The Essential CFB Bowl Viewing Guide Part II: Dec. 22–24

By Amy Daughters -

Though you’ve got lots of stuff on your Holiday to-do list this week, don’t forget to add “tune into ESPN for college football.”

The worldwide leader in sports is airing five bowl games early this week, including a Monday midafternoon matchup at a baseball stadium—BYU and Memphis at Marlins Park.

Next up are a pair of Tuesday night games, the best being early, pitting MAC champ Northern Illinois against C-USA champ Marshall. It’s not necessarily the ACC-Pac 12 showdown, but it’s definitely worth tuning in for.

On Christmas Eve, don’t forget to watch WKU-Central Michigan at noon ET, for what ought to be one of the most entertaining early bowl games—it could produce enough yards and points to fill a couple of stockings.

Things wrap up with Fresno State-Rice in the night slot. The collegians take Thursday off before ramping back up with three games on Friday, Dec. 26, which we’ll preview later in the week.

If you’re looking for a concise bowl schedule, check out FBSchedules’ Helmet Schedule, the best-looking guide in the biz.

Monday, Dec. 22

2:00PM ET, ESPN: MIAMI BEACH BOWL: BYU (8-4) vs. MEMPHIS (9-3) (Marlins Park, Miami, Fla.): The first-ever meeting between the two, Memphis is fresh off winning its first conference title since capturing the Missouri Valley in 1971 (it shares the 2014 American Athletic crown with Cincinnati and UCF). The key to beating BYU is through the air, the Cougars’ secondary ranks No. 112 in the FBS and has given up 300-plus passing yards six times this season including 410 to Boise State and 393 to Cal. Keep an eye on Tiger quarterback Paxton Lynch (#12), a sophomore who hasn’t thrown a pick in six games, all wins. On the other side of the ball BYU’s No. 20 ranked scoring offense will be challenged by Memphis’ D, ranked No. 5 in scoring. Under center for the Cougars is Christian Stewart (#7) who took over the starting job in October, he’s averaged 322 yards and four touchdowns in his last three outings. This is Memphis’ first bowl appearance since the 2008 Saint Petersburg Bowl, the Tigers haven’t won a bowl game since beating Akron in the 2005 Motor City Bowl.

Tuesday, Dec. 23

6:00PM ET, ESPN: BOCA RATON BOWL: MARSHALL (12-1) vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (11-2) (FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.): A battle between the Conference USA and MAC champions, these two teams have met seven times but not since 2001 and never in a bowl game. NIU holds the all-time advantage 4-3. Northern Illinois’ defense will have to bring its A-game against Marshall’s No. 5-ranked scoring offense, balanced to the tune of a No. 7 rank in rushing and a No. 18 mark in passing. The Huskies rank No. 37 in scoring D, but haven’t necessarily faced a Murders’ Row of opponents this season giving up 397, 346 and 256 passing yards respectively to UNLV, Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan. On the flip side, the Thundering Herd D, ranked No. 53 vs. the run, will be tasked with shutting down NIU’s No. 15-ranked ground game. Keep an eye on Marshall running back Devon Johnson (#47), with 136.3 yards per game he’s the No. 6 back in the country. Also look out for Northern Illinois cornerback Paris Logan (#29), he is tied for the third-most broken-up passes in the FBS (15).

9:30PM ET, ESPN: SAN DIEGO CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL: NAVY (7-5) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (7-5) (Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.): The last time these two met was in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl, a game San Diego State won 35-14. This is for all practical purposes a home game for the Aztecs, who are 6-0 at Qualcomm this season. Beating Navy means shutting down the option, specifically the No. 2-ranked rushing offense in the land, averaging 345 yards per game. The good news is, the Aztecs one shining statistical achievement on defense this season is vs. defense, where they rank No. 30 in the FBS. Only two teams have hung up 200-plus rushing yards on SDSU: Nevada (229) and Boise State (212), both resulted in losses. On the other side of the ball it’s the Aztecs’ No. 30 ranked ground attack vs. a Navy rushing D that ranks No. 98. Watch out for Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (#19), with 1,182 rushing yards he’s the top rushing quarterback in college football. For San Diego State, its sophomore running back Donnel Pumphrey (#19), with 146.75 yards per game he’s the No. 4 back in college football. The Aztecs have had three previous whacks at Navy since 1994, all at home in San Diego, and have never won.

Wednesday, Dec. 24

12:00PM ET, ESPN: POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL: CENTRAL MICHIGAN (7-5) vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY (7-5) (Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas): A rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl, a game Central Michigan won 24-21. For the Chippewas to have a shot, they’ll have to find a way to shut down Western Kentucky’s aerial attack, a unit that ranks No. 3 in the nation in passing yards. CMU ranks No. 42 vs. the pass but gave up 339 air yards to Toledo and 369 to Miami (Ohio). Check out Hilltopper quarterback Brandon Doughty (#12), No. 1 in the FBS in touchdowns (44), No. 2 in yards per game (362) and No. 6 in passer rating (163.55). What will keep things interesting is WKU’s defense, a unit that ranks No. 122 in scoring, No. 116 vs. the run and No. 117 vs. the pass. This gives CMU standouts like standout wide receiver Titus Davis (#84) (No. 17 in yards per game, 95.8) and running back Thomas Rawls (#34) (No. 18 in yards per game, 122.56) a chance to shine. This is Western Kentucky’s second-ever bowl game since moving up to the FBS in 2009.

8:00PM ET, ESPN: HAWAII BOWL: FRESNO STATE (6-7) vs. RICE (7-5) (Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii): These two met six times from 1999-2004 as WAC members, Fresno State winning on every occasion. Fresno State’s young offense gained momentum throughout the regular season, averaging 269 yards passing in its final three games, including 332 in its 28-14 loss to Boise State in the Mountain West title game. This is a scary proposition for a Rice secondary that ranks No. 92 in the FBS, giving up 400-plus passing yards twice this year: 430 to Old Dominion and 408 to Louisiana Tech. In the plus column for the Owls is the Bulldogs’ defense, ranked No. 101 in scoring, No. 104 vs. the run and No. 95 against the pass. Watch out for Fresno State wide receiver Josh Harper (#3), No. 13 in the FBS in touchdowns (10) and No. 27 in yards per game (82.5). For Rice, check out defensive end Brian Nordstrom (#47), No. 9 in tackles for a loss (18.5). Fresno State has dropped five straight bowl games, last winning the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl against Georgia Tech.