won 40-35 over (11) Kansas State. The only other two meetings were a home-and-home in 2009-10, the home team winning on both occasions.

Line: Kansas State -3

Both teams will potentially have their biggest weakness exposed in this one. K-State’s pass D is No. 129 nationally. Not only does that make them the second-to-worst unit in the FBS (only UConn has been more generous through the air), it earns them a dead-last finish in the beleaguered Big 12. Usher in UCLA’s No. 5 ranked pass offense and you get the picture. On the flip side, the Bruins’ are No. 129 vs. the run. Only San Jose State is worse nationally and no team has given up more ground yards in the Pac-12. The good news is, K-State’s rushing attack is only ranked No. 42 in the FBS. While it’s not a super power, it may look like one in the Cactus Bowl.

Players to Watch

Kansas State: sophomore running back Alex Barnes (#34) (leads the team in rushing yards and rushing TDs)

UCLA: junior quarterback Josh Rosen (#3) (No. 3 in the FBS in passing yards per game), junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley (#2) (No. 11 in the FBS in total receiving yards, despite playing in only eight games).

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Walk-On’s INDEPENDENCE BOWL

Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Florida State (6-6) – C-USA vs. ACC – Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La. – 1:30PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 1976

Previous names: AdvoCare V100 (2013)

Most appearances: Ole Miss (4-1)

Last year: NC State 41 – Vanderbilt 17

The Teams

Southern Miss is 11-11 in bowl play. It beat UL-Lafayette 28-21 in last season’s New Orleans Bowl. Its most recent bowl loss came the year before, in 2015, when it fell 44-31 to Washington in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Golden Eagles haven’t beaten a current Power school in a bowl game since the 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl, a 28-21 win over TCU.

Florida State is 27-16-2 in bowl play. It edged (6) Michigan 33-32 in last season’s Orange Bowl. Its most recent defeat came in the 2015 Peach Bowl, a 38-24 loss to (14) Houston.

The Matchup

Southern Miss and Florida State have met 22 times previously, but not since 1996. The Seminoles lead 13-8-1. This is the first-ever postseason meeting.

Line: Florida State -14

Though Florida State will have a clear advantage in athleticism and depth, Southern Miss’s defense ranks in the top 30 nationally against both the run and the pass. It sets up for an intriguing test vs. a Seminole offense that hasn’t managed to find a rhythm all season (No. 84 in rushing and No. 92 in passing). Can the Golden Eagles keep FSU under its scoring average of 26.7 points per game?

Players to Watch

Southern Miss: senior defensive back Curtis Mikell (#19) (tied for the seventh-most passes broken-up in the FBS), junior wide receiver Korey Robertson (#18) (tied for the sixth-most receiving TDs in the FBS).

Florida State: freshman wide receiver D.J. Matthews (#29) (No. 10 in the FBS in punt returns).

New Era PINSTRIPE BOWL

Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5) – Big Ten vs. ACC – Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y. – 5:15PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2010

Most appearances: Syracuse (2-0) and Rutgers (1-1)

Last year: Northwestern 31 – (23) Pittsburgh 24

The Teams

Iowa is 14-15-1 in bowl play. It fell 30-3 to (20) Florida in last season’s Outback Bowl – also its fifth-consecutive bowl loss. It hasn’t won a bowl game since 2010 when it edged Mizzou 27-24 in the Insight Bowl.

Boston College is 14-11 in bowl play. It beat Maryland 36-30 in last year’s Quick Lane Bowl – also its first bowl victory in six tries. Its most recent loss came in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl, a 31-30 defeat in overtime to Penn State.

The Matchup

Iowa and Boston College have never met previously. The Hawkeyes are 8-11 all-time against current ACC members while the Eagles are 38-41-2 vs. the Big Ten (the bulk coming against Rutgers and Penn State).

Line: Iowa -3

The strength vs. strength matchup in this one is Iowa’s No. 38 ranked rush defense taking on Boston College’s No. 24 ranked ground attack.  The Hawkeyes’ defense has only allowed more than 200 rushing yards on three occasions this season while the Eagles’ ground game averaged 290 in their last six outings. If it’s close, BC’s kicker – junior Colton Lichtenberg (#99) – has the second-to-worst field goal percentage (58.8) in the FBS.

Players to Watch

Iowa: junior defensive back Josh Jackson (#15) (tied for the most interceptions in the FBS), senior middle linebacker Josey Jewell (#43) (No. 10 in the FBS in total tackles).

Boston College: junior defensive back Lukas Denis (#21) (tied for the most interceptions in the FBS), freshman running back AJ Dillon (#2) (No. 15 in the FBS in rushing yards per game),

FOSTER FARMS BOWL

Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) – Pac-12 vs. Big Ten – Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. – 8:30PM EST – FOX

The Bowl

First year: 2002

Previous names: San Francisco (2002-03), Emerald (2004-09), Fight Hunger (2010-13)

Most appearances: Boston College (1-2) and UCLA (0-3)

Last year: Utah 26 – Indiana 24

The Teams

Arizona is 9-10-1 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2015, beating New Mexico 45-37 in the New Mexico Bowl. Its most recent loss came the season before in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, a 38-30 defeat to (21) Boise State.

