Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl
Alcorn State Braves vs.North Carolina A&T Aggies
ABC, 12:00 p.m. EST
The bowl season will kickoff with two teams that have won their division in Alcorn State and North Carolina A&T. This moment is history as it is the inaugural Air Force Celebration Bowl in the Georgia Dome. Champions of the MEAC will face off against the champions of the SWAC. Coach Rod Broadway called it “black college national championship” since both conferences are comprised of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
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Alcorn State got in by beating Grambling State for the conference championship 49-21, and they are winners of four-straight games and finished with a 9-3 record. Their two inner conference games were lost by a combined seven points. There is no doubt that the Braves have one of the better offenses in the SWAC. They finished second in scoring with 481 points, only 15 points behind Grambling. Their defense is also stingy as they have given up 254 points which is first in theconference.
North Carolina A&T got in by finishing with a 7-1 record in the conference that was a three-way tie with South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman. Since the Aggies beat both teams, they were awarded the championship of the MEAC. They finished second in points with 330, which was 15 points behind Bethune-Cookman. They are defensively strong as well. They have given up just 172 points, which is second overall in their conference. Five points behind leader South Carolina State.
This offense revolves around the arm and legs of Lenorr Footman. The sophomore quarterback has ten games played, but only started five; he has thrown for 962 yards and 12 touchdowns. When running with the ball, Footman finished with 961-yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. A secondary player is Darry Ragsdale. He finished with 1144 yards in 140 attempts scoring eight times. He busted loose on Grambling State in the championship game for 188-yards and a score on only 15 carries.
Now with North Carolina A&T you will want to keep your eye on junior Tarik Cohen. He is an absolute beast with the ball. In 2015, he has rushed for 1,248 yards and 12 touchdowns on 242 carries. He has been performing since he was a freshman, where he averaged over 100 yards per game and scored eight touchdowns. This season he busted the century mark eight times. He doesn’t catch passes much; he only has 19 receptions on the season. Cohen has been awarded conference Offensive Player of the Year and became the school’s career rushing leader with 3736-yards.
The true aspect of this game is the celebration it brings to HBCU’s and spotlighting schools that wouldn’t necessary get viewed at all.
“I think the opportunity to be on national TV, ABC, to showcase our university…it’s stuff that you can’t buy,” Hopson said. “We have such a wonderful conference and a wonderful product. We’re the No. 1 attended conference in FCS football. That’s one thing that the SWAC has that’s truly amazing. Young men get to play in front of 30,000…we had 40,000 at the SWAC championship. Hopefully, we’ll have a nice crowd there, a great bowl environment and be able to showcase the SWAC and MEAC conferences.”
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Arizona Wildcats vs.New Mexico Lobos
ESPN, 2:00 p.m. EST
This game will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico in University Stadium. Since 2014, the bowl featured a team from the Mountain West Conference against a team from Conference USA, but this season the Pac-12 will take the place of C-USA.
New Mexico representing the Mountain West Conference finished second in their division and third overall. Air Force won the Mountain, and San Diego went undefeated to win the West. For the Lobos they have had not much success against Pac-12 opponent Arizona State, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against Arizona.
The Lobos are not a high scoring team on an average game basis. Out of the 12 teams in the conference, they finished seventh in overall points, but they are nearly the opposite when it comes to points allowed. New Mexico allowed just 324 points this season, good for fourth in the conference.
New Mexico finished its season winning three of four games by over six points. They are a rushing team averaging 248 yards per game which is good for eighth in the nation and are tough when it comes to holding opponents in the red zone.
The offense hasn’t seemed to be the problem for the Wildcats as they finished second in their division, and fourth overall. They did have troubles stopping teams scoring on them. They were fifth in their division and eighth overall in points allowed out of 12.
The Wildcats are ranked 15th nationally in offense as they get around 494 yards per game while scoring 36 points, but those numbers have dropped over the last three games, and they have lost three of their last four games, but losing Anu Solomon and not having Nick Wilson on the field put them in a bind. Solomon will be back as he passed the concussion protocol on Thursday.
I will be looking at two players in the running game for the Lobos. Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson. Pressley has 135 carries for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He busted loose against Air Force in the last game of the season for 170 yards on 17 carries. In his last three games played he has scored in all three games and has totaled six scores with two games breaking the century mark. He put up 132 yards against Boise State, Don’t look for him to catch a pass, he doesn’t have one reception for the season. Gipson is more of the receiver out of the backfield. He has 14 on a team that doesn’t pass much. He finished the season with 766 yards on 132 attempts and scored six times.
