Mid-Majors Make Their Case During College Bowl Week One

Ah yes Mid-Majors. The words conjure up mediocrity at the college football level and beyond. Everyone loves a Cinderella story, but these teams travel to venues with small crowds and even smaller paydays. They play before Christmas and still get a chance to get home and be with family. Most schools look upon college bowl season as a reward for an average, better than average or great season.

This is also an opportunity for one last chance as a junior or senior to make a good showing to get that all important invite to the combine and develop some conversation with potential NFL suitors. To a mid-major playing a power five conference, it is a chance to prove their worthiness and that they belong in the FBS. Boise State, the poster child for all things mid-major has had a run of success that can’t be denied at any level including a lucrative New Years Day bowl game this year.

Utah played some awesome games during its days in the Mountain West Conference. The Utes actually were rewarded and became a premier team with inclusion into the Pac-12 hierarchy. TCU also performed exceptionally well winning the Rose Bowl and graduating to the Big Twelve. Obviously those defections along with BYU weakened a once quite powerful Mountain West Conference

So after an initial week with some head to head confrontations, did any one mid-major school rise above and make some noise to draw real attention to the smaller kids on the block? Looking at the scoresheets and week one it would be hard to get a read on this because only one game featured a mid-major facing a power conference team, and that would have been Utah playing Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Our next big five vs a power five conference game won’t be until after Christmas with the Illinois Illini playing against Louisiana Tech from Conference-USA. So the alternative is to look at the matches from week one and reflect on how each conference did head to head including independents.

R & L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Bowl game number one was played in New Orleans, Louisiana. With a wake up call at 5:45 am the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns had one advantage over the Nevada Wolfpack. They were close to home and had no time change to deal with. The Reno Nevada team was dealing with a 3:00 am wake up call Nevada time and it looked like it on the scoresheet. Playing in front of over 34,000 primarily Cajun fans at 10:00 am local time really affected the Wolfpack, as they fell behind 10-0 and never showed any of the dual threat or running game that was evident in their last five games of the season. Quarterback Cody Fajardo for Nevada became the first quarterback to record 2,000 yards passing along with 1,000 yards rushing this season. The Rajin Cajuns claimed their fourth New Orleans Bowl and the Sun Belt claims their sixth consecutive win in the “BIG EASY.”

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: You don’t like to think that bowl games can be boring and listless, but this year’s New Mexico Bowl just didn’t have much to offer! Total yards of just over 600 might be flattering. Utah State managed a time consuming drive to start the third quarter and that accounted for most of the interest. Neither team seemed to be able to convert on third down plays and the Miners of UTEP closed out their C-USA season at 7-6. The Aggies got into double digit wins for the second time in school history and won their third consecutive bowl game.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Turning the other cheek offensively would be the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah from the Pac-12 and Colorado State from the Mountain West combined for around 400 yards before the first quarter had ended. The problem was that the Rams couldn’t sustain that level of offense for four quarters and were routed by a superior Utes defensive squad as the game wore on.  A missed field goal in the third quarter for Colorado State followed by a time consuming drive and touchdown for Utah pretty well sealed the deal in Las Vegas. Utah is an astonishing 14-4 in bowl games, with this one being their first as a representative of the Pac-12. Colorado State, without coach McElwain, who left for the Florida Gators job, played with an interim coach and it may have detuned the Rams somewhat. Colorado State fell to 6-8 in bowl games.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl:  In the north country they have a bowl game on the famous blue smurf turf of Boise State University. Two exceptional teams with contrary offenses made their way to Boise and put on a terrific show. Western Michigan found their winning form this year after a few lean seasons and qualified as one of the “MACtion’ group from the MAC Conference. Their counterpart from the Mountain West was a vastly improved Air Force squad. The Falcons are a very run heavy offense with the Broncos flying thigh hrough the air. The overall stats played out according to form, but the Broncos got beaten to the endzone a few too many times from the tough Falcons running game.

