The 2015-16 College Football bowl season is now upon us and the opening week of bowl action will feature some high scoring matchups, and non-power 5 schools looking to solidify themselves in the national landscape. The Holy War will be renewed when BYU faces Utah in Sin City, AAC runner-up Temple takes on 9-2 Toledo, C-USA champions Western Kentucky face off with a South Florida team riding a four game win streak, and long time non-power 5 darlings Boise State and Northern Illinois will face off in the best matchups.
Our experts John Bava, Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, and Mike Loveall will predict those matchups, and the rest of the week one bowls, and before we do that we want to congratulate John on winning the regular season pick ’em challenge with a positive records both outright and against the spread.
Additionally our readers can face off with us in the bowl pick ’em challenge thanks to Fox Sports handy contest that can be found here. The password is “lwos”, and picks close when the first bowl game begins.
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: BYU (9-3) vs. #22 Utah (9-3) (Saturday 12/19/15 3:30 P.M. EST in Las Vegas, NV)
Line: Utah by 2.5
This year’s Las Vegas Bowl pits two in-state rivals who’ve contested the “Holy War” since 1896. That said, the rivalry had to undergo a bit of a hiatus since 2013, a negative effect of conference realignment even though their slated to play each other between 2016 and 2020. The forthcoming bowl matchup is the first time the two schools have ever met in the postseason.
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum didn’t miss a beat after having to fill in for Taysom Hill after he suffered a season-ending injury in the Cougars’ season opener against Nebraska. He finished the regular season with 3,062 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions in leading the team to a 9-3 record.
The Utes are coming into this game in less than stellar form, having lost two of their final three games including a narrow 20-14 win over Colorado in the season finale. It’s a far cry from a team that had been in CFP contention earlier in the year, especially after their blowout road win over Oregon in Week 4. Running back Devontae Booker’s knee injury late in the year has had an effect to the team’s slow finish to 2015. With popular BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall departing for the Virginia job after the game, I think the Cougars send him out in style with a win.
Prediction: BYU 27, Utah 20
BYU isn’t a power 5 program but six of their nine wins this season have come against bowl eligible opponents (caveat, Nebraska and San Jose State are 5-7 but made bowls anyway) , and they scored 50+ in their last two games. The future viability of this program is surprisingly questionable with Bronco Mendenhall leaving and their inability to find a power 5 conference to call home, but this is a solid team in its current form. With QB Tanner Mangum coming into form, and a hard nosed defense that knows how to get stops, Utah is going to be in for a tough game in the Holy War, unless the BYU offense stutters like it did in their losses this season (combined 39 points scored in those three losses to Michigan, UCLA, and Missouri) .
Utah’s offense has stuttered in its own right without one of the Pac-12’s best running backs in Devontae Booker and though this is a good team with a stronger defense compared to BYU, it’s a shadow of itself compared to the Utes team that was in top 10 form midseason. The Utes will keep it close but I see BYU coming out with a win.
Prediction: BYU 31, Utah 24
The Holy War returns. If anyone tells you that this isn’t a huge game for both programs, they’re lying to you. The winner ends up nationally-ranked. The loser will have a once-promising season end in total disappointment. This game will be chippy and must-watch.
Prediction: BYU 28, Utah 27
The powers that be don’t get a lot right in college football these days, but resurrecting the Holy War, in bowl season, in Las Vegas was a masterstroke of genius. I think this is hands down the best match-up of the early bowl games. Utah was considered by some as the top team in the nation earlier this season. The loss of Devontae Booker spelled the end of the Utes’ national title hopes, so one has to wonder how motivated they will be to playing in Las Vegas instead of the big stage. The Utes already feel slighted by being left out of the PAC-12 Championship Game.
BYU has had one of the most eventful seasons in recent memory with dramatic endings to several early season games and the impending departure of head coach Bronco Mendenhall to Virginia. Overall Utah has more talent, but BYU will be more motivated. I think the bowl lay-off does the Utes well and helps them get mentally healed.
