Bowl Predictions 2014-2015: New Orleans Bowl to Miami Beach Bowl
Nevada Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (8-4)
Two of the nation's most underrated quarterbacks, Nevada senior Cody Fajardo and Lafayette's Terrance Broadway, will hope to kick off bowl season with a bang. Fajardo, a four-year starter for Nevada, has even drawn comparisons to former Wolfpack star Collin Kaepernick, though his arm is not anywhere close to the level of Kaepernick. Fajardo has accounted for 31 total touchdowns this year, 18 through the air and 13 with his legs and his dangerous mobility will almost certainly cause an inconsistent Lafayette defense some major problems. The Ragin' Cajuns will also bring a scary rushing offense to the equation led by Broadway and the two-headed monster of Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire. Much like Fajardo, Broadway is about as dangerous as they come as a runner, gifted with superb agility and speed, but his arm is something to be desired. When pressured, he is prone to mistakes, especially when flushed out of the pocket, considering his arm is not strong enough to make good throws on the run. McGuire and Harris beat up on Arkansas State's rush defense earlier in the year, with McGuire having a huge day, accounting for 265 yards and four scores. While Broadway, McGuire and Harris should lead the way for a dangerous ULL offense, the defense has evidently struggled. The defense allowed 533 yards of total offense to a very pedestrian Louisiana Tech team earlier in the year and they've constantly struggled against quicker, more up-tempo teams. Though, the Ragin' Cajuns have on other thing working very much in the favor: their ability to win in New Orleans. Head coach Mark Hudspeth and Lafayette have won three straight games here. Even with an inconsistent defense, their offense has the talent to make up for it.
Louisiana-Lafayette, 40 Nevada, 31
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 20th
Utah State Aggies (9-4) vs. UTEP Miners (7-5)
Another injury to star quarterback Chuckie Keeton once more threatened Utah State's season. But, led by a stout defense and methodical offense, the Aggies managed to win nine games and earn a bowl berth against a sneaky 7-5 UTEP team. The Aggies' defense will almost certainly be challenged by a pretty explosive Miners' offense led by gunslinger Jammeil Showers, once the starter at Texas A&M over Johnny Manziel. UTEP also has a great back in sophomore Aaron Jones, who makes plays as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Jones has enjoyed the luxury of playing some weak defenses in the offensive-minded Conference USA, and it will interesting to see how effective he is against a Utah State rush defense that includes the tough and rangy Vigil brothers, Zach and Nick. Though, considering the Aggies just allowed 229 yards on the ground to Jay Ajayi of Boise State a couple weeks ago, maybe that rush defense is not as good as previously thought. If the rush defense does not find itself Showers will be forced to throw a lot, something that is relatively worrying for the Miners. While Showers is a good quarterback, he will still attempt to do too much, evidenced when he helped orchestrate a five-turnover night for the Miners in a 52-point loss to Louisiana Tech. If Utah State can contain Showers and Jones, they have a smart, strong offense that won't turn the ball over much. Freshman LaJuan Hunt has done an admirable job taking over the lead back role from more experienced Jojo Natson. While UTEP has a ton of momentum, considering they have improved from a disastrous 2-10 in 2013-2014 to a very respectable 7-5 this year, they will be tested by a very tough Utah State team. If the defense contains some of the Miners' playmakers, the Aggies should win comfortably.
Utah State, 28 UTEP, 14
Las Vegas Bowl: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, on December 20th
Utah Utes (8-4) vs. Colorado State Rams (10-2)
Two of the Northwest's biggest surprises square off in Las Vegas, with Colorado State trying to begin their post-Jim McElwain era with a win. The Rams have been all about their "Big Three" offensively, riding quarterback Garrett Grayson, Alabama transfer Dee Hart at tailback and Biletnikoff finalist Rashard Higgins to a 10-win regular season. Although the offense has struggled in down performances like one early in the year against Boise State and the team's last game against Air Force, it has shown countless times that it can be extremely explosive. Utah will have a tall order trying to stop Higgins, whose blend of speed, size and athleticism are traits that no defensive back on the Utes' roster has. That will force the Utes to be even more reliant on their front seven, especially breakout defensive end Nate Orchard, a sack machine who is also a major help in run support. The Utes' offense will hope for a big day from quarterback Travis Wilson, who managed to fend off Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson to keep his job. While Wilson still has to improve as a passer, his mobility and toughness have been huge for Utah throughout the year. Utah will lean heavily on their ground attack as usual, something that has taken on an even bigger role since the season-ending injury to star receiver Dres Anderson. Junior back Devontae Booker is one of the nation's most productive ball carriers, who can hurt defenses in a variety of different ways. The Rams' rush defense has been exposed at times throughout the year, and Booker could have a big game. Colorado State pulled off a pretty major upset by beating a Pac-12 foe (Mike Leach and Washington State) a year ago to kick off bowl season. This team is even more talented, but so are the Utes who have the strength and power to beat down the Rams.
