Since Virginia Tech isn't playing this weekend, I was wondering what I was going to do with my Saturday. Of course, thanks to the grand insanity that is college football, we've already got plenty of games spaced out all over this Saturday. So, going through the matchups, I'll rank them for viewing potential and give you a couple notes or reasons to watch...or not watch. Starting in chronological order:
AIR FORCE RESERVE CELEBRATION BOWL
Teams: Alcorn State Braves (9-3, 1st SWAC champion) vs. North Carolina A&T Aggies (9-2, Tied-1st in MEAC)
Broadcast: ABC, Noon
Significance: This is being called the ‘Black College Championship', which is a nice way to get the HBC schools some representation that they usually don't see on the national stage. Unfortunately for HBCs, gone are the days when Steve McNair, Doug Williams, and Donald Driver light up the football field. That doesn't mean that their football teams can't get some publicity. The SWAC and the MEAC are the two major HBC conferences (SWAC being Gulf Coast, and MEAC being Atlantic Coast).
What to watch for: These are two evenly matched teams. Both have roughly the same time of possession, the Braves are a bit better on offense but the Aggies are a bit better on defense. Alcorn State has more big play potential- they've gathered 44 sacks- but also negatively, as they've lost 25 fumbles over the year. Both of these teams are running teams- Alcorn State has 3,708 yards rushing compared to 1,960 yards passing, and A&T goes 1,820-1,247. Basically, Alcorn State has a higher floor and lower ceiling, while the Aggies are steadier and rely on tougher defense- they've only given up 151 points all year.
Who to watch: Both running backs are impressive. Darryan Ragsdale leads Alcorn state averaging 8.2 yards per carry over 140 attempts (1,201 yards), with Lenorris Footman not far behind at 7.6/126/1,062. For the Aggies, it's all Tarik Cohen, rushing 220 times for 1,255 yards and 5.2 YPC. Either way, this game is probably going to be an old-school, running slugfest.
Watchability: Medium to High. I personally love watching small college football, and getting to see two different programs that don't have a ton of time in the sun? It's different and interesting. 12PM entertainment on a Saturday? I'll take it and watch something I haven't seen before.
GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL
Teams: Arizona Wildcats (6-6, 5th in PAC-12 South) vs. New Mexico Lobos (7-5, 2nd in Mountain West- Mountain division)
Broadcast: ESPN, 2PM
Significance: Welcome back to the bowl world, New Mexico! It's been a while since you've been here (2007, which was the end of a nice 5 of 6 year run). And welcome back to the bowl world Bob Davie, who was hired to rescue UNM from the world of anonymity. The former Notre Dame coach had to endure three years of losing records before dragging the Lobos back above the .500 mark, which isn't bad for a guy that had spent 10 years doing commentary since his last coaching gig.
What to watch for: Potential retread vs. Old retread. Rich Rod vs. Bob Davie. Sounds odd, but Rich Rod somehow stuck around Arizona for all the noise (including our noise), and Davie seems to have brought New Mexico back to mean something again. For these two gritty programs from the southwest, especially New Mexico, this is personal pride on the line. It's high volume offense (442 pass attempts and 494 carries for Arizona) versus high rushing offense (208 pass attempts and 569 carries for New Mexico). Neither team has a defense (total yardage for New Mexico is 5,186, and Arizona? 5,560 yards). Or scoring defense for that matter (Arizona is 106th, New Mexico is a more middling 64th.) This game could get weird QUICK.
Who to watch: Anu Solomon is the quarterback for Arizona, and he should be back from injury for Arizona. Along with Scooby ‘my name is weirdly awesome' Wright, Arizona is getting its two big stars back on both sides of the ball. Wright is a hot name for an eventual draft spot, and Solomon has put up solid numbers when in. On New Mexico's side of the ball? It's the tandem of Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson. Between them they're 267 carries, 1,612 yards, for 6.0ypc and 17 touchdowns. That's almost 1 whole Zeke Elliott of production.
Watchability: Low. It's an interesting matchup and you probably haven't seen New Mexico for a while, but I'd more watch out of morbid curiosity for what might have been/what we weren't cursed with.