Prediction: Utah 31, BYU 24
Miami Beach Bowl: Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4) (Monday 12/21/15 2:30 P.M. EST in Miami, FL)
Line: Western Kentucky by 2.5
Western Kentucky is quite familiar with South Florida head coach Willie Taggart. After all, he led the Hilltoppers to their first ever bowl appearance in his final season coaching WKU, a trip to the Little Caesar’s Bowl in Detroit. Three seasons into his tenure with the Bulls, Taggart has the program on a similar upward trajectory.
The Hilltoppers clearly have the edge at quarterback. Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty finished the season with 4,594 yards passing and led the nation with 45 touchdown passes. He’ll be looking to finish his college career with a bang against a South Florida pass defense that ranks 61st nationally.
Both teams are on a roll, with USF having won its final four games of the season and WKU having gone undefeated in C-USA play, including a 45-28 win in the conference title game over Southern Miss. A win for the Hilltoppers gives them 12 wins and possibly a spot in the final Top 25 poll of the season.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 41, South Florida 24
South Florida’s players and coaches deserve a lot of credit for turning an ominous 1-3 start into a 7-1 finish to make this bowl game much more interesting than it otherwise would be. The Bulls blew out bowl eligible American conference opponents Temple and Cincinnati in two of their final three games, and appear to be riding momentum into a home state game.
With that said, Western Kentucky should prove to be too good, QB Brandon Doughty and his teammates dominated the rest of Conference USA this season and should have the edge in experience, and at most positions. USF QB Quinton Flowers, whose legs are better than his arm right now, is unlikely to be able to keep up with the scoring pace in this one.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 45, South Florida 31
It’s the Willie Taggart bowl down in Miami. These are two talented teams that ended the season on strong notes. Western Kentucky deserved better for winning Conference USA, but this is what they get. Still, 12 wins isn’t nothing and Brandon Doughty gets one final chance to show off. He’s the purest passer the college game has seen since Kellen Moore. He threw five touchdown passes in the first half last year. I’m guessing he wants to beat that this year
Prediction: Western Kentucky 56, South Florida 35
Another very intriguing bowl match-up. Western Kentucky will get the hype in this game, sporting an 11-2 record and a conference championship fueled by a high octane offense. But don’t overlook the Bulls, whose four losses this year are to FSU, Navy, Memphis and Maryland. That’s three Top 25 losses and a nice win against Temple. The South Florida offense has been the more consistent of the two high-scoring teams as well, even against better opponents. Plus, Miami Beach is a lot closer to Tampa than it is to Bowling Green. All signs point to South Florida.
Prediction: South Florida 44, Western Kentucky 31
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl: Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2) (Tuesday 12/22/15 7:00 P.M. EST in Boca Raton, FL)
Line: Temple by 2
Both these schools come into their bowl game having dropped their respective season finales on the road. The Rockets fell 35-30 to Western Michigan, while the Owls lost to Houston 24-13 in the AAC conference title game.
Toledo runs the ball very well behind a two-pronged attack that includes Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson. That said, Temple’s run defense ranks 21st in the nation and is well-versed in forcing negative plays. The Owls have a total of 101 tackles for loss this season tied for fifth best in FBS. They also boast defensive end Tyler Matakevich who won the Nagurski Award this season given out to the nation’s best defensive player. The Rockets will find it quite difficult to get anything going on offense facing such a stout defensive front as Temple’s.
Prediction: Temple 27, Toledo 17
Two of the best non-power 5 teams should be pleased to get to spend part of December in Florida rather than their respective northern campuses. Temple went just 4-3 against bowl eligible opponents but they tested Notre Dame on a primetime stage, and their defense especially can compete with some of the best power 5 units in the country. The Owls maximized their talent this year and had one of the best years in school history, a true revival in the football program.
Toledo has three resume building wins against Arkansas, Sun Belt champions Arkansas State, and eventual MAC champions Bowling Green this season, and this Rockets offense can fly high, though the Rockets tumbled in their last game this season against Western Michigan. This should be a close game but I expect Toledo, with head coach Matt Campbell going to Iowa State, to be able to outscore Temple and rain on a season the Owls should be proud of.
