It is exhibition season in college football as the bowl games kickoff tomorrow (Saturday). Meanwhile, the National Champion will be decided tonight; my money is on Montana as Villanova struggles against the pass. The Grizzlies can also stop the run, which is what the Wildcats do well in the spread.
Anyway, so the exhibitions begin. And there are five non-BCS games that are worth checking out. These games include teams that may not receive the exposure as some of the “powers.” So, it is worth checking out.
HUMANITARIAN BOWL: Bowling Green versus Idaho (Wednesday, 30 December)
Welcome back to the exhibition season, Vandals! Idaho started strong but stumbled down the stretch, going 1-4 and losing to fucking Utah State!! Nevertheless, Idaho had a solid QB-WR combo with Nathan Enderle throwing to Max Komar. Komar caught 62 passes for 1036 and 10 TDs. Enderle, who missed a couple of games near the end of the season, threw for over 2600 yards and has plenty of other targets — including Komar, the Vandals had five receivers catch over 25 passes.
Idaho can also run the ball. Washington State transfer DeMaundray Woolridge ran for 853 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Princeton McCarty went for 605 yards. Overall, Idaho ranks 11th in yards per game and can put up numbers.
Bowling Green also has a great passing combination — QB Tyler Sheehan and WR Freddie Barnes. In fact, Barnes was second in yards per game (129.2 per game, or 1551 yards) and led the country in touchdowns (16) and receptions (138). Sheehan, who went for 3664 passing, also has some other targets — six with 25 or more catches — but none with more than 45 catches and no one with more than two TDs.
Overall, Bowling Green ranks eighth in passing yards per game. They do not run the ball much, but starting running back Willie Geter is used in the passing game.
Defense? Why bother? Idaho cannot stop the pass, which should make it a field day for Sheehan and Barnes. Bowling Green is decent against the pass, but cannot stop the run. You have to figure that the Vandals will run to exploit that.
In all, should be a fun, high-scoring game on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium.
HAWAI’I BOWL: Nevada versus SMU (Thursday 24 December)
It is a game of contrasting style that could turn into a blowout. But it will also be interesting to see how June Jones is received at Hawai’i.
Returning to Honolulu for the first time since leaving the Warriors, Jones brings the Mustangs to their first bowl game since before the ‘death penalty.’ I do not think it will be negative as most anger seems to be towards former Hawai’i AD Herman Frazier.
Nevertheless, Jones has attempted to implement his air attack at SMU, but has only seen some success. Jones had rode Bo Levi Mitchell until an injury allowed Kyle Padron to take the starting role; a position that he has held on to since the Houston game. Padron, a freshman, has played well and could be a sign of things to come…in the future.
Nevada does one thing and one thing very well — run the ball! They even do it better than the academies! Nevada led the country in yards per game and sport three 1000+ yard runners — Vai Taua (1345 yards, 10 TDs), Luke Lippincott (1034 yards, 9 TDs) and the main reason to watch this game QB Colin Kaepernick (1160 yards, 16 TDs).
Kaepernick, a redshirt junior, has run for 2883 yards during his tenure in Reno, topping 1100 yards in each of the past two seasons. And he does throw the ball — nearly 7000 yards passing, although he only threw for 1875 this season.
Defense? Um, yeah, that is missing here, too. Nevada is near the bottom (119 out of 120) against the pass, which bodes well for SMU. But the Mustangs struggle against the run. And it is likely the Wolf Pack will go for 500 yards on the ground in what could be an entertaining game.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL: Southern Miss versus Middle Tennessee State (Sunday December 20)
It is highly doubtful that many people have seen a Sun Belt team play. But MTSU is a squad worth watching.
Head coach Rick Stockstill has done a great job with the Blue Raiders, taking them to the first two bowl games in MTSU history. Middle Tennessee beat Maryland for the second year in a row and finished the season 9-3 with their only conference loss to Sun Belt champion Troy.
Quarterback Dwight Dasher is fun to watch. In his first full season as a starter, Dasher threw for over 2600 yards and 21 TDs. He also lived up to his last name, leading the Blue Raiders in rushing (953 yards and 11 TDs). Running back D.D. Kyles is right behind him with 822 yards, but only three touchdowns. In the passing game, no receiver stood out as Dasher spreads the ball around quite well.
Southern Miss had a rough three-game stretch in late September and early October, losing to Kansas (when they were still “good”), UAB and woeful Louisville…all on the road. They also lost talented sophomore QB Austin Davis for the season in the loss to UAB.
All could have been lost, but Martevious Young stepped in and played superbly. His thrown for almost 1600 yards in nine games (seven full starts) and 13 touchdowns. He has only thrown one interception and that was six games ago!
DeAndre Brown, sophomore wide receiver, had a disappointing second-year but still went for 720 yards and seven TDs. Running backs Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison went for a combined 1563 yards and 17 touchdowns!
Both teams are well-balanced on offense. On defense, Southern Miss struggles against the pass, but is solid against the run led by linebacker Korey Williams (109 tackles, six sacks).
MTSU is middle of the pack. But they have Sun Belt defensive player of the year Chris McCoy, who had seven sacks, and a stout group in the defensive backfield led by Marcus Udell (seven interceptions) and Kevin Brown (four picks, 55 tackles).
Again, should be a good game and a chance to see players you normally would not see.
