2017 Celebration Bowl, New Orleans Bowl, Cure Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, New Mexico Bowl and Camellia Bowl Preview

December 16, 2017

It is definitely the most wonderful time of year.

College Football Hanukkah is less than 24 hours away, and I can barely contain myself.

41 extra football games to entertain us during those forced family gatherings and early dinners that will ultimately require a second meal later in the evening.

No, I’m not the Christmas Grinch. But it’s been quite awhile since the actual holiday is what made me so happy this time of year. It’s all about the football, baby!

As customary, Around The Corn’s activity ramps up during the bowl season, as every game is previewed and predicted using the lens of Bowl Mania. That will not change this year, although for the first time ever during the bowl slate I may have some help to make the predictions. Unfortunately, the help is dead to me right now, enjoying the big city and who else knows what while I sit on my couch typing this article on a Friday evening.

Nowhere else I’d rather be.

Let’s take a look at a packed first day of bowl action.

Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

Grambling State vs. North Carolina A&T (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ABC)

A national championship is on the line in the first bowl of the season, as the HBCU national champion will be crowned in the Celebration Bowl for the first time. Both of these teams have had recent success in the HBCU ranks, with Grambling State looking to make it back-t0-back titles and North Carolina A&T looking for its second title since just 2015.

The Tigers may have won last season’s Celebration Bowl with its defense, but it’s NC A&T that will look to use its lockdown defense to stop the SWAC’s most dangerous offensive duo in quarterback DeVante Kincade and running back Martez Carter. Kincade has amassed an incredible 52 to 7 TD-to-INT ratio in his two seasons with the program and will look to go out on top. The Aggies aren’t lacking in offensive firepower, either, though, and for that reason I think the MEAC champs will put together a more complete performance in this one. ATC doesn’t cover this division enough to know any better, so I’ve got just a single point on the Aggies in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-24 North Carolina A&T

R+L Carries New Orleans Bowl

Troy vs. North Texas (Saturday, 1 PM ET – ESPN)

Both of these programs are experiencing a resurgence of sorts, but unfortunately for both schools, it’s unlikely that these two coaches will be around for long. Both under-40 talents, Troy’s Neal Brown is 24-13 with Troy in two seasons and this year led the Trojans to their first Sun Belt title since 2010. Seth Littrell led the Mean Green to their first divisional title in Conference USA and back-t0-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2003-2004. The coaching carousel starts earlier every year, but these two are going to be targeted after the season concludes despite many jobs already being filled.

Many remember Troy for beating LSU earlier in the year, and that win held up as a major victory after all. But the Trojans come into this game on a six game winning streak and a defense good enough to slow down the high-octane yet inconsistent North Texas offense. Troy will keep this one low scoring, control the clock and come away with a victory in the Big Easy. I have 11 points on this prediction in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 20-14 Troy

AutoNation Cure Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State (Saturday, 2:30 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

The Hilltoppers have become a bowl season regular as of late, but winning their fourth postseason game in as many years is going to be quite the challenge against the Panthers, which have been to just two bowl games all-time in their eight seasons of existence as a program. Western Kentucky comes into this one having lost four of its last five games, so Georgia State has to be smelling blood and feeling like it has a great chance to earn its first bowl victory.

If the Panthers are to do so, underdogs everywhere will rejoice about more than just a relatively new program beating a bowl season regular. Speed is the great equalizer in the game of football, and for 5’8″ sophomore Penny Hart, it couldn’t be truer. Hart led the Sun Belt in receiving yards per game and total receiving yards this season, and does a lot of his damage after the catch. He’s one of the most fun players you’ll watch on Saturday, assuming you don’t blink when he gets the ball. Although I’d love to see him tear up the Hilltoppers defense, I think Western Kentucky has enough left in the tank to squeak out a close one. I have Western Kentucky for 3 points in Bowl Mania, but this one could go either way.

My Pick: 34-31 Western Kentucky

Las Vegas Bowl

#25 Boise State vs. Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

Saturday’s marquee matchup is an interesting one, considering the history that these two teams have had in recent years. Consider the 2009 game in which LaGarrett Blount slugged Boise State’s Byron Hout after the Broncos had beaten the Ducks on the blue turf. None of these players would have been on those two teams, but this is enough of a high profile matchup that players should be excited for the game anyway.

The Broncos may be the ranked squad coming into this one, but I’m not sure that they truly have the talent to compete consistently with Pac-12 teams as they once did with Chris Petersen at the helm. Oregon was blindsided by the departure of head coach Willie Taggart after just one season, but younger players should be excited for an essential tryout for next season in front of new head man Mario Cristobal. Promoted from the offensive coordinator position, Cristobal is already known by his players and will run a familiar offense in this game. Boise State has been a thorn in the Pac-12’s side in Las Vegas, but the streak of victories over the Power 5 conference ends here for the Broncos. I have the Ducks for 27 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 38-30 Oregon

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Marshall vs. Colorado State (Saturday, 4:30 PM ET – ESPN)

If by this point in the afternoon you are sufficiently drunk and absolutely stoked about this matchup between two Group of Five schools in the middle of the high desert, then you are doing College Football Hanukkah right. Colorado State has arguably the best quarterback in the Mountain West this season in Nick Stevens, which is saying something considering that respected people on the subject were once in agreement that Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was going to be a high NFL draft pick. Stevens leads the conference’s most potent offense, which averages over 500 yards per contest. Marshall’s pass defense has been just average this season, so Stevens could have a big afternoon.

The Thundering Herd will need to play a very solid, nearly mistake free football game to win this one. Colorado State will have the luxury of playing some sloppy football as long as it doesn’t result in giving Marshall good field position, because the Rams are well positioned to score at least 30 points. If Marshall gets caught in a high scoring affair, this one won’t end well for Doc Holliday’s squad. However, this prediction could look really bad if the Mountain West proves to be a weak conference, which we’ll already have a decent idea about by the time this game kicks off. As a result of that paranoia, I have the Rams for a modest 12 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 41-27 Colorado State

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Middle Tennessee State vs. Arkansas State (Saturday, 8 PM ET – ESPN)

The nightcap of Saturday’s plethora of bowl games may not look like a thriller at first glance, but Middle Tennessee State head coach Rick Stockstill would have you believe it’s going to be the most entertaining matchup of the entire postseason. In fact, Stockstill purchased $10,000 worth of tickets in an effort to entice the Blue Raider faithful to make the trip down to Montgomery, Alabama to cheer on their team. Not my idea of a holiday destination, but who am I kidding? Given that lodging was affordable, I’d probably go given that opportunity. I’ve been to Detroit for a bowl game, after all.

Middle Tennessee State’s 6-6 record is misleading, thanks to injuries to several key players including quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James, who had over 1,600 receiving yards last season. When Stockstill returned, the Blue Raiders won three of their last four and secured a bowl game by the skin of their teeth. However, those wins came over teams with a combined record of 6-30. The Red Wolves nearly won the Sun Belt and have scored over 45 points four times this season. Oh, and their fans will show up on their own to this game. I’ve got Arkansas State for 9 points in this one.

My Pick: 31-27 Arkansas State

If you have interest in offering your insight for any of the bowl games this season, shoot me an email at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com or reach out on one of ATC’s social media sites (Facebook, Twitter). I’d be happy to accommodate. Additionally, the annual Von Hugendong Bowl Mania group is open to the public and you can submit an entry here. The group locks at noon but you can adjust your picks and confidence points up until an individual game kicks off.

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