Purdue is 9-8 in bowl play. This is the Boilermakers’ first bowl appearance since 2012, when they got thumped 58-14 by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Their most recent win came in the 2011 Little Caesars Bowl, a 37-32 win over Michigan State. They haven’t beaten a Power school in bowl action since the 2002 Sun Bowl, a 34-24 win over Washington.

The Matchup

Arizona and Purdue have only met twice previously, a home-and-home series in 2003 and 2005. The Boilermakers won on both occasions.

Line: Arizona -4.5

In one of the better strength vs. strength matchups this bowl season, tune in to see Arizona’s lethal No. 3 nationally ranked rushing attack take on Purdue’s defense, ranked No. 30 vs. the run. The Wildcats have averaged 324.42 ground yards per game while the Boilermakers have held opponents to 133.33. On the flip side, Purdue’s No. 55 ranked passing attack might look like Oklahoma State vs. Arizona’s No. 122 ranked pass D (the worst unit in the Pac-12).

Players to Watch

Arizona: sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate (#14) (No. 6 in the FBS in rushing yards per game among all backs and No. 1 among QBs).

Purdue: sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey (#21) (tied for the third-most sacks in the Big Ten), senior linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (#4) (No. 10 in the Big Ten in tackles).

Academy Sports + Outdoor TEXAS BOWL

Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5) – Big 12 vs. SEC – NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas – 9PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2006

Most appearances: Kansas State (1-1), Texas A&M (1-1), Texas Tech (1-1) and Minnesota (0-2)

Last year: Kansas State 33 – Texas A&M 28

The Teams

Texas is 27-24-2 in bowl play. It last went bowling two seasons ago, in 2014, when it fell 31-7 to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. Its last win was in the 2012 Alamo Bowl, a 31-27 victory over (15) Oregon State.

Missouri is 15-16 in bowl play. The Tigers’ last bowl action also came in 2014, a 33-17 win over Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl. They haven’t lost since the 2010 Insight Bowl, a 27-24 defeat to Iowa.

The Matchup

Texas and Missouri have met 24 times previously but not since 2011. The Longhorns lead 17-6 and have won 15 of the last 17. The two schools shared membership in the Big 12 from 1996-2011. This is the second-ever bowl meeting, a rematch of the 1945/46 Cotton Bowl, a game Texas won 40-27.

Line: Missouri -1

The Longhorns and Tigers have been equally unsuccessful at stopping the pass this season. Texas ranks No. 108 in the FBS in pass defense while Mizzou is No. 109. This makes an intriguing matchup vs. two offenses that are better at throwing the ball than running with it. On that mark, the Tigers’ have the advantage with a No. 14 national rank in passing offense vs. the Longhorns’ No. 36.

Players to Watch

Texas: junior linebacker (#46) Malik Jefferson (No. 5 in the FBS in solo tackles).

Missouri: junior quarterback Drew Lock (#3) (No. 1 in the FBS in TD passes and No. 4 in QB rating).

Thursday, Dec. 28

MILITARY BOWL

Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-6) – ACC vs. American Athletic – Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md. – 1:30PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2008

Previous names: EagleBank (2008-09)

Most appearances: Wake Forest (2-0), Maryland (1-1), Navy (1-1) and Temple (0-2)

Last year: Wake Forest 34 – Temple 26

The Teams

Virginia is 7-11 in bowl play. This is the Cavaliers’ first bowl appearance in six years. They last played in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl, falling 43-24 to Auburn. Their last win was in the 2005 Music City Bowl, a 34-31 victory over Minnesota.

Navy is 10-11-1 in bowl play. It fell to Louisiana Tech in a 48-45 thriller in last season’s Armed Forces Bowl. Its most recent win came the year before, in 2015, when it downed Pitt 44-28 in the Military Bowl.

The Matchup

Virginia and Navy have met 39 times previously, but not since 1994. The Midshipmen lead 28-11 all-time, but the Cavaliers have won five straight. This is the first-ever postseason meeting.

Line: Navy -1

This matchup sets up poorly for Virginia, a defense that has exceled vs. the pass this season (No. 15 nationally), but not against the run (No. 81). Always prolific on the ground, Navy is No. 2 in rushing yards per game. That said, the Cavaliers held Georgia Tech – the ACC’s option-centric team – to 220 yards rushing in a 40-36 win in early November. Compare that to the Yellow Jackets season average of 307.36 (No. 5 in the FBS).

Players to Watch

Virginia: inside senior linebacker Micah Kiser (#53) (tied for No. 4 in the FBS in total tackles).

Navy: junior quarterback Zach Abey (#9) (No. 12 in the FBS in rushing yards per game among all backs and No. 3 among QBs).

CAMPING WORLD BOWL

(22) Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. (19) Oklahoma State (9-3) – ACC vs. Big 12 – Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 5:15PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 1990

Previous names: Blockbuster (1990-93), Carquest (1994-97), MicronPC (1998-2000), Tangerine (2001-03), Champs Sports (2004-11), Russell Athletic (2012-16)

Most appearances: NC State (3-2) and Miami Fla. (3-2)

Last year: Miami Fla. 31 – West Virginia 14

The Teams

Virginia Tech is 13-17 in bowl play. It toppled Arkansas 35-24 in last season’s Belk Bowl – also it’s third-consecutive bowl victory. Its most recent loss came in the 2013 Sun Bowl, a 42-12 beatdown at the hands of (17) UCLA.

