Bowl Game Previews: December 23-24th

Kyle Pollock

It’s bowl season, and the games are now in full flow. Over the next couple of days, there is plenty of action to look forward to and NFL prospects to keep an eye on. Let’s look ahead to the games on December 23rd and 24th.

Birmingham Bowl

Texas Tech vs South Florida

If you like points, this is the game for you! The over under for this game is set at 67.5 points, good for the second highest total on the entire bowl slate. Both teams went 2-2 over their last four games, with South Florida losing a heartbreaker to Central Florida in their last game of the season.

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South Florida’s quarterback Quinton Flowers is without a doubt the most exciting player in this game. With 31 total touchdowns this year, 2600 passing yards, and 972 rushing yards, he’s as explosive on the ground as he is through the air. Last year he had one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory, rushing for over 1500 yards and passing for over 2800. I had this to say about Flowers in my team preview for South Florida this off-season:

“He has an average arm, and lacks consistency with his ball placement. If his first read isn’t open he will often bounce outside the pocket to either scramble or look for another option, as opposed to just staying in the pocket and waiting for his receivers to get open. Flowers could be the best dual threat quarterback in the country this season, but he’s ultimately more suited for the college game than the professional one.”

On the Texas Tech side, there isn’t a ton of draft eligible talent, but quarterback Nic Shimonek has been extremely productive for the Red Raiders this year, completing 68.7% of his passes while throwing for over 3500 yards with 30 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. At 6’3” and 225 pounds, Shimonek has NFL size, which I think will at least get him a look from teams as a UDFA.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

San Diego State vs. Army

This game could feasibly feature under 20 passes combined. (Yes, combined!) Army has throw 61 passes all year, and threw one pass or fewer in three of their last four games (including zero passes against Air Force). San Diego State’s quarterback Christian Chapman averaged just over 19 passes per game. Get ready for a quick, run-heavy game!

The obvious headliner in this game is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny. Penny finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting this year after racking up 2027 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on 275 carries. He’s also one of the best kick returners in NCAA history. Only one other player has over 2300 kick return yards and seven return touchdowns in their career, while only 11 others have averaged over 30 yards per kick return in their career. This shows the type of speed that Penny possess which will ultimately help him in the NFL. While his predecessor, Donnel Pumphrey, was fast, he was a much smaller back than Penny who comes in at 5’11”, 220 pounds. I’d expect Penny to be picked no later than the third round.

Army doesn’t have anyone on the NFL radar, but their quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has run for over 1500 yards this year along with 12 touchdowns. As a team, they average 356 rushing yards per game, which is the best in the nation. Coming off a hard-fought game against arch rival Navy, I think the Black Knights have a great shot to win this game.

Dollar General Bowl

Toledo vs Appalachian State

For a MAC team, Toledo has a surprising amount of NFL talent. Diontae Johnson took over as the team’s leading receiver this year, amassing over 1200 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s just a sophomore who should continue to dominate for them. Johnson took over for Cody Thompson, who was the team’s leading receiver last year and during the first four games this year before suffering a season-ending injury. Thompson is a senior who I think had a great shot at being drafted if not for his injury, but I still think he’ll be able to latch onto a team as a UDFA or a late round pick. Thompson is an excellent route runner who also has good top end speed. Combine that with excellent production and you have a solid prospect.

Senior Terry Swanson led the team in rushing with over 1300 yards and 14 touchdowns, but freshman Shakif Seymour was the back who really caught my eye. At 5’11” 218 pounds, he’s physically more mature than most players his age. He’s a physical back with good balance and decent cutting ability who should be on the devy radar.

Jalin Moore was named the Sun Belt player of the year last year after rushing for over 1400 yards, but he’s been banged up this year and underutilized. This year, he’s rushed for just 912 yards and nine touchdowns, but he does have a shot to crack the 1,000 yard mark in this game. Moore will turn 23 during his rookie year, so unless his production skyrockets next season I have a hard time seeing him cracking an NFL roster.

Hawaii Bowl

Fresno State vs. Houston

Fresno State has enjoyed a surprising resurgence this year under new coach Jeff Tedford, who turned the program around from 1-11 last year to 9-4 this year. Considering two of their losses came against Alabama and Washington, Fresno looks like they could be an elite program in the Mountain West for the next few years.

True freshman Jordan Mims came in and was the team’s top runner this year, rushing for just over 600 yards while also catching 11 passes. I’d expect his role to expand next year and for him to take a big step forward. Receiver KeeSean Johnson has had an excellent season, putting up a dominator rating of .36, which is a borderline elite number. At 6’2”, 202 pounds, he could be a talent to monitor next year as a potential NFL player.

Houston has fallen off a bit since Tom Herman left for Texas, but they still went 7-4 this season despite a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position. Former five star Kyle Allen was benched after three games, even though he set the single game completion percentage record in one game by going 31 for 33, and completed 76% of his passes overall. He did have four interceptions, but there’s no doubt Allen is the team’s most talented quarterback.

Former four star Texas running back Duke Catalon improved in his second season with the Cougars, rushing for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns, but at this point he doesn’t look like an NFL prospect. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive tackle Ed Oliver could very well be a top ten pick in the 2019 draft, and linebacker Matthew Adams has an outside chance to make a roster this year.