Prediction: Toledo 35, Temple 31
This is one of the first games of the bowl season and should be one of the best. Both of these teams were ranked at one point this year and the winner probably ends the season ranked as well. The Boca Raton Bowl should be ecstatic that they drew this matchup of stingy defenses and solid offenses. These two talented teams are competing to start next year at the head of the Group of 5 crop.
Prediction: Toledo 23, Temple 21
Temple and Toledo both had roller-coaster seasons. Temple started out 7-0 with an opening week win against Penn State. The Owls hosted Notre Dame and College Gameday only to get their first loss of the season. They would fade a little down the stretch, finishing with three losses – although all three losses were to good teams.
Toledo was up-and-down all year. First, they beat Arkansas and Iowa State to start 2-0, then loss to Northern Illinois, come back with a great win against Bowling Green, and finished with a disappointing loss to Western Michigan. It’ll be a close one, but Temple’s defense, led by All-American Tyler Matakevich, should stymie any Toledo hopes for finishing the season with a win.
Prediction: Temple 28, Toledo 27
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5) (Wednesday 12/23/15 at 4:30 P.M. EST in San Diego, CA)
Line: Boise State by 8.5
It’s not often you see these two programs coming into a bowl game with a combined nine losses between them. It certainly has been a down year for both. Boise State missed out on their conference title game altogether while NIU got thoroughly dominated in the MAC championship by Bowling Green, falling behind 28-0 at one point before eventually losing 34-14.
The Broncos led the Mountain West in passing this season under quarterback Brett Rypien. The freshman quarterback threw for 2,973 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions while finishing in the top ten nationally in attempts per game (38.9). He’ll be taking on a Huskies defense that ranks 78th nationally defending the pass.
NIU has been ravaged by injuries to quarterbacks this season, losing Drew Hare to a ruptured Achilles on November 3rd against Toledo and Ryan Graham in the season finale against Ohio. Graham is expected to recover in time to start in the bowl game, though.
Prediction: Boise State 38, Northern Illinois 27
Boise lost two of their final three games to finish the regular season in disappointing fashion but their young QB Brett Rypien continues to improve , and running back Jeremy McNichols is a joy to watch on the ground. NIU has had to deal with injuries at the QB position, and has limited defensive speed, having lost their final two games, I don’t see them winning this one and Boise, at home out west, should use their talent edge to win out. NIU actually has a weaker team than in past years, while Boise has disappointed when it counted, rather than being lacking in talent.
Prediction: Boise State 42, Northern Illinois 28
Boise State is still one of the most talented teams in any Group of 5 conference. Major turnovers in key moments has been their undoing the past two seasons. 8-4 is a disappointing season by any stretch in Boise, but they have the talent to send themselves into 2015 on the right note.
Prediction: Boise State 35, Northern Illinois 24
Boise State is still struggling to find their identity in the post-Petersen era. Like most teams this season, they’ve had some promising moments and some disappointments. But they still have decent talent and still have some big-game experience. Northern Illinois has had more of the disappointment than promising moments. One week after playing Ohio State to within seven, they lose to an awful Boston College team. Add in losses to Central Michigan and Ohio, and you have to think the Ohio State game was more about the Buckeyes than the Huskies. The Huskies did have a signature win against Toledo, however. As long as Boise State continues to run under-appreciated Jeremy McNichols and stays away from Northern Illinois’ Shawun Lurry, a first team All-American, in the air, they should be able to control the pace of play.
Prediction: Boise State 38, Northern Illinois 20
Other Bowl Games Predictions
Saturday 12/19 Bowl Games (ordered by kickoff time)
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5)
Line: Arizona by 9
Bob Davie deserves a ton of credit to get the Lobos program to this point considering how down and out it was before he arrived. He’ll be on his home field for the bowl game to face an Arizona team looking to close out a disappointing 2015 campaign with a victory.