Oklahoma State is 17-10 in bowl play. It thumped (11) Colorado 38-8 in last season’s Alamo Bowl. It last fell the year before, in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, a 48-20 loss to (16) Ole Miss.

The Matchup

Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State have only met twice previously, a home-and-home series in 1971-72. The home team won on each occasion.

Line: Oklahoma State -6.5

This is a great matchup that pits one of the best defenses in the country against one of the most prolific offenses. Tune in to see if Virginia Tech’s No. 5 ranked scoring D can put the kibosh on Oklahoma State’s No. 3 ranked scoring offense. Where the Hokies rank No. 10 in long plays allowed, the Cowboys rank No. 3 in long plays completed. This is one of the best combos of the bowl season.

Players to Watch

Virginia Tech: junior linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (#49) (leads the team in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks), senior cornerback Greg Stroman (#3) (tied for the third-most interceptions in the ACC).

Oklahoma State: senior quarterback Mason Rudolph (#2) (No. 1 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior wide receiver James Washington (#28) (No. 1 in the FBS in receiving yards per game).

San Diego County Credit Union HOLIDAY BOWL

(18) Washington State (9-3) vs. (16) Michigan State (9-3) – Pac-12 vs. Big Ten – SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, Calif. – 9PM EST – FS1

The Bowl

First year: 1978

Most appearances: BYU (4-6-1)

Last year: Minnesota 17 – Washington State 12

The Teams

Washington State is 7-6 in bowl play. This is the Cougars’ second consecutive Holiday Bowl appearance, falling 17-12 to Minnesota in last season’s game. Their most recent bowl win came the year before in the 2015 Sun Bowl, a 20-14 victory over Miami Fla.

Michigan State is 11-15 in bowl play. It last went bowling in the 2015 Cotton Bowl, also a CFP Semifinal game, resulting in a 38-0 loss to (2) Alabama. Its most recent bowl win also came in the Cotton, in 2014, a 42-41 win over (4) Baylor.

The Matchup

Washington State and Michigan State last met 40-years ago, in 1977. In all, they’ve played seven times, all in the regular season, dating back to 1942. The Spartans lead 5-2.

Line: Washington State -4.5

This is what it would look like if the History Channel played the Sci-Fi Channel in a football game. Tune in to see Michigan State’s No. 9 ranked defense take on Washington State’s No. 2 ranked passing attack. It’s old school vs. new school, Mark Dantonio vs. Mike Leach and everyone’s a winner. Far from being one-dimensional, keep in mind that the Cougars also sport a top-ranked D, coming in at a lofty No. 15 nationally in yards per game.

Players to Watch

Washington State: senior quarterback Luke Falk (#4) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in TD passes), junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa (#50) (No. 5 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and No. 9 in sacks).

Michigan State: sophomore safety David Dowell (#6) (tied for the third-most interceptions in the FBS), sophomore defensive end Kenny Willekes (#48) (tied for No. 4 in the Big Ten in tackles for a loss).

Valero ALAMO BOWL

(13) Stanford (9-4) vs. (15) TCU (10-3) – Pac-12 vs. Big 12 – Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas – 9PM EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 1993

Most appearances: Iowa (2-2) and Oklahoma State (2-2)

Last year: (12) Oklahoma State 38 – (10) Colorado 8

The Teams

Stanford is 14-13-1 in bowl play. It edged North Carolina 25-23 in last season’s Sun Bowl – also it’s third-consecutive bowl victory. Its most recent loss was to (4) Michigan State in the 2013 Rose Bowl.

TCU is 15-6-1 in bowl play. It fell 31-23 to Georgia in last year’s Liberty Bowl. It last won in the 2015 Alamo Bowl, a 47-41 triple-overtime thriller over (15) Oregon.

The Matchup

Stanford and TCU have only met twice previously – a home-and-home series in 2007-08. The Horned Frogs won both games.

Line: TCU -2

Yet another stellar matchup on Thursday, can TCU’s No. 4 nationally ranked rush defense shut down Stanford’s Bryce Love – the No. 2 back in all of college football? Love has posted 100-plus rushing yards in 10 of his 11 outings this season (including hanging up 263 on UCLA and 301 on Arizona State in back-to-back games), while the Horned Frogs have held opponents to fewer than 100 six times (including limiting K-State to 70, Kansas to -25, Iowa State to 53 and Texas to nine in four consecutive games).

Players to Watch

Stanford: junior running back Bryce Love (#20) (No. 2 in the FBS in both rushing yards per game and total yards), junior strong safety Justin Reid (#8) (tied for the third-most interceptions in the FBS), senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (#66) (No. 2 in the Pac-12 in tackles for a loss).

TCU: senior defensive end Mat Boesen (#9) and junior defensive end Ben Banogu (#15) (combined they have 30 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks).

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

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