2016 New Mexico Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Camellia Bowl, Cure Bowl and New Orleans Bowl Preview

December 17, 2016

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

‘Tis the season to finish strong for the teams playing over the next two weeks. The trick, if you’re a Bowl Mania player, is to figure out which teams have the right combination of health, focus and desire to actually finish strong.

Bowl season has long been one of my favorite times of the year, and for the first time since college I’ll actually have a significant break from everyday life to be able to enjoy the bulk of the matchups. As always, Around The Corn will be covering every bowl game in the FBS division, with game previews, predictions and Bowl Mania tips.

It has been several years since I’ve finished well in my Bowl Mania group, so take my advice at your own risk.

As customary, things will start off with a bang as six bowl games (including the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl) take place on the opening day. Let’s take a look at those games.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

New Mexico vs. UT-San Antonio (Saturday, 2 PM ET – ESPN)

In five years, Bob Davey has taken the Lobos program from being one of the worst in FBS college football to a consistent contender in Mountain West Conference play. New Mexico is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2006-2007, and will face off against a team making its first ever bowl appearance in UT-San Antonio. The Lobos have one bowl win since 1961, so expect both teams to be excited to kick off the bowl festivities.

The Lobos have two things going for them in this game. One is that they will be on home soil, an interesting dynamic for a postseason battle. The second thing is a powerful run offense that racks up over 360 yards a game and has two 1,000 yard rushers in Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Owens. If New Mexico protects the football and doesn’t make mistakes that give up precious offensive progress, they can control the clock and salt the game away when it matters.

My Pick: 30-23 New Mexico

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 3

Las Vegas Bowl

Houston vs. San Diego State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

On paper, this is by far the most attractive game of Day 1 of bowl season. Both Houston and San Diego State had lofty goals at the beginning of the year as teams that had a real shot at qualifying for a New Year’s Day automatic bowl bid. Some disappointment was experienced by both sides throughout the campaign, and most recently the Cougars lost head coach Tom Herman to Texas. But this should still be a great chance to see some future NFL talent, which is always interesting in an early bowl contest.

The Cougars have proven they can keep pace with anyone in the country, but the problem has been maintaining control when the opposition can also score at will. Not only does San Diego State have a stifling defense that can contain Greg Ward Jr. & Co., it also has a strong offensive presence in the run game with future NFL pick Donnel Pumphrey. The senior has been one of my favorite players in college football since he began tearing things up three seasons ago, and he will get a chance to prove his worth against a very stout Houston front. The Cougars are good enough to keep Pumphrey from hitting his season averages, but I think the Aztecs will find production elsewhere to get things done. Having Herman gone will hurt Houston.

My Pick: 35-31 San Diego State

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 7

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Appalachian State vs. Toledo (Saturday, 5:30 PM ET – ESPN)

A definite contrast of styles exists in this game, which is always interesting and difficult to predict what will happen. Toledo has the nation’s No. 4 total offense and has scored fewer than 30 points just once this entire season. Appalachian State by contrast has the country’s No. 15 overall defense and has allowed 30 points just twice. The Mountaineers tend to get things done on the ground offensively, so if the defense can do its job against Toledo’s high-powered offense, Appalachian State has a chance to really control this football game.

Although the Rockets have been a truck stop of sort for head coaches, they still have managed to make five bowl games since 2010. Consistency has been key among its offensive tactics and Toledo is very good at what it does. The Mountaineers will be comfortable in the Camellia Bowl atmosphere, having played in this bowl game last year, but it is time for a new program to hold up the winner’s trophy. This one will be tight, but the Rockets will just barely get their 30 points and squeak out a victory.

My Pick: 31-28 Toledo

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 8

AutoNation Cure Bowl

Central Florida vs. Arkansas State (Saturday, 5:30 PM ET – CBSSN)

The Knights will have gotten to sleep in their own beds the night before this contest, which could prove to play a vital role in this one. Central Florida is back in the postseason after a one year hiatus in which the team was winless in 2015. Arkansas State has become somewhat of a Sun Belt Conference powerhouse, capturing a share of its fifth conference title in six years and making its sixth straight bowl appearance.

Statistically the Knights are not a great football team, but what they do well sets them up with a competitive advantage against the Red Wolves. Central Florida is stingy against the pass, allowing just over 200 yards per contest through the air. Since this is how Arkansas State prefers to move the football, it will be interesting to see whether the Sun Belt team will be able to get things going offensively. If the answer is yes, the Knights might be playing an unsuccessful game of catch-up all evening long. But by keeping everything in front of them, the Knights can force a low scoring affair which they are capable of winning. Central Florida is one of the most improved teams in the country with a +6 win difference over last year, and with the fans behind them in Orlando they should have the motivation to play well in this one which will be important.

My Pick: 20-14 Central Florida

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 9

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Southern Mississippi vs. UL-Lafayette (Saturday, 9 PM ET – ESPN)

For a long time the New Orleans Bowl was one of my favorites of the entire postseason slate, but recently the game has gotten a bit stale due to the lack of diversity. At first it was tremendously exciting, but UL-Lafayette is now making its fifth appearance in six years at their “home” bowl game. At some point, you begin to wonder whether the novelty has worn off for almost everybody involved with the program. Southern Miss, however, hasn’t played in the dome since the 2009 edition of the bowl and will look to get back on the winning track, having lost that game after two New Orleans Bowl victories in the mid-2000s.

At one time, the Ragin’ Cajuns had one of the country’s most dangerous offenses and literally the country’s most pathetic pass defenses under Mark Hudspeth. But UL-Lafayette has done a complete 180 degree turn, now boasting a capable defense that, believe it or not, still allows more yards per game (370.6) than its offense produces (365.9). The Golden Eagles are less balanced, but in a good way. While Southern Miss competes in a pass happy Conference USA that doesn’t typically let solid but not great offenses shine, the defense is a definite bright spot, allowing just over 330 total yards per contest. A major reason the Golden Eagles struggled during the second half this year was the loss of quarterback Nick Mullens, who had thrown for 60 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Freshman Keon Howard has had nearly a month to prepare and the opposition doesn’t have a lot of game film on him. If he can cut down on the mistakes that will give the Ragin’ Cajuns extra chances, Southern Miss has enough talent on the field to win this game.

My Pick: 28-23 Southern Mississippi

Bowl Mania Confidence Points: 4

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.

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