Bowl season kicks off this weekend with a five game Saturday slate. While these games lack the pageantry and excitement of the bowl games taking place around New Year’s, there are still a large number of players dynasty owners should be following. Over the next couple of weeks, the DLF and Dynasty Scouts team will help you prepare for each and every bowl game, making you aware of players to keep an eye on as the games unfold.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
New Mexico vs. UTSA
2:00 pm Eastern
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The New Mexico Bowl gets the post-season underway in a game that is set up perfectly for the Lobos of New Mexico. Not only do they get a home game, but they also boast the nation’s top ranked rushing offense, averaging over 360 rushing yards per game. Primarily running the option, New Mexico has a pair of 1,000 yard runners in senior Teriyon Gipson and sophomore Tyrone Owens, not to mention their quarterback Lamar Jordan, who has chipped in nearly 700 rushing yards of his own.
While New Mexico will lean heavily on the running game, it may not be easy to maintain that as UTSA’s run defense has been much improved, holding every opponent under 200 total rushing yards since the season’s first month. What this game might lack in pro prospects, it makes up for in intriguing head coaching stories. UTSA coach Frank Wilson has completely built up a program that didn’t even exist a few years ago and now has the team playing in their first ever bowl game. On the other side of the field, the Lobos are coached by a familiar name to college football fans, former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, who has done his own impressive job turning around a program that was left for dead.
Las Vegas Bowl
Houston vs. San Diego State
3:30 pm Eastern
The jewel of the opening day’s games is the Las Vegas Bowl, pitting Houston versus San Diego State. At times this season, Houston looked like the best team in college football, including earning huge wins against Oklahoma and Louisville. The same team was also manhandled by SMU, among other let downs this season, which landed them here, rather than a more prestigious bowl game. Houston will also be playing for a new head coach after the departure of Tom Herman to the University of Texas. It will be former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite who will replace Herman, beginning with this game. The Cougars are expected to run the exact same offense, since Applewhite had been calling the plays even before Herman left the team.
Of course, the star of the Houston squad is senior quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., a dual threat player who has greatly improved his passing skills this season. Even with that improvement, it seems that Ward is likely in store for a position switch as he begins his transition to the NFL, which he will continue in the upcoming Senior Bowl. Along with Ward, the team will look to sophomore running back Duke Catalon quite often, who has been an asset as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, totaling nearly 800 total yards and seven touchdowns. Houston also boasts one of, if not the best true freshmen in the country in disruptive defensive lineman Ed Oliver. Look for him once again to make an impact on the game.
San Diego State has their own senior playmaker in running back Donnel Pumphrey, who is second in both rushing yards this season (behind Texas running back D’Onta Foreman) and career rushing yards in the FBS, trailing only former Wisconsin back Ron Dayne. While Houston does have a very solid run defense, expect Pumphrey to touch the ball plenty for the Aztecs. At just 5’9” and 180 pounds, I am interested to see what type of opportunity and role Pumphrey can earn at the next level.
Raycom Camellia Bowl
Appalachian State vs. Toledo
5:30 pm Eastern
While the Camellia Bowl might look like an unappealing matchup between two non-power five schools, both schools, Appalachian State and Toledo, feature running back dynasty owners need to know.
After his breakout sophomore season, Toledo running back Kareem Hunt was firmly on the radar of devy dynasty players. That season, he rushed for over 1,600 yards and 16 scores. After he failed to even come close to matching those numbers in his junior season, he opted to return to school. This proved to be a wise decision. Not only did he rebound, rushing for over 1,300 yards on the season, but he also was much more involved in the passing game. Hunt set new career bests with 39 receptions for 377 yards. In fact, those numbers from this season are better than his career totals prior to this season. Following the game, Hunt will be taking part in the Senior Bowl, where dynasty owners can get one more look at the talented back. In what is expected to be a stacked running back class, Hunt could fall between the cracks and prove to be a major steal in dynasty rookie drafts.
Appalachian State has their own senior back in Marcus Cox. Unlike Hunt, he has been unable to finish out his college career on a high note. Cox eclipsed 1,500 total yards in each of the past two seasons for the Mountaineers, but was plagued by injuries this season and ended the regular season with 872 rushing yards. Cox is now fully healthy though and has broken the 100-yard mark in four of the past five games since returning to the field. Even more than Hunt, Cox is likely to fly under the radar as we battle through the pre-draft process in the coming months.
AutoNation Cure Bowl
Central Florida vs. Arkansas State
5:30 pm Eastern
With five bowl games on this first day, there is bound to be some overlap and both this game, featuring Central Florida and Arkansas State, and the previous game kick off at 5:30. To put this kindly, I’d suggest everyone tune in to the Camellia Bowl over this matchup, which is essentially a home game for UCF.
I’m not sure there is a future NFL star in this game, but there might be on the Central Florida sideline. After failing to win a single game last season, first year head coach Scott Frost has the Knights in a bowl game after winning six games. There was some talk he could return to the school he recently left, Oregon, after their job opened up, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he’s likely to earn a promotion if he can lead UCF to another respectable season in 2017.
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Southern Mississippi vs. UL-Lafayette
Like many of the earlier games of this bowl season opener, most of the attention will be on the running game. Lafayette senior running back Elijah McGuire has a similar story to Toledo’s Hunt, as he blew up and put himself on the map during his sophomore season, totaling over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns. After that, many dynasty owners expected him to leave the Ragin’ Cajuns after his junior year, but some injuries and a dip in his numbers removed that option. McGuire’s senior season nearly matched his junior season as he rushed for just over 1,000 yards and caught fewer passes for lesser yards for the second consecutive season. I still love McGuire’s game, but he has fallen down the ranks a bit after some unreasonably high expectations a couple of years ago.
Southern Miss also has a running back of note, junior Ito Smith, who is among the nation’s most prolific pass-catching backs. Along with his 1,321 rushing yards, Smith also caught 42 passes for over 450 yards. Smith is not expected to be part of this deep rookie class, so he should have a chance to further improve his resume during his senior season next year.