By Mitch Light
New Mexico Bowl — Temple vs. Wyoming
For the second time in three seasons, Wyoming is in a bowl game with a true freshman at quarterback. Two years ago, Austyn Carta-Samuels guided the Cowboys to a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. With Carta-Samuels gone — he transferred to Vanderbilt in the offseason — coach Dave Christensen handed the offense to Brett Smith, who ranks second in the Mountain West in total offense and fourth in passing efficiency. The key for the Cowboys, however, will be on defense. They rank 115th in the nation in stopping the run — a huge concern with Temple’s potent rushing attack on the horizon.
Temple 24, Wyoming 21
Idaho Potato Bowl — Utah State vs. Ohio
Utah State opened up the season with a 42–38 loss at Auburn, the defending national champs. The Aggies went on to lose four of their next six games — all by 10 points or less — before ending the season on a five-game winning streak. Ohio must regroup after blowing a 20–0 lead in the second half to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. Three of the Bobcats’ four losses came by three points or less. These are two solid teams.
Utah State 27, Ohio 24
New Orleans Bowl — UL-Lafayette vs. San Diego State
Mark Hudspeth did a great job in his first year at UL-Lafayette, guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns to an 8–4 overall record and their first bowl game in the FBS ranks. San Diego State is making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in school history. The Aztecs will lean heavily on underrated tailback Ronnie Hillman, who ranks third nationally in rushing (138.0 ypg).
San Diego State 34, UL-Lafayette 21
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl — FIU vs. Marshall
Marshall, at 5–3, had its first winning record in seven seasons in Conference USA. The Herd got it done with a true freshman (Rakeem Cato) taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback. FIU failed to repeat at Sun Belt champs, but the Golden Panthers still won eight games in the regular season, including their final three.
Marshall 20, FIU 14
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas — Arizona State vs. Boise State
Boise State, 11–1 overall, was relegated to the MAACO Bowl for the second straight season after getting snubbed in the BCS bowl selection process. This team deserves better. Arizona State, on the other hand, is fortunate to still be playing. The Sun Devils lost their final four games, including the last two at home, to finish at 6–6.
Boise State 37, Arizona State 21
Poinsettia Bowl — Louisiana Tech vs. TCU
Louisiana Tech is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall and won their final seven games. They lost by two points at Southern Miss (11–2), by one point to Houston (12–1) and by six, in overtime, at Mississippi State. TCU is obviously very good — the Frogs won at Boise State — but Louisiana Tech, a double-digit underdog, is capable of winning this game.
Louisiana Tech 24, TCU 21
Hawaii Bowl — Nevada vs. Southern Miss
Southern Miss got shipped off to Hawaii despite winning the Conference USA Championship Game. It’s a fun trip for the players, but too far for the majority of the fans, many of whom would have made the relatively short trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Nevada once again brings a high-powered attack to the table; the Wolf Pack have averaged over 500 yards per game in each of the past four seasons.
Southern Miss 41, Nevada 37
Independence Bowl — Missouri vs. North Carolina
SEC-bound Missouri salvaged what had been a disappointing season by winning its final three games, including a 17–5 decision over Texas and a 24–10 win over Kansas in the final Border War showdown for the foreseeable future. North Carolina struggled down the stretch, not surprising for a team playing with an interim head coach (Everett Withers) who was never expected to get the job on a full-time basis.
Missouri 28, North Carolina 17
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — Western Michigan vs. Purdue
Western Michigan boasts one of the nation’s most potent pass-catch duos in Alex Carder and Jordan White. The Broncos rank eighth in the nation in passing (328.8 ypg) and White leads all receivers nationally with 10.6 receptions per game. WMU will have to score a bunch of points, because its defense could have trouble with Purdue.
Purdue 41, Western Michigan 33
Belk Bowl — Louisville vs. NC State
Picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Big East in 2011, Louisville was the surprise of the league, tying for the title with West Virginia and Cincinnati. And with talented true freshman Teddy Bridgewater emerging at quarterback, the future is bright for the Cards. At NC State, Tom O’Brien likely saved his job by winning three of his final four games, most notably a 13–0 shutout vs. rival North Carolina.
Louisville 23, NC State 17
Military Bowl — Toledo vs. Air Force
Toledo averaged 52.8 points in its last six games, but managed to only go 5–1 in that stretch. The Rockets lost to Northern Illinois, 63–60, at home in a game that ultimately cost them the MAC West title. Air Force was a bit of a disappointment, finishing in fifth place in the Mountain West with a 3–4 league record.
Toledo 41, Air Force 27
Holiday Bowl — California vs. Texas
Texas limped to the finish line, losing three of its final four games. Amazingly, the Longhorns are 6–11 in the Big 12 over the last two seasons. Cal played well late, winning three of its last four, with the only loss coming by three points at Stanford.
California 27, Texas 17