GMAC BOWL: Central Michigan versus Troy (Wednesday, 6 January)
This bowl usually gets lost because it is sandwiched between the BCS bowls and the BCS title game. And, usually by now, many people are becoming burned out from the tsunami of exhibition games. The game usually has a lot of offense (see the 2001 64-61 double overtime game with Marshall knocking off East Carolina), but recently has been one-sided (thanks to Tulsa).
This game has all the makings of an offensive explosion that probably will not be one-sided. Central Michigan comes in with the under-appreciated (at least outside of the midwest) Dan LeFevour at QB. The four-year starter has thrown for over 12,500 yards during his career and ran for 2936 yards. He has also thrown 101 touchdowns to 35 interceptions, and ran for another 46 TDs! His 148 touchdowns (he has one receiving TD) is the most in college history. As a starter, he is 37-17 for the Chippewas.
This will be the last chance to see LeFevour at QB. This season he has thrown for over 3000 yards, tying a career high for TDs with 27. He has solid weapons, with Antonio Brown (97 receptions for 1020 yards), Bryan Anderson (57 catches for 700 yards) and Kito Poblah (50 catches for 631 yards). Running? Well that is for LeFevour, who led the team with 701 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Troy also has a phenomenal quarterback in Sun Belt offensive player of the year Levi Brown. Brown set the Sun Belt record for passing yards, throwing for 3868 yards and 22 touchdowns. He topped 300 yards seven times, including against SEC foe Arkansas, and went over 400 yards three times.
Jerrel Jernigan is Brown’s favorite target, catching 62 balls for 947 yards. Jernigan is also a threat in the return game as the Trojans’ top kick returner. Tebiarus Gill is also a solid receiver, accumulating 553 yards and team-high six touchdowns.
Troy does not run much, but Shawn Southward and DuJuan Harris are serviceable, and the latter plays a big role in the passing game. And, Jernigan surfaces here as well, carrying the ball 34 times for 227 yards.
Defense? Ha! Troy is near the bottom in all the FBS. Central Michigan is good, but mediocre against the pass. And Troy has the fourth-best passing yards per game average in the country. Should be another exciting high-scoring game, and the last chance to see Brown and LeFevour.
ARMED FORCES BOWL: Houston versus Air Force (Thursday 31 December)
Some are writing this off as Houston will run away with it. But do not count out the Falcons.
Houston has been a great story this season, returning to the high-powered offenses of the days of the Southwest Conference (first in total yards per game). Junior QB and one time Heisman hopeful Case Keenum played out of his mind this year — 5449 yards and 43 touchdowns on 71 percent passing! He exceeded 300 yards in 12 of 13 games, seven times went over 400 yards, and topped 500 yards four times!!!
Keenum had five receivers top 500 yards, four of those caught over 60 passes, and three went over 900 yards! James Cleveland is the leader, catching 101 passes for 1182 yards and 14 TDs, but Tyron Carrier (998 yards, 7 TDs) and Patrick Edwards (985 yards, 5 TDs) are also quite good.
And given how much they throw, they run the ball admirably. Bryce Beall and Charles Sims both topped 600 yards rushing, with seven and nine touchdowns respectively. Sims contributes heavily in the passing game, catching 64 passes for 702 yards. Beall added 31 receptions for 302 yards.
Air Force is the exact opposite of the Cougars — third in the country rushing the ball, but 118th passing. As usual, there are many different ball carriers, with seven players going over 200 yards rushing, and two topping 700 yards. Fullback Jared Tew is the team’s league rusher with just a shade under 800 yards. Sophomore wideout Jonathan Warzeka is more important in the running game (42 carries for 232 yards, 2 TDs) than the passing game (15 catches for 201 yards, 1 TD). Sophomore Tim Jefferson runs the triple option for the Falcons.
But it is Air Force’s defense that will make this interesting. Air Force has the tenth best defense, and the number one pass defense in the country. The Falcons use a 3-4 defense that does not get a lot of attacks, but can be disruptive in the passing game. Air Force picked the ball off 14 times (tied for 28th) and the defensive backfield is led by corner backs Anthony Wright, Jr. (four interceptions, 51 tackles) and Mountain West first teamer Reggie Rembert (three interceptions, 41 tackles). Jonathan Falgout is also worth watching at linebacker.
And before you write off Air Force’s pass defense, they faced some good passing offense — BYU (12th), San Diego State (31st), UNLV (49th), and Utah (55th). They shut down the latter two, contained the Aztecs, and BYU…well, Max Hall had a big day.
Air Force can also control the clock and keep Keenum and the Cougars offense off the field. The Falcons are 20th in time of possession. And while the Cougars can be quick strike, they tend to put drives together rather than go for the killshot. So, keeping Keenum off of the field is crucial.
Plus, Houston is 112th against the run, allowing 213.1 yards per game! In the Cougars’ three losses, they gave up over 300 yards to UTEP (57th in rushing yards per game), over 150 to UCF (73rd running the ball), and 151 yards to East Carolina (59th)!
Thus, knowing that Houston probably will not stop the Air Force running game, this game should be yet another entertaining bowl. And, it will be interesting to see if the top passing defense can stop, or at least contain, the top passing offense.
So, those are five games beyond the power conferences and the BCS bowls that are worth checking out.
Or, you could watch an “exciting” game like Pittsburgh v. North Carolina or South Carolina v. Connecticut!