Saturday: UTEP-BYU (2 ET), Northern Illinois-Fresno State (5:30 ET), Troy-Ohio (9 ET).
Tuesday: Louisville-Southern Miss (8 ET)
Wednesday: Boise State-Utah (8 ET)
Thursday: Navy-San Diego State (8 ET)
Friday: Tulsa-Hawaii (8 ET)
Conference USA is the league that's on center stage here, with UTEP, Southern Miss and Tulsa all taking their turns in the spotlight. The latter two in particular played pretty well at times this season and I'm interested to see how they fare in good bowl tests. I like Southern Miss, a program that's become a perennial bowl team, to beat Big East entrant Louisville. Tulsa's trip to Hawaii on Christmas Eve is one I've got my eye on. The Golden Hurricane have shown promise, but I doubt they can handle the Rainbows on their homefield. Hawaii beat the same Nevada team that took down Boise State, and quarterback Bryant Moniz has a lot of weapons at his disposal, namely receiver Greg Salas, and I see a lot of points under the Christmas tree for Hawaii fans.
The two best games go Wednesday and Thursday night and it starts with Boise State-Utah. The Utes will be without sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn and even with him they were badly overmatched. Utah's blowout losses at the hands of TCU and Notre Dame exposed them as a team a long way from the national elite, or even the Top 10. Boise State plays more physical football then they're given credit for and has the fearsome passing game they are given credit for. On paper this is an absolute mismatch. The question is going to be whether the Broncos can get motivated for this game after being one play from the Rose Bowl. Bowl history is littered with teams losing games they had no business losing because they were disappointed about what game they were in. If I were Chris Peterson I'd be stressing that true championship teams take care of business, regardless of where they're at, and this game is a chance for Boise to show their mental toughness. Undoubtedly Peterson reads this space daily and is grateful for my advice. I'm hesitant to base final predictions on intangibles we can only guess about, particularly when Utah has a recent history that makes them less than thrilled to be playing in a pre-Christmas bowl game. So I'm keeping the final pick based on the matchup itself and that says Boise, 45-10.
On Thursday night it's a clash of styles as Navy takes on San Diego State. The Midshipmen run the option while the Aztecs can open it up. Don't think the story stops there though. Navy can throw the ball with Ricky Dobbs--don't get me wrong, I wouldn't bet on him to rally if they're two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter--but Dobbs can hit an opponent with a big play if they get overly aggressive against the option. And San Diego State can run the ball behind Ronnie Hillman. I had the good fortune to be in attendance at Navy's season opener in Baltimore against Maryland and their season-ender in Philadelphia against Army. Between those games and what happened in between, Navy turns the ball over way too much to win a game like this and San Diego State is a solid football team. The Aztecs win, 37-17.
Image from bleacherreport.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball. and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.