College Football: December 22 Bowl Previews

A week away from the playoffs, Saturday’s slate will pit marquee Group of 5 teams against each other as well as our first taste of Power 5 teams in action.

Birmingham Bowl

Memphis (-3.5) vs. Wake Forest

The main comparison for these two teams is their defenses (or lack thereof). Memphis and Wake Forest rank 99th and 120th, respectively, in pass defense, giving up over 250 yards per game. So, this game will likely come down to the quarterback battle. 

Since taking over at quarterback, Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman has thrown for 680 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Memphis’s Brady White will look to take over as he’s done throughout the year, throwing for 3,125 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.

One factor that could hurt Memphis is they’ll be playing without running back sensation, Darrell Henderson, who’s rushed for over 1,900 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. But the Tigers have another back with over 1,000 yards in Patrick Taylor, Jr., so they’ll lean on him in this game.

The Demon Deacons have a pair of running backs, Cade Carney and Matt Colburn, who combine for 1.693 yards and 13 touchdowns. Colburn is questionable for this game, but his presence will help complement Carney and open up the field for his quarterback.

The over/under in this game is 73, and with these two offenses we’re bound to see a shootout, so the over might not be a bad idea here.

Armed Forces Bowl

Army (-5) vs. Houston

If the points don’t come in Birmingham, it could come in Fort Worth between these two teams. Like Memphis, Houston will be without two of its stars on both sides of the ball: quarterback D’Eriq king and defensive tackle Ed Oliver. And they’re gonna miss them, too. King is an offensive juggernaut with over 3500 yards from scrimmage. Now, the offense rests on the shoulders of Clayton Tune, who has seven touchdowns and two interceptions this season.

Army, however, is rolling coming into this game on an eight-game winning streak since nearly taking down Oklahoma on the road back in September. The Black Knights like any triple-option offense hang their hat on the run game, and they’re among the best rushing for 296 yards per game.

Not only can they run, they can stop the run, too. The Black Knights rank 12th nationally in run defense, allowing just 108 yards per game on the ground. Army is poised to take advantage of a Houston defense that ranks 124th in total defense, allowing nearly 500 yards of offense per game.

Houston beat Navy in October, so if the Cougars can follow a similar game plan, they can keep themselves in the game. But since Houston will be without its stars, Army has the advantage, and bettors think so, too.

Dollar General Bowl

Buffalo (-1.5) vs. Troy

Since joining the FBS in 1999, Buffalo has been to a bowl just twice, losing both times. If they’re going to get the first win in program history, this could very well be the year. The Bulls have a potent offense, averaging 417 yards on offense per game.  Their 34.8 points per game ranks 26th nationally and is among the highest in Group of 5 teams.

This season, the team has been led by a stud at quarterback, Tyree Jackson, who has 2,857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the season. When needed, he can get it done on the ground, too, with seven rushing touchdowns. The run game is explosive, too, with Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson combining for over 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Troy has seen its offensive production fluctuate this season, especially after a torn ACL ended starting quarterback Kaleb Barker‘s season early. Luckily for quarterback Sawyer Smith, the Trojans should have their full complement of receivers in Damion Willis, Deondre Douglas and Sidney Davis.

The steady force for Troy has been its defense, particularly the front seven. The Trojans allow just 131 yards per game on the ground and are tied 11th nationally in sacks, getting to the quarterback three times per game on average. Troy ranks 53rd in pass defense, but the secondary consists of ball hawks. The Trojans have 17 interceptions this season, which is tied for seventh nationally.

This game will come down to two factors. Will Troy’s offense be productive now that most its starters are back? Can Buffalo circumnavigate a Troy defense that only Boise State could figure out?

SoFi Hawai’i Bowl

Hawai’i (-1) vs. Louisiana Tech

Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald got off to a fast start, throwing for 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns in the first six games. The Rainbow Warriors struggled on the back half of the schedule but won its last two games over UNLV and San Diego State to attain bowl eligibility. McDonald finished the regular season with 3,790 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. The sophomore ranks fifth nationally, ahead of Heisman winner Kyler Murray, in passing yards per game with 315.8.

What will pose a problem for McDonald and the Warriors is the Louisiana Tech defense. The Bulldogs rank 32nd nationally in total defense and 30th in pass defense, allowing just 194 passing yards per game.

If the Bulldog defense can get off the field, they’ll put the ball in the hands of quarterback J’mar Smith, who has 2,873 passing yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. He’ll look to take advantage of a mediocre Hawaii pass defense that ranks 68th nationally, allowing 231 yards per game. Smith will try to find his favorite target, Adrian Hardy, who has 69 receptions for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Louisiana Tech is 4-0 in bowls under head coach Skip Holtz, and three of the wins have come by double digits. Hawaii has an edge at quarterback, but if the Bulldogs defense contains McDonald, they can possibly grab their fifth bowl win in a row.

Saturday’s bowls will be the last slate of games before Christmas, and we’re bound to see some great games a week away from the playoffs.

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