Today opens the bowl season — 34 scheduled games plus a college football playoff. For an opening weekend, the matchups are fairly strong too.
Here’s what’s on-tap, why to watch them, and who we give the nod too.
9 p.m. (ESPN)
App. State -7.0 (10-2) vs. MTSU (8-5)
A conference winner and a conference runner-up should be a practical toss-up, but the Mountaineers are just such a much better team than the Blue Raiders. MTSU rebounded from a slow start to go on bit of a tear, highlighted by clobbering UAB (then lost two weeks ago on the CUSACG.) But, the reason this one is anticipated to be close is that Satterfield and the core of that excellent ASU staff is departing to Louisville. Letdowns happen, sure. But it probably won’t matter. Despite Little Middle improving down the stretch, App State should take this one pretty handily.
5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
E. Michigan +3 (7-5) vs. Ga. Southern (9-3)
There are few better stories than the one being written by Chris Creighton at Eastern Michigan. This is a game program that has won this year largely based on its defense, including doing what Ohio State could not — beating Purdue in West Lafayette. The problem is a running defense in the Bottom 30 giving up almost 200 yards per game vs. a stout Georgia Southern option team that is 9th in the nation in rushing. The talent and big game experience favor EMU, but it’s a tough matchup today versus GSU. While I don’t think GSU will set the world on fire defensively in this close game, I’d be willing to put my money on them doing just enough to get a win. This team, alongside Penn State, is the only one to hang an L on App. State — and it wasn’t close either.
Las Vegas Bowl
3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Arizona State (7-5) vs. Fresno State -6 (11-2)
I love Fresno State. Absolutely love what Tedford has done. But, in year two of the rebuild, in matchups vs. P5 talent, it still very much shows that FSU is in a rebuild. The Bulldogs were able to finally get over the Boise State hump in the MWCCG, but Arizona State’s athleticism and pass rush is just an entirely different world. FSU struggled against that speed in a loss to Minnesota, and I suspect they do so again today. The Fightin’ Herms exceeded all expectations this year, playing nearly every game close to the vest and finishing second in the P12 South — everyone one of their five losses was within a touchdown. I don’t think the right team is favored here, even as meh as the P12 has been. Take the ‘Devils. But, as is the want of Herm, it’ll probably still be a close one.
1:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Tulane -3.5 (6-6) vs. Louisiana (7-6)
There is absolutely no reason to watch this awful game aside from a pass-happy offense facing a triple-option team, and both with reeling defenses in a neutral Florida stadium. Wait. Never mind. That is a reason to watch. In such matchups, I tend to favor the flexbone — it’s impossible to replicate if you don’t run it or don’t face it every year, and ULL does not. The Green Wave’s option offense “goes through the Raging Cajuns like shit through a tin horn” in a win.
New Mexico Bowl
2 p.m. (ESPN)
N. Texas (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)
The crown jewel of today’s schedule, and one of the best matchups of the entire bowl season, sees two red-hot G5 coaches with two red-hot, high-scoring teams pair off. Both impressive wins against P5 teams this season: UNT demolished Arkansas, while Utah State dismantled BYU thoroughly. Both Wells (USU) and Littrell (UNT) were finalists for P5 jobs. While Wells took his shot at Texas Tech, Littrell declined the K-State offer. Does that make a difference? It may. The talent and competitve background definitely favors the Aggies here though. And, the fact that Wells and co. are helping game plan may still swing this one in their favor. The Eagles give it a valiant effort, but a superior USU secondary and a more skilled backfield make the difference. Take the Ags.
Along with ASU-Fresno State, I’m really looking forward to this one.