The Wildcats will have team leader Anu Solomon back at quarterback against New Mexico, and no time like the present. He missed the last game against Arizona State after taking out No. 10 Utah. On the season, Solomon has completed 62.7 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He will also use his feet when he needs too. Solomon had 86 yards and a touchdown against the Utes. Arizona has a quadruple attack when it comes to wide receivers. Cayleb Jones, the primary receiver is leading in team receptions, and yards (51-722-4), Johnny Jackson (50-612-5) is tied for touchdowns with David Richards (41-514-5), and Nate Phillips is among all the others (41-546-4).
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
BYU Cougars vs.Utah Utes
ABC, 3:30 p.m. EST
This is not just a game; it’s a Holy War which will take place at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. One of the older bowls, it has been around since 1992, and it replaced the California Bowl. Since 2001, the Mountain West and Pac-12 Conferences face-off against each other. This season, BYU (9-3) will represent the FBS Independent Conference while #22 Utah (9-3) represents the winner of the South in the Pac-12. Interesting enough both colleges have ties to the Mormon religion, and will battle in Sin City.
Utah struggles offensively especially in the passing game they rank in the bottom tier in the nation (100 out of 128 teams) and ranked 92nd in touchdowns (15). The running game is much better for the Utes. They are 45th in rushing yards (2,253) and tied for 68th in touchdowns (21). The Utes are 43rd in yards per game rushing (187.8). Defensively they are 78th in total tackles (815) and tied for 21st in sacks (33). As for making teams turnover the ball they rank tied for 7th in interceptions (19) and tied for 29th in fumble recoveries (10).
BYU brings in more of a passing game with freshman Tanner Mangum. The Cougars are 21st in passing yards as they average 294.9 yards per game. BYU has the 47th ranked offense in total yards in the nation, with almost zero help from the running game as they are 110 out of 128 teams in rushing yards. They will put points on the board as they average 34.2 per game, which is good for 39th. The Cougars get after the quarterback as they are tied for 8th in the nation in sacks (37), tied for 21st in interceptions (15) and tied for 29th in fumble recoveries (10).
Players to watch for BYU is Tanner Mangum. He has been outstanding in his freshman year. Throwing for 3,062 yards, 21 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions. He completes 62.1 percent of his passes and carries a 142.2 quarterback rating. Four times he has gone over 300 yards and had six multiple touchdown games, including four against Utah State in the final. He is a traditional drop-back passer, so don’t look for him to run with the ball. Algernon Brown is the Cougars leading running back. He comes in with 5.7 yards per carry average and 11 touchdowns. In the receiving department don’t take your eyes off of Mitch Mathews. He has 52 receptions for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Utes main attraction is running back Devontae Booker. Unfortunately, he will miss this game. The Utes will miss out on his 1,261 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has 37 receptions for 318 yards. If he cannot look for Travis Wilson to be the next man up. In 125 attempts he has 467 yards and six touchdowns. Not much action in the passing game but the leading receiver is freshman Britain Covey (41-518-4).
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Ohio Bobcats vs.Appalachian State Mountaineers
ESPN, 5:30 p.m. EST
Named after the Alabama state flower, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl will feature a representative from the Sun Belt Conference against one from the Mid-American Conference. The team representing the MAC are the Ohio Bobcats (8-4), who finished second in the East. Appalachian State (10-2) will be in their first bowl game in school history and represent the Sun Belt as conference champions. You may remember them as the team that upset Michigan in 2007.
Ohio brings in a passing offense that is ranked 50th in the nation in yards (238.3) and 45th in rushing yards (187.1). They are 78th in average points scored (27.4) and 51st in points against (24.8). The Bobcats defense is another story. They are tied for 88th in tackles (793), tied for 95th in sacks (20), tied for 59th in interceptions (11), and tied for 60th in fumble recoveries (8).
For Appalachian State, they have struggled in the in the passing yards category, They are 89th (201.8), but are sixth in rushing yards (268.8). They are 18th in points scored per game (37.2) and 13th in points against (18.3). Appalachian state is 66th in tackles (837), 18th in sacks (34), tied for 14th in interceptions (16), but near dead last when it comes to recovering a fumble (5).