ROYAL PURPLE LAS VEGAS BOWL
Teams: Brigham Young University Cougars (9-3, Independent) vs. Utah Utes (9-3, Tied-1st in the PAC-12 South)
Broadcast: ABC, 3:30PM (depends on length of Celebration Bowl)
Significance: RETURN OF THE HOLY WAR! One of the biggest rivalries in college football that you don't hear much about on this coast comes back to the football forefront, especially in the face of Bronco Mendenhall's last game as BYU head coach before he jumps to UVA. But the Holy War is the fight between the two major Mormon universities, one public one private. And since both teams have good records, it should be a heckuva shootout. Did I mention that they keep sticking BYU in Las Vegas Bowl games? I find this ironic and hilarious.
What to watch for: BYU, despite the clean reputation of the university, has a reputation for being kind of a dirty team under Mendenhall. On top of that, it'll be interesting to see what Mendenhall does as an offense before he comes over here to the East Coast. I've seen the air-raid style of offense that he runs before, but this has got to be an oddly emotional game- it's a rivalry, it's their coach's last game, and yet UTAH is the one mad at where they were stuck. They lost out on the PAC-12 championship game by tibreaker, and they fell ALL THE WAY to the Las Vegas Bowl. Should be a fun game.
Who to watch: Tanner Mangum is the replacement for longtime BYU QB Taysom Hill, lost at the beginning of the season. Mangum has some pretty decent statistics, and probably will be the future at the position for the cougars for some time. He's only a freshman, and yet he's thrown for 3,062 yards, 21TDs, and 7INTs. We'll see what happens next year if the Cougars hire Ken Niumatalolo and his option offense, but even if Mangum transfers, he'll have plenty of suitors (Note: Just watch him because he's good. After this article was written, Niumatalolo turned down BYU). For Utah, we're looking at how Mangum matches up against their defense, tied for second in FBS at 19 interceptions and with 10 fumbles. Marcus Williams, CB, and Gionni Paul, LB are their two playmakers.
Watchability: High. Watch this game. It's the best one on the day. Two solid teams that don't like each other with a long history of good games. Add in that you're watching a preview of what UVA might be? Sit down and enjoy the show.
RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL
Teams: Ohio Bobcats (8-4, 2nd in MAC East) vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers (10-2, 2nd in Sun Belt)
Broadcast: 5:30PM, ESPN.
Significance: Remember that tiny team from the FCS that won a couple national championships and upset Michigan a few years ago? That's Appalachian State. And guess what. They're not an FCS team anymore. They're in the Sun Belt. And this is their first bowl game since the Burley Bowl (The whowhat?) in 1955. So welcome back, Mountaineers. Guess moving up didn't slow you down in the least.
What to watch for: Besides the interesting novelty of seeing Appy State in a bowl game, you get to watch their offense. These guys play by volume. 2,422 yards passing and a staggering 3,226 yards rushing. That's 6th in the nation ahead of Georgia Tech, who is an option team. Their Head Coach, Scott Satterfield, was the QB coach in 2007 when they pulled that Michigan upset. He got Armanti Edwards to look like a very credible quarterback, winning him the Walter Payton Award. This team is not untalented.
Who to watch: Defensive players, actually. Latrell Gibbs on Appalachian State has a tie for 5th in the nation with 6 interceptions. He's only a sophomore, and you could end up hearing his name on Sunday in the future. Quentin Poling is Ohio's best linebacker- their leading tackler from last year (as a freshman!) and another sophomore with room to grow. He's got 3 INTS and 1 TD on the year along with 4 sacks.
Watchability: Medium. A bit of novelty sprinkled with a decent matchup should make the game at least moderately interesting while you eat dinner on Saturday. Expect a lot of fireworks.
Teams: San José State Spartans (5-7, 2nd in Mountain West- West) vs. Georgia State Panthers (6-6, 4th in Sun Belt)
Broadcast: 7PM, CBSSN
Significance: Well...it's the first Cure Bowl? It's for a good cause- AutoNation is supporting a bowl for cancer awareness and the logo is sure bright pink...Unfortunately it got stuck with a Sun Belt Mountain West matchup that just is confusing. But the proceeds do go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. So that's nice.