Prediction: Arizona 41, New Mexico 31
Banged up Arizona is 1-4 down the stretch, with the injuries especially hurting their defense, they did shock Utah though and still have a solid spread offense. New Mexico has rebounded from one of the worst FBS programs to a bowl game, wins over Boise State and Air Force down the stretch in conference play seems to have given them belief, and they should win this home game in an upset.
Prediction: New Mexico 38, Arizona 35
Arizona is much more talented, but New Mexico wants to be here much more.
Prediction: New Mexico 27, Arizona 24
Arizona has been plagued with injuries this year, but still have talent and Rich Rodriguez as head coach. New Mexico is under-appreicated, and this is a home game for the Lobos.
Prediction: Arizona 28, New Mexico 21
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2)
Line: Appalachian State by 7.5
The Mountaineers will be making their first ever bowl appearance since making the jump to FBS and face an Ohio team fresh off a three-game win streak to close out the regular season.
Prediction: Appalachian State 40, Ohio 21
App St only lost to Sun Belt champions Arkansas State, and #1 Clemson this season, the Mountaineers have successfully made the move to FBS and should snap Ohio’s three game winning streak in this one.
Prediction: Appalachian State 38, Ohio 24
Ohio and Appalachian State are two underrated teams from minor conferences; this should be a good game.
Prediction: Appalachian State 28, Ohio 21
I love balanced offenses, and Appalachian State is nothing if not balanced. The Mountaineers continue to build their program with a maiden FBS bowl win.
Prediction: Appalachian State 34, Ohio 20
Autonation Cure Bowl: San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6)
Line: San Jose State by 2.5
Georgia State’s program didn’t exist until 2010 and went a combined 2-33 between 2012-14. After starting 2015 2-6, they won their final four games to get bowl eligible and now face a 5-7 San Jose State team that qualified for a bowl due to the program’s strong academic performance.
Prediction: San Jose State 34, Georgia State 23
GSU coach Trent Miles saved his job and was named Sun Belt coach of the year after pulling off a four game winning streak to end the season and finish bowl eligible, a win streak that included a thumping of presumed superior in-state rival Georgia Southern. SJSU beat just one bowl eligible team this year and all-Sun Belt Panthers QB Nick Arbuckle, who hails from California, should ensure that the Spartans finish 5-8, while GSU finishes with their first ever winning season in FBS.
Prediction: Georgia State 38, San Jose State 27
Georgia State and San Jose State are two teams that both overachieved by getting to bowl games. This game should be entertaining, even if not high quality.
Prediction: San Jose State 28, Georgia State 25
Much like the Cincinnati-San Diego State game, Georgia State comes in with a one-dimensional pass-heavy offense and inflated resume. San Jose wears down Georgia State with a strong run game and good pass defense.
Prediction: San Jose State 35, Georgia State 24
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
Line: Louisiana Tech by 2
The Sun Belt champion Red Wolves went undefeated in league play and head to New Orleans to face Louisiana Tech, quarterbacked by Florida transfer Jeff Driskel.
Prediction: Arkansas State 36, Louisiana Tech 27
Arkansas State is rolling on an eight game winning streak after starting the season 1-3 and they won the Sun Belt. Dual-threat QB Fredi Knighten is fun to watch and this is an underappreciated team. In an alternate universe LA Tech QB Jeff Driskel would have been starting the SEC championship game for Florida, rather he’s been plying his trade in rural Louisiana. LA Tech lacks a marquee win and Arkansas State should have an edge.
Prediction: Arkansas State 49, Louisiana Tech 38
Arkansas State is the cream of the Sun Belt, but Louisiana Tech has more talent across the board.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 31, Arkansas State 23
Both of these teams can put up yards and points. Louisiana Tech doesn’t have to travel far, and the Jeff Driskel redemption story plays well in bowl season.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 41, Arkansas State 35
Tuesday 12/22 Bowl Game
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6)
Line: Utah State by 7
This will be just the Zips second bowl appearance ever and their first since the 2005 Motor City Bowl. They travel to the blue turf in Boise to take on a Utah State team that boasts one of the best pass defenses in the nation.