Utah, 27 Colorado State, 20
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, on December 20th
Western Michigan Broncos (8-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (9-3)
While the "Famous Idaho Potato Bowl" is thought of as the joke of the annual bowl circuit, considering it's odd name, just getting here has been a major accomplishment for these two programs. A year ago, first-year head coach P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan struggled to do anything right and went 1-11, despite playing in the weak MAC. Meanwhile, Air Force stumbled to a 2-10 posting, one that included an 0-8 showing inside the Mountain West, a huge wakeup for a program that had been consistently strong under head coach Troy Calhoun. But, WMU has been turned around, in large part to superb freshman running back Jarvion Franklin, who has compiled over 1,500 yards in his first season for the Broncos. The Falcons' turnaround has been all about the improvement of quarterback Kale Pearson, along with help from dangerous rusher Jacobi Owens. Pearson, who struggled with turnovers and running the complicated triple-option scheme a season ago, has engineered the offense to near perfection. Western Michigan's rush defense will be in a for a very tough test against that triple-option attack, one that is far different from any offensive scheme they have seen in the MAC. While Fleck will have his team as prepared as possible for stopping the triple-option, WMU will have their hands full stopping the assortment of weapons Calhoun has at his disposal. It has already been an incredible year for the Falcons; one that could only get better with a win that would boost them to a double-digit win year.
Air Force, 34 Western Michigan, 21
Bowling Green Falcons (7-6) vs. South Alabama Jaguars (6-6)
A win against Indiana earlier in the year did give Bowling Green a memorable highlight for the year, but overall it has been a rather unspectacular debut for former Eastern Illinois head coach Dino Babers. Sure, 7-6 and a MAC Championship appearance is nothing to complain about but after winning the conference a year ago and with the program on the rise, it has been surprising. The offense will continue to impress, with junior Travis Greene leading the way on the ground and James Knapke at quarterback. While he hasn't put up huge number, Knapke has made some big throws this season for the Falcons and has played well in Babers' Air Raid scheme. Though, the big issue all season for Bowling Green has been their defense, which has struggled to find leaders in every unit. This is the same defense that allowed 69 points to Western Kentucky, along with over 500 yards of passing to begin the year. While they have improved since then, it is clear the defense has been a major liability all season. That defense will be tested against South Alabama and their NFL prospect at quarterback, Brandon Bridge. Bridge, a massive talent with an accurate arm, will be helped by an experienced offensive line and dangerous receiver Shavarez Smith. While Bridge has played well this year, he has struggled with turnovers at times and will need to play smarter. He will have plenty of opportunities in the play action game, considering how undisciplined Bowling Green's defense has been all season. Another big issue for the Jaguars could be their own defense, which might struggle to stop the speed and up-tempo ability of the Falcons' offense, along with the fact the team has lost four of five and has very little momentum coming into this game. While South Alabama head coach Joey Jones will have his team motivated in the program's first ever bowl game, he will need a big day from Bridge and some luck on his side to beat a more talented Bowling Green team.
Bowling Green, 38 South Alabama, 28
Miami Beach Bowl: Marlins Park, Miami, on December 22nd
Memphis Tigers (9-3) vs. BYU Cougars (8-4)
There have been a number of turnarounds at a number of different programs throughout college football this season. From Gary Patterson rediscovering his magic at TCU, to the two teams in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and much, much. But, few have been more impressive than Justin Fuente at Memphis, who has guided the Tigers to a 9-3 record and a share of the American Athletic Conference title in his third year there. After a 3-9 2013, the Tigers have won games with a superb year from quarterback Paxton Lynch and a strong rushing offense, plus a much more productive defense. Though, Memphis will have their work cut out for them against a BYU team that has figured things out after their season seemed doomed when Heisman candidate Taysom Hill went down with a broken leg, that would obviously cost him the year. After losing four straight after Hill's injury, BYU has won four straight, thanks in large part to the play of Hill's replacement, Christian Stewart. Stewart threw five touchdowns against Cal in BYU's last game and he has engineered an explosive offense that includes Mitch Matthews and Jordan Leslie making plays at receiver. The big issue for the Cougars' offense will be trying to not become one-dimensional, considering their star running back Jamaal Williams, is also out for the year. Memphis has some talent in their secondary and they are great at preparing (another reason for their massive turnaround), meaning they could give Stewart some problems. The Cougars' defense will need to step up and play well against a quietly good Memphis offense, where Lynch and back Brandon Hayes cause teams great trouble on the ground. Considering they lost their two best players in Hill and Williams earlier in the year, going 9-4 would be pretty impressive for Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars. If Stewart continues to play well and they contain the Tigers' ground attack, they have a great chance of ending the year on a high note.
BYU, 37 Memphis, 35