With the majority of Week Fifteen’s NFL games in the books, we turn our attention back to the plethora of college bowl games. Over the next two days, we’ll have three games to keep us occupied while we wait for Saint Nick to arrive.
Miami Beach Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. South Florida
ESPN, 2:30 p.m. EST
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Monday’s lone bowl game pits a pair of non-Power Five conference teams, but there is a great story line to follow here. Current South Florida head coach Willie Taggart was once the Hilltoppers head coach and he’s been able to show stark improvements at each school. Taggart was reportedly in line for the vacancy at South Carolina before receiving a contract extension and choosing to stay with the Bulls.
The coaching narrative is far from the only reason to watch this matchup though. This game is expected to be a classic battle of offense versus defense. Western Kentucky has one of the nation’s top passers in sixth year senior Brandon Doughty, who leads the nation in passing touchdowns and completion percentage. Doughty’s gaudy career numbers could earn him a look from NFL teams, though he is older than most incoming rookies and has endured a couple of serious injuries in his college career, which will obviously not help his stock.
The powerful offense helped lead the Hilltoppers to 11 wins, including a victory over Vanderbilt and a near win over Indiana. Western Kentucky lost their top running back, senior Leon Allen, early in the season. Junior Anthony Wales has filled in admirably though and has a chance to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in this game. Wales missed some time early in the season with an injury, but has broken 100 rushing yards in every game he’s carried the ball more than 12 times.
Western’s pass happy offense has led to some big numbers for their receivers as well, with Taywan Taylor leading the way with over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns, both easily leading the team. The Hilltoppers are expected to be without their tight end Tyler Higbee, but he will be part of the Senior Bowl next month.
On the other side of the field, the Bulls of South Florida have been one of the more impressive defensive teams this year, finishing among the nation’s top 25 in scoring defense. The Bulls’ best weapon against Western Kentucky’s offense is their running game, led by sophomore Marlon Mack. Mack already has a pair of 1,000 yard rush seasons in his two years in South Florida and is a talented, yet little known back. He could be part of a stacked running back class of 2017, should he opt to leave school a year early. Expect him to be the difference maker against a subpar Hilltopper run defense.
South Florida’s quarterback, Quinton Flowers, is a dual threat player. He’s the second leading rusher with nearly 900 rushing yards, so he should combine with Mack to carry the Bulls’ offense.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Akron vs. Utah State
ESPN, 3:30 p.m. EST
Another battle of small schools has the Zips of Akron facing off against Utah State as they meet on Boise State’s famous blue field. This is expected to be a defensive faceoff as both schools lack the offensive weapons to string together consistent scoring drives.
The key player in this game should be Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who seemingly has been around forever. Indeed, Keeton is a fifth year senior and nearly led the Aggies to an upset of Auburn back in 2011. Keeton has dealt with injuries throughout his career and while he’s been able to make plays on his feet, we’ve learned he doesn’t have the arm to make big throws on the college level, let alone in the NFL.
The one player I am interested to see more of in this game is Utah State senior receiver Hunter Sharp, who was far and away the team’s leading pass catcher. Sharp’s numbers are actually a bit behind his 2014 pace, but he did miss the first two games of the season. If you miss the game, Sharp will also play in the East-West Shrine Game next month.
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl
Toledo vs. Temple
ESPN, 7:00 p.m. EST
The Boca Raton Bowl features a pair of teams who began the season on a hot streak, but have somewhat fizzled towards the end. The Temple Owls knocked off Penn State and Cincinnati and had Notre Dame on the ropes earlier in the season, thanks in large part to a stingy defense led by linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the Owls in tackles every game this season.
The player to watch in this game is Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, who began getting some attention from devy and dynasty players last off-season after he racked up over 1,600 rushing yards as a sophomore. His numbers are down this season and he’s shared the backfield with sophomore Terry Swanson. Hunt missed four of the first five games, but has been fantastic in the back half of the season. Hunt enters the game with a four game streak of 100 yard rushing performances and also has seven touchdowns over that span. Hunt is a big bruising back that is rarely used as a pass catcher. In today’s world of PPR dynasty leagues, this could hurt his fantasy value once he enters the league. With the expected strength of the running back class of 2017, maybe second tier backs like Hunt opt to leave a year early.