Two things rise right to our attention. Air Force converted on all fourth down attempts {4} and ran the ball 64 times with only ten pass attempts. This was another solid win for the Mountain West Conference to even their bowl score at 2-2. The Western Michigan Broncos do have something to hang their hats on for next season though.

Raycom Media Camillia Bowl: Down in Montgomery Alabama they had probably the most exciting day one bowl for the ages. South Alabama who were playing in their first ever FBS bowl game kept chasing and worrying the Bowling Green Falcons all afternoon. This game featured over 915 yards of total offense and finally the Jaguars broke through with about 1:20 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. That is when heartbreak came into the picture for the Jaguars. Somehow, some way Falcons quarterback James Knapke found Roger Lewis down the sideline for a 78 yard toss and tossed a dagger into the South Alabama squad.

This game in front of a sparse 20,000 plus fans certainly caught the attention of the media at the inaugural Camillia Bowl. This also evened the score in bowl games for the MAC Conference at 1-1. Taking notes for each conference, this got the Sun Belt record at 1-1 as well.

Miami Beach Bowl:  The Miami Beach is also a game played at a new bowl venue. This bowl game was held at the Miami Marlins/Old Orange Bowl baseball field and featured independent BYU against Memphis. The Tigers actually were one of the surprise teams coming out of the American Athletic Conference {AAC} with a stellar 9-3 record.  BYU meanwhile had fallen on some hard times mid-season and had to adjust to a new quarterback down the stretch. However no one could have predicted that the BYU defense would give up 55 points and 480 yards of offense to this Memphis team. BYU actually scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to take the lead but could not hold it and ended up losing in double overtime.

An on-field brawl after the final touchdown was a big disappointment to most people watching this contest. I certainly expected more from BYU, as they exhibited poor sportsmanship at the end of the game. This was huge win for the AAC as they became a patchwork conference after multiple defections over the last 4 years. For Memphis, who tied for the conference championship at 7-1 with Cincinnati, this is an even bigger stepping stone to recognition and might help stabilize the Tigers program moving forward. It will interesting to see what the NCAA does to both schools about this brawl. It made the Woody Hayes smack at a Clemson player seem tame by comparison.

In another side note, perhaps two other teams might have drawn a better crowd.  One option would be UCF  or a more local team as an opponent. There were only  20,000 plus attendees for this first Miami Bowl.

Boca Raton Bowl:  To most mid-major fans the Boca Raton bowl held some real intrigue. Here we had two of the premier mid major programs from 2014 going head to head. The only problem was most pundits claimed Marshall played a very soft schedule and came by their 12-1 record rather easily. Northern Illinois meanwhile lost to Arkansas and Central Michigan before defeating Bowling Green in the Mac Championship.

This game could be called the Rakeem Cato show. The Marshall quarterback was a force on the field leading the Thundering Herd to a commanding 52-23 win over an over-matched Northern Illinois. Chalk up a big win for C-USA as this mid-major conference struggled through a tough strength of schedule that raised more than enough eyebrows. There may be a small group that will now have to re-think how good the Herd might really be. Cato threw for three touchdowns and ran in a pair to conclude his college career on a high note and get into the conversation for the top rounds of the NFL draft. Both teams put up another 930 yards of offense and each held the clock around the 30 minute mark. Rakeem Cato made the most of his opportunities and Marshall finishes at 13-1 for 2014.

Poinsettia Bowl:  The  Poinsettia bowl featured hometown favorite San Diego State against Navy. This game featured a run hungry Navy squad looking for a little revenge against the Aztecs who put them down 35-14 back in the 2010 Poinsettia bowl. What I saw last night was a fumble fest in the fourth quarter with neither team wanting to win the game. The final score of 17-16 in Navy’s favor really came down to rookie kicker Austin Grebe making a 24 yarder and Donny Hageman shanking one wide right from 34 yards that sealed the fate of the Aztecs. This final game before Christmas eve put the Independents at 1-1 while the Mountain West raised its record to 3-2.


Merry Christmas to all my friends at Last Word On Sports and enjoy the remaining games.

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