2023 Birmingham Bowl, Camellia Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, 68 Ventures Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Hawai’i Bowl Preview

December 23, 2023

For the second straight weekend, Saturday is filled with college football bowl games from noon to midnight (or perhaps beyond).

Soak it all in, people. If you’re with family for the holidays, tell them you have plans and Around The Corn Sports Blog said it was OK to neglect cookie making and Christmas moving watching for the day.

Let’s take a quick look at the Saturday slate.

75 Birmingham Bowl

Troy vs. Duke (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ABC)

This bowl game may not do justice for how good Duke was during the regular season when it was at full strength. The Blue Devils will be without head coach Mike Elko (departed for Texas A&M), Riley Leonard (injury/NFL Draft), leading back Jordan Waters (transfer portal) and potentially second leading back Jaquez Moore. Freshman Grayson Loftis will likely lead Duke at quarterback, who was decent but not great the final four games of the season when Leonard was out.

Troy was solid in all aspects defensively in 2023 and will be difficult for Loftis to break down in this one. While the Trojans were unable to capture the Sun Belt title, this team had all the makings of a championship-caliber squad and won’t be intimidated by its Power 5 opponent. Throw in the fact that Duke is a shell of the team that was competitive with the ACC powers all season and it’s clear why the Blue Devils are a betting underdog.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 22-17 Troy

Bowl Mania Confidence: 31 points

Camellia Bowl

Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Northern Illinois clawed its way to 6-6 and bowl eligibility, marking its tenth postseason appearance since 2010. The Huskies will look to end a postseason losing streak, which currently stands at seven (last bowl victory: 2011). Arkansas State has shown it can score at will under the leadership of head coach Butch Jones, but consistency has been an area of concern.

Rocky Lombardi has had a respectable first season at Northern Illinois after transferring from Michigan State and will have a chance to torch a poor Arkansas State pass defense in this one. The Red Wolves are No. 121 in the country against the pass and could have trouble stopping whatever the Huskies intend to do on offense. There’s a chance that Arkansas State explodes offensively as well (it hung 77 on an opponent earlier this season) to compensate for its defensive woes, but against this Northern Illinois defense it’s highly unlikely.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 31-23 Northern Illinois

Bowl Mania Confidence: 8 points

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

James Madison vs. Air Force (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

After a lot of noise made, James Madison gets to play in a bowl game. There’s little doubt that the Dukes will be excited to play in a game that they so vocally advocated to participate in, but the opponent on the other side would be one of the last to play with less than 100 percent effort. Air Force’s dream season completely fell apart in the back half of the campaign, but the Falcons are still bowling in a contest aimed at celebrating them.

Though James Madison had its fair share of portal related activity, the vast majority of players will still play in this game. That’s good news, as the Dukes were sound on both sides of the ball this season and will be difficult to beat at nearly full strength. Quarterback Jordan McCloud had an excellent senior season and has two 1,000 yard receivers at his expense in Elijah Sarratt and Reggie Brown. The Falcons were the best team in the Mountain West at defending the pass, but faltered near the end of the season, allowing more than a third of the total passing yards conceded in 2023 during the final three games of the season.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 28-21 James Madison

Bowl Mania Confidence: 33 points

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Georgia State vs. Utah State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ESPN)

If Utah State is focused, it could be a long afternoon for the Panthers. Not only does Georgia State have to contend with a potent passing attack led by Levi Williams with a defense that was worst in the Sun Belt at defending the pass (287 yards per game allowed), but the Panthers will also be without Marcus Carroll, their star running back for an offense predicated on a strong run game.

The Aggies have been hurt by costly turnovers this season, but may actually be the team less worried about turnovers in this game. No other team in the country has turned the ball over more times than Georgia State’s 31, a stat made worse by the fact that the Panthers are -10 in turnover margin. If Blake Anderson’s team is in Idaho to take care of business (what else is there to do there in mid-December), it will do just that.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 42-20 Utah State

Bowl Mania Confidence: 6 points

68 Ventures Bowl

South Alabama vs. Eastern Michigan (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

The Eagles will be without its starting quarterback Austin Smith for this game, who has entered the transfer portal. To make matters worse, Eastern Michigan already has one of the most anemic offensive attacks in the country, averaging more offensive yards per game than just one other bowl eligible team (Iowa).

South Alabama will be licking its chops defensively. The Jaguars are one of the best teams in the Sun Belt against the run, presumably something the Eagles will try to do a lot to move the ball without Smith. It is likely to be tough sledding for Eastern Michigan in this one, and South Alabama has a fairly potent offense to boot. Although star running back La’Damian Webb, the Sun Belt leader in rushing touchdowns with 16, is not expected to play in the game due to injury, his support should find room to run against a porous Eastern Michigan defense.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 35-16 South Alabama

Bowl Mania Confidence: 4 points

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl

Utah vs. Northwestern (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ABC)

The Wildcats had a tremendous season given everything that surrounded the program just before the 2023 campaign began. Just being in a bowl game is a major accomplishment. And the reward for said major accomplishment? A postseason date with Utah, one of the most difficult teams to beat in a bowl game under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah’s head man hasn’t tasted victory in the postseason in what seems like ages by his standards, however – Whittingham will be looking to snap a personal four game losing streak in bowl games (11-5 record all-time).

Utah will trot the majority of its regular season starters out in this game, including quarterback Bryson Barnes, who is expected to play despite entering the transfer portal. Barnes’ grittiness combined with the talent of the defense should be enough to take care of this Northwestern squad, which has struggled to move the football against lesser opponents this season. Motivation is always a question in a game like this, but chances seem good that Whittingham is tired of losing his final game of the season and would like to put an end to that trend.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 30-20 Utah

Bowl Mania Confidence: 30 points

EasyPost Hawai’i Bowl

Coastal Carolina vs. San Jose State (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Bowl games are supposed to be a celebration of the season that was, right? Well, sort of. Take it too far, as Coastal Carolina head coach Tim Beck seemed to have done when a picture of him on the beach in Hawaii was posted, then subsequently removed, by the team’s social media group, and suddenly you’ve created a PR nightmare that requires someone who was unofficially on vacation to actually work. In a way, the same group that created the issue in the first place is the one that has to clean it up, so maybe that’s poetic justice.

Anyway, there’s also a football game to be played in Hawaii. The Spartans are quite familiar with the landscape, having already played Hawaii on the island during the regular season. They’re also far less effected by the transfer portal, and should have a bit of a chip on their shoulder after being kept out of the Mountain West title game by way of a computer’s tiebreaker. All signs point to a San Jose State victory over a Coastal Carolina team that may still have its mind on the beach when this one kicks off.

Around The Corn’s Pick: 35-21 San Jose State

Bowl Mania Confidence: 15 points

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