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Dec. 26 Bowl Game open thread, viewing guide and why-to-watch

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Defense vs. Offense is the theme of the day

UCLA v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Hope everyone had a good holiday. We are just one week away from the Rubber Match. But, today we have three bowls on tap, and two-of-three have a clearly-defined theme: offensive powerhouses vs. teams that prefer to win with defense and ball control. There’s no guarantee any of these games will “pop.” Here’s today’s schedule and what to look for:

Utah at West Virginia (+6.5) - Zaxby's Heart Of Dallas Bowl

1:30 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

This is your prototypical gooner offense vs. the nation’s most vertically-inclined one. We tend to think of the air raid as a deliberative schemes that eats short-gainers and nibbles down the field with tempo. WVU will go fast, but speed isn’t what kills here: length is. Will Grier to David Sills is lethal. Outside of Salt Lake, the Utes aren’t special. If WVU can control the Utes’ ground game, the Mountaineers can make this a long day for the Utah DBs. I think they do — or cover at least.

Duke at Northern Illinois - Quick Lane Bowl

5:15 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

The MAC started strong when Ohio blasted UAB to open the bowl season. Then, its standard-bearer, the Toledo Rockets got smacked around the field for 60 minutes by a more physical Appalachian State team. That bodes poorly for one of the MACs more fundamentally sound squads, the NIU Huskies, who were waylaid by the Rockets earlier this season. Duke has more than enough juice up front on both sides to win a tight one. I have a general rule of thumb: Take the MAC in Detroit. I’m disregarding it today. I suspect the Blue Devils are too well-coached to let the road trip get to them and too talented to lose this.

Kansas State at UCLA (+6) - Cactus Bowl

Tue, Dec 26, 9:00 PM ET ESPN/WatchESPN

The Bruins have a new coach, but for now they are being led by OC and former Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch. The Wildcats do not have a new coach, but probably should. It’s hard to tell which one of these teams will be the least motivated. KSU looked better down the stretch than it did earlier this season (it’s hard for me to shake off that Vandy loss, no matter how well they did in November.) But, the Bruins have far more top-end talent, including Josh Rosen, who will look to outduel crosstown Sam Darnold in bowl stats as he shoots for the No. 1 overall Draft pick (and, honestly, I think he’s a better product as of right now than Darnold, even if Sam has a Testaverde-kind of cannon.) Jedd Fisch is also auditioning for another job. Against the slower and complacent ‘Cats, who have to control tempo and muck it up in minimal possessions, I think that’s enough: Take the PAC12 here.