2014 Bahamas Bowl and Hawaii Bowl Previews

December 24, 2014

Thanks to the MAC, I lost my first big points game last night.

I now sit in fourth place in the Von Hugendong group, with a 5-3 record and 63 points. I’ve still blown more points than anyone in the group except the current leader, my dad.

Hopefully I’ll enter Christmas Day feeling a bit better than I did coming into Christmas Eve.

For the first time in as long as I can remember (and perhaps ever), Christmas Eve brings not one but two college football bowl games. Double the excitement as an early Christmas present, and I’m not complaining. These bowls are played in two of the vacation destinations of the world, however, so it will be interesting to see how the teams respond.

Let’s take a look at the matchups taking place on December 24.

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl

Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky (Wednesday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Two teams that faced off against each other in arguably the least scenic city hosting a bowl – Detroit – in 2012 will again do battle, only this time with a much prettier backdrop. Both teams sit at 7-5 on the year, but also have proven the ability to take down the juggernaut of their respective conferences. Western Kentucky was the only C-USA team to beat Marshall while Central Michigan was the only MAC school to beat Northern Illinois.

This game will feature two of the more underrated backs in the country in Central Michigan’s Thomas Rawls and Western Kentucky’s Leon Allen. Both are in the top 20 in the nation in terms of rushing yards per game and spearhead offensive attacks that count on the ability to convert third and short situations with tough running. Rawls will have a much easier time finding room to run, however, as the defensive philosophies of these two teams couldn’t be more different. Western Kentucky is one of the worst in college football at stopping teams on defense, and the unit’s sole reason for being on the field might simply be to give the offense a breather. In contrast, Central Michigan is one of the best and prides itself on being the best the MAC has to offer on the defensive side.

Western Kentucky’s gameplan is simple: try and outscore the Chippewas. If Central Michigan is to win this game, keeping the ball out of the hands of Hilltoppers quarterback Brandon Doughty, who leads the nation in passing touchdowns, is imperative. After what I saw in the Boca Raton Bowl last night, C-USA clearly outclasses the MAC. So while I actually prefer the style of football that Central Michigan plays, I have to go with the Hilltoppers for 14 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 41-28 Western Kentucky

Hawaiʻi Bowl

Fresno State vs. Rice (Wednesday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

The Bulldogs return to the island for the Hawai’i Bowl just two years after being smoked by SMU while heading into that game as a heavy favorite. This time around Fresno State will face Rice, which is making its third consecutive trip to the postseason under head coach David Bailiff. It is extremely difficult to tell where each team will be mentally and emotionally heading into this game, because the lure of the beach often spells the downfall for one of them.

In year one of the post-Derek Carr era, Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter did a nice job preventing the offense from totally unraveling. In Carr’s place is junior Brian Burrell, who has had a decent year but is prone to turnovers. Luckily for Burrell, Rice doesn’t force too many interceptions so as long as he isn’t completely reckless it shouldn’t be a major issue. The Owls aren’t spectacular on either side of the ball and have been burned a few times this season by teams willing to open it up on offense. But what Rice does do well is get to the quarterback. The Owls lead Conference USA with 2.92 sacks per game and will likely pressure Burrell as much as possible in this game. If Burrell can’t find a quick check down in this situation, it is very possible that Rice could force turnovers through constant pressure.

There isn’t a whole lot to separate either of these teams and the Hawai’i Bowl usually ends up with a wacky storyline. But expect points to be scored because only once since 2002 has the winner of this game failed to score at least 36 points. I think that the Bulldogs will be slightly more prepared for this one, simply because Coach DeRuyter has been here before and knows how players will react to being on the island. If Fresno State can jump out to an early lead, they’ll win. I have the Bulldogs for just 3 points in Bowl Mania because I’m tired of ruining my Christmas by blowing a bunch of points on this game.

My Pick: 38-33 Fresno State

If you’d like to share your opinion on Around The Corn for any of the upcoming bowls, shoot me an email with your thoughts and prediction to kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. You can also like Around The Corn’s Facebook page or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two days before the game is to be played, I can assure you that your thoughts will show up in an article.

– K. Becks

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