2018 Celebration, Cure, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Camellia and New Orleans Bowl Preview

December 15, 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The three weeks in December and early January that make up the college football bowl season are some of my favorite on the calendar, not only because it’s time spent away from work or school, but also because it’s a chance for all my seemingly useless work during the regular season to pay off.

Who is that running back from the school you’ve barely heard of that rushed for 200 yards in the middle of the New Mexico desert? What about that freshman quarterback from a team that was originally fighting for a College Football Playoff, who got the chance to start because the normal signal caller is saving himself for next year’s NFL Draft?

It’s a different kind of excitement for fans of teams playing in a bowl game, but for me, all of the games are important. All are worth watching. And if you sign up for Around The Corn’s annual Bowl Mania group, all have meaning in the form of confidence points to be won.

The action kicks off Saturday at noon and we’ll be treated to at least one game in progress until about midnight Sunday. Let’s take a look at the slate of games sure to bring with them some incredible moments throughout the day.

Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

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

The first bowl game of the season actually serves as the de facto national championship for historically black colleges, meaning that there is more than just some hardware on the line in this one. North Carolina A&T is looking to capture its second consecutive HBCNC crown, having beaten Grambling State in this same game a season ago. However, the Aggies are now led by first year head coach Sam Washington, who has already put his stamp on the program getting to this game. Alcorn State comes in as the Challenger, beating Southern in the SWAC title game to earn its spot.

Despite Coach Washington’s green status as a head man, the Aggies have been one of the forces in this division all year long and took care of business, capturing a MEAC title that they were predicted unanimously in the preseason to win. Both of these teams can move the football on offense, but the Aggies have a bit more firepower. I’ve got North Carolina A&T taking home a second straight national title in this one for 4 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 40-34 North Carolina A&T

AutoNation Cure Bowl

Tulane vs. UL-Lafayette (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

For fans of old school college football where three yards and a cloud of dust was the game plan for both teams, this game is a must watch. Both Tulane and UL-Lafayette employ a heavy dose of the run game and will look to use it to win this battle. Tulane’s two headed monster of Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine should handle the majority of the heavy load for the Green wave, as both are highly utilized with over 100 rushing attempts apiece on the season. The Ragin’ Cajuns have struggled against the run this season, allowing over 200 yards on the ground per game.

While UL-Lafayette may be giving up big chunks of yards on the ground, they’ll also be gaining it on offense as well. Between Elijah Mitchell, Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais, the Ragin’ Cajuns have 26 rushing touchdowns this season. That trio will be tough to stop, but the Green Wave are better defensively and I think will be able to get the few stops needed to win an exciting game. I have Tulane for 5 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 35-31 Tulane

New Mexico Bowl

North Texas vs. Utah State (Saturday, 2 PM ET – ESPN)

If you’re looking for some diamonds in the rough this bowl season, look no further than the New Mexico Bowl. North Texas quarterback Mason Fine is Conference USA’s passing leader this season and has taken a huge step in becoming one of the best signal callers in the Group of Five. Alongside him in that discussion is Utah State’s Jordan Love, whose 32 passing touchdowns and just five interceptions are a strong ratio in a Mountain West Conference littered with talented quarterbacks. Both should put up strong numbers in this game, but Love’s job may be a bit easier thanks to a suspect North Texas secondary.

Although the Fine vs. Love battle will be the feature, expect the defense on both sides to have a say in who wins this game. Both North Texas and Utah State are aggressive on that side of the ball and have forced 49 turnovers combined. While Fine has the ability to light up a defense, I love Love’s (shoutout to Joyner Lucas) ability to make smart plays in the pocket despite only being a sophomore. That will be important as turnovers will play a factor. I have the Aggies for a lot of points in Bowl Mania at 28 total.

My Pick: 38-31 Utah State

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

Arizona State vs. #21 Fresno State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

Coming off of a gutsy victory over Boise State on the blue turf to capture the Mountain West Conference title, the Bulldogs will look to put the screws defensively to a potent Arizona State offense led by senior quarterback Manny Wilkins. The Sun Devils have appeared to be all over the map this season in terms of quality of play, but in reality Herm Edwards has had his team in position to win every game and a lot of that is credited towards Wilkins. The leader of the offense has thrown just four interceptions all season and is the type of quarterback that will get everything he can out of a Fresno State defense that allows just 194 passing yards per game.

Fresno State’s defensive prowess is impressive considering the number of gunslingers the Bulldogs had to face in conference play this season. However, in these type of games, it’s always interesting to find out whether the smaller, quicker Mountain West defensive players that were likely overlooked by programs such as Arizona State will have the stamina to hang around with the Sun Devils in the second half. My take in this particular game is “no”, as Arizona State’s offense has the personnel that should be capable of controlling the tempo in the second half. I have Herm’s squad for 7 points in Bowl Mania, because they’ll play to win the game!

My Pick: 30-27 Arizona State

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan (Saturday, 5:30 PM ET – ESPN)

The triple option attack has worked well enough at Georgia Southern to get the Eagles into their second FBS bowl game appearance in school history, where they will face an Eastern Michigan squad playing in just its third bowl game since 1987. The triple option that Georgia Southern brings to the table could work very well against an Eastern Michigan defense that gave up over 190 yards per game on the ground during the regular season. The issue is that extra practices leading up to a bowl game along with plenty of time to prepare for that type of offensive style, may have given Eastern Michigan enough time to learn how to thwart it.

Eastern Michigan’s offense is balanced but not potent enough to blow Georgia Southern away, so Eastern Michigan fans need to hope the extra preparation time was enough to counter what was an iffy run defense all season. Given that Georgia Southern playing closer to home, I think the crowd could have an effect as well, as it did in 2015 when the team blew out a Bowling Green squad that was poised to do just that to the Sun Belt program. In an Eagles on Eagles battle, I’ll take the non-MAC school for a single point in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 31-23 Georgia Southern

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Middle Tennessee State vs. Appalachian State (Saturday, 9 PM ET – ESPN)

The Blue Raiders return to the stadium where they won the 2009 edition of this bowl game, but will face an Appalachian State program that has never lost an FBS sanctioned bowl, playing in three previous between 2015 and 2017. It’s fitting that this is the final game of the day, as there are plenty of factors that could dictate the outcome of this game resulting in a tough one to pick. Perhaps most notably is that Appalachian State’s head coach during the regular season, Scott Satterfield, accepted the Louisville job following the Sun Belt title game and will not be coaching in the bowl game. Instead, defensive line coach Mark Ivey will assume the interim duties. Luckily, defense is Appalachian State’s strength, as the Mountaineers come into this game as the sixth best nationally in terms of total yards allowed per contest.

Middle Tennessee will not be intimidated by statistics, as the father-son combo of Rick and Brent Stockstill will make its final appearance for the Blue Raiders in New Orleans. Senior quarterback Brent has had a solid career playing for his dad and will try to slice and dice a stout Appalachian State secondary on Saturday night. Stockstill’s counterpart for the Mountaineers, sophomore Zac Thomas, is more of a dual threat option and is particularly dangerous with his legs. It’s highly likely that Thomas will improve upon his 10 rushing touchdowns for the season in this game and I believe he’s the X-factor for the Mountaineers. Assuming Thomas impresses, my pick of Appalachian State will earn me 8 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 34-28 Appalachian 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.

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