Prediction: Utah State 34, Akron 17
Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden has returned Akron to respectability and deserves credit for his rebuilding job. Utah State has more talent at all positions though and whether Senior Chuckie Keeton or Kent Myers starts at QB, the Aggies should win. It’s the last chance to see the entertaining playmaker Keeton, who has struggled with injuries, in college.
Prediction: Utah State 35, Akron 20
Utah State has had several disappointing seasons in a row, but they are much more talented than Akron.
Prediction: Utah State 35, Akron 17
Probably the most evenly-matched bowl of the early bowl season. Both teams are solid-to-good (but not great) in most phases of the game. Should be close to the end, the Aggies getting the edge because of location.
Prediction: Utah State 24, Akron 23
Wednesday 12/23 Bowl Game
GoDaddy Bowl: Georgia Southern (8-4) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)
Line: Bowling Green by 7.5
The offensive identities of these teams couldn’t be more different with Georgia Southern running the triple option while Bowling Green possesses a more up-tempo, air-raid style attack.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 38, Bowling Green 35
Both teams have lost their head coaches, with Willie Fritz heading to Tulane, and Dino Babers of BGSU on his way to Syracuse. Southern’s option isn’t a great matchup against the BGSU air raid spread and with blowout losses to pass heavy teams West Virginia and Georgia State this season, the Southern defense is in for a world of trouble. QB Matt Johnson is ready to lead the Falcons to an 11 win season.
Prediction: Bowling Green 45, Georgia Southern 21
This might be one of the best games of bowl season. Don’t miss it.
Prediction: Bowling Green 42, Georgia Southern 41
I’ve been high on Bowling Green all year, with mixed results. QB Matt Johnson has a pro-caliber arm and with three weeks to prepare, I don’t see Georgia Southern’s rushing oriented offense being able to keep up with the Falcons.
Prediction: Bowling Green 45, Georgia Southern 27
Thursday 12/24 Bowl Games
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)
Line: Western Michigan by 3
Both teams average over 450 yards and 30 points per game so expect a shootout in the Bahamas.
Prediction: Western Michigan 45, Middle Tennessee 41
Two of the smallest FBS programs in this game, P.J. Fleck’s Broncos beat Toledo at the end of the season, and pushed Michigan State hard in the opening game of the season, MTSU has won four straight and beat Marshall to get here. Coach Rick Stockstill’s son Brent is the Blue Raider’s starting QB and he’s performed well. Look for the father-son duo to win this one.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee 31, Western Michigan 27
Western Michigan rowed the boat to a win over Toledo and a bowl game.
Prediction: Western Michigan 31, Middle Tennessee 17
Western Michigan will be distracted by the beauty of the Bahamas. Middle Tennessee is motivated from being left out of bowls last year. Middle Tennessee wins a thriller.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee 35, Western Michigan 34
Hawai’i Bowl: San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)
Line: Cincinnati by 1
Behind the nation’s fifth-best defense, the Aztecs dominated the Mountain West this year en route to its first-ever outright title since joining the conference. The program has made a bowl game in all of Rocky Long’s seasons as head coach.
Prediction: San Diego State 31, Cincinnati 20
Cincy has underperformed this year with their best win coming at home against Miami, a win that contributed to the firing of Al Golden by the Canes a few weeks later. SDSU won the Mountain West in dominant fashion, and should be able to extend their nine game winning streak, after a 1-3 start, to ten wins in a row in this game. Expect a lot of scoring and some fun passing.
Prediction: San Diego State 34, Cincinnati 24
San Diego State has had a ho-hum impressive season. Cincinnati has had a ho-hum disappointing one, but is more talented.
Prediction: Cincinnati 28, San Diego State 24
Cincinnati has the big name with the big arm in quarterback Gunner Kiel, who hasn’t been practicing with the team, but San Diego State has had the better year, is more balanced, and has a better defense.
Prediction: San Diego State 38, Cincinnati 31