With Ohio, you want to keep watch Derrius Vick, who is as good running the ball as he is passing. On the season, he has a 64 percent completion rate on 247 attempts with ten touchdowns and six interceptions. He makes the Bobcats run game even harder to contain as he has 177 yards and one touchdown on 93 carries. The running back, however, are two-fold. A.J. Ouellette has 642 yards and five touchdowns while his partner Daz’mond Patterson has 497 yards and nine touchdowns. Sebastian Smith is the clear go-to receiver for Ohio as he has he leads the team in receptions (61), yards (752), and touchdowns (7).
When Appalachian State has the ball, you want to remain focused on quarterback Taylor Lamb. His 61.1 completion rate and has 29 touchdowns with just eight interceptions on the season. Like Vick, Lamb will also run the ball. He finished with 385 yards and four touchdowns. Marcus Cox is the lead rusher with 1261-yards and eight touchdowns. He has rushed for more than 100-yards in seven of his ten games. There is a three-headed attack when it comes to the Mountaineers receivers. Simms McElfresh (33-424-6) leads the team in receptions and touchdowns, Shaedon Meadows (21-439-3) leads the team in yards and Malachi Jones (23-433-3) falls somewhere in the middle. For the most part, McElfresh is who you want to watch the most.
San Jose State Spartans vs.Georgia State Panthers
CBSSN, 7:00 p.m. EST
The meaning of this game is to promote breast cancer awareness, but bringing in a team clear across the country with a record of 5-7, and face them off against a team that is 6-6, is not a good way to bring national attention. Georgia State will be playing in their first bowl game.
Georgia Southern will bring in their four-game winning streak and their passing attack that ranks 8th in the nation at 346.6-yards per game. They don’t do much on the ground with only 103.1-yards on a per game average, which is good for 124th. Nick Arbuckle leads this Panthers team and is their key player. He finished leading the Sun Belt with 4,160 yards and was second in touchdowns with 26. His last four games have also been mega-impressive as he has thrown for ten touchdowns and just three interceptions.
San Jose State Spartans are going to hope they will not have to deal with jet lag. Even though they finished with a 5-7 record and was gift wrapped a bowl berth because there were not enough six-win teams to fill out all the bowl games. Kenny Porter leads the Spartans at the quarterback and has done a nice job. He has a 68.5 completion rate with 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns with just six interceptions. The star for the Spartans is running back Tyler Ervin. He finished the season with 1,469 yards and 13 touchdowns, he also added to the passing game with 44 receptions for 337 yards and two touchdowns.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Arkansas State Red Wolves vs.Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
ESPN, 9:00 p.m. EST
This game takes place in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The inaugural season occurred in 1992, as Colorado State defeated North Texas 45-20. It is the last game of the day, and it should be an explosive one. Both teams bring in a combined offense of more than 77 points per game and give up almost as much (55 points).
Arkansas State is coming in with winning nine of 10 games and finished the season with a 9-3 record. Don’t look for much of a passing attack out of the Red Wolves. They finished 76th in the nation, and quarterback Fredi Knighten isn’t very good with his opportunities. He finished the season with a 54.7 completion rate with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He does keep the play alive with his feet. He has 358 yards on 125 carries with four touchdowns. Michael Gordon is the primary running back for the Red Wolves. He has 1,055 yards on 164 carries while scoring nine times, He does add a little to the passing game (13-81-2). Johnston White is the scoring machine. 14 touchdowns on the year on 90 attempts. Tres Houston will be the primary receiver, and he is also a touchdown maker. He has 33 catches for 568 yards and ten touchdowns.
Louisiana Tech showcases senior quarterback Jeff Driskel. The quarterback finished the season throwing 24 touchdowns and 3,575 yards with just eight interceptions. Driskell doesn’t run often, but he can make things happen with his legs. Driskell had seven 300+ yard passing games with eight multiple touchdown days. Just when you realize that stopping the pass may be difficult, then you realize that the Bulldogs also bring in Kenneth Dixon at running back. The senior has missed some game due to injury, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting points on the board. He had six touchdowns against North Texas and had four other games where he scored more than once. He finished with 968 yards on just 176 attempts. He will also catch the ball out of the backfield as he had 28 receptions for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Trent Taylor is the number one receiver on the team. He is a slot guy standing at 5-foot-8 and weighing only 180 pounds. Look for the junior to be active however as he caught 89 passes for 1,133 yards and had eight touchdowns.
All numbers via ESPN.com