What to watch for: This is the first game featuring a 5-7 team- SJ State got in because of its academic RPI, which is an interesting dangling metric used for football purposes for the first time in terms of pure revenue, rewarding a better team in terms of academic performance on the field. This is also the first bowl appearance for Georgia State, who is actually sporting an offensive coordinator we know and don't particularly like- Jeff Jagodzinski (WE FOUND HIM!!). Their head coach was formerly the head coach of Indiana State, where he took a moribund program and built them to respectability. He did the same with Georgia Southern, taking the team from 0-12 and 1-11 his first two seasons to 6-6 now. Trent Miles might have some talent at this coaching thing.
Who to watch: Georgia State Quarterback Nick Arbuckle. Yes, he sounds like a comic book character, but his numbers are actually kind of impressive. 293-487, 64.1%, 4,160 yards, 26-11 TD-INT. He's a senior and he throws the heck out of the ball, but he's improved year to year to year. San José State has a competent defense at 44th in the nation, and it does better against the pass than the rush, so the semi-unstoppable force versus the semi-immovable object it is. The lead rusher for San José is Tyler Ervin, rushing for 264-1,469-5.6-13TDs. Georgia State gave up 2,160 rush yards on the year and its defense is only ranked 80th. Could be a shootout?
Watchability: Low to Medium. These are two teams both glad to be playing which ups the excitement. But it's a completely crazy matchup: this isn't a game anyone called for, really. The statistics bear out that it might be a fun game to see whose defense shows up, but it could very easily turn into a blah shootout between two teams no one on the national stage cares a whole ton about.
R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL
Teams: Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3, 1st in Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-4, 2nd in Conference USA- West)
Broadcast: 9PM, ESPN
Significance: Seeing who's going to be the next former head coach from Arkansas State? I kid, I kid. But seriously, Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss), Gus Malzahn (Auburn), and Brian Harsin (Boise State) are former Arkansas State head coaches, all spending one year at the helm of the Sun Belt program. Blake Anderson is now the head coach. If that name sounds somewhat familiar, he is the former offensive coordinator of the University of North Carolina. He's got a hefty buyout on his contract, but if he keeps this up and bides his time, Arkansas State is going to have to get looking again, because he's gone, too. Anderson has them in his second bowl game for two years there, extending their bowl streak to 5 years. So the question is, which ACC/SEC/ETC school will come knocking in a year or so when his buyout is much lower?
What to watch for: This is another chance for some strange shootout to go on. Louisiana Tech is 51st in defense, Arkansas State is 64th. Louisiana Tech is 30th in total offense, and Arkansas State is 38th. So statistically, Louisiana Tech is technically better, but in the muddled middle they're really not all that far apart. Arkansas State is fairly balanced (2,547 passing yards, 2,830 rushing yards) while Louisiana Tech loves to throw it around. (3,743 passing yards, 1,846 rushing yards). Both run a tailback by committee approach. So at the very least it'd be slightly contrasting styles in an interesting and probably evenly matched game. Something to at least have on in the background over cocktails or beers on a Saturday night.
Who to watch: Former Florida QB Jeff Driskel transferred to LA Tech and became a suddenly competent quarterback: leaving the fetid offensive air of the Swamp seemed to work great. He's 255-412, 61.9%, 3,575yards, 24-8 TD-INT. So we know he's at least C-USA competent. Tack that with 5 rushing TDs, you're not having a terrible senior year. Maybe if he stayed McElwain would've gone somewhere, but that ship sailed in the Muschamp Errah. He'll be up against Arkansas State DB Rocky Hayes, who also has 6INTs on the year. He was a Thorpe Award finalist last year, so he's obviously got something good about him. We'll see how Driskel and Hayes match up.
Watchability: Medium. They're two solid teams with at least newly consistent bowl reps that will be going at it in an interesting venue. Always fun to see the fans in New Orleans because you know half of them are only half there. For a mediocre bowl game, it's at least a